A lot of modern traditionally-published fantasy and sci-fi is dreadful. Heck, a lot of independently-published fantasy and sci-fi is dreadful. Many big fantasy and sci-fi media properties are worse than my singing.
However, there are some exciting things coming out of independent creators. Therefore, supporting independent creators (and small companies) who are doing good work should come naturally, right? Right.
I try to support as best I can with limited funds. (Haven’t become a billionaire yet, so the plan to create a giant community for all my favorite creators / internet friends to come live at won’t be happening anytime soon)
As I understand it, reviews are the best way to help small, independent creators. And here’s the thing: I want to help these people, but I am awful at writing reviews.
So, here is a list of small authors / RPG designers whose stuff you should support (presented in alphabetical order and will be updated / edited over time):
The company that publishes ACKS, best old-school game on the market. In addition to rules expansions, they also publish their own adventures. I promise they are MUCH better than what I’ve made! Drive-Thru RPGOfficial Website
One of the most wildly imaginative writers out there today and a darn fine ACKS player, too! His name on something pretty much makes it an instant buy. AmazonBlog
Best short fiction magazine on the market. Period. AmazonBlog
Jon Del Arroz
Comic / book writer who produces so much quality content, I wonder if he sleeps. AmazonBlog
He likes flaming swords and coffee… and exciting adventure stories. AmazonBlog
Intellectually stimulating author who loves giant robots more than I love mozzarella cheese sticks. Also an excellent witch finder. AmazonBlog
Someone once gave me a strawberry that was dipped in sour cream and sprinkled with brown sugar. Those flavors should not work together, but they do. That’s Rawle. Puritans and pop idols? Giant robots, ninja villages, and schoolgirls? He does it and does it well! AmazonBlog
Gonzo gaming greatness! So much fun to see my players get into trouble with his adventures. Drive-Thru RPGBlog
You’ll notice that there are no classics on here. No one needs me to say that ‘The Man Who Was Thursday’ or ‘B2: The Keep on the Borderlands’ is good. Also, these are NOT affiliate links. I ain’t making any money if you buy anything from the links in this post.
A while back, I backed the Kickstarter for the Lumberlands – Wampus Country Travel Guide (now available here and here). I received the ‘zine, but have never talked much about it.
Before I go any further, I need to make a confession.
I don’t really “get” RPG ‘zine culture. Please understand that will color my views on Lumberlands. Now, someone is going to make some snarky comment about the long list of things I don’t “get”. To stop them, here is a partial list:
Hatred toward wearing socks and sandals
The ‘Call of Duty’ video game franchise once it left World War II
The book of Psalms
Anime and Manga titling conventions
RPG ‘zine culture
Sea shanty haters
Anyone who thinks 3.5 is the best edition of D&D
Okay, back to Lumberlands.
The first thing I noticed as I read this ‘zine was the lack of specific game mechanics (such as Armor Class, Hit Dice, etc). I suppose in order to stay small (and not waste pages on an OGL), that was a deliberate choice. If you want to use this in your game, you will need to supply all the mechanical bits yourself.
This ‘zine is about a region, a mini-world for your adventurers to roam around in. It has a culture (stereotypical lumberjack stuff), factions (competing lumberjack groups, talking animals, and sasquatches), a settlement full of colorful characters (shout out to The Fabulous Four for being the oddest, yet most realistic fate for NPC adventurers ever made), a gonzo portal land, a d30 table of random encounters, and more tables of than you can shake a stick at.
The tables are where Lumberlands really shines. From personalities of gunkeys (donkey-like beasts of burden) to sasquatch special abilities to memorable familiars (you can have a Big Mouth Billy Bass!!!), the tables are full of gameable ideas that ripe for sticking into your own game, if you are willing to work out the mechanical implications yourself. I know where I am turning the next time the party wants to hire a henchman (page 46 & 47 of Lumberlands!)
As mentioned before, I do not “get” RPG ‘zine culture. The lack of specific game mechanics may be a deal breaker for you. It almost was for me, but there is enough wonderful ideas to latch on to, that I overlook it. There are a few little hints to help guide the GM when working up stats (such as sasquatch coven-mothers being as powerful as old dragons) and I appreciate those little touches.
If you are into RPG ‘zines and/or want a wild forest full of adventure to run around in, I’d suggest checking out ‘Lumberlands – Wampus County Travel Guide’.
Here is a sneak peek of the rough draft of ‘Supplement VI: Florida Methery’. It has a way to go before it is released, but I wanted you all to know that it is still in progress. If you have any comments, suggestions, or issues with it, please let me know!
I’ve been working on a little document tentatively called Supplement VI: Florida Methery. Imagine that all the Florida Man stories you see online truly represented what happened in Florida all the time and you will get an idea of what is going on in that document. During “The Devastation”, the technologically advanced society of modern day Florida was destroyed. Over the centuries, a new quasi-medieval society appeared.
On January 30th, I ran a little bit of it with a small IRL ACKS group that meets infrequently. The party took a boat to the Empire of Long Florida, ruled by Jimothy “Jimmy” Buffet III. He has asked them to retrieve his lost shaker of salt (a symbol of his rule).
He says that a woman is to blame, the Witch of the Swamps. Despite the fact that almost everyone at the table knew the song “Margaritaville, they chose to go after the woman.
They went looking around in the swamps for her (they lost a hireling to a dire ‘Gator and ran away from a flock of Flamingolems) and stumbled across a dilapidated trailer. The party knocked on the door and was greeted by a Florida Man. They asked him a few questions about the location of the Witch of the Swamps and then my father-in-law (playing the Magic-User Wango Tango)… said things.
He grew up in Mississippi and, in that moment, channeled his entire upbringing into his words. His voice changed, the way he spoke… it was magical. In order to better gain the Florida Man’s trust, he started talking about jumping off the railroad bridge with Cooter from down the way, you know Cooter, right? Lives down the way?
My jaw actually dropped.
At no point did I have a “Cooter” character in mind. He didn’t exist. My father-in-law had no reason to believe that “Cooter” existed (other than living in close proximity to IRL Florida Men during his formative years).
So I ran with it. The Florida Man knew “Cooter” and the party got more information than they would have otherwise. Now, they are trying to find a way to sneak past the Swamp Witch and loot her hut without rousing her army of angry, naked men.
They are going to be so furious when they find out the woman isn’t to blame for the loss of the shaker of salt.
So far, we’ve only managed to raise just over 2k for our 5th Anniversary Issue. It’s hard to sell the hardcover on the merits of a cover by a famous and well-known artist when we don’t have the cover in hand, but some natural disasters in South America have led to some unfortunate delays. But rest-assured, the spring issue is happening and it’s happening with all three covers!
But why do we need the Kickstarter to succeed?
If the Kickstarter funds, we get the $7k RIGHT AWAY. That money will, of course, be used to fulfill physical copies to backers, but the art is all paid for already. The money that we have left over will be free to make 2022 acquisitions over the summer.
If we DON’T get the Kickstarter money, then we won’t see a dime from sales of this issue until July! Which means probably no…
The 1E AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) is a truly impressive tome. The more I look into it, the more I find. In fact, I would say that no matter what fantasy roleplaying game you run, you should have a copy of this book (Game Masters only, of course). Even the preface is full of useful information!
The organization of the DMG is not perfect. It makes sense as you read it and I can see why it was organized the way it was, but I still think it is a little wonky, which can make it hard to use (unless you are good at using the index or ctrl+f for a PDF copy).
For example, in the section on alternate character ability score generation (shout out to Jeffro and his usage of Method III), there is information about using a wish spell to increase them. I figured that information would be part of the section about spells. But, to be fair, I am not the creator of the most popular role-playing game franchise of the past 40-ish years, so what do I know?
As stated above, no matter what fantasy roleplaying game you run, GET THIS BOOK. Let me give you a few examples of why:
“VALUE AND REPUTED PROPERTIES OF GEMS AND JEWELRY”
Tables of various gems with sizes, values, and descriptions to make gems come alive in your game. If that was not enough, there are various folk beliefs about what gems can do for a person. It’s the little touches like these that show (rather than tell) what kind of world AD&D presupposes. A world with actual magic, but it is fairly rare. Therefore, folk remedies and beliefs abound (Appendix J has the folk remedies associated with herbs). While possessing a gem will not give the bearer an actual mechanical benefit related to what the folk knowledge would suggest, a clever DM could use this table for inspiration in potion or magic item creation.
“SPELLS: SPECIAL COMMENTARY FOR REFEREEING”
Are you sick of your players trying to abuse spells? Have no fear! Ol’ Gary has you covered! Here’s the entry for Create Water: “It is not possible to create water within living material, i.e. it is not possible to cast the spell upon a creature and create liquid in any part of its body.”
While I appreciate the creativity of the player who first thought to try to drown a monster by casting Create Water in its lungs, sometimes players cross a line. It is clear that Gary has hundreds of hours adjudicating these kind of issues with sections like this. Use his knowledge in your game, I beg you!
“PERSONAE OF NON-PLAYER CHARACTERS”
Need an NPC description/ personality quickly? Plenty of tables to roll on. As an example, here is your humble blogger:
Alignment: Lawful Evil [See verse 1 and verse 3 of the 14th Psalm] Possessions (or wealth): scant Age: mature General Appearance: non-descript Sanity: neurotic General Tendencies: pessimist Personality: Introverted – aloof Disposition: unfeeling/insensitive Intellect: dull Nature: hard-hearted Materialism: average Honesty: average Bravery: craven Energy: normal Thrift: thrifty Morals: immoral Piety: reverent Interests: religion
“ARTIFACTS AND RELICS POWERS/EFFECTS TABLES”
The artifacts and relics in the DMG have a few powers of their own, but they also ask the Dungeon Master to choose a few selections from a table of benign powers, malevolent effects, prime powers, and side effects to add to each artifact or relic. This makes artifacts in one campaign to be radical different from another campaign. The Wand of Orcus requires that the DM adds 4 minor benign powers, 2 major benign powers, 2 minor malevolent effects, 1 major malevolent effect, and 1 side effect. So, I did that. In addition to its normal power, what does this wand do?
– Possessor immune to fear – Wearer immune to charm or hold spells – Detect evil/good when held or ordered – Comprehend languages when held – True seeing — 1 time/day – Cause serious wounds by touch – Holy water within 10’ of item becomes polluted – User must eat and drink 6 times the normal amount due to the item’s drain upon him or her – Item has power to affect its possessor when a primary power is used if the character has not followed the alignment or purposes of the artifact/relic – Fear reaction possible in any creature within 20’ of the item whenever a major or primary power is used; all, including possessor, must save versus magic or flee in panic
It goes without saying that this section could be incredible useful for making your own magic items.
Why did they take this kind of thing out of later editions of D&D?
“APPENDIX A: RANDOM DUNGEON GENERATION”
Roll up a dungeon layout. It’s just that simple. A few rolls and you have a usable dungeon.
“APPENDIX D: RANDOM GENERATION OF CREATURES FROM THE LOWER PLANES”
Make your own demon or devil. What a great way to keep the game fresh! Keeps your players on their toes as to what they are facing, both in description and powers. No more, “Oh, it’s just a lemure. We know what to do!”
These two appendices liven up the dungeon by adding tricks and descriptive bits to add to a dungeon. Once again, the tome proves its usefulness.
It can be hard to think of dozens of unique rooms when making your own dungeon. Roll on these tables from time to time to use or inspire your overtaxed brain to make something new and unique that your players have never seen before.
“APPENDIX N: INSPIRATIONAL AND EDUCATIONAL READING”
While much ink has been spilled about the inspiration behind D&D (don’t you dare say that the Lord of the Rings is the only or even the biggest inspiration!), Jeffro Johnson has written the definitive book on it.
It’s been four years since I last did an award post, and we have had another Presidential election (in the United States). Not getting into politics right now, so let’s do some awards instead! Only things I played / read in 2020 count.
Best RPG or Supplement: I’m editing this category a bit to include supplements. This year’s winner is Cha’alt and Cha’alt: Fuchsia Malaise! Really had a blast running through the Black Pyramid, scaring the players away from Ascenda’as, watching them utterly destroy the society of Ja’alette, and stealing a spaceship from REDACTED. This is the power of an unleashed imagination. There is nothing safe or “normal” here. This is raw, uncut gaming goodness.
Best Thing I Read:Misha Burnett’s Endless Summer. To be fair, I am a yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge fan of Misha’s writing. The fact that he is not a household name is a darn shame. These are some wonderful short stories and one made me cry. Misha’s writing absolutely will move you.
Best Podcast: Geek Gab is still the king of podcasts. Wish I could listen to it live more often.
Best New Thing: Wearing a face mask in public every single day.
It is actually our dog, Sasha. We adopted her in November. Never had a dog before, but she has wormed her way into my heart. She’s part Dachshund, part something we don’t know, and fully adorable.
Best Blog:Kairos, the blog of Brian Niemeier. Always insightful and well worth a read!
New Categories for 2020!
Best thing something I wrote appeared in: The Corona-Chan anthology! Okay, it was the ONLY thing my writing appeared in. But it is still the best!
Best Short Fiction Magazine: It still is Cirsova. (The Cirsova blog is here) Best dang short fiction magazine on the market today. There is a Cirsova Kickstarter going on right now, which YOU BETTER SUPPORT IT SO I CAN GET MY CHEN COVER.
The intrepid part attempted to further explore the castle of the evil sorceress and rescue the kidnapped Satna Claus.
They discovered a secret door and opened it. Once they did so, they found that their speech could not make any noise, nor could they cast spells. They had gotten near a Silent Knight (who had a 50′ radius of silence around him. And yes, I am not above making ridiculous Christmas pun monsters for my ACKS game.)
After a pitched battle, the party grabbed a key from his corpse and opened a nearby locked door. Inside were four lava men who had been capture by the sorceress. The newest party member, Chyna the Warmistress, attempted to seduce the lava men (insert your own joke about them being hot here), but was unsuccessful.
With more slaughter of gingerbread samurai and frost dwarves, the party ventured deeper into the dungeon. Those kids were going to get their presents this year, gosh darn it!
In a large, open room, they came upon a ritual where a Silent Knight, nutcracker infantrymen, and some frost dwarves were about to sacrifice a Christmas Unicorn to some dark power.
Upon rescuing it, Chyna decided to ride it, and it allowed her to (due to her being a virgin… despite her best efforts to burn her lady parts with lava man lovemeat) and off she went. Chyna’s gone. Out of the dungeon and out of the party. I have no words. The party loves to do wild things that no sane GM would ever expect and that is perhaps the highest praise any player can get. They refuse to do the obvious and will instead stretch my skill as a GM.
Then they found the Gingerbread Shogun and his Gingerbreadnaughts.
Upon meeting the shogun, a steadfast ally of the sorceress, I rolled a reaction roll. It came up ’12’… which friendly and helpful. Unless the party negotiated poorly, there may not even be a fight!
The party agreed to give the shogun their bag of unlimited gingerbread cookies in return for information on the sorceress and a promise to not intervene in the fight.
Giving a gingerbread shogun the means to create an unlimited army of soldiers will, in no way, backfire spectacularly at some point in the future.
The party went into the area of the dungeon where the sorceress was rumored to be holding Santa hostage. They did not fully trust the gingerbread shogun, after closing a door behind them, they told the lava men to keep hocking lava loogies on the ground to create a ” lava moat” to prevent anyone from following them.
Once the breached her inner sanctum, the evil ice sorceress named Elsa and her four snow golems attacked. A power iceball spell nearly wiped out the party, but some clutch saving throws kept a few people standing. The Wand of Hot Chocolate came out and melted the golems pretty quickly. After that, Elsa went down and the party freed Santa.
He summoned his sleigh full of reindeer and flew the party back to town. Christmas was saved!
One of my ACKS players asked if we could a Christmas-themed dungeon. I assumed he wasn’t asking about defending the baby Jesus from reptilian space aliens, so I asked if he wanted to rescue Santa Claus.
He said, “Yes”.
Due to a bit of a time crunch, I found a module that explicitly is about rescuing Santa Claus. The ideas in it were good, but the maps would not look good in Roll 20. I decided not to use the adventure as is, but steal a map and stick the ideas into my campaign.
Threw the map up on Roll 20 and gave my party the thinnest of justifications. One of the party clerics, Felicity the Docile, follows the Unknown God. She got a vision that a saint of the church had been kidnapped by an evil sorceress. The party exited the dungeon they were in (just after defeating the Tall Man from Phantasm and a couple of lightning-throwing statues) and went back to town.
They met one of Santa’s elves in town, who gave them a wand that shoots hot chocolate and directions to the evil sorceress’s castle. After a heart-warming talk with Killbot 9000 (who wants to kill all humans and thinks that Santa will give the children dangerous toys, the elf also gave Killbot his elf hat.
The party asked if the elf knew of any mutant reindeer. Perhaps, one with a glowing nose.
Due to the proximity of this land to Cha’alt, I figured there would be a mutant reindeer to guide them to the icy castle of the sorceress. Particularly, there was one with a red nose.
They used their once a week wish stone to wish for a bag of never-ending cookies and went to the door of the castle. They decided to pose as door-to-door cookie sellers.
Two gingerbread samurai (with candy cane katanas) answered the door and demanded that the party hand over their baked goods brethren. A fight ensued and a quick spray of hot chocolate melted the gingerbread samurai.
The party explored the castle and ran into some candy cane spiders in their den of candy cane webbing. Using some of the few sci-fi grenades they have left, the party cleared out an encounter that should have killed one or two of them. The sugary arachnids are NOT to be trifled with.
Some frost dwarves in a workshop were slaughtered horribly. For once, a shred of morality appeared, and the party wondered if wandering into someone’s castle was a good idea. After all, they were invading someone’s home. Then the dwarves shouted a battlecry… something along the lines of, “FOR THE SORCERESS” or something. The desire to murderhobo reappeared and much murderhoboery occurred.
The random treasure table got me in trouble. The whole workshop thing came about because the random treasure table was just some statuettes. What were they statuettes of? The sorceress, of course!
Got accused of making vain female villains. Guess I am just an evil misogynist.
The session ended during exploration of the castle, so we will see what happens next week. If you are fan of the Christmas music of Sufjan Stevens, you may have a hint of what the party may find deeper in…
Imagine pulling up a chair to a new Dungeons & Dragons (or ACKS or Gamma World or Traveller or any RPG system, really) game. The excitement of a new game is upon you. You grab your dice, a pencil, a sheet of paper, and the rulebook, preparing to roll up a character.
Then the GM says, “Oh by the way, here are my house rules…”
You came to play a specific game, not an interpretation of the game by some dungus. You want the raw, uncut gaming goodness contained within the cheeto-stained pages of the rulebook.
Quick confession: I am that GM. I adjust the rules of ACKS in my Sunday night game, probably to the game’s detriment. Any future games I run will hew closer to the rules. I bring this up to mention an idea that has been banging around in my head for a while.
There is a difference between what we call “house rules” and “house rulings”.
For the purposes of this blog post, a “house rule” is an adjustment to an established rule in a rule book. For example, some systems give max HP at 1st level, but many do not. However, the temptation to give max HP at 1st level (regardless of system) is STRONG. Or, to give a board game example, putting all the tax money from Monopoly into the center of the board and allowing a player who lands on Free Parking to take it all.
A “house ruling” is a rule created by the GM to cover an in-game situation not explicitly covered in the game rules. Grabbing a chandelier and swinging over to another table to kick a dude is probably not a situation explicitly covered in most rules. Therefore, the adjudication of this situation would be different from GM to GM. As another example, what do you do when a rolled die falls off the table? Do you require another re-roll or do you accept whatever result the floor gives you?
I want to encourage more house rulings and fewer house rules in gaming. One thing to keep in mind, though. Keep track of your house rulings. Be consistent!
Let’s look at the chandelier example and see how that might play out at the table:
Cohn Jarter, the West Virginian Fightin’ Man is standing on a table and wants to grab a chandlier and swing over to another table in order to kick The Mixed GM.
Let’s look at each component of this action and a few options on how to adjudicate it. I can think of three specific aspects of Cohn’s action:
1) Grabbing the chandelier 2) Swinging across the gap between tables 3) Kicking The Mixed GM
1) GRABBING THE CHANDELIER a. Automatic; no roll needed b. Attack roll (probably against the AC of an unarmored person) c. Grapple check
2) SWINGING ACROSS THE GAP BETWEEN TABLES a. Automatic; no roll needed b. Save or hand slips and Cohn lets go c. Roll under Strength or hand slips and Cohn lets go
3) KICKING THE MIXED GM a. Attack automatically succeeds and The Mixed GM dies because he is a worthless waste of cells b. A normal attack roll that deals unarmed damage c. A charge attack that deals unarmed damage + charge bonus damage
Now, I’m sure there are other options on how to adjudicate the action, but I hope this little example helps you see the possibility in house rulings.