Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Just Visited the Printers

My hopes for publishing a generic old-school referee screen were dashed - they can do a quality piece of printing, but the per-unit price was what I was hoping final retail price would be. Doing a serious shop-around for printing what I thought would be a neat novelty item doesn't sound like my idea of a fun time, so I'm shelving this idea.

However... it looks like my box set plans for 2010 are feasible. Quality artwork (for both the box itself and all the individual booklets) will be expensive... and how to handle this being an OGL product (it's rules, not a scenario, you know?) while none of my other stuff is (and how my current marketing setup would be breaking OGL restrictions) will be tricky... but this is too delicious not to do.

I know we need another rules-set (or branded set of rules) like we need a hole in the head, but a beginner's boxed set, with tutorials, is something else entirely. The rules will just be OGL ripped from other sources, but it's the tutorials and intro adventures (and advice) sections that will be the hard work and the heart of the project.

But that's a way off yet.

Insect Shrine writing will be completed today, or perhaps tomorrow. However, looking at the enormity of this, playtesting this won't be a fast process. I'll announce playtest plans soon (you want to play, right?), but it is very possible that the next project (which has been run multiple times already but has not started any sort of production process beyond commissioning artwork) will be released first. I know that sounds like more delays but I'm not going to end the Insect Shrine story with "rushed to press."

So back to work...

Quality Control and a Train Wreck

See this thread. Someone claims that "Jim Ward is ruining Troll Lord Games." The discussion quickly veers off into discussing The Tainted Lands thing that was just released.

Extra-short version:

Check out this review (ignoring the first two paragraphs, of course). Now check out this comment. The full version of the thread is still fun, especially when the critics and supporters start arguing over the quality and content of a single passage of text.

Now I haven't looked inside a new Troll Lord book since perhaps 2006. I do know that the C&C books released up to that point were atrociously edited. I could almost believe not a single proofreading pass was made on them. The Gygaxian Worlds books suffer from the same problem.

It sounds like in 2009 that these problems continue, as discussed in many places (and noted by supporters, not just critics). Sad.

I know typos and mistakes will happen and are unavoidable. But they are embarrassing. They can take all the pride and joy out of one's creation. If I release a 36 page book and discover one typo (I wish), that one word is how I see that book from that point on. And it's funny how they hide in manuscript form but leap out and dance on the commercially released page. Yet there are things to be done to minimize such things. You don't need to be a gamer to spot inconsistencies and unintended silliness, and it doesn't take a professional to spot typos.

That they're dredging up Ravenloft in the first place is something else I don't understand. I guess I should say I never understood the appeal of Ravenloft. It turned "horror" into a gimmick. Horror lurks in the heart of the D&D experience, as I've gone on about before. If one wants to brand more explicitly horror-focused products, I can understand that, but turning horror into a separate setting like it's Spelljammer or something? Awful. And now the concept lives again.

... and the company is trying to sell pdfs of a pad of graph paper. That takes big brass balls.

It's really a shame. Troll Lord Games is the most public face of an older style of gaming. People know the C&C name and the books are widely available. They had Gary (and The Castle), they release adventure modules as an important support method for their games, and the whole thing superficially resembles classic D&D. They should be the company that us OSR publishers should try to emulate and perhaps be the company that writers want to work for.

But Castles & Crusades, and Troll Lord's output in general, is completely irrelevant to me as a gamer and I hardly think I want to be like them when I grow up as a publisher.

What happened?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Curse of Ad Copy

You know those promotional blurbs for DFD, NDiD, and PoP? You know, those bits on the products page here?

I hate them and think they're cheesy and fear they are frightfully ineffective and perhaps even detrimental to the cause of piquing interest and attracting curiousity and sales.

But you know what? I think the same thing about the promotional copy for basically everything ever made. It all feels insulting to read (everything more awesome than everything else) so when it's time to do my own, I treat it as gingerly and distastefully as a dead rat I've found in the basement that needs to be disposed of.

Should it be a piece of creative writing evoking the atmosphere of the adventure? A minimalist just-the-facts-ma'am rundown? A sensationalized attention-grabber?

Amateur marketing is amateur, and that's where I am now. But professional marketing is sleazy and cheesy. Even dryly explaining what it is is uncomfortable. Hyping my own work to people (outside of my blog... no shame here :D) feels wrong and intrusive, even though doing that is probably my primary function as publisher and more important to success than the actual quality of material.

To leave it simply as "Adventure For x, y, and z Games, Character Levels a - b" would be wonderful on my end, but kooky consumers feel entitled to a bit of information before making a purchase. Insane, I know.

Not sure what to do.

I air this concern because the over-the-top hype angle is what I've been thinking about for Insect Shrine.


This is the big one. The long-awaited masterpiece of fantasy adventure is finally here!

(blah blah has a sandbox mini-setting and goblins and other stuff yadda yadda)

The gauntlet has been thrown down. This is an adventure that only the bravest will attempt and only the most skilled and clever will survive. Don't be satisfied with the 'challenge' provided by other kiddie dungeons. Step up to the ultimate challenge: INSECT SHRINE OF GOBLIN HILL!"

But then sometimes I'm just silly. *shrug*

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ratings from Roolipelaaja's Reviews

I saw the magazine in Fantasiapelit today, and took a look at the review section with the LotFP stuff. It's a four page spread... there wasn't time to translate it (we were on our way to see Inglourious Basterds... frickin movie is 75% French and German and they didn't have English subtitles here... :P), but here are the ratings:

Green Devil Face #1: 2/5 stars
Green Devil Face #2: 3/5 stars
Green Devil Face #3: 3/5 stars
Death Frost Doom: 5/5 stars
No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides: 4/5 stars
People of Pembrooktonshire: 4/5 stars

At least I hope it's a 5 star scale. It would suck if it was a 10 star scale. :P

Friday, September 25, 2009

No, Not Apocalyptic At All

Courtesy Zak Smith.

Two Reviews on RPG.net

I wrote a review of Jeff Rients' Miscellaneum of Cinder, that's here.

McKinney's review of No Dignity in Death is here.

Death Frost Doom is not Apocalyptic

Or should I say, I don't see it as being something that transforms an entire campaign world.

On a local level, oh hell yeah, but I keep seeing the comments that perhaps overstate the situation. It's bad bad news, but not campaign-world ending bad news. At least not how I conceptualize it or imagine it unfolding if the probable happens.

If you've got, say, a campaign map with 24 miles per hex, I'd imagine the hex you place Death Frost Doom might very well become no man's land. But even in the neighboring hexes I don't imagine having an effect greater than perhaps an alteration to random encounter tables and frequency.

Of course the individual referee can make it even worse news as he likes, and maybe I'm underestimating the impact that the entire thing would have, but over 2/3rds of the problem will be a very slow trickle into the outside world, and none of it is at all organized.

I've run the basic adventure twice for my groups in Vaasa and Helsinki. One of those groups stayed in the area and dealing with the situation was a major campaign plot arc. The other group didn't stay in the area but the fallout can be a major campaign plot arc if they head back there to deal with things.

I appreciate the reputation the adventure has gotten in such a short time, but I fear that it may discourage some. It is not intended as a "screw you, players!" exercise or only suitable for a nihilistic one-shot. It can be inserted into a regular campaign without destroying it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Insect Shrine Map Preview: The Halfling Mound

I'm working with Ramsey Dow for the Insect Shrine cartography. Only this one map has been completed so far, but I think we can safely say that amateur maps won't be a problem this time around.

This piece is a patch of dry land in the middle of a great bog, and on the piece of land is a mound surrounded by Stonehenge-like stones.

The mound, of course, has a mini-dungeon inside:

New LotFP Site

Well, it went live last week, but I was told it might take a few days before people were seeing it and not the old one.

It's not a redesign really, just a major tightening up of the old design. The only thing to still be done is adding a message board, but seeing as how often people used the old one, it's not exactly a high priority. ;)

Lookie here!

What do you think?

Also... there's this Geekdō thing. I don't know if it's going to be a relevant deal or not, but I've added LotFP as a publisher and three of my books are listed here. All you satisfied customers (the unsatisfied ones don't have to :D) can go do that voodoo that you do so well over there. You know, comments, ratings, reviews, that sort of thing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Roolipelaaja #23 has My Name on the Cover!

It's in the upper left corner. I hope the reviews are good.. I guess I'll find out soon enough.

I've got a scheduled podcast appearance happening soon as well, and I'll give more detail about that once it's recorded. I'm still waiting on a few reviews from unusual sources (one which is sure to rip me a new asshole, but that's what I signed up for).

Today is the two month mark for LotFP as an official business. My records show 420 total books sold in print and PDF form. The actual totals are a bit bigger but this is what I've been paid for so far; this month's pdf sales revenue doesn't come in until next month. It's not that impressive revenue-wise when you consider that counts six books, half of those Green Devil Faces which aren't exactly cash cows for me (I do those for the fun only), but I think that's a solid start.

(so if you're one of those stores I've contacted in the UK, Australia, Germany, or France... I can move a couple of books at least, I'm not asking you to stock shelf-rotters... :P)

Work continues as always on Insect Shrine. All the primary artwork is of course complete and you've seen the cover in dazzling cover. I still have to collect the "filler" artwork from Laura for scanning, and Aino is supposed to contribute a filler pic as well just so she's got something in there as well. I have received the first completed map from Ramsey Dow and it looks great, so if the rest look even half as good the maps will be 1000 times greater in quality than they have been.

I expect to finish off the writing before the weekend, and have my internal revising done within a week after that... and then the final version needs playtesting. I'll make announcements here calling for a Skype Squadron when it's ready.

Everything seems to take longer than it should on this project, and after having that dream about the Insect God I wonder if there's something more to it all. No matter, it will get done, and you shall all be amazed, both on the refereeing side and on the playing side.

At least you better be. ;) I'm going for broke on this one. No half-assing allowed.

And a request: For you PDF customers out there: I'd like some feedback. I've heard not a single word from you about your purchases. I'm not a PDF-user or buyer myself, so my PDF products are just pure guesswork as to what makes them useful and attractive to you. How am I doing? Are they adequate? Pretty good? Absolute shit? With no feedback, I'm just going to keep doing future PDFs the same as I did the previous ones. If there is something I should be doing that I'm not, please let me know so I can address it. I don't like flying blind.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Mindset of Old School Play

I've seen it said many times that Dungeons and Dragons reflects the popular fantasy of its time, and so as public interest changes, so too changes D&D.

Is that so? And if it is, how do we deal with it?

The problem with equating D&D with literature is that at no point is it a direct translation. "You can be a character from your favorite novel!" has always been hogwash. D&D has never been generic fantasy, but instead a very specific amalgam of specific fantastic ideas. A patchwork quilt of peculiar elements.

And the entire hobby has struggled with the "... has hobbits... but this doesn't feel like Lord of the Rings at all!" disconnect ever since.

More recent D&D editions have made an effort to codify game play (everyone having powers to be roughly equivalent in combat, treasure parcels, gameboard movement - can we agree that's an accurate, and neutral, assessment?), and it undoubtedly projects a different atmosphere than early D&D. "Different influences," say supporters.

Yet earlier D&D was codified in its own way as well. Gaining followers and land holdings happened when you hit a certain level. AD&D certainly codified the how and when in 1978's Players Handbook, and Mentzer extensively codified play in the 1983 box sets. "Dungeons level 1-3, Wilderness level 4-14, Dominions at 15+!"

(When copying the Mentzer dominion rules into my personal campaign copy of BFRPG last year, I did my best to remove any references to levels...)

The media influence on D&D is perhaps overstated as well. Modern D&D certainly has influences to contend with. Gygax and company never had to deal with Harry Potter or ninja Legolas or MMORPGs advertising that you level up in "sixty seconds." Or Lord Foul's Bane, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, or Stephen friggin King as cultural phenomenon (Carrie was only released in 1974) if we really want to put it into perspective.

But the Dungeons and Dragons of yore wasn't a product of contemporary fantasy. It was a product of myths and legends and adventure fiction from all time. Everything from Homer and the Bible through Poe and Burroughs HG Wells and Dunsany and Lovecraft and Howard and Tolkien and then on to Vance and Moorcock...

Are you really telling me that players of current-edition D&D are so poisoned by contemporary media that they are ignorant of, or resistant to, the same work that so inspired Gary and company?

I don't buy it. Not one bit.

The fact is that because D&D was never about being any specific extant fantasy thing, we really can't say that certain media belongs to certain edition. Look at the against-the-rules construction necessary to put Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser into D&D stats, for instance. D&D isn't a great fit for doing faithful Conan role-playing without restructuring the classes and magic system.

I came upon this line of thinking after seeing yet another repeat of the sentiment "My kid likes Harry Potter and World of Warcraft... and when I tried to play old school D&D with him, he couldn't do anything the kinds of characters he was familiar with can do!" It was a comment to a blog post in the past couple weeks, I forget whose blog. I immediately sat down and started writing an angry response, bringing up points that the kid probably just watched Harry Potter movies, not even read the books, and blah blah blah.

Luckily I stopped before finishing and posting it. Because it doesn't matter. There is no correct combination of reading or watching that will make old D&D magically make sense, because it's not about regurgitation of any specific thing.

It's the process of exploration and discovery that sets older D&D apart from newer. The old adage about D&D being about killing things and taking its stuff? 3rd and 4th editions seem to do that just fine, and are certainly more balanced to do so than early D&D. 2nd edition had the right idea of stimulating the exploration and mystery aspects of fantasy with its multiple settings, but completely dropped the ball by then describing them so fully that the exploration was all done before play began... and the adventures were largely execrable train rides where the PCs were tourists, not explorers.

In this context, a lot more makes sense than if one merely connects the dots between specific books and rules elements. While playing "Poul Anderson... trolls! oohh!" is good fun and all (and the quest for such trivia does lead one to excellent reading, so it's not exactly wasted time), the real value of reading tons of fantasy literature in gaming terms is simply the exposure to ideas and influences and genuinely creative minds.

If x is your imagination, then x = xy^z, where y is your reading intake and z is the breadth of that reading. One's imagination only goes so far, and the more raw material one has to process (and combine and twist and plunder), the more one's imagination can do.

So in old school play, the lack of character options and customization makes sense. There is no need for a detailed list of skills and feats and powers, because the character is merely the vehicle for exploring whatever environment is for this week's game. Character detail just gets in the way.

When you have a game that attempts strict balance geared towards a certain amount of "encounters" with foes of just-so difficulty, and your playing piece is a finely detailed and customized object, I think that leads to a completely different play experience than a 3d6-in-order, if-you-open-the-wrong-door-it's-save-or-die game.

I don't think this is any new revelation or even stating something that was previously unspoken. Not so long ago, this post appeared, which I think makes a good point but doesn't address what qualities an adventure might have that would lend itself to being such a "Rosetta Stone" module.

But look at the more lauded creative works of the Old School Renaissance. Finch's Spire of Iron and Crystal. McKinney's Carcosa. (is it too presumptuous to mention Death Frost Doom?) What do these things provide? Thing about the classic modules of the glory days of TSR. What did they provide?

The common thread is that it was not so much about what the characters were supposed to be doing, it was the fact that they were doing them in an environment that set imaginations on fire. It's about the location, not the quest. Acererak's tomb doesn't get any more interesting because there is a reason to be there beyond "Loot the place!" If the Spire was all about killing the big bad guy, that might encourage people to tinker less with the environment, and how much fun would that be? What were people doing in the Barrier Peaks? Anything in particular? Nah. But it's a spaceship!

It's not about the perfect "boss" at the end of the level, it's not concentrating your "fun" into easily digested (and formed) bits to enable people-on-the-go.

It's imagination, whether flavored by whimsy or the macabre, that is the key to old school play. It's the mystery of an unknown location that can be unraveled just by going through the place. That fantasy is not bound by logic or even the pretense of reality is probably why fantasy gaming was the first and perpetually the most popular form of role-playing.

It's not an easily mass-produced experience (although modules do allow for this lightning to be put in a bottle, and using other people's work on occasion does fit into that x = xy^z formula described above), and not everyone can do it well. Quality dungeonmastering, or refereeing, or whatever we're calling it, isn't something that can be learned from a book. Quality adventure design can't be captured by a checklist.

So thinking about presenting an old school game to a prospective player, even (especially?) a child, it's not about their character, and no amount of reading the appropriate fiction will put them in the right frame of mind in that context. "It's like a movie or book, except you're the main character!" just leads to the disappointment of having a fighter that can die from a single sword blow, or the infamous one-spell wizard. "This game is just like Conan/Lord of the Rings/other media property," will quickly lead to the realization that the Dungeons and Dragons character doesn't measure up to the protagonist of a carefully plotted classic story. If you're looking at the game through the lens of "Who am I?" then yeah, the beginning PC looks dreadfully inadequate.

"Would you like to explore an unknown world of magic, mystery, and danger?"

That sounds astonishingly corny, but I believe it is the best angle to best represent our games and to push those games as a viable and fresh (not just older) alternative to the current edition and overall current gaming trends. Yes, 4th edition play allows you to explore weird locations and fantastic worlds... but you know what? Moldvay/Cook allows for some pretty crackin' combats with dozens of creatures and PCs of considerable power too.

"You are explorers of the unknown," doesn't put any real onus on the game to deliver a specific sort of character to live up to preconceived expectations. Adding a context for the exploration ("you are treasure seekers," or "you are the Duke's special chaos-investigation team" work well enough) provides a reasonable enough opening hook for the players to do something.

And then you're playing with the possibilities of gaming for a long, long time.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

It's Talk Like a Pirate Day

And I've got nothing for it other than to say Death Plunder Doom is another option I'm looking at for the new year. A ship appearing on the horizon flying the Dead Sign is just the thing to ruin your players' day. And do you really want to follow that treasure map?

I just saw the first completed Insect Shrine map proof. Looking slick. :)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Followup on Insect Shrine Cover, Cannibals. and a Question!

Kevin Mayle goes into a bit of detail about how he did the colors for the Insect Shrine cover here.

That update talks about a logo he did for Pacesetter Games & Simulations. Anyone have any additional information on who is behind this company?

I finally watched those Cannibal movies I rented (yay 7 movies for 7 days for 7€). Mountain of the Cannibal God, Cannibal Ferox, and Eaten Alive! were all complete shit. Even for exploitation movies. Idiot characters doing stupid things to the point where it was impossible to feel sorry for even the innocent characters, the plots were nearly identical (although wasn't that obvious going in?), and just... ugh. The stupid, it burns. Cannibal Holocaust was immensely disturbing on many levels, mainly because it could be taken seriously. It punches you in the gut and never lets up. These other movies were just laughable. Yes, they were gross, but that's all they were, and in some cases so over the top they skipped right over nauseating and moved straight on into gonzo comedy. There's a reason the Cannibal Holocaust director was arrested upon suspicion for really killing his actors (which he he didn't, of course, but I've seen an interview with one of the actors where the guy states that they weren't sure on the set for a little while if that was the intent, haha) and these other clowns weren't.

The movies I rented all featured on-screen castration, they all featured real-life animal killings. And not to defend Cannibal Holocaust in this regard, but the animal killings in these movies I rented were really immoral and irresponsible. In Cannibal Holocaust, real animals were killed on-screen but in all but one case the animals killed were really eaten by members of the crew; for example the turtle killing was sickening but was at the same moral level as filming what happens down at the slaughterhouse to turn a cow into a steak. They showed the animal being killed and cooked and eaten in the movie, in a manner that they are when cameras aren't rolling. But there were completely stomach-turning things like an actor shooting a pig and then giving an in-character speech about jungle brutality where the fact that the pig was then eaten doesn't excuse the cruelty of the thing writhing around after being shot by some guy who wasn't exactly aiming straight. So don't take my endorsement of "Cannibal Holocaust is better" to mean everything is A-OK, because it's not.

But these movies I rented? The movie would stop and the "action" would cut to a setup where one animal would eat another. In one case, they threw a sedated monkey at a python or whatever kind of snake it was (I say sedated because it really didn't struggle). So we sit there for two or three minutes watching this snake crush this monkey, including a closeup of the monkey's head, eyes blinking pitifully, inside the snakes mouth. Another situation had some sort of rat or weird jungle animal tied to a stake (it was a "pet" of a character) and they sicced a snake on it. These things had nothing to do with the plot of the movie, they were just unnecessary (on any level, even the flimsiest of narrative justifications) cruelty. Absolute garbage intended to shock but having no further point than that.

The only movie of the three I rented that wasn't completely morally bankrupt was Eaten Alive!, but that's just because they didn't kill any animals for this movie. No, what they did was just use the footage of animal deaths from other movies (including one of the other ones I rented!) and stuck it in. Hell, every instance of gore was footage from other movies inserted into the bad acting on offer here. Garbage. Garbage. Garbage.

So this research mission was a bust and I certainly won't be using any of the "original" ideas from these movies in any of my work (no, not even the cannibal that gets so sexually aroused he starts humping a large pig. I bet Stacy Keach and Ursula Andress were so proud to be in that movie), doing little more than spoiling my appetite for a few hours but leaving no further impression than these filmmakers have no clue what they are doing.

If you are wanting to see a cannibal movie, stick with Cannibal Holocaust. It is a serious, well-made movie that shocks because it is a credible piece of film. But it is still reprehensible on many levels, but I guess that's the difference between actually making a cannibal movie or just making a beginning-of-Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark adventure movie.

I will investigate that Aguirre movie that several of you recommended last week.

For the record, the other movies we rented were Hellraiser, The Shining, Evil Aliens (goofy fun, nothing serious), and The Cottage (crime/horror story with Andy Sirkis and League of Gentleman's Reece Shearsmith - not very serious or profound but an entertaining 90 minutes, and made me think how this story wouldn't work for an American movie, with none of these criminal sorts having a gun).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill cover... now in fabulous COLOR!

I've been stressing about this for over a year, since I first saw the original line art. I even tried doing the color myself since I knew what the place was supposed to look like, but my illustration and Photoshop skills are pretty stinky.

But now the problem is solved.

Artwork by Laura Jalo, colors by Kevin Mayle.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Now Accepting Submissions for Green Devil Face #4 - TARGA Benefit Issue!

Deadline: October 31.

This issue of Green Devil Face will be PDF-only, and all income from the issue will go directly to TARGA and their efforts to support traditional games and promote at conventions and game stores and such.

What makes for a good Green Devil Face submission?

Green Devil Face is a zine dedicated to presenting ready-to-use tricks, traps, rooms, and odd encounters which demand player interaction. Think to the original Green Devil Face trap: It was just there, sitting in the wall, and was no danger unless explorers actively did the wrong thing. Those who did not risk did not suffer. No "gotcha!" trap here. Things which entice PCs to interact and only then triggers (with the results being... anything! From the deadly to the humorous or even the advantageous).

So submit to Green Devil Face, get your work seen, and help out an organization working to spread the word about the games we all love.

Submit to lotfp@lotfp.com. Maps or illustrations necessary for your entry should be submitted as well.

We could also use a couple of donated pieces of black and white line art for the front and back covers, unless everyone's happy with my public domain art methods to this point. :)

So come on, people. Let's pack this issue!

And some disclaimers: All submissions must be original work and remain the property of the author to use in their own projects or do anything they darn well please with them. However, by submitting you do give permission for LotFP to reproduce the work in print and PDF.

For the record, I will not be making a print issue of GDF #4 or set up any sort of competition for the TARGA-benefit, but someday I might be compiling these things and I'd want to include it all.

Carcosa Review Posted

Last year's festive Carcosa review has been posted, with some slight alterations for the consideration of the different reading audience.

Read it here.

I'm hoping it doesn't become a circus (especially since it's 10 months old), but you know how these things go. My motivation for posting it on RPG.net was simply to do what I've been telling other people to do: Put reviews up in places other than the usual echo chambers... and what other reviews did I have laying around?

(I certainly didn't intend to click the "Romance" tag, that's for sure... oops...)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Great Shame of the OSR

Somehow, there grew a separation between "Dungeons and Dragons" and the clone systems now being used to spread and grow the traditional gaming community.

Clone publishers and supplement publishers using the OGL can't say D&D outright, and the people using old TSR books don't seem to want to accept the new material as being for their D&D, even though that's the entire original point of the whole thing. It's a mess.

I don't understand the separation. The difference is so cosmetic as to be negligible.

This is really fucking stupid.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Another Death Frost Doom Actual Play Report

Here. It's not an RPG blog, either.

There's also an offer there for publishers: "(Anyway if any of you D&D people want to send me more modules to play I'll review 'em and post it here.)"

Death (?) Doom

After taking care of some banking and promotional activities today, I'm taking today and tomorrow off. Then there's the weekly game on Sunday, then it's back to the writing and revising and coordinating on Monday.

After the already-planned releases (Insect Shrine, The Grinding Gear, Deranged and Insane: The Lunatics of the Stone Hold Asylum), I think I'm going to revisit the Duvan'Ku thing.

I have this idea for a series of adventures, unrelated in any way except that they all involve remnants of the old Duvan'Ku civilization. They won't be "sequels," or have connecting plotlines, and let's face it, how many characters will volunteer to go anywhere else they see the Dead Sign after the first encounter?

Hell, how many parties will stay alive and intact enough to sustain any sort of continuing narrative involving these places? :D

Each will involve some sort of location theme. Death Frost Doom takes place on an icy mountain, for instance.

The next one will take place deep in an Amazon-like jungle. Over the next couple days I'll be researching source material to get the feel right. I've rented the following films that I've never seen:

  • Cannibal Ferox
  • Mountain of the Cannibal God
  • Eaten Alive!

(I already own Cannibal Holocaust, the movie that features real-life animal mutilations and as the interviews claim, the director had to produce the actors in court to prove he didn't make a snuff movie, and I believe served time in jail anyway for the movie... this stuff is bad news. Check just the first three items in IMDB's Trivia section for the movie, which is all consistent with what I have heard from other sources. I felt horrible after watching this movie. It really is difficult to stomach, and I say that as a lifelong gorehound.)

By reputation, Cannibal Ferox might be as bad (although Cannibal Holocaust has the reputation of being the gold standard for brutality and sleaziness), Mountain of the Cannibal God is more of a "real" movie, and Eaten Alive! is crap, but I'm not watching these movies just to watch primitive natives eat people.

While the pure filth of Cannibal Holocaust could never translate to RPGs (where PCs have no issue slaying their enemies, hunting for food, or killing threatening creatures, and it is in these activities that the movie causes disgust by their rather uncinematic depiction), it does have several themes which are interesting and definitely suitable for a gameable adventure:

  • The cannibal tribe are not just mindless savages who eat any old person that shows up - this is a tribe of humans, not hairless animals
  • The setting's utter isolation and separation from civilization is very well-done
  • "Who are the real savages, us or them?"

I hope these other movies have similar redeeming qualities hiding somewhere among the more obvious elements.

So research today and tomorrow, but no actual writing (or any other aspect of production) until either the current releases are done, or my regular game group ends up in a jungle environment. :D

However... what to call it? Death Jungle Doom, Death Cannibal Doom, Death Malaria Doom, all that sort of thing just seems cheesy. Death Amazon Doom might imply the wrong kind of Amazon. But I want to keep the Death x Doom title format for the Duvan'Ku-themed adventures... for people that want them, or not, to more easily identify them.

So what should x be?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

LotFP, Expeditious Retreat Press, Goblinoid Games, and Brave Halfling Publishing Team Up for Old School Sampler PDF Bundle!

Brave Halfling Publishing's OSRIC adventure People of the Pit by Alphonso Warden
Expeditious Retreat Press' OSRIC adventure The Lost Keys of Solitude by Joseph Browning and Suzi Yee
Goblinoid Games' Labyrinth Lord adventure Idol of the Orcs by James Boney
LotFP's adventure for oldschool system in particular Death Frost Doom by... me!

All of these have been combined into one heavily discounted PDF bundle... so if you've been putting off buying any of the newer adventures for traditional games... you now have no excuse. :)

The bundle is available at Your Games Now and RPGNow. (the publishers get a bigger cut of the sale from YGN, if you care about that sort of thing... especially XRP. :P :P :P)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Just a Little Note About Future Releases

... Insect Shrine is going to be more of a mini-campaign than a simple adventure. The page count isn't finalized, nor even the decision of whether to use a color cover (I'll be seeing a color version of it tonight), but we may be looking at a $14-$15 Noble Knight price. That's just a rough estimate right now, of course. I know that's almost as much as one of Paizo's adventure path releases, but that's the price of short-run printing that needs to be shipped across the ocean.

Still, it'll be big and meaty and packed with art.

After Insect Shrine, however, the future releases will be much shorter and much cheaper. There are three reasons for this:

  • I'll jump out the window if I have to keep managing these large releases every 4-8 weeks. 2 releases of 16 pages each are much less stress and agony production-wise than a single 32-pager.
  • Smaller adventures should appeal to more people - easier to just plop into a campaign than a "deluxe" adventure is.
  • Smaller price = easier to afford. Especially when the dollar is tanking bit by bit.

But you never know what's going to happen when trying to play publisher, so I have to make sure to get my big ideas out first.

And this is the big one. Insect Shrine is going to kick your ass. It'll be different from any of the current releases. Blood and thunder and swarms of enemies to hack away at and run away from, along with the usual interesting NPCs and creepy locations.

But I did want to let you know that LotFP releases are not just going to be a continuous stream of bigger and bigger and bigger books.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Best Art of the OSR?

I'll be updating/putting together a new version of my old Artwork post, hopefully before the end of the month. That will cover the artists of the first couple generations of gaming...

But what about this generation?

Which pieces of art appearing in D&D(ish) releases since 2006 (when the clones started to appear... OK, you can pick Castles & Crusades or Hackmaster stuff prior to 06 if you must) are particularly impressive?

To be specific, I'm not asking you to name artists that appeal to you in general. I'm asking you to name specific pieces of art that stand out, and why you think they are remarkable.

So what are they?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Lessons Learned From Today's Game

A Deck of Many Things is like a sandwich... if you drop them, the pieces will all fall business end down.

The kind and merciful thing to do is kill the last enemy combatant, because he'd be really distressed at being taken prisoner.

Making a dungeon's surfaces composed of very smooth blue metal will make players think "Spaceship!" Was it a spaceship? Maybe. ;)

It's perfectly OK to burglarize your Mom's house if you really have to.

Sometimes, a splash of water is the most effective weapon in your arsenal.

Making all the PCs "out of phase" with the world so they are all permanently invisible and silenced (but not to each other) grants a lot of power... but... what do you do with it if you effectively can't interact with the rest of the world except to stab it?

Death Frost Doom Play Report Now Online!

... over at Save vs Poison.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fever Dreams

I put together a load of Insect Shrine maps to send to a new guy. If his work on these maps is half as good as the samples he sent me, then the map quality in the next release will blow the previous LotFP maps out of the water. Which is good, because that's been bothering me and I'm only capable of what I'm capable of. My ambition is to present something a bit higher class than "functional," so I hope this works out.

I've sent five different international distributors pitches, but have received no replies as of yet.

Laura's working on filler art for the ol' Shrine that I can use at the end of individual sections, plus is coloring the cover. We'll see how that goes.

Today's creative development is I had a really weird dream last night. I was in the Insect Shrine, and I ended up in the Hidden Level. Only it wasn't the hidden level I had written. It was something else. Scary. Strange. The gossamer borealis effect on the cavern walls and ceiling swept me away to the silent shore where I saw... it. And it saw me. The end.

So I've thrown out the hidden level that I had, and am inserting my dream in there. Before it was a "screw you, players!" level. Now it will be far worse. Smart players will heed the warnings and avoid the place, and its main use in the module will be as context and atmosphere informing the rest of the complex. Rash players will cry, "unfair!" because if they've gotten that far, they'll be losing characters they've already invested a good amount of time into.

Are there published TSR or Judges Guild examples of areas which aren't meant to be explored by judicious parties?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill Design Notes

As I'm piecing together the Insect Shrine and going back over three years (uugghhh) of notes and writing and trying to figure out what stays and what needs a rewrite, I am struck by several thoughts.

The first was how solid I still find the basic premise and setup. That's a good thing, because rewriting this monster from scratch would be soulkilling.

The second thing I noticed was how exact I was on every detail. Every room needs a big, interesting description and if it doesn't have one it's not finished. It's not like any of the connecting material for the main parts was done (lots had been done and scrapped for being too crappy, one bit I'm taking out of this project and making it its own, etc etc), but the main portions - Gorsamfeld's Inn, the Goblin Tribe, and the Insect Shrine, are effectively complete and have been since autumn 2006.

I ran into the same problem for the house in No Dignity in Death. When I first decided to tackle that project, I had this idea that every single room in that house needed a detailed writeup, even though the house is largely empty. Those of you with the module realize sanity prevailed. The same will happen to the Insect Shrine - every room in the inn doesn't need to be unique and completely fleshed out (what would that accomplish? "My character says he wants #23... the drapes suit his taste much better!"). Every dank corner in the Shrine doesn't need it's own "oooh spooky!" Some areas will be like the house in NDiD or the crypts in Death Frost Doom.

Not to say I won't be longwinded in places - I gotta be me - but that sort of thing will hopefully be saved only for those areas that are interesting. Aside from artist issues, attempting to (or thinking that I should) catalog the complete contents of every crate in the goblin lair was a major element in my dropping the ball on Insect Shrine in the first place ("Hey Bob, there are 14 nails, twelve wooden stakes, and a ball of twine in crate #37! Are you writing this down?"). Stupid, stupid.

The project had three goals, which I've cut down to two in my current preparations. It's interesting because while there are things that I am tightening up, for the most part the outlines and ideas still seem solid after so much time. The goals:

  1. Be the Quintessential Dungeons and Dragons adventure!
  2. Bring the principles of the Successful Adventures essay into focus
  3. Do for goblins what Tucker did for kobolds

#1 isn't going to happen. Keep on the Borderlands is already out there and doesn't need to be redone. The "humanoids in caves" idea is so overdone that to just do it as a straight "slay the goblins!" hackfest would be pointless. I seemed to know this in 2006 as I wrote half a page on the goblin tribe's internal politics. Asking myself, "What would make this different," is essential, and I laid the groundwork quite well. I am going to expand the diplomatic possibilities (and define "victory conditions" that don't involve goblinoid genocide), but this sort of thing will be an extension of #3.

#2 Page 107-109 of the Players Handbook seem oft-ignored by players, referees, and adventure designers. I wanted to write an adventure that rewards good play, not just powerful characters. In Death Frost Doom, it was PCs vs. Environment, in No Dignity in Death it was PCs vs. Society (and again vs. Environment for the end bit), but very little traditional D&D-style play.

Insect Shrine will have "classic" dungeoneering and plenty of foes to stab. But if the only thought put into the expedition is "kick in the next door and stab whatever is behind it," or, "we need to thoroughly explore everything and clear this whole place out," then the party will likely die.

Plenty of puzzles and pure time-wasters, with random encounters an ever-present danger.

The adventure is going to be advertised as another low-level adventure (never can have enough of these suckers, it seems), but the distractions, and there will be many, will be scaled to an entirely different level set altogether. Basically this is for both low-level (1-3) , and mid-level (4-7) characters, but neither set should really use the entire module. Higher level characters will run roughshod over the stuff intended for low-level characters, and low-level characters are of course going to be in a world of hurt if deciding to ignore some obvious warnings.

#3 What do you do about goblins to make them impressive? I'm using a straight Monster Manual writeup as the basis for my goblins. They will have all the bells and whistles allowed to them (wolves, bugbears), plus one rather gleeful surprise that has its roots in D&D history.

But they are 4' tall one-hit kills. And the detailed portion of the module is their lair (including lady goblins and itty bitty baby goblins), their living-space, not a military fortress, and it cannot simply be a honeycombed death-trap. So what to do?

First, just as some goblins are bigger and tougher than others (being 2hd instead of the usual 1-1), some will be smart. Being primarily a warrior race, they will realize they are pretty much small squishy beings in a world where just about everything else is bigger and deadlier than they are. The MM says they're "Lawful Evil" so I take that "Lawful" to mean they are very efficiently organized and prepared for incursions. Especially since they're messing around human territories.

But what about that "Evil"? The women and kids are present so I'm not going for the "evil mythic creatures" angle that some prefer. The gimmick I'm going for is that the goblins are not a stupid or barbaric society. They won't be sophisticated (at least not presented as such, Ecology of the Goblin is not my aim, not to mention the average goblin is a bit dim), but they will have a functioning society that would be classified as a "demi-human" race rather than a "humanoid" race but for one tiny detail: Goblins see non-goblinoids as talking cattle. Stock animals. And being a self-sufficient tribe without the benefits of trading for resources, goblins waste nothing.

And that's the horror of it. Not that some twisted creatures of nightmare (... with just a few hit points) are terrorizing the land, but that perfectly articulate, otherwise civilized creatures need to feed and clothe their children and prepare for winter and you and yours are their most valued means of doing so.

There is still a fair amount of bits to do on Insect Shrine, and lots to polish (I wouldn't say my writing style has changed in the past three years, but my idea of how to best present location descriptions has), but the work at this point seems like a pleasure, and with nothing else I'm supposed to be doing, I should be making some announcements in a matter of weeks.

Review of No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides

Geoffrey's posted another review here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Extensive Review of People of Pembrooktoshire

Found here.

And you know, I should feud with other personalities and/or mention Ron Edwards more often. The blog had more hits yesterday than it's had since January's Racism article went live.

Ron Edwards Ron Edwards!