Saturday, August 9, 2014

THIRTY YEARS ON AND I STILL WISH THIS EXISTED:


"What began as a foray against brigands lairing in the supposedly deserted Moathouse near the VILLAGE OF HOMMLET, reveals itself to a vile plot beyond mere banditry; a sinister force, long thought destroyed stirs from the black hole that spawned it.  Like an ebony darkness it prowls the land and safety is but an illusion, for it watches from every shadow.  At its heart , evil broods and festers beneath the blasted ruins of a shrine devoted to the Cult of Elemental Evil.  This is your chance to drive it back and scatter its forces once and for all.

This product includes the filthy shire of Nulb and reveals the ruins of the Temple of Elemental Evil.  Beneath, labyrinthine warrens lead into demoniac darkness...and  beyond the ken of madness itself."

So sayeth the blurb in size 8 Century Gothic Italics.  Its not a direct copy from the one on the back of the original module published in 1985, but my reworking.

Simply put, it's shit I wished existed.

So back in 1985, I was 12, going on 13 and had barely scraped the surface of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set with my two friends, Mark and Adrian James, along with Dan Power, Pete Hart and Tim Hall.  It wasn’t until around 1987-88 when Adrian came over flashing his usual one-upmanship-fuelled bullshit smile and a copy of ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Players Handbook, that I started looking into what I saw as the darksome fantasy world of AD&D.  By then, T1-4: Temple of Elemental Evil was three years old.  I don’t need to go into how old T1: Village of Hommlet was by that stage.  That’s another story better left to people who played it waybackwhen.

Mark moved away to a different school and I oh-so-casually AD&Ded with Adrian, even though his mother banned him from it (Ha, Ruth).  It was also the time that he and I were in a high-school lunchtime AD&D group ran by  a dude called Pete Mullen.   Pete was a music teacher and an all around okay guy for an adult.  Anyway, this lunchtime D&D sesh morphed into us gathering at school on rainy weekends.  Pete would let us in to a classroom and we’d have lunch and play AD&D.  The adventure?  Well, if you haven’t guessed by now, wake up to yourself.

We tried a few times to raid the Moathouse; got our asses handed to us the first time around and then fucked Lareth’s shit up with some lucky dice after we all rolled new characters.  On our way back, Kobort and Turuko were waiting for us on the road back to Hommlet and fucked our shit up in return, but not so much that we couldn’t defeat them.

[Afterward-we-went-to-Nulb-started-a-huge-bar-fight-with-river-pirates-because-the-paladin-didn’t-drink-ale-killed-more-bandits-in-a-tower-close-to-the-Ruins-of-Elemental-Evil-ambushed-and-killed-a-wizard-with-a-golden-skull-mask-(pedant grognards STFU right now, I’m trying to make a point)-and-was-in-return-ambushed-and-almost-killed-by-an-assassin-took-a-trip-to-Verbobonc-only-to-come-back-and-find-that-our-basecamp-(the tower close to the ruins)-had-been-taken-over-in-turn-by-an-army-of-devil-worshippers-from-the-Horned-Society-looking-to-make-their-own-forays-into-the-templ]

TLDR: You’ve heard it before; some teenager geekgasming about the first game he or she played in.  Me too.  Ultimately,it  dawned on me that there was a huuuuuge story behind this campaign he was running; masterfully constructed and keyed for DM Pete to throw at us when we did certain things.  I was hooked to this AD&D game; fully flavored by DM Pete and the Temple of Ele-fucking-Mental Evil.

Pete Mullen moved away at some point, or lost interest.  I forget.  We continued running stuff, different things like Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Throne of Bloodstone,  AD&D in Lankhmar, and a lot of us eventually became a little starry-eyed with AD&D 2E.  In 1989, I wagged school (hard, given that my Dad was also a teacher)and took a solo three and a half hour train-trip to the city, found a copy of The Temple of Elemental Evil, read it on the train coming back and…

…holy fuckballs.  None of that plot-shit DM Pete used is in there (the point, pedant-fucking-grognards.  Stop spitting rage-filled biscuit crumbs at the computer screen).

Okay, okay.  This is coming from a kid who grew up in the country during the 1980s.  Don’t scoff at me and tell me that my imagination is what –in fact—had me hooked in the first place.  Or that Pete Mullen was a great storyteller.

Sure.  Okay.  All that stuff.

So I ran The Temple of Elemental Evil a number of times on different postings in the Navy.  I poached all of Pete’s stuff and made it my own.  Even his DMing style.  I even did my own version built up from scratch.  Which was brilliant, I might add.  I dovetailed Against the Cult of the Reptile God into Hommlet at precisely the right moment for them to stand a chance against a spirit Naga themselves, and each of the Elemental Princes of Evil into their respective Elemental nodes as the powers-that-be.

Fuck that Zuggtmoy/Iuz/Lolth/oh-wait-it’s-really-Tharizdun shit.  This was my story.

Wait.  This is my story.  More on that in a sec.

Looking back when I bought T1-4 and realized that it was in my eyes incomplete, it was bit of a letdown.  I was 16; I had no fucking idea what a Maguffin was –and there I was, scratching my head at four barely fleshed out elemental nodes, with a gem somewhere in each…  Giveafuck. Where has Dad hidden his new Penthouse magazine? [bivrip!]

So fast forward to the present. Next year is T1-4: the Temple of Elemental Evil’s 30th Birthday, even though it is a misbegotten lump of incompleteness.  I saw here, and maybe here, that other people have thought about writing their own T2: Temple of Elemental Evil for the OSRIC RPG or their retroclone du-jour.  I say to those writers:

Do it.

Next year, I think that Temple of Elemental Evil deserves a birthday present from each and every person who has the guts to call themselves a Writer and a D&D player:  Write up your T2: The Temple of Elemental Evil and post it somewhere.
In fact, I should do one too.

So here’s a front cover of an adventure module that doesn’t exist, but I wish had.  In my alternate reality, T2: Temple of Elemental Evil was released in 1981, just after T1:Village of Hommlet was re-released with a color cover. I hope it gives you inspiration, or at the very least, look on it in 2015 and think about what you might have done.

Enough from me. Get writing.

TheForce (AG).

EDIT:  Hey kids!  Every pedantic typophile can go die in a fire before they can tell me that the font used for “The Game Wizards” in the TSR Logo is not right.  (Yes, I know it’s not right, Captain Effing Obvious.)  Instead, props to anyone who can tell me the right one.  I shall then acquire it and put your name in a “Special Thanks” somewhere.
EDIT 2:  Why the change in style and colorful language, especially after three years of silence?  I’m someone dealing with a lot of repressed anger.  This is how I’m dealing with it.  While I'm at it:  Temple of the Kraken, Cloudmaker Mountain will be ready when I am.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

UPDATES TO PRODUCT IDENTITY

Just a short post today, mainly for contemporaneous purposes. I have made some changes to the Product Identity page. Items have been added include:
  • STARFINDER
  • STARFARER Space-Opera Roleplay
  • STARFARER Campaign Codex.

I am working with Thomas Kalbfus in developing STARFINDER for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. More on that soon.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

HORROR AT DAGGER ROCK TO BE TRANSLATED TO FRENCH

Christophe Leclere from www.pathfinder-fr.org recently contacted me about translating Horror at Dagger Rock into French. I have given him my blessing for Horror at Dagger Rock to become and will be known as L'horreur au Roc de la Dague. There is something kinda ego-boosting about knowing that my work will be in more than one language. Christophe and I have already translatied the cover panels, which may be viewed by clicking on the link above. The maps are the next collaborative part, before Christophe begins work on the body of the text.

Godspeed, Christophe and good luck!

I am sure that the results will be fantastic. I think that I will ask Christophe to do a French translation for Temple of the Kraken.

Monday, January 17, 2011

TEMPLE OF THE KRAKEN COVER ART

Not much news today. This is the final artwork for Temple of the Kraken. I may still have to play around with a few colors, but this is what you will see when the PDF goes on sale.

You can view a more detailed image here.
Yeah. I *am* getting better at this desktop publishing stuff!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

FOR ONCE YOU START DOWN THE DARK PATH; FOREVER WILL IT DOMINATE YOUR DESTINY…

I was going to call this TEARS & TANTRUMS™ RPG. But I feel this heading is more apt, since I have corrupted little minds.

Firstly, I probably should explain: My father-in-law Doug Williams recently visited us and he brought along our niece and two nephews. Kayla is age 10 and Kane and Ashley are twin boys, age 7. Being an impromptu visit by the latter three, I was kinda thrown aback when it was announced that they would be staying with us for four days. As I am still working two jobs these days (writing and factory working), I knew that trying to write in our 2 bedroom home would be merely pretence, so I swallowed my pride and let that go for those days. I

remembered a little while ago early 2010 when I was entertaining the thought of having both of our families visit us for Christmas in Bega. One of the activities I planned to do was to introduce Kayla, Kane and Ashley to Fighting Fantasy, specifically Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

I have posted about WoFTM before. Pundits will know that this book was first published in 1982. I remember receiving it via the primary school book club in 1983. As a December baby, the astute of you will calculate that I was 10 when I first challenged the creatures of the underworld therein. I surmised that Kayla perhaps mature enough to do the same. However, I didn't just want to throw the book in her lap, along with two dice, a pencil and an eraser, and then expect her to instantly find the book cool.

I did the next best thing: I read it to her. Like a Dungeon Master would.

Naturally, Kane and Ashley wanted in on the action. So I briefly explained the concepts of SKILL, STAMINA, LUCK and the basics of combat. During this process, I watched each of the kids roll their respective d6s for their attributes.

Finally, three adventurers stood before me, awaiting the horrors of Firetop Mountain:

  • KANE, the Swordsman.
  • KAYLA the Amazon.
  • ASH the Axe-battler.


I read out the ‘RUMOURS’ section of the book, making special note to emphasise the part about the Warlock’s magical power. There was a lot of text to get through and I could see already that I was losing the twins rapidly. Then, I showed them the picture of the mountain, and how it looked as if the cliff face had been savaged by some gargantuan beast.

‘Whoa! Look at the skulls on the post! I wonder what lives in the caves?’


I had them hooked. We had a great time. It took us three days to get to the inner sanctum of the Warlock (I helped them a little with the Maze of Zagor).

* * * * * * * * *

NO TEARS & TANTRUMS™ GAMEBOOK ROLEPLAYING.

Here are a few suggestions that may help when introducing youngsters to (the dark and evils of!) Roleplaying Games.

START SIMPLE: When exposing youngsters to RPGs, please remember that you are exposing them to concepts that may be alien and a little frightening to them. Take it slow and start with something simple.

KNOW YOUR GAMEBOOK: If possible, play through the book yourself and make notes. Keep an eye out for things which might be frustrating, quarrel-inducing and the like. It will help you to manage things when it comes time for the children to play.

BEHAVIOUR AT THE TABLE: A zero tolerance of children fighting/quarrelling with others is a good start. Reinforce that your word is final.

DICE: Let the dice fall where they may. As you might expect in my game, there were a lot of 6s rolled during the character creation process, but thankfully as the game wore on (mainly because after ‘magically’ rolling a ‘6’, imagine their surprise when that number came straight off their respective STAMINA), they were all inclined to let the dice fall where they may. Watch their rolls if you need to and admonish them for not rolling properly or are caught cheating. All rolls not made on the table do not count. To not tolerate tears/tantrums from those who roll low at a crucial juncture. This is a game.

MATH: Encourage them to add up their own numbers. Do not help them to speed play.

CHEATING: Thankfully this did not come up for me, but I was prepared to impose some harsh penalties (like missing out on treasure for 3 goes).

DECISION MAKING: As there were three players, I gave each of them a vote. The majority vote dictated the decision of the party. For impasses, have players must throw two dice and whoever gets the highest, gets to make the decision for the party.

TREASURE: Try and divide treasure evenly if you can, but do not adjust the amounts of gold dictated in the book.

ITEMS: Pass out the first item yourself and then explain who gets the second, third (and so on). This establishes an acceptable routine for them to follow. As an alternative, have the children roll two dice at the start of the adventure to determine who gets the first item. In some instances, I used large amounts of gold as an item to offset the other two getting something.

NARRATING: Practice your narrating skills. It helps to treat it like a bedtime storybook. Try and avoid a monotonous tone when reading out descriptive text. Don’t forget to show them pictures if you have them.

COMBAT: Try and run combats as written if you can, but do not be afraid of adding in extra monsters if you need to. For Fighting Fantasy, brush up on your rules for ‘Fighting more than One Opponent.’ Also, make it exciting; like you would if you were Dungeon Mastering for a group of your regular friends. Just saying ‘Miss, Hit, Hit’ gets boring very quickly.

MAPPING: Draw the map for them, so they understand how to do it.

Children are quick studies and learnt their boundaries fast. Despite my having to shut down play at one point, I only had to do it once. They understood the consequences of bad behaviour.

* * * * * * * * *


DAY 3: THE WARLOCK’S SANCTUM

On the morning of the day they were leaving for Great Aunty Shirley (they call her Aunty Grandma); they finally burst through into the Warlock’s sanctum. After robbing him of his power (which they remembered from RUMOURS), they defeated him in combat and set about looting his chest. They found to their dismay that despite them having three keys, only two of them were correct. I fully expected either one or both the twins to have a fit.

Kane said: ‘Right! I hit the chest with my sword!’ Ashley and Kayla also agreed to do the same thing.

I followed their lead and backtracked a few references, as giving them the option for doing so had already passed. The thunderous rumbling once again filled the air and everyone was required to Test your Luck. Kane was unlucky that time and ended up a sooty outline upon the floor.

This is it: The time where indelible marks are left upon people’s minds and souls.

‘Hahaha! Cool!’ Exclaimed Kane and Ashley. “Can we keep this book so we can try again?”

“Sure.” I said, smiling.

But remember: For once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.

It was time to go, so I gave them their map, some pencils and some dice each. I also gave them some books to take with them.

So long, my old friend. I will miss you.

Those days playing Warlock of Firetop Mountain with Kayla, Kane and Ashley have stayed with me, reminding me of a time when I played Blood Sword with Mark and Adrian James. (Blood Sword –incidentally-- is set in the same world as Dragon Warriors). Blood Sword is a series of 4 game books that (ended weirdly) could be played with up to 4 players. I loved Blood Sword as it eliminated the need for a Dungeon Master and yet was still an RPG of sorts. We three ate those books alive.

I am eager to do this again: I hope my niece and nephews feel the same way when next we meet. I am dying to try Deathtrap Dungeon or even Return to Firetop Mountain as a multiplayer book.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

HERE ENDETH THE SABBATICAL

One of the things that surprised me the most is the HUGE swathe of RPGS (being retroclones, variant RPGs et.al.) now (or soon to be) available, that are –in some way, shape or form—Dungeons and Dragons Simulacrums. The concept is common enough now that it has its own wiki entry. I find it hard to try and group the bulk of these under one banner, and I think that describing them as a Simulacrum is possibly the best term I can use: I use it to describe retroclones, reimaginings, revisions, or whatever you wish to call them. So, with apologies to each of them:




  • Swords and Wizardry
  • Labyrinth Lord
  • Castles & Crusades
  • Raven Crowking’s Fantasy Game
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG
  • For Gold and Glory
  • Old School Reference and Index Compilation (OSRIC)
  • Dark Dungeons
  • Realm of Geeking (Chris Perkins’) AD&D3
  • Basic Fantasy Roleplay

I am sure there are others. I have spent the last week trying to track down and collate them, so if I have missed yours please let me know and I shall edit this post J

You see, I love old school. Similarly, my mission statement is to bring ‘Old School to a New Edition.’ Pretty corny --I know-- but it is something that means a lot to me, and I don’t mean that in the way being all well and good by slap Benguiat Bold or FritzQuadrata Bold on top of a heading and claim that it is old school; I mean that in design and execution to the nth degree, regardless on how long it takes me (sorry to those waiting on Temple of the Kraken; it will be done soon. Not 2010, but soon).

Getting back to the Dungeons and Dragons Simulacrums, a lot of them appeal to me, especially old school looking/feeling/(however-you-quantify-it) RPGs. The thing is, when I drilled down into a number of them, I found things I didn’t like. These things shall remain nameless, because they range from personal taste to marketing perspectives, nothing more.

So, I even toyed with the idea of making my own.

The thing is, there are so many damn Dungeons & Dragons Simulacrums out there, my audience will be small at best, and were I to release my own RPG --I fear it would be lost among the crowd. Also: The Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is something that I am following with interest; Adventure, Dungeons and Danger was born from Goodman Games leaving for 4thEdition D&D and I am pleased to see that Goodman Games taking back a little ‘old school’ with their DCC line by launching their own RPG. I will have to wait and see what is in store there and I hope that I will like what I see.

As an aside (and to shake you all up), perhaps this dalliance is born from having cold feet with PFRPG? Without trying to scare people; I really don’t know the answer to that. As an adventure writer (and a poor one at that, given the lack of releases over this year), I need to believe in the aspects of the game I am writing for. I’ll be honest and say that I have been dismayed with some of the threads on Paizo’s forums, which has made me sit up and ask a few questions. These threads have ranged from people complaining about key aspects of recent releases, character class makeup and a variety of other things. It is these things that have made me sit up and ask myself:

‘Can I really bring ‘Old School to a New Edition’?

So, yeah; whilst on this sabbatical, working in the SunGold Milk Factory 40 hours a week to pay for the horrors which have made up 2010, I have looked over the fence (long-time readers will note that I have looked farther afield some time ago as a means to expand my audience) to see what is over there. Thing is, the grass might be greener in some places. It is a patchwork farmland.

I got into this game to be an adventure writer. I believe in PFRPG and I will continue to support them and you for some time to come.

OTHER NEWS:

Temple of the Kraken is tight. It is not finished, but it is tight. Wait for it. Roll some 4th or 5th level characters and put them aside, just for this. It is good.

I will even let slip here two ideas I have for a next module:

  1. Gothic Horror Supermodule. Whilst I would like to take my time and write an Adventure Path the size of Paizo’s, I need to be realistic. This supermodule follows the discovery of a lost legacy within the demon-haunted forests of Tranfax. I am looking at the size and scope of ‘Scourge of the Slavelords’ as an estimate and will either release the adventure episodically (in standard module sizes) after I write it and/or release the whole ‘A1-4’ (so-to-speak) as an entire book
  2. Continue in the vein of ‘Horror at Dagger Rock’ and ‘Temple of the Kraken’ and write stand-alone adventure set an ancient desert city. This module would feature a ‘game within a game’, tricks, traps and lovecraftian horror amid the shadows of an ancient tower. The PCs (if successful), would become the honored rulers of a city.

Thank you to everyone who has bought Rel-Draxa. I am now the proud owner of Campaign Cartographer 3, Dungeon Designer 3 and various add-ons and annuals. I cannot wait to see how our world turns out.

Thus, here endeth the sabbatical: 2011 is going to be tiring but satisfyingly successful. Happy New Year!

To take you out is the picture attached to this post: The 'Fell Captain' of the Temple of the Kraken. The image is © David Fisher. Enjoy.

Monday, August 2, 2010

SWORDS & SANITY

Well now, hey there and welcome back! My partner and I have moved from Bega, in New South Wales, to Stawell in Victoria. It looks as if we will have another move to accomplish in the next few weeks, this time to Warrnambool, where my family informs me, lies our future. For latecomers, my parents' tenuous health have necessitated that I move closer to be within a few hours' drive in case of emergency. My partner (god bless her) has already picked up work as a Lab Technician meaning that we are nearly back on track. I am extremely happy about that.

PRODUCT TITLE COMPETITION

Anyway, back to the post. Whilst in transit, I started a competition to see if someone in the RPG community could come up with a product title for my Adventure, Dungeons & Danger line. I think that this is important for a number of reasons:

1. If Adventure, Dungeons & Danger ever becomes its own roleplaying game system, the term 'Adventure, Dungeons and Danger' will spearhead that as the title.

2. The product title is analogous to the likes of WORLD OF GREYHAWK, FORGOTTEN REALMS, AL-QADIM, PLANESCAPE, et.al. Meaning that I can create more product titles for different (specific and perhaps interrelated) genres. I can keep a similar 'old school' look and vary the layout and the name as popularity dictates.

So obviously this was a good time to determine and define what sort of generic setting I was going for. I have been trying hard to explain it, but I think it cannot be any more succinct as 'Swords and Sanity' a term coined upon the blog Swords against the Outer Dark. I especially like the subtitle: 'Where Sword & Sorcery gaming meets Cthulhuania and Yog-Sothothery' I shall be following this site with great interest.

The title I came up with for this generic setting was 'ELDER REALMS' and the competition was designed to see if anyone could come up with a better title. Instead of finding one, I found two close contenders: ELDRITCH DARK and DARKLING HORIZONS. Each suggestion captures what I was after and both have come from members of ENWorld.org. At this stage, I am still sticking with ELDER REALMS as the Product Title, but as I get closer to releasing Temple of the Kraken, the Product Title may change to one of those two suggestions.

So, a heartfelt thank-you and congratulations to 'KalebDaark' and Robert J Grady for their contributions: Both will receive a brand new Pathfinder GameMastery Guide in the mail very soon.

COLOR MAP?

Oh the pic? I like to listen to my fans and critics alike --and I wanted to see if I could create a color map of Rel-Draxa. Don't forget that I am learning these software packages as I go, so I have no formal training. It is work in progress and I have cropped it a little so as to not give away much from Temple of the Kraken or to stymie those who have been loyal in purchasing Rel-Draxa. This pic is just a test to see if it *could* be converted without having to start from scratch. I am moderately happy with the results I am making, so when it is complete, I shall work out a way of getting it to my loyal fans. It does represent a move away from 'old school' mapping, but I want to see where this goes. Unlike the picture, the map will be vectors, so a viewer can zoom to any magnification and not encounter pixellation. For those interested, I have been lurking over at the Cartographer's Guild and avidly reading the forums for tips and tricks. It was because of the Cartographer's Guild that I encountered the Ankeshel map from Sunken Empires. That map is everything I wanted Rel-Draxa to be. I have gotta say that is the first map that has made me *want* to become a better cartographer and artist. It is the driving force behind my buying a PDF copy of Sunken Empires and attempting a color version of my own map. I would like to acknowledge the cartographer Jonathan Roberts (Torstan of the C Guild) for his outstanding work. Astute viewers will note that I followed Jonathan's use of the golden ratio for the underwater sections. As I use a set of more simplistic lines in my maps, I will have to rely more on labels and notes in order to convey what I want.

SUNKEN EMPIRES

When I set out to buy this product, I was surprised to find that this title is popular enough to have sold completely out of the print version, although I am assured that more are on their way. PDF only until then. As a fan of all things dark and forgotten, Sunken Empires fits right in to what I want to do as a designer and a gamesmaster, in fact it has given me an idea for a sequel for Temple of the Kraken. My only disappointment is that the OGL sections seem restrictively small which seems a shame and I am unsure if I can use any of the monsters from the bestiary in any of my own products (It appears that only the Defense/Offense/Statistics/Tactics/Ecology sections of the monsters are OGL. Does that mean the monsters' names and special abilities are Product Identity? If someone from Open Design could clarify, that would be great). In terms of content, I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars but in light of accessibility for 3PP designers (and in my case, I need clarification on the monsters bit), I am taking 1/2 a star off. 4 out of 5 for me. If you are a GM thinking about expanding all those Lovecraftian bits in your Pathfinder game, do yourself a favor and pick it up.

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