Friday, June 28, 2013

Ogress of Anubis: Preview of Free PDF

First off, an apology. I realized as I was trying to put the entire encounter key for this past Monday's map into a blog post, it was going to take a long time to typeset, and wouldn't be terribly user friendly. Since the plan all along was a free PDF of the whole thing (map, encounter key, etc.), that I'd just do a preview of the entire layout today, and then let you know it will be available Monday a.m. for FREE from RPGNow. I'm not even going to do a "pay what you want." I'm simply going to make it free. And then, in about a week, a print version will be available (at cost) from Lulu.

So here's what you get for the incredibly low price of absolutely nothing....
• an adventure that's Oe/BX/1e (and compatible) ready
• page 1: a fancy cover page with vintage clip art!
• page 2: an overview on adapting to editions, and the adventure introduction
• page 3: an area map (no scale), overview of the villages, and wandering monster tables
• page 4: a map of the temple
• pages 5-7: the encounter key for the temple map
• page 8: new monster info for the animal mummy
• page 9: monster stats (for wandering and encounter monsters), and NPC information
• page 10: twelve pre-generated characters, with stats and equipment
• page 11: ten adventure seeds (one of which has variations for every village)
• page 12: the obligatory OGL and © information

And it's all packaged into 12-pages so you can print it on tabloid paper and saddle-stitch. Or let the free PDF help you decide whether it's going to be worth the $5.53 for the fancy Lulu version with the added color cover! Which, by the way, will available the following Monday (July 8) at the same time as... The Valley of the Five Fires. (Huzzah!)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Ogress of Anubis: Adventure Seeds

I know this is a bit out of order, and the post-adventure adventure seeds should really come after the encounter key for the temple, but that's taking longer than expected to put into a blog post.

More Missing Children
Even with the “ogress” eliminted, children from the villages in the area continue to go missing. The following rumours are circulating among the various villages:

Biqeira: A pack of rabid hyenas living to the east of the temple (west of Biqeira) is dragging them away in the middle of the night.

Burdein: A criosphinx in the woods to the west is to blame. He is holding them for ransom a number of thousands of gold pieces equal to the age (in years) of the child.

Gimmeza: A gynosphinx living in a temple to the east is simply bored. She has captured the children as a sort of “experiment.” She wishes to see how the villagers respond. Should anyone come for the children, she will release each one for the cost of a riddle answered. If a riddle is answered wrongly, the child will die.

Juhaynah: A convocation of hieracosphinxes living in the foothills to the south has been capturing the children to eat them. If this is true, there is not much hope many (if any) that the children are still alive.

Nafisha: A psychopathic killer in Niklah is to blame.

Niklah: A psychopathic killer in Nafisha is to blame.

Taufig: An androsphinx living in the plains to the north is to blame. It is retribution for the farmers of the village extending their field into what the sphinx believes to be his territory. He is holding the children ransom and will release each child he’s kidnapped in exchange for a magic item.

Approaching Bugbear Tribe
Hearing about the possible wealth contained within the temple, a nomadic tribe of bugbears is heading from the south toward temple, looting and pillaging along the way.

Forgotten Tomb of Ata-Kneph
A mining crew working in the foothills to the south stumbled across the long forgotten tomb of Ata-Kneph, unintentionally disturbing it. Ata-Kneph was a cruel man and strong wizard who promised to return from death and enslave the living. Undead have begun emerging from the tomb, and it appears Ata-Kneph’s vow is coming to fruition.

Battle of the Elementals
During a battle between the wizards Odion and Bebti, Odion summoned a djinni and Bebti summoned an efreet. Each of the elementals struck down the opposing wizard, killing them. The djinni and efreet then became locked in a battle that has lasted for nearly two weeks... with no signs of ending anytime soon. They have left a wake of destruction behind them, and continue to wreak havoc throughout the area.

Lapis Medallion Treasure Map
The characters discover a lapis, pie-shaped medallion covered with strange markings. Once translated (through read/comprehend languages), it is revealed the medallion one of four parts of a sort of “treasure map,” providing directions to a King’s tomb.

Ogre of Anubis
Azeneth’s younger brother Nekh-rumah was away when the PCs went to the temple to deal with Azeneth. Nekh-rumah, like his sister, was rumored to be cannibalizing the children. Other whispers purport the siblings were also romantically involved. Nekh-rumah will send bounty hunters in search of the persons that killed his sister and deliver them so he can dispense his justice. The only option the PCs may have is re-visiting the temple in order to deal Nekh-rumah. Nekh-rumah is a few years younger than Azeneth, and not naturally as strong as a magic-user. However, he supposedly possess an artifact known as the Amulet of Thoth which is said to maximize a magic user’s powers, as well as provide them the ability to negate all magic used against them.

River of Blood
The Olufemi river has been flowing with red, as if the blood of hundreds has been spilled. Some say it’s an ancient prophecy coming to pass. Others say it’s a sign from an angry god. Still others believe something unnatural is happening upriver. Whatever the cause, it must be evil, and the world will most likely be a better place with that kind of evil eliminated.

Oseye’s Dream
The PCs cross paths with a man named Oseye. He claims to have the power to see the future, though most of the locals think he is nothing more than a crackpot. He tells the PCs they will come across a golden frog and a curse will fall upon them. Shortly after, the PCs will come across a small, unadorned wooden box in the road. If the box is opened, a small gold frog idol will be found inside, and all the PCs who fail a saving throw (vs. spells) will immediately feel slightly “unhinged.” If they pass the box (and leave it unopened), it will continue to appear before them in the road until they do open it. If they take the box but leave it closed, the character carrying it must make a saving throw vs. spells every 3 turns until that character fails the saving throw and opens the box (revealing the frog). If the PCs return to seek out Oseye, he will point them to a location frequented by bandits. There is no curse; this is a trick (low-level illusion) used by Oseye to send wealthy adventurers into the hands of awaiting bandits. The bandits’ den is located near their ambush point.

Cult of Rtlzsithoth
A scribe enlists the aid of the PCs to escort him safely to the coastal city of Hieracon to the north; he says he has recently gained employment with the large temple there. In truth, he is in possession of an artifact that will be used in a ritual to enlist the powers of a being from another dimension in an attempt to enslave the peoples of the city, and eventually the world. Along the route to Hieracon, the party will be joined by a trader headed to Hieracon. He recognizes the scribe as a member of a strange cult from that city and will quietly let the PCs on to what he knows.

Plague of Ostrakine
A local outbreak of disease begins to claim hundreds of lives in the city of Ostrakine, but the disease seems to only infecting the poorest members of the city. Secretly, this is actually the work of the city’s largest trade guild, attempting to “better” the city.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Ogress of Anubis (Introduction)

I'm going to postpone (until tomorrow) the encounter key promised for today in Monday's map post. Today I'm posting the introduction/background and I'll post the encounter key tomorrow.

Hearing of the reknown of the PCs, a man named Ako and his brother Azibo seek them out to enlist their aid in ridding the world of a growing evil.

The following may be read directly to the players, or may be re-interpretted by the DM to fit an ongoing campaign:

For years, the high priest Kemosiri ran the Temple of Ptah in the lower plains region. He was a sober and serious man. Many considered his devotion to the gods his greatest asset. He was as understanding as a priest could be, but no more than was absolutely necessary. He sacrificed only those that gave themself willingly, and only when tradition and ceremony dictated it. The wealth accumulated by the temple was modest, as was Kemosiri’s lifestyle. His daughter Azeneth, however, is another story.

Azeneth believed the life of the high priest (or priestess) should be as comfortable as that of the kings and the gods. She spoke her contempt for her father’s “weakness” loudly and publicly, almost from the time she learned to talk. As she neared her teens, she made it known her plan was to supplant her father and become high priestess of the temple, sometimes claiming it was her place as the incarnation of the goddess Nekhbet.

Many say Azeneth has the power to command serpents, and it was she who sent the asp that killed Kemosiri. Regardless, she siezed her position as high priestess of the temple and set about her accumulation of power and wealth.

Recently, children from the villages around the temple have begun to disappear. Rumors abound that Azeneth is sacrificing them and cannibalizing them because she believes this will make her wealthier, more powerful, and more divine. The people of the villages have begun to refer to the temple as the temple of the “ogress of Anubis,”—believing Anubis himself made this woman a monster and commanded her to consume the children she sacrifices.

Ako’s children Femi and Tumaini have recently disappeared, as has Azibo’s daughter Mandisa. The men fear it may be too late to save any of them. They both know that Azeneth is too powerful for either of them to face without help. They beg of you to help end this reign of fear and terror, and try to return their children alive... if it is in the will of the gods.

They have nothing to offer you as a reward, but know that Azeneth has treasure; surely, the gods will not hold it against you for taking Azeneth’s wealth. They also believe her father’s tomb is below the temple and that it contains considerable wealth. However, they both believe that Kemosiri was a righteous man, and robbing his tomb may bring a curse upon you.

Ako and Azibo will join you should you choose to accept their request. If you decline, and the only chance they have to save their children is to go it alone, they will do that... even if it means their own death.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

New Monster: Animal Mummy

First off, my apologies for only posting a JPG today instead of a more legible text format. Given the number of columns necessary, that's sort of impractical. Also, I thought about doing a single page PDF download of this, but since I'm planning on having it be part of a free PDF download at the end of the week anyway, I decided it's easier on my end to not have to do a separate PDF right now. If you just can't wait, the full-size JPG from today should be pretty legible; just download it to your desktop.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Temple of the Darkmoon Sun (TBD)
Free Map Today; Encounter Key Wednesday

While Welbo and I put the finishing touches on Valley of the Five Fires I needed a "short-term" distraction. I decided to do sort of a themed week, but not necessarily make a big deal about it. What I've got is a small adventure entitled Temple of the Darkmoon Sun. This has nothing to do with the Temple of the Darkmoon Talisman map from September of last year, other than I like the sound of the word "darkmoon." Today, I'm just posting a JPG of the map, but later this week (aiming for Wednesday) the encounter key will follow.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) I have a killer new monster, which I have to post before the encounter key (since the encounter key includes the variants of the new monster). When I sent the preview of the new monster to Welbo, I commented that it was "one of my most inspired monsters yet," to which he replied, "ooooh ... that is cool!" It was actually the new monster that got me inspired to put together this quickie mini-adventure; plus I haven't done one in a while and felt like it was due.

So where was I? Oh yeah... today is the map, tomorrow is the new monster, Wednesday is the encounter key, and Thursday will be all the NPC information. (I might flip Wed. and Thu.) Then, if all works out as planned, I'll have a free PDF version ready for download on Friday (probably through RPGNow). So, feel free to copy today's map and tomorrow's monster and the rest of the week's stuff and assemble it yourself; but by the time you get it done, the free PDF should be ready.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Why my 100,000th page view was a complete let-down.

Beginning about a month or so back, I started to get a little verklempt; my blog page views were numbering about 85k and I was looking forward to hitting 100k later this year. Then a funny thing happened this week. Not funny, really, as much as aggravating, annoying, irritating, and just plain F'd up—my blog became the victim of referer spam.

If you don't know what that is, it's okay. In fact, I'm still trying to wrap my head around the concept. It's a spamdexing trick where BS sites try to piggyback search engine placement off my URL. Over the course of a couple of days, the damn spammer jacked up my page views by 15-18k and topped the 100,000 mark. It took me 2-1/2 years to build up those 85k vies, and in two F'ing days, the spamfracker cracked my 100,000 mark. Thanks, assjack!

The good news is, it appears they gave up on my URL when they realized I've done too good of a job indexing my own blog with the search engines through the power of effective keywords on most of my posts (something I actually plan a post on in the near future), and they probably didn't get the placement they were hoping for. The bad news... my 100,000th page view wasn't really my 100,000th page view. Funnily enough, it only hit the home page counts of the blog and didn't seem to jack too much with the counts of the individual posts.

So where does that leave me? Tracking the things that matter... the number of followers, the number of posts I've made, and the number of hits to those individual posts.

To those of you who aren't eggsucking spamslappers... thank you for your support.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Community Geomorph Project:
Update and Call for New Submissions

First, a little housekeeping...

The illustrious contributors thus far should have received an email last night with a link to a download. In that zipped download file are two folders—one with JPGs of your original submissions, and one with PDFs of my "re-draws" of your submission. As per the instructions in the email, make any marks or notes as you want (either as sticky notes on the PDF, as a marked up JPG, or as simple text directions in the email referencing the file name and the location of the geomorph in question). If any (or all) of them are okay as is, please respond with a note letting me know which ones are good to do.

Now, on to the new submission call...

As I mentioned in my post back in mid-May, I'm now calling for specific themes. Feel free to mix them up on the submission pages. What I mean is, there's no need to make all 4 geomorphs on the page the same theme; feel free to mix and match (I'm going to deal with "re-mixing" them later based on the total submissions).

Here's what I'm looking for right now...

Basic Dungeons: Believe it or not, I feel like the book could use some more basic dungeon sections. You know, black backgrounds with hallways and rooms. A few doors. Maybe a pit or a secret door or two, but nothing crazy or over-the-top regarding basic dungeon appointment. Yup. Nothing special, but still necessary.

Dead Ends: I'd like to see some geomorphs where none of the entrances into the geomorph lead to any other entrance in the geomorph. Be creative! Wind them! Overlap them! Make them connected but impassable! Add stairs and slopes!

Libraries and Labs: One big room or lots of little connected rooms or something in between. Maybe this Seinfeld clip will give you some inspiration. >>

Communal Living Spaces: This can be anything. Some barracks? For clerics? Caves for a tribe? A prison inside?

Temples: Try this Google search for inspiration. >>

Labyrinths: I'll be honest, after drawing a couple this year, I'd almost have been just as happy to pick up an existing one. I'm surprised I didn't get more of these the first round; that's why I'm asking for them now. Constructed or cave, either is good.

Spaces with large/strange objects in them: So far, I've gotten one with a giant tree, one with a purple worm carcass, and one with a space ship. There's an old advertising trick I like to use—incongruity. What object could be there that obviously doesn't belong (like the space ship), or what object might normally be small but in the geomorph is large/giant/huge? If you can't draw well enough to have the object look like what you're intending, just put a note for me and I'll figure it out.

ONE MORE GENERAL REQUEST!!! Please mark each of the four geomorphs on each page with the intended theme. I'd hate to accidentally put your "dead end" submission in the "labyrinth" section because I couldn't tell the difference.

How to submit...

Send your scribbles, sketches or whatever to Please include your name as you'd like it to appear (pseudonyms or nicknames are okay if that's what you'd prefer), and your blog or web site address or both (or neither if you have neither).

Need the links to the templates again? Here ya go!
Community Geomorph Master Sheet as PDF
Community Geomorph Master Sheet as low res JPG

Happy Geomorphing!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

New Oe/1e/BX Monster: Mind Hunter

This week's new monster comes at the request of Art Braun who commented on my June 3 post, "The Mind Hunter and Red Ether sound interesting." My apologies to Art for not publishing this last week as promised, but client demands and an unnamed personal project sidetracked my blogging schedule last week.

Before we dig into this week's new monster, I have to admit the headline is a bit misleading. It's really more of a Oe/1e monster, since it possesses psionic abilities. That means it's not so BX-friendly (though I have thoughts for a BX psionic rule-set, but don't see finishing it up for at least a year). You could strip the psionics away and still have a pretty nasty monster, though. The image was inspired by an old public domain comic book cover (Strange-something-or-other, I can't recall exactly; it's been a while since I drew this).


Mind hunters are spectral beings from the lower planes of hell that roam the prime material plane in search of sustenance in the form of the sanity and intelligence of sentient beings. They appear as a shrivelly-skinned, vermin-gray figure with the head and brow of an ape, sulphurous eyes, a semi-canine mouth, long humanoid arms with taloned fingers, and the lower body of a segmented worm. Because mind hunters are spectral beings, a +1 or better weapon is needed “to hit,”

The unmistakeable stench of a mind hunter’s presence smells like the moldiness of antique bones mixed with the fearsome reek of newly decaying carrion. The visage of a a mind hunter is such that it can cause a form of vertigo to anyone viewing it (save vs. spells) that will halve a character’s movement and cause all “to hit” rolls to be at -2 for 3-7 turns.

A mind hunter’s main form of attack is to dig into a victim with its claws (1-4 points each), while attempting to bite its victim’s head. On a successful bite, a mind hunter does 1-6 points of damage. Furthermore, for any natural damage roll of 6 on a successful bite, the victim’s intelligence is reduced by 1 point. Each melee round after striking (with its bite), a mind hunter will drain 1 additional point of intelligence from the victim (regardless of the initial damage roll) until the victim or the mind hunter dies, or the victim has been reduced to a vegetative state (INT of 0).

Mind hunters have the following psionic abilities: domination, hypnosis, invisibility, energy control, and mass domination.

Mind hunters are able to summon 1-8 gargoyles once per day, and the following spells or attack forms have no effect on mind hunters: charm, sleep, cold, electricity, insanity, and poison.

FREQUENCY: Very rare
MOVE: 12"
% IN LAIR: 20%
1-4/1-4/1-6 + special
Saves as 8th level magic-user
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic evil
Attack/Defense Modes: D, GHI

MOVE: 120'
ATTACKS: 2 claws/1 bite
1-4/1-4/1-6 + special
SAVE AS: Magic-user: 8

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How did the piece-of-$#!T game I wrote in 1985
get downloaded 6,000 times in the last 2½ years?

More than that, how did it become a guy in Brazil's replacement for GURPS?

Wait! What's that you say? You've never heard of The System? You must be new to the blog, then. I only mention this 28-page crapfest every time I get the chance.

This is the universal RPG I originally wrote in 1985, composed and printed from my dad's Wang (the computer, of course; not his penis), and published in a select run of only THREE COPIES! Then one day a buddy showed up to school with this brand new game called GURPS and I said, "Damn. There goes that idea," and I shelved it. Bitten by the OSR bug a few years back, I dug it up, only minimally polished up my crappy high-school writing, did a real typeset job on it, and published it in February of 2011 (with a retro-type-feel reminiscent of the old Traveler books, and strategically-selected-but-quickly-growing-tiresome public domain art). And now PDF downloads from MediaFire have topped the 6,000 mark! That's 6,000 folks who've downloaded a free PDF copy of The System from MediaFire, not including any Lulu or 1km1kt downloads. (BTW, the PDF is no longer available from Lulu because I don't like not being able to track free downloads. They need to remedy that situation.)

As per my previous 1K-interval blog posts, I have to thank Chris's Compendiums of Free Role-Playing Games, John Kim's Free RPGs on the Web, and Rob Lang over at 1KM1KT (1,000 Monkeys, 1,000 Typewriters), all of whom have taken on the vocation of helping rule-makers and home-brewers to get their work out there. Rob even goes above and beyond, working double-duty with the 24 Hour RPG competition, and triple-duty with the Game Chef competition. But now I also have to thank Heder at the RPG4Free blog; more people download the PDF from his blog every month than they do from the New Big Dragon web site.

• If you want the full story on The System, check out this post.
• To download a free PDF from MediaFire, click here.
• To buy a print copy of The System from Lulu, head over here.

Pictured below at top: Cover and first 3 pages from The System, as published in 1985.
Pictured below at bottom: Sample page from "25th Anniversary Edition" published in 2011.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Badgers? We don't need no stinkin' badgers!

Well, if you want to kick your RPG game old school... yeah, you do.

The night before the North Texas RPG Con kicked off this year, I had the privilege of playing the old TSR Board Game Knights of Camelot with Steve Winter, Erol Otus, and Dennis Sustare. (See the pics here.) So, during the game, the knights on their various quests across the map have various encounters, including some of the animal variety. That list includes harts, boars, wolves, palfreys (a medieval horse), brachets (an archaic name for a bitch hound), and badgers. Yes. Badgers. Then Erol said something that intrigued me (and I'm paraphrasing here as I don't recall exactly what he said)... "Those TSR guys loved badgers." Why wouldn't they? Lake Geneva is only about an hour-and-a-half from UW, home of the badgers. Gary moved to Lake Geneva in his late childhood. TSR co-founder Don Kaye grew up there. D&D contributor Rob Kuntz was born and grew up there. That's not to say there wasn't a medieval pedigree for the badger; after all, it was hunted for sport (though it was considered inedible).

So what's the badger's pedigree with early TSR games? Of the items of note below, I have not listed badgers where they appear in wandering monster tables and the like. (Please note, this list is by no means exhaustive, just based on some of the searchable PDFs I have on hand. If you have any additions, please leave a comment. Thanks!)

Knights of Camelot Board Game: This game includes badgers among the animal encounters. (As mentioned above.)

Gamma World (1st edition): includes an animal called the "badder." It is a "badgeroid" species organized into a society "equal to that of the medieval period in human history."

Metamorphosis Alpha (1st edition): includes a mutated animal called the "metaled one (badger)." It's a 3-foot long badger whose fur has mutated to be composed of hard mineral, "giving it a sort of armor." Best of all, this highly-intelligent creature can mentally paralyze an opponent (assuming the opponent is within 6', because the damned thing is near-sighted!)

1e Monster Manual: Of course it's in here, but there's no pic. How cool would a Tramp or Otus badger illustration have been? Oh. The description does include hit dice and damage notes for the giant badger. The badger has subsequently been included in Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (1989), Monstrous Manual (1993), Monster Manual (2000), and Monster Manual v.3.5 (2003).

1e Player's Handbook: The first creature on the reincarnate list for the 7th level druid spell Reincarnate is a badger (p.64).

1e DM Guide: One of the likely animals for the 4th-level druid spell Animal Summoning is a badger (p.45). For the 7th-level druid spell, Reincarnate, the badger is the example given of reincarnating the character as an animal (p.35); yes, of all the animals they could have chosen for the example, they chose the badger. Also, the badger one of the animals listed for the bag of tricks magic item (p.139) and as a conjured animal (p.222).

Dragon Magazine #69: The badger is one of the forms that Greyhawk deity Obad-Hai may assume (p.29). On a side note, this is the second Dragon magazine I ever bought.

Dragon Magazine #122: In a profile on artist Jeff Butler (pp.68-69), there is mention of the comic The Badger that was drawn by Butler (created by Mike Baron). What the article doesn't mention is that Butler was quarterback for the Wisconson Badgers in 1977, but stopped because of a series of concussions.

Module S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth: Encounter Group 3 in Gnome Vale (p.10) includes animal handlers and 3 giant badgers.

Module Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits: For Lolth's hopefully final attack on the fortress of Kandelspire (gate to the kingdom of Maldev), she has assembled an army that includes 8,000 gnolls, 2,000 bugbears, et al., and 50 giant badgers!

AC1: The Shady Dragon Inn: The character Begol Burrowell (p.23) was once "...trapped by a rabid badger and had to burrow his way through eight feet of soil to freedom."

Mentzer Companion Rules - Players Companion Book: "Badger" is the name of one of the characters in the "The Arena of Garald the Blue" adventure included in the book (p.60).

BTW, Swords & Wizardry Complete includes a giant badger, but no regular variety; Swords & Wizardry White Box has neither (the Oe books did not have a badger, though Blackmoor does include a giant beaver). Also, the standard version of Labyrinth Lord has no badgers, but the Advanced Edition Companion does (the B/X books didn't have any badgers, but 1e obviously did).

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

NTRPGCon Recap: Michael Curtis's Shiverwhen

NOTE: The image above is not from any specific Shiverwhen-related materials, is only loosely tied
to the events described below, and is meant only for flavor/reference because I like having pics on my posts.

At this past weekend's North Texas RPG Con, I had a chance to playtest Michael Curtis's in-development RPG Shiverwhen. Michael himself admitted he's still working on the elevator pitch for the game, but at the end of the playtest evening, he seemed to be very close with a newly minted description of "Victorian Shadowrun" (which grew from his early elevator pitch of "slow-apocalyptic, fantastical, alternate Earth"). I will say that "Victorian Shadowrun" actually comes pretty close to describing the experience I had, but only points to the tip of an iceberg that is richly developed and understood with only the most modest of elements; with little more than the character classes and some setting history, you get a rich view of the entire world as it was, as it is, and as it will become in the future. Please understand the following is my take on Shiverwhen and is not meant to replace Michael's description of the setting prior to the game session (which I cannot recall well enough to repeat accurately).
In Shiverwhen, preternatural gunslingers (ballisturgists), brickhouse melee fighters (combatants), psychically-gifted divination empaths (uncannies), reality-flexing writers (scriveners), balladeer bard folkmen (sorsingers, sp?), tinkering electricians (gimcrackers), fate-influencing theurgists (esotericists), and energy-shaping caretakers (kindlers) work side-by-side in a place where and conspiracy and intrigue are interwoven with gothic shadows, menacing horrors, and fading technologies rubber-banded together by ingenuity and magic.
When you consider the history of Shiverwhen (the place within the game), its previous epochs (Springwhen and Summerwhen, if I recall correctly) point to the theme of the lost Utopia—an Earthly eden that's slowly decaying (a "slow apocalypse") into a dark place where even simple technologies (think gaslights and steamboats) work best in the places where people and industry are densely gathered (cities) and tend to "fade" in places where populations are thin and nature abides (the rural countrysides). The dystopia is mild in Shiverwhen (the game and the place). There is some elitism and awareness of social class, but it seems to be "organic"; that is, there isn't some ruling class that enforces its will on others, but there is a mild and "unofficial" caste system that separates those born to higher stations in life (or those that have achieved it) from the lower (i.e., "poorer") rungs on that social ladder.

We played the part of a group of come-of-agers striking out to make our name in a world where we held positions of general disfavor. The characters were pre-gen as Michael had sought to balance the party for the adventure before us based on the number of players and save the time of character generation. Considering I tend toward playing magically-endowed characters, I welcomed the opportunity to take up the role of the gunslinger. Understand though, that in one way or another, classed characters in Shiverwhen are able to tap into magical "embers," which makes them all magical in some way (some more than others).

Just in case any of you find yourself at a future con (or possible future gaming group) engaged in the introductory adventure ("The Perils of the Book Trade"), I won't give too much away in terms of plot. What I will say is that it started off immediately with a test of the combat mechanics before unfolding into a string of investigational discoveries, capped off by a final showdown. It became obvious quickly that my role as the gunslinger was profoundly important to the party in eliminating our enemies during the combat encounters; but that really seems to be the role of the gunslinger character. Guns seem to be the most effective combat weapon in Shiverwhen (place and game). Keep in mind, however, in Shiverwhen's cities, guns are ridiculously illegal; that means the gunslinger is the one character that can easily end up in jail for simply doing his job (in the context of a mixed-class party of PCs).

The mechanics of the game are simple, smooth, and effective. The character skills grow congruously from the classes; I think there's some leeway in choice during character creation, but it's hard to tell with pre-gens. The skill checks (including attacks) are percentile-based and fair, including rushed/reactionary "second" actions, and the armor mechanic is elegant and seamless. Armor types tend toward the unassuming (e.g., the long leather coat worn by my ballisturgist and the heavy coats worn by many of my comrades), but it suits the setting to a tee. There's also room for the uncommon armor types as well (like a robed, hooded figure wearing a metal breastplate). Without giving too much away (hopefully), armor works like a saving throw against damage, either mitigating it or eliminating it altogether. This armor mechanic seems to be something that went over well in Michael's playtest of the game back in February at TotalCon as well as it did in our game. More than that, the mechanic has an understated "narrative" effect during play as well; what I mean is, even though the use of armor was experienced as a die roll and wasn't expressly phrased in prose, I could almost imagine reading in a pulp novel about that moment where a piece of armor does or doesn't do what it was meant to. I think I remember somebody likening it to a timeslice from Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes movies; that's kind of what it's like.

As for non-combat gaming mode, I have to say that we as investigators played things too cagily. Michael himself said we "kind of came at things bass ackwards." That's our fault, not Michael's (who is a really great GM, BTW). Ironically, our bass ackward investigation style seemed to allow us to try out some of the games talents and skills that are meant to be used outside of combat... and it's the character types, their talents and skills, and how they require the player to get involved, which really breed the game's flavor. Take, for example, the kindler—a sort of "shaper" of the characters' preternatural energies, able to "borrow" this energy, "multiply" it, then lend larger amounts back to them. Or the scrivener, whose player is actually required to write small stories off-the-cuff at the gaming table in order to effect the character's abilities.

I'm definitely looking forward to where this game goes, and how quickly it gets there. I know Michael is still tweaking the character classes and the skills list, and I'm sure there's probably plenty of playtesting yet to be done, but I'd hate to think I'd have to wait for it too long before the final game (or at least a beta version) is ready. Intuition tells me this will likely find its way to becoming a Kickstarter at some point in the not terribly distant future (and one I'll be backing for sure). Worst case scenario, I get to play again at a future con in the meantime.

(BTW, Michael, if you read this and I've gotten anything wrong, please correct me. I took only the most minimal of notes during the game, and am going 98% from memory.)

ADDENDUM: I noticed that Michael wrote a new Shiverwhen post last night after I'd already drafted this one and schedule it in blogger. Hopefully I haven't said too much about anything he wants to hold close to the vest while the game is in development. Click here to read that post >>

Monday, June 10, 2013

NTRPGCon Recap: How Jim Ward Killed Me

Among the many great moments I had at this past weekend's North Texas RPG Con, it was an absolute privilege to not only play in a Jim Ward session, but to play in TWO Jim Ward sessions. Like many others, I now have my own version of "How Jim Ward Killed Me." But I'm also lucky enough to now also have a "How I Survived Jim Ward" story. Wait! Let me back up a moment...

Instead of writing what Jim said at the beginning of BOTH games (Friday's new setting Metamorphosis Alpha "Dark Visitor" adventure, and Saturday's old setting Metamorphosis Alpha adventure set aboard The Warden), let me share a quote from a post by Tim Snider at The Savage Afterworld from his post about last year's GaryCon (especially because it was pretty much EXACTLY- like word-for-word exactly- the same thing Jim said before both games this weekend):
Now, I have a rather undeserved reputation for Total Party Kills," he said. "I want to make it clear that **I** rarely kill a player off. The players usually kill themselves off." Jim made the following offer:

"Even though I enjoy signing things for people, I never give anyone a personalized signature. I never have done it in the many years I've done this. However, here at Gary Con, if you get through the next 3 hours of my game and LIVE, I will give you a one-of-a-kind personalized James Ward autograph. So far at the convention, I've given away two. Will there be a third? You just gotta survive. That's it.
Only, instead of offering the personalized autograph (a la Tim Snider's post), Jim's offer was an autographed Spellfire card featuring his picture.

Friday's Dark Visitor Session
(Wherein I Died)

I'll cut to the chase on this one. Jim was right. We pretty much owe our deaths to one player's "loose cannon" use of his EMP disruptor... which, needless to say, disrupted everything around him... leaving most everyone in the party but him without the use of the wonderful and effective equipment we'd spent all kinds of time thinking up and inventing before the game and taking on the ship with us.

Fast forward through many sequential player deaths... this same player was the only survivor of the party with only 10 minutes left to complete the session, and possibly survive the game and claim his card! But instead of playing it cautiously, he rushed back to our scout ship (from the alien spacecraft), forgetting that he had previously been breathing via a "conditional generator" of mine that was providing us atmosphere, and that gold threads were already forming around the scout ship before we entered the alien spacecraft. So... yes, he died too, with 9 minutes left in the gaming session. (And, as I understand, was talking about how "unfair" this was for the remainder of the con.)

What happens when you die in a Jim Ward game? He rips up your record sheet. Quite possibly my favorite moment from the entire con. Yes, dying in a Jim Ward game was an absolute privilege.

Saturday's "Tribal Test" Session (Wherein I Lived!)

One of the things that made Saturday's session cool (in addition to The Warden, of course) was the player group. Directly to my right were Jim Wampler and Michael Curtis. Across the far corner of the table from me was Justin Davis; I've followed his Field Guide to Doomsday blog for a while and the con was a chance to meet in person. Finally, Welbo (you know, the guy that helps me edit/copy write for things like the d30 DM Companion) had come out to watch and Jim let him join the game.

So Jim introduced the game pretty much as outlined above (with the "players kill each other" warning, and the offer of autographed Spellfire cards for survivors), and we struck out... a primitive group of tribal come-of-agers tasked with spending 20 days away from the tribe and returning with "something the tribe had never seen before"... or the tribe would kill us!

The party never really reached a cohesive whole, especially in terms of which direction to go and when. But I'm sorry... when you see a portal surrounded by skulls (mostly human), you just DON'T go into that portal. I think this bought us a little bit of time and prolonged the inevitable. But we still faced some giant centipedes and shooting pods and some acid spitting slugs and some razor grass (you know, classic old-school mutant creature stuff). With ten minutes to go, and all but one of us alive (sorry Justin), Jim looked down behind his DM screen and I could see the look in his eyes saying, "What can I do in ten minutes to allow these players to kill each other?" Instead, what happened shocked me.

He stopped the game, pulled out his Spellfire cards and begin to sign them, accompanied by a statement something to the effect of, "For those who say Jim Ward kills all his players, this will give them something to talk about on Facebook and Twitter," or something like that. I think he did it so it would get back to Friday's near-survivor and chap his hide. But that's just speculation.

(Yes, that is Frank Mentzer in the background.)

Thank you Mr. Ward! I had a blast, both dying and surviving!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pics from last night's Knights of Camelot game
at the North Texas RPG Con

... moderated by Steve Winter, with Erol Otus and last-minute addition Dennis Sustare in attendance.
When I left the game, most of the 8 or 9 knights were dead, and mine was languishing in prison.

Don't forget... find me at the con and get your free button!

And, of course, follow me on Twitter and you might win a copy of The Valley of the Five Fires!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Find me at NTRPGCon and get one of these!

It's the newest New Big Dragon button! Like the yellow buttons I gave out back in February. And the d30 buttons I gave out last May. So find me at the North Texas RPG Con this weekend (if you're there), and ask for yours! Sorry, no mail-outs on this one! Don't worry, though; I'll probably do another d30 button with the release of the d30 Sandbox Companion.

If you're looking for me tonight (Wed. June 5), I'll be playing Knights of Camelot with Steve Winter and Erol Otus. How cool is that?!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Win It Before You Can Buy It:
Valley of the Five Fires

I'm almost done with Valley of the Five Fires.

I gots me a twitter account.

Follow me on Twitter:
some jackleg got my "@" before me, so twitter added the "1".)

I will be tweeting from the North Texas RPG Con.

Some time on Sunday, after the con is over, I will randomly choose one lucky twitter follower to receive a PDF and print copy of Valley of the Five Fires; also, 2 randomly-selected runners up will receive PDF copies.

The winners will be sent their copies when the book is released mid-to-late next week.

Any questions?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Creature Compendium Update

So I was doing a little "desktop housekeeping" this weekend, and realized I needed to do a bit of an update to the Creature Compendium list. At last count back in August of 2012, I was hovering around 160 monsters. But since then, I've added a lot of new ones to the blog, which in turn get added to the planned book. If my current count is right, I'm at 183 (including alternate types and species). There's only a couple of names on the list that are not written/described yet, but are planned; otherwise, if the name is on the list, the description and stats are complete (though about 5% of those completed listings need illustrations, and another 10% or so need second illustrations or re-draws of illustrations I'm no longer happy with).

Don't worry. I'm not going to let the compendium have too much of my attention for now. I'm dangerously close to releasing The Valley of the Five Fires (I'll have a preview/proofing copy with me this week at the North Texas RPG Con), and then all of my attention is going straight to finishing the d30 Sandbox Companion (which got sidetracked due to requirements for the introduction).

Just a note that a few of the monsters accessed via the links below have been refined (in the book), but those refinements have not been updated to the blog. For example, several of them pre-date the "dual format" stats that I've come to adopt as my standard M.O., though the full dual-stats will be available in the final book. Additionally, some of the stats have been refined, and some of the listings have been expanded. But, in general, most of these posts have everything you need for inclusion at the gaming table.

So, without further ado... the current (though always expanding) list of creatures slated for the Creature Compendium. (BTW, if there are any "non-linked" names that peak your curiosity, let me know and maybe I'll slate those for upcoming Monster of the Week posts.)

BOOKMARK THIS PAGE! As new monsters are posted to the blog, they'll be added/linked here!

Adarna Bird
Angel Bug

Bat, Arctic (Ice)
Bat, Death (3 Species)
Beetle, Giant Flayer
Bestial Beast
Brain Bat

Cactus Cat
Cadejo (2 Types)
Centaur, Cyprian
(2 Types)
Cow Demon

Devil Monkey
Dobarchú, Greater
Dobarchú, Lesser
Dover Demon
Dracopede (4 Species)
Dragonboar, Wooly
Dwarf, Black
Dwarf, Red

Elemental, Mudmist
Elemental, Sand
Elephant, White
Emerald Stinkbug

Fear Liath
Filth Licker
Fire Fox
Flash Dragon
Flying Head

Gaseous Lantern
Giant, Dirt
Giant, Phase
Golem, Canine (Flesh)
Gorilla, Giant Spider
Guardian Bramble
Gyrax (Gray Gnome)

Hyrcinian Bird


Jelly Death


Lich, Nephil
Lizard, Giant Trapper
(2 Types)

Mind Hunter
Mind Moth
Molecricket, Giant
Mummy, Animal

Naga, Raja


Pink Slime


Rat, Gargantuan
Red Ether

Scorpion, White
Shock Snail
Skeleton, Ruby
Skeleton, Rupture
Skeleton, Stone
Snake, Giant Two-headed
Spider, Giant Trogloraptor
Spirit, Flailing
Sprite, Dohma
Tarantula, Bone
Tiddy Mun



Woodpecker, Giant
Worm, Carriage
Worm, Crimson Death
Worm, Rider
Worm, Sanju (30 varieties)
Worm, Sarcophagal




Sunday, June 2, 2013

My Newest Petty Gods Illustration

Below are my latest of my contributions to the Expanded Petty Gods (XPG) project. When I received the assignment email from Greg, the title of the email said "Ariphas, Bartleby and Grunnug." Suddenly, I was transported back to my American lit class from high school, and I said to myself, "I wonder if this is based on Bartleby the Scrivener... the one palatable Melville story of all Melville stories." Then I read the email, and said, "Yup. The very same."

When I tackled Bartleby as an illustration, I knew I didn't want to do an 1800s thing. I wanted to keep visually to the milieu that we associate with classic fantasy RPGs, so I went more "monk-ish." And since I've been digging through a lot of old books lately (like the books that led to the recent Arthur Rackham clip art post), I had a Walter Crane thing in mind. I have a great respect for Crane as book illustrator and writer (more specifically than just an artist). In his book Of the decorative illustration of books old and new, Crane states:

"...I have endeavoured to draw the line between the purely graphic aim, on the one hand, and the ornamental aim on the other—between what I should term the art of pictorial statement and the art of decorative treatment; though there are many cases in which they are combined, as, indead, in all the most complete book-pictures, they should be."

He's really talking about illustrations that have a quality of ornament, rather than being simply renderings of subjects. And, IMHO, nobody has (or ever will) do that better than Walter Crane. My Bartleby illustration (below top) is my my homage to him; and the typeface choice (Troy) is a nod to its creator William Morris (one of the people who inspired Tolkien, and a frequent printer-collaborator with Crane).

The Ariphas illustration (below middle) is a little on the goofier side. I may end up redoing this so it's a little less "cartoony", but I also trust the instincts of my initial thoughts and sketches (like the ones that led me here).

Gnunnug (the illustration below bottom) is actually a listing from the original Petty Gods book that didn't have an illustration. The listing doesn't explicitly say Gnunnug has seven fingers and toes on each limb, but it seemed natural that he wood (being the petty god of the number seven).