Monday, November 23, 2009


I can be peculiar when it comes to using words. Some might even consider my predilection for using certain words properly as snobbish. Take the word “awesome” for instance. The way that word is used in our current culture makes me cringe. It’s too great a word to be bandied about the way it is. “Awesome” should be reserved for events that truly inspire awe in their witnesses. The birth of a child is awesome. The rising of Atlantis from the seas would be awesome. First contact with extraterrestrial life is awesome. Scoring tickets for a sold-out show or finding a parking spot are not events worthy of the use of ” awesome.”

With this in mind, let me say that your people are awesome.

The entire time I was writing Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls, I had a number in mind. It was not a gigantic number, nor was it an easy-to-hit mark. It was a number based on a reasonable prediction of what the book might do over time given that it’s basically an overblown vanity project aimed at a specific niche of a niche customer base. If I hit that number at all, I’d consider the book to be a modest personal success and worth the time and effort it took to create it.

Forty-eight hours after the book debuted, I reached that number. Two days is all that it took.

I’m absolutely blown away by the fact that so many of you decided to open your wallets and take a risk on an unproven book by an unproven author. I’m doubly gobsmacked by the positive reception the book has received from those who’ve had a chance to read it. To everyone who has bought a copy of the book (electronic or perfect-bound), I offer my deepest and sincerest thanks. You are all awesome in my book, and that’s not me using the term casually.

Now that the book is out, I’m reveling in the sudden quiet time I find myself with. I thought that I might find myself not knowing what to do with this newly rediscovered free time, but that’s not proving to be a problem. I took the weekend to start catching up on various loose threads and promises I’ve accrued over the last few months, and I’m likely to continue this trend throughout the rest of the month.

With both my birthday and Thanksgiving occurring in the week ahead, I’m taking the rest of the month off from the Society to enjoy this temporary oasis of tranquility before the next crunch hits. The first tendrils are already starting to twine their way into my creative attic space, so I’m taking five while I can. Posting will resume after December 1st. Right now I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that the space next to my computer does not contain a copy of the Labyrinth Lord rulebook, a sheaf of charts, a handful of dice, and a spiral-bound notebook. It’s a good absence, but one I know will be short-lived.

Let me wish an early “Happy Thanksgiving” to those who will be celebrating it, another “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You” to everyone who has bought a copy of the book, and a final “Thank You” to everyone who makes the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope a regular stop on their journeys through the ether. I have a lot to be thankful this year because of all of you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls is now available

For sale on Lulu:

134 pp. perfect-bound book: $13.00
PDF download: $6.50
Six page preview PDF: Free
Supplement One: The Brigand Caves: Free

Review available at: Grognardia

Stonehell Dungeon is a classic-style megadungeon, filled with enough monsters, traps, weirdness, and treasure to keep you gaming for a long, long time. Explore over 700 rooms, encounter more than 40 new monsters, and discover 18 mysterious magical items – and that’s just in the dungeon’s upper half!

Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls details the first six levels of a megadungeon intended for use with the Labyrinth Lord™ role-playing game, but is easily adaptable to most early versions of the original fantasy role-playing game and its retro-clones. Featuring the art of J.A. D’Andrea, Lee Barber, Marcelo Paschoalin, and Ralph Pasucci, Stonehell Dungeon gives the game master all the necessary information to run his players through the dungeon, while offering enormous opportunities to customize and expand on the site.

The monsters of Stonehell Dungeon are waiting to meet you. Won’t you come in?

Artists vs. Ninjas

The podcast currently appearing on Ninja Mountain Scrolls features a round table discussion of old school gaming art. Sitting around that table are Erol Otus, Jeff Easley, Stefan Poag, and Joseph Goodman. You can bet that The Dungeon Alphabet gets mentioned at least once, but anyone with an interest in the development of fantasy art through the early days of TSR should take a listen.

Check out the podcast here.

"At my signal, unleash hell."


The Obscure Octavo: Thuggee Bear

It’s amazing what a change of mental scenery will do for the creative process. Sometimes just changing genres for even a short period can result in unexpected mental leaps.

I mentioned last post that my character was adamant that the body count in the CoC game could be explained away as the actions of an angry bear. When we found a body that was suffering from both a massive bite wound AND signs of strangulation, that theory began to unravel (hence the “bear and boa constrictor working in tandem” alteration to the hypothesis). Another investigator proposed the counter-argument that we might be dealing with a bear armed with a garrote – a culprit I then dubbed “Thuggee Bear” after Antonio Fargas’ character on “Starsky and Hutch.”

It turns out that a strangulating bear isn’t a bad idea for a Mutant Future beastie…

Thuggee Bear
No. Enc: 1 (1d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120’ (40’)
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 7
Attacks: 3 (2 claws, bite) or 4 (tentacles)
Damage: 1d3+3/1d3+3/1d6+3 or 1d3 (per tentacle)
Save: F3
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: VI

Thuggee bears are mutated grizzly bears that have grown to prodigious size. In addition to their huge stature, two pairs of tentacles grow from their shoulders and their fur is a bright yellow. These massive ursine monsters are prone to anger and it is only their near-blindness that allows the occaisonal victim to escape a thuggee bear attack alive.

Thuggee bears attack first with their 10’ long tentacles. These tentacles constrict victims on a successful attack and deal 1d3 points of damage each successive round. For each tentacle constricting an opponent, the victim suffers a cumulative attack penalty of -1. A constricting tentacle can be cut off if a total of six or more points of damage are dealt with one blow. Once a victim is entwined by its tentacles, a thuggee bear will drag it close to unleash it deadly claw/claw/bite upon it. It gains a +2 bonus to attack any creature wrapped in its tentacles with its claws or bite (thus nullifying its vision impairment modifier).

Mutations: aberrant form (tentacles), gigantism (19’ feet tall), vision impairment

While many travelers claim that a thuggee bear is the worst example of altered bear stock roaming Ruint Ert, a recent tri-D photo taken along the shores of the ‘Cific seem to indicate something much worse stalks the lands of Gogun:

Picture from Cult youth

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lionel Price Will Not Write the Great American Novel

Yesterday, I took a break from the sword & sorcery genre and ventured down to my FLGS for Cthulhu Day.Despite a late night with my regular gaming group, it had been too long since I played CoC and I looked forward to Sanity shattering horrors and a high body count. I was not discouraged on either count.

I arrived promptly at 11 AM to make sure I snagged a spot in one of the CoC sessions, and spent the next several hours playing Lionel Price, a burly writer who was quite convinced most of the shenanigans of the scenario could be explained away as the actions of a rampaging bear (later amended to “a bear and a boa-constrictor working together”). Alas, poor Mr. Price’s bear theory proved to be horribly wrong and I became the first PC casualty of the game.

It’s been far, far too long since I played Call of Cthulhu, but the mechanics are so simple to remember, I was back in the swing of things in minutes. If I had any difficulty at all, it was that I was hesitant to rely on the use of skills to resolve anything. I kept asking probing questions or double-checking the scant evidence we accumulated to see if we overlooked something critical instead. It’s been so long since I played a skill-based RPG that I kept forgetting you were supposed to use those things once in awhile. No matter though; skills wouldn’t have saved me from the tentacle/maw combo that ingested our budding writer.

The scenario we played was entitled “Engine Trouble,” and will be appearing in an upcoming publication from Miskatonic River Press. The scenario’s author and MRP President, Tom Lynch, acted as our Keeper for the game. I won’t say much about the story other than it started with a blocked bridge, a corpse, and a thunderstorm, and progressed quickly downhill from there. It was surprisingly combat-heavy for a classic era CoC game, which surprised me. Reexamining it, however, I see that that was probably for the best for a one-off game store run, but I’m still more used to slow, methodical investigation followed by sudden violence, insanity, and death when it come to CoC.

However, my main problem with the afternoon was not the scenario, the TPK that it ended in, or the more violence than expected. Instead, I was unlucky enough to have to endure the session with the type of gamer I detest more than any other you’d care to mention: the pedantic loud-mouth.

I’d rather sit next to the socially inept gamer who smells like cat piss than have to play with a PLM. To make matters even more unpleasant, this particular PLM is one of the owners of the store – a fact which had escaped me up until today. I’d seen him in there from time to time before, but took him to be one of the usual social flotsam and jetsam that accumulate in such establishments.

So instead of having a great game with the four guys we had started off with (PLM was a late comer), I had to listen to this ass spout wisdom on such topic as the mechanics of a 1920’s engine and ninjutsu, and have the unwelcome revelation that he had predetermined that he’d be the hero of the scenario minutes after he joined in. A role he was so determined to fulfill that he actually shot one of the investigators (the cop) in order to get back possession of the scenario’s MacGuffin.

I had to pause here a minute before continuing because only by writing about it did I realize how much this guy grinded my gears today. I’m usually a pretty laid-back guy and I’ve been around the block enough times to realize there will always be these types of social misfits in the hobby. Goddamnit though, I hate it when stereotypes prove they’re based on fact. It’s because of people like this that I keep my participation in this hobby quiet more than anything else. It’s also one of the reasons I don’t play in more pick-up games. I hate to have to game with people like this more than once a decade or so. I take some solace in the fact that the cop shot the PLM in return, killing his character and removing any chance of him doing anything worthwhile to stop Armageddon and be the hero of the hour.

OK, moving on.

Other than PLM, I had a good time and it was nice to while away the afternoon in 1920s New England (a time and place I’ve expressed a fondness for in the past) rather than a gloomy dungeon set in a pseudo-medieval realm. Once Miskatonic River Press releases the book with “Engine Trouble” in it, I’ll probably be moved to pick up a copy of my own, if only to find out everything that was going on during that stormy autumn night along the Aylesbury Turnpike. In fact, today was enough of a reminder of how much fun CoC can be that I’d even consider playing in a semi-regular CoC game group. It sounded like there were some rumblings about getting one together at the game shop yesterday.

Unfortunately, it also sounded like the pedantic loud-mouth would be playing in those.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Down Darkened Streets

If the bishop’s seat was the spiritual heart of the community, the donjon, overshadowing the public square, was its secular nucleus. On its roofs, twenty-four hours a day, stood watchmen, ready to strike the alarm bells at the first sign of attack or fire. Below them lay the council chamber, where elders gathered to confer and vote; beneath that, the city archives; and, in the cellar, the dungeon and the living quarters of the hangman, who was kept far busier than any executioner today.


The donjon was the last line of defense, but it was the wall, the first line of defense, which determined the propinquity inside it. The smaller its circumference, the safer (and cheaper) the wall was. Therefore land within it was invaluable, and not an inch of it could be wasted. The twisting streets were as narrow as the breadth of a man’s shoulders, and pedestrians bore bruises from collisions with one another. There was no paving; shops opened directly into the streets, which were filthy; excrement, urine, and offal were simply flung out windows.

And it was easy to get lost. Sunlight rarely reached ground level, because the second story of each building always jutted out over the first, the third over the second, and the fourth and fifth stories over those lower. At the top, at the height approaching that of the great wall, burghers could actually shake hands with neighbors across the way. Rain fell rarely on pedestrians, for which they were grateful, and little air or light, for which they weren’t. At night the town was scary. Watchmen patrolled it – once clocks arrived they would call “One o’clock and all’s well!” – and heavy chains were stretched across street entrances to foil the flight of thieves. Nevertheless rogues lurked in dark corners.

A World Lit Only By Fire, pp. 47-48
The next time you sit down to sketch out a pseudo-medieval, fantasy city, try making the streets a little more twisted and cramped, instead of the broad ones we’re so used to. Those looking for an aboveground “dungeon” may also want to take note.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dungeon Alphabet Pre-Orders

I’ve been notified that The Dungeon Alphabet is available for pre-order over at the Goodman Games website. There will be a special pre-order offer announced later, but I’m not certain how much I can divulge about it at the moment. Stay tuned for further details as they clear the information embargo…

UPDATE: Since it has been asked and some of you might be hesitant to pre-order until the special offer is announced, I can say that the special offer will not affect anyone who pre-orders before the announcement is made. You won't be missing out on a special deal by ordering your copy now. Everyone who pre-orders a copy of the book will be equally eligible for what's to come. I hope this allays any fears in this regard.

The Stars Are Right Over Long Island

The readership of the SoTPR is worldwide, so I don’t mention regional events on this blog. However, since my local neighborhood game store has been very good to me over the past year (taking a huge amount of old game books off my hands, putting aside used materials they think I might be interested in, and already ordering a few copies of The Dungeon Alphabet for their shelves), I will attempt to throw a little business their way in case anyone in the Long Island vicinity is interested.

Sunday, November 15th, is Cthulhu Day at Brothers Grim Games & Collectables. There will be two Call of Cthulhu groups playing and a few pick-up Lovecraftian board and card games during the day. I believe things are tentatively schedule to kick off around 11:30 AM, but since the two Keepers doing the CoC demos are coming from out of the area, arrival times have not been confirmed for the RPG groups. I was told there would be more information available by Saturday. Contact information and the store’s location are listed below.

Phone # (631) 698-2805
1244 Middle Country Road,
Selden, NY, 11784

I will down there on Sunday trying to get into one of the CoC groups. If you’re in the area and feel up to some loss of Sanity, please come down and join me.

Cthulhu fhtagn!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Truthful to Ourselves

Over the weekend, I had a moment that occurs to me every few years or so. I was proofing the Stonehell book, making sure that all the monsters and their loot were accounted for and that the traps were all in place, when the camera suddenly pulled back and gave me a broad glimpse at what I was doing. Immediately, the thought struck me that this is an incredibly goofy hobby we have.

I’m not knocking what we do, but a little self-honesty every now and then helps one keep from getting too wrapped up in this fantastical recreation we share. It also makes us more understanding of our non-gaming friends and loved ones as they try to grapple with this arcane pastime of ours, and struggle to understand what we exactly see in moving little figures around on a grid, rolling weird hunks of plastic, arguing over nonsense, and speaking in funny voices. Bless them, for they are a put upon people.

Lest you think I’m only pummeling our own pastime, I admit that most any recreational activity is pretty strange if you stare at it long enough. We humans spend an awful amount of time and money on our regular attempts at recreation, and very rarely have anything more tangible to show for these pursuits other than lower stress levels and some happy memories, but anything to help us make it through the week, can’t be a bad thing, right?

This satori doesn’t mean I’m planning on putting away the dice for good anytime soon. As I stated, I have this revelation every few years. Once I reintegrate it into my mind set, I keep on with the playing. It does help me keep in mind that, to the average non-gamer, our books and periodicals make about as much sense to them as an issue of Cat Fancy magazine does to me.

Just a little something to keep in mind the next time the hoopla storm front blows through the blogosphere.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Up and Running Again

My computer guy came through for me and I’ve got my PC working again. Although the monetary cost was something I could have done without, the upside was that nothing was lost or damaged in the conflagration. Go me.

The big news of the week was not the temporary nullification of my computer capabilities, however. Yesterday saw the arrival of the Stonehell compilation proof and I’ve finally been able to heft in my hands the end result of ten months of inadvertent labor. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a tactile sort of guy, so having an actual book that I could page through was the highlight of an otherwise frustrating week.

“So what’s the deal with the book now?” you might ask. “When can I, the person who has been patiently waiting since you promised to have this darned thing out by ‘end of August/beginning of September’, get my hands on a copy?”

The upswing is that the book proofed as good as I had hoped. Any nagging doubts about the legibility of maps or the quality of the illustrations in the final print have been put to rest. The downswing is that, having a chance to pour over the book in physical form, I’ve caught a handful of minor errors and typos that desperately need correction before I’d even dream of asking for a single cent for the book. This weekend will see me finishing up my last proofread and final edit of the manuscript. I hope to have the new PDF distilled and posted by Monday or Tuesday, with a new proof ordered immediately thereafter. After I see the final proof, I’ll be making the book and the PDF available to you. I want to make sure you get the best I can possibly give you with the tools I have available.

In short, I beg your patience for one more week. I’m as anxious to be finished with this book and pass it on to everyone else as you are to read it. After such time, I intend to take three months off from doing anything Stonehell related. Then I’ll get cracking on Book Two.

Thank you all for your enthusiasm and your patience. I hope you’ll find them both to be well rewarded.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Gremlin on My Wing

I'm experiencing technical difficulties and my computer is undergoing repair. Although I might be back online tomorrow, it's far more likely that I won't have access to anything more sophisticated than my commonplace books and a pen until early next week. Posting and communication will resume at that time. Have a pleasant weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Little Love for the High Dexterity Fighter

"Fighters with a dexterity of greater than 14 can use their unusual manual dexterity to attempt to dodge or parry opponents’ attacks. For every point over 14 they are able to reduce their opponents’ chances of hitting them by 1 (5%).” – Greyhawk, p. 8

While engaging in the almost Talmudic study of the original LBBs that is commonplace amongst the old schoolers, I came across the above. Since I harbor the belief that B/X is nothing more than a cleaned up set of the LBBs, I figured this bit of Greyhawk is suitable for adaptation into Moldvay/Cook/Marsh.

As it stands in B/X, the benefits for a high Dexterity are a -1 to AC for a Dex of 13-15, -2 for a score of 16-17, and a -3 for those with a prodigious Dexterity of 18. In assuming the above rule and modifying it conform to B/X; Fighters would gain the following bonus to Armor Class:

Dexterity Score

Armor Class Modifier









The additional benefit of an extremely high Dexterity (17-18) are still minor enough to adhere to B/X’s attitudes of “working class heroes,” but it gives the Fighter a little something extra to spice up their ill-perceived banality. Although the argument could be made that Thieves, who live and die by their manual dexterity, should also benefit from the above table, I take the word “parry” (which implies a certain puissance of arms) as an excuse to apply the benefits solely to the fighting man.

This house rule shall be added to splintered shields and multiple attacks when opponents are slain in regards to any and all future fighters who deign to enter the halls of Stonehell.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Priests of Guraul

The cult of Guraul has only recently made inroads to the civilized lands along the border of the Kinan-M’Nath. In recent years, the arrival of one of the Great Bear’s nomadic bands to the thorpes and homesteads that dot the frontier have grown more common, and crofters have become used to the colorful wagon in which these adherents travel. For these isolated homesteads, the Bear Priests are often the only form of semi-organized religion seen all year, and the minor miracles and blessings the priests perform are warmly welcomed.

The worship of Guraul arose less than three decades ago when the totemic beliefs of the western barbarian tribes met with the more civilized tenets of Warden Rangers, resulting in a totem-based religion adorned in highly-formalized ritual and mystery-work. Elevated to the ranks of minor godhood, Guraul the Bear Totem is now venerated as a deity of healing, wisdom, and protection. His worshippers and priests are predominately human, although a handful of demihumans have been adopted into Guraul’s ranks as well.

As would fit their wild origins, the priests of Guraul are hirsute individuals, and neither the men nor women who pay homage to Guraul trim their hair. They dress in simple homespun robes and protect themselves with cudgels and staves. Despite their gruff-looking demeanor, the followers of the Great Bear are both friendly and goodly-aligned, and they will lend aid to itinerant adventurers encountered on the road provided that the party doesn’t seem bent on evil deeds. Donations for such services are encouraged of course, and a few gifted coins are usually rewarded with snippets of rumor or gossip as well as clerical aid. Those unable or unwilling to donate are given a simple nod and a wish that “The Great Bear watches over you.”

The priests travel in covered wagons adorned with yellow-green banners and wind chimes, both of which herald the arrival of the priests to a new locale. They typically bivouac in or near one of the many small homesteads or settlements along the frontier, and spend between 2-8 days before moving on. When encountered on the road, the priests offer to host travelers for the evening in return for some minor form of entertainment such as song, music, dance, or ballads. Those in true dire straits are hosted gladly and without the need for recompense. A typical band of Bear Priests is composed of an 8th-level cleric, 3 5th-level clerics, 10 clerics of 1st-3rd level, 15 laymen, and 2 others of various backgrounds (typically ranger, fighter, elf, halfling, or thief). Each band has 5-7 wagons.