Monday, August 29, 2011

Blackspire: The Sisters of Despair

More info on my little homebrew project I'm working up in the city of Blackspire, which I detailed in a previous entry.

The Sisters of Despair
These bitches will eat your heart out...literally

Deep within the vaulted crypts below the city, in a small hidden alcove, the Sisters of Despair work their heinous magics and sorceries seeking to cause turmoil and strife to the city and its citizens.

This covey of Annis hags, known as Helsha, Gryhmgas, and Myrva, have repeatedly been at the heart of several assassination plots of many of the members of the ruling Selectorate. Presently they have at least three dopplegangers in positions of power within the aristocracy, each equipped with a hag eye enabling the witches to keep an eye on their foes, and plot and scheme for their next victims.

Although their presence is known, few have dared to enter into the crypts to seek them out, and those who have, never returned. Within the confines of their lair, the witches have created a multitude of undead servants for protection including many ghouls, wraiths and spectres.

Occasionally the hags will sneak out of their lair, one posing as a beautiful prostitute to lure victims into shadowy alleys under the proposition of ecstasy. Once they have lured the unsuspecting victim, the other two will attack, dragging their prey into the sewers where he will be devoured and eaten, or worse, brought back to the lair for unspeakable and horrific experiments.

The hags have yet to break through the magical Obsidian Citadel to infiltrate the Black Cloaks, although they are constantly seeking to gain influence into the archwizard circle.

Thoughts on the Megadungeon

Since James' open Friday post raised some thoughts on megadungeon design, etc., I thought I'd chime in with some of my own thoughts of the subject, considering I am currently working on building one myself (albeit slowly.)
First of all, any DM considering actually running a megadungeon game, needs to be aware what it encompasses.  In my hardcore playing days, I went through 2 different published megadungeons in what were essentially campaigns in both Undermountain and Night Below.  They were fun, and exciting, and at times, tedious and boring.  Before starting up a megadungeon game, you as the DM need to ensure that this is something your players want to do.  You don't want to spend a month building a complex megadungeon only for them to explore in one 4 hour session and leave never to return.  The megadungeon campaign takes a committment from both players and the DM.  What are the motives of the players?  Do they want their characters to become well known and famous adventurers involved in major political conflicts and intrigue?  If so, the megadungeon is the last place you want to stick them.  The megadungeon is kind of like Las Vegas: whatever happens there tends to stay there.  Back when we ran through Night Below, the running joke for our party was "we saved the world...and no one ever knew about it."  Why?  Because we were stuck underground exploring areas relatively unknown to surface civizlation for months at a time.
That is not to say there can't be story elements incorporated into the megadungeon campaign.  There most certainly should be those elements present, it's just that the players may never directly achieve any surface fame for their heroics.  It's possible to work around this, certainly, but for the most part, megadungeon exploration is just that: exploring dangerous and huge areas in an effort to gather riches and wealth.  Along the way, you as the DM, will want to make this as interesting as possible for them.  Fighting rooms full of monsters for no reason is fun for a couple of hours, but eventually, it wears off.  This leads to my next point.
There is a myth the seems to float around that the megadungeon must somehow "make sense."  Like, how can you walk into one room, and fight 5 orcs, then a few minutes later discover some kind of weird reverse gravity trap?  The orcs didn't put that trap there, obviously, so how does it make sense that it's there?  The answer is, who cares why it's there?  The megadungeon is more than just a set of rooms linked together.  It's a huge world unto itself with as rich and detailed a history as the surface, but that doesn't mean EVERYTHING has to have some sort of reasonable answer.  Megadungeons can be hundreds of years old, and used by a variety of entities for a variety of purposes over decades at a time.  So, where did that reverse gravity trap come from?  Perhaps at one time, it was put in place by a mad wizard who occupied the dungoen, but fell at the hands of an unsuspecting attack by a grell.  Or maybe the wizard was taken hostage by a group of drow, and subjugated never to be heard from again.  Does it really matter why?  Maybe it does, if you want to incorporate the trap into a larger history, but if you just want to throw in an interesting reverse gravity trap for fun, who says you couldn't, or shouldn't, even if it seems out of place?  That's what the megadungeon is for; throwing encounters and interesting situations at the players that you might not necessarily be able to get away with in a published module, or mini-dungeon site.  Plus, it keeps things interesting for the PCs and keeps them on their toes.  Sure there could be kobolds on the other side of that door, or there could be a lethal gas chamber.
It does seem that there should be a "why" to answer how this place came into being in the first place.  In Dread Rock, the answer is, it is an old dwarven civilization that mysteriously disappeared centuries ago.  During that time, all kinds of things have happened in that place, and not all of them can, or should be, reasonably explained.  They just are.  Having a history of the place does help create interesting situations for your players, though.  For example, in quadrant 1-2 in Dread Rock there will be a point where the PCs can discover an altar with three keyholes with symbols on top.  The keys are hidden in various locations throughout the quadrant, and once they find them, and place them in the altar, it opens a secret room where a lot of treasure is stored.  Another example being in quadrant 1-3. where the PCs will discover the dwarven throne in the main hall, still encrusted with brilliant gems.  How is this possible?  Because touching it or attempting to pry the gems out, will put a geas on that player requiring him/her to seek out the lost dwarven lord's battleaxe, hidden somewhere else in the dungeon, to return it to the wall in its proper place in the hall behind the throne.  Now, how many other adventurers or creatures may be affected presently by this quest?  How many may have died trying to accomplish it?  Who knows?
The DM also has to accept the fact that not all parts, or mysteries of the megadungeon will be discovered.  It should be a large sprawling complex with areas that may never be explored by the party.  Most of the rooms should remain relatively empty, in fact.  This heightens the suspense and makes encounters more meaningful and dangerous.  The "not knowing" what's lurking down the hall is what makes the exploration fun.  That said, the DM has the responsibility to keep the place interesting, and it can be a difficult balance, as going for hours traipsing through rooms that have nothing of value in them can get tiresome.  In these moments, random encounters, or odd things in the dungeon can get things moving again.  I created a d30 table for these very situations called the dungeon oddities table, which helps bring the place to life.  Walking through a hall and seeing a skeletal hand poking out from a wall (the result of a botched teleport spell) helps give the place a life of its own rather than just empty and boring corridor and room after another.
In sum, the megadungeon is a campaign setting.  It should be noted up front in agreement between players and GMs.  This is not to railroad the players, but rather a respectful way of a) the players saying "we want to commit to doing this thing" and b) the GM saying "I will commit to creating and/or prepping this thing."  It should be huge, gonzo at times, dangerous, and interesting.  Why things are there isn't as important as the fact that they're simply there for the players to deal with.  There shouldn't be one sole purpose or villain in the dungeon, but several things going on simultaneously.  Factions, good and bad, vying for survival in a harsh and dangerous world bring the place to life, and that is ultimately what you want to do for your players.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

d30 Table for Boons and Bad Luck in Character Creation

This is a simple d30 table to use to spice up the character creation process.  Below are 30 attributes 15 of which are good, or boons, for the character, while the other 15 are considered negative in some fashion.  During the character creation process you simply tell the player about the table, and give them the option to take a chance on the roll, but the boon or curse, for lack of a better term, is considered permanent throughout the character's life, and should not be re-rolled unless specified by the table.  I would recommend rolling these early in the process of character generation (i.e. after rolling ability scores, choosing race and class, but before buying equipment or selecting proficiencies or skills.)
d30 Table for Boons or Bad Luck
1. Character begins game with no starting money or equipment 
2. Adept with the arcane. Magic users begin game with ability to cast 1 additional 1st level spell (re-roll for non magic-users)
3. Weakness to cold. -1 to hit in cold environments and -1 to all saves vs cold attacks
4. Scholarly. +1 to Intelligence stat
5. Poor aim. -2 to hit with any missile weapon
6. Favored by divine being. Clerics can turn undead at one level higher (re-roll for non clerics)
7. Easily surprised. -1 penalty to surprise rolls
8. Improved health. Character starts with 3 additional hit points
9. Poor upbringing. -10% starting gold pieces.
10. Improved natural strength. +1 to Strength stat
11. Fear of snakes.  Will react per Fear spell when encountering any kind of snake, or snake-like creature
12. Small amount of elven/dwarven lineage gives human character 10' infravision (re-roll for demi-humans)
13. Prone to sickness and disease.  5% added penalty when faced with prospect of contracting a disease or illness
14. Hated enemy.  +1 to attack any monster type of player's choice
15. Poor vision.  -1 additional penalty in low-light situations. -10' infravision for demi-humans
16. Hearty Constitution. +1 to Constitution stat
17. Weakness against poison. -1 to all saving throws vs poison
18. Quick movement. Increase movement rate by 1
19. Poor health. Character starts with 1 less hit point
20. Begins game with twice the amount of rolled starting gold pieces
21. Apprehension to magic. -1 to all save vs spells
22. Wise soul. +1 to Wisdom stat
23. Naturally clumsy. -1 to all Dexterity checks
24. Quick healer. Character heals 1 additional hit point when resting for a full day
25. Unable to read or write in character's own language, or any other language (re-roll for magic users)
26. Hardness. Natural +2 bonus to Armor Class
27. Weak tolerance to alcohol. Incurs penalties from drinking twice as fast as normal
28. Natural agility. +1 to Dexterity stat
29. Bad night at the brothel. Character starts with a venereal disease that causes -1 penalty to all rolls until cured.
30. Weapon of choice bonus. +2 to hit with one preferred weapon type (longsword, short bow, broad sword, etc.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Giving the Wife a Tour of the Crypts of Aezoul Vhezian

I've been playing D&D on and off for nearly 20 years now.  When I met my wife she knew I played, but as most women who aren't into gaming, she just looked at it as sort of an odd curiosity.  We've been married for 12 years now, and recently she asked if I'd teach her what all the fuss is about, and why I enjoy this game so much.  Of course, I nearly jumped out of my chair at the opportunity to play D&D at the table just about every night, so we rolled her up a character.  She's playing Thanne the Ranger, a female human.  I rolled her up a couple of NPCs to aid her, and decided to give her a run through the mini-dungeon I created a few months back, called the Crypts of Aezoul Vhezian.
Originally I had crafted this as an old school dungeon crawl I was going to run for some of my friends at our annual camp, but things didn't go as planned, and we had to put off the game.  I had planned on creating additional supplemental levels and PDFs for this, but alas gamer ADD got the best of me.  Still yet, since I've been running it with the wife, and I already have level 2 drawn and keyed (just not put into PDF form), I may give the project another shot, and make the further levels available here on the blog.
So, after explaining the basics of the game to her, we were off and running.  She caught on surprisingly quickly, and after explaining to her the style of game this was (where character death was highly likely) she has approached each situation in the dungeon with an extreme level of caution.  Dare I say, she might be better inclined as a player than some of my own friends who have been playing this game with me for nearly 2 decades.  She takes caution upon entering every room, approaching each door and inspecting it carefully.  She goes through every room in careful detail taking time to explore the area albeit with the notion that this place is full of traps and hidden dangers. 
In one of the first rooms, she managed to find an eye shaped glass stone hidden in some rubble (a feature I thought would be vastly overlooked by most playing), which she quickly picked up and placed in her pouch.  She doesn't know it yet, but there is a spot in the dungeon where the glass eye can be placed to open a secret room with treasure.  She cleverly deduced there was a pit trap leading into the room with the carrion crawler and sprang it with a dead body, to which she simply walked around the edge of the sprung trap and entered the room.  Mind you, she did this without the use of a 10' pole.  Upon entering the carrion crawler's lair, she and her NPC companions, very carefully walked in, with the remaining party members being human, and restricted in their visibiilty due to torchlight, this further enhanced her cautious approach.  In the dungeon, the crawler clings to the high vaulted ceiling above the entrance to the room, waiting for its victims to completely enter before dropping down, blocking exit from the room, and surprising the party.  Before this happened however, she made careful note to look at the ceiling to which she saw the crawler inching down the wall near the door.  The crawler lost the element of surprise, and although he nearly paralyzed one of her companions (who made his save), she took the creature out in one round with a critical hit!
She has managed to survive using the NPCs in much the way you'd use a hireling as fodder, which has resulted in a couple of NPC deaths, mainly due to incredibly good dice rolls by the orcs they've encountered, but she is plugging along, and I am impressed with her progress so far.  I can say truly, although she is inexperienced in the game overall, she is a natural.  It's been a good time playing the game I love with her.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The City of Blackspire

I'm in the process of crafting my own homebrew world.  Generally I would start with a map on a project like this, but I'm looking at things from more of an abstract point of view here.  The idea is to create a series of locations and interesting regions, and maybe then map them out in relation to one another at a later time.
Located in the north, the city of Blackspire sits nestled in a valley at the foot of the Stormwind Peaks mountains on the edge of a large body of water called Icemere Loch, so named for its chilly waters and chunks of blackish ice which linger constantly within a hazy fog.
Blackspire is named for the large black twisting tower which sits atop a magically floating series of rocks about 100 feet above the city itself.  The tower, known as the Obsidian Citadel, is home to a conclave of archwizards and necromancers who call themselves the Black Cloaks of Thorvian.  The true numbers of these mages, and their identities, remain largely a mystery, but from within their magical fortress they govern the city, albeit with an aloof front.  They rarely step in to intervene on matters other than those of the utmost importance to the safety of the city, leaving the day to day ruling with the aristocracy of the city below.

The city's council, who refer to themselves as the Selectorate, govern the mundane day-to-day operations of the city.  They are composed of 50 high nobles, who consistently seek to backstab each other and further their own agendas.  Assassination attempts are commonplace in Blackspire, and as such, the nobility has taken extra guarded measures to ensure their own safety.  It is a common practice within the nobility to expose noble children to a variety of known (and some unknown to the masses) lethal poisons and elixirs in an effort to build a resistance to their properties.  The aristocracy is nearly wholly corrupt, having left behind the base ideas of moralism and ethics for their own self-serving benefits.  These traits they find beneath them and "plebeian" in nature.  Despite their ambitious nature, they live in fear of the Black Cloak mages.  At one time, one of the more ambitious of the aristocracy sought to craft a coup in order to oust the archwizards of the tower.  Before the plot could ever get off the ground, the nobleman was taken by agents of the Citadel where he was torn limb from limb by a summoned eldritch creature in front of the entire city.

The true population of the city is not known, but is thought to be in the thousands.  The only known map of the city lies in the Citadel and is in fact a living document which animates as new buildings are constructed or destroyed.  Most of the city's buildings are composed of damp stonework with wooden roofs.  The nature of the constant dampness seems to stem from the constant cold and moisture from Icemere Loch.  The streets are blackish cobblestone and wind and twist throughout the various wards which makeup the city. 

The sprawling city is fortified by a 20' high black stone wall with several gates of entry into its walls all manned by the constables.

The major source of trade with its neighbors lies in the precious metals mined outside of the city near the Stormwind Peaks, specifically silver.  In addition, the Obsidian Citadel hosts one of the only known academies of magic devoted to the necromantic arts drawing in potential practitioners from across the land.  Many fail in their pursuits, which often results in their own demise.

Despite the cold and dank nature of the city, the citizens and commoners are of a light-hearted sort, albeit a bit darker in their nature and attitude towards most things.  It is not uncommon, for example, to see a group of Blackspire citizens laughing it up when a bizarre tavern game results in the death of one of the contestants.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Pitfalls to Avoid in GMing: My Take

Earlier today I posted an entry about pitfalls to avoid when GMing. I noted the common ones known to everyone (fudging dice rolls, railroading, etc.), but I asked others to chime in with their own entries on 3 other common pitfalls to avoid when GMing. So, here is my take on 3 pitfalls to avoid when running a RPG.

1. You didn't make the style of the game clear to the players

You've spent time organizing an adventure, getting the players together, and selecting a nice place to meet up. Only you forgot to mention the theme/style of the game, or even ask the players' input at all. Frequent character death may be a common meme in old school games, but it's not common to everyone who plays RPGs. If your games run a high risk of character death, you need to make this clear up front. Players get annoyed enough when characters die, especially due to bad dice rolls, but it's even more annoying when a player spends several hours working up this amazingly awesome backstory, and fleshing their character out, only to have him/her die against the first batch of giant spiders you throw at the party. Again, frequent character death is almost unheard of in new school RPGs, and if you want to run an old school style game, you need to make it abundantly clear from the beginning. This doesn't just go for frequent character death either. That's just one example. If your game focuses on a mystery the PCs must solve, a combat light horror scenario, or a deathtrap dungeon, you need to at least make some of this known to your players before the game.

2. You plan on using a pet NPC

Avoid this like the plague. There will be moments where you'll think, "hey this is set in that same world I ran my 15th level half-dragon assassin character! Wouldn't it be cool if I introduced him as a NPC in this game?" The simple answer is, no, it wouldn't. Chances are, you'll end up wasting precious time reminiscing about how your uber character knocked off that lich in one round (hyperbole), or managed to con that dragon out of his horde that one time, and frankly, your players don't give a shit. They also don't care to see your pet NPC essentially take over the session doing awesome shit, because you want to show how much of a badass he is. Pet NPCs=bad idea 100% of the time. Don't use them...ever.

3. God, that one character is really annoying. Maybe I should kill him

Let's face it, you're gonna run into that one player whose character is just annoying. You know, the guy whose character has a 3 INT and must always do the absolute dumbest thing in EVERY situation? Or the guy who has acquired that one magical item that he uses as a crutch for perceived invincibility? There's nothing wrong with humbling these characters in games, to be certain, but resist the temptation to simply develop an encounter with the sole purpose of killing the character. It's hard to resist the temptation to simply have the character killed off so the sessions are less annoying, yes, but remember you're the referee and judge, and as such you should always remain fair and impartial. These types of characters will eventually be weeded out by other players if not by simply their own incompetence. I recall years ago, one of our friends was running an extended campaign, and one of our players ran a super annoying red-haired female thief named Mitra. She was always doing things which got us in a jam as a party, and really never showed any true benefit to the group. She was always conspiring behind the party's back, etc. So, what did we do as a group? We sold her character into slavery the first chance we got. The DM didn't have to worry about taking the character out. We did it for him as players. Yes, it resulted in some tense moments between the players, but shit happens. The point is, you as the DM should remain fair, even when one of the player's character is an annoying pissant.

So, these are 3 pitfalls I think are important to avoid in GMing. What are some of your own? Write up your own entries, and comment with the link to your blog here, and I'll compile them in one big post. Again, I'm interested in hearing your own takes on common pitfalls to avoid.

Avoiding Pitfalls in GMing

Hill Cantons' recent challenge has turned out a fantastic array of solid GM advice from the far corners of the gaming blogosphere, and while I chimed in with my own entry, this challenge made me think of something else; what NOT to do as the GM.  Now, we can all agree on the normal things to avoid as a GM such as fudging dice rolls, railroading players into a storyline which places them as mere puppets in your table-top fantasy novel, etc.  These things are pretty much common-place obstacles to avoid when sitting behind the screen, but aside from these, I'd like to hear from other gamers and GMs on which 3 pitfalls they think are most important to avoid as GMs.
I plan on having my own take up here this afternoon.  For those who respond, I'll create another entry collecting them with links, so post away links to your entries here in the comments, if you are so inclined.  I'm interested to hear and learn from you, and really, isn't tha what this whole blogging thing is all about anyway?  So, let's hear it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

On Building a Better GM

I happened to notice several other bloggers taking up ckutalik's challenge on building a better GM, which was inspired by a post by one of my favorite bloggers, Beedo.

Ckutalik asks us to elaborate on 3 essential elements as follows:

1. Name three “best practices” you possess as a GM. What techniques do you think you excel at?
2. What makes those techniques work? Why do they “pop”?
3. How do you do it? What are the tricks you use? What replicable, nuts-and-bolts tips can you share?

It's hard to narrow it down to just 3 "best practices" really. In surveying my own thoughts on the issue, dozens of best practices come to mind, however I'll try to stick to what I believe are the 3 most important.

1. The game is not about you, it's about your players

It's a hard truth to accept for many GMs. We all have our own philosophies on how the game should be played, but ultimately, the only ones you really need to worry about impressing are your players. That is not to say that you fudge dice rolls, or give into unreasonable player demands at the table. Rather it means keeping your focus on what the players want to do in the game as opposed to what you would like to see them do.

This especially rings true in preparation. There have been countless times when a GM has sat down with his players, having prepared a nice little adventure for them, only to have them do something completely off the wall which derails all that preparation. We hear about these things happening at the table all the time, and true enough, they happen at my own. It's part of the game. You have to learn to roll with it, because it's never going to change as long as you believe in not restricting player control over their characters.

This is where the sandbox style really shines, however, because you are providing a world with which the players interact, and the choices they make should always matter. Resist the urge to railroad players into certain situations. Present the adventure hooks for them, and let them take it in the direction they choose. This is going to require improvisation on your part as a GM, but if you're remotely considering sandbox style play, you must accept the fact that you will likely be improvising...a lot.

Make the world around your players a living and breathing thing. There are NPC motivations outside of what your players are involved in at a given time. Their characters can't be everywhere all the time. Maybe they have a few options in the beginning, but they won't know the results of their actions until things are played out. For example, they have option 1, which is to raid a nearby set of ruins overrun with undead, or option 2, which after some investigation by the players, results in their foil of an assassination attempt. If they pick option 1, don't forget about option 2, and let the consequences of their choices take place. Let that major NPC get assassinated because the players didn't take that hook.

Know your world, and write down notes on events surrounding it. These don't have to be detailed pages and tomes of useless information that may never come up in play. Just a series of simple bullet style notes, preferably keeping it in line with your campaign world calendar. Those particular events in which your players actively chose not to participate in, should happen. The ones in which your players took the bait of a hook should be saved and the results determined by their actions in the game. Doing this, they will quickly realize that their actions have consequences, and will respond accordingly.

Ultimately you want your players to have fun, and have a strong desire to return to the gaming table and continue. That's what it's all about. If your players prefer detailed railroady storyline games over an open-ended sandbox style, then give them what they want, or find a group of players whose play style fits more in line with your own. Don't force players down a path they don't want to take in play style, because the results will often be complacency at best, or downright apathy at worst.

2. Stay Organized

I am the most unorganized person you'll ever meet really. My organization skills in general entail trying to remember if I laid that notebook under the bag of Doritos I've been working over, or with a bunch of other notebooks piled on top of my printer. Still yet, I try my best to keep things organized when it comes to the RPGs I run.

I can't stress enough how important it is to have a campaign notebook. For me, this typically means a traditional 3 ring binder with dividers, document protectors, and various useful in-game documents. That said, your campaign notebook can entail a number of different options. Find whatever is best for you, and run with it. If you can keep things organized on a laptop, or on a site like Obsidian Portal, use those methods, but try your best to stay organized.

So, how do I do it? As I said, I have a 3 ring binder I use, tabbed with document protectors. I have a section for maps, random tables and charts specific to the area the players are in, and a section of notes for the game.

I have stated above how important improvisation is in sandbox gameplay. I tend to use a lot of tables and charts which I can quickly refer to in a jam. These include NPC name generator tables, inn and tavern name tables, random trap and trick generators, etc. These are particularly handy because they allow you to focus your creative energies into important stuff, like the game, rather than having to spend mental energy to find a clever name off the top of your head for a NPC or location, which may end up sounding stupid (we've all been guilty.)

In my maps section, I usually keep a handful of maps I have either made, or found online. There's usually a mixture of both. Some of these mini-dungeon areas are keyed, while others aren't, but the idea is to whip one out in a jam when the PCs go off the beaten path. This way I'm not completely caught off guard. I know, for example, in general where my players are on my hex map before each session. I will then prepare a few maps and encounters for various locales in and around those hexes. Nothing too fancy, just enough to give me something should they wander off from what I perceive to be their goal at the time. Best of all, I can always use those maps in other areas later if need be.

The notes section is probably the most important section of the notebook. I have a campaign log which I keep, an item spreadsheet which lists who has what item, where they got it, if it's been identified and the items known and unknown properties. I also keep a small chart to document xp to help me calculate everything at the end of a session.

My campaign notebook is like my GM bible for the game. A good, well kept campaign notebook, will bail you out of sticky situations, and just make life easier for you as a GM, which in turn, will make things better and more enjoyable for the players.

3. Don't over-prepare

Don't spend too much time in preparation, and stick to things that will directly involve your PCs. Do you really need to write up 3 or 4 paragraphs of notes on a temple or inn your players may never visit? Improvise many of these things. Stick to what's important for the upcoming sessions. Yes, this can be, more or less, a fly by the seat of your pants method, but that's the fun of the sandbox. You're discovering your world along with the players.

When I start a new campaign, I like to take a hex map, key out several locations of interest, without detailing them too much, a brief set of notes on major NPCs in the area, and their motivations, various secret groups and organizations, a very brief overview of the political climate of the area, etc. These don't have to entail hours upon hours of needless preparation. Just a few notes, allowing you to focus on really preparing the important stuff, like areas your players might explore. Throwing up a few one page dungeons to get things going is a good idea.

It's very easy to find yourself spending hours preparing for scenarios your players may never encounter. I've done it myself, and in many ways, it's simply unavoidable, but try to limit the time and energy you spend on your campaign into what directly involves your players in the current session. Trust me, some of the best moments at your table will come through improvisation and just winging it. Just ensure you take good notes (or keep a campaign log as I mentioned in point 2), so you can keep things organized.

Some of these methods may work for you, some may not, and many of you are probably already implementing these methods in some form in your own games anyway. There simply is no absolute best way to GM. It would be a pretty boring world if that were the case. Still yet, we all have techniques and experiences to draw upon, which can make the job of GMing easier if we actually take the time to read and learn from others.

Grognardia or How I Discovered I Wasn't Alone in the Universe

This is a story which I really haven't shared yet here on BHD, but in honor of the fact that James over at Grognardia just surpassed 1,000 followers, and others are paying homage to him, I felt it was time I told this story. 
Back in the late 1990's, life began to change drastically for me.  After spending most of my young adolescent days in that decade playing D&D, starting with 1e then moving on to 2e, towards the end of the decade, I began college, started working to pay my way through, and gaming fell on the back-burner.  Eventually I got married and joined the Air Force in 1999, and by that time, gaming for me had completely fallen off the map.  It was, I believe, the following year when Wizards of the Coast took over TSR and revealed 3rd edition.  I recall being in a book store somewhere, picking it up and having a read through, and putting it down on the shelf.  It was strange really.  I had moved on away from the game of D&D, and after seeing the new version I felt the game had moved away from me as well.  The glory days of 2e were behind me, and the whole d20 thing just wasn't my cup of tea at all.
Here and there throughout the 2000's I played on occasion, when I got out of the military and returned home, but always we played 2e.  Eventually even that began to subside.  There just wasn't much material out there, and there didn't seem to be much of a niche for older editions online.  I suppose most of the old 2e players either moved on to 3e, or simply gave up on the game completely.  I discovered the Knights and Knaves forum some years ago, back when it was a ProBoards message board, but their utter hatred for 2e turned me away.  So, in many ways I felt alone in my love for the older incarnations of the game.  While most of my playing experience came from 2e, I got my introduction to the game through playing 1e, and always held a fondness for that version.
It was late last year, I believe, I was surfing through my feeds and noticed that one of the large sci-fi blogs,, linked an article James had written on Grognardia about Robert E. Howard.  Being a big Conan fan, I followed the link over, and from there it opened a whole new world up for me.  There was this thing they were calling an "old school renaissance?"  1e had been restored through OSRIC to allow for new material, and best of all, there was not only James, but hundreds of others who were just like me; fans of the older versions and styles of play.  This discovery ignited a fire within me again, and soon I started blogging myself about the games we all love.
So, congratulations on reaching 1,000 followers, James, although we know your reach in the community goes far beyond that.  Had it not been for your blog, I never would have discovered the OSR, and all the great people I've had the pleasure to meet over the past few months.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Monster: Lurghor


Frequency: Very Rare
No. Encountered: 1
Size: M
Move: 12 (3 in Gaseous Form)
Armor Class: 2
Hit Dice: 8+3
Attacks: 1
Damage: 2-12
Special Attacks: See below
Special Defenses: See below
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Magic Resistance: Sleep, Charm, Hold spells
Lair Probability: 50%
Intelligence: Very
Level/XP Value: 8/2,200 +12 per hit point

Lurghors are creatures who dwell in both the prime and negative material planes. They are often mentioned in stories and legends told by low firelight by nurse-maids and nannies as a means to scare little children into proper behavior. The Lurghor in its natural form, is a creature of solid black with green glowing slits for eyes. Its body is generally twisted into a form of horrific display (its head will be twisted around while it walks on its hands and feet, for example.)

The arrival of a Lurghor to a village is seen as the sign of a curse, and they may be attracted for a variety of reasons, however the most common is the betrayal of a lover which has resulted in a death. Lurghors are drawn to the negative energy surrounding such an event, and will quickly take hold in an area wreaking havoc in the night.

They generally dwell in small caves in a wooded or forest area near the village they are menacing. The home of a Lurghor is easily identified, as the ground itself within a 500 yard radius of a Lurghor lair will turn to a dark grayish color, and the grass and trees will be brittle, twisted and dead no matter the season.

Lurghors are able to take a Gaseous Form once per day, making them invulnerable to all attacks save magical fire or electricity. They usually take this form turning into a greenish/black mist to sneak into the homes of villagers, where they feed off the dreams of small children. Such a victim of a Lurghor is easy to identify. Although they remain alive physically, their eyes will turn to a milky white color, and they will not respond, talk, or acknowledge the presence of anyone. The only way such a victim can be restored to its prior conscious state is through the death of the Lurghor.

In combat, the Lurghor will attempt to take a gaseous form if possible to evade enemies it determines may be a challenge. In physical form, the sight of the Lurghor requires each of its opponent to make a saving throw vs. petrification, or be affected per the Fear spell. In combat, it will attack with its claw like hands which will drain one experience level each time a hit is scored in addition to its normal damage.

The Lurghor is immune to Sleep, Hold, or Charm related spells. It can only be harmed by silver, magical attacks, or +1 magical weapons. Although it partially exists in the negative plane, it is not undead, and thus cannot be turned.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Much Ado About Neverwinter

In the wake of a recent press release from Wizards about the new Neverwinter "Campaign Setting," for 4th edition D&D, it seems many in the old school blog world are outraged.  After all, Wizards blatantly proclaims it as "the first-ever RPG book focused solely on one city."  I can see how many of my fellow grognards could be outraged over this gaffe.  Despite the fact that not only is Neverwinter not the first city focused RPG supplement, it's not even the second, third, or probably even the 100th RPG book focused on urban sprawls.  This was obviously some sort of ad-copy oversight, and many are dismissing it, but should they?
I think at the heart of the matter, folks like Rob Conley, and others who have expressed outrage, understand that this was simply a bad marketing press release, but the bigger issue I think is one that has been brewing for a long time.  That is, the continuing and growing sentiment from old school gamers that Wizards is completely abandoning the roots of the hobby for the sake of making a few bucks, all the while dismissing the foundation of the hobby's history.  Is that an overreaction to what is obviously some sort of marketing stumble?  Perhaps, but there is a bigger picture, and this is simply a small stroke on a much larger painting. 
That said, I can't say I share the same sentiment as many of my fellow old schoolers.  I have said multiple times that I'm not an edition wars guy.  I don't care for anything beyond 2e, and to me, these later incarnations do not seem like D&D to me, but some other game, with different mechanics and a different rule base.  D&D in name only.  But if that's what people enjoy playing, I certainly would never begrudge them that.  Point being, I personally am not outraged over the marketing mistake, but I can understand why many in our niche hobby would be.  D&D, it seems, only exists in its current version, and everything before it doesn't matter.  That's the sentiment many feel, and even the smallest of mistakes in a press release only seeks to reinforce this idea throughout our small community.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dread Rock Playtest Session 2 Recap

Cast of Characters
Sharaka - Fighter, 1st level, half-orc
Garik Bloodshield - Cleric, 1st level, Dwarf
Dolan the Red - Fighter, 1st level, human
Denthor - Mage, 1st level, human
We picked up right where we left off in session 1, using Skype and Gametable as our online virtual table top app.  Gametable really helps expedite gameplay as you can save maps and easily go back in, load the map, and you're ready to play in a few moments.  The group got a great deal of exploration out of the way in this session.  Garik's player really took the lead and did a great job.  I have mentioned him before in my Cormyr Campaign session recaps.  He is the player who tends to wander off on his own at times, however this is usually whenever we play anywhere other than a dungeon.  In the dungeon environment, he thrives as a player. 
Sharaka took the lead with his telescopic 10 foot pole, plugging along slowly pushing at flagstones on the floor and testing for traps.  If you've looked on the map for Dreadrock level 1-1, you may recall there is a scythe blade trap leading into the makeshift orc tavern.  Sharaka discovered this loose flagstone on the ground with his pole, and Garik investigated.  Being a dwarf, in 1e rules, he has a 50% check to detect traps in stonework.  I made the roll for him, which he passed.  He could tell by the narrow slits in either wall, coupled with the loose stone, that this was some sort of trap.  He inquired about how high the slits were from the floor, to which I replied, about waist level to a normal human.  He layed down flat on top of the stone, engaging the trap while the others stood back.  The scythes sweeped in from either side of the wall, flying back and forth as a pendulum over Garik's body as he lay on the stone, eventually coming to a stop and hanging in the middle of the hall.  I thought this was a fairly clever way to disarm the trap.
They pressed on, taking out the orcs in the makeshift tavern thanks to the aid of a few Molotov cocktail/oil flasks.  They continued along through the area, taking out a few more rooms with orcs, until they found a place to hold up for a few hours so Denthor could rest and re-memorize a spell.  They secured the room and prepared a watch for about 4 hours.  After rolling on the random encounter charts, the first I rolled was a human slave.  As the PCs were in a room, secured and locked, I simply had the slave come to the door and pull on its handle.  Garik replied back in orc, changing his voice.  He heard the pitter-pat of feet run away, and that was that.  The main mission the party was hired to take on in Dread Rock was the rescue of a human female who had taken up to adventuring and ran away from her wealthy father.  The wealthy father hired the group to track her down and bring evidence of her death, or either return her to Dread Rock Bluff alive.  They did not realize it, of course, but had they opened the door, they would have discovered this was indeed the girl, in rags, now a slave to the orcs.  Since Garik replied in orcish, she never spoke and simply ran from the door.  They didn't investigate any further on the matter.
One more roll on the random encounter table brought another pull on a door handle from outside the room.  This time, they decided to listen, to which they heard the sound of creatures speaking in kobold.  Garik and Sharaka carefully opened the door, and to their surprise, stood a group of 7 kobolds, in rags and chains, and unarmed.  The leader quickly appealed to the party to let them in, promising they were merely slaves trying to escape, and meant no ill-will to the group.  Garik decided to let them in so he could secure the door quickly.  The kobolds explained they were slaves to the orcs, who had them digging a tunnel to the surface in order to raid Dread Rock Bluff, and the road coming in.  They offered to aid the party in clearing out the orcs, if they would arm them, and set their remaining kin free.  Garik inquired about the slaves, to which the kobolds informed him there were also humans.  The party agreed to arm the kobolds with some spears from the orcs they had previously dispatched in this same room.  Garik mimicked a chant, and told the kobolds he had cast a spell which would result in their instant deaths were they to betray the party.  The kobolds, not knowing any better, believed him (or at least appeared to anyway.)
Once the party was ready to proceed, they decided to investigate this tunnel the kobold slaves were digging.  They had the kobolds go ahead to lead the way, and departed the room after resting.  After a few moments, the party, walking in the rear behind the kobolds, heard a click and saw the first 2 kobolds drop.  Sharaka moved ahead to look, and noticed a snapped fish line on the floor, and 2 darts coated with a liquid lying on the ground.  The two kobolds had been pierced by two more darts and died as a result.  Sharaka instructed the kobolds to be more careful and to use their spears to poke ahead on the floor.
The party moved on and discovered another door in the corridor.  The kobolds warned the party that the room was an orc barracks chamber, and the party decided to take the orcs out.  They opened the door, which wasn't locked, and managed to surprise the orcs.  Denthor stood in the doorway and cast a sleep spell on 3 of the orcs, then quickly ducked out of the way.  The party stood at the doorway as the remaining orcs pushed forward.  The party managed to funnel orcs out one at a time, using the threshold as a point of advantage.  After taking out 5 of them, the bodies were piled to high for any orcs to proceed.  The remaining orcs in the room turned to flee.  The party then had to spend a round moving bodies out of the way to pursue.  By the time they entered the chamber, the remaining orcs had fled, in an unknown direction.  The party decided to secure the barracks room, and rest for a full 8 hours. 
We called the session at this point.  This was the first time any of the orcs had managed to escape the party.  Now knowing of their presence, the orcs have called for reinforcements and are staged with shortbows and nets outside either entrance into the room.  The party will have a rude awakening when we pick back up on Sunday.
Post-Session Thoughts:
I thought the session went rather well.  So far, the party has only managed to find rooms containing orcs, and have yet to discover a few of the more interesting rooms on the level.  Now, the orcs know of their presence, and things are going to get more difficult for them to proceed.  They really liked the kobold slave twist, and I get the sense they are starting to feel the dungeon environment coming alive.  Looking at the method I used to stock it, I can see I really didn't put in nearly enough orcs.  These are veteran players, and know how to use tactics to their advantage for combat, but with only 4 party members, thus far they have had little problem getting through the combats and traps.  Of course, now that the orcs know they are there in the dungeon, the party has lost the element of surprise.  No more hopping from room to room and surprising orcs.  In fact, it's highly possible the orcs bring out the heavy on this one (that being the ogre prisoner they have for just such an occasion.)  All said, they had fun and I had fun running the session.  We're planning on playing again Sunday night with hopefully another session report soon thereafter here on the blog.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

There's a Munchkin at my Table

I've been playing D&D off and on with the same group of people for about 20 years now.  Very rarely do we all get together at once to play, but more or less, we all know each others' playing styles.  We've had new people drop in and out of campaigns here and there over the years, but the core of the group has remained the same.  When I first brought up the idea of this new campaign, one of my friends wanted to invite a mutual friend of ours who was relatively new to D&D to the campaign.  I know this guy, and he's a good person and not a weirdo, so I agreed without really knowing his play style.  In the first session, he was fairly quiet.  Mostly observing, but putting in his thoughts here and there on things that came up.  The second session was a bit different, and it wasn't long before I realized, yes, despite my best efforts, my campaign has been invaded by a munchkin.
My first warning sign should have been the fact that his character's stats were ridiculous.  Our mutual friend assured me that he rolled these stats legitimately using the 4d6 drop the lowest method (which is the standard method we use in the game.)  This mutual friend is not a munchkin player, and in fact has a lot of GM time under his own belt, although he tends to run very story based campaigns where the PCs are chess pieces in his D&D "novel," but I digress.  My gut told me I should have simply made him roll a new character in front of me, but in an effort to speed things up so we could all start the campaign, I simply let it go.  Of course, being the DM I am, I really didn't care about stats, and I still don't truly.  High stats may help in certain situations in my campaign, but outsmarting the bad guy is what ensures survivability.  After spending two sessions now with this player, and talking to him on the side about the game, it has become quite obvious that he is simply consumed with powering up his character and to hell with the consequences.  So, now I face a dilemma I haven't dealt with in many years, but in the immortal words of Ivan Drago, I will break him.
His first near death experience came without him even realizing it, which is disappointing to me as a DM dealing with this type of player.  If you've read the session two summary, you probably already know that the party had to gain access to a tunnel system outside of the city which connects to the sewers.  This tunnel system was blocked by a portcullis and guarded by a blind man.  Life-sized stone statues stood in the antechamber leading into this hall as well.  There was enough for them, as players, to put two and two together and realize that if this meek looking blind man can somehow control the entry point to a major black market trade route, he must have some power behind him.  The munchkin didn't realize this.  Fortunately for him, the others quickly reigned him in.  He was distraut over the required payment of 200 gold pieces, especially considering they had just looted a bandit camp and managed to pick up about 240 gold.  His immediate reaction at the table was "kill the blind man and open the portcullis."  After all, his character has an 18 exceptional STR.  He could smite this blind dude with his hammer in one round and raise the portcullis with a little help probably.  What he didn't realize is the entry point is protected by a medusa who uses her blind slave to take money to enter, and the portcullis is enchanted with lightning which means any character touching it will sustain 3d6 damage.  Had the others not intervened, we would have experienced a very quick and sudden character death.  For their own sake, however, they decided to just pay the blind guardian, and get the hell into the tunnels.
Throughout the session there were several facepalm and eye roll moments from my other players in regards to this munchkin's actions, which left me smirking at times.  They know the deal, and a wrong move, or a foolish mistake can result in a death quickly.  I have made this point clear to them at the start of the campaign, so they tread even more carefully...except our munchkin of course.  So, now that it has become painfully obvious how this player intends to run his character, I've got a few tricks up my sleeve for him.  First of all, he is running a cleric/fighter Dwarf, and he is foregoing any attempt at roleplaying the priestly aspect of his class.  For him, priest spells are useful for healing and casting Bless for the party when he's not smashing things with his maul.  In fact, after capturing a bandit to interrogate, he stood by and essentially allowed the bandit to be tortured and even joined in himself.  I warned him, this continued behavior could result in an alignment change, but I did not warn him of the fact that such behavior from a cleric, without seeking penance, will result in him calling for a priest spell when needed the most, and not receiving the spell from his god.  No, I think it better for him to discover this on his own through his gameplay.
I am still toying with the idea of a new mini-dungeon for the next session, only rather than a labyrinth crawling with monsters and undead, it will be a tomb of horrors style puzzle/trap maze where a wrong move can easily result in character death.  My only concern with such a dungeon is the fact that I have to expose the other good players to this exercise simply in order to teach a lesson to a munchkin.  If they're smart, they'll simply let him take the lead, as he will assuredly do, and let Darwin take over.  I could easily invoke some method to kill him as a DM and be done with it, but it goes against my code as a DM to simply use my "DM hand of God" to kill a character.  I want to present the challenge, and allow the character to make a choice, and let the consequences of the choice take over.  That's how it should be done in fairness, and I'm a fair DM.
Now that I know what I'm dealing with in regards to this player, I doubt it will take long before he realizes munchkinism does not work at my table.  That is my hope anyway. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Cormyr Campaign: Session 2

Cast of Characters:
Sir Bryndan Lowman of White Forks - Human, Fighter, 1st level.  A hedge knight from the nation of Cormyr.  His family squandered away all of his lands and holdings so all he has left is his title.
Kylar - Elf, Ranger, 1st level
Clangar - Dwarf, Fighter/Cleric, 1st level
Sylana - Human, female, Bard, 1st level
Cory - Elf, Cleric/Mage, 1st level
This session picked up right where the first left off.  The party just managed to dispatch a group of goblins in the stonelands who attempted to ambush them on a small trail.  It was late afternoon on Mirtul 8th, and the party decided to set camp there at the ambush point.  Myst and Maverick decided to head back to Tilverton to do some information gathering (there players were not present due to real life stuff.)  At this point, the party consisted of Sir Bryndan, Kylar, Clangar, and Sylana.
During the night, Clangar was on watch and heard the sound of a screaming girl off in the distance.  He woke the party up, and Kylar set out to investigate while the others prepared their gear.  About 200 yards away from the camp, Kylar caught glimpse of 4 human bandits on horseback pursuing a girl in tattered rags.  He engaged the riders and within a few rounds was soon met with the rest of the party.  The non-humans used the pitch black darkness to their advantage against the human bandits taking them out from a distance, while Sylana moved up to aid the girl.  After dispatching the riders, the girl revealed that she had been a slave taken captive by the Red Hand bandits, but had managed to escape.  The bandits managed to track her down finally and were about to capture her to return her to their camp when the party came along.  She mentioned that there were several other slaves at the bandit camp including her 8 year old brother.  After some questioning, specifically if she knew of the tunnel location into the Tilverton sewer network from the Stonelands, they agreed to aid her.
Kylar set out that night to locate and scout the bandit camp while the rest of the party remained behind to question one of the bandits they'd taken captive during the encounter.  Kylar found the camp, which sat in a circular depression about 10 feet deep.  After taking out a couple of the camp guards, and nearly losing his life in the process, the bandits were alerted to his presence.  Kylar used his infravision as a tactic against the human's inability to see in the dark, jumping from boulder to boulder hiding (these large mishapen boulders are scattered throughout the Stonelands) and attempting to make a tactical retreat.  Eventually he heard the party coming behind him and pointed them in the direction of the camp.
Bryndan charged in with his horse, while Kylar moved back to the lip of the depression.  He was able to identify one of the bandits who seemed to be ordering the others around during the chaos.  He took a shot at the leader from his vantage point, taking him out with a massive arrow strike.  The bandits were thrown into chaos.  Sylana moved along the edge of the camp, with the slave girl in tow.  Clangar moved into the camp on foot behind Bryndan.  
As the party moved in to attack, the noticed a large ogre cresting the far side of the depression.  He charged in on Bryndan and Clangar came to aid.  The two fought the ogre for most of the battle, while the bandits surrounded them attacking as well.  Kylar dispatched several bandits and identified a mage within the camp standing behind a tent.  He moved along the outer edge of the depression until he got line of sight with the mage, who was unaware of his presence.  Finally the mage saw Kylar coming along, and cast a grease spell in the area.  Oddly enough the ogre disappeared in thin air.  Kylar took a shot and managed to kill the mage.  Sylana moved in behind near the mage and was attacked by a bandit, who dispatched her.  After the battle she was revived by Clangar.
The remaining bandits were easily taken out, while Clangar decided to keep one alive for questioning.  After defeating the bandits, the party released the captives and the slave girl was reunited with her brother.  Among the captives was an elf who identified himself as Cory.  The party measured him up figuring him to be a magic user of some sort, and after a bit, asked if he'd be willing to join them to which he agreed.  The party spent the rest of the night looting the bandits and seeing that the slaves were given food and comfort. 
Clangar searched the bandit leader's tent and discovered the journal of a now deceased cleric of Lathander from Tilverton.  In the last journal entry, the cleric had fallen victim to a mortal wound from a gnoll's spear.  In the entry he identified that he and his adventuring party had been in the Stonelands on a mission of great urgency.  They were seeking out a horn, being carried under the guise of a merchant caravan with the standard of a red sun emblazoned on the side of the crates.  The cleric mentioned that the horn was bound for Tilverton to be delivered to a death cult devoted to the dead god, Myrkul.  The horn would give the cult the power to raise the dead, which the cult intended to use to raze the city.
The party put things together realizing that the man who hired them was the merchant in question, which explained his urgent desire to retrieve his wares (since they contained this horn.)  The party knew from the previous session, that the last known location of the crate was Tilverton, and in fact were searching for a way into the sewers from the Stonelands to intercept it on its way out.  They questioned one of the bandits and decided it best to take him with them at first light, as he knew the location of the sewer tunnel entrance from the Stonelands.  He warned them they'd need gold to get in because "Lady Alundra controlled the entry point."
The next morning at first light, the party prepared a cart for the now freed slaves, and gave them supplies including the bandit weapons.  Bryndan instructed them to head for Griffon's Hill where they could gain aid from a knight he knew there.  The party set off from the camp, with the captured bandit in tow, on horseback headed to the tunnel.  After a few hours of travel, they found the tunnel entrance.  Upon entering they noticed a large chamber with two life-sized stone statues, one of a paladin in full livery with his sword coming down to strike, and the other depicting a mage in the midst of casting a spell of some sort.  They approached carefully, and entered a more narrow tunnel where they saw a closed portculis sealing the tunnel, and a door in the wall to the tunnel.  They knocked on the door and were greeted by a blind man.  After some rather poor haggling, the blind man agreed to let them pass in exchange for 200 gold pieces.  Clangar advocated smashing the man's head in and prying the portcilus loose, but the party managed to calm him.  They paid the blind man the coin, and he raised the portculis to allow the party to pass.
Thus the session ended.
Reflections on the Second Session:
One of my players decided to make a new character entirely.  His other character had been captured by the Rogues of Tilverton in the first session, and although we managed to play out his escape, we thought it best to start him with another character.  There were several reasons for this, not the least of which being mounting frustration at the table from the other players with this particular player's style, which is to often split from the party and do his own thing.  In an effort to keep everyone's minds on the game and adventure itself, I thought it best if he just create a new character.  So Solaris has gone on to be NPC material while Cory the elven cleric/mage enters the picture.  After having to sit out most of the first session and most of this one even, due to being captured, I think the player got the message that his actions can have consequences as a player, and he might not get to enjoy the fun by splitting off on his own.
I introduced the players to the d30 rule, that being once per session they can opt to roll the d30 for any game activity not counting character creation/leveling.  Kylar's player cleverly looked for the bandit camp leader, and hit him with an arrow, to which he picked up the d30 to roll for damage, knocking him for 24 points.  That's 3 times as much as a normal arrow will produce.  It was quite epic.  The mage used an Improved Phantasmal Force to produce an ogre to distract the party while the bandits attacked.  None of the party members managed to realize this, even after Clangar rolled a d30 for damage against the ogre, which would have effectively killed the real thing, they never thought to disbelieve the illusion.  The mage spent most of the battle behind cover to maintain concentration on the illusion.
Overall, I thought the session went very well.  The players were engaged throughout, and anxious to keep playing.  They never broke their focus on the game at all, which was quite surprising for this group.  There were some close calls, but I was particularly impressed with the way they handled the bandit camp.  Kylar's player did exceptionally well, and was rewarded as such with some additional xp.  Now, the party is entering the long winding tunnel system leading into the sewers of Tilverton, and who knows what nasties they'll find in there...but they'll know soon enough.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Dreadrock Level 1-2 is Coming...Soon

I've been pretty busy the past couple of weeks, but I have not forgotten about Dreadrock. I have sections 1-2 and 1-3 mapped out already. I am currently working on keying 1-2, which is taking a bit because of the density of the rooms. There must be 50 rooms in this one, many of which are simply empty, but the map is big, so it's taking me a little longer to get it done.

This quadrant will be a bit more gonzo than 1-1, and will feature a scavenger hunt of sorts including finding a dead dwarven adventurer, a demonic looking stone golem, and a hobgoblin king. Oh yeah, there are Carrion Crawlers too...or whatever the OSRIC term for them is...carcass creepers I believe. But it is coming, and very soon. Probably within the next week. I'm currently prepping for my monthly table top Cormyr AD&D 2e campaign, which I'm running tomorrow night. But for those curious, no I haven't forgotten Dreadrock, it's just taking a little longer than I'd hoped. Soon though...very soon.

Friday Links Around the OSRsphere

Some interesting links from the past week or so from around the OSRsphere.

Raggi lists out a set of submission guidelines for creators looking to submit adventure material for LotFP.

Tim posted a blog marathon asking gamers to show off their dice (which I participated in as well.)  Lots of cool dice out there.

GenCon is in full swing, and the OSR has a booth.  If you're at the Con, swing by booth 1541 and have a look at some old school greatness.

Trollsmyth has been working up an excellent series of posts on hexmapping.

There's a pretty interesting an in-depth examination of traps and their uses/design over on BX/Blackrazor

Jeff Rients has a great article with some advice on running an OSR game at your FLGS.

Not to toot my own horn, but I spent a couple of days this week working up a very rules lite weird fantasy RPG in pocketmod format similar to the layout used for Weird West.  Check it out and download it for free.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Inking Dice: A Rite of Passage?

Yesterday, Tim over at Gothridge Manor had a great marathon post up calling for gamers to show their dice. I posted a pic I took of a few of my own a while back in response. Yesterday when I got home I was pleasantly surprised to find my latest set of Gamescience dice I'd ordered had arrived a little earlier than I anticipated.

I ordered these dice uninked so I could do it myself. Back in the day, when you bought your D&D boxed set, these same dice were included along with a crayon to color the numbers in.

It's been a while since I colored my own, and the first set of gamescience dice I ordered came inked (I know...heresy.) I found this little orange set online for dirt cheap and couldn't resist.  I spent about 45 minutes or so last night meticulously inking them with my ultra-fine sharpie pen. Having done so for the first time in many years, I was happy to have accomplished this rite of passage, or at least what I perceive to be a sort of rite of passage in the OSR.

Dice are important instruments to the table top gamer.  Many of us remember our first set of dice. Some like me still own their first dice set and still use them, years later, worn edges and all.  Like some sort of shaman casting runes, we become attached to dice. Sure, many of us, if not most, own hundreds of dice, but we all have our favorites.

This probably sounds insane to the uninitiated, but there is something to be said about the connection that is established between your dice and yourself when you ink them on your own. It's the nerd equivalent of a jedi constructing his own lightsaber. Having experienced this again, I can say now, that where these little orange dice arrived as a set of blank ugly pieces of plastic, after inking them, I look at them differently. The sort of personalization that comes with inking dice changes this, I believe. They are no longer just a set of brutally ugly orange dice. They are my dice now.

It is my belief that every old school gamer, or anyone interested in claiming themself as such, go through this ritual. Yes, this is somewhat hyperbolic, but true nonetheless. At least, that's how I feel about it anyway.

Gaslite RPG is Here - Pocketmod Download

Gaslite RPG is a weird, fantastic RPG where mutants roam the streets, assassins and rogues skulk in shadowy alleys, airships float along the city skyline, and wizards strike deals with ancient demonic forces.  Quite simply, Gaslite is whatever you want it to be.  It is an intentionally rules lite system designed to be limited only by the imagination of the GM and his players.

This game is presented in pocketmod format similar to Stuart Robertson's Weird West, and is available for you for free to download, print, and share.  If there is significant interest in this, I'll include further supplements in pocketmod format including more spells, a monster list, and an urban setting for the game.  Those items may require a small contribution to download, but the basic system itself is, and will remain, free.  I hope you enjoy.

Download the printable PDF pocketmod version of Gaslite RPG here.
Download the digital friendly version here. 

Folding instructions for the pocketmod version can be found here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Gas-Lite RPG - Weird Science Fantasy Roleplay

What did you do at work today?  Me? I spent my day at work designing an incredibly rules light RPG (the title is an intentional pun) I'm calling Gas-Lite. It's designed as a weird fantasy game with some steampunk elements thrown in. There are basic rules for three classes: Explorer, Sorcerer, and Technologist.  I also developed some really light rules for combat, some weapons, and a few spells to get those sorcerers right in the mix.

Still not sure how I want to go about presenting it. I would like to make it a small book somewhat in the scope of Weird West, but sadly I think I would have to scale back some of what I have already (which isn't a lot as it is.)  Then again, I might just post the rules here on the blog and let people click that little pdf button on the bottom to print copies out.  I'm going to edit what I have tonight, and hopefully post it up this evening. If there is significant interest, I may further develop certain areas like added spells, creatures of myth, airships, and possibly a campaign setting. 

The game itself is bare bones, but there are significant options to customize it to any style game be it high fantasy, sci-fi, or horror. Personally, I am looking at it as a combination with more of a focus on the weird.  We'll see, but I'm anxious to get input.

**EDIT** - Gaslite is now here in 2 forms: A mini pocketmod version for printing and a digital version for convenient viewing on your mobile device/computer.

Download the printable PDF pocketmod version of Gaslite RPG here.
Download the digital friendly version here. 

Folding instructions for the pocketmod version can be found here.

**EDIT** Thanks for the heads-up there Ohio. Name of the project is Gas-Lite as of now.

Share Your Dice

Tim over at Gothridge Manor posted an entry asking other gamers to post their dice in a "show me your dice" marathon. Here's a pic of some of mine.  My d30, a couple of 20 sided d10s, and some of my gamescience dice.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fight On! #2 Available for Free for a Limited Time

Thanks to There's Dungeons Down Under for the head's up. Fight On! issue 2 is available for free for a limited time so head on over to Lulu and get it while you can.

Table of Contents:
Dedication to Dave Arneson…………………………….1
The Tower of Birds (Gabor Lux)………………………..3
The Devil’s in the Details (Kesher)……………………....6
The Penguin as Player Character (Patrick Farley)………...8
The Dragon-Blooded (Calithena)……………………….12
Knights & Knaves (Karen Collins)……………………...13
The Monster Machine (Vincent Baker)…………………14
The Darkness Beneath (Hackman)…………………..….19
Tables for Fables (Age of Fable)……………………..…26
The Seven Swords (Jacob “Badelaire” Boucher)……...…27
Shields Shall Be Splintered (J. Brian Murphy)………...…28
Panicked Mounts and Falls (Geoffrey O. Dale)…………30
The Entourage Approach (David Bowman)………….…31
Ye Olde Magic Shoppe (Jeff Rients)……………………32
Unusual & Magical Spirits (Max Davenport)……………35
Random Inn Generator (James Edward Raggi IV)…...…36
Adventure Flowchart (Dan Eldredge)………….……….44
Education of a Magic User (Douglas Cox)…………...…45
The Outdoor Map (James Maliszewski)……………...…46
The Wilderness Architect (Victor Raymond)………...…52
Barbarian Magic Items (Baz Blatt)…………………...…58
Handgonnes & Cannons (L. William Schneider)……..…59
The First Dungeon Adventure (Greg Svenson)……...…60
Dave Arneson, Blackmoor, & Me! (Robert Lionheart)…62
Interview with Dave Arneson………………………..…63
The Red Gem of High Cartography (Edsan)………...…64
The Magic of Mistworld (Steve Marsh)…………………82
Oceanian Legends (Del L. Beaudry)………………….…84
Finish the City! (Andrew Reyes)…………………...……86
Creepies & Crawlies (Jeff Rients)…………………….…87
Artifacts, Adjuncts, and Oddments (Gabor Lux)……..…88

Monday, August 1, 2011

Skype Gametable Dread Rock Game Recap

About a week ago I asked a few of the players in my group if they'd be interested in running a skype game using some type of virtual table top system, to which they expressed a lot of interest.  After testing out a few different free virtual table top programs, I eventually settled on Gametable.  I simply found it had the lowest learning curve, and was the easiest to use to me.  Last night was our first session.  I told the players I would like to use OSRIC for the game, to which most of them reacted positively.  One of my players, who had stated he would play earlier, decided to drop out once the notion of 1e AD&D came up.  He's an old school gamer, but is more interested in running newer stuff like Pathfinder.  He barely tolerates 2e in our regular table top game, and only does so because it gives us all a means to socialize, so when it came to going further back for a skype game, he simply wasn't interested.

My group is only mostly vaguely familiar with 1e.  We only played it for a brief time nearly 20 years ago before switching over to 2e.  I sent them the PDF of OSRIC, and we spent some time working on character creation, and then installed gametable with some added tiles and pogs, and we were off and running.  The party consisted of a human fighter, a half-orc fighter, a dwarf cleric, and a human magic user (which I was running as a NPC) all 1st level.  I was a bit concerned going into Dread Rock with only 4 characters, coupled with the fact that they didn't want to spend the time or money to get hirelings.  They are veteran players, however, and so they are mostly capable of making the right decisions in the dungeon environment in order to stay alive. 

It took a bit of time doing pre-game stuff combined with the fact that for some odd reason, gametable did not save the map I drew up of the part of the dungeon they were starting in, which was about 3 hours of pre-game work out the window.  Luckily the practice of laying out the environments and playing with the pogs wasn't a complete waste, as it allowed me to recreate the dungeon as they explored without too much delay.

As to the game itself, it didn't last long, as we got a late start before actually delving into the dungeon.  For those who may be familiar from downloading the first quadrant, the starting area in the dungeon is relatively empty and quiet.  This sort of fits to set the mood as further exploration results in more encounters and more danger.  They managed to get through a few empty rooms, before squaring off with a group of orcs in areas 3 and 4.  They also discovered a dead kobold on a torture rack in one of the rooms, so they know there are kobolds in the dungeon, but they don't know what their role in the ecology is just yet.  After slaying the 6 orcs, and looting them, they went into the hall where we stopped the session.  The next one will open up with a roll for a random encounter.

I liked a lot of what gametable had to offer.  I told them up front they'd need to map the dungeon out because as they moved from room to room, I was going to "fog" out the areas they'd been in previously and make them unviewable.  After a bit of exploring, it's easy to get lost in Dread Rock if you don't map it out well enough.  Laying out the area was quick and simple for the most part, and the players soon saw after moving around a few cooridors, how easy it could be to lose your frame of reference with the other areas being "fogged" back out. 

The program has some built in dice macros, but you have to make some of them up, which is easy enough.  I trust this group well enough to allow them to simply roll real dice at their computers and tell me their rolls.  Besides, we all like to roll real dice anyway right?  Gametable has some nice looking pogs built in for characters and monsters, but I made some custom pogs to add.  Installation is simple.  You just copy the image file into the pogs folder on Gametable in program files and you're good to go.

Overall we had a good time, and the group was really getting into exploring the dungeon and trying to discover its secrets.  I had a lot of fun running it as well.  I'm anxious to see how the group reacts to some of the more challenging sections of the dungeon specifically if they decide to free the kobolds who will aid them in overthrowing the orc tribe.  The plan right now is to play every two weeks on Sunday nights for a couple of hours, as that is when our schedules fit together best.  They are excited about playing again, and I'm even more excited about running the game.

Q&A with Freelance Wizards of the Coast Designer and Author Scott Fitzgerald Gray Part 2

Picking up where we left off, Mr. Gray and I discuss more gaming, world building, writing, and his new book "A Prayer for Dead Kings and Other Tales."

Click here for Part 1 of the Q&A.

RC: So, being a freelance designer/editor, I'm sure you are involved in various projects here and there.  Can you tell us a little about some things you're working on right now?

SFG: I'm doing more editing than design work for Wizards right now, including having worked on the upcoming "Neverwinter Campaign Setting", "Heroes of the Feywild", and Logan Bonner's adventure for the D&D Open Championship at GenCon next month: "The Fires of Mount Hotenow". I was also one of the designers of "Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium", which i think most people know was pulled from the schedule last year but has since reappeared (and is due out in September). As far as "right now" goes, you'll find that anybody doing work for Wizards has to stay mum on the topic, as we're not allowed to even discuss the broad strokes or titles of projects until those projects have appeared in the product catalogue.

RC: And in addition to editing/writing RPG material, you're also an author.  Your latest book, "A Prayer for Dead Kings and Other Tales," is currently available.  Tell us a little about it, and how one could go about picking up a copy?

SFG: "A Prayer for Dead Kings and Other Tales" is an epic-fantasy/sword-and-sorcery anthology that collects six short stories, a novella, and the eponymous short novel "A Prayer for Dead Kings". It's being published first as an ebook, and is live now on Amazon and Smashwords (and coming to Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and the other usual places in the next couple of weeks). The trade paperback edition should be available in late fall.

The book is one whose various pieces I've been working on for a while now (the novel "A Prayer for Dead Kings" actually started life as a film project more than ten years ago), and all the stories have strong connections to the legends and history of my own campaign world. However, it's not important to be of a gamer's frame of mind to enjoy the book, because you won't find any fingerprints of rules from one particular edition or another within it. Rather, the stories in "A Prayer for Dead Kings" try to capture the sense of heroic struggle that's always seemed to be the point of fantasy gaming for me -- the idea that in facing the challenges of a dark world, everyday characters are driven to take up the mantle of heroism. 

I personally think that the best fantasy fiction is that which comes with a huge helping of what Faulkner famously called the human heart in conflict with itself. "A Prayer for Dead Kings" is an attempt to try to nail down a balanced mix of epic-fantasy world building, sword-and-sorcery action, and real character story. In addition to the Amazon preview (which contains all of the first story in the book, "The Name of the Night"), Amazon is also carrying a free preview of the story "A Space Between", so people are welcome to check both out and tell me whether i've succeeded or not.


The book at my site:

A Space Between:

RC: I understand you've been rather adamant about assuring readers this is not gaming fiction, and I must say I agree.  I equate it more closely to sword and sorcery, which was truly the fictional genre of fantasy which inspired D&D, and thus future fantasy RPGs.  In terms of your fiction, which authors in the genre would you say have been your biggest influences?  What authors/books are you reading presently?

SFG:Thanks for that, and I think I'm mostly interested in just making sure that the label "gaming fiction" doesn't make people assume that the book is one thing as opposed to another. I think there's been some excellent fantasy fiction written under that rubric, but it's easy for fantasy fans to assume that gaming fiction is more about the world than the characters. For me, the fantasy fiction I love as a reader pushes to the limits in both directions, and so that's the same balance I try to find when I write.

As far as influences go, Tolkien is at the top of the list, as he is for many people lucky enough to make a living through fantasy. Although I've been known to talk about how "Lord of the Rings" isn't necessarily a great novel (in terms of the specific definitions of the kind of character story a novel tells), it's an extraordinary book nonetheless, and one that I reread every few years (most recently, last summer). I'm a huge fan of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, and I suspect it's pretty much impossible to attempt to write in the sword-and-sorcery genre without being influenced by both. In terms of fantasy authors who truly nail down the kind of character story i love, George R.R. Martin, Guy Gavriel Kay (particularly "Tigana" and the Sarantine Mosaic), and Mary Stewart (for her Merlin trilogy) have all been huge influences.

My fantasy reading list right now includes Martin's "The Mystery Knight" (in the "Warriors" anthology; it's part of the "Dunk and Egg" series of novellas that all Song of Ice and Fire fans should try to track down if they don't know them), a re-read of Howard's Kull stories, Jack Vance's Lyonesse series, and Michael Stackpole's "At the Queen's Command."

RC: In the stories in your book, your characters seem to face a lot of personal adversities and inner conflicts.  It's quite different than archetypical heroic fantasy, although I think we're seeing a lot more of these darker undertones starting to show up in the modern fantasy genre, which hearkens back to writers such as REH and Moorcock.  Why do you think we're starting to see a shift away from epic high fantasy in the vein of Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks back to a more gritty and darker version of the genre?

SFG: I think that as with all things, fantasy runs in cycles, so that on some level, it's simply the case that if everyone is writing X, readers will get tired of X eventually, which increases the appetite for Y and Z. Michael Moorcock has famously acknowledged Elric's inspiration as being at least in part  a negative reaction to Tolkien's vision of fantasy (or at least to the success of that vision). Beyond that, though, i think that much epic and high fantasy (especially in the Tolkien mode) concentrates on world-building to the exclusion of characters. And that's not to say that a series like Wheel of Time or Shannara doesn't have compelling characters, or that Jordan and Brooks can't write strong characters, because i think both series and authors do just fine in that department. But at the end of the day, the wondrous scope of the incredible worlds that all fantasists love to create can overwhelm a narrative if an author isn't careful.

I'm definitely not a literary scholar, but just from my own perspective, i make the obvious observation that fantasy is shifting toward dark and gritty because we live in fairly dark and gritty times. Each generation's fantasy reflects the aspirations and disillusionment that are dominant in the world at the time, i think. For instance, Tolkien writing about the rise of benevolent rulers to overthrow darkness was the perfect narrative for readers in the 60s and 70s looking for moral leadership from an increasingly corrupt political status quo. However, many readers of the current generation have grown so disillusioned with the political process that they no longer hold out any hope for a metaphorical return of the king. Thus, we embrace narratives like Martin's that reflect the chaos we feel threatening our world, and which focus on how the individual chooses to stand against that chaos, and on the way that every action, however small, has the potential to shift the precarious balance of life and death.

RC: You mentioned that a lot of the details of the setting of your book grew from your own campaign world.  How much world building did you do before actually writing the book?  And as far as the writing process goes for something like a novel, do you like to work with an outline, or do you have a general idea of what story you want to tell, and just start working on the first draft?

SFG: Short answer: A lot. However, it would be tough to quantify the specific number of hours that goes into the world building, simply because as an ongoing, organic project (as campaigns tend to be), it spins out over way too much time. (Every DM knows of what i speak...) A better way to look at it might be: If I dig into all the notes and outlining that underlies "A Prayer for Dead Kings and Other Tales" (including specific backstory and details for the individual stories, plus the details of the larger world, the fall of Empire, et al, that the book reveals) it amounts to about 85,000 words. (The book itself is 135,000 words by comparison.)

I think I've kind of answered the second part of the question already: I outline like a maniac. I outline religiously. I love outlining, which I know puts me in a minority among long-form fiction writers. I know that everybody has their own way of working, and some writers like the vague-starting-point-and-here-I-go approach, and that's cool. For me, though, that approach never worked. When I teach writing, I do so from a perspective that we call "writing" is actually two very distinct and sometimes contradictory arts -- the art of words, and the art of story. Notes, world-building, and outlining is the art of story. It's the shaping of raw story on a level below the words that will eventually carry the story. For me, it's a distinct phase and process that's just as enjoyable (and in some ways, even more rewarding) than the writing of the words that come after.

RC: Yes, I remember reading a few articles some months ago by Jim Butcher in which he talked about writing being just as much a craft as it is an art.  I imagine it is very helpful to have notes from a campaign setting in which to reference, because much of the world building work has been done already.  I think that's why Steven Erikson has had the success he's had with his Malazan books, because the setting he used for his series was already well fleshed out beforehand as he used it as a RPG campaign setting.  How long would you say it took you to write the novel portion of your book from outline to first draft?

SFG: I think you're absolutely right, because it's not always just a matter of depth and details. A writer might spend endless hours putting together a fantasy world that still somehow never feels "real", because it's only ever existed in that writer's imagination. It's never been fully field tested. A well-wrought campaign world has lived in a number of different imaginations, all of which ultimately shape its authenticity in a kind of call-and-response process. A good campaign world feels real; it feels "lived in", because it truly is.

"A Prayer for Dead Kings" (the short novel that anchors the anthology) was about  a month-and-a-half from outline, with that month-and-a-half spread out over three months or so, in between other work and time spent editing the other sections of the book.

RC: And talking about world building, without giving much away from the book, tell us about the features of the world of "A Prayer for Dead Kings?"

SFG: Man, never ask a DM to talk about his campaign world... :-)

In the big-picture sense, "A Prayer for Dead Kings" (and all of my other epic-fantasy fiction) takes place in a world called Isheridar -- a supercontinental land mass that was conquered and held by the powerful high-magic Empire of the Lothelecan (literally, "The Commonwealth") for more than fifteen hundred years. The Lothelecan was nominally a benevolent empire (though plenty of its subject peoples had other opinions), and the height of its rule was a true golden age of peace, shared knowledge, and prosperity. Then some eighty-odd years before the present time frame (though the stories in the book aren't all in the present time frame), an arcane cataclysm destroyed the Imperial capital of Ulannor Mor, leaving a plain of ash and black glass in its wake three hundred leagues across. In the aftermath, the Empire shattered to become the Endlands -- a world standing on the brink of the end of days as the Lothelecan's former client states fall into strife and chaos. In some places, people try to cling to the benevolent Empire's model of peace and enfranchised rule. In others, folk vow to destroy all remaining remnants of the Empire's hated autocracy. In many areas, longstanding racial and political conflicts held in check by the Imperial peace have exploded once more into all-out war. In others, the unfettered spread of the most powerful magic (once held in check by the Empire and the Lotherasien, its Imperial Guard) threatens not only the political order but the balance of life and death itself.

The stories in "A Prayer for Dead Kings and Other Tales" take place in one specific area of the overall world -- a subcontinental region of five great nations known as the Elder Kingdoms. The last lands to fall to Imperial dominion, the Elder Kingdoms maintained a fierce cultural independence that erupted to war in the aftermath of the fall of Empire. Structurally, the world of the Elder Kingdoms and Isheridar isn't all that different from a lot of other epic-fantasy worlds. Philosophically, however, Isheridar is a world in which the conflict will always be rooted in the struggles of individuals as they react to fate and circumstance -- not in the machinations of gods and ultra-powerful entities manipulating the flow of events from behind the scenes. The conflicts that fuel the stories in "A Prayer for Dead Kings" are driven by the complete and utter breakdown of civilization, against which characters must fight to determine what new order will ultimately take the place of the old.

From the promo preamble to the book:

"A Prayer for Dead Kings and Other Tales" follows a disparate group of heroes and villains caught up with the dark history -- and darker destiny -- of nine weapons of ancient magic, lost to time and mind.
In the aftermath of the fall of Empire, magic is the ultimate force for tyranny and freedom in the lands of the Elder Kingdoms. Magic defines the line between right and wrong, life and death that compels countless characters to take up a mantle of heroism they never expected to wear.
However, in the world of the Endlands, even the tales of heroes seldom end as expected...

And oh, yeah -- we've got maps:

RC: That map is quite amazing, as is the background of the setting.  Have you considered possibly using one of the open gaming licenses to publish your campaign setting for RPGs?  It sounds like not only an amazing backdrop for fiction, but a great place to play some D&D.

SFG: Thanks much. Publishing parts of the overall world (including the Elder Kingdoms) as a campaign setting has always been in the back of mind, as I suspect it is for anyone who creates a home-brew setting. However, though I'm very happy with the dramatic and fictional possibilities that the setting presents, I'm not sure that the Elder Kingdoms is all that profoundly different in a gaming context to the many other settings that are already out there. I suspect that for the time being at least, I'll probably try to focus on developing the setting in fiction. However, on a related note, my overall goal is to use the setting as a shared world at some point -- initially with a few writers I'm close to (some of whom are working on Endlands projects that will hopefully see the light of day soon), but eventually opening it up to a wider range of authors who might want to play there. It's not a well-known fact, but J.R.R. Tolkien's original conception of Middle-Earth was as a world where he would provide the cultural framework and others would eventually write the tales and songs built on that framework. And while I'm certainly no Tolkien, I love the idea of trying to do something with a fictional fantasy world that's akin to what the OGL did for D&D -- creating a common foundation on which others can build.

RC: Yes, that shared worlds concept is definitely an intruging one, for fiction and for gaming.  I'd like to touch on the self-publishing process.  Obviously markets like Kindle and Nook are changing the way readers can obtain content, and also putting a lot of the power back into the hands of the author and away from the big publishers and agents.  What are your thoughts on the self-publishing market in this regard?

SFG: I'm in full agreement with a lot of authors much more important and successful than i am -- there's never been a better time to be an author than right now. For my part, "A Prayer for Dead Kings" was a perfect example of a book that makes sense as an independently published work, because it's the sort of book that doesn't make sense in the traditional market. Anyone who knows anything will repeat the conventional wisdom that anthologies don't sell as well as novels, and that anthologies by a single author (as opposed to collections where you can maxmimize the name value of the contributors) sell even worse. People will tell you that somewhat dark, character-driven fantasy is a non-starter in the marketplace, and it does no good to point out the gazillion copies of A Song of Ice and Fire that put the lie to that. In short, this is a book that likely never would have been able to be published, marketed, or sold traditionally, and the fact that I can make it available to people is pretty cool to me.

The business of writing is in the midst of the most profound shakeup since Gutenberg, and it's great to be in a position to take advantage of that. Having said so, however, it's important to point out the "business" in that last sentence. Writing is difficult. Writing is wondrous. Writing is a holy thing for those of use crazy enough to pursue it, but publishing involves a whole hell of a lot more than just writing. If you're a writer looking to take advantage of the potential of the new marketplace and the leveling of the playing field, you stop being just a writer and start being a publisher. And this means understanding the publishing process -- the importance of having your work independently edited, of working with proofreaders, of having beta readers, of revision and more revision. It's now amazingly easy to publish a book that isn't ready to be published, but you do so at your peril. It's only slightly easier than it used to be to publish a book that is ready to be published, because the work involved in getting ready for publication hasn't changed. It's just that writers are now in a position where we can -- and, i think, must -- take responsibility for that work ourselves.

RC: I imagine that self-publishing also entails a greater amount of work for the author in terms of getting his/her novel/story collection out there to the masses.  In the past, and still today for those fortunate enough to get a book deal, that was handled by the publishers and agents.  How has your experience been promoting your work?  What tools and methods are you using to get your work out there for people?  Obviously there are things such as our interview here, but what else are you doing to promote it?

SFG: That all depends on who you compare to, and most authors (genre fiction authors in particular) will tell you that many publishers are doing a lot less promotional work than they used to. I've heard it said that the only authors who can depend entirely on their publisher or publicist to handle all their marketing are the ones already so famous that their publishers and publicists don't need to bother. Especially in fantasy, many authors recognize that even if they do have the benefit of an agent and/or a traditional publisher backing them up, a lot of the promotional legwork falls to them. One of the great things about electronic publishing and the web is that it gives every author the chance to put the ultimate marketing tool into the field -- the work itself. Amazon and Smashwords both offer prospective readers a free sample of any book, creating an immediate connection between authors and readers. For "A Prayer for Dead Kings", I've also posted an additional preview story ("A Space Between") to Amazon as a free ebook that's been downloaded a little over three thousand times in the last month and a half. 

For me, that's the ultimate marketing -- getting the work in front of people who might be interested in checking it out. I'm not really into the massive carpet-bombing philosophy of self-promotion, as I don't see a lot of point in trying to sway people who probably won't have an initial interest in the type of stories i'm telling. I'm looking more to find people in the same kind of crossover place wherein my fantasy fandom resides (background in gaming, loves the classic sword-and-sorcery tales, but also likes books with a strong foundation of character story, et al). I likewise don't believe in the promotion-as-con-job approach to marketing, wherein people sometimes try to oversell or ingratiate themselves in an effort to establish themselves. I try to make sure that my online presence (such as it is) has something of interest to people who might come looking for me, but an author's online presence should be built around honest dialogue, not trying to suck up to people. I enjoy talking about what i do and why I love it -- and at the end of the day, I hope and trust that some of the people who like the same things I do will be interested in checking out my work.

Doing interviews like this one are a big part of that, because even when gamers disagree with each other (as we so often do), I think many of us maintain a common shared experience of wonder. I've said this elsewhere (possibly even in this interview already...), but it bears repeating because it's important to me. My primary goal when i write fantasy fiction is to try to capture the sense of wonder that lies at the heart of the gaming experience for me. Not the mechanics or the lexicon or the subtle details (though all those things can be fun to work with), but the feeling of being caught up in world-shaking events bigger than you are, and of having to decide how to move forward when it seems like all hope is lost. That to me is what great fantasy is all about.

RC: Okay, one last question. In all of the years spent gaming as both a player and a GM, what is the most favorite moment you've experienced in a table top RPG?

SFG: Well, I'll need to seriously fudge my answer because I honestly don't think I can narrow it down. In no particular order: The first D&D I ever played, without dice or rules (talked about above). The first D&D I DMed for my daughters, twenty-three years later. Playing "Twilight's Peak" (Traveller), and feeling like I'd suddenly become a character in one of the best books I'd ever read. Coming up to the gates of the Keep on the Borderlands and engaging in real roleplaying for the very first time. The last time we stepped through the gates of the Tomb of Horrors, having suffered disastrous losses on our first incursions, and knowing we were going to beat Acererak this time or die trying. (Spoiler alert: PCs 1; demilich 0.)

The weird thing about gaming (and quite possibly the most annoying thing for non-gamers) is how many seemingly mundane campaign moments are still rich with meaning and memory so long after the fact. I'd be hard-pressed to accurately remember any specific day of my life in eleventh grade. But if I close my eyes, I can be back on a hillside overlooking the Caves of Chaos as the sun rises. I can be back in a bookshop in Regina starport, opening a battered volume marked with a mysterious octagon. I can be back at the entrance of that very first plain-paper, no rules dungeon that started it all for me.

RC: Spoken as a true gamer. Thanks for taking the time to let me pick your brain a bit, and I wish you continued success with your gaming projects as well as with the new book.

About Scott Fitzgerald Gray

Scott Fitzgerald Gray is a specially constructed biogenetic simulacrum built around an array of experimental consciousness-sharing techniques — a product of the finest minds of Canadian science until the grant money ran out. Accidentally set loose during an unauthorized midnight rave at the lab, the S.F. Gray entity is currently at large amongst an unsuspecting populace, where his work as an author, screenwriter, editor, RPG designer, and story editor for feature film keeps him off the streets.

More info on Scott and his work (some of it even occasionally truthful) can be found by reading between the lines at