Posts tagged ‘modules’

June 1, 2015

Battle Between the Worlds

bbtw_lowres1Battle Between the Worlds is a set of rules for running one-shot Dungeon Planet adventures. You get new characters with truncated, personalized rules and a bunch of adventure situations to choose from. The GM still has to know how to run Dungeon World, but you can play using only this document.

The character sheets include illustrations by George Metzger, Juan Ochoa, Mike Jackson, and Nate Marcel.

Because I wrote these quick start rules primarily for the upcoming Space Wurm vs. Moonicorn (still not done!), I am releasing it as Pay What You Want.

Here is a link to the pdf on DriveThruRPG.

The print version is available from Lulu.

January 2, 2015

Adventures Don’t Sell for Shit

Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration.

Done well, adventure scenarios are an incredibly valuable tool for people playing rpgs. And yet they are never as popular as core rulebooks or player-oriented expansions. If I break down time spent writing adventures versus the profits they have made so far (over the course of a year and a half in a few cases), the best-case scenario is about minimum wage (which is CAN$10/hour where I live… I think). Obviously, if you have a large customer base, they way Pathfinder and D&D do, adventures can actually make enough money to pay for the people involved. But even in those cases, the rulebooks are still where the real money is.

So, what are adventures good for? Advertising.

1. They help sell other books, especially core rules.
If someone runs Island of Fire Mountain for their friends, and their friends love it, what happens? Do they all rush out and buy Island of Fire Mountain? No, they rush out and buy Dungeon World. Now, I’m all for helping out friends of mine but getting paid minimum wage to advertise someone else’s game (or do anything, really) is still a crap job, any way you cut it.

Take a look at two successful adventure-based business models: Goodman Games and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Both of them have gone from just adventures to also producing their own core rules, which I’m pretty sure sell better than adventures do. Not only are people more likely to buy adventures if they have a proper set of rules to go with it, but people also like to buy core rules. If you’re adventures don’t sell well enough to make a profit on their own, but they keep pointing people toward your other products that do, they’re worth the investment of time and effort (and by “worth it” I of course mean monetarily).

Just like rules expansions and supplements, adventures are a form of support for a game. Lots of people find well-supported games (and game lines) more attractive. Firstly, it (usually) means they will be able to do more things with one game simply by spending money and doing a little reading, instead of having to make everything up themselves (which can be especially time-consuming when it comes to designing rules). But also, if someone is already interested in a core game, good supplements and adventures work to grow and reinforce that interest. Bad supplements don’t tend to have the opposite effect because people can ignore them and concentrate on the ones they do like, or if they reinforce someone’s poor opinion of the game, that person is probably not going to be a customer (or repeat customer) anyway. A bad supplement flops on its own, a good supplement builds the brand.

All that said, making adventures pay off from a business standpoint requires you to use them as advertising for your other work. Using them to push your own core rulebook is a pretty well-established model.

2. They form a body of work.
Another thing that adventures can do is make bundled sales more attractive. A collection of many adventures, or rulebooks that come with a collection of adventures, adds value at the point of sale, as opposed to when people play the game (which is what point 1 was about). Sales are attractive; people like getting a deal. If you have one product out, all you can do is lower the price. If you have a whole bunch of products out, you can also sell a bunch of them for the regular price of just one of them, and not only does it feel like a deal money-wise, but time-wise as well, because they only have to make one purchase to get everything.

In point 1, I’m saying that people who see or play the adventure and think it’s cool get pointed to the core rules. With this point, I’m saying people who are interested in the core rules see that there are adventures for it, and it strengthens their resolve to buy it.

3. They disseminate a style of play.
Aside from the business aspects of points 1 and 2, there is also the community-building aspect to consider. Adventures help teach and promote a specific style of play, which can help lay the groundwork for other games of that style. If you run Apocalypse World and Dungeon World in a specific way, both games really sing. If you run them the same way you run Pathfinder, though? You’re going to have a terrible game. Even the people who hate Pathfinder won’t like it. But not everyone is able to learn how to play AW or DW really effectively from just the core rulebooks (because people learn in different ways). The more examples there are of that style of play out in the world, the easier it is for the people who like it to discuss it and find other people who want to play games in that style. It means subsequent games built in the AW style have an easier time gaining exposure. And this is just a recent example, which I use because right now I mostly write stuff for Dungeon World. Other examples of people promoting a specific style of play in opposition to more dominant styles include the OSR, the Fate community, and the various Gumshoe games.

4. Another reason why people write adventures.
Adventure-writing is also a natural by-product of play, since most rpgs require at least some form of prep. If you’re writing that stuff anyway, you’ve got a head start on a saleable product, although there’s still some work involved (most people I know don’t make professional-looking books just in order to play an adventure once with a few friends). Still, there’s something to be said for turning your hobby into something you can release in public with a little extra effort, and many more reasons than just making money why someone would do that.


Of course, I don’t follow the whole rpg industry, just parts of it. People with more experience selling games than me might have different perspectives. I published a bunch of adventures mainly because I wanted to, but overall, that time might have been better spent (business-wise) on something else. Adventures on Dungeon Planet has consistently outperformed all of those adventures since the very beginning, and Class Warfare is already more profitable after only a couple of months. So, even though I have notes for plenty more adventures, they’re not exactly racing to the top of the priorities list.

October 10, 2014

The Caves in Print

The Caves of Moreau County is now available in print, click for details.

Bird Brain

September 29, 2014

The Caves of Moreau County

moreau_county_coverpic-1The Caves of Moreau County is an adventure module for Labyrinth Lord (i.e. B/X). The various sections of this dungeon are random and modular — there is no mandated way for them to fit together. You can generate the actual structure of the dungeon before you play, or do it during the game, partly in response to the players’ decisions.

The dungeon consists primarily of beastmen in caves with a few twists and buried secrets. It is a fairly dark adventure, written from the perspective of murderhobo PCs. It’s gritty, horror-saturated old school fantasy, in case that is or isn’t your bag. Or just check it out for yourself, since you can get it for free if you want to.

This module was created to be a proof-of-concept prototype, to see how well this format works, and what needs to be done to make it work better. As such, the text is released under a Creative Commons license and the PDF is offered here as Pay What You Want. Monetary support goes towards creating more role-playing game materials. If you enjoy this module, you might also consider purchasing some of my other books, if you haven’t already.


The Caves of Moreau County is available in PDF from DriveThruRPG.

And in print from Lulu (6×9, staple-bound, cream pages, B&W printing, US$10).


Some Design Notes:
Because this is a prototype made in preparation for a larger project (related to my Monthly Monsters project on Patreon), I don’t mind critiquing it or offering my thoughts on how it could be done better.

The sections in The Caves of Moreau County are fairly small, mostly limited to one room each. I think this would work better with larger sections, maybe small collections of rooms, or several rooms that comprise the lair of a particular monster, or a type of monsters. So, probably something more akin to a series of modular one-page dungeons, though many sections would be smaller than your typical OPD, I would think.

There’s only a few connections between rooms—the ritual room leads directly to the tomb of saints, for example—and only a few rooms lead back to rooms that are already on the map. I’d like to insert more connections of that sort, including secret passageways, and links between different dungeon levels.

In general, this is also a fairly small dungeon, with twenty rooms and only a few different types of monsters. More variance in the wandering monster tables would definitely be a plus.

April 25, 2014

DW2: Island of Fire Mountain

At long last, both the DW and the River Knife series of adventure modules are complete trilogies.

Island of Fire MountainA small island in the South Seas. A lone fort plagued by cannibal hordes and a race of monsters. A ship, wrecked on the rocks of the far shore, missing all its crew and passengers. An ancient city that stands in ruins, guarded by the very elements themselves, and rumoured to be full of ghosts. All this and more lie waiting for a band of intrepid adventurers. Will they bring peace and prosperity to the island, or merely line their pockets? Will they discover the secret of the lost city of Kuna Lii, or will they leave the entire world in ruins in the attempt? Come ashore, and find out for yourself!

What size is this book?
It’s 102 pages, black and white, 6×9 in print, 5.5×8.5 in pdf.

What do you get with this book?

  • Inside this adventure module, you will find:
  • A complete island, with numerous warring factions and a ruined city.
  • New monsters, characters, and magical items to vex or aid the PCs.
  • Customized starting procedures and advice about asking the players questions that contribute to the setting, while keeping the island a mysterious place for them to explore.
  • A new base class: the Elementalist.
  • Cover art by Robert Scott, from the Prismatic Art Collection.
  • Fantastic interior art by Nate Marcel and Tony Dowler.

Where do you get this book?
You can buy Island of Fire Mountain in print and pdf from DriveThruRPG, for $20. Or $8 $15. Or $7 if you only want the pdf.
You can also buy the print version by itself from Lulu for $16. $12.

December 28, 2013

DW3 Ghostwood Haunts

Before the year comes to an end, here is a new book! Ghostwood Haunts is an introductory adventure module for the Dungeon World fantasy role-playing game. This is the sequel to DW1 Lair of the Unknown.

DW3 Ghostwood HauntsWhat’s the adventure about?
In the midst of the Ghostwood, the village of Knifesbridge holds a mere few thousand souls, but trouble enough for all. A gang of bandits preys upon the local road traffic, drug addiction spreads through sleepy village streets, and corruption at the heart of municipal politics stymies all attempts to restore law and order. Worse yet, a dead witch’s ghost seeks vengeance, and a demon waits to walk once more beneath the Ghostwood’s leaves. At the crossroads between these fronts lies and old, abandoned tower, and the secrets buried beneath it will tear this village apart.

What’s it look like?
It’s 138 pages, black and white, 6×9 in print, 5.5×8.5 in pdf.

What do you get with this book?
Inside this adventure module you will find:

  • Two complete fronts with three dangers each.
  • NPCs for each of these six dangers, plus more to populate Knifesbridge.
  • Suggested and optional scenes that further the villains evil scenes.
  • Crime, political corruption, and drug addiction.
  • Ghosts, witches, and a demon.
  • Maps of important locations.
  • Three new compendium classes: the Bounty Hunter, the Drug Addict, and the Infernalist.
  • One new base class: the Magnate.

Why is DW3 the sequel to DW1, Johnstone?
That’s a good question, Johnstone! It’s because DW2 isn’t finished yet. Look for that one in March or something.

Where can you get it?
The pdf is available at DriveThruRPG for US$7 in pdf, and $15 for both print and pdf.
  Andthere is a print option at Lulu (with no pdf) for US$12.

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.

October 28, 2013

New Print Versions

I have added new print options at DriveThruRPG for some of my books. I have not really been happy with the B&W print option Lightning source offers, mainly because they don’t do full bleed and I use bleed on pretty much all of my books except the Metamorphica.

Evil Wizards in a Cave now has a Standard Colour print option, although the book is still in black & white. It just has full bleed. The black inks aren’t quite as rich as either the B&W option or the Lulu version (which is still the best option, in my opinion), but it looks pretty decent, all in all.

I’ve added the Standard Colour option to Adventures on Dungeon Planet, but left the B&W option available, for those of you who are discerning enough to care about the difference. B&W has richer blacks, but Standard Colour has full bleed instead of white space at the edge of the pages. If you don’t care either way, I make more money if you buy the B&W version (though not very much more).

The B&W version of Lair of the Unknown still looks pretty good to me, even with that white space, so I haven’t tried to make a new pdf for a Standard Colour option for that books, although I am currently waiting to see what the Knives in the Dark Standard Colour option looks like, and I may switch that title over if it looks as good as Evil Wizards in a Cave.

The Third Verse will have a Standard Colour print option available sometime next month.

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 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.


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