Friday, July 31, 2009

More Ropecon Notes

From the man in charge of setting up the gaming at Ropecon:

Amusingly, not only will there be way more D&D 3.5 games running at Ropecon than 4E games – we’ll also have more AD&D 1E games, and possibly an equal or greater amount of 3.0 games.

One of my regular players said he might be running a Mentzer Castle Zagyg game as well, but I'm not sure if he 's carrying through with that.

And next month I'm going to see a festival with Agent Steel, Voivod, Atheist, Asphyx, Death Angel, Rage, Artillery, Whiplash, and so much more playing...

I love this country.

And... Ropecon!

Running games today at 4pm. 8pm, and midnight.

Running games tomorrow at 4pm, 8pm, midnight.

(yeah, I decided to do 6 games instead of 7... sleep might be helpful, you know? I'm in my mid-30s, not 20 anymore. :P)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Old Schoolers Talk About Traditional Games in Antagonistic and Unappealing Ways

What's wrong with you people? Don't you know you shouldn't proclaim your love for these old games?

At least, not strongly. Not as if you, you know, actually prefer them over other games.
Don't you know that discrimination is wrong?

You should make potential readers know that their feelings, their preferences matter. You should be ashamed for exposing them to your beliefs. Why do you have such strong beliefs about anything, anyway? Be more apologetic so the people that dislike and work against your preferences don't feel threatened.

This is what a proper pronouncement of Old School enjoyment should look like:

I'm so sorry, I'm a backwards-thinking selfish bastard with absolutely no consideration for the feelings of people who have actually progressed this hobby and moved us forward out of those awful early days, but every so often, I happen to endure a bit of early edition D&D.

While I realize that my choice might offend those of you who don't play the games, at times I suffer the great burden of playing intensely inferior older games. I know that newer games do everything these older games do, and more besides, and they do them much better, but I seekburning nostalgia to feel like I'm 12 years old again.

Please forgive my straying from the path and forgoing the latest, best ever offering, but I like to project my insecurity upon you all by pretending to feel all superior and meaningful to a small amount of people by pretending to enjoy stuff that is so outdated. I realize that if any of this old stuff was worth anything, they wouldn't have changed it for the modern version!

Please don't take anything I say to mean that I am at all serious. This is a silly little game where we pretend to be elves, so of course I would never make a value judgment between different ways to do so!

I'll try to be quiet as I engage in role-playing necrophilia before growing up and joining you for a session of your completely superior game that's taken advantage of every innovation in game design, and I look forward to updating to the next version with you next year! I hope they don't make us wait longer than that!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

No Dignity in Death and People of Pembrooktonshire and Green Devil Face Updates

Death Frost Doom seems have been received well and has sold decently, on its small scale, in the little while it has been available.

No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides is complete, save for a final round of proofreading. I even made a mockup (which is about as good as Death Frost Doom in production values) to take around to printers yesterday to get quotes. And oh are there stories about some of these printers. Of the near dozen places we visited, I think only a few of them were actually working on anything. And those were the ones with the best prices.

Glossy covers (with a splash of color for NDiD) with full bleeds for the next releases! That will result in a price increase (but combined with the ISBN that I found out is free to receive in Finland, this will now be theoretically distribution-ready, even if I have no such retail deals set up yet) but seeing as how there is a production upgrade and the thing is 40 pages compared to DFD's 28, I hope you can forgive it. The truth is everything here costs more than in the US (not to mention it's got to be shipped to the US) so the same standard of physical product is going to cost a bit more than the equivalent from a small US publisher.

My only hope is that the amount of content per page (my goal is to have the text be dense yet easily legible) and the quality of the content makes up for it. And starting this weekend I'll have that feature in Roolipelaaja so maybe business will pick up locally.

People of Pembrooktonshire is in progress. Laura's got the art specs and this companion piece to NDiD will just have cover art and is otherwise all text. I'm just about halfway done with the writing, and then it needs proofreading and layout. Actually, I might be two-thirds done. My goal is 137 NPCs with bizarre plot hooks plus some general information about Pembrooktonshire, but fleshing out passably clever and/or weird hooks or twists for this many people is rather taxing. When I get to 100 I'll reasses whether to soldier on to 137, as 100 is a nice round respectable number that wouldn't feel like laziness. The hooks will be a mix of simple oddity, strange coincidence, flourishes of the supernatural, and a healthy dose of the macabre. See ifyou can spot all the references!

I do want Green Devil Face #3 ready with those. It will be produced as it has been, so it won't get the production upgrade. Get your late submissions in quick to pad this thing out to a respectable length. I'd feel weird producing a 16 page issue, but GDF is the community project. I'll gladly do layout and fulfill orders and have a couple entries myself and all that, but forgive me if my creative energies are focused on the paying work!

All work on these projects will stop between Thursday and Monday coming up. Friday through Sunday is Ropecon and my insane schedule of games I'll be running there, Thursday is prep day for that, and Monday I have a periodontist appointment, which should be fifteen shades of fun. But I expect all work to be done by the end of next week, and then we can go into the production phase, and then hopefully a great big ridiculously sized shipment to Noble Knight (with these titles and a restock of DFD). When that arrives and goes on sale there, the new items will also go on sale on my website. And a week later, through the PDF vendors.

And then we'll see if this "Build a Catalog" keystone of my business plan shows any signs of life.

There will be no rest after those are released. Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill will be next, and it will not take forever. This is my job now. After that I can decide whether the Grinding Gear Inn, Stone Hold Sanitarium, or Carcosa adventure will be next. Or whether I should finish up that Random God Generator. Or maybe something new from my own game will jump out between now and then as being well-served to be fleshed out for publication. Or whatever.

I do want to show you two No Dignity in Death art pieces. The book still needs an "official" layout to be done, but I think the mockup is going to wind up looking very much like the final product, so these two drawings are going to be either greatly cropped or shrunk. Here they are in full splendor, click for a bigger version. Both by Laura Jalo.

The Gossipers

Gypsy Wagons

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Awesome Review of Death Frost Doom!

... courtesy the Vaults of Nagoh.

"Howls of anguish and curses will rain down on the name of James E. Raggi IV, and his laughter will echo about the icy northern wastes."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Screw You, The Ultimate GM Screen 2!

The rankings fluctuate seemingly minute-to-minute, but Death Frost Doom, Green Devil Face #1, and Green Devil Face #2 are numbers 2, 3, and 4 on RPGNow's "Hottest Items" list.

#1? The Ultimate GM Screen 2.

Curses! *shakes fist in the air while twiddling mustache*

Thursday, July 23, 2009

No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides Artwork and Status Report!

Maria has already taken the red pen to NDiD and corrections have been made. She caught a couple of embarrassing textual contradictions that I'm glad didn't see print. Those things are worse than typos! The corrected text is now on her desk again for another go-through.

The artwork is all finished! Here is a digital camera shot of the last thing to be completed: Pembrooktonshire itself. I'll be picking up these last six pieces of artwork tomorrow and getting them scanned in.

This should be 100% wrapped up, including layouts, sometime Saturday.

But that's not a wrap. I am currently writing a companion piece to No Dignity in Death called People of Pembrooktonshire. It's a completely optional, all-"fluff" expansion/supplement/setting giving details about 137 citizens of the town plus adding general setting details. Again, it is completely optional, as only one of those 137 appears in the adventure proper. Without PoP, No Dignity in Death takes place in an isolated, backwater town. Using PoP in its entirety, NDiD takes place in a bizarre, hellish alternate reality where nothing is normal. The degree to which a referee uses PoP is entirely up to him (with only a very few exceptions the 137 are stand-alone characters), and it can also be used as a general weird NPC sourcebook for any setting.

I estimate that to take another couple of weeks to finish, plus whatever time it takes to have it proofread and laid out. There will only be one piece of artwork for it, which will be a "wraparound" cover.

When this is done, it will be released alongside No Dignity in Death. I know won't be nearly as big a deal (I think there was a slight farting noise from the otherwise silent gallery when I was posting bits from People of PembrooktonshirePoP on the blog), but NDiD won't feel complete to me without it, yet it really is unnecessary for the adventure so it needs to be separate, and it would be really lame for those that are interested to release PoP later on because modifications and alterations to a setting in an already-released product are FUCKING LAME. So bear with me.

Well, maybe you'll instead throw vegetables at me for it as Noble Knight has indicated that due to the per-unit costs of smaller shipments, they'll be restocking Death Frost Doom at the same time this stuff is ready, so it'll be around a month's wait before they have it again. Sorry...

In other good news, half of the art debt for Insect Shrine has been paid off. That will 100% for sure be the next project to be tackled. Thanks for all the interest so far in Death Frost Doom, as it has been very encouraging.

And maybe someday I can get the website looking tight as well. :P

LotFP RPG PDFs Now Available at RPGNow!

Clicky clicky here here. Death Frost Doom and Green Devil Faces #1 and #2 are there.

Yes, I'm aware they have my company name rather... truncated. I've notified them about it.

And now let's do some editorializing and see if we can't get a few annoyed responses and maybe clear up a nagging question I have.

I understand why a lot of publishers around the "Old School Renaissance" use Lulu for their print items.

But why are people sticking exclusively with Lulu for their PDFs? Especially the people charging money for them?

I don't for a minute believe that I can get on a couple of PDF vendor sites but Fight On! can't. Mythmere Games has one of the S&W core books up on RPGNow, but not the excellent Eldritch Weirdness material? Or the should-be-iconic Spire of Iron and Crystal? Or Knockspell?

Ignoring any money this is losing for the publishers (and for those two I'm guessing that's a worthwhile sum), I thought the name of the game was outreach and visibility? I mention these two publishers specifically because of their otherwise impressive efforts to spread the word and raise awareness of the traditional games and values.

So what's up?

Roolipelaaja #22 is at the Printers!

That second item up top means "Let's kill Bargle," and the top two articles are "The 80s: The Golden Age of Role-Playing Games" and "Retro Games: Before, Even Games Were More Fun." Unless I've goofed up a translation.

Oh goodness. Is the article with me in it the big feature of the issue?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Death Frost Doom sold out at Noble Knight!

Still available directly from me or in pdf from Your Games Now though.

Death Frost Doom NOW AVAILABLE!

Up on a mountain sits a house by a cemetery, haunted by the memories of atrocities past. People remember that horrible things happened up on that mountain, but not exactly what those things were. Still, they stay well away, and live long and prosperous lives for their wisdom.

But rumors of abandoned treasure and magic always bring those wishing to recover it. Brave, skilled men need not fear that which terrifies the common folk.

The cult on the mountain is long gone, yet the music of weirdling death carries on the wind.

The mountain is cold. So very cold.

And the greedy and the foolish will march bravely up the mountain for gold and glory.

Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Their Souls?

Death Frost Doom is an adventure for character levels 1 – 6, and includes a revised version of The Tower, originally published in Fight On! #4.

Death Frost Doom is compatible with Advanced, Original, Basic, and Expert fantasy RPGs published between 1974 – 1983 as well as modern “Clone” games including Labyrinth Lord™, OSRIC™, and Swords & Wizardry™.

What others have already said:

Grognardia: "Death Frost Doom is, quite simply, an inspiring product..."
Confessions of Not a Grognard: "...very impressive..."
How to Start a Revolution in 21 Days or Less: "This module has an attitude."

And the playtesters had a lot to say as well:
Back in '81: "It is very, very cool...creepy as hell, and a very fun crawl for anyone looking for something a little different than your average hack-n-slash adventure."
The Dwarf and the Basilisk: " I don’t think I’ve ever been in a party that caused the sheer amount of carnage we caused tonight."
Running with Dice: "...thoroughly fun and old school."

To order Death Frost Doom:
In North America, order from Noble Knight Games.
(and check out Noble Knight Games' Old School Renaissance section!)
Elsewhere, order direct from LotFP.
The PDF is available from Your Games Now.

Also Available:

Green Devil Face #1
In North America, order from Noble Knight Games.
Elsewhere, order direct from LotFP.
The PDF is available from Your Games Now.

Green Devil Face #2
In North America, order from Noble Knight Games.
Elsewhere, order direct from LotFP.
The PDF is available from Your Games Now.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Can't Say "The Grognardia Blog"

In casual conversation, when trying to talk about Grognardia, I don't assume everyone I talk to knows what Grognardia is plugged in to the online scene. But most everyone knows what a blog is these days.

So I'll reference something talked about on Grognardia, calling it "the Grognardia blog."

... except it never comes out that way.

"The Grognardia blarg," is invariably how I say it.

I hereby petition Maliszewski to officially change the name of his blog to "Grognardia Blarg" in order to accomodate my speech impediment.

Starting Tomorrow, I Will Be...

... a government-subsidized (for six months) professional role-playing publisher.

Announcements of the sort you're expecting will happen tomorrow and hopefully a couple weeks from now.

Now let's see if we can get some momentum going over the next six months so things continue on full-speed afterwards, hmmm?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Game Design: Cart Before Horse

This is another time when I wish I had the foresight to catalog all the silly things I've been reading lately, because this is going to be another post where I can not supply sources and it'll seem like I'm creating a caricature of my "opponents" in order to knock them down. But this is all based on arguments I've actually seen real people (if posters on internet message boards can be thusly called) make.

What I've seen the past week or so are some arguments made about Dungeons and Dragons that completely divorce the concept of "game design" from the game as it is actually played.

"Yeah, OD&D may be fast and easy to play and was popular at one time, but don't confuse that with good game design!"

That sort of thing.

Dungeons and Dragons was immaculately designed at its inception. It was just explained rather poorly in the manual. Further editions were not so much redesigns as re-explanations. The essentials of that original D&D system survived unchanged for 26 years (I'm talking official support), "warts" and all, with most "new rules" being more flavor than actual system, with the first large extensive changes (and damage) not coming until 11 years after the first publication (Unearthed Arcana) and the worst of the system damage (Skills and Powers) being produced decades after first publication in the last flailing days of a dying company. I daresay had TSR not collapsed until it's own bullshit, there would never have been a need for the Dungeons and Dragons system to substantially change.

3rd edition, as a design, had to be done ("We've simply reprinted the flagship work of that badly failed company!" probably wasn't an option, no matter the actual cause of TSR's failure), but can hardly be called a game design success. It attempts a much tighter system featuring balance and more structured game play. Yet this "tight" design created a much more complex game that takes longer to actually play, and collapsed under its own weight in short order requiring first a revamp (3.5) and then its own "Skills and Powers" (Book of Nine Swords) coming just six years after the system was first published. Pathfinder is changing that game still more, isn't it? That's an awful lot of system changes (not just re-explanations or production upgrades) in a small period of time (a decade is nothing) for a game that's supposed to be so much better designed than the original.

The jury is out on 4e. If we believe the marketing, the game isn't even finished yet. If core rules are going to continuously be released into the future, then the game as currently published doesn't have all the core rules available, right?

Tight designs are hard to get right. I was going to name HERO as one that had it right at the start, being essentially unchanged for 28 years (we do not speak of Fuzion in this house, although the fallout from that does prove you CAN go home again) with the last two decades of the added bulk really not adding too much of substance to the game as released in 1981. But, well, they're changing a lot (without changing so much, if early indications are to be believed) and next month's 6th edition release will likely be the first non-compatible edition to be released. *headdesk*

The Palladium system, as a design, can only be called a success. Insanity, you say? While perhaps not the prettiest thing on Earth, the same system works for everything from mutant martial artists to super heros to giant robot combat. It's survived, with I believe just one significant change in the early 90s (and even that might be an exaggeration on my part - I was off the Palladium bandwagon by the time Rifts came along), since 1983. People rail long and hard against the system, but it's versatile, successful, and rather "warty" (or should I just say non-universal)... just like the system it was derived from, probably not coincidentally. Headed up by a guy that's way closer to the gamer end of the gamer/businessman spectrum, I think we can safely say.

Basic Role-Playing is another proven game design. 29 years and counting on that (might be 31, but I'm not sure how close or not the pre-1980 BRP release of Runequest was). Upon the new BRP book's release last year, there was the usual (internet bullshit) hue and cry over how they should have improved the system, how it's so dated, blah blah blah. Does anyone not appreciate the fact that Call of Cthulhu "editions" don't require you to scrap your whole game to "convert"? Hell, don't even require you to buy the new book? Chaosium may not be the shining example of business savvy in gamerdom, but they've outlasted everyone, and I daresay they and their ancient system (longest continually supported in role-playing?) are doing better now in these "imperiled industry" days than they have in a long, long time. That's good damned game design, and maybe not a bad bit of business either.

Which brings us to the Forge. Forge-derived design structures work. But they don't work as a one size fits all general approach to all role-playing. But a fantastic selection of games have come out of there that mix tight designs designed to deliver a specific game experience. That's the bit about game design that people seem to miss. Tight game design tends not to deliver a free-flowing game play. Forge games get played a lot less than the other examples given above, so it's difficult to tell how well these tight designs (many of which are woefully underexplained in the actual texts... OD&D style!) stand up to the hammering of millions (OK, maybe just many hundreds of thousands) of unconnected players the way older D&D, Palladium, HERO, and BRP have.

This doesn't discount the designs that maybe haven't survived for so long (I have no direct experience with Traveller, for instance). A brilliant design, the best-designed game ever, doesn't guarantee longevity or economic success, but I daresay a game doesn't achieve both longevity and economic success (or survival, if we're playing pessimist) without a solid design underneath it.

Effective game design has absolutely nothing to with being tidy, unified, clever or interesting on its own terms and you can't take game mechanics out of context with the greater game and use them as examples of game design, good or bad. Game design is something that can only be judged in the context of a complete game and how that game plays.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Good for Business, Bad for Hobby

"There's a rule in brand management that says that if you can't charge a premium for your brand, your brand isn't worth anything. In other words, the difference between "generic store cola" and "Coke" is the value of the Coke brand. If you are charging for your branded RPG products what the market is charging for generic D20/OGL products, your brand is worthless. In fact, most people are afraid to test this and find out how much their brand is actually worth, for fear that they'll be dissapointed.

When we priced the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting at $40, I received a call from a distributor who will remain unnamed. That distributor told me that because of the pricing decision, his buyers were told to cut their orders for the book in half. $40, you see, was simply too expensive for an RPG product. $30 was the correct price. If I would change the price to $30, he would restore his order to its full amount.

I explained to this person that the Forgotten Realms brand had equity which was in addition to the D&D equity. If the price for a Realms product was the same as the price for a D&D product, then I was saying that the Realms was a worthless brand. Since I knew that was not true, my pricing for that product had to reflect the equity. I would not be lowering the price of the book."

- Ryan Dancey on RPGPundit's Blog

While that first sentence is undoubtedly true and drives a lot of business decisions out there in the world, it does not make it the right thing to do. Especially in terms of RPGs this is the kind of thing that kills the casually interested from getting into the hobby. When the industry's major player and only real household name is increasing the price of a book not because of expenses or inflation or any practical reasons, but just because they can, that's an absolute dick move. Period. It's pure squeezing of the fan base and surely showing a desire more to fleece the existing customer with no regard as to attracting new ones.

But here's me thinking like a person instead of a business, with the idea that the power of a "brand" should stand as a signifier of content, and that's how I see it. When the content changes, to me the "brand" becomes utterly worthless because it's no longer signifying anything.

Then again, I have also bought generic brand items when they have been available for as long as I've been spending my own money (even when the brand name was easily affordable), so I guess that says something for me as well. Hell, even when I'd take trips back home and Mom wanted to treat me and take me shopping, I would still go for the store brand. Because the only difference between those and the name brands are price and fancy packaging, and who the fuck needs that on a food carton that's going to be tossed as soon as the actual product is consumed? Shit, who needs that on anything?

... and think what you will about James Mishler and his industry views, he puts his name on his writing, unlike a certain someone who would call him a coward... Has Pundit ever argued with a response Dancey has posted to that blog?

Always a Classic: Quote by Frank Mentzer

"I had to kill somebody in the intro. It's a basic part of the game."

From here.

I guess I should mention Kill Bargle game found here.

Friday, July 17, 2009

New Monster: The Toothripper

The Toothripper is an insidious creature which dwells on the outskirts of civilized areas, preying on civilized folk. It normally remains hidden and prefers only to attack lone travelers.

Rumors say that toothrippers were once humans, but their sadism caused the gods to curse them and give them their current form.

It appears as a semi-bipedal hedgehog, with thousands of sharp spines growing from its skin, giving it an armor class equal to leather + shield. It normally travels on all fours (about as quickly as a normal unarmored man), but when attacking it stands on its hind legs to attack with its front claws, which resemble pincers.

In combat, on a successful to-hit roll, the toothripper reaches its vise-like fingers into the victim's mouth and janks out a tooth. The victim may save vs paralysis to avoid this. If the yank is successful, this does d4 points of subdual damage (no real damage) and the victim permanently loses one point of charisma. If the saving throw is successful, the victim takes d4 points of real damage as the struggle to avoid the loss of the tooth exposes the inside of the mouth to the sharp barbs of the toothripper's spines.

After extracting each tooth, there is a 25% (cumulative) chance that the toothripper will be sated. However, it excretes a strange ooze which the victim ingests as it is being attacked, so if the toothripper is sated and voluntarily retreats at that point, the victim must save vs spells or will feel compelled to return to the location of the original attack in d4+5 days so the toothripper may feed upon him again.

There is a 10% chance with any encounter with a toothripper that it will be insatiably hungry. If this is the case, the toothripper will instead decide to attack during a round with its stinger, and if that hits the victim must save vs poison or sleep for d4 turns. If left alone with a sleeping victim for at least one turn, upon awakening the victim will have no teeth and a permanent charisma score of 3.

The toothripper's diet consists entire of teeth, so it will inflict no further harm upon a victim beyond extracting teeth.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Sky Is Falling! The Industry is DOOMED!

... this one is a golden oldie by this point, isn't it?

Here's the way I see it:

There is a ton of money in role-playing.

Sure, your definition of "a ton" is going to be very subjective. If Joseph Goodman's got a decent position with a Fortune 50 company, of course roleplaying is a side job for him. If Clark Peterson is a lawyer, well, maybe giving that up to go full-time into the gaming biz is a bad idea.

But companies still survive and thrive, whether "full time" or not. Kenzer & Co. and Paizo and Green Ronin are all launching major fantasy role-playing game lines and I bet they're actually confident (not just projecting confidence) about how those games will do. Their sky is not falling.

There's even a ton of money in the OSR.

Labyrinth Lord sold $1500 in books for their distribution drive last year in just a few weeks. Fight On! and Swords & Wizardry won Lulu monthly sales contests, with one of the publishers giving a sales total in the many hundreds - over a 31 day period.

How many copies of the S&W, Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy, and OSRIC print versions do you think have been sold, even with the full contents of those books being given away for free in pdf format and even with just about every cent of that purchase price going to people unconnected with the content of those books or gaming at all? The people who know aren't telling, but we're talking hundreds.

Even Carcosa sold a fair number of copies, and that's with it being an entirely homemade product with not one single sales outlet beyond a blog and no intention of being a continuing publishing concern, and no publicity beyond people wanting the author strung up and/or arrested (which can't be understated as far as publicity goes).

And at this point the OSR is entirely an "underground" phenomenon, and all these sales are coming from the same general group of people. If Swords & Wizardry hits distribution as previously talked about and if the publisher manages to market it well at all, then this whole thing is only going to get bigger. This "niche of a niche" stuff people talk about - it's a self-fulfilling prophecy if that's how you go forward and that's how you think of yourself. Wasn't this whole role-playing thing merely a niche of a niche to begin with in 1974? "Well, we'll just be selling to the subset of Chainmail fans that want..." That would have been a wonderful attitude. Things can grow.

Look, I know I have the business acumen of an unripe turnip and material costs for things in Finland are more than in the US (not to mention the cost of exporting the things) so it's mighty difficult to price competitively, but I'm not registering a business with the intent to sell RPG products because I plan to utterly fail or that I think success is not possible.

My general strategy, out there for everyone to see and point and laugh at:

  1. DIY. My outside costs are artwork and accounting. Accounting's going to be the biggest fixed expense month-to-month. Everything else is in-house.
  2. Build a catalog. No one thing is going to sell a bunch, so it'll be important to keep a steady release schedule. Because this is a bottom-up business and a growing scene, I'm going to be continually exposed to people who weren't aware of me, or weren't into traditional gaming, the day before. After my first few releases are out and I have got a feel for what I'm doing (and after I've made the beginner mistakes I know I'm going to), I'll be willing to take paid submissions to keep a release schedule going. I'm not insane enough to think I've got a continuous, unlimited stream of great salable ideas, you know? I'm just hoping I have a few!
  3. Don't overreach. I'm not printing mass amounts of a fancy product at a time. It starts with manufacturing each order as it comes in, and if sales climb over time I'll have actual information to guide print runs. Start small and grow, not make assumptions about the level I should be at. And with each release and the feedback it receives, the next release should be better quality as far as graphic design and other practical issues, while at the same time figuring out how to better reach people (and avoid ineffective marketing :P) with every release.
  4. Ignore the market. Well, not ignore the market, but I've been going crazy thinking about pricing, seeing that Brave Halfling or Goblinoid Games or Mythmere Games was releasing this many pages for that price, oh dear if Pathfinder is releasing 500 pages for $10 what do I do about my pdf prices... and Joe is releasing his stuff as a free pdf and Timmy has a Lulu book at cost and... AAAHHHH! The solution? I know my costs. Add a small profit margin to that. Set a final retail price based on what the outside sales outlets need for their margin. PDF will be priced 50% of print (less for Green Devil Face of course). Stop worrying, be confident in the quality of the material, and let the people decide after that.
  5. Hope I can keep busy enough with the business to keep my temperamental bloggy/forum outbursts under control. Because I realize that's counterproductive. :)

A couple things I have going for me as well.

  1. I enjoy processing and fulfilling an order. "Ohhh, a sale! Let me pack it and take it to the post office!" That's pride and joy and a little bit of exercise, right there. I know a lot of people hate that part of it, but in a lot of ways that's my favorite part. The creation process is difficult, and going from the initial concept to final product is work. The fulfillment process is entirely a celebration that somebody out there thought my product was worth some of their money.
  2. I'm not trying to match a professional salary with a role-playing salary. I was born poor and I'll probably die poor. Getting my sales to the point where they can cover the business expenses, my share of rent, and Ramen noodles? I don't care if that's less than the janitor at McDonalds earns, it would be enough for me (and a starting point to work to move on up from sustenance). Getting to that point is not pie-in-the-sky wishing, but will take lots of work and keeping a steady schedule releasing only quality and no junk... and a good bit of luck on top of that. There is no "Do X, Get Y" guarantee, but the first step to achieving a goal is to try. What's the worst I can do, not sell enough to do that? The horrors.

And who knows? Maybe this "Old School Renaissance" is the next big thing. Even if it is the last gasp of a dying industry, there's the potential for quite a bit of air before it expires. Or maybe role-playing is naturally just a small cottage industry that was never meant to support a large full-time staff. Or... Or... Or... There are a million possibilities and none of them say, "Why bother at all?" to me.

As I said, the "death of the industry" has been a continuous mantra ever since I became aware of an industry behind these kooky games I was playing, and yet new people continue to cycle through and new games continue to be made and companies that didn't exist yesterday will be movers and shakers tomorrow.

What does this mean for the gamer on the street? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

You should run what you want to run, play what you want to play, and buy the things that you think will be useful to you. I am not asking for your support, but I do hope that a couple of the things I release sound appealing to you, and for those that do, that you consider purchasing them. I think I've got some things coming out that are interesting and worth using at your table.

Now we just wait and see if the reviews agree. :)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I Try Not To Be Negative

I do try.

I fail horribly, I realize, but it's very difficult to keep a good attitude and not be rather peeved when I seem to be in a world where the people who make no sense are the ones deciding how things should be.

Today, by way of the Sandbox of Doom, I read Jonathan Tweet's impressions after playing Swords and Wizardry, found here.

It's no surprise that 3e and 4e come across as completely different games than what had come before, considering the people that worked on them seem to have either no clue about, or no respect for, earlier editions of the game. I read these comments and wonder if the designers' collective attitude was something along the lines of "We finally get to fix all this stupid shit!"

While several of Tweet's comments are just personal preference ("too-random character creation"), a few things strike me as... troubling.

"We didn't use miniatures. That's a break with tradition, but it seems to represent a bald refusal to be realistic and or attempt simulation."

Minis optional is far more traditional than required battlemats and tactical combat.

But when did minis come to represent realism and/or simulation?

"Swords & Wizardry even has two AC systems that it uses side-by-side: the old-fashioned 9-down system that they have to include for tradition's sake and the 10+ system that they have to include because it's just clearly better."

More intuitive for new players first playing the game, maybe. After a combat or two, there's really no difference. All it takes to read a chart is at least one eye and the IQ of a flower bulb. I use BFRPG in my weekly games and that has an ascending AC. But "just clearly better"?

"too much arithmetic (5% XP bonus, copper pieces, etc.)"

Have gamers turned into "Math is Hard!" Barbie in the past decade? Does Mr. Tweet not realize the entire d20 system is composed of nothing but 5% increments? And of all the reasons to not like copper pieces... arithmetic?

"all spells are daily, which makes spellcasters play too differently from the fighters"

My brain truly breaks under the weight of this argument. Isn't that the point of different character classes from a game design standpoint, to deliver different fundamental play experiences?

I really should just catalog this sort of thing, because people always want more than one blog post here and there as "evidence" and doing a serious research project to unearth things I really hate just seems... counterproductive. But there is this old review of Keep on the Borderlands by Mike Mearls ("The Keep on the Borderlands literally serves as exhibit A in the great case against Dungeons and Dragons."), and also the blog post where Mike Mearls pretends to just now (as of last August, anyway) understand wandering monsters, and then Mearls' recent explanation of some of his influences when designing 4e, including naming Legolas as an inspiration for the ranger class (dude, Aragorn is right there), and saying things like "the rogue has been saddled with the status of 'class that has to suck since it's the only one that can deal with traps.'"

But don't mind me. I just watched Steve Miner's Day of the Dead last night so I'm just really aching from the remake madness.

Incidentally, I also saw Diary of the Dead last week, which wasn't perfect (obvious CGI blood, and little too much "action adventure" kills in a couple of places), and added nothing new to the entire zombie oeuvre, but retained the absolute core of what the Romero zombie movie is: A small movie about people and their reactions to a civilization-ending disaster happening around them. That's why Land of the Dead was such a failure, I think, because the setting was alien to here and now and so the characters were not very real-world, and thus the whole thing seemed more blatantly made-up than an exercise in "What if it really happened?"

Savini's own 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, excellent in its own right, even blatantly uses Barbara to hammer the core ideas home: "They're us. We're them and they're us," and "They're so slow. We could just walk right past 'em and we wouldn't even have to run. We could just walk right past 'em. We have the guns. If we're careful we could get away." Yeah. Romero scripted that himself (and hammered the point home more sarcastically in Diary).

There's a point to zombie movies, and there's a reason why the classics are the classics and why so many others just seem... gratuitous. It's not even about the "run" vs "not run" issue. I think the 28 x Later movies get it exactly right for the same reason Romero has more often than not (and I have to mention Dan O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead somewhere in the 'good' category), and why movies like Shaun of the Dead resonate while everyone from Lucio Fulci to Zack Snyder (to name two of the most competent examples who have done Romero zombie remakes/sequels) makes movies that may be an exciting momentary diversion, but are fundamentally different than the works that inspired them to the point where one wonders if they really understood the source material in the first place.

ah well. Someday, I'll be dead, and I'm sure some asshole somewhere will still be doing something that really pisses my dead self off. And then I'll rise from the grave and bite that fucker's face off.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Green Devil Face Update + More

Green Devil Face #3 submissions take up about 15 pages. That's lighter pagecount than I'd like to release (20 or 24 pages would be better), and I'm rather determined to keep this a "community" project as I work on my own projects. At the same time, I do realize I am asking for people to submit something for nothing (getting a copy of your own work really isn't "something," it's the barest absolute minimum) and there are already more established outlets (Fight On! and Knockspell) for people submitting things.

So let's give GDF submissions two more weeks, and I'll go ahead and also make a contest out of it. One random submission will win a copy of the upcoming No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides, and of course those that have already submitted will be eligible for this as well.

Traps, tricks, or otherwise interesting features that can be dropped directly into a referee's game are what goes into an issue of Green Devil Face. Previous submissions have ranged from quite extensive multi-page writeups to simple ideas with a clever hook. Remember that the classic Green Devil Face was a trap in plain sight, the sort of thing that dares adventurers to fiddle with it. Not all submissions need be that deadly, or even harmful, of course...

No Dignity in Death is one map and three pieces of artwork and layout away from being 100% done. I'd done a preliminary layout and saw that I needed five more pieces of art to fill the holes, and two were finished last week. I'm crossing my fingers that the remaining three are done this week, and that'll be a wrap. It will be forty pages (including eight an eight page pull-out section of maps and player handouts) plus covers.

All of my business paperwork has been submitted (there always seemed to be more forms to fill out and one more appointment to make), and I should get the decision about the start-up grant this week. As soon as this happens I'll have Death Frost Doom and Green Devil Face #1 and #2 on sale, with GDF pdfs being available immediately on Your Games Now and DFD available a week later so pdf buyers don't receive their products (happens instantly) before first-day print buyers do. Because I am getting some outside distribution (with much more to come, I hope!), I'm not going to be able to offer free pdfs with print purchases, as there is no way to arrange the delivery of that for those that buy with outside vendors and to offer it for direct orders would mean that people that buy it elsewhere get shafted.

I'm not supposed to have started business activity before this decision, but they know I've been arranging distribution and publicity during this time, so hopefully arranging future content is OK as well. :P

If you're one of the Insect Shrine people, you should have received an email from me yesterday. Contact me if you didn't.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Back in the Day...

... after my mother got me into D&D (because she wanted an excuse to paint minis) in 1983, she found out about the controversy surrounding it, and so made me sit down and watch Mazes and Monsters as a serious cautionary tale.

... I bought a lot of games (or more accurately, had Mom and Grandma buy me a lot of games), and so I would tank the game we currently played in order to try out this new thing. Yes, I ended up playing a lot of games that way, but at the expense of a real lasting campaign for anything... ever.

... I feared that the fun and success of a campaign was determined by player success, so oh boy did I fudge and fudge and fudge and fudge rolls to make sure nobody ever died. Three first level PCs (with "gifted" magic items) taking out the moathouse from T1. A fourth level thief killing the green dragon from X1 single-handedly. ayyyy...

... I invented my own adventures and NPCs to inhabit Dungeonland and made them suitably bizarre, and ran that for people during lunch in elementary school. Other kids familiar with D&D immediate told me I was playing it wrong and was an idiot.

... I'd completely blocked these people from memory until just now... I have been saying my first encounters with people who had already been familiar with D&D before I met them didn't happen before high school. That's not true! I did have encounters with people already familiar with D&D early on. But because I was very unpopular in school for probably dozens of reasons, legitimate and not, my encounters with them were short and unpleasant. I thought the D&D commonality would help us become friends, but what happened was these more "experienced" DMs (remember we're talking about kids 10 and younger) just used the game to abuse me further, and I cut out trying to game with them almost immediately.

... I can't remember if this was elementary or middle school, but I had a player who didn't like a call I made, and he was in some sort of "tough guy" stage, so he actually stood up and slapped me. I took him down (in real life, not the game) and so we were "even" but that's the sort of thing I dealt with running games (and may have contributed to that second point above).

... while playing D&D with my best friend and his little brother one time, their older brother storms in, pissed as hell because my friend had left a save disc (a 5 1/4" floppy for Bard's Tale or Ultima or Wizard's Crown or a game like that) idle in the computer for hours, and "They melt when you do that!" and beat the hell out of him (or so it seemed at the time, I don't recall lasting bruises or anything) on the spot. Game over.

... one of the many games I tried to run was Runequest, that edition set in Europe with the huge box. I'd missed the whole "Runequest is the sophisticated fantasy RPG!" type of thing and had no idea. It was just a new game and I wanted to try it! Unfortunately the character sheets had naked character silhouettes so instead of playing the game, my players drew boobs and nipples and dicks on the character sheets and I got pissy and so much for this big expensive box my mother just bought me.

... in high school I tried recruiting a player once, but a couple of people from around the neighborhood that played in my games sometimes had a problem with him from previous interaction so they beat him up when he came to my house.

... also in high school, at a local convention this one guy who ran a D&D campaign I was in decided that he was going to kill off all the "newbies" (younger kids we didn't know) at the con game so he could run a "serious" adventure for his regular crew.

... in high school, when a few of us had hooked up with some older gamers who ran great and serious games (and introduced us to Justifiers and Bureau 13!), I ran a D&D game for that group. I was so nervous about running for gaming veterans twice my age that I completely screwed up and it was a shit game and I never got to try running a game again with that group.

...I spent most of the post-high school 90s not gaming because I wanted to play D&D, and that was passé. When I left home to go to college, Vampire was the hot new thing (and White Wolf was based in a suburb of Atlanta, where I just moved). Magic: The Gathering killed a lot of role-playing when it came out as well, but the Vampire thing was brutal. I had no clue about goth culture, never had so much as been on a date at that time, and hadn't ever been in a social situation where anyone besides my mother and her friends ever drank alcohol, so reading the Vampire rulebook was both socially threatening to me as well as conceptually foreign (I was thinking Van Helsing and monster hunting when this one guy was pitching it to me). I've still never played it (and would and have passed on offers to). And I still strive to this day to stay out of social situations where alcohol is involved, by the way, although concerts really ruin that, don't they? Anyway, I was a D&D pariah in the 90s.

... I was, however, involved with one D&D campaign in 94 or so. These two guys ran as co-DMs, and everything ran smoothly and I remember it as a pleasant game. However, this ended when two things happened - I discovered girls right around the time my character was magically changed to evil alignment. I don't remember what triggered that but it was definitely a curse or something else DM-initiated. So I ditched the MacGuffin of the campaign and screwed the party over because "It's what my character would do," and then miraculously had Saturdays (or was it Sundays?) free after that. I think the rest of the guys continued on as a group.

... I got into a huge fight with my girlfriend. In the mid/late-90s, I was going to start a 2e campaign. I was ready to get back into gaming by running a serious game now that I was a grown-up! My group was going to consist of my girlfriend, my roommate, and his girlfriend. My girlfriend was the first to roll up a character. She wanted to be a ranger! I don't remember which character generation method I decided on, but her rolls were not good enough to be a ranger. And I would not budge. I was going to be serious this time and finally game as an adult with adults, I wasn't going for this kiddie 'gimme' crap! I think I even pulled out the "maybe the character is allergic to trees?" suggestion from the DMG. That's where it turned from a disagreement to a fight. The campaign didn't even get to its first session.

So as you can see, I obviously play older versions of D&D just because I'm nostalgic and my current gaming and this blog and all my efforts are all entirely efforts to reclaim the glorious gaming of my youth. The fact that I've been running traditional games continuously now for three and a half years (OK, about six months of that using HERO, admittedly) is just my way of showing I'm afraid of getting old.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More on Religions in Game Worlds - Religious Classes and Demonic Monsters

Continuing the series... it's fun (!) that a lot of people have been talking about this sort of thing around the blogs.

People have mentioned the idea of gods being something that are combatable and that take a direct role in human affairs (like the Greek gods). These aren't the sort of gods I'm talking about. If you kill Demeter, do no more crops grow? If you kill Apollo, is there no more music? If you kill Zeus, does the sky disappear (instant and total dissolution of the atmosphere and the exposure of the entire world to sudden depressurization and hard vaccuum would be one hell of a way to end a campaign...) If the answer to this sort of thing is "no," then we're not talking about the same thing.

Powerful entities calling themselves gods because they can aren't the sort of thing I'm talking about. I'm talking about entities that define the universe. Entities that actually regulate and define things and are the conscious embodiments or maybe creators of concepts like "the Sun," "Death," "War," "Fertility." Or maybe incorporeal consciousness that is on a greater level of existence, if not necessarily tied to a certain domain or portfolio. That's the lens through which to view my earlier posts on the subject.

I've already talked about not using "Good" and "Evil" in this setup. Priests may be specialized but they (and the people!) would worship the entire pantheon, and the gods themselves would be both good and evil (just as the rain can be both life-giving and terribly destructive).

But that's all good and well until you factor in clerical magic and paladins, as well as angels and demons and other religiously-inspired creatures.

Games with clerical magic by definition have changed the definition of faith. Belief is not something to be debated - the gods exist in some form. It's not an issue to allow clerics of various alignments under the same religious umbrella. Just take the mental and personality part out of the priestly requirements and separate what makes a character divinely favored from what the human religion requires.

In campaigns, being a spellcasting cleric should be different than being a priest anyway (and yeah, I'll state that as a universal truth), but if one's alignment (or whatever way you define morality in your game) is irrelevant to being a priest (or cleric), then each religion (or defined however you like, either involving one god or a pantheon) would have specific sets of rites and requirements for the granting of both a priestly station and the granting of clerical powers. Funny would be a situation where the human religion is clueless and is very far off from accepting the true divine will that creates spell-casting clerics.

Because clerical spells are granted by divine favor (and if they're not, you really need a good campaign explanation of why clerics and magic-users are different), it is conceivable that some recipients of clerical ability aren't even intentionally receiving them... or particularly cooperative with the idea! I'd stay away from that sort of thing with PC clerics though, because you're always one poisoned trap away from the possibility of somebody rolling up a new cleric for the group, and a succession of unwilling godly tools would just be silly.

Remember that religion, especially for those specially anointed, isn't just belief or devotion, but service, and if getting these powers were easy, everyone would do it. Who wouldn't want to cure diseases? Or curse an enemy... (say goodbye to restricting the reversed spells to only one alignment type under this way of things!)

Defining what a person needs to do to be a priest, and what they need to do to be a spell-casting cleric, can make for interesting campaign situations. What if the priestly orders of a certain god required vows of poverty and chastity, while the deity itself didn't care about such things, for one example? Religion doesn't always follow the will of the gods, even if it thinks it does. And as long as certain things are done correctly, the deity might not much care about the extra things the human worshippers invent in its name.

So OK, campaign religion can be as confused and vague as real-life religion, even when spells are on the line.

What about paladins? Or druids?

Druids only make sense in this setup if we're talking 2e clerics, with their specialized spell lists. (and good luck getting a player in the typical adventuring campaign to choose a God of Peace and Prosperity and its pile of not so immediately useful spells... :P :P :P) Otherwise, why the different powers? Certainly there can be verisimilitudinous (I love that word) explanations, but if normal clerics already have a pantheon to draw powers from, a reason why the druid would be different would have to be pretty darn good.

(My campaign world is more or less monotheistic and thus dodges this issue. I can say that clerics are worshippers of "All," while any druids are worshippers of the old pagan ways. Funny since the rules I've been running with this past year and a half don't have druids as part of the core rules!)

Paladins are difficult for me, since the idea of the class just seems to be a duplicate of the cleric concept (religious warrior) to begin with. But assuming you want to keep paladins in the mix as a concept - and I mean a real paladin, the "must be Lawful Good" shining beacon of everything noble and honorable, not the 'every god gets one' and 'nidalap' inversions (as we called them when I was a pre-teen... Gary would have been so proud!) - you need further explanations.

On one hand, all these explanations could tend to get really tedious, especially if none of this is any more than background flavor in your campaign. On the other hand, if you're going for a more involved world and not just dungeon-of-the-week, just the most basic beginnings of answers to all these questions will bring your world to life very quickly. In the real world, religious attitudes in many ways defines what a society looks like, so asking these questions first when starting a campaign may be a great method for world-building.

Again, my current game (BFRPG) doesn't have the paladin class, and with my campaign world being monotheistic, the context of the paladin's influences (King Arthur, Three Hearts and Three Lions, Charlemagne, and what have you) would cause no difficulty anyway. But in a polytheistic setting? I have no idea. Good grief, this whole thing about religion and gods is starting to sound like a campaign to stay the hell away from AD&D with its weird religious classes and too-fine alignment scheme. Keep it Basic and Law/Chaos, haha!

When it comes to demons and angels and all that... well, it's difficult to discuss them without resorting to cop-out non-answers. Clerical powers don't seem to work so much on good/evil as they do on extra-planar forces. Protection from Evil works just as well against an angel as a demon as an earth elemental.

So what's the definition of an angel or demon in a universe where the gods are themselves both good and evil? I'd say it's simply any extra-planar being. If it's helping you, it's an angel. If it's hurting you, it's a demon. Seriously, the only reason we think of demons and solars and modrons and xorns in such different manners is because the Monster Manual tells us to and the Players Handbook told us that demons come from the Abyss, elementals from their own set of planes, etc.

If you throw out standard AD&D cosmology (and why shouldn't you?), there's just "here" and "not here." Your average inhabitant of your game world isn't going to bother to differentiate a Type VI demon from a fire elemental from an efreet from a salamander. They're all demons, as would be any extra-planar creature, except those specific extra-planar creatures that an individual culture would be taught are "angels." If you're not Asian (or your campaign equivalent), then you're not likely to be too happy or calm about it when a Ki-Rin shows up, if you think angels look like handsome men with wings.

If we throw away the cosmology and just have an "other" place (or an infinite number of "other" places), then we can play thought games. Think of the variety of life on Earth. Then factor in that a normal campaign world probably assumes all of that... and more. Nothing has gone extinct (cavemen and dinosaurs show up in many campaign worlds, so what else didn't die out?). Plus there are all the additional sapient humanoids that aren't in the real world (elves, orcs, dwarves, etc etc), not to mention fantastic creatures like dragons and unicorns, all native to the campaign world. Add in the possibilities of extra-terrestrial life.

Now we can play with the idea that the infinite "other" realm, whether broken up into individual "planes" or "dimensions" or not, can be easily assumed to be as diverse as our own world. They don't have to be - an incredibly simple dimension works just as well for an alien environment - but it does create a stunningly simple explanation of why there would be so many weird things in so many forms. The possibilities are endless and they will each have their own tribes and characteristics.

An intruiging possibility is that there actually isn't anywhere else but our own dimension, and all the different forms of these extra-planar creatures are created entirely from the imaginations of the summoner. Forman the Summoner thinks he's summoning a flame-spewing demon, so that's what arrives. Herbert the Druid thinks he's summoning an earth spirit, so that's what pops up. Legends and folklore and ignorance that created fairytales in our world actually make the fictional creatures real in the campaign world.

Where do souls go after death? If gods exist, and if undead exist, and if there is reincarnation and resurrection and all that as the spell lists show, then there is definitely an in-game spirit and consciousness distinct from the biological life of a body. You don't have to define this, and to recreate a trip to Hades or recreating the plot from Erik the Viking doesn't mean that where you see the dead is actually where the dead go (a mortal going to "Valhalla" just might be questing to find one hell of a seance parlor), but to definitively answer this is to make players think they can get around using magic to raise the dead... but it's common in fiction and folklore for souls to go to the places assigned by certain rituals, so being sacrificed becomes much more horrible than the physical atrocity and proper last rites become crucial...

If we're rethinking D&D cosmology, what of planar travel? Making these changes will alter how many spells work. Contact Other Plane certainly needs reworking. What of the nature of the ethereal and astral planes? The whole assumption of inner and outer planes would need to change. My thoughts?

For Contact Other Plane, change the percentages to be based on a magic-user's combined level and intelligence, rather than "planes removed." Make the ethereal and astral planes one and the same, or maybe the astral plane becomes a dream-realm, or something, but either way, they do not become gateways to further planes and should be connected to our world. Since these methods won't be "connecting flights" to further planes, you just need to add a planar travel spell to the spell lists, perhaps making each individual destination dimension its own spell if you don't want things to get too far-fetched.

And none of this has to eliminate any previous adventure possibilities. You want to play Q1? Instead of Lolth living on whatever plane of the abyss, she's just got her own subdimension, not intrinsically connected to any others except for the types of gates shown in the adventure itself. The drow clerics may worship Lolth and think they're getting clerical spells from her, but Lolth being a crafty demon has simply made the divine rites of some other truly divine power part of her own worship, so the drow clerics gain their spells and worship Lolth and never realize their power is actually coming from elsewhere. (Or they might realize, and that's why certain houses are now worshipping something else...)

So there it is. I hope this long post is a bit more coherent than the last one, but aside from any discussion stemming from the posts themselves, I think I'm done with the subject for a good long while. Maybe. :D

Monday, July 6, 2009

Let the Function Define the Form - Notes on Death Frost Doom

I'm terrified.

You see, I sent out the review copies of Death Frost Doom today.

(They're going to Grognardia, Goblinoid Games, Mythmere Games, Brave Halfling Publishing, Troll Lord Games, Elf Lair Games, Fight On!, Goodman Games, Kenzer & Co, Black Blade Publishing, Paizo, and Adventure Game News... as I figure out better who ignores my mailings and who people trust, this list will mutate, contract, or expand)

While I know the adventure works for my style of running games, and the last people to play the full version of the adventure enjoyed it (see here, here, and here), it is not the typical D&D style adventure. I have no idea how it will translate to other people reading the text, gathering the atmosphere and deciding that indeed this is something that should be publicly talked about (and in positive terms!), or maybe even run as part of their own campaigns (which is its entire purpose).

It would be just typical to spend a few hundred euros updating my hardware and going through this business registration rigamarole just to see reviews along the lines of, "Raggi can't write to save his balls. This sucks."

My immediate concern is the layout of the dungeon. Gabor Lux's definitive essay on dungeon mapping and good dungeon design (here) presents an intimidating standard. And I've intentionally ignored and in many ways defied that standard in Death Frost Doom (and in the upcoming No Dignity in Death as well, but that dungeon is considerably smaller and not the main environment for that adventure so it's not as major of an issue).

I'm just not into big dungeons for the sake of them, and I feel Lux's analysis works better for large dungeons. For all the traditional gaming elements I enjoy and fill adventures with, I don't much use large dungeons in my games. I like to ask, "Who built this? And Why?" to satisfy in-game explanations, and then a heaping dose of, "What situations do I want to see the players react to?" The answers to those questions will determine what the place looks like, and in my mind it very rarely looks like that ideal dungeon layout linked above.

In fact, a lot of the dungeons I make for my weekly games are of a limited selection: Evil cults could build dungeons. Natural caverns with their own little ecosystem, yeah, and dwarves build great big underground cities/labyrinths. The more ideal "game dungeon" designs are usually done with a bit of eye-winking, as with the dungeon that was made to guard a shrine (face it, who else besides a bunch of really out-there religious lunatics are going to build an inefficiently planned labyrinthine complex?), with the human guardians there not to stop the PCs, but to be monster-wranglers, stocking the dungeon to prevent the unworthy from finding the oracle.

Most "dungeons" I present are a bit mundane in layout, because I can't satisfy myself as to their internal logic any other way. To me, playing Dungeons and Dragons should be more involved than a "live-action" version of the Dungeon boardgame, so to speak. The "dungeon as mythic underworld" approach is certainly valid, but I use that for certain things and not a universal rule of dungeons in my game. And if it's not in my game, why would it be in the things I publish?

Not that I think Death Frost Doom is a shitty dungeon by any means; just that it has a different feel to its exploration and a specific focus. It's about presenting an atmosphere and encouraging players to open Pandora's Box, and in a lot of ways the adventure is about what happens when they do so.

To me the question of "What will the PCs do when X happens?" is a legitimate adventure format, especially when X has to be triggered by direct player action. By reading the blogs one starts to feel that this sort of thing is considered "un-old school," and I at once don't care (I run my game as I like, not according to what other people say the game is or should be) and worry about perceptions of my work (this being a commercial release for general use, after all). The way I reconcile this supposed contradiction is to just sit back and let the players trigger X on their own, or trick them into doing it, but absolutely not forcing them to do so.

Death Frost Doom gives you a great big X to play with, and it is from the point of X, and not the entry point of the dungeon, that "which way do we go?" becomes truly relevant - and there is no one correct route from there, but of course some are better than others.

In fact, my last playtest session went in a direction I didn't even think possible, because of PC actions within the rather linear prelim area of the dungeon that worried me enough to write this post. I didn't expect their actions, and it's certainly not written there in any form of the text (in fact by reading the text you'd get the impression that what they did after X is simply impossible!), but their decisions and choices earlier on saved them from the lion's share of grief and danger after the fact.

ahhh, hell with it. I've just got "Opening Night" jitters. The adventure rocks.

*shakes with anticipation... damn you, slow paperwork, damn you!*