Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Zharanthian Church

For a number of years, I've felt that clerics in various D&D iterations got short shrift from the perspective of
the greater campaign world. I understand that depiction of religion as it affects real life is a controversial subject. When you fictionalize people's beliefs, you're likely doing them a disservice, even if your intentions are good. I've always felt that religion did not play enough of a role in the campaign worlds of various gaming worlds. In our world, religion is has been a driver of culture and government since we first gathered together in clans or tribes, and certainly since we built cities. And as such, belief is a driver of conflict, which is the driver of story.

So, in thinking through this Welwood mini-sandbox thing to support the God-Seed Awakens, I screwed up and invented a religion. The seeds and roots of this idea have been germinating since before I found DCC RPG. I had thought to build a conversion of a system found in the Darklands video game whereby the priest characters in that game derived power from their knowledge of the saints. The priest gains this knowledge through game play and, as knowledge of specific saints increases, he gains more potential power.

The way DCC RPG handles clerics, and magic in general, fits this idea so perfectly that I've been mulling it over since coming to the game and building this mini-sandbox gave me the impetuous to flesh out the construct a little further. I'm angling the cleric to be more like a wizard in the belief that a god is a patron with a different moniker and more believers.

As a disclaimer and full attestation, the Zharanthian Church and its one sect, the Bethines, are based on my reading on the following religions, which were used as idea generators. This is not a thin mask to make personal statements about any religion. It's an attempt at building a fictional religion that has some basis in human nature. The basis being that humans have really good ideas that they then corrupt to their own ends and subsequently struggle to get back to the core "goodness" as individuals and groups. As a reference, I primarily looked at Zoroastrianism, but also Shintoism, Buddhism, and various Islamic and Christian sects.

Also, I have to credit the Darklands video game for the idea of the structure and  Chris Gonnerman (of Basic Fantasy fame) for the idea of a church/sect relationship within D&D-esque gameplay. His sect is the Bethites, originating from a city called Beth in his campaign world, mine are Bethines, originating from a synonym of a church, bethel, keying on the British definition of a "Nonconformist" chapel.

Another note about language. I could have gone through and invented words to represent bethels, priories, prelacies, and the like, but the words already exist. I understand that they are pregnant with meaning already, but they weren't used to offend anyone or make a personal statement about real world religions. One thing I struggle with in gaming literature is the creation of words for common things that I then have to somehow learn and keep straight while reading and within game play. If I made up a word for monastery (like uptilogilon), I'd struggle to pronounce it at the table, and then I'd have to continually amend that with "it's like a monastery" for the player's benefit. So...there you go.

With all that prelude, I present the Zharanthian Religion, its outlawed splinter sect, the Bethine Church, and its religious organization. Also included is the Zharanthian/Bethine Cleric class (a modification of the DCC RPG cleric class) and a few of the Anointed (or saints) from which the priests derive their power. And then I threw on the Brakaran Calendar that I use in my campaign.

Let me know what you think. I've run a couple of these characters, but consider this a barely playtested draft and feedback is always welcome.

The Zharanthian Church

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Robot...

My robot class page disappeared... So, here it is recreated...

This is a DCC class inspired by +Patrick Wetmore Anomalous Subsurface Environment. If you haven't got it -- go get it now!

Otherwise, here's the Robot DCC Class:

ROBOT



Friday, April 18, 2014

DCC Character Class: Tokar

The tokar is a character class that I use in my home campaign as an answer to dwarves. I like dwarves, but they seem a little vanilla to me, after 30+ years of gaming. Irascible, axe-and-shield-and-tankard, beards, etc.

This is an entry that will be included in the Reaches of Welwood free mini-sandbox that we're doing to support The God-Seed Awakens.

Anyway, let me know what you think.

Tokar Character Class

Art by +Mario Torres 


Monday, April 14, 2014

The Welwood District

In the God-Seed Awakens, the appendix details a set of hooks that may draw the characters into the adventure. Additionally, there are rumors that may be gathered from the settled areas around Mount Welwood, the optional setting of the adventure. While we are working through the final details of this free mini-sandbox, take a look at the draft preview and the area map. The preview details the main town, Port Marcester, and provides some background for the area already in political and arcane turmoil.


The Reaches of Welwood (PDF)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The God-Seed Hath Awakened

Greetings,

Our newest product for DCC RPG has been released to the public on RPGNow. Currently, it's available in PDF, but we're working on getting the physical book published through the same vendor.

The God-Seed Awakens! 

Here's the product description:

A Secret Buried for an Aeon is About to Sprout!
From beyond our dimension, a living seed has festered here for an aeon. Within it lurks the nascent form of Akavala, the Ravenous Tree, dread ruler of a shattered world and its carefully gathered and subjugated protectors. Two of these powerful creatures escaped into the underworld drawing champions and enemies from the complex societies found there. As the god-seed grows, the world creeps closer to its doom.

The God-Seed Awakens is a Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG adventure intended for four to six 3rd-level characters.

Includes: Full adventure, a new patron, new spells, new magic items, the Living Weapons of the Empire of the Thal, and many many new monsters.

Front Cover: 


Previous Previews: 






Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Letters from Punjar

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (May 3, 2019) -- Almost forty-five years to the day a Lake Geneva city bus inexplicably exploded, killing dozens of passengers, the Wide Cosmos website has obtained what it reliably believes to be the personal journal of Albert Cardson, a China Studies professor on leave at the time from the University of Wisconsin and victim in the tragedy. At the time of his apparent death, Dr. Cardson was preparing for a trip to China to further research a book on the Qin dynasty. He left behind a wife, Carol Anne Mabry-Cardson, who died in 2015, and a daughter, Emma Cardson, an Off-Broadway actress who recently secured a role on the Netflix-original series, The Farthest Shore. Below is the first excerpt of Dr. Cardson's journal. Wide Cosmos has not revealed how they came to possess the journal, but have published three separate studies purporting to verify the work as authentic. Many have disputed these studies, but we present the currently published excerpts and will let our readers decide.


May 4, 1974, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Up early this morning and hoping for a good day. I went to the track and jogged. Made 2 miles before I wanted to die. Saw Coach Mickschl. I remember him from junior high -- he was a couple of years older than me. Still the same blowhard, bully. I wonder if the Badger track team will respond to his...badgering. They certainly looked downcast.

Carol worked late again last night. I know I'm supposed to be an enlightened fellow, but it's hard to focus on the accomplishments of women's lib when I'm burping a baby at 3am and wondering where my wife is. She is supposed to be off this weekend, so maybe we can take a trip with the baby this afternoon.

It is still strange not having classes this year, but I hope to finish my latest book on the Qin dynasty before the next year begins. I made a lot of progress last week and am hoping to push through to this week. I will have to make a trip to Lintong next month. The discovery there of the terracotta warriors and horses has finally freed up some much needed grant money. I have to remember to call Frank today to find out the details. This convergence of discovery and my specialty has breathed new life into my work. It's a very exciting time!

Gas has become so expensive, there's no way I could commute from here. I've been prepping Carol about a move back to Madison. Perhaps I can find something off campus this time. The sheer number of protests last year drove Carol a bit batty. It's probably inconceivable to bring the baby into that environment. Though there has been little violence, there's an air of chaos on campus. This Nixon business... I sometimes wish that something would cause that bastard to leave office early.

I have to wrap this up. Mary Jean is here to watch the baby while I catch a bus to the library. Hopefully she can keep Emma quiet so Carol can get some sleep.


September? 4 months after...

I cannot express in words that any sane person could understand the strangeness that has befallen me and a few of my fellows. I read back over my previous entries knowing they are the minutiae of another man. I cannot conceive that person.

Where do I start?

I was late for the bus, but Randy stopped 100 yards from the bus stop to let me in. I have wondered how happy I would have been if he'd just driven away and left me panting and irritated in the early Wisconsin summer sun. My thoughts of Qin Shi Huang and his first unification of ancient China turned to sudden horror as the bus plummeted into, what we all believed at the time, an inexplicable sinkhole. What followed was an unending scene from a nightmare that I know now will never end.

The bus lay in a great dark and hot space -- why? Because a river of lava crept up on it like a snake of fire. And from this smoky hell walked demonic creatures, humanoid, with the countenances of great lizards or dinosaurs. In the chaos that followed, several of the passengers were slain on the spiked clubs of these horrors. As we scrambled to save ourselves from demons and hellfire, there was little thought to the implications of our predicament. Theories of movie sets and a vast inexplicable prank were quickly dispelled however. Among the dead was Randy the bus driver, his head stove in. I've never before seen a man killed, though we've been barraged with images on the TV of death and war in Southeast Asia. And the lizard creatures? They proved to be quite real, and, in a scramble of chaotic cooperation, we mighty few managed to kill them before any more of our number were lost.

Fleeing from the bus, which by this time was consumed by the inexorable river of fire, we managed to find passage out of the cavern and into a stone complex of archaic design and construction. Still under the belief that we were in some strange government facility lurking under the streets of Lake Geneva, our only thoughts were to find stairs or elevator or even someone in charge and make our way back to sunlight.

And things got even stranger. By smoking torchlight, our only source of illumination, we found a shrine to some forgotten cult, imbued with electrical properties that killed another of our number. Acting on the instinct of a scholar, reaching for any clue that might explain where we were, I studied this shrine and various sigils and runes found there. Though my specialty is Chinese studies, specifically the Qin dynasty, I have read widely in the general field of history and archaeology. Not only was there no correlation between the symbols and any language I've encountered, there were unexplained phenomena at work that drove me to convince the group to keep moving. The hair on my neck stands on end just thinking about it.

Through smoky hallways and dim torchlight, we finally discovered that...we were not going to easily find our way home. One of the rooms revealed, through an open, but barred window, that we had emerged from an underground complex near the peak of a great mountain. Outside, an untouched and primordial land stretched in all directions. I saw no cities, roads, telephone poles, airplanes...nothing. The land was reminiscent of my travels in Nepal as a younger man -- mountainous, untouched...savage. When Coach Mikschl emerged from one room screaming about a dragon that had devoured the deputy mayor of Lake Geneva, I was convinced that, not only was I trapped in a vivid and inescapable nightmare, but that somehow my tortured brain had populated it with my former bus passengers, though I did not even remember seeing Coach Mikschl on the bus! I began to wonder if I had experienced a stroke or aneurysm while on the bus and lay somewhere in a hospital, Carol and the baby hovering over me, while my brain tried to find its way back to wakefulness.

Through further horrors, we as a group emerged on top of an expansive tower at the very pinnacle of a stone fortress. Creatures similar to those first encountered, but these winged, guarded a hooded man seemingly engaged in devilish rites. Again the hairs on my neck stand on end at the thought. It was as if the man controlled gouts of molten rock, which jetted forth at his gestures and guttural shouts. Though it pains me to admit, I cowered here, overcome finally by the oppressing unreality of the situation. I dimly perceived my companions taking action. A boxer, who's name I did not even know, was torn apart by one of the winged demons. Others fell, as well. There were gunshots and unearthly music from a strange bone whistle found by one of our party in the depths of the fortress.

I clearly remember, however, the exclamation mark on the scene, which cemented for me forever that this is not a fever dream. And that I am, in fact, a man cast through the winds of fate and... time? Truly on an other world. A dragon, black as hate and larger than a jumbo jet, rose from the depths of the canyon below. Fire and black smoke billowed from its nostrils and the mere grumble preceding its roar shook the very foundations of the strange fortress. At the beck of the strange bone whistle held by a man I've since come to know as Gary, an eagle...but such an eagle, easily the dragon's twin in size and ferocity...raced across the sky, collided with the hell beast, and the two, screaming and roaring as they clawed at each other, fell into the canyon below.

A doorway appeared, its aperture shimmering with an unholy light. Without another thought, we as a group rushed through it in the illogical (?) belief that perhaps the way was home.

It was not.

I sit in a drafty room, upon a lice-ridden bed in a traveler's inn within a sprawling proto-medieval city that the locals call Punjar. Our little band of misfits has drifted apart these last few months. The last I saw of Coach Mikschl was the gleam of his whistle (the only artifact he's kept from his old life) as he boarded a wagon east for parts unknown following rumors of a seer that might have information about our world. We have agreed to meet back in Punjar in six months. I am left with Chester. Oddly, he was a lifeguard in Lake Geneva. I remember him, actually. He audited one of my classes in Madison when I was a graduate student. Together he and I have unwound the secrets of the trader's tongue spoken here and within the wider world, and we have delved into the secrets found in a great leather book we acquired in the stone fortress half a world...or half a universe...away. There are formulae....certain chemistry....I hesitate to call it magic, but there is no other word in English, Chinese or the trader's tongue of Punjar. Words spoken, gestures made, a pinch of this and that, and a channeling of energy that you can feel in your very bones. The laws of what I would call reality do not necessarily apply here. Chester and I agree that it may be our only way home. So, together we have studied the book, consulted with ancient crones, a young woman of startling beauty, and a few other sordid individuals in order to understand this other, arcane language and the methods of its execution into magic.

Another rumor has reached us, and we depart before the sun breaks the horizon. An oracle said to live in a rude cave a few days travel to the north may hold the secret to our escape from this strange world. A hearty walking stick and travel bag in hand, I am away in a few hours. Sleep is impossible, before I venture again into a world that, though I now believe, I can only pray to eventually understand.



Friday, March 07, 2014

Why You Shouldn’t Crowdfund Your First Special RPG Flower

After sitting on the sidelines and watching a number of crowdfunding opportunities, I decided to back three crowdfunding efforts over the last few months. All three completed successfully in the last 30 days, and I have high hopes that they will deliver.

The three I backed were the Barrowmaze Complete Indiegogo campaign, the Castles and Crusade Codex
Barrow Guardians
Nordica Kickstarter and the DCC Dice Kickstarter from Impact Miniatures. Grand total, these guys raised $75K between them and they each filled a niche in my personal gaming that no one else was approaching through the traditional marketplace.

That being said, I'm here to say that you should not consider crowdfunding your first special RPG flower. Why, you ask? But, I could raise tens of thousands of dollars and the sky would be the limit!

No. It won't. Without any experience with what it takes to bring a product to market in this industry, all you're doing is setting yourself up for failure, potentially destroying your reputation in the community, and adding to the general anti-crowdfunding sentiment that's beginning to grow within RPG circles and spreading to other creative endeavors that are now traditionally crowdfunded. Aside from that, focus on CREATING your special flower. Once it's actually created, then think about how you're going to publish it.

Trust and the Idea of Crowdfunding

There was quite a buzz over the last two weeks concerning the kerfluffle with John Campbell's meltdown
I'm a Raging Millennial! 
over his wildly successful kickstarter to produce a compilation of his comic Sad Pictures for Children. Seems that money was suddenly a "huge and terrible joke" and he decided to burn the rest of his books rather than deliver them to supporters. He was going to burn 1 book for every request for delivery that he received (and managed to hook in 127 folks to support his performance art tantrum).

Has this seriously eroded trust in crowdfunding? I don't know, but it certainly shined a spotlight on a high profile failure to deliver. RPG fans are very familiar with large and well-supported crowdfunding efforts going south -- Mike Nystul's various scams and James Maliszewski's disappearance from the scene being the most high profile. Heck, I've even been involved in one where the publisher disappeared before delivering all of the promised goods (Angels, Daemons and Beings Between).

This made me very skeptical of the crowdfunding concept. But, there's nothing wrong with the concept -- it's pretty pure and obvious: Help a person with a dream realize that dream and get a few rewards for it.

The thing that really changed my mind though, was that, after researching I found that failures are not the norm for the experienced. There are lots and lots of crowdfunding efforts that deliver all or most of their promised goods. Monte Cook's Numenara is a great example, as is the Shadowrun Returns mega-kickstarter. And aside from the high-profile ones, there are hundreds of creators that get their support from crowdfunding and deliver on a regular basis. I backed one of +Jeff Dee's and was extremely happy with it -- both the fact that I helped fund the recreation of classic D&D art and in the more physical rewards.

It's the idea of reaching out and giving a hand to those that have a little dream to create something -- to put their stamp on something that they've probably dreamed about all their lives -- that keeps me going back to find that pet project that I want to say, "Yep. This is it. I'll help you."

But, I won't just help anyone.

Why did I back them?

+Greg Gillespie is my hero. Not like superhero, taught me how to tie my shoes hero, but a really cool guy that took his home campaign and made a damn good product with it. He's a model of a DiY developer and publisher that inspired me to take the plunge and publish my own stuff. I love Barrowmaze I and II. The two together are the perfect mix of standard dungeon crawl, with a lifetime of creativity between the covers. It's not a stacked dungeon with goblins, orcs, and bugbears. Sure, there are regular zombies and skeletons and stirges, etc, but there's so much more. I've run Barrowmaze games using Labyrinth Lord, standard AD&D, B/X D&D, DCC RPG, and I'm going to run some Castles & Crusades characters through there. I have a feeling it would stand up to conversion to Savage Worlds, Mutant Future, or anything else you wanted to throw at it. He took the regular old D&D ingredients and made a fucking awesome cake. I played Barrowmaze with him at the helm at North Texas RPG Con and it was one of the highlights of the Con. I wished I could have played for 12 hours in that dungeon. So, that's why I backed it -- a new book with a combined Barrowmaze I and II, with lots of new content and a pack of miniatures. Greg has delivered on a previous kickstarter (Barrowmaze II), so I could see that, not only was he integrated into the gaming community, he had a track record of producing product and the integrity to deliver it.

For similar reasons, I backed +Stephen Chenault's Codex Nordica for Castles and Crusades. He has a long history of delivering quality product and I love the system. It was the first "4th edition flight" system that I embraced and has the right mix of old and new to make a really workable and extensible system. I'm really looking forward to a viking-focused campaign guide and the supporting adventures that Brian Young is developing for the campaign.

With the Impact Miniatures DCC dice kickstarter, I felt like I took a risk, but a calculated one. +Joseph Goodman gave his endorsement of the effort, as did a lot of the DCC community. They are an operating concern and seem to be well respected in the marketplace. And, hell, we need more DCC dice!

The theme that runs through these three is that the publishers/developers are known to me -- they have a track record of producing product, so they know what it takes to get this stuff out to people relatively on time.

They have created stuff in the past that doesn't suck. I think this may be the most important thing. I've seen their work, and it's good. It fits my definition of creative and innovative.

I also feel like that if they ran into trouble, they would be completely forthcoming to their backers and not disappear like others have done. In my research, I just couldn't back someone that wasn't established in the community, and more importantly, understood the business side of this equation. It's not just a dream that you're selling to your backers, it's a certain understanding of the process of publication and delivery.

So, What're the Little Guys to Do?

If you're thinking about getting funding for your little RPG dream, my advice is this: Write and Publish the Damn Thing on Your Own. It's really not that hard and not that expensive.

Learn what it takes to actually publish a book before you start asking folks for help. We published In the Prison of the Squid Sorcerer for less than $1,000 of up front cost. That's with paying artists, writers, layout, and ancillary costs and having no prior experience with the publishing process. We were all writers, just not publishers. That book was fairly large and complex for a first effort. We tried to crowdfund it and were unsuccessful. After a little soul-searching, we decided to go forward with the book because we believed in the project (and the damn thing was already mostly written). And putting our money behind that belief showed the community that we were willing to take the risk that we were wrong. And then we let the marketplace decide if we were wrong or right. The book paid for its expenses within 30 days and was a successful product overall -- well received and has made enough for us to fund our next big project.

Start Small, Make it Original, Learn from Your Mistakes, Build Trust

That's really it. Build a product that's small enough for you to handle, test all the various processes that it takes to get the thing published and to the market, and then let the community decide if you're right. If I trust you, I'll bet on your next project (or maybe three projects down the road). If your dream proves to fit some niche at my gaming table that the rest of the market isn't filling, I'll back you. Most of all: Believe in your dream enough to risk your own cash and reputation before you ask someone else to risk theirs.

I'm not even sure if this needed to be said, but there it is.