Monday, December 01, 2014

Blame It On the Keep

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had a lot to time to game at home and online. I blame +Eric Hoffman  for re-introducing me to an old obsession: Keep on the Borderlands. We managed to get one session in over the holidays, and he's promised a few more over the Christmas holidays. Immediately after the online session, I set up to run the module with my home group. We normally play DCC RPG, but I've been known to switch them back and forth between B/X/etc and DCC. Everyone has extant characters -- so it was fairly easy to move them to the little keep in the wilds and set them loose. Within one session, they had already rooted out a cult spy, made a few fast friends (henchmen), lost one of their fast friends (poor Crannich the dwarf...we hardly knew ye) and sent the kobolds off on their own mini-Trail of Tears (no -- they didn't kill the women and children).

This adventure module has always stood out to me as a model of how such content should be produced: Present the situation without embellishment and let the characters and the DM tell the stories. Of the old school modules that I have the most experience with, I think KotBL did it admirably well. It's also the best "first module" I've ever seen and should be used as a model for anyone producing OSR "beginner" modules.

The biggest challenge for me, as DM, is making the content fresh. I've played or run parts of this module (sometimes both) about 100 times. So, after experiencing the nuanced changes that +Eric Hoffman introduced, I set about working through my own.

In a struggle to find a nice player's map (black and white) for my players, I ran across this post over at Goblinoid Games. Black Wyvern modified the wilderness map for KotBL and spread out the various caves over the whole wilderness area. I really liked this concept and immediately adopted it...  (he also mapped the individual caves with mods for this tact). Unfortunately, now it was even harder to find a player's map... So, I took his map and made my own.

This folder over on Google Drive has two PNG files: DM and Player's map, and an SVG file so you can make your own changes.

So, rustle up some B/X/etc characters and get your ass to the border. There's trouble brewing out there that only the liberal application of magic and steel can solve.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Aga-Krul -- The Fearless Ally

Krul, huntsman and warrior of great prowess took up with the Nergalite dwarves, leading with him his clan of fierce warriors and acting as bodyguard to Agol Umberstone, the prophet of Nergal.
Together they traveled to the interior of Kharg Island and built a fine temple to the Winter Sun. From there, Krul and his clan traveled with the Nergalites to the mountains where the dwarves built a steading and shrine to Nergal.

When the Dissenter freed the serpent children of Qo and forced conversions upon the Nergalites, Krul stood with his master and the faithful few wielding his great bone spear against the vile children of the Destroyer of Worlds. It is said that Krul’s spear killed the Dissenter and allowed a small group of loyal Nergalites to escape from the dwarven steading while both Krul and the prophet were martyred.

Aga-Krul is a 10’ long spear with a bone shaft and a bronze head carved with dwarven runes glorifying the hunt and battle. Due to the many supernatural creatures killed by its original owner, the spear has taken on a strange intelligence and burns with a vengeful purpose. In the hands of any character, the combatant receives a +1 to attack and damage. If the bearer is fighting a “giant” sized creature, including humanoid giants or larger versions of otherwise normal creatures (such as giant spiders, mammoths, and the like) the spear inflicts an additional 1d3 damage. The spear itself communicates to the bearer with mental tugs, half-remembered dreams and, occasionally, more direct methods. These mental pushes allow the bearer to determine whether a given entity is of the Lawful alignment, and a potential ally.

Aga-Krul seeks to avenge its original bearer against the lingering spirit of the Dissenter. The first convert to worship of Qo among the Nergalites was slain by Krul, but its spirit was granted a new form which currently resides in the old temple to Nergal on the island in Wroten Lake. Should the bearer face this demon, Aga-Krul may be thrown with an unerring strike (+20 to the first attack) and deals 2d6 damage, plus the wielder’s Strength bonus. The spear immediately returns to the bearer’s hand. In addition, if the Dissenter is struck by Aga-Krul, one of its special abilities (randomly determined) is neutralized for 24 hours.

Aga-Krul -- The Fearless Ally (PDF)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Black Hole Cloak

In the distant future, Abadel Trank, the halfling nega-sorcerer, found his power waning. Either the universe itself was running out of fuel for magic or someone (or something) was preventing him from reaching the heights that he’d dreamed of since wandering away, half-drunk, from his stepmother’s hobbit hole at the scandalously young age of 34. Trank set upon a project that would consume his last years (literally). Believing that by moving back in time, he would solve both problems, the nega-sorcerer began constructing a portal using a piece of magical fabric he’d stolen from Urma, the Weaver, a minor goddess of home and hearth. His incantations complete, Trank stepped through the
portal, only to find himself tangled up in the fabric and falling through space and time. No one determined what actually happened to Trank, but his housekeeper found the strange black cloak with its shifting pattern of starlight hanging from a peg in Trank’s workshop with a note attached:

It was quite a glorious night of fun. You were very naughty to steal from me, however. Enjoy your trip!
- U

The Black Hole Cloak is a short cloak (regular sized for a halfling) composed of a silvery-black fabric that slides through the hands like water. Inspecting the fabric, one sees a pattern of shifting stars, as if the cloak itself were falling through space at a great speed. Upon occasion (1 in 20 each year), one may see the horrified face of a bald halfling man fly by.

READ MORE: The Black Hole Cloak

Friday, September 12, 2014

Working through the Ketsueki Empire, Part III -- Appeasing the Senmen Kami

It is said that the Suizei priesthood of the Ketsueki Empire has cataloged ten million spirits that are venerate, individually. From the brooding, god-like guardian dragons said to sleep under sea, earth, volcano and even Tsuki, the moon, to the capricious mononoke that spoils sake and hides your waragi, the senmen kami are considered holy such that even the least of them may have a shrine or portion of a temple dedicated to them.

The problem comes when a Suizei cleric faces a "monster" during the course of some adventure. The majority of the monsters in Ketsueki are actually physical manifestations of some venerated spirit. It may be a yokai of the dead, tortured by events during its life or a guardian spirit enraged by the theft of its charge. Regardless, the cleric ends up squaring off against, what is considered to the priesthood, a holy entity. This is not only a sin, but could get the cleric cut off from his or her source of power.

To add to the confusion, there are "unholy" spirits devoted to the goddess Zentai, a dragon goddess brought by Urgil invaders in the distant past and straight-up monsters sprung from the loins of the Beast with Ten Million Heads. Even the priests of outlander faiths are consider unholy.

So, instead of turning every encounter into a gamble between XP and deity disapproval, the cleric must be able to first identify what type of spirit/monster the party is facing, and then have some mitigation other than combat to resolve the situation should the "monster" prove to be some kami that the cleric venerates.

DCC RPG has done a great job in giving clerics a niche within the spirit world. Though wizards must treat with and appease otherworldly entities in order to gain power, clerics are so closely tied to their gods that any infraction results in disapproval, eventually. But, with that risk comes a powerful set of rituals that allows the cleric to further the aims of the deity by healing those that are closely aligned with the deity's aims and driving away or destroying creatures that are against those aims.

For the purposes of the Suizei priesthood, similar rituals can also serve to identify the nature of a creature and/or spirit and to either turn or calm that spirit or drive it away, depending on its nature and the cleric's power.

Identify Spirit
To identify a spirit, the cleric must be within 30' of the creature or possessed item, and must perform a ritual that takes one full round to execute. Mechanically, the cleric rolls a standard Spell Check adding his or her Luck bonus to the roll. The result of the spell check provides the cleric with the essential nature of the creature faced (based on the HD of the creature). Venerated spirits/creatures are those that originate from the Senmen Kami or the Guardian Dragons. Unholy spirits/creatures are those that originate from outlander gods, such as Zentai, the Nemelian pantheon, the Beast with Ten Million Heads and the like. Unaligned creatures are everything from the mundane (i.e. determining that a strange cat is just a strange cat and not a bakeneko) to various supernatural creatures that are not necessarily inhabited by the kami or spirits of outlander gods.

NOTE: If the ritual is successfully cast (i.e. the cleric's Spell Check is 12 or more), but the cleric did not roll high enough to determine the creature's nature, this is not considered a failure and does not incur deity disapproval or increase disapproval range).

Spell Check Venerated Unaligned Unholy
1-11 Failure Failure Failure
12-13 3 HD 2 HD 1 HD
14-19 5 HD 4 HD 3 HD
20-21 7 HD 6 HD 5 HD
22-23 9 HD 8 HD 7 HD
24-26 11 HD 10 HD 9 HD
27+ Any Any 11 HD

Appease Spirit
When a spirit is determined to either be a venerated kami or an unaligned supernatural creature, the cleric can attempt to drive the creature away, calm it, or even charm it. This ritual uses a modified version of the Turn Unholy mechanic. Spirits that are unholy may be turned using the standard Turn Unholy chart in the DCC RPG core rules.

Venerated Unaligned Range Charm 1-2 HD 2-3 HD 4-5 HD 6-7 HD 8-10 HD 10-12 HD
1-11 1-12 - - NE NE NE NE NE NE
12-13 13-14 30' - D1 NE NE NE NE NE
14-17 15-18 30' - D1d3+CL NE NE NE NE NE
18-19 19-22 30' - D1d4+CL D1 NE NE NE NE
20-23 23-25 60' - D1d6+CL D1d3+CL D1 NE NE NE
24-27 26-28 60' 1 D1d8+CL; C1d4 (no save) D1d4+CL D1d3+CL D1 NE NE
28-29 29-30 60' 1d3 D2d6+CL; C1d4 (no save) D1d6+CL D1d4+CL D1d3+CL D1 NE
30-31 31-32 120' 1d4 B1d8+CL (no save) D1d8+CL; C1d4 (no save) D1d6+CL D1d4+CL D1d3+CL D1
32+ 33+ 240' 1d6 B2d6+CL (no save) D2d6+CL; C1d4 (no save) D1d8+CL; C1d4 (no save) D1d6+CL D1d4+CL D1d3+CL

NE = No Effect

D = Driven Away. Creatures up to this HD are driven away in the quantity indicated. This may manifest as a possessing spirit going "dormant" or a creature being physically driven away from the area. The affected spirit(s) receive a Will saving throw (DC = Spell Check) or it must stay 30' away from the cleric and cannot attack any in his or her presence for 3d10 minutes. Such creatures may be treated with, though any such actions suffer a -4 to the Personality check.

C = Calmed. Creatures are driven away and are calmed. This is as driven away, but the cleric suffers no personality check when dealing with the creature. Calmed is a permanent state, unless other factors cause the creature to become hostile.

B = Banished. Creatures of the indicated hit dice and number are driven away from a locale, permanently. This can affect a space the size of a small castle. Banished creatures must permanently stay 120' from the cleric and/or the object or place once inhabited. Banished creatures are also calmed and may be treated with. The cleric can willingly allow the creature back to a banished locale or allow the creature to approach his or her person.

If a cleric achieves a "Charmed" effect, the number of creatures/spirits charmed indicated are of the lowest HD of a mixed group of spirits. Charmed spirits are affected as per the Charm Person spell at the 18-19 result (no save), however, the condition is not permanent. The spirit serves the cleric for 1d3+CL days. After this time, the spirit can decide whether to stay in the cleric's service or not. A cleric can have a number of spirits in his or her service equal to the cleric's caster level + personality modifier. Any spirits in excess of this number are considered Calmed and Banished.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Working Through the Ketsueki Empire, Part II.

By Amdominator on Deviant Art! 
I want to use the spell duel design more often in games (to date, they've only come up once in actual play), and I was struggling to find a way to represent the single combat conceit of the samurai of the Ketsueki Empire. In the period of Japanese history on which the Ketsueki Campaign is based, samurai fought battles essentially one-on-one. The most honorable/skilled samurai from each army would meet between two poised armies and duel it out until one or the other was dead. Then a group of samurai from each army would individually duel. Before long, there was a general melee of individuals dueling before it devolved into what you would understand was a "traditional" battle.

Several years ago, I wrote a sub-system for the Sengoku game that dealt with Go, the Japanese strategy board game. I had a scene in one adventure that required a character to beat a demon at go, and I didn't want the scene to be a simple skill versus skill check, because not only would that be anticlimactic, but it also wouldn't capture the nuances of go. Sengoku, even though it was a chanbara game, had a lot to do with the nuances of the Japanese culture in the 1500s. So, anyway, I developed a more complex system of advantage/disadvantage at various stages of a typical go match, that all resolved to bonus/penalties to the final skill roll.

So, anyway, I combined the wildness of the spell duel system with the design conceit of the Go simulator to get something that I hope you will like.

To play it, take any two DCC characters with a Deed die (samurai character is assumed) and pit them against each other.

And as always, tell me what you think!

Samural Duels! 

Stop Telling Stories or How to Design for the OSR

TLDR: Make a world. Put interesting stuff in it. Some stuff is really bad. Some stuff is really good. It’s hard to tell the difference until characters start messing with them. The DM and players tell the stories, not you.

Before I puff myself up as an authority and thus put myself out there for ridicule, let me start with the most controversial aspect of OSR adventure design.

It’s Not Your Game.
If you’re designing for the OSR, the first thing you have to realize is that the game does not belong to you. It belongs to the DM, the players and their characters. The DM is going to take your carefully crafted magical thing and hammer it to fit with an encounter from Against the Giants, and a random table from the d30 Sandbox Companion, a neighborhood generator from Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad, an NPC based on Private Hudson from Aliens, and a thousand other things of the DM’s own design. And when the players guide their characters into Undersewers of the Mole Gods, they are going to take your perfectly balanced, story-relevant encounters, ball them up, shake out all the XP and gold, and pitch them over their shoulders. All that’s going to be left is the story that the players and the DM tell years later, swigging beers at the Ram Brewery after their last con game. You get part of that story, but you don’t get to tell it.

Have Lots of Things for the Murderhoboes to Mess With
The OSR adventure is not a pre-scripted adventure path with a natural story arc balancing every character role into session-digestible chunks. An OSR adventure is a collection of evocative structures thrown down on a map, some with connections, and others just hanging out there. Your job, as a designer (and I believe it’s your only job) is to build the structures that the characters and DM can pour their stories into. Some of these structures have solid foundations, like an NPC with a detailed backstory, concrete motivations and secret weaknesses. Some may be paper-thin props that when viewed from another angle are nothing more than a blanket fort. Designers use this all the time – an evocative sentence or two to describe a building in a town or a locale on an overland hexmap.

The point is, the characters need stuff to mess with (and typically to destroy). Can there be connections? Sure! There’s a spy in town investigating the cult that gathers at a nearby dolmen every dark-of-moon. Why is the spy there? Who does she work for? Where is her safe house? These questions help to build further structures, thin or solid, but they are not steps in a process for “solving the story.” All of these structures coalesce into a mini-world that may be as small as the town where the spy resides or as large as a galaxy.

Some of the Things are Horrifyingly Bad. Some of the Things Are Amazingly Good. It’s Impossible to Tell the Difference.

Players aren't interested unless their characters are simultaneously threatened with horrible death and unimaginable wealth and power. And they aren't going to stay interested if they can tell the difference.

The bad things need to appear to be horrifyingly bad. Do you throw up “Goblins (3); rusty short swords” or eyes that gleam in the darkness, faint gibbering and the scrape of metal on stone? What are we fighting? What’s its “power level?” Is there any benefit to pitting my beloved Ussa-La the Space Princess against this unknown danger? Do I take the shiny without checking for traps? Or do I risk taking the time to be careful with the constant threat of another horror coming around the corner and trying to eat me?

Piles of treasure, eldritch artifacts, a shiny new space ship, level up… All of these things drive players to put their characters into terribly dangerous situations. And, they’ll do the same thing just for a rumor of these things. A grizzled yazirian holding court in a dusty cantina swears that the UPF ditched a super-secret spy ship on the prison planet of Holeefuckdontcomehere 9S. Not only is it packed with amazingly cool gear, there’s a case with a million credits stowed in a weapons locker. The planet? Nah! I’m sure it’s mostly deserted.

As a designer, make every fight a trepidation. Make running away regretful. You are not in the business of balance. Rewards are not parceled out in commiserate-with-dangers-engaged precision. Uncertainty. Every threat need not be insurmountable, but the threat should appear to be significant. Uncertainty.
And some of the threats should be insurmountable, especially with the stats and things on the player’s character sheet. Some rewards should be wildly overpowering and “unbalancing” to the game. 

It is uncertainty that adds all the tension to the game. It is player ingenuity that leads to its greatest triumphs. And both of these keep the players coming back for more. There’s something amazing out there, and even though there may be horrifyingly bad things guarding it and even though the amazing thing may not be as awesome as rumored, I will go into this world and find out.

Your only job is to build that world.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Curse of Cragbridge: I Did an OSR Thing...


I released a Labyrinth Lord compatible adventure called The Curse of Cragbridge over at RPGNow and DriveThru RPG. Currently, the book is PDF only, and Pay What You Want. From proceeds, I plan to do a digest-sized print edition (if there's interest) with updated art and maps. Additionally, if interest is there, I plan to go level-by-level into the Sunken City of Xerichen and its Prisons of the Demigods. Stay tuned for conversion information for other game systems!

Here's the blurb:

Cursed Cragbridge!
Prison of Sprits Betrayed!
A Labyrinth Lord compatible Adventure for Characters level 1-3. 

For five hundred years, Cragbridge has stood abandoned and cursed. Within lurk the haunts and spirits of those that served Lord and Lady Etheril. Some of these ghosts inhabit the forms of strange insect creatures, while others guard tombs deep beneath the shattered bridge tower.

Recently, the good knight Sir Dougal Skavok disappeared in the ruins, and when the search party returned, they too were missing a few members. But, they carried strange treasures found there: coins marked with a double-headed raven, gemstones of great value, and other ornate and gilded items. They also spoke of the curses and haunts that lurk under the ruins of Cragbridge!

Featuring all original monsters, two unique magic items and a hell of a lot of fun.

This purchase includes three PDF versions: a standard pdf, a "two-up" pdf with two pages per printed page, and a booklet format pdf. 

So, if you like Labyrinth Lord and you like creepy haunted towers, and you LOVE Pay What You Want, trip on over to RPGNow or DriveThruRPG and pick them up.

While you're there, pick up +Daniel Bishop's PWYW Labyrinth Lord mega-dungeon starter (I swear we didn't plan this):  The Dungeon of Crows.

Conversion Series: UK5 The Eye of the Serpent

I ran across this module in a stack of stuff that a friend gave me, and though I had thumbed through it before, I never got to read or run it. Last week, I was hanging out with a nephew that I rarely get to see, and since this is a "one-on-one" adventure, I decided to run it for him. One of my sons jumped in and they were off.

For them, I ran it as B/X/AD&D, and I really liked it a lot. Great balance between wilderness survival-type encounters, and straight up fights. The characters have no real goal, other than getting off of the mountain after being deposited near the pinnacle by a couple of rocs (I used giant winged serpents, just to mix it up), and a kind of story develops as they fight the elements and sparse fauna while descending the mountain.

Tonight, we only had two folks for the home game, so I pulled it out again and converted it on the fly for DCC. The two characters were cavemen from +Michael Curtis's Frozen in Time. These two were left behind when the rest of the caveman group were transported...forward? Maybe sideways in time to Praeder Island and the City of the Baboon Men

Anyway... these two unfortunate souls had to traipse back to their village, almost empty handed. There the village elders asked them to deliver the Gift of Suss (which was why the intrepid 0-level group was sent out there in the first place). Young Wolf-Slaughterer refused to give up the Mona Lisa (spoilers), and the village elders had the two thrown in the village pit for various crimes. Late that night, friends of the two helped them out, gave them a bag of food and a couple of knives and sent them off in the night toward the closest village (Wet Stone, a fishing village on the coast where one of the friends had a sister).

On the way, the ubiquitous rocs (kept them for this one) swept down and flew them almost a day away far out over the ocean to a large, mountainous island, where the PCs were unceremoniously deposited in the roc's nest near the peak of an icy mountain. From this vantage, they could see a wide, mountain-bound valley stretching away for miles. A river, that began its life in an icy lake hundreds of feet below, coursed through the valley, and out onto the plains, snaking for miles to a wide lake and waterfall, down into a thick, primeval forest. In the center of this lake, like a snake's eye, sat an island.

Digressing from the module, I had a hungry baby roc for the characters to fight (no problem), and after gathering up some supplies left behind by previous roc meals, they were off.

I posted my conversion notes over here: UK5 Conversion Notes. If I have time, I'll keep this up through the whole module -- monsters and the hardships of the wilderness. What's not noted are the effects of cold (which I made minimal, but present in the upper part of the valley). Rather than having the egg (Area 6) hatch, I'm saving that for the end of the adventure -- possibly throw a dungeon under the island shrine they find there. Haven't decided yet.

Anyway -- I highly recommend this module, either in the original B/X/AD&D or DCC. With two first level DCC characters, they have been equal to all threats, though the unforgiving conditions are starting to take their toll.

Edit: You can pick up a PDF copy of UK5 Eye of the Serpent at RPGNow...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Working Through the Ketsueki Empire Part 1

This is a campaign setting I'm developing for eventual 'zine publication, if there's interest. We're playtesting it as we go and making adjustments.

Players Guide is up...


Overview of the Ketsueki Empire

Background and Disclaimer
The Ketsueki Empire is heavily based on the late classical period – specifically the late Heian period – of Japanese history. In the late 1100’s, the government and culture of Japan were undergoing a transformation from being primarily ruled by the Emperor and his noble relatives to being ruled by the samurai, and eventually a Shogun. During the late Heian period, the Fujiwara clan (a family related to the Emperor) ruled as regents to the Emperor and controlled most political posts in the country. Two other clans, the Taira and the Minamoto (both also related to the Emperor) were on the rise. In the 1170’s, Taira displaced Fujiwara as regents of the Emperor and became the most powerful clan in the nation – immediately putting them into conflict with the Minamoto clan. This culminated in the Genpei War, which began in 1180, and eventually saw the fall of the Taira and the complete domination of the Minamoto clan. In 1192, Minamoto no Yoritomo established the first shogunate, the daimyo system of control over the provinces, and put the samurai on a path to control of the country in place of the nobles.
Some important facts about Heian period Japan that are different from later periods that are usually the setting for “samurai” rpg games, and most of the genre content out there (movies, comics, etc):
  • Samurai, for the most part, were simply bushi (soldiers) hired to protect the Emperor’s interest, fight barbarians in the north, and support the noble clans that ruled the country.
  • The katana and wakizashi were not widely used. Both were believed to have been created in the late 1100’s, but didn’t see widespread use until the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, as the nature of warfare changed for the samurai from primarily archery based to more hand-to-hand combat. The primary sword of the period was the tachi, a longer and heavier sword worn in the “blade down” configuration in a complex sheathe (samurai primarily fought from horseback at this point).
  • Zen Buddhism, widely adopted by the samurai class in later periods, was largely unknown on the islands. The implications of this run deeply into the culture, as the concepts of Zen affected everything from the samurai approach to warfare, training, and the arts to how peasant artisans conducted their craft.
  • The term and concept of “bushido,” the samurai code, probably didn’t exist. It’s thought that bushido coalesced out of various samurai traditions in the 16th century and was heavily influenced by Zen.
  • The first recorded act of seppuku (ritual suicide) occurred at the beginning of the Genpei War. There may have been ritual suicides before this, but the practice wasn’t widely known.
  • Shinobi/ninja were not widely discussed, were not widely used by the nobles, or simply didn’t exist until later periods. It wasn’t until the 14th century that they appeared as the secret agents/assassins/terrorists that we are familiar with (in the Taiheiki – a fictional war chronicle), but in one legend, the origins of the shinobi clans were rooted in the fall of the Taira at the hands of the Minamoto during the Genpei war.
Disclaimer: I am not a Japanese historian. All of my information comes from the books that I have, and a few websites (Wikipedia and Samurai Archives being the two main ones). I also don’t speak the Japanese language. With both of those givens established, I’m taking what I've read, making some assumptions, leaps of faith and pure personal datastitching to build a world that is firmly fantasy. I have enlisted the aid of +Claytonian JP to assist me with the names (he’s already helped immensely!). There may be Japanese speakers out there that will guffaw at some term, made up name, or misinterpretation of legend, folklore or history. I mean no offense by this – I’m merely trying to build a fantasy world that has the same feel as the fantastical-historical Japanese world. This is especially true of any depictions of religious ideologies.
Also, as a further disclaimer, I’m not trying to teach a history lesson. Hopefully the content based around Imperial Ketsueki will be as fun to play as Sailors on the Starless Sea or Perils of the Sunken City. My DCC games have always been an amalgam of sword and sorcery, science fiction and other pulp literature and movies from the 1950’s to the 2010’s. The Empire of Ketsueki just adds a couple thousand years of legend, folklore and history from the islands of Japan to the mix.
Imperial Ketsueki

The Land
The Ketsueki Islands are a volcanic archipelago situated in the Nalic Ocean, about a thousand miles off the west coast of Nemel, the largest continent upon the world of Tysaan. The islands were formed by several volcanoes and are extremely mountainous and rugged, though lush with highland forests of trees and bamboo. The lowlands are fertile and cultivated with rice and millet by the peasant class. The four main islands have the following qualities:
  • Ketsueki – The largest island, it is populated and controlled mostly by the Ketsueki people. The northeastern reaches still have pockets of barbarian controlled areas, mostly in the mountains. The island is still politically controlled by the Fujiwara, though the Togashi clan has displaced them in key areas around the capital, Kyo.
  • Makido– The second largest island is completely controlled by the Ketsueki people and politically controlled by the Komei clan, rivals of the Togashi. Komei has fostered relations with the Nemelians and their subjects, the Vanar, and many believe that they are being influenced by these foreign forces.
  • Zuhana – The third largest island is the ancestral home of the Togashi clan. The arable land of this island is very limited, though the Togashi have made most of their fortune from gold and silver mines in the eastern mountains, as well as being master shipbuilders. Their trade fleets travel both to the Nemelian Triarchy to the east and the Urgil nations to the west. The Togashi leadership has some relation to an upstart religion referred to as Zharant-Togashi, believed to have originated with the Urgil people from the west, progenitors of the Ketsueki. Much of the northeastern mountains of Zuhana are controlled by barbarian tribes.
  • Aku – The smallest of the main islands, Aku is mountainous, forbidding and completely occupied by barbarians (the Kuregen and Tokar), and said to be the home of demons.
The People
The Ketsueki are a smallish people, dark of hair and fair of skin, but are generally industrious and devoted to the Emperor, the priesthood of the Ten Million Gods, and their lords.
Other than the Ketsueki, other races/peoples may be encountered on the islands:
  • Nemelians – The powerful but waning Triarchy, originating from the continent of Nemel, has recently discovered the Ketsueki islands. As yet, they have not gained a foothold either socially or militarily, mostly due to the distances involved in reaching the island chain. They have, however, made treaties with the Komei clan on Makido Island. Nemelians are slight, olive-skinned humans that tend toward industry, commerce, and conquest. The few Nemelians that live within Imperial Ketsueki are restricted as honored guests.
  • Vanar – Pale skinned and with a range of hair colors, the Vanar are a hearty people that originated in the northern lands of the continent of Nemel, but are now subjects of the Nemelian Triarchy. Once feared as raiders and pirates, Vanar are typically traders, over both land and sea. Where encountered, they are often at the beck and call of their Nemelian masters, though some have managed to enter into service of clans on Zuhana and the northern reaches of Ketsueki island.
  • Urgil – A tall, pale skinned race of human, the Urgil hail from a land far to the east and are believed to be the original settlers of the Ketsueki islands, intermarrying with the natives and forming the Ketsueki Empire. The Urgil have only recently come back to the region, mostly priests of their Zharanthian faith and ambassadors, through alliances with the Togashi clan.
  • Kuregen – “Kregin” is a pejorative originating from the Nemelian language to refer to native peoples – typically of some land that the Triarchy armies had just conquered. The Ketsueki refer to the native barbarians as Kuregen. Though they are identical in appearance to the “civilized” Ketsueki, the tribes have carved out the wild places on various islands and have thus far repelled all attempts by Imperial Ketsueki to subjugate them, their traditions, and culture. Those found in civilized lands often serve as soldiers of the more powerful clans.
  • Tokar – The tokar are a smallish savage humanoid people with dead gray skin and shaggy white hair. Fierce warriors, tokar are generally of sub-human intelligence (though exceptionally intelligent individuals exist) but are rarely hostile, unless provoked. Many clans are allied with various kuregen tribes, though the two peoples play at war and raiding, sometimes against each other and sometimes allied with each other against Ketsueki settlements. Tokar within the borders of Imperial Ketsueki are often persecuted as barbarians, though some warlord clans employ them as scouts and warriors – especially on the borders of kuregen lands
  • Yokai – By all appearances, yokai are human with some strange, animal-like trait. They are direct descendants of the spirits of the land. The yokai walk among and live beside the Ketsueki, though are often the subject of oppression when chaotic spirits wreak havoc on a village or town. Certain yokai are known to take the form of an animal, heritage of their spiritual origins.
  • Kijimuna – About half the size of a human, the Kijimuna are a red-haired race of tricksters, spies and, some say, demons. They originate on several small islands 500 miles south of Ketsueki, called the Kiji Islands. When the Ketsueki conquered the Kiji, the Roka clan adopted the Kijimuna into their ranks and brought them back to Ketsueki.
  • Demi-humans – Elves, dwarves and halflings are almost unknown on the islands, having traveled here with the Vanar or Nemelians. They are often the subject of fascination or ridicule, depending on the village and are almost always subjected to the restrictions of outlanders.
The Caste System
The empire is a feudal society stratified by a caste system, with the Emperor and his family firmly at the top. Below the nobles are the gentry comprising four main familial clans of warlords known as the samurai and many smaller vassal clans. Though they exert the brute force of the Imperial family within the Empire, they are primarily responsible for subjugating kuregen and tokar tribes that still inhabit two of the main islands (Aku and Zuhana) and innumerable smaller islands.
Below the gentry are the peasants, a class of people that include farmers and fishermen at the top, artisans and craftsmen, and then merchants, money handlers  and other “city folk” at the bottom.
At the very bottom are the outcaste, which include the poor/indigent and laborers in “unclean” trades (such as leatherworking, gongfarming, and those that touch the dead). Those considered unclean are generally stuck in their state, though those that are simply poor or in disreputable trades have some social mobility into the peasant class, and on rare occasions, into the gentry.
The Priesthood
The priesthood of Imperial Ketsueki is considered to be outside the caste system, and technically anyone can shave their heads and become priests. There is no one faith; those that commune with the “ten million” gather in sects that have as much to do with political aspirations as spiritual. The noble clans each support one or more sects and oftentimes, these priests join in conflicts against other clans and other sects. As a faith, the priesthood acts as intermediaries between the people of the Ketsueki Empire and the many spirits, ghosts and demons that inhabit the wild lands of the Ketsueki Islands.

Next Up
  • Clans
  • Classes
  • Spells
  • Gods

Monday, July 07, 2014

DCC in Land of the Rising Sun

Since Oriental Adventures, I've been captivated by the idea of role playing in medieval and late classical Japan. In the late 90's/Early 2000's, I ran across a game called Sengoku, which used a ruleset called the Fuzion engine, but beyond that was one of the best gaming resources for flashing blades chanbara samurai action that I've ever seen. For a couple of years, I lovingly built a setting and "adventure path" based on noh no avail. I could find no one that was interested in the genre or learning a new system. In that time, I read everything I could get my hands on regarding the period, as well as before and after.

Anyway, all that to say that the bug has been crawling around my brain with regard to the samurai genre for all that time, and I'm finally launching a DCC game in that genre.

What I have so far are a few draft, ready-to-playtest docs to get us started. I'll have modifications and additions after we play next week.

The campaign is called Incidents of Travel in the Ketsueki Empire. I'm planning to run in-person games at least once a month. If there's interest, I'll run some random G+ games. If there's even more interest, I'd really like to do a 'zine with community input/writing. If you're interested, PM me on G+.

I'll be posting more about this campaign here, including some info on the real world basis and inspiration for the world.

As always, let me know what you think.

Incidents of Travel in the Ketsueki Empire -- Player's Guide

Monday, May 05, 2014

God-Seed Awakens Goes Physical

Our third publication, the God-Seed Awakens, now has a softcover option over at RPGNow, DrivethruRPG and associated sites.

Pick it up over Here.
The softcover book is $15 and add just $5 more for the PDF.

The PDF is now specially priced at $8.99, by itself.

NOTE: If you bought the PDF version of this book, send your Customer Number and Order Number to paul at mysticbull dot com and receive a very special discount on the physical book.

Thanks to everyone for your support of our books. There are more to come this year.

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


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:


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


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.