Friday, May 31, 2013

Wikipedia is the GM's Friend: Hanna-Barbera Adventure Cartoons

For most of the latter half of the twentieth century, animation studio Hanna-Barbera absolutely dominated television animation. They're best remembered for shows like the Flintstones, Scooby Doo, and the Smurfs, but they had a large stable of adventure-type shows that were full of action, had humor without being wacky, and could definitely serve as inspiration for the game master in need of a quick jolt. The full list of H-B cartoon shows is massive. I loved these things when I was growing up, and they would definitely be a part of my own personal Appendix N.

The first, of course, was Jonny Quest. The title character, the young son of scientist Dr. Benton Quest, would fly around the world with his father, his father's partner Race Bannon, and his friend Hadji, solving all sorts of problems and foiling evil. And their dog Bandit, too, of course...

Then there was Space Ghost (the original, serious one). It actually consisted of two different cartoons; Space Ghost, with the futuristic super hero and his two proteges, and Dino Boy in the Lost Valley, which was a sort of Lost World homage with cave men, dinosaurs, and a young boy getting into and out of various perils.

Birdman and the Galaxy Trio came next, with superhero Birdman (again, the original, serious, one) fighting various villains in one half of the show, and the Galaxy Trio, an otherwise forgettable threesome of outer space superheroes doing likewise.

The Herculoids was somewhat high-concept for its day; it's set in the future, on an alien planet, but the protagonists are a family from a high-tech society that have decided to settle on a savage planet and live a primitive lifestyle, and defend the planet against technological encroachments. There are a bunch of different intelligent races on the planet, and there are many opportunities for peril, as well as the family's collection of semi-sentient alien-companions. There were a few crossovers with Space Ghost, if I remember correctly.

Shazzan is one of my personal favorites, a riff on Aladdin, with a brother and sister who together can summon the genie Shazzan. The kids seem to be from the modern world, but the series is set in a very fantastic Arabian Knights sort of setting. The plots are interesting, up to the point where they wrap up with the kids putting their rings together and having the genie save the day.

Mightor was one of the segments in the Moby Dick and Mighty Mightor show, which featured a prehistoric superhero (complete with secret identity) foiling various villains seeking to harm the peaceful inhabitants of a prehistoric village.

The Banana Splits Adventure Hour consisted not only of the costumed rock band playing some (actually fairly decent) songs and telling jokes, but with four recurring series as well; the Arabian Knights, which featured a band of good-hearted rogues (actually, a strongman, a magician, an acrobat prince seeking to get his throne back, his cousin who is an expert in disguise, and a shape-shifter) trying to overthrow the evil usurper of Baghdad, Danger Island, which featured a family shipwrecked on an island with pirates, dangerous animals, and savages who liked to paint their bodies like skeletons; and the Three Musketeers, which was pretty much as the name implies. There was also a fourth, Micro Ventures, which was pretty dull, and consisted of the family being shrunk down to very small size and using their dune buggy to escape now-giant ants.

The Adventures of Gulliver featured the titular character seeking a treasure, with an evil pirate trying to get the map from him, always foiled by the tiny people of Lilliput.

Sealab 2020 (once again, the original, not the later parody) was a neat science fictiony type adventure series, centered around an underwater research station. This was about the last of Hanna-Barbera's "serious" adventure shows.

After this point, they stuck with the predictable formula of cheap gags and silly situations (with the exception of the truly amazing Pirates of Dark Water, which deserves a post of its own), but for a time there in the 1960's and 70's, they had a great raft of solid adventure stories that could definitely serve as inspiration for a game today.

And with that, I leave you with this über-cool boardgame-themed Jonny Quest promo from Boomerang...


Also, please don't forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter has just one more day to go! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bestiary Kickstarter in the home stretch!

As of right now we're about 60 hours from the end of the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Bestiary Kickstarter (it ends Saturday night). About $9,500 has been pledged, which means more than 1/3 of the 900 monsters in the book will be illustrated.

I've got to say, that is an enormous accomplishment and I'd like to thank everyone who has backed the project. Kickstarter being Kickstarter, I'm sure we'll see a bump at the end, and I'd be thrilled if we passed the $10k mark (and ecstatic if 40% of the monsters got illustrations).

The book will have 900 monsters, including nearly all of the creatures from the MM, MM2, and FF (some are being left out on purpose, while some can't be included for legal reasons, but for the latter there are suitable substitutes that can be used in lieu of the real thing). There are also a passel of new monsters, like undead dragons, faeries and sidhe, new oozes and slimes, and the fearsome giant mantis shrimp. They're written with the Adventures Dark and Deep™ rules in mind, but things being what they are, that means you'll be able to use the book with most OSR-type games with little difficulty.

Is there a monster you really, really, want to make sure gets an illustration? You can sponsor a picture and you get to pick the monster you sponsor. Make sure your favorite gets a picture! (The various SPONSOR levels, plus you can add a sponsorship to any reward level.)

Ever wanted to see yourself being eaten by a troll or an anhkheg? Our artists can make that happen. (The YOU HAVE BEEN EATEN BY A GRUE reward level.)

Looking for original art to hang on the wall of your gaming space? We're giving away a limited number of original pieces as an additional reward. (The ORIGINAL ART SPONSOR reward level.)

So please, if you've been on the fence, now's the time to pledge. Every $25 pledged is another monster illustration for the book. Remember, it's already written, the Kickstarter is just for art and editing. Let's make the book beautiful!

Gamers helping Oklahoma tornado victims

The Merciful Cousins is an order of cavaliers for the Pathfinder role-playing game that functions as a sort of D&D Red Cross. Now, if you buy the PDF that details how to use them in your D&D campaign, you can help the actual Red Cross bring aid to Oklahoma tornado victims.
The Merciful Cousins (aka the Masons of Recovery) were created by Super Genius Games, and the book was written by RPG journeyman and Oklahoma native Owen K.C. Stephens. Artist Wayne Reynolds donated a sketch for the book's cover. The PDF costs $2, and all proceeds will go to the Red Cross, which is helming recovery and aid efforts in Oklahoma. The city of Moore, OK was recently devastated by a monstrous EF5 tornado.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

RIP Jack Vance

Legendary fantasy and science fiction author Jack Vance has passed away at the age of 96.

Fans of Dungeons and Dragons and role-playing games in general will surely remember him as the inspiration for so-called "Vancian Magic", wherein magic spells, once cast, leave the mind of the caster and must be re-memorized.

However, his contribution to both gaming and the world of science fiction and fantasy writing is enormous both in quantity and quality. He is known for the Dying Earth, yes, but there were many, many more. Lyonesse, Space Opera, the Demon Princes, Planet of Adventure; he wrote more than 60 novels altogether.

I came to appreciate Vance as an author late in life, only a few years ago, but once I started to read his work I couldn't stop, and now can't imagine not having read it.

You will be missed, Mr. Vance.

What should come next?

If you cast your gaze to the upper-left corner of the blog, you'll see a new poll up there, asking opinions as to what you'd like to see next. With the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Bestiary moving into the art stage, I'll have quite a chunk of writing time freed up. I'd like to get your opinion as to how best to fill it up. Nothing's binding, of course, but I'd like to get a sense from you guys.

The first option is something I've talked about before; Adventures Great and Glorious™. It would cover rules for large-scale warfare, large-scale economics, political maneuvering, and dynastic considerations. Intended for use with Adventures Dark and Deep™ but compatible with most OSR-type games, of course.

The second is a full-blown fantasy setting with gorgeous poster maps, a gazetteer-type guidebook, and so forth. Since the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting seems to be closed to the gaming public for the foreseeable future (officially, anyway), this would be my attempt at making something similar in concept, but taken to its logical conclusion. Again, it would be lite enough in mechanics to be usable with most OSR-type rules.

The third is a series of smaller adventure modules. Some would have arcs connecting them, some would be location-based adventures that exist more or less in a vacuum, some would be larger and some would be smaller.

And, of course, there are probably a dozen things folks might be interested in that I've not listed here. Feel free to make your suggestions in the comments.

Thanks for your input!

Update: Obviously the polling gadget is the work of the devil, and doesn't function properly. I've seen votes disappear before my very eyes. So just sound off in the comments here. Thanks!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Thoughts occasioned by OOTS #890

If you're a reader of Order of the Stick, you've hopefully read the last couple of strips, including the latest one, #890. If you haven't, go ahead and do so, because this won't make any sense unless you have.

All done? Okay.

See now, in a real game, this is the point where the players collectively leap across the table and force the DM's dice down his throat through a funnel until his abdomen ruptures from within.

Imagine this: After six months of (real-world) play time, where everything has been going *perfectly* for your character, with never a die roll flubbed, all the villains slain, and all the treasure won, the DM suddenly asks everyone to make a WIS check. And when you do, he tells you that the last year or two of game-time never happened, it was all an illusion, and your characters are still back in that dungeon you thought you cleared out months ago. Oh, and he happens to have copies of your character sheets from back then, so here you go, you're five or six levels lower than you thought you were.

That there is a recipe for murder. Damn I'd like to try it sometime, but I just don't have the guts.


Also, please don't forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

Wizards won't have a booth at GenCon

According to this article over at, "Wizards will not have a presence on the Gen Con exhibit floor" (the exhibitor's map at the GenCon site confirms this).

Wow. Nothing. I realize they're trying to lay low in order to build excitement for D&D Next, you'd think they'd have something there to, I dunno, hump M:tG or something. This is the 20th anniversary of Magic: The Gathering, for crying out loud. You'd think they'd want to make a splash with that other than just tournaments.

They will be running events, and are an official sponsor of the convention, but no booth.


Also, please don't forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Setting Book That Would Hit a Few Buttons

So I was driving home today and was struck by an idea for a setting book. It's something that would definitely hit a few buttons, among OSR types in particular.

The idea would be a "grand campaign" book, akin to The Great Pendragon Campaign, which would advance the timeline of the setting 25 years or so. So that's one button; I know a lot of folks don't like "advance the setting" things at all, and some do. (Please don't turn the comments into "advancing the setting is evil"; that's not the point of this post.)

However, it would be a bit different than TGPC, in that there would be several major decision points that the game master would decide upon at given intervals, either by his own fiat or by player intervention in the various plots and events that are boiling, and the outcome of each influences the outcome of the others. Thus, it turns from a railroad-type plan into a "choose your own adventure" book. That's the second button; I know a lot of folks have fond memories of "choose your own adventure" type books.

I've run the math, and assuming four major plot points over the course of 25 years (with intervals where things run along until a new decision point is reached), that means around a hundred different chapters would be needed to cover all the various permutations over the space of all the years. That can be condensed by compressing the number of years between decision points, or expanded by making the decision points spaced wider apart.

With two pages to describe the world-as-it-is on any given year in any given timeline, that gives a 200 page book, which is eminently doable.

The mechanics would work just like a choose-your-own-adventure book. In year 3, for instance, the game master is given a choice; if Iuz defeats the Shield Lands, turn to page 7. If the Shield Lands survive, turn to page 44. And then there would be more descriptions of how the world unfurls until the next decision point; if the giants controlled by the drow House Eilservs conquer Sterich, turn to page 24, if not, turn to page 72. And so forth.

The idea would be that of the four plots, it would be easier to influence them earlier on, but there would be fewer signs that the fate of the world hangs on the outcome. Once it becomes obvious that it's a world-changer, it becomes much harder to deflect.

And of course if the game master just wants to have all the wars and politics and such going on in the background, as a backdrop to the player characters' actions, he still has choices and can have a ton of options for how his campaign unfurls over the course of time. There end up being 16 different outcomes with four plot-points. That can start to get a lot bigger as you start to add a fifth or sixth plot point or more than two possible results of any given plot point...

I figure that gives me the best of both worlds; it advances the timeline, but gives the game master a lot of choice beyond a single "Raistlin can't die in Pax Tharkas so he can be around later to stop Takhisis". If you want your player characters to influence events, you can, but if you don't, it's perfectly acceptable to let things just unfold in the background and keep them guarding caravans and exploring ancient ruins.


Also, please don't forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Thoughts on Dragonspear Castle

So the announcement about the first D&D Next adventure, Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, has hit the blogs, and there is a bit of buzz going on around it. They also seem to be cementing their relationship with Forbes, with a spiffy article all about it.

Erik Tenkar isn't pleased (to say the least) that it's being offered as a GenCon-only offering. Meaning, you can pre-order the adventure, but there is no shipping option. You must be at GenCon this August to pick up your copy. Personally, that doesn't really bother me. It's a marketing decision, and they want to be able to have some sort of big D&D Next presence at the convention besides seminars and presentations, so this is a way to build buzz. I get it. I'm disappointed that I won't be able to get a copy, but I can't say it bothers me.

I'd like to talk about a couple of other things in the announcement, though.

First, it's not just going to be an adventure, but the book will also have a copy of the playtest rules in it. They're marketing this as a sort of yearbook, even with places for folks to sign their copy. It marks a point in time in the design cycle, not just the release of the game itself. I still have those 4E preview books, and they served the same purpose (although they were sold in Barnes & Noble).

Second, I'm a little put off by the notion that it's a "mini-campaign comprised of four thrilling adventures designed to advance characters from 1st level to 10th level." 10 levels in four adventures? Considering the latest playtest rules are 316 pages long, and this book is "over 200 pages" long, even if they smoosh down the rules a lot, there's not a lot of room for the adventures themselves. 10 levels in 50 or 60 pages? It seems a bit much, and doesn't fill me with confidence about the speed with which characters are expected to level up, and thus what the "sweet spot" of PC level is going to be for the game. I prefer a low-level game, and anything over level 20 is for gods and godlike NPCs...

Third, I was hoping that we'd finally have a definitive ruling on what the official name of the game will be, but it seems they're still being coy. The upper-right corner of the cover sports the 4th edition logo, while the lower-right says "Playable with D&D Next rules". And the Forbes story refers to D&D Next as a code-name. So will it be just D&D? D&D 5th Edition? D&D Next? Something else? It seems like we still don't know.

Fourth, I'm intrigued by the announcement of the Candlekeep playtest adventures that will be run at GenCon (from the Forbes article):

All throughout the entire weekend, we’re going to have a constantly running game where you just get in line –if you want to DM, you can DM your friends or we’ll have volunteer DM’s on hand– and you can play through scenes of this climatic battle.”
After each group finishes the adventure, the results of their actions will be collected and tabulated, and used to determine the fate of Candlekeep, which will be announced at the end of the convention. “If you’re told to go behind enemy lines and trash a supply caravan, whether you succeed or fail will tie into the greater results of the entire weekend. Essentially it’s one massive interactive adventure.”
I'm not a fan of having big campaign-impacting decisions decided by a single convention, but I love the idea of different groups of adventurers being sent on different missions associated with the same adventure, all interacting with, or at least impacting, one another.


Also, please don't forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Wikipedia is the DMs Friend: Medieval Demographics

Most (A)D&D worlds are generally sparse in population, with but a single village in an entire 30-mile hex, if that. Many find that sort of emptiness unsatisfying from an historical perspective, and seek to beef up their worlds' population accordingly.

Many are probably already familiar with S. John Ross's excellent Medieval Demographics Made Easy page. In it, he crunches a bunch of numbers and comes up with likely numbers of people, occupations, population densities, and so forth. If you haven't read it, it's worth the time.

There's also an excellent and informative Wikipedia article on the subject of Medieval demographics. While it is not (obviously) focused on the sorts of data that would be most of use for RPG world-building, it does have a broader overall picture, stressing that demographics in Medieval Europe went through several booms and crashes over the centuries.

England in 1335 or 1365? It matters...
One of the interesting points I see there that would be suitable for the implied D&D setting is the High Middle Ages, where we see the "great clearances" of woodland and the expansion of agriculture. That would be a ripe time for isolated settlements in the wilderness, whose inhabitants are in the process of clearing away woodlands and badlands for farming, and in the process uncovering all sorts of long-forgotten stuff and disturbing all sorts of Things Best Left Undisturbed.

The period immediately following the Black Death would be an interesting RPG setting as well. Whole regions would be depopulated as people reorganized themselves, leaving behind towns and villages quickly falling into ruin, and into which long-displaced humanoids and monsters might creep to retake the lands taken from them so long ago. There might be lots of things out there in the newly-encroaching wilderness worth recovering, which gives a ready-made excuse for adventuring.

It should be remembered that Tolkien's Middle Earth similarly suffered a Great Plague in the Second Age. That's one reason you see all those old ruins scattered around everywhere in the films.

Think not just about what the demographics are in your campaign, but what the trend is. Are people expanding, and wildernesses therefore shrinking? Or is the reverse happening? Adventure is found in times of change, after all, and the type of change will shape the type of adventure to be had.


Also, please don't forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

Original Art Reward Now Available

Thanks to the generosity of one of our artists, there is a new reward level now available for the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Bestiary Kickstarter:

ORIGINAL ART SPONSOR: You get your name listed in the Bestiary as the sponsor of a particular monster illustration. In addition, you get a hardcover and pdf copy of the Bestiary, and your name in the back of the book as a supporter. PLUS, you get the original version of your sponsored piece of art!

There are only five of these rewards available, and we're asking $145 (you're in essence paying $35 to sponsor the picture and $65 for the picture itself in your hot little hands).

I expect these to go quickly, so if you'd like to get the hardcover book as well as an original piece of art, now's your chance!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Forgive my gloating...

I've been collecting books and other products relating to the World of Greyhawk pretty much since there was such a thing to collect. So as you might imagine, there are very few lacunae in my collection. Today, I filled one of those lacunae with something rare and wondrous. It's a graphic novel called Vecna Hand of the Revenant by Iron Hammer Graphics, and tells the story of Vecna's early days in the ancient past of the Flanaess. It came out in 2002 and is notoriously difficult to find, and when it comes up on eBay usually goes for north of $100 easily. No more were ever produced in the series. It arrived today in the mail.

Just finding one is a coup, but I ended up paying four dollars for the thing. Hence my gloating. :-)

I've only flipped through it, but the artwork is glorious. I'll do a full review once I've had a chance to read through it, as part of my explorations of obscure Greyhawkiana. But man, I am a happy Grognard today.


Also, please don't forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

On Intelligent Magic Items

Even back in the very earliest days of my RPGing career, it never made all that much sense to me that the only sorts of magic items that could be intelligent were swords. Perhaps the most famous intelligent magic item in fantasy literature, The One Ring, bucked that particular restriction:

The One Ring

Forged by the Dark Lord Sauron many centuries ago, the One Ring is filled with a portion of his malignant will. It has an INT of 17, an Ego of 17, and an alignment of Lawful Evil. It will make its wearer invisible whenever worn, and will also allow the wearer to dominate the will of any creature wearing one of the other 19 Rings of Power at any distance. It has a special purpose of reuniting itself with the Dark Lord Sauron and ruling the world.

That said, the intelligent magic item is not otherwise unknown to fantasy literature, whether it is the Singing Harp from the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, the crown of the former king whose will allows him to dominate his descendants and rule the kingdom through his puppets, or Aladdin's magic carpet. So breaking it out of the intelligent sword mold is a simple enough thing. In fact, it's one of the things I built into the magic item section of the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Game Masters Toolkit. You could have an intelligent ring, an intelligent wand, etc.

That begs the question of just how an intelligent item comes to be. Surely there is something that could happen during the magic item creation process to imbue the item with intelligence, but in most rules that's not spelled out at all. Even in the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Players Manual, there's one way listed in the rules that it could happen (roll a 00 on the mage spell reincarnation table), but it's explicitly stated elsewhere that there are other, undefined, methods.

I've wondered what those methods could be. I didn't want to bake them into the rules, since that's exactly the sort of thing that a game master could use to make his campaign world oh so cool and sinister and interesting. But that doesn't stop me from speculating.

There are basically two possibilities. The intelligence comes from a (formerly) living person, or the intelligence is unique to the item. In the former case, some sort of necromancy could bind the soul of the person to the item, or it could be an accident of the means of death, or an act of utter Will from someone who simply refused to die.

Is Carpet really an eternal
prison for the trapped soul of
some poor sacrificial  victim?
For the latter, it would most likely be either an accident or a deliberate function of the way the item was created. Does tapping into the positive or negative planes at the moment of creation do the trick? Is it due to some rare and unusual material (gem, metal, etc.) used in its construction? Is some variation in the spells normally used responsible? Perhaps there is a unique spell that is unknown to most mages, that creates a new personality for the item.

Maybe it's a hybrid of the two. Maybe if a human sacrifice is attendant to the creation of a magic item, that is enough to imbue it with intelligence. That need not mean the personality of the sacrifice is transferred, of course, unless the ritual goes awry in some way. In which case, the item might well seek revenge against its creator/slayer, and that could be a very interesting plot twist to a campaign indeed...


Also, please don't forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

Bestiary update: 2 weeks to go, let's get it to 300 pictures

Hey all! Just wanted to note that today marks the two week mark before the end of the Kickstarter campaign for the Bestiary. Right now we're only about $500 away from getting one third of all the monsters illustrated. If you haven't done so already, I'd really encourage you to back the book. The 900 monsters are already a given -- the book itself is already written -- now we're going for illustrations, and the more pictures we get, the more a thing of beauty the book will become.

900 monsters in one book. Almost all of the monsters from the original three monster books (or creatures that can be used in their place). How can you go wrong?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Game Masters Toolkit Now Available!

The second of the core rulebooks for Adventures Dark and Deep™ is now available! The Game Masters Toolkit gives a ton of tools that the game master can use to help run his games, and almost everything is generic enough to be applicable to any sort of OSR-compatible rules. Here's just a few highlights:

  • Guidelines on what sort of races (sub-races, underground races, etc.) can be included in a campaign, and the potential impact of the choices you make
  • NPC generation (including two big tables of physical and personality traits to give NPCs a little color quickly)
  • Dungeons, wilderness, and underwater environments and hazards (including pits, weather, privation, swimming, etc.)
  • Non-melee combat-- tournaments, hunting, etc.
  • Rules for creating detailed treasure hoards that are more than just coins and gems
  • Ships and waterborne travel
  • Notes on creating a campaign setting; bottom-up vs. top-down philosophy; classical, underground, and Mythos-inspired campaigns; religions and deities (including a complete sample religion from history-- the Norse); the various other planes of existence (including variant systems and cosmologies)
  • Notes on creating adventures; storylines vs. sandboxes, wilderness adventures, and urban adventures; and tips on handling clues for players, meta-knowledge, and problem players
  • A comprehensive listing of magic items, including rules for intelligent items, selling magic items, etc.
  • An appendix with more than 80 random tables for the game master to use as inspiration, to fill in details, provide quick answers to common questions, etc. Everything from "What does that elf have?" to "What's on that evil altar?" to "What is that mountebank doing here?" to "Why are those humanoids raiding the village?" to "What happened to me in the tavern last night?" to "What is the city watch doing here?"
  • And of course tons more stuff
The rules are being released under the OGL, and as usual all hard copies of the book come with a complementary pdf copy. The whole is copiously illustrated, and features a cover by awesome gaming artist Christian N. St. Pierre. 

Some folks have been asking if they missed the Kickstarter for this book, and the answer is "no". There wasn't a Kickstarter for it. My previous efforts made enough that I was able to pay for the art and editing for the GMT from them. I don't want to keep going to the Kickstarter well unless I really have to; if I can Kickstart something on my own, that's what I'm going to do.

So please-- even if you don't play Adventures Dark and Deep at your table, take a look at the Game Masters Toolkit. There's going to be a bunch of stuff you can use in your game, as soon as you crack open the book.

And while you're at it, please consider backing the Bestiary Kickstarter campaign. As of right now we're only about $500 away from getting an illustration for 1/3rd of the 900 monsters that will be in the book. That's a terrific place to be, but I'd really love to see each and every one of those bad-boys get a picture. And you can help make it happen!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Friday, May 10, 2013

Remembering Ray Harryhausen

Ray Harryhausen had a huge influence on me as a kid growing up. I've been a fan of science fiction and fantasy for as long as I can remember, since at least the age of 5, and Ray Harryhausen's films were a regular part of my watching and reading diet.

The "reading" part may seem a little odd, but remember that, back in the 1970's, before cable was ubiquitous, and in the early 80's, when VCR's and VHS tapes were still something of a novelty and pricey, one was at the mercy of the television schedule. There was the 4:30 Movie on channel 7 on weekday afternoons, which I could catch if I rushed home from school, and there was Chiller Theater on channel 11 on Saturday night, but other than that science fiction and fantasy was rare outside of late night fare.

Magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland filled that gap. There would be glorious covers with the Universal monsters, characters from Hammer films, and, of course, creatures from the mind of Ray Harryhausen. Inside there were articles and interviews, behind-the-scenes photos, and tons more that my young mind just lapped up in the absence of being able to watch the movies themselves.

If reading about them was fascinating, the movies themselves were unbelievable. I can't say I remember the first time I saw The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, First Men in the Moon, or It Came from Beneath the Sea, but I know I've always remembered seeing them.

Like many, the skeleton fight in Jason and the Argonauts was fascinating to me, but I have to say it wasn't my favorite of his films. That would have to go to his later pair of Sinbad movies: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (with Tom "4th Doctor" Baker as the villainous Prince Kura) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (with Peter "2nd Doctor" Troughton as the sage Milantheus). To my mind, those two films even eclipse Clash of the Titans. Kali just beats out Medusa.

The inspirations from Harryhausen's films found in Dungeons and Dragons are many. The animated skeletons, for example, recall Jason and the Argonauts (as does the iron golem, and the mention of Talos, the "triple iron golem" mentioned in the artifacts and relics section of the DMG). Spells such as polymorph other, while they have their ultimate source in the literature of antiquity and Shakespeare, were popularized in the 70's in certain circles by the transformation of Prince Kassim. The greater medusa from 2E is an obvious lift from Clash of the Titans, of course, and there are many others.

I simply can't imagine a childhood that didn't have Ray Harryhausen's films in it. Thanks, Mr. Harryhausen.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Just think what the dwarves could do...

I was struck by this article over at io9, and my thoughts immediately raced to Moria, the Kingdom Under the Mountain, and Nogrod. Imagine, if we puny humans can achieve such a feat in a little over a century, what the dwarves, masters of stonecraft that they are, might achieve in the span of half a millennium.

Where a human might consider 75 a good run age-wise, 500 would be so for a mountain dwarf. That means a single generation of dwarves can do 6 times as much as a generation of men. While they would not have the benefits of modern machinery, of course, they have other means at their disposal to make up for it: magic, large animals to use as beasts of burden (giant lizards, for instance, to haul out loads of ore or slag), earth elementals that could be called upon to perform miracles of mining, etc.

The Bingham Canyon Mine is essentially a pit over half a mile deep and two and a half miles across. You would need something on the order of 1200 sheets of standard graph paper (8 1/2 x 11, 4 squares/inch), arranged in a square some 30 sheets by 40 sheets, to map such a thing. And that's just one "level". If the dwarves managed to hollow out that volume underground, assuming one "level" every 30 feet, you'd have 130 or so levels. Of 1200 sheets each.

Of course, it wouldn't be a simple gaping hole in the ground. The dwarves, skilled miners and workers of stone that they are, would see a city and keep carving until they set it free, much as Michelangelo with his angel.
"Moria... You fear to go into those mines. The dwarves delved too greedily and too deep. You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dûm... shadow and flame."
And naturally there is the famous trope of dwarves digging too deep, awakening some ancient sleeping evil, and thus sealing their doom. Once again, reality is cooler than fiction, when we see the example of Derweze in Turkmenistan. There, Soviet engineers thought they had breached a methane pocket and decided to burn off the dangerous gas. That was 40 years ago, and the gas is still burning in the mine today.

Imagine that happening in a deep dwarven delve. The dwarves dig too deeply and too greedily, and tap into an enormous pocket of methane gas seeping through the rock walls. The gas is set off by the torches and lanterns of the dwarves, and BOOM! Over the years, fire-loving creatures might well take up residence, and a gate to the elemental plane of fire might even spontaneously form.

Who needs diesel engines and steam shovels when you've got a centuries-long lifespan and a hankering to dig and delve?


Also, please don't forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

200 Monster Pictures and Counting!

We've hit another milestone on the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Bestiary Kickstarter-- 200 monsters will now get illustrations, as well as the cover and editing for the ADD Bestiary. I can't thank you all enough-- I know much of that comes from you all mentioning the Kickstarter to your friends, on blogs, and on various gaming forums. Thanks to you all!

With a little over three weeks to go, we've got a real shot at getting illustrations for all 900 monsters in the book. Finally, in one place, we'll have all the original monsters under one cover (well, almost all). That's huge, and it's happening with your help.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review: Iron Man 3 (Spoiler Free)

I saw the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series, Iron Man 3. I saw the standard version; no 3D or IMAX. I'm going to make an effort not to put in any spoilers here, so pardon my vagueness.

Bottom line, it was terrific.

Robert Downey Jr. was, as always, absolutely pitch-perfect as Iron Man. If every actor has a single role for which they were destined, this is his, as Robert Preston was Professor Harold Hill and Leonard Nimoy was Spock. His performance encapsulates Stark's mixture of cockiness and angst effortlessly. Ben Kingsley is terrific on screen as the Mandarin, who is one of Iron Man's chief foes in the comic books. This is a character for whom hatred of America is an end unto itself, and he really brings it on several levels. Many of the supporting players you're used to are back, and a few faces from the comic books that have been conspicuous in their absence finally have roles to play.

The big question for this film has to be, "What do you do after The Avengers?" Tony Stark has rubbed elbows with Norse Gods, aliens, flown through wormholes, and buddied up with the Hulk's alter ego. Where do you go from there?

Simple, you make it a smaller, more personal movie. You don't try to top it; that won't happen until The Avengers 2 hits screens in 2015 (in a duel to the death with Star Wars Episode VII), and would feel forced. You bring it back to Stark, and explore how he's been able to cope (or not to cope) with the experiences he had in New York. That was a deliberate choice on the part of the studio, and it worked expertly.

That's not to say there isn't peril aplenty, and lots of action, and blowing things up, and of course Tony Stark in the flying suit. The plot is well-conceived and full of excellent twists and turns that will keep you guessing. Suffice to say that one of the themes of this film is that appearances can be deceiving, and there are a number of excellent reversals and twists that you just won't see coming, even if you're looking for them.

As usual with a film like this, there's violence but not a lot of gore. There are sexy girls in bikinis, but no nudity or gratuitous vulgarity. I felt completely comfortable bringing my 12 year old daughter to this film, and she had a blast, as did my wife, who isn't what you'd call a comic book film fan (although she did like The Avengers, she continually ribs me for my love of the X-Men films).

Five stars out of five.


Also, please don't forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

Ten more days for Domains at War

Ten days to go for the Domains at War Kickstarter! I've got the original ACKS rules, and their unique integration of domain management is impressive to say the least. The next book in the series, Domains at War, explores mass battle in several different ways. Can't wait to see this one, and I'd highly recommend it if you're at all interested in RPGing in a larger scale that mere dungeon crawling.

New D&D Movie "Far Along in Development"

Well here's something I'd heard rumors about for a while, but nothing concrete until now. Apparently, the next Dungeons & Dragons movie is "far along in development" by Warner Brothers, and has writers and producers already hard at work:
The studio is actually quite far along in the development of the project, as it will use a script by Wrath Of The Titans and Red Riding Hood scribe and Frank Darabont protege David Leslie Johnson. ... Given the heightened interest in sword, sorcery, chivalry and cool creatures within Warner Bros with the HBO series Game Of Thrones and the ongoing Peter Jackson-directed adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit, it is expected that the studio will expend the necessary resources to create a world around a well-established brand"
(More at the link)


Also, please don't forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

RIP Ray Harryhausen

Stop-motion animation and special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen is dead at 92.

This is particularly sad for me, as I grew up on Mr. Harryhausen's stop-motion cinematography when I was growing up. My own personal "Appendix N" would be stuffed to the gills with films like the Golden Voyage of Sinbad, It Came from Beneath the Sea, Jason and the Argonauts, and First Men in the Moon.

The images are definitely not in the uncanny valley; you can tell they're not real. But there's a certain quality in that slightly-too-fluid movement, a beauty in knowing that for every single frame of film, a human hand moved a piece of macroture a fraction of an inch, that just gives them so much "feel" that they blow away more snazzy computer effects of today.

On this day I shall watch a Sinbad film, and grieve for the loss of a fantasy pioneer.

UPDATE: R.J. over at Gamers & Grognards proposes that this Friday be a memorial Ray Harryhausen blogfest day. I think that's a spiffy idea. Spread the word!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

100th Anniversary of HG Wells' "Little Wars"

The New York Times has a fascinating article on the legacy of what is arguably the first "popular" wargame; HG Wells' Little Wars. Here are some particularly interesting quotes, but it's well worth reading the whole article.
While miniature war-gaming has never been able to claim a place in the mainstream, it has influenced almost everything we think of as gaming today.
The game designer Gary Gygax, in a foreword to a 2004 edition of the book, credits “Little Wars” with influencing his own set of rules for medieval-period miniature wars, Chainmail — which in turn became the basis of a slightly less obscure role-­playing game: Dungeons & Dragons.
Video games can provide rich worlds of entertainment, yet there is something just as immersive about pushing miniature soldiers around a lawn, carpet, or 4-by-8-foot plywood battlefield decorated with toothpick fences and cardboard hills. 

Also, please don't forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

May the 4th Be With You


Also, please don't forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Whither Adventures Dark and Deep?

There's a lot going on right now, so I thought it would be a good idea to recap where things stand with Adventures Dark and Deep...

The Kickstarter campaign for the Bestiary proceeds apace. As of this writing, we are at $5,333, which is enough to get us 153 illustrations, the cover, and the editing. Woot! Since it's only been a couple of days, I'm very hopeful that we'll get much closer to the goal of having a custom illustration for each one of the 900 monsters that will appear in the book.

The Game Masters Toolkit is off to the printer. Files have been sent for approval, and once that happens and the proof copies check out, they'll be put on sale over at the BRW Games web store at Right now the PDF will cost $9.95, the softcover version will be $14.95, and the hardcover $24.95, and both of the latter will include the PDF, as always. Remember, this one wasn't funded by a Kickstarter campaign. It's done the old fashioned way.

Come June, there will be a contest for the best Adventures Dark and Deep character sheet(s). There'll be prizes, and merriment, and all sorts of hoopla. Details will be forthcoming.

Lest anyone accuse me of skipping off to Rio on my ill-gotten gains from Adventures Dark and Deep, I'm planning on putting out some free stuff this year. The aforementioned character sheets, for one, and I've got plans for a "how to play" guide and free introductory adventure. There will almost certainly be other free stuff along the line as well.

That's not to say that I don't have delusions of actually paying my beer tab from this thing, so I'm going to have a few things for sale. A few nifty adventures, for one, and at least one more Darker Paths supplement that you'll be able to use with ADD or other compatible games. More new spells! Yay!! And a random dungeon/wilderness generator, but that will probably have to come next year. I do have a day job and a family, after all...

Speaking of things for sale, those of you who are able to make it to this year's DexCon convention over Independence Day weekend in Morristown, NJ will have a unique opportunity. I'm planning on having special, convention-only hard copy versions of some of the products that are currently only available in PDF format. These will be hand-assembled print versions of the Necromancer, Witch, and Treasure of Welthorp adventure. They will only be available at this convention (and possibly others that I attend officially as BRW Games). Here's your collector's item, eBayers.

Oh, and I'll also be running some Adventures Dark and Deep sessions that will utilize the terrific terrain from Legendary Realms Terrain. A vast dungeon layout with walls and miniatures, and a few stalwart adventurers looking to loot the place and leave bits of monster scattered about. Look for it if you are planning on attending! (And if you're not, CHANGE YOUR PLANS!)

Nothing's written in stone, of course, and everything's subject to change. But that's where I see things right now. Oh-- and if anyone is interested in writing some ADD-compatible adventures, either published by BRW Games or that you'd like to publish yourself, the door is wide open! Just email me and let's see what we can do.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

My Dream Campaign

This month's RPG Blog Carnival theme is "campaigns I'd like to run". I've been lucky to have been able to run some fantastic campaigns in my time, but there is something that I would love to be able to do that just hasn't jelled for a variety of reasons.

My dream campaign isn't based on some outre concept, or weird and wild setting. There are no mutant elves with mohawks riding down Cthulhu-worshiping orcs with steampunk cyborg parts or anything. That's not my cup of tea.

Rather, my dream campaign is different because of scope. I want to have a lot of different stuff going on, simultaneously, on different scales, all interacting with one another.

There would be at least two bands of adventuring parties, separate from one another, co-existing in both the same area and time. Actions taken by the one would have an impact on the other, but balanced so that a full-blown confrontation is held off.

There would also be a group playing various nobles. They'd be playing what I call The Power Game, which is much less about going forth and looting dungeons as it is about manipulating various factions in the realm. They'd all be playing the power centers of a kingdom; some would be nobles, some would be guilds, prominent churches, the local Scarlet Brotherhood, etc.

There would be interaction between the two levels. If some noble sent his army marching across the river in the direction of one of the PC groups, they'd have to deal with the consequences. Too, if one of the PCs looted the main temple of one of the churches, that would have an impact. Self-generating random events.

It'd be set in the World of Greyhawk, naturally. Probably CY 577 because that's when everything is starting to head in interesting directions, but before everything gets hopelessly mired in a half-dozen full-scale wars. This is when the foundations of those wars is being laid. There are skirmishes, sure, and even full-blown military campaigns in places, but it's not Greyhawk Risk just yet.

I'm thinking Ratik would make a great setting for this game. It's small and relatively self-contained, with lots of pressure from the barbarians to the north and humanoids to the south and west. Bissel could work as well; I'd love to get into the scheming between Ket, Veluna, and Keoland that permeates the place.

The only thing holding me back at the moment is time. This would require a huge investment of time to pull off (even playing via the Internet). Just don't see it happening, but man it would be glorious.

Also, please don't forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter now live!

Well, here we are: the last of the core rulebooks for Adventures Dark and Deep™. The Kickstarter campaign for the Bestiary is now live. What a wonderful trip it's been!

The goal to get the book out is pretty modest; $1,500. But that's for a book with little internal art.

For every $25 that's raised past the initial goal, one monster gets illustrated. There are around 900 monsters in this sucker. That's a lot of art.

Please check out the Kickstarter page, and help spread the word far and wide. Even if you don't play Adventures Dark and Deep™, you're going to want this book, if only to get all those monsters in the same place, and compatible with most OSR-type games.

Adventures Dark and Deep™ is my attempt to explore what the world's most popular role-playing game might have looked like if Gary Gygax had been allowed to keep developing it, rather than leaving TSR in 1985. It's based entirely on his public statements on his plans for the game, and other writings.