Posts tagged ‘old school’

October 28, 2013

RK3: The Third Verse

The Third VerseThe third installment in the River Knife series of adventure modules for Dungeon World and Labyrinth Lord is done. The Third Verse is a collection of four minidungeons inspired by Tony Dowler’s maps, joined together into one perilous meat grinder of a delve.

Buy the print version from Lulu for US$14. It is 72 pages, saddle-stitched, US Trade-sized, B&W on cream-coloured paper.

Buy the pdf from DriveThruRPG for US$6. It is digest-sized and includes an extra pdf with just the maps.

What is the Third Verse like?

Based on a series of old Red Box Vancouver adventures, this module includes:

  • An abandoned fire temple, complete with old traps and new inhabitants (like exploding ghouls).
  • The tomb of the Red Mummy, and ancient an powerful king, who had malevolent machines built all around his mausoleum.
  • Those machines, churning beneath the surface of the earth, tended by automatons, sending evil spirits against the people who live above, and allowing demons to venture forth into this world at will.
  • And finally, below everything, the shrine of an ancient, forgotten goddess, where the actual third verse, the solution that will cure this land of its ills, is located. But can you make it this far?

The Third Verse is not intended for low-level characters. Experienced dungeoneers only!

See an 11-page preview of The Third Verse here!

The text of this module is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

ALSO: I have a Patreon project for making monster manuals going on right now.

September 1, 2013

The First Six Months

Since I put Adventures on Dungeon Planet up for sale in March, the end of August marks the first six calendar months of me being a “professional” game design studio. These are my sales numbers so far (“print” includes bundled sales):

56 Dungeon Planet print
31 Dungeon Planet pdf

53 Dungeon Planet print
61 Dungeon Planet pdf

42 Dungeon Planet print
33 Dungeon Planet pdf

11 Dungeon Planet print
28 Dungeon Planet pdf

16 Dungeon Planet print
21 Dungeon Planet pdf
10 Lair print
44 Lair pdf

8 Dungeon Planet print
24 Dungeon Planet pdf
7 Knives print
23 Knives pdf
9 Lair print
27 Lair pdf


- From selling games, I’m basically pulling in half of a minimum wage salary right now. The end of September will mark the end of a full year of what roughly amounts to a full-time job designing rpgs (not that I actually keep track of my hours).

- If you want to at least try to compare all this with the DW-related kickstarter projects, compressing these six months of Dungeon Planet into similar figures gets us 384 backers with a total raised of something like $6,500-7,500, depending on how much I would be gouging people for shipping. You can probably use this comparison as an argument in favour of Kickstarter as a marketing platform.

- My marketing strategy is pretty crap, not gonna lie. It currently consists of little more than g+, SG, and “continue releasing books.” That third one takes up a lot of my time, though. You’d think that given the low sales of RK1 Knives in the Dark, I’d give up on that series altogether, but no, I’m doing more. They’re quality, so hopefully they’ll pay off at some point.

January 17, 2012

And these arrived as well…

ACKS original art by Ryan Browning

Shown with eraser, highlighter, and one of Blair’s old digest-sized Planet Algol booklets for scale.

January 11, 2012

I got this in the mail today…

ACKS cover print

It’s a print of the cover art from Adventurer Conqueror King. Was I supposed to know I was getting this? Was it listed as part of the reward level I donated at? I don’t remember at all. It’s nice though. It says it’s number 4 of 8 on it, which is amusing because as far as Red Box Vancouver DMs go, I am number 4 of 6. I guess we need to get two more DMs.

Semi-related, for whatever reason, I did not realize that Ryan Browning the ACKS artist was Ryan Browning the guy who did Cloak of Invisibility until after I’d already sent him money for original ACKS artwork (which I’ll post pictures of when it arrives). I had one of those “wait… this guy is that guy?” moments.

January 7, 2012

Revenge of Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown

I received the actual physical books in the mail not too long ago. Aside from a few typos here and there, the art and layout is quite pleasing, but you have likely seen other peoples’ pictures of them already.

A couple of observations:

Isle of the Unknown isn’t a fully-conceptualized setting, but Carcosa is. However, it’s a minimalist setting, with a fairly tight, singular premise around which the whole book revolves. And while I admire that, artistically, I actually prefer maximalism, when it’s done right (i.e. integrated maximalism, not pastiche overcrowdingism). Not that I think either book should be less minimalist and more maximalist, it’s just a personal preference I’ve noticed. Luckily for me, I don’t think either product is too weird to be easily incorporated as one layer of a maximalist setting.

In the poster map, the races of men are colour-coded, which is interesting because there are three fictional colours on Carcosa.* While this adds to the book’s tone of otherworldly strangeness, it is also somewhat difficult to actually imagine and picture mentally. To take a couple examples from other sources, when I imagine garrow, I think it looks like both black and yellow simultaneously (not mixed together), and I think of Terry Pratchett’s octarine as looking similar, but with blue and orange, also simultaneously.

(*Never mind that adding one new primary colour actually results in at least five new colours, that’s something to take up with David Lindsay.)

On the Carcosa poster, Dolm Men are colour-coded with light blue and cream, Jale Men are coded with dark blue and red, and Ulfire Men are coded with cream and deep purple. But when I think of ulfire, I think of red, green, and white at the same time (this might be partly due to some bird that was covered in ulfire-coloured flames in one of Blair’s early Planet Algol reports). Jale and dolm, though… I’m not entirely sure. Sometimes I imagine dolm being a bit like olive green, and other times I can’t imagine what either of them looks like. Maybe jale is similar to yellow and pink and neon colours. I mean, sure, it’s “dreamlike, feverish, and voluptuous,” but so is purple.

If there is just one fictional colour, then it’s easy to imagine, because every person’s different interpretation can stand without interfering with each other, as long as they imagine some kind of fictional, hitherto-unimagined colour. When you have to differentiate between fictional colours, that can start to get weird.

That’s not a criticism, just an observation. What do you imagine dolm, ulfire, and jale look like?

I do have some actual criticisms of the two books, though. There are a few things that could have made the books easier to use, at least for me.

I think both maps could have benefited greatly from the addition of roads being marked. Even without them, Isle of the Unknown’s keyed map is pretty good, but Carcosa’s is slightly less so. The poster has a map keyed with the locations of rituals and Great Old Ones, but there is no map with settlements or the colours of the men that live in them. When the locations of certain colours of settlements—such as we find around the other lake (the one that isn’t Hali)—are mentioned as plot points in the hex descriptions, it would help to have this information in map format. Likewise, there is a mention of a trade route road winding around the icy wastes, but no indication of where this road is coming from or where it is going.

The political situation isn’t the most useful aspect of this information, however. Terrain, and especially roads, determines how fast characters can move across the map, and how fast characters can move across the map determines how much the DM has to prep between sessions in order to respond to the players’ choices. If there is a road that stretches across three hexes, on either Carcosa or the Isle, it’s entirely possible that the PCs could travel the whole way in a single day, walking from dawn to dusk. Without having roads on the map, the DM basically needs to prep three hexes away from the PC’s present location in every direction, in order to get an idea of where to even place roads. It seems to me that adding even just major roads is not much additional work when all major settlements are already plotted out, which is the case for both books, and some hex descriptions even mention roads, which is at least the case for Carcosa.

Being able to see the roads helps to envision the possibilities of PC movement, which makes the DM’s job easier.

Any hint of motivation or personality is missing from most of the magic-users and clerics in Isle of the Unknown. They are treated simply like monsters—if you want to kill them, all the problems you’ll face and the lack of rewards you’ll receive (in most cases) are listed, but not much else. It makes me wonder why anybody would want to interact with these characters in the first place. Even a little bit of information would have been useful, evocative, and inspirational—the way threats are summarized in Apocalypse World, for example. Describing a warlord’s personality with “Dictator (impulse: to control)” or the character of a landscape with “Maze (impulse: to trap, to frustrate passage)” goes a long way with a short amount of text.

While Carcosa has numerous settlements with motivation-less leaders and populations listed, there are also many characters who do have goals, connections to other parts of the map, and even some small semblance of personality. It would have been nice to have a little bit of that in Isle of the Unknown as well, though it’s by no means a dealbreaker. And while I think including something like the Carcosan Ethnography supplemental material in the book itself would have been fantastic, so that DMs can just randomly generate genre-appropriate population details and character motivations, it’s good enough without it that I’m not really upset.

Similarly, there are a few occasions in both books where the material is essentially a tableau to be presented to the players, with little opportunity for them to interact successfully with it, or to use it in combination with other setting elements. When the text describes something the PCs can see but never do anything with, when some magical effect can only happen once in one location by accident, or when the benefits of braving obscene risks turns out to be a measly +1, I’m a little underwhelmed. I much prefer the part of Carcosa’s premise that includes finding a giant laser cannon and deciding to kill Cthulhu with it. Especially if it doesn’t work because you used up all the charges destroying castles and fortresses that asked you to pay tithes for safe passage, and now you’re facing Cthulhu with no ammo and no castles or fortresses to hide in. There’s slightly less of that in Isle of the Unknown, but both books should have had a little more, in my opinion.

Those are all relatively minor concerns, though. Overall, I think the good things everybody says about these two books are pretty accurate.

December 17, 2011

Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown

In case you are unaware of these two titles, they are a pair of books written by Geoffrey McKinney and published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Naturally, I picked them up and have been perusing the pdfs of late. I have an earlier version of Carcosa, but am very pleased with this new edition, while Isle of the Unknown is completely new. They are both old-school D&D hex-crawl campaigns, although Carcosa has a certain amount of premise and theme built into it. There is some controversy about this, which I have no interest in and do not want to know your opinion of.

Instead, I have a completely different problem. In a word, my problem is: Blair.

You may know Blair as the guy with the Planet Algol blog, as a local Vancouver gamer, or as a regular Vancouver Red Box player and DM (or all three). He’s the one who got me to check out McKinney’s Carcosa in the first place, so it’s no surprise he’s had it longer and read more of it than I have. He’ll no doubt get this new version as well, which means running it for him may lack a litle bit of surprise and mystery. I can assume he’ll be likely to pick up Isle of the Unknown too, if he can stop himself from spending too much money on obscure black/death/doom metal LPs that can double as DM screens. So, while he won’t be memorizing either book in their entirety, if I were to run either of them straight, some of that “unknown” would be slightly less so. Like when I decided to run Tower of the Stargazer without knowing he’d read it already.

Don’t get me wrong, I like having Blair running and playing RBV games, but this is another one of those awkward points of overlap in our collections. The rest of the Red Box crew might have some interest in McKinney’s works, but are more likely to ask Blair or I to DM them than they are to buy and read them. It’s just that I’ll need to modify them somewhat in order to bring back the uncertainty and suspense lost by Blair’s familiarity with them (or at least Carcosa), which unfortunately can sometimes be as much work as making up a new setting from scratch.

However! The books themselves offer up an interesting suggestion for circumventing this awkwardness, in the simple fact that they both use the same numbered hex template.

The obvious solution is just to run both of them. At the same time.

That’s a McKinney Combo Platter, kids. You might remember what’s in this hex on Carcosa, and you might remember what’s in this hex on the Isle of the Unknown, but you have no idea what will happen when worlds collide.

November 20, 2011

What I Have Learned from Random Mutation Tables

Here is a lesson I have learned from using random mutation tables in D&D. I normally use the old Realms of Chaos books for mutations, and usually it’s because characters come into contact with a mutagenic substance like warpstone or liquid derived from it.

First, let me define a term: All fiction, including role-playing games are composed of certain elements: characters, setting, props, and situation. Props are things that are important to the story but aren’t characterized, and aren’t just part of the setting. Right? Mostly, I’m ‘a talk about props here.

One of my main joys in being a DM is putting the players into a strange situation, with a whole bunch of moving parts they can interact with, and seeing them invent solutions to their problems that I would never have thought of in a million years. When you introduce a puzzle, the payoff is pretty minimal, because either the players figure out the solution you’ve already devised, or they don’t and there’s failure and disappointment. But when there’s no set solution, you can be surprised and have to improvise. This is one reason why I like random tables as well, and certainly other DMs will agree. I know Tavis Allison has written a post or two about improvising based on random tables.

However, random tables are a means to encourage improvisation on the DM’s side. What I want to discuss here is improv on the players’ side, and one of the key ways to do this is to introduce complicated props.

In a typical D&D game, your average treasure haul will include mostly coins and swords +1. The problem with these is that the only thing coins actually do is buy stuff, and the only thing a weapon or armour +1 does is change the probabilities of your dice rolls. Having a magic weapon or not might make the difference between fighting a certain creature or running away, but it’s a pretty minimal encouragement to creative problem-solving.

Props that Do a Thing

Better is a prop that does a specific thing: A sword that glows when goblins are near, a staff that casts cure light wounds, a sword that bursts into flames. Now you have a prop that does a thing, and the player’s options just increased by one (and a very visible option, too).

Sometimes, doing a thing can put extra work on a DM, though. Take an example from Playing D&D with Pornstars: Snakes are Books. The one disadvantage to this prop is that whenever the players read a snake, they look at the DM and ask “what does it say?” If you don’t have a random table for book subjects, that can be a lot of stuff to think up. There’s a magic spell from Postmodern Magick (the Unknown Armies supplement) that lets you read any book you know of, just by opening any other book. It’s pretty cool, as long as you don’t have to sit there inventing books and texts for hours on end to entertain the players. But if you have some really awesome random book tables (or a really cool library), this is dope.

In essence, though, these are props that create more props. They get your character access to information, which hopefully leads to some sort of action, because the action is where the game is really at. I want to see how the players combine the various props and spells and stuff that they have, and create some sort of plan. Especially when it involves props I introduced, and the players use them in some way that totally surprises me. And a sword +1 is never going to do that. What will? Let’s think of some examples…

Ring of Protection
Your average ring of protection +1 gives you a slightly better armour class. Whoop-de-doo. How about a Ring of the Untouchable? Whoever wears this ring cannot be touched by another living being, or by that beings clothes. This is an effective mosquito repellant, and it protects against viruses and bacteria that are not already infecting the wearer. Other creatures cannot touch the wearer, even if they are wearing metal gauntlets. Natural attacks, such as claws or bite, have no effect. The wearer cannot be pushed around, unless the pusher uses a tool. Weapons still have full effect, even lassos. Whatever the wearer is wearing or carrying is also affected, so it defeats pickpockets as well. The wearer can be touched by the undead, and by demons and other extra-planar entities.

Sword +1, +3 versus Gnocchi
This sword may or may not give a bonus to hit and damage. However, it hates all gnolls and gnomes and anything else whose name begins with a gn-, even Pietro Gnocchi. Anytime it hits one of these creatures, the wielder may immediately make another attack against anything close enough to hit. If the wielder chooses not to make an attack, he must quench the blade’s thirst with his own blood. Even a small amount will do, but he must take 1 point of damage.

This sword does not actually cut through stone, it’s blade just ignores all non-organic material. It can pass through stone, metal, fabric, dirt etc. as if it were not even there. Stonecutter ignores AC bonuses from metal armour, but not leather, and can attack through doors and walls that are thin enough. Keeping it in a scabbard can be a problem, although the hilt of the sword does not share the properties of the blade. The hilt can be strapped to a belt and will not pass through walls, doors, or armour.

Potion of Mutation
If you drink it, you gain a random mutation! Actually, this is a lot like the snake-books, in that it’s a prop that makes new props. Instead of, say, a book that tells you how to kill trolls, it gives you, say, a third arm which ends in a giant lobster pincer. Good thing I have some random mutation tables!

That was pretty rambly, but I’ve got stuff to do so there it is.

November 4, 2011

Under the Chimera, another home-made module

Here is another short module I made for Red Box Vancouver. We enjoyed this one for a total of four zany sessions, mostly owing to the mutagenic liquid. You can read the session summaries starting here.

This one was also created using Dave’s Mapper and the Moldvay Basic rules. There are no mutation tables provided in the adventure, but I would recommend either this or these, since the giant system-agnostic compilation of all mutation tables everywhere that I’m working on is not yet finished.

So, here it is for you. Again, the last two pages are just the map on page 2, but bigger, just in case you need it. Anything I haven’t provided, use that book you see to the right!

Under the Chimera

October 14, 2011

The Hidden Ziggurat, a home-made module

This is a short module I made for Red Box Vancouver. I ran three sessions of it, and short summaries can be found on the RBV forums, starting here.

I used Dave’s Mapper to generate a random dungeon map, and made a few slight modifications in Photoshop. I then stocked the dungeon using the rules in Moldvay’s Basic D&D, then added my own ideas so that the dungeon made sense in the end, including some nice colour text culled from a previous phase of black ziggurat enthusiasm. And with the addition of a few short wandering monster tables, I was done.

So here it is for you, if you want it. The last two pages are just the map on page 2 but bigger. If you don’t need them, don’t print them out. There are no monster stats here, because you can get those from the Moldvay Basic book.

The Hidden Ziggurat

August 25, 2011

An Alternate Reward System for Playing Your Role

For Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, “role-playing” didn’t mean funny voices or acting out your character’s unique personality. It meant playing your role, whether that was cleric, fighter, or magic-user. Role-playing awards might mean re-roll tokens, or an xp bonus, but were not given out for dramatic performances.

With that in mind, here is an alternate reward system for role-playing, with roll bonuses, saving-throw re-rolls, and allows abilities to increase. It fulfills two different goals. The first is that it incentivizes certain class- or role-specific behaviours, by rewarding appropriate actions and making it easier to increase class-elated abilities. The second is that it allows for more player-determined advancement, by allowing players to choose which abilities they will try to increase.

As much as I stand behind the sentiments in the last post, I also like it when characters can improve and overcome their faults, or hone their strengths. And this is a rather simple way of allowing a player to indicate what they find interesting or important about their own character, instead of being locked into a fixed, undeviated improvement path based on class, level, and what spells are found during adventures. Players should be able to make choices about improvements before 9th level, I think.

Each character class has five experiences that help define their role. When you do one of these five actions, mark the circle next to it. Do not mark it again until after you erase it.

You may erase all your marks to get certain bonuses, at any time:
* Erase all your marks to get a bonus to a single roll equal to the number of marks you erased.
* If you have 2 or more marks, erase them all to re-roll a saving throw.
* If you have 3 or more marks, erase them all to attempt to increase one of your favoured abilities.
* If you have 4 or more marks, erase them all to attempt to increase any one ability.

When you attempt to increase an ability, erase all your marks and choose which ability you would like to increase. If you are erasing 3 marks, you may only choose one of the two abilities favoured by your class. If you are erasing 4 or more marks, you may choose any one of your six abilities. Once you have chosen an ability, roll a d20. If you roll equal to or less than the ability’s current rating, it does not increase. But if you roll higher than the ability’s current rating, it increases by 1. Favoured abilities are listed next to the class names, below.

The seven B/X Classes listed out in alphabetical order:

Clerics (Charisma and Wisdom):
○ When you defend someone weaker than yourself (fewer hit points).
○ When you heal or rescue a fallen comrade.
○ When you ignore attacks in order to heal, bless, consecrate, or turn undead.
○ When you survive a battle against the servants of enemy gods.
○ When you tithe half your wealth to your temple (minimum 100gp).

Dwarves (Constitution and Strength):
○ When you defend someone weaker than yourself (fewer hit points).
○ When you donate half your wealth to a Dwarven institution (minimum 100gp).
○ When you find a trap before it is triggered.
○ When you slay a superior foe (more hit dice).
○ When you survive a battle where your side was outnumbered.

Elves (Strength and Intelligence):
○ When you defend someone weaker than yourself (fewer hit points).
○ When you rescue a fallen or captured comrade.
○ When you recover magical items, scrolls, or spellbooks from a dungeon.
○ When you spend half your wealth on magical research (minimum 100gp).
○ When you use magic to defeat a superior foe (more hit dice).

Fighters (Dexterity and Strength):
○ When you lead retainers into battle and they all survive.
○ When you rescue a fallen or captured comrade.
○ When you slay a superior foe (more hit dice).
○ When you spend half your wealth carousing (minimum 100gp).
○ When you survive a battle where your side was outnumbered.

Halflings (Constitution and Dexterity):
○ When you ambush a superior foe (more hit dice or greater numbers).
○ When you get to the other side of a lock or blocked passageway.
○ When you slay a superior foe (more hit dice).
○ When you spend half your wealth carousing (minimum 100gp).
○ When you survive a battle without losing any hit points.

Magic-Users (Constitution and Intelligence):
○ When you cast a spell to directly aid a comrade.
○ When you recover magical items, scrolls, or spellbooks from a dungeon.
○ When you spend half your wealth on magical research (minimum 100gp).
○ When you survive a battle without losing any hit points.
○ When you use magic to defeat a superior foe (more hit dice).

Thieves (Dexterity and Intelligence):
○ When you ambush a superior foe (more hit dice or greater numbers).
○ When you find a trap before it is triggered.
○ When you get to the other side of a lock or blocked passageway.
○ When you spend half your wealth carousing (minimum 100gp).
○ When you survive a battle without losing any hit points.


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