Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Another Golden Scroll art preview

With everything aligning so that I expect a November/early December release of the Golden Scroll of Justice wuxia/kung-fu plus mythic China old-school rule supplement, I just couldn't keep this beauty to myself...

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore - more than half off today only!


Just wanted to let everyone know that A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore is the Deal of the Day today over at OneBookShelf. You can get the pdf for the ludicrously low price of $4.23!

So if you were interested in seeing the new character classes (bard, jester, mystic, savant, and mountebank) that are included in Adventures Dark and Deep, and all their spells, and the new combat system, and the rules for treasure and naval combat, and some of the new monsters, you literally won't have a better time than today. Ever.

And everything's modular, so you can plug in the pieces you like into your own old school game, and leave the rest. This book is designed to be a supplement for your already-existing game.

Really, how can you not?

Click here to get it!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Golden Scroll of Justice - art preview

My wuxia/mythic China book is right on schedule for a November/early December release, just in time for your Yuletide shopping needs. Most of the art is in hand, the editor is dutifully editing, and the rest of the art is on schedule to be delivered by the end of this month.

Thought I'd whet your appetites with a couple of pieces from the book. I give you the staff of kung fu, by the ever talented Christopher R. Conklin:

And the Imperial Court, by Khairul Hisham:

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

On Settings

There is something of a conversation going around certain corners of the OSRisphere about settings. Are they needed? Are they a good thing? Is there value in someone else's setting when you're doing your own? And so forth. Most of this discussion seems to have been inspired by a quasi-review of the RPGPundit's excellent Dark Albion book.

I was particularly struck by two comments in all the brou-ha-ha; "You don't need a campaign setting to play D&D", and "Rpg settings solve a problem I don't have", both not-so-coincidentally by Jeffro Johnson, whose original post about Dark Albion seems to have been the genesis of the current discussion.

There's little to disagree with in the first comment, on its face. Of course it's not necessary to have a campaign setting to play the game. Conventions are stuffed with one-shot games, the earliest published modules were pretty much stand-alone (with perfunctory mentions of outside events and places that had little to no impact on the actual adventure), and it can be argued that the first few Castle Greyhawk games that were played, that formed the genesis of the game as we know it, were set in a vacuum; the City of Greyhawk and broader World came later.

That said, even the most rudimentary dungeon crawl assumes a world. I've written about the implied setting that is baked into the rules. Doesn't matter if the DM hasn't detailed the leaders of the thieves' guild, the gods of the clerics, or the stats of the Grand Druid. They're out there somewhere.

And on a practical level, while it is certainly possible to play the game without a coherent campaign setting, outside of conventions and one-shots, nobody plays it that way. Whether they use a published setting, such as the World of Greyhawk or the Forgotten Realms (or Dark Albion), or the DM has gone to the trouble of creating a new and unique campaign world, that's the way the vast majority of players approach the game.

So, while it's technically true, "you don't need a campaign setting to play D&D" is neither relevant nor helpful to the discussion. Indeed, in the context of the larger discussion, it seems a rather petulant attempt to knock Dark Albion, once it was pointed out that it is not a complete rule set so much as a setting with specific rule variations.

The second quote is actually the more interesting of the two, implying, as it does, that when a DM creates a setting, no other input is required (or welcome). Speaking as a DM who has used both published and homebrewed settings for going on forty years, I find that sentiment simply untenable (not to mention hubristic in the extreme).

Setting aside for the moment the simple fact that any DM who has read any fantasy novels or stories written in the last seventy years is, to one degree or another, building on those settings (and if you think a fiction setting is any different from an RPG setting in anything other than the level of systematic detail presented, you're deluded), the simple fact of the matter is that no one, no matter how clever, inventive, or well-read, can't benefit from someone else's ideas when it comes to devising or maintaining a campaign setting.

Especially in an environment such as D&D, and RPGs in general, where magpies are not only tolerated, but encouraged, taking bits and pieces from here and there is what we do as DMs. Do you honestly think there would be a Castle Greyhawk or Blackmoor without a Moria, or a Quarmall, or a Xuchotil? Pfft.

How many times have I found inspiration in someone else's setting, and taken something (whole or in part) and used it in my own? More often by far, I don't take things whole-cloth, but seeing what someone else has done in their own world sparks new ideas in my own mind, sending me down paths that I would never have gone otherwise. Just like a good fantasy novel.

So you don't have a problem that RPG settings solve? You have the absolute perfect campaign, incapable of any improvement, a godlike work of creativity that flows unstilled and unsullied by any outside influences? You're unique. And, I must say, I wouldn't want to play in your game, because your campaign sounds pretty boring. Why would I want to play in a game limited by the imagination of a single person held in self-imposed isolation, when I can play in a game borne of the imagination of a person whose creativity is sparked and prodded and pushed down avenues that it would never have been otherwise, simply by virtue of reading what other people have done in similar (or entirely different) situations?

But again, that quote does seem more than a little bit petulant in context. Just knocking the idea of settings in general, when caught on a simple factual point that Dark Albion isn't a rule set, but a setting with some rules. But hey, it did inspire my own imagination to start thinking about inspirations for posts, so it can't be a completely bad thing.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Iggwilv's Horn

I would like to think this photo taken in the Alps would have been the inspiration for Iggwilv's Horn (although I know it's not the case). The fact that the cloud makes the effect is just perfect.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Mixing Module Styles

A question for the Peanut Gallery. When you're running or playing in an adventure module, do you like it to have a single consistent "tone" (role-playing, combat, exploration, dungeon crawling, etc.), or do you like to mix it up and have different styles?

For instance, I'm working on a project right now, and the way the outline is going, it's got:
  • Combat 
  • Investigation/detective work
  • Combat
  • Role-playing
  • Role-playing
  • Dungeon crawl
  • Infiltration/dungeon crawl
I'm a little worried that the investigative and role-playing chapters will frustrate folks who just like combat and dungeon crawls, and the reverse for the people who really enjoy putting role-playing first and foremost.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Darker Paths 3: The Demonolater now available!

And now, just in time for the festive Halloween season, a new addition to the Darker Paths line of evil character classes for your 1E-compatible game, the Demonolater.

Demonolaters are priests who serve demon lords and ladies. The character class is a sub-class of cleric, but each demon lord has priests with special powers and spells, nearly 40 of which are included (with names like dark offering, invite possession, and warp reality).

This supplement also includes rules for demonic pacts and statistics for the demon lord Dagon and his minions, the dreaded carcharo demons.

You can buy the Demonolater on its own for just $4.25, or if you've been holding out for a collection of all three Darker Paths books (the Necromancer, the Witch, and now the Demonolater), you can get a bundle for just $9.95 (that's around 30% off the individual price!).

Thursday, October 8, 2015

31 Days of Halloween: Grimoires

Grimoires, or magical books, are a tradition in European magical circles that goes back at least a thousand years (further, if one counts the Classical magical tradition). They are not merely spell books, although they do contain spells. They combine essays on esoteric knowledge, philosophy, and practical spell-casting. They were known all over Europe, from Scandinavia (where they were known as Black Books, or Cyprian books, after Cyprianus, their supposed author) to Italy and Spain. Some dealt with necromancy, some with summoning demons (a specialty known as goetia) and more mundane folk-magical practices such as the writing of magic symbols to attract love, discover the identity of thieves, etc.

I always like to have the magic books players discover in my game be more than simple spell books, and include other bits of in-game knowledge that might, or might not, be useful sometime in the future. And, since as an old-school gamer I'm all about random tables, I give you...

What’s so special about this grimoire?

  1. It’s inhabited by an evil spirit that will try to get the reader to commit evil acts using the knowledge within.
  2. It has a series of monster summoning spells that can only be used on one of the lower planes (Nine Hells, Hades, etc.).
  3. Its binding is made of tanned halfling skin.
  4. It has a version of the spell animate dead that creates special undead versions of lesser devils, but can only be used while in the Nine Hells.
  5. It is written in a code that requires the use of read languages as well as read magic to make any sense of it.
  6. The first half of the book has mage spells, the second half has illusionist spells.
  7. It contains the formulae to create three potions (determine type randomly).
  8. It appears to be a dry tome dealing with geometry as it relates to alteration magic. In reality, several high level spells are encoded in the text, and can only be discovered through intense study.
  9. It is from another dimension, and contains spells that will not work in this universe. (Just wait until someone wants to buy it from you very, very badly…)
  10. It is incredibly ancient, from a time when 10th and 11th level mage spells could still be cast. And it has several of them in its pages, including some with provocative names like “Ocean to Desert”, “Create Intelligent Race”, and “Destroy Moon”.
  11. It appears to be an ordinary spell book, but in secret pages between its regular pages is the exact process to become a lich.
  12. It is the diary of a deity from the last few months before its apotheosis into godhood. It contains profound spiritual insights.
  13. It is the prayer book for a deity no one has ever heard of before. In this universe, at least.
  14. It claims to have knowledge which is a mirror of reality; protective circles effective against the Angels of the Nine Hells, airy water spells that can't be cast underwater, protection from cold spells which claim to be proof against fireballs, etc. 
  15. You age one year for every page you turn.
  16. The book itself is sentient, and has a face on the cover that will speak to you. Its personality is… colorful.
  17. It is written entirely in inked mice paw prints, like some odd type of cuneiform.
  18. It is the Master Book of Law for the kingdom. Literally, as items are added or crossed out, the laws of the land change magically.
  19. If you flip randomly to a page, you'll find a spell that you will absolutely need within 24 hours, no matter how unlikely it may seem.
  20. It's written backwards, and even with a read magic spell requires a mirror to read properly.
(My 31 Days of Halloween series is happening over at my non-gaming blog; do pop over there to see more Halloween goodies that might not have a particular gaming slant.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Review: Empire of Imagination

Nice homage to the cover of
"Unearthed Arcana"
Note: This is a repost from June, but since the book is due out today, I thought it was worth another look.

Michael Witwer's Empire of Imagination (coming October 6, but available at Amazon) is a biography of Gary Gygax, an individual who will need no introduction to my readers.

Witwer's book covers similar ground to other books published over the last couple of years, such as Playing at the World, Designers & Dragons, and Of Dice and Men, but does so with a particular emphasis on Gygax himself, including a lot of non-game-related information not covered in most other works. That said, there's not much relating directly to D&D or TSR that you won't find in those other books.

Witwer's style is light and easy to read. I found his accounts of events compelling, and actively looked forward to picking the book up again each time.

Although the sub-title of the book, "Gary Gygax and the birth of Dungeons & Dragons" does telegraph that the period up to the mid-1980's will receive the most coverage, I found this to be the greatest deficiency in the book. What we have is not a biography of Gary Gygax, but only the first half of one. Everything past 1987 or so is mentioned almost as an afterthought, covering thirty years in thirty pages. Suddenly Gygax has a second wife, of whom we have not previously heard. His later work with other companies such as Troll Lord Games is given but a single sentence, and no word is given at all to his rapprochement with the publishers of D&D (by that time Wizards of the Coast) and his renewed series of articles in Dragon magazine.

I think a more balanced look at the whole of Gygax's life and career would have been both more interesting and valuable than yet another look at the intricate details of 1970-75. It should be taken as a compliment that the only major deficiency I find in Empire of Imagination is that it's not long enough. I could easily have read another hundred pages that went into an equal amount of detail on the post-TSR years of Gygax's life.

Note: I requested, and was sent, an advance review copy of this book by the publisher.

31 Days of Halloween: Dark Offering

For today's entry, here's a gruesome little preview of the upcoming Darker Paths 3: The Demonolater. Demonolaters are a sub-class of cleric, priests of the demon princes of the Abyss, with custom spells, special powers depending on their particular patron demon, and more. One of the new spells in the book is this one, that gives an in-game justification for performing human sacrifices in a ritual setting.

(My 31 Days of Halloween series is happening over at my non-gaming blog; do pop over there to see more Halloween goodies that might not have a particular gaming slant.)

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Ugly Duckling

Over at Greyhawkery, Mike Bridges makes the point that, from the standpoint of a "modern" reboot, the World of Greyhawk setting is something of a mess. It's a patchwork of different sources, including entire campaign settings ported into Oerth; from Gary Gygax, to Rob Kuntz, to Frank Mentzer, to François Marcela-Froideval, to Len Lakofka, to Andre Norton's Quag Keep novels.

Sometimes the written sources conflict; the aforementioned Quag Keep novels bear little resemblance to the Greyhawk we know, and both Marcela-Froideval's Chroniques de la Lune Noire and Gygax's own "Gord the Rogue" novels featured the world being destroyed, and "Gord the Rogue" had a completely different City of Greyhawk than the published boxed set (for that matter, so did the novel Nightwatch). Castle Zagyg was completely different than Greyhawk Ruins which was completely different than Castle Greyhawk. The adventure "Fate of Istus" module had big mechanical changes happen to the setting that were later pretty much ignored, like monks losing all of their abilities. Don't even get me started on the Greyhawk presented in the three Rose Estes novels. Stop being so worried about continuity and canon. Roll with it.

It also has heavy doses of non-fantasy elements like spaceships (Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, gates to the Starship Warden from Metamorphosis Alpha), the wild west (Murlynd the quasi-deity), and "modern day"/science fiction (the "Factory Level" beneath Castle Greyhawk).

Later published incarnations tended to play down those elements, in favor of making Greyhawk a more "straight" fantasy setting. But I think that approach was an enormous mistake, and one that, should an adaption of the setting be in the cards for 5th Edition D&D, should be turned on its head.

If it were up to me (and it's not), I'd embrace the patchwork nature of Greyhawk. I'd hire Frank Mentzer to write up a full treatment of Aquaria and put it across the Solnor Ocean. I'd hire Len Lakofka to do a full-blown campaign book for the Spindrift/Lendore Isles. I'd hire Rob Kuntz to finally produce a definitive version of Maure Castle. I'd hire François Marcela-Froideval to do a sourcebook for the Empire of Lhynn and use it to invigorate the whole region of westernmost Oerik that was detailed in the Chainmail game. Go wild. Invite, nay, insist, that every author bring his or her unique voice to their region.

I'd not be afraid to bring in science fiction, the wild west, heck, even 30's gangsters and other stuff from far afield. There's a laser pistol in the mummy's tomb. Why? Fuck you; it's Greyhawk, that's why!

One of the complaints about Greyhawk has been that it's too generic. Too vanilla. This would be a way to make it stand out from the Forgotten Realms in a big way. If anything, FR is the setting that's homogeneous and High Fantasy Medieval. Greyhawk's big claim to fame is precisely its kitchen sink approach when it comes not only to genre, but to authorial voice. That should, and could, be its strength. There's an adventure with King Kong, fer crissakes. Go gonzo with it!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Admin note

You may have noticed something new in the upper-left corner of the blog; a link to my "non-gaming blog" over at I've decided to move everything that isn't about gaming over there, so you'll find reviews of and news about television shows, non-gaming books, and movies, posts on science and technology, current events, humor, etc. I'm slowly but surely reorganizing all the links and posts so that the only things here are purely gaming (RPGs, miniatures, boardgames, and wargames) and everything else is there.

I'm also starting to do reviews of television show episodes as well as movies, so you and I can bounce ideas back and forth about what just happened on our favorite shows.

And for those as into Halloween as I am, that's also where you'll find my 31 Days of Halloween posts for this month. Well... almost all; there might be a couple of gaming-related ones that will get cross-posted... :-)