Friday, October 18, 2013

Post-Fundraiser Stonehell Sequel Status Report

This is a brief update for the period immediately following the Save Stonehell Fundraiser from last week. As promised, now that I’ve restored myself to the 21st century and have the means to continue working on the dungeon, I’ve spent the last seven days getting back to business. Some time was spent acquiring my new system and the programs needed to access and edit the existing draft of the sequel and its map components, but, despite that, the project moves along.

As of this morning, three more quadrants are completed, meaning their maps saw their final tweaks, the drafts went through preliminary edits, and they been added to the rough layout of the book. For those of you following along at home, this means that I’ve hit the two-thirds completed mark and only nine more quadrants remain to be finished. I remain optimistic we’ll have a finished draft by month’s end and a completed Stonehell Dungeon by the end of December. Of course, any delay could through this schedule out of whack, but I’m keeping my head down and pushing on.

There are existing projects that I need to work on, all of which were assigned prior to the fundraiser, but these are small ones that shouldn’t eat into too much time to work on the sequel. One will be completed this afternoon, while the second is due in mid-November. Until the end of the month, Stonehell will be my primary concern, and I’m aiming to have the draft ready for editing by that time. Once it’s prepared, my next step will be acquiring art for the book to prepare the cover and the interior layout after the editing process is finished. After those steps are finished, it’s just a short sprint across the finish line with proof copies and final changes.

Since I have a bunch of new bosses, I’ll continue to make weekly progress reports throughout this stage of the process (preliminary editing, map changes, and draft layout). They may become bi-weekly during the editing and art phase since that’s all work that will be out of my direct control and I’ll be dependent on others for progress through that period. Nevertheless, I look forward to keeping everyone informed and I hope you’re getting as excited as I am that the final Stonehell book is nearing completion.

I'll be posting status reports over on both the Google+ Stonehell Dungeon page and the Facebook Stonehell Group. If you're not yet circled or joined those groups, now it the perfect time to do so to ensure you get the news first, as I'm not certain I'll be detailing the process as thoroughly here on the blog.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thank You

The Save Stonehell Fundraiser (which swiftly became the “pay what you want” release of Convention Specials: Revealed) is finished. Actually, it was finished two hours after it started, surprising the hell out of me. Due to your overwhelming generosity, my efforts to raise $300.00 to cover or defray the cost of getting my old computer repaired or replaced was met six times over. One hundred and nine of you contributed to meeting that goal, resulting in a total of $1889.63 in contributions and purchases of the limited-edition PDF. I am astounded.

In all honesty, I thought I’d be lucky to reach the $300.00 mark over the course of the week. You proved me wrong and for that I’m deeply appreciative. I now have 109 new bosses, so I’d better get to work on finishing that sequel.

As to dispersal of the money raised, here’s the anticipated breakdown: Half of it goes to replacing my ancient computer, upgrading the few programs I need, and purchasing a backup power-supply. I’ve not owned a computer that wasn’t second-hand since the turn of the millennium, and owning one without “quirks” is a new experience for me.

The remaining money is going towards two other goals. Firstly, I’ll cover some monthly bills with it. This means I can turn down a project or two and devote all my time to finishing Stonehell 2. Lack of time and breathing room has been the book’s greatest enemy and is largely the reason it keeps getting delayed. With the surplus raised, I can say “no” to another gig or two in the short term to finish the sequel. This will be both a boon to everyone who has been waiting patiently for it, and to myself, who wants to get the damned thing done and remove the millstone from around my neck.

Secondly, a portion of the remaining money is to be paid forward. Since I ended up with far more money than I anticipated, it only stands to reason that others benefit from my good fortune. There’s a number of worthy causes out there more deserving of assistance than my First World problem. I mean to do my part to help now that I can.

In regards to the two sets of original notes I promised, each of those has a new home. One is going to the North Texas RPG Convention. I’m not certain what plans Doug and Mike have for those pages, but I can’t think of a better home for them. There, they’ll either find a place of security or make their way into someone’s collection.

The second set goes to a very generous contributor who paid a few dollars extra to bump him into second place. That contributor will receive the remaining set of notes after NTRPG Con makes their decision as to which one they want.

Let me close by again thanking you all for contributing or buying the PDF. Your generosity and fellowship has both inspired me and humbled me. I will continue to endeavor to sustain your faith in my ability to produce interesting and entertaining material for your games.

Very sincerely,


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fundraiser Update 10.9.13

We're reaching the last 24 hours of the fundraiser, and I'd like to again thank everyone who donated. Yesterday, I replaced my broken, aged computer with a new Dell Inspiron and will soon be back at full production. I’ve one small piece I’m contracted to finish, and then it’s on to Stonehell 2 full-time. Your generosity has made that possible.

There are still three donors tied for who shall receive the original notes for one of the adventures. These three contributors each donated $100.00, and if you were one of those kind souls, you’re in the running for my notes. The last thing I want to do is encourage more donation as you all gone above and beyond my expectation, but if one of those three were to contribute even $1.00, that’d break the tie and ensure that party ownership of the original adventure. I’ll leave that up to you all to decide if you desire adventure that much or are willing to determine the receiver by a die-roll.

According to my records, every donor has been sent their copy of the PDF as of 10:45 AM EST, today. If you didn’t receive yours, please check your spam folder and then contact me. I’ll make sure you get your copy. For those of you who have your copy, I hope you’re enjoying them!

Remember that I’ll be officially pulling the plug on the fundraiser/”pay what you want” release at noon EST time tomorrow. At that time, the donation button comes down and the Stonehell Dungeon—Convention Specials: Revealed supplement goes away for good. You have roughly 25 hours remaining.

Thank you all once again for your extreme generosity and fellowship. No matter if you contributed $1.00 or $100.00, your help is greatly appreciated. Without you, I’d been sidelined from making any progress on either Stonehell or other projects until at least the turn of the year. You’ve made it possible for this writer to write, and you don’t know how much that means to me.



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

DCC RPG #80: Intrigue at the Court of Chaos is now available for pre-order

At the mercy of Chaos! Abducted by the Court of Chaos, the adventurers face hard choices if they want to return home. The Host of Chaos desires a legendary artifact held by the Scions of Law and need patsies to retrieve it. Faced with an eternity of servitude, the party must sneak into the Plane of Law and steal the Yokeless Egg from under its guardians’ watch. But not all is what it appears when the Court of Chaos is concerned and serving the Host may destroy the party from within. Can they survive the Intrigue At the Court of Chaos? Link

Rules Set: DCC RPG
Writer: Michael Curtis
Cover Art and Cartography: Doug Kovacs

Monday, October 7, 2013

Spellburn Episode #11: Curtis vs. Stroh

A brief interlude: In this week's episode of Spellburn, Harley Stroh and I make return appearances to the podcast to demonstrate the spell duel mechanics in Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. There's a lot of smack talk and even more laughs as we show why you don't need to be intimidated when adjudicating two (or more!) spell-slingers facing off in wizardly combat. Here's the episode link.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Fundraiser Update (10.04.13)

Let me again thank everyone who contributed to help solve what is, quite frankly, a First World problem and not nearly as deserving as a lot of other good causes. I'm astounded and humbled by the outpouring of goodwill.

As of 8:56 AM EST, every contributor has been sent their PDF of Stonehell Dungeon--Convention Specials: Revealed. If you haven't received yours, please check your spam folder first and then drop me a line to let me know it didn't turn up. I'll make sure you get it as promised.

Also as promised, I will be giving out the original notes, maps, and other materials from the adventures included in the PDF to two generous contributors. One is definitely spoken for and that donor has first choice as to which of the adventures he'd like. The second one will go to the donor who contributed the next highest amount. At the moment, three generous donors contributed $100.00 each and I'll be randomly determining the recipient of the second adventure from those three.

The PDFs will remain available as a "pay what you want" release until Thursday, October 10th at 12 PM EST. I also intend to remove the donation button from the blog at that time, as well. You've already been extremely generous and I have no desire to wear out my welcome!

Thanks again to you all,


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Status on PDFs

As of 4:19 EST, everyone who contributed to the fundraiser and I received notification about has had their "thank you" PDF sent to them. If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. If you received the email but the PDF wasn't attached for some reason (in other words, I screwed up), please let me know.

The Save Stonehell Fundraiser (UPDATED!)

Important Announcement!

In an unbelievable stroke of generosity, I've reached my goal (and then some) for the fundraiser in an unimaginable short time. The gift was so generous that this unnamed individual will have the choice of either both sets of my original notes for the adventures or one of his choosing. Should he wish just the one, I'll be giving the other set to the next highest donor in thanks for all the good will I've received in less than two hours.

So for the record, I'll be able to replace my aging computer and get back on with finishing the sequel. However, I promised to keep this fundraiser going for a full week to allow people access to the limited edition PDF. I intend to keep that promise. All additional funds raised from this point forward will be applied towards other expenses. This allows me to actually turn down additional freelance projects (not counting those I've already committed myself to) in the short term so that I can concentrate on getting the sequel completed before year's end. However, I know not everyone may not wish to contribute towards that goal, and I wanted to be honest with all you very fine and unbelievably generous people. So consider the PDF to be more of a "pay what you want" product than a true fundraiser from now until next Thursday.

I am deeply in awe of you all. I've said this before, but writing is an extremely lonesome profession and I'm seldom aware of how much people enjoy my work until I get out on the convention trail and meet fans face-to-face. Your contributions this afternoon have astounded me, and I remain gobsmacked at the generosity and humanity of you all. From the bottom of my heart, I extend my thanks. I will endeavor to continue producing work of my finest caliber for your enjoyment. Again, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Very most sincerely,


My friends, Stonehell Dungeon is cursed.

I’m not speaking of the manifold magical enchantments that lurk within, but rather a real world phenomenon that has plagued the dungeon since its inception. Back in 2009, when I was assembling the first book, my computer decided it would be a good time to cook its motherboard right when I was at the tail end of putting together the book. Some work was lost, but I was able to get my hoary computer repaired and complete the book. Now, history has repeated itself.

You may have noticed that I’ve had little to report either here or on the various forums and social media dedicated to chronicling the sequel. This is because nothing has been accomplished for reasons outside of my control. A few weeks ago, my computer decided to become twitchy, and then undergo a series of catastrophic failures. I’m typing this on a loaned laptop, which is how I’ve been connecting to the ether the past three weeks.

As with many things in life, catastrophe seldom comes when it’s convenient, and my computer giving up the ghost for good is no exception. My machine died just when finances are at their worst and, after pursuing my budget, it’s apparent it may be several months before I can afford repairs or replace the ancient computer. At this point, it’s probably the same cost to do either. Frankly, that’s a delay I do not want to endure.

To this end, I’ve decided to appeal to the fans of the dungeon to help get things back on track and to finish the book before year’s end as anticipated. Beginning today and running for one week, I’m holding the Save Stonehell Fundraiser in hopes of helping cover or at least defray the cost of getting myself back into the modern age and finish the sequel. I’m not one to ask for charity often and hate to do so, but this is one case where I feel appealing to the fans of Stonehell Dungeon in particular, and my work in general, is justified since it helps me get the book out and into your hands all the sooner. Both of us benefit in the long run.

However, rather than ask for pure charity, the Save Stonehell Fundraiser rewards you for your assistance. For the next seven days, anyone who donates any amount to the fund will receive a special PDF of seldom-seen Stonehell material. This PDF, Stonehell Dungeon—Convention Specials: Revealed, contains two special adventures set in and around Stonehell Dungeon, adventures previously only experienced by a small handful of people who played through them at conventions. After next week, I’ll no longer be distributing this PDF and its mysterious contents will return to my private archive of work for good.

The 16-page supplement contains “The Hidden Vault of Evaders Noan”, an adventure designed for 3rd level PCs that was first run at the 3rd Annual Dave Arneson Memorial Game Day in 2011, and “The Great Stonehell Lazer Massacre,” run exclusively at this year’s NTRPG Con. In addition to the adventures, the PDF contains a number of “Behind the Scenes” sidebars that discuss dungeon design choices, humorous anecdotes, and actual events that occurred when running these adventures. Much like Stonehell Dungeon Supplement Two: Buried Secrets, there is almost no art in the supplement (but there is a cool piece of map clarification by Jim Wampler), meaning the pages are jam-packed with goodies. If you own that supplement, you know what to expect.

As noted above, it doesn’t matter if you can spare $1.00 or $100.00. All contributors receive a copy of the PDF as a “thank you” for your generosity. I’ll endeavor to email your copy within 24 hours of being notified of your contribution. The PDF will be sent to the default email address associated with the contributor’s PayPal account unless otherwise specified by the donor. The PDF is 883 kb in size, so if you expect your email provider may have issues with a file of that size, let me know and I'll make other arrangements to get it to you.

But that’s not all. To further show my appreciation (and to possibly convince you to donate generously), the two contributors who donate the most to the Save Stonehell Fundraiser will receive a special thank you: my own personal copies of the adventures, including my hand-drawn maps, notes, and other annotations that accrued through actual play. I will personally mail each of those two contributors one of the adventures and provide extra customization (an autograph, a letter of provenance, a stick figure drawing of a Viking riding a whale, etc.) as desired. The contributor who donates the most will get first choice of the two adventures, with the second highest donor receiving the other. In the event of multiple donors contributing the same amount, I’ll determine the recipient randomly using a good old polyhedral.

At the end of each day, I’ll post in the comments below the highest contributions to date. This way, if you really want a shot of one of the adventures, you’ll know the goal to hit or exceed. Multiple donations by one person will be totaled when determining the two recipients of my personal notes, so if you give more than once, all your contributions will be applied when making the determination of the most generous donors.

How to Help Out

EDIT: Should be working now. Thank you!

On the upper right of this blog is a Paypal Donation button. If you wish to contribute to the fund, please use that button to give. I’m hoping to raise around $300.00 during the next seven days, which will either cover the cost to get my nine-year-old, second-hand PC restored to life or allow me to purchase a budget economy tower from the local electronics box store. If thirty fans of Stonehell contribute $10.00 each, my goal is reached and I can accelerate the return to working on both Stonehell and other projects, clearing my plate clean by 2014. Give what you can, however, if you’re so inclined.

Let me conclude by both thanking you in advance for your generosity and for you constant patience in waiting for the final Stonehell book. The dungeon is getting close to completion and, with your help now, will soon go from a long-standing promise unfulfilled to something you can read, use, and keep on your shelf for years to come.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Pardon the Interruption

I've got a few more post regarding my return to 2nd Edition AD&D and the Forgotten Realms planned, but preparations for Gen Con 2013 have thrown a serious spanner in the works. I'll pick up the series once I get back from Indy and have a day or three to recover. My apologies to everyone looking forward to me.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

GenCon 2013 Schedule

Hey, readers! If you’re planning on attending GenCon 2013 next week (holy crap!) and want to say hello, get something signed, kick me in the shins, or otherwise interact with me, I’m bound by law to be in certain places at certain times. For those of you looking to track me down, you can pretty much guarantee I’ll be at the following places when scheduled. If I’m not, I’ve been abducted and you should alert the proper authorities.

Scheduled RPG Events
DCC RPG—The Croaking Fane (RPG1344549): Thursday 8/15 @7:00 PM
DCC RPG—Frozen in Time (Zero-level funnel) (RPG1344551): Friday 8/16 @ 9:00 AM
DCC RPG—The Croaking Fane (RPG1344550): Friday 8/16 @7:00 PM
DCC RPG—Frozen in Time (1st level PCs) (RPG1344552): Saturday 8/17 @ 9:00 AM
DCC RPG—A Night on the Town (RPG1344553): Saturday 8/17 @ 7:00 PM

Goodman Games Booth (Booth #1819)
Thursday 8/15: Scheduled from 10 AM to 3 PM, but I might be there as soon as 9AM.
Saturday 8/17: 1 PM to 4 PM
Sunday 8/18: 2 PM to 3 PM, but possibly until the dealers’ room closes at 4 PM.

If you’ve met me at cons previously, you know I’m always up for chatting about gaming, signing books I’ve worked on (and even those I haven’t!), and meeting fellow gamers. Feel free to introduce yourself, but please leave your 19th level Paladin stories behind.

I’m looking forward to meeting you!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Current Clacking

In every player pack I created for one of my Realms campaigns, I included “current clack”—news and rumors characters would hear locally (including from caravans passing through their locale) as play began. This is…how it all begins, every time—because if you, the players, are going to choose where your characters go and what they explore, I must dangle an array of possibilities before you. You have to feel the world is no lifeless backdrop, but a gigantic flood of many lives constantly unfolding. 
Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster’s Forgotten Realms, p. 45
That’s Ed demonstrating his old school roots (as if there was ever any question). From that one quote, you see that Ed’s Realms campaigns were “sandbox” affairs, even if he didn’t use—or even know—the now-common term. And although 2nd edition AD&D somehow got the reputation for being the version that eschewed the sandbox for the railroad, there’s nothing in the actual rules that says it has to be played that way. Deneir knows I wasn’t going to run my campaign that way.

Taking a page from Ed’s book, I created a list of rumors the PCs would know at the start of the campaign and then did some minor preparations to cover my ass should they choose to pursue them. I specifically didn’t flesh out every possible avenue of adventure, cribbing from the old Dungeoncraft articles the adage “Never create more than you have to,” but sketched out an encounter or two related to each rumor. I figured once the players chose a direction to pursue I could add more details to the scenario they wanted to explore. That method has worked well for me in the past and it continues to do so now.

After character creation in the first session, the players got a single page of rumors. Here’s what it contained:

Current Clack for the 9th of Mirtul—Year of the Shadows (1358 DR)
  • Rumors are flying that a trade coster (caravan) traveling from Loudwater up along the Dawn Pass Trail was attacked and looted by brigands of uncertain origin. The ambush occurred a half-day’s travel west of the Nighthunt Inn. Common opinion holds Zhentarim raiders are responsible for the attack, but no definitive evidence links the Black Network to the brigands.
  • In light of the recent ambush, a small caravan bound for Lonely Oak is seeking to strengthen its defenses. Polgan Dranthmir of the Thunderpine Trading Coster is looking to hire stout swordsmen and spell-hurlers for the roundtrip journey from Elf Water to Lonely Oak. The trip is expected to take two tendays. Dranthmir is offering 3 silvers per day for freeswords and 5 silvers a day for spell-masters.
  • “Elf fire” was spotted late last tenday by travelers approaching the village. The mysterious green fire was sighted south of the western trail near the vicinity of Grumber’s Meadow. Elf fire is believed to appear in places were lost treasure is concealed or where ancient spell-casting once occurred.
  • Heavy spring storms have uncovered a sealed portal set in the rocky walls of the Orc Trough, a deep gully located west of town. In addition to this recently unearthed door, the Trough contains a number of old catacombs believed to be of elven origin.
  • Erig Wholodown of Wholodown Brewery has a standing offer to buy leathertop mushrooms. He is offering 2 silver per dozen toadstools. Leathertops are found throughout the Southwood, typically in moist earth between the northern roots of crumblebark trees.
  • Fresh land urchin tracks have been spotted along the western river bank, indicating a “quill” of land urchins is hunting the area. These curious creatures often form pearls within their bodies, and some older urchins have been known to create up to two dozen pearls with each valued between a hundred and six hundred gold coins. Unfortunately, the bizarre creatures’ myriad spines are poisonous, so urchin hunters should take care.

In the end, the players seemed most interested in the hired caravan guards, the unearthed portal, and the land urchin hunt rumors. They would do a little rumor-mongering of their own in the first session before deciding on which one to pursue. Their choice and the subsequent events will be covered in the next series of posts.

As an aside, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about these Realms posts. I hope you’re enjoying my return to Faerûn and maybe are inspired to make your own visit, either for the first time or to reacquaint yourself with old ground.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Adventure in Your Own Backyard

I took an atypical approach when designing the outskirts of Elf Water. In the past, especially when I anticipated a megadungeon-centric campaign, I’d locate potential adventuring sites a bit of a distance away from the PCs’ home base. This was a nod to realism, seeing as how an ancient ruin rife with fell monsters situated too close to a settlement would mean constant raids and the eventual deaths or departure of any sentient residents living nearby. That’s not the course I undertook with the Realms campaign, and there were several reasons for this design choice.

The first was that the Realms have such a rich and long history. I didn’t quite grasp this in my younger days, but now I have a better idea of what Ed was going for when he built the world. With a history stretching back millennia, the Realms have seen innumerable civilizations and cultures rise and fall, with each potentially leaving their mark behind. There are a lot of similarities between the Realms and Middle Earth, and Peter Jackson’s movies have influenced my mental picture of what the Realms “looks like.” Just as in Jackson’s films, a moss-covered ruin or broken statue of an ancient potentate isn’t out of place in the wilds of the Realms, lingering evidence of those who tread Faerûn long ago. I could conceivably place such enticing lures close to the village and thereby hint at the Realms’ history and to serve as adventure hooks.

Secondly, since I was running a by the book AD&D game with a small number of players, I wanted them to have ready access to help for the first level or two. They could flee to the safety of civilization if they ran out of important materials or got in over their heads. Borrowing from the MMORPG school of design, the outskirts of Elf Water is the “yard trash” newbie zone where one can familiarize themselves with the world before pursuing grander and more dangerous goals. In the future, I could see myself using Elf Water and the environs as an introductory campaign for players experiencing RPGs for the first time, but I hope it’s also challenging and interesting enough that veteran players will enjoy their own explorations.

Thirdly, I wanted to ground the PCs in their home town, making it seem like a real place, one they have familiarity with by virtue of living there their entire young lives. I have many pleasant memories of rambling through the wooded glens of my own neighborhood in my youth, dreaming dreams of what adventures might be found there and making my own discoveries of places and things forgotten in the scrap woods of suburbia. It stands to reason the PCs would have similar experiences, albeit of a slightly more dangerous variety.

Lastly, and I make no bones about this, I was influenced by Ed’s map of Shadowdale that appeared in the Gray Box. In addition to detailing the village of Shadowdale, there are a number of geographical features depicted on the map, many of which have legends and adventure potential assigned to them. If it’s good enough for the Realms’ creator, it’s good enough for me.

With these design decisions in mind, I set out filling in the rest of blank space on my big piece of poster paper that already held my Elf Water map. This is the result:

Blank poster paper and colored pencils: Life's less celebrated wonders.

There are few special landmarks and places the PCs know about—and more they don’t. I have a master map with each interesting place or thing detailed, but these are unmarked on the big map. During the game sessions, I lay the large map down on the table and let the players consult it, replicating their familiarity with the area. Of course, growing up here doesn’t mean they know everything about their own backyard. They know the major landmarks and legends, so I’m not spoiling the fun by pointing out a couple of them. Maybe it’ll get your own creative juices flowing.

In the lower left-hand corner is a gorge running through the woods. This is the somewhat infamous “Orc Trough.” The elven/human alliance broke the Black Slashers’ drive toward Loudwater in this gulley back in 1235 DR with a cunning ambush. The rocky walls of the Trough contain a number of elven catacombs known as Sinomrin. An Espruar word that’s closest Common translation is both “tomb” and “remembrance place,” the Sinomrin were formed from the surrounding rock to memorialize some of the great lights of Eaerlann who fled south when Hellgate Keep rose in power. When the Black Slashers marched through the Southwood, guerilla engagements drew the horde to this location. Human and elven troops concealed themselves in the Sinomrin, springing out to ambush the horde and cutting the orcish flanks to bloody ribbons before routing the Slashers and sending them back to the Graypeaks. When the elves conceded the verge of the Southwood to human settlement, they emptied the Sinomrin, leaving the catacombs bare. Since that time, the Sinomrin have served to host teenage parties away from parental eyes and more than a few adulterous rendezvous. But they are not all completely abandoned as the party has recently learned.

Just north of the Orc Trough on the far side of the brook is the farm of Amrig and Sobashy, a woodsman and healer, respectively. The couple prefers the solitude of the woods over the hustle and bustle of the village proper, and they are largely believed to be “elf friends,” individuals who deal with the isolationist Lanymthilhar elves.

At the eastern edge of the banana-shaped clearing bisected by the western road stands a single tree. This is the Hangman’s Tree, a relic of the rough frontier justice enacted regularly in the early days of Elf Water’s settling. Although no longer used, rumors say a ghostly figure is sometimes sighted beneath the tree and is undoubtedly the spectre of an unknown criminal who met his (or her) death on the tree decades ago.

North of the large clearing where the Hangman’s Tree grows is a rocky hill known as “The Prow.” The southern edge of the hill is steep and narrows to a point, giving it the appearance of a ship’s bow breaking through the surrounding trees. A stone bearing Thorass runes is located atop the Prow and some of the PCs have seen it in their youth, but the lack of fluency in the dwarven tongue means the stone’s writing remains a mystery.

Immediately east of The Prow and in the vaguely star-shaped clearing located east of the Orc Trough are two large clearings. The presence of a pond and creek in each meadow makes for damp earth, making both places possible sites to gather leathertop mushrooms, should one be in the mood for such fare.

All my initial prep work was now finished and I was ready to begin the campaign. There was just one small chore I needed to do: seed the campaign with rumors and see which ones would spark the players’ interest, thus deciding the course of the campaign for the first few sessions. I’ll share those rumors, or to put it in Realms terms, “the clack,” tomorrow.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Welcome to Elf Water

The next step in the campaign prep stage was establishing the PCs’ “home base.” This was a much easier phase than settling on a region in which to set the campaign—largely, because I cheated.

I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated maps, even before I discovered RPGs. One might even argue that my fascination for this hobby stems from that love. I still recall a map from the interior of some children’s book I owned that showed the protagonist’s journey through a forest, diagramed in dotted line fashion like a “Family Circus” cartoon. For me, the attraction wasn’t what adventures were documented, but what possible events might occur in the areas unvisited by the hero. Maps still have that effect on me.

The “cartographilia” has manifested in a peculiar habit of mine. I find it incredibly relaxing to sketch maps of small towns and sylvan areas, rending such landscapes in either regular or colored pencil. My mind wanders during the process, pondering who lives in these imaginary places and what life must be like for them. It’s a wonderful way to de-stress when something’s bothering me. As a result, I have a number of little maps tucked away in various stages of completion. When it’s time to introduce a new community into a game, I check this collection first to see if anything fits the bill. In this case, I had the perfect map.

Coming up with a name for the community was a quick chore. I imagined that the settlement was situated on a place where the elves and humans first came into contact, a place to trade and negotiate the accord that ultimately led to the human settlement of the outskirts of Southwood. Picturing a forest glen along a riverbank, a place where elves once danced graceful waltzes underneath a summer moon, the name “Elf Water” sprung to mind as an appropriate human-given name for that place and the community that arose on that site would share that moniker.

In the past, I’ve gone to great lengths to detail most of my home bases before play begins. The pages accompanying my old Ashabenford map is a good representation of how much effort I’d expend before the game started. But this time, going along with the “this is supposed to be fun” mantra, I whipped up just two pages of notes documenting a few important NPCs and buildings to guide me. I plan to flesh Elf Water out as future play dictates. I know who’s in charge, what temples are in town, who has their fingers in quasi-legal (or outright illegal) pies, the major wizards, and a few other colorful individuals. That’s all I needed to get things rolling.

The final step was to scan my village map and key the important buildings for the players to consult as needed. A quick trip through Photoshop and—viola!—Elf Water was ready for PC inhabitation. With plenty of space to add new material, I can get a lot of use out of this community, now and in the future.

Yes, I know what "festhall" really means.

That’s it for this week. There’ll be a post on Elf Water’s outskirts and some actual play reports next week as I continue to ramble on about the Realms. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Choosing a Backdrop

To say the Realms is large place is an understatement, even if I’m confining myself to regions covered in the Gray Box and some of the supplements. Those poster-sized maps only hint at the scope of Faerûn and it’s not until you put down the transparent overlays and start counting hexes that you realize how much an area even a small section covers. Needless to say, I was going to have to zoom in on but a small part of its grandeur for the campaign.

My usual choices for campaigns are the Dalelands (Mistledale in particular; see my original campaign map of Ashabenford here), the Western Heartlands along the Trade Way, or somewhere in the Savage North. One of these years I’ll tackle Tethyr or the lands east of the Sea of Fallen Stars, but since this was an exercise in fun, I decided I’d keep to my old haunts. Having a backlog of previously-generated campaign materials for those regions doesn’t hurt, either.

Since I was coming off of Kingmaker, and as an old school DM I have a preference for such, I wanted to keep the campaign on the fringes of civilization, thus allowing me to play with some of the plot ideas I had in mind. This crossed the Dalelands off the list and I wasn’t feeling like managing the constant stream of traders and costers rolling along the Trade Way. Plus, I personally like mountains and forests. A return to the Savage North was in order.

Breaking out my copies of FR1 Waterdeep and the North and FR5 The Savage Frontier, I started re-reading them and looking over the landscape. Although a Waterdeep-based campaign would be fun, running an urban game requires a lot of work, and I discarded that idea. The same reasoning also removed Silverymoon, Neverwinter, Luskan, and other large urban sites from the list. Then my eyes fell on the Loudwater environs and the creative wheels started churning. A nearby fallen Elven empire, a large town, the biggest forest in all of the Realms, a Zhentarim-controlled village, an abandoned dwarven kingdom, and Hellgate Keep all in close proximity to one offered more potential adventure seeds than I could count. This had potential.

Following my decision to only incorporate Realms canon as interested me, I started looking for what was actually detailed about this area. None of it is covered in the Gray Box, so it was time to move on to secondary sources, namely the above-mentioned supplements. Loudwater and Llorkh garner a paragraph or two each in Waterdeep and the North, while Hellgate Keep and the High Forest each earn three. Hardly a treasure trove, but exactly the amount I felt like dealing with. The Greypeak Mountains have a paragraph in The Savage Frontier, and more detailed information for Loudwater, Llorkh, and Hellgate Keep is provided. The High Forest earns an entire chapter, but by this point, it’s become beyond the scope of my focus for the initial campaign adventures, so I can ignore that material for now.

What does catch my attention is a small entry covering “Other Woods” in FR5. It reads in its entirety, “This is not the name of a single forest, but includes the Lurkwood, Southkrypt garden, Southwood, Moonwood, and Westwood. These [sic] edges of these forests are logged by men, though their dark depths are largely a mystery.” Southwood (or South Wood depending on if you’re going by the text or the map) is located just beneath Loudwater and seems perfect what I’m thinking about: A frontier area close to a bastion of civilization but offering unplumbed mysteries.

I decided to consult a tertiary source—The North boxed set—to see if there was anything further I could use in there. As much of the material in that set is based (or copied outright) from both FR1 and FR5, it might or might not provide additional glimpses or inspiration. Luckily, there was a little more, but the entry was still sparse enough for me to monkey with. I’ll decline quoting it in case it spoils any surprises for my players.

Next, I started brainstorming and came up with the following background for the campaign:

After the transformation of Ascalhorn to Hellgate Keep, the elven kingdom of Eaerlann fell, and most of the moon elves fled down the Riving Shining to either travel to Evermeet or join the Fallen Kingdom near Ardeep Forest. A few, however, lingered in the Loudwater area, either joining the small mixed-race community or occupying the Southwood. These displaced refugees harbored dreams of resettling the ancient kingdom if the forces of Hellgate Keep were ever banished. For centuries, the elves claimed the Southwood as their own, a small domain of displaced elves dreaming of their former glory. This enclave dubbed themselves “Lanymthilhar.”

In 1235 DR, the Year of the Black Horde, a never-before seen force of orcs boiled out of the Northern mountains, rampaging as far south as Calimshan. One tribe, the Black Slashers, charged down from the Graypeak Mountains towards the River Shining. Forging a tentative alliance, the humans of Loudwater and the refugee elves of Lanymthihar battled the Black Slashers, breaking their invasion near the northern verge of the Southwood. After this defeat, an accord was reached between the Lanymithihar elves and the residents of Loudwater. The agreement opened the outer edges of the Southwood to human logging and settlement, but the forest interior would remain sacrosanct and protected by the elves. So long as this compact was obeyed and the loggers didn’t become greedy in their yearly felling of timber, the two cultures would pursue their own agendas separately and in peace.

The PCs would begin the campaign in one of the few forest edge communities, caught between civilization to the north and forbidden mystery to the south. A decision to play up the mystery of elven culture and the phenomenon known as “The Retreat,” led me to prohibit elves as a starting race for the PCs as mentioned previously. While not actual enemies, I wanted to explore the “alien” factor of elves, rather than making them pointy-eared humans. I hope to have fun with this aspect of the campaign.

After a quick trip of the maps through my scanner and importing the scans into Photoshop, I made minor changes and additions to the canonical landscape of the region. I also took a look through Volo’s Guide to the North to see if I could use anything in that book, and decided I’d incorporate one of roadside inns mentioned therein. Situated to the east of Loudwater, “The Nighthunt Inn” might come in handy should the PCs ever decide to travel toward Llorkh. I now had my regional campaign map.

Loudwater and Environs as Ed never imaged.
The next step would be zooming in even more to detail the PCs’ home base of Elf Water and the adventuring opportunities in their own backyard.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Establishing Boundaries in the Realms

Having decided to go ahead with a 2nd edition AD&D game in the Forgotten Realms, my first task was deciding what to bring to the table and what to leave on the shelf. Between the various rules and campaign supplements available for 2nd Edition and the Realms, there’s a small mountain of books waiting to be climbed. And I wanted this to be fun, not mountaineering.

Deciding my limits for the rules was easy. Although not my usual “go to” D&D rules, I’ve never had too much a problem with 2nd Edition in its initial form. The core rules are close enough to 1st edition in practice and don’t make for far-reaching changes to the original advanced game. I’ve found that it’s only once you start bolting on the supplemental material that the power levels start getting wonky and the wheels fall off.

So no problem here: I’d only allow the players the class and race options available in the Players Handbook. No “Complete Book of…” class kits allowed, no Tome of Magic spells, and especially nothing from the Player’s Option books! This kept it strictly in the classic AD&D family, and had the bonus benefit of freeing me from such troublesome classes as assassins, cavaliers, and barbarians. I had forgotten that 2nd Edition removed half-orcs as a playable class, but that wouldn’t matter for what I had in mind for the campaign. And, of course, as the DM, I could make use of any of the verboten material freely. Sometimes it’s good to be boss.

Choosing the Realms material I intended to limit myself to required a bit more thinking. My introduction to the Realms—outside of Ed’s excellent Dragon articles—had been the “gray box.” Using that as the backbone was a no-brainer. But I’ve got a respectable collection of other Realms stuff I’ve accumulated over the years. Would say the material in The Dalelands supplement trump what was presented in the Gray Box, which was much less detailed or would I stick to the bare bones presentation found in the original set?  Would I make the Volo series my primary source for all things Realms? Was I going to concern myself with Realms canon?

I wrestled with these decisions a bit, and my original thought was to go all the way back and just utilize whatever information was given in the Gray Box, building my own campaign from that modicum of information. The designer in me loved the idea of such a challenge and I readily imagined myself pouring over the two slim books from that set, ferreting out small nuggets of information and implied hints at the larger world to build upon. But then I remembered the real purpose of the summer campaign: Let Mike have some fun for a change. This isn’t work, knucklehead!

Ultimately, I made what I feel is the wisest choice and decided that the only limitations I’d place on myself was “Is the ‘canonical’ material in X entertaining, inspiring, useful, or fun? If so, use it. If not, forget it.” This gave me a lot of leeway while still maintaining a game which would be easily identifiable as the Forgotten Realms to anyone playing or observing it. Sure, a die-hard Realms aficionado might take me to task for fudging a few dates or adding new places, but last time I checked, I didn’t need anyone to vouch for the orthodoxy of my home games.

And speaking of dates and orthodoxy, this led me to my biggest alteration of the established Realms’ timeline: The Time of Troubles.

It never happened, folks.

I started running my first Realms game back in 1987 when the Gray Box was released. Reading that set completely changed how I approached world design. In fact, the experience of turning the pages of that set remains such a developmental milestone for me that I can still remember what food I ate and what was playing on my tape deck as I paged through Cyclopedia of the Realms (if you’re interested, I’ll always associate the Gray Box with port wine cheese, Paul Simon’s Graceland, and Eddy Grant’s Killer on a Rampage.)

So when the Time of Troubles happened, it needless to say had a great impact on my vision of Faerûn. Although even then I realized it was a marketing ploy to steer gamers towards the 2nd edition of the game, I made a half-hearted attempt to adjust my own version of the Realms to accommodate the changes inflicted by the Time of Troubles. But it always stuck in my craw a bit. Years later, it seems that most of the world-shaking changes that Time of Troubles wrought have vanished (Bane’s been back for a while now), so why bother? Let’s just pretend it never happened and excise any obvious Time of Troubles-related material from the campaign setting. It’s surprisingly easy.

Removing the Time of Troubles was also a breeze due to my choice of when to set the campaign. Rather than keep the game relatively current to the established timeline, I went back to the beginning. This campaign takes place in 1358 DR, the Year of the Shadows (and interestingly not “Year of Shadows” as later supplements would refer to it), the suggested starting year in the original Gray Box. So technically and temporally, somewhere out there in the Realms, the campaign I ran in 10th grade is currently underway with a much younger Michael at the helm. Maybe I should finagle a crossover event between the two groups?

The last limitations I needed to establish were campaign ones, boundaries stipulated by the focus of the campaign. I had a few possible themes and potential plots I wanted to introduce (which I’ll cover in a forthcoming post) that would be best done if I drew a few lines in the proverbial sand. In the end, it came down to demi-humans in character creation. With a small group, I wanted humans to equal the number of demi-humans (if not outnumber them) in the party. Originally, I was looking at three players, and decided only one person could play a demi-human, ability scores allowing. At the last moment, we picked up a fourth player, so I relaxed that limit to two non-human PCs in the party. But there was a catch to this: To quote a famous ad slogan for Talislanta, “No elves!”

What? No elves in a Forgotten Realms campaign? You’re mad!

There’s a method to my madness, gentle reader, one I’ll explain in a future post.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Back to Faerûn

Ah, summertime! The season where one can relax a bit, spend time with long-neglected friends, go to concerts, attend barbeques, and enjoy a momentary escape from the workaday chores of modern life—that is, unless you’re a handsome, gregarious, freelance designer and writer struggling to keep the bills paid and the wolves away from the door for another month. Then summer is pretty much like any other time of year, except more humid and mosquito-filled.

As many of you know, I came back into gaming after a prolonged absence, returning to the role-playing fold about the same time the OSR started gaining momentum in the back alleys of the internet. I was lucky enough to return with a minor splash, one that swiftly moved me from hobbyist to professional, and, before I knew it, I was working as a freelancer as a second job. While the upswing of that development is that people actually pay me to use my imagination and I get to share my creations with a wider audience than I ever imaged possible, the downside is that there’s no longer a dividing line between recreation and vocation for me when it comes to role-playing games. I know: cry me a river.

Still, it remains a fact that what I once did for fun and personal enjoyment is now labor and there are many times when I wish—if just for a little while—I could treat RPGs as a pleasant pastime. I’ve been running a lot of DCC RPG on the convention trail, which is just play-testing in the guise of fun, and even my semi-regular home Pathfinder campaign is more of an exercise to familiarize myself with the mechanics and design needs of the industry’s current 800 lbs. gorilla in hopes that it’ll pay off with more work down the line.

At the end of April, one of the players in the Pathfinder campaign informed us he received a summer scholarship to study out of state for the summer. The Pathfinder campaign I’m running is the Kingmaker adventure path, which if you know Paizo’s APs, is designed for four players. The campaign had also reached a pivotal point and I (and the rest of the group) thought it be best if we put the campaign on hiatus until the departing player returned, and then pick things up from there.

That left us with the summer to play something else. I originally proposed that we’d spend the summer months doing a playtest of my Shiverwhen game and anticipated giving it a thorough shakedown and chronicling it over on the Shiverwhen blog. We got as far as the players generating characters and me doing the initial prep work when cold reality hit: this was going to be more work than I felt like doing. The problem with running a game you’re currently developing means there’s always something that need attention, sometimes even built from scratch to fill gaps. It quickly dawned on me that the last thing I wanted to do was spend the summer with an even greater workload. I’ve already got a lot on my plate between crafting new DCC RPG material and sewing the final parts of Stonehell 2 together. I didn’t need more work masquerading as recreation.

I told my players of my revelation and my desire to scrap Shiverwhen before it began, but that meant we had to find a replacement game for the summer. I gave them four options of what we could do: 1) DCC RPG (a chance for me to playtest and develop material); 2) OD&D (beer & pretzels dungeon crawling that’d be easy for me to write and keep everyone entertained through the summer); 3) Pathfinder (a non-adventure path to keep us in fighting shape for fall and allow me to further try my hand at designing for the system); and 4) 2nd Edition AD&D set in the Forgotten Realms (just because it had absolutely nothing to do with my paying design work).

To my surprise and delight, option #4 carried the day.

So for the last three weeks, I’ve found myself back in Ed Greenwood’s world running a game using a system I’ve not really touched since 1990 or thereabouts. And I must say I’m having a wonderful time. Long time readers know that I remain a fan of the Realms, despite everything that’s been done to the poor place over the last (can you believe it?) twenty-five years. Returning there has been a joy, like falling back in with old flame or seeing someone from your youth and reminiscing about days gone by.

In the weeks ahead I’ll be posting more about the Realms campaign, sharing the work I’ve done with it, displaying maps, and boring you with the occasional actual play reports. For the first time in a long while, I’m having fun as a DM and designer again, and not viewing my time in front of the computer as work, but an engaging and entertaining process. This blog’s been too much of a marketing venue and it is past time to utilize it as a means to disseminate “fun stuff” and frolic in the shared happiness of these strange games we play.

More to come.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Off to ConnectiCon Tomorrow!

I'm departing for my northerly neighbor of Connecticut tomorrow to attend ConnectiCon as one of the convention's Traditional Gaming Guests of Honor. My official con schedule begins at 8 PM tomorrow night when I kick things off with "Frozen in Time," but I'll be slouching around the convention center for a few hors prior to that. I've several other games scheduled throughout the weekend. Also, on Saturday, I'll be participating on a panel with James Carpio of Chapter 13 Press and Gygax Magazine about Old School Gaming.

There's still available seats in my games, so if you're planning on attending or still thinking about it, please come on down and play. My scheduled events are as follows:

Friday, July 12th @ 8 PM: DCC RPG—“Frozen in Time”
Saturday, July 13th @ 9 AM: DCC RPG—“In the Court of Chaos”
Saturday, July 13th @ 8 PM: Shiverwhen Playtest
Sunday, July 14th @ 9 AM:  DCC RPG—“A Night on the Town”

Hope to see some of you there!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

I Get Burned

This week, I'm the first-ever "special guest" on the new DCC RPG-focused podcast, Spellburn. Judges Jeffery, Jim, and Jobe grill me on topics such as my involvement with DCC RPG, the secret Easter Eggs behind certain spell names, the status on Stonehell Dungeon, and why I'd pick Fritz Leiber and Clark Ashton Smith over REH in an Appendix N grudge match. Check out the episode over here.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Summer on the Convention Trail

Hey, looky there. It looks like I’ll actually post something here before the month runs out.

OK, so every now and then I get to pick the lock on my cage and escape into the wild for a few days before a refugee from Animal Planet comes and shoots me with a tranquilizer dark and hauls me back to the Freelancer Designers’ Home for the Mad. As summer creeps up, I know for certain I’ll be out and about and those of you interested in meeting me in the flesh can find me at certain venues. If history is any indicator, I suspect your second or third question for me will be “When’s Stonehell 2 coming out?”

As of right now, I’m scheduled to attend three conventions this summer, with a fourth a strong possibility. Here are the stops on my Summer Rampage Tour:

June 6th-9th: North Texas RPG Con—I’ll actually be arriving on the 5th, so you’re sure to see me if you’re an early arrival at the hotel. I’ll be looking to play something because I’m a busy man that weekend once the con officially starts. I think all of my games are filled, but you’re always welcome to come by and see if there’s a no-show or two. I’m really very accommodating. My schedule is:

Thursday, June 6th @ 6 PM in Trinity III at Table 4: DCC RPG—“Frozen in Time”
Friday, June 7th @ 10 AM in Trinity III at Table 8: DCC RPG—“A Night on the Town”
Friday, June 7th @ 6 PM in Trinity IV at Table 7: Shiverwhen Playtest—“The Perils of the Book Trade”
Saturday, June 8th @ 10 AM: I’m actually playing! “Metamorphosis Alpha” with Jim Ward. I’m two for two in MA with Jim at the helm. This means I’m likely a casualty this time around.
Saturday, Jun 8th @ 6 PM in Trinty IV at Table 7: Labyrinth Lord/Mutant Future—“The Great Stonehell Laser Massacre”

July 3rd-7th: Dexcon in Morristown, NJ. This one is not 100% guaranteed yet, but do to its proximity to my base of operations and the good things I’ve heard about it, it’s likely I’ll be attending and running some DCC RPG. More details as they emerge.

July 12th-14th: Connecticon in Hartford, CT: Hey, look it me! I’m a Tradition Gaming Guest of Honor at Connecticon. I’ll be bringing DCC RPG and doing another Shiverwhen playtest. My schedule is:

Friday, July 12th @ 8 PM: DCC RPG—“Frozen in Time”
Saturday, July 13th @ 9 AM: DCC RPG—“In the Court of Chaos”
Saturday, July 13th @ 8 PM: Shiverwhen Playtest
Sunday, July 14th @ 9 AM:  DCC RPG—“A Night on the Town”

August 15th-18th: The mother of all conventions, GenCon! It’s my first GenCon ever. It’s taken more than 30 years, but I finally get to attend the biggest RPG convention in the U.S. if not the world. I’ve got a bunch of games schedule and it’s also likely I can be found at or around the Goodman Games booth in the exhibitor’s hall in between events. My schedule is:

Thursday, August 15th @ 7 PM: DCC RPG—“The Croaking Fane”
Friday, August 16th @ 9 AM: DCC RPG—“Frozen in Time (zero-level funnel)”
Friday, August 16th @ 7 PM: DCC RPG—“The Croaking Fane”
Saturday, August 17th @ 9 AM: DCC RPG—“Frozen in Time (1st level heroes)”
Saturday, August 17th @ 7 PM: DCC RPG—“A Night on the Town”

Crap. That's a lot on my plate this summer. I better get back to work.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

MAJUS: Funded!

Abracadabra! As of yesterday afternoon, MAJUS has reached it goal of $3,500. I'm extraordinarily pleased to see that the game has the funding necessary to pay for the art and layout. Great strides have already been made in completing the illustrations and Dan Proctor reports that the game may be ready before its estimated August 2013 release date.

Allow me to extend my gratitude to everyone who contributed. Without your gracious contributions, MAJUS might have been regulated to the "good ideas that never materialized" pile. For those of you wishing to get in on the Kickstarter before it ends, you have two more days to contribute over at the Kickstarter page. The project's deadline for contributions is Sunday, April 21st at 9:01 AM EDT.

MAJUS' funding completed, I'll now cease my shilling. Thank you for enduring my side-show-esque hawking for the last few weeks.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

MAJUS: The End is Near

Four days and $280 near to be precise. MAJUS is 100% compatible with TIMEMASTER, ROTWORLD, SANDMAN, and certain other old Pacesetter titles like STAR ACE and CHILL. If you dig those games, MAJUS introduces new threats and abilities to unleash upon your players or enrich your campaign. More details and a chance to make the magic of MAJUS happen are available at the Kickstarter page. Please consider pushing us across the finish line.

Stonehell Dungeon 2: Week Twenty-One Status Report

We interrupt this on-going shilling for the MAJUS Kickstarter campaign to bring you an update on the status of Stonehell 2. Remember, you can always get timely information on the dungeon' sequel at either the Stonehell Dungeon Google+ page or the Facebook group.

Yes, it really has been twelve weeks since I wrote one of these. I took a month off to prepare scenarios for the 2013 convention season, did three cons in four weeks, and then lost of month to post-con recovery, a final winter cold, and various other small projects and obligations. But that’s all behind me now and progress has begun once again on the long-delayed sequel to the Stonehell magnum opus.

The good news is that on April 10th I wrote the following phrase in the Stonehell 2 manuscript: “Here Ends Stonehell Dungeon.” The final five levels of Stonehell have been officially keyed, noted, and hand-drawn maps exist for all the dungeon’s final twenty-six quadrants. In effect, the dungeon itself is complete, something I had occasional doubts of ever seeing. With the majority of the draft finished, it’s time to move along to the punch-list of tasks needed before I can call the sequel done.

Beginning this week, my main goal is to transform the hand-drawn quadrant maps into Photoshop images suitable for printing. It’s been several years since I last did this, so I cannot yet provide an estimate on how long this chore is going to take. In a perfect world, I’ll be able to create one or two maps a day, meaning at minimum we’re looking at slightly under a month’s work to finish the map series. Once those are finished, the lion’s share of hard work on my end is done.

After the maps are finished, I have the following tasks remaining:

1) A complete re-reading of Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls to ensure I didn’t miss anything I hinted at years ago that I wanted or needed to address in the sequel.

2) Write the introductory chapter containing important details regarding the lowest levels of the dungeon, Labyrinth Lord advice, and rumors.

3) Complete the appendices. I estimate there will be four in total. Two are already started and the remaining two are dependent on your input (more on this in a moment).

4) Write the afterword to the book. This is a short one or two page chapter wherein I bid a fond farewell to Stonehell, address the success or failure of my efforts, and talk to you gamer-to-gamer before saying goodbye.

5) Assemble a working layout of the book for revision and editing purposes. I’ve made tentative steps in this direction already, but can’t work on it in earnest until the maps are done.

6) Solicit, find, and insert the artwork required for the book.

7) Revise and complete the draft based on any missing information, typographical errors, or improvements discovered during steps 1) and 5).

8) Hand the book off to my as-yet unknown editor.

9) Final revisions/edits.

10) Final layout.

11) Printer’s proofs.

12) Final corrections sent to printer and final proofs.

After all this is complete and I’m satisfied with the results, the sequel will then be made available for purchase.

My goal was to have the sequel available by the weekend of June 7th to coincide with the North Texas RPG Convention. This deadline is still possible, but has edged into the realm of improbable. Rather than get wrapped up in getting it finished by then, I’m choosing to focus on getting the book completed to my satisfaction. If that coincides with the beginning of June, wonderful, but if not, I can live with it. This is to be my Stonehell swan song and I want to make sure the notes are pitch-perfect.

So what can you do to help see Stonehell 2 out the door? Glad you asked!

There are two appendices which I require the fans to assist with. One is a necessary evil and the second is something I’ve had planned since the dungeon was in its infancy.

I’m going to include a (in theory) short errata section in the appendices to address anything I missed or needs correction in the first Stonehell Dungeon book. I’m aware of one missing entry on Level 2A (Feature D is missing), but there may be others I missed. If you are aware of anything like this or something that is blatantly unclear (but unintended) in the text, please let me know by dropping me an email with the subject “Stonehell Errata” to I’m not worried too much about any misspelled words or punctuation errors, but you can include those if you wish and maybe I’ll correct them in a revised version of SH1 someday. Mostly, my goal is to address missing game information to make the job of adjudicating the dungeon easier on the referee.

Secondly, I’m looking for a roster of those adventurers who’ve entered Stonehell Dungeon so far. If you have a PC or PCs that explored Stonehell, regardless of game system or campaign world, both the dungeon and I want to know about them. There is a room deep in Stonehell that knows these things and one of the appendices is a roster of those who’ve tread its halls. If you’ve explored the dungeon from either side of the referee’s screen and want the name of your adventurer(s) to be recorded for the ages, please send me those names in an email with the subject header “Stonehell Roster” to Any name sent to me before the final revisions are finished will be included in the appendix and therefore known by the dungeon itself.

And that’s it for this week’s update. I’ll see you in a week with (hopefully) more good news.

Monday, April 15, 2013

MAJUS: Five Days and Less than $500 Remain

Today's MAJUS-related post is a simple one. There's five days left in the funding campaign and we're less than $500 away from our goal of $3500. If you haven't kicked in yet and were planning to, the time to panic is almost here. Please visit the Kickstarter page and pledge now so I can finally get a good night's sleep! Thank you.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

MAJUS: Marvin and Lord Rathmore are in. How about you?

Today's blatant plug of the MAJUS Kickstarter comes from Jim Wampler, Gygax Magazine Art Editor and creator of Marvin the Mage! We're seven days and $603 away from funding my magic noir game. Don't be left behind once the magic goes away. And for the record, I hate shilling, but it's a necessary evil sometimes. It'll soon be over, I promise, but it's going to get worse the closer we get to the finish line until we get those last couple of C-notes to finish the funding. Apologies in advance!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

MAJUS: Five Adventure Seeds to Get You Started

As I write this, we’re just 9 days and $1,119 away the end of the MAJUS Kickstarter campaign. Some of you have already contributed and now have a playable copy of the game in your (digital) hands. But where do you begin your new MAJUS campaign? With many different options available to you, you might already have the wheel spinning in your heads. However, some folks may require a little helpful guidance before heading into the shadowy underworld of the Maji. In that regard, I’m here to help.

What follows are five adventure seeds you can use to jumpstart your MAJUS game. As is my usual design philosophy, I’m going to avoid hard game mechanics and just give you the gist of things to get your creative juices flowing. Whenever applicable, I note what version of the Skein might work best for these seeds, but feel free to ignore whatever I say (which is also my design philosophy in a nutshell).

1) One of the young scions of the Skein bloodline (Skein option #1) vanishes and the PCs become embroiled in locating the child, either by their Tower or as part of their own schemes in the Mehen. With no ransom forthcoming, kidnapping for monetary or magical gain seems unlikely. The PCs’ investigation unearths that the child went missing while accompanying his minders on a seemingly mundane errand close to one of the seamier section of the city. Unbeknownst to all, the child was lured away from his protectors by a band of Tylwyth Teg slavers intent on selling the child to the highest bidder, be it child slavers or rival Maji. The PCs must venture into the faerie-controlled criminal underworld to rescue the child before he goes up on the block.  For a more horrific adventure, substitute the Tylwyth Teg faeries for one of De Rais’ Children, making the PCs’ search a race against the clock before the missing boy becomes the ogre’s next meal.

2) On May 20, 2003, US-led forces invade Iraq under the codename “Operation Iraqi Liberation.” Ostensibly, the collation’s purpose is to end the regime of Saddam Hussein and stop Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction initiative, but was there another purpose? In this adventure, the Iraq War is the public face of a gambit masterminded by the Projecteers to locate and loot a number of ancient sites dating back to Sumer strewn throughout the Iraqi deserts. The PCs are deep-cover operatives of the Projecteers charged with the discovery and plundering of those sites before rival Towers can do the same. Played against a backdrop of on-going warfare and insurgency, the PCs must navigate a treacherous landscape where not all threats are magical. In addition to dodging bullets and IEDs, the Maji must face down enemy sorcerers and mystical guardians, some of whom have grown incredibly powerful since they accepted their charges from the priest-kings of old. Skein options #2 and #3 work equally well for this campaign, which can continue throughout the occupation of Iraq.

3) A series of anonymous tips alert the PCs to certain stratagems in play by rival Maji, allowing them to counteract their enemies’ schemes before coming to fruition. The identity of their informant remains a puzzling mystery, but one thing is clear: Whoever is alerting them knows much about the Old Game. But can this mysterious source be trusted? After much convincing, their unknown ally agrees to meet with them and the PCs discover that he is none other than a “feral” golem whose master died in the Old Game. Now searching for a place in the mystical underworld, the golem is well-versed in the Mehen and is both a valuable source of intelligence and a formidable opponent in battle. But can he be completely trusted, or is its aid all a prelude to its subtle campaign to bring about the destruction of all Maji, who it still harbors ill-will toward for its creation and abandonment? Skein option #4 works well for this adventure idea, but cunning CMs might use option #3 and make the golem itself one of the artifacts important to the Skein.

4) The PCs catch wind of a rumored artifact of old, long forgotten in an ancient temple dedicated to an obscure deity from antiquity. The location of the temple has vanished in the mists of history and the worshippers of that long-ago god no longer exist to aid their search. With no other leads available, the Maji must venture into the Astral Plane to the region known as Cemetery, where old gods go to die. After navigating the hazards of the Astral realm, the PCs win their way to Cemetery to locate the flickering spark that was once a deity and convince it to reveal the location of its former temple. If they’re lucky, the PCs might not only discover the resting place of the artifact, but inspire new life in the dying divinity, earning them a potent new ally in the Mehen once the god begins to reclaim its old power.

5) It is a well-known fact that nobody walks away from the table once they’ve started playing the Old Game. Retirement is not an option for Maji. Nevertheless, it seems one Majus intends to prove everyone wrong and has decided to duck out of the Mehen at the top of his game. In order to do so, he must tie up decades’ worth of loose ends, owed favors, enemies still gunning for him, and a host of other small tasks to make a clean break. To do so, he decides to employ the up-and-coming PCs as his agents, promising to hand the reins of his magical empire over to them if they help him get out of the Old Game. Can he be trusted? Does the Majus really want out or is this just another one of the multi-faceted schemes he’s used over the years to build his powerbase? This adventure seed works best with option #4, but can easily incorporate any (or even all) other Skein option in a campaign. CMs looking to run a campaign with a secretive director issuing regular adventures to the PCs for them to pursue will find this an excellent framing device for the campaign.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

MAJUS: A Look at the Skein

Let me first say that I’ve extremely grateful to the fifty-seven of you who have contributed to the MAJUS Kickstarter. We’re at the half-way point now and the game is more than 50% funded. With two weeks left in the campaign drive, I thought I’d shine a hasher light into the shadows of MAJUS and illuminate the driving goal of its inhabitants: that strange thing called “The Skein.”

Conflict is a necessary element in drama, and therefore a requirement for any medium seeking to engage and entertain its audience—RPGs included. When I sat down to write MAJUS, I set out to design a central point of contention that drove the battles in the shadows that are the lifeblood of Maji. At the same time, my design goal was to make this axis of conflict customizable to allow game masters to run the type of campaign they wanted within the MAJUS universe. The end result was the Skein, an enigmatic end game that most of the rival magical Towers seek to either control, destroy, or protect.

In short, the Skein is a thing that the Maji have been contesting since the days of ancient Sumer, with some seeking to claim it for themselves, while others strive to destroy it completely. It serves as the focal point of the Old Game, otherwise known as “the Mehen” after a nearly forgotten Egyptian game of strategy. But what that thing is, I leave wholly up to the hands of the CM. This way, the Skein retains much of its mystery, and allows the game master to best build a campaign of MAJUS to his/her and the players’ liking.
MAJUS doesn’t leave the CM completely in the dark regarding the Skein, however, and I make a few suggestions as to what the Skein might be and how it affects the type of campaign that uses those options. Here’s a quick breakdown of the types of Skeins up for offering and what a campaign featuring those types might entail. You can find more details in the MAJUS rulebook, itself.

1) The Skein as a bloodline: Although all Maji trace their heritage back to the Sumerian priest-kings, not all are equal in blood. Among them is a sacred, powerful bloodline destined to bring about great changes on the magical stage. Jokingly known as the “Harry Potter option,” the Skein as a bloodline sees the campaign revolve around gambits designed to protect, enslave, or eradicate the descendents of this ancestral legacy. The PCs might be mystical bodyguards or, on the flip side of the coin, magical assassins charged with slaying those of the blood before they come to power. Another option would be a campaign where the members of the bloodline are unknown, forcing the PCs to track down the living descendents before deciding whether they need protection or destruction. Game masters looking to run campaigns featuring the Knights Templar, the Priory of Scion, or to cannibalize the plot of The Da Vinci Code will find this option to their liking. It can also take strange turns into Lovecraft country. After all, the Maji of ancient Sumer were said to have come from the sea. Perhaps the members of the bloodline are those “pure” specimens who retail the strongest hold on their aquatic ancestry or maybe they are the inheritors of the lost arts of sunken Mu.

2) The Skein as sacred sites: This option casts the Skein as a network of lay lines, dragon roads, etc. which cross at potent points across the globe. These nexuses contain immense mystical power and the Tower that controls these sites bolsters their magical prowess a hundredfold. In their moves and counter-moves in the Mehen, the Maji battle to discover and possess (or destroy) these sacred sites before their enemies can, and game masters looking to indulge in world-spanning travel to obscure locals will find this option to their liking. From dense jungles to frozen wastes, the PCs journey to locate these nodes to tap or negate their power. In this version, these sacred sites are known as “labyrinths,” named after one of the first of their kind in ancient Crete. And of course, every labyrinth needs a “minotaur” to guard it. In a campaign with this type of Skein, these minotaurs run the gamut from strong and obviously supernatural defenders to inbred hillbillies with shotguns and a strong family legacy to patrician New England families with a sense of honor and millions of dollars in their trust funds. The PCs might even be minotaurs themselves, seeking to protect their labyrinth from outsiders seeking to pillage or decimate it. If you want a campaign with gunfights and spell-slinging amongst the ruins of Machu Picchu after the tourists have gone back to their hotels, this is the option to choose.

3) The Skein as antiquities: For the Indiana Jones’ fans, this version of the Skein sees the Towers competing to possess or eradicate ancient objects of power, and like the Skein as sacred sites’ version, is a good excuse for world-trotting Maji to battle in exotic or unexpected places. At least one of the Towers, the Sodality of Thoth Eternal, dedicates itself to the collecting and cataloguing of ancient artifacts, and with this Skein option, the PCs might be members of that Tower looking to acquire new artifacts either from forgotten locations or from the hands of their current owners. Game masters can do a lot with this type of Skein. One week might see the PCs battling in a dilapidated Mayan tomb in the middle of the jungle and the next week have them plotting an “Ocean’s Eleven” type heist to steal an artifact from a gleaming and heavily defended (both magically and mundanely) skyscraper. If you really want to pay homage to the noir roots of MAJUS, steal the plot of “The Maltese Falcon,” but make everyone a rival Maji and give the Falcon some potent mojo. Game masters looking for inspiration or artifacts to outright steal will find ten of them in the pages of MAJUS: From Hess’ Luger to the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, there are some neat oddities to choose from.

4) The Skein as the Maji: In this version, the Skein and the Old Game is the same thing, with the Maji fighting to dominate the magical underworld and plot the course of humanity’s fate. Call it the “Highlander Option,” if you will. Rather than battling to possess some external element, the Maji are fighting themselves, with each Tower out to use or destroy the rest until only one remains alive. To this end, there is no lack of double-crosses, multi-level conspiracies, paranoid, and machinations, and the PCs can never trust others—even the party itself might face betrayal from within! This version really draws inspiration from the gray morality of film noir and players who thrive on weaving complex schemes and manipulating others will find this option most enjoyable. In the end, only one Tower will remain standing (or maybe just a single cabal of Maji within that Tower): Are the players’ crafty enough to be those survivors?

If any of this is pushing your “That’s So Cool!” buttons and you haven’t done so yet, please take the time to throw a few bucks at the MAJUS Kickstarter. Remember, every contributor receives the draft copy of the rules, allowing you to familiarize yourself with the world of MAJUS and get playing long before the book arrives on your doorstep in August. Thanks for reading and a double “thank you” for contributing!

Friday, March 29, 2013

MAJUS Draft Now Available to All Funders

This just in from Dan Proctor courtesy of the Goblinoid Games blog:
Starting today all backers have access to the draft of MAJUS prior to final layout with art. This is provided as a thank you to all supporters, and so that you can get right into enjoying the game before the final version is finished. Current backers please check today's update (for backers only) with download instructions. Future backers, once pledged, can read Update 2 from the Kickstarter page to find instructions.

Have a great weekend!
Whether you've pledged $1.00 or $100.00, here's your chance to get the magic of MAJUS started right away. Go make a pledge at the Kickstarter page and checkout Update #2 for details on how to get your copy of the art-free draft version of the game.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

More About MAJUS

There have been a few questions floating around about Goblinoid Games’ new Pacesetter System game, MAJUS. Since I’m extremely well-qualified to answer them and because playing coy doesn’t help the game get funded, I’ve put together this handy primer on what to expect while you’re expecting MAJUS to fund. Hopefully, it’ll also help those of you currently on the fence to make the plunge and throw some money at the project to get us across the finish line.

What’s the Kickstarter for?

Primarily, the Kickstarter campaign is to raise money to pay for the art and final layout of the book. The rules are 100% written and play tested, so there’s no waiting on the actual game itself to be completed. The art for MAJUS is being done by Mark Allen, whose work appears in numerous other gaming supplements (including Realms of Crawling Chaos by Goblinoid Games). You can check out his website here if you’re unacquainted with Mark’s work.

What time period is MAJUS set in?

By default, MAJUS is set in the modern world, but the CM is not limited to the 21st century when creating the campaign. Although MAJUS is billed as a “magic noir” game, implying it takes place during the 1940s and 1950s, the heyday of film noir, it’d be more accurate to call it a “neo-noir” setting. However, since “neo-noir” is less recognizable than “noir” amongst the general population, I billed the game as “magic noir.” Also, you could roughly translate “magic noir” as “black magic,” which isn’t a bad way to sell an urban fantasy RPG featuring sorcerers with questionable moral compasses.

Despite the modern setting, there’s nothing preventing you from running MAJUS in any time period of your liking. The Old Game between Maji has been ongoing since the days of ancient Sumeria and the game rules contain mechanics for an array of skills and weapons ranging from the archaic to the futuristic. Additionally, powerful Maji are able to project themselves backwards in time to previous incarnations, allowing for both one-off and ongoing adventures in distant epochs. If you want to rub shoulders with Da Vinci or fight Nazi magicians in the ruins of WWII Berlin, MAJUS allows you to do so.

MAJUS is a game about magicians, so how does magic work?

I had a heck of a good time researching “real world” magic systems and school when writing MAJUS. Borders Books and Music was shutting its doors during the design period and I helped clear out my local store’s New Age and Occult section of reference material.

In MAJUS, there are a number of magical paths known as “adits” and each is a three-tiered system of spells. At the lowest level, minor effects are possible, but with study, greater and more impressive results occur. There are twelve adits to choose from in MAJUS, ranging from “animagic” (the power to influence animals via mystical means) to “weather control,” with adits such as “blessing,” “hexing,” “glamour,” “counterspelling,” “summoning” and “warding” in between.

Magic is powerful, but low-key in MAJUS, and you won’t find a lot of fireballs or flying Maji around. Spell casting takes a bit of time, requires props and tools, and you’ll find variables like knowing your target’s true name or possessing something important to him helps the spell casting process. However, Maji are able to “hang” spells, allowing them to begin the mystical process prior to events that might benefit from magical assistance and then complete the spell when needed to produce nearly instantaneous results. The number of hanging spells a Maji can have ready at one time is dependent on his level of magical training and experience.

Besides the magical adits, Maji also walk strange paths, some of which seem preordained. A Maji can tap into the power of Synchronicity, enabling the magician to be at the right place at the right time or pick up hints the magical Skein might be strewing in the Maji’s path.

Since a player can cherry-pick which adits his PC knows, this allows for the creation of nearly any type of magician. If you want to play a sorcerer steeped in the Celtic druidic tradition, a New Age earth mother with potent healing (and hexing) powers, or a Hermitic magician well-versed in summoning angels and devils to do his bidding, you can build such a character in MAJUS.

That all you got?

Nope. Since the line between magic and psychic phenomenon is blurry (and some would argue non-existent), MAJUS contains rules for psychic talents and most Maji have one or two of them as well. These “paranormal talents” (PTs) cover a lot of ground and include aura reading, distance viewing, dowsing, dream walking, mesmerism, psychometry, and pyrokinesis, just to name a few. All total, there are thirteen different PTs to choose from, some of which will be familiar to those acquainted with other Pacesetter games, while others a brand new.

How are Maji organized?

In general, most Maji associate themselves with like-minded individuals and these groups are known as “towers” after the traditional sanctums of magicians. Towers vary in size from a half-dozen magicians to a few hundred, based on their goals, training, and ability to get along. MAJUS includes nine suggested towers, some of which are suitable for PC membership, while others are out-and-out “bad guys.” The nine towers included in MAJUS are:

  • Abraxas: A group of magical families who enhance their power by consuming demons and other supernatural entities.
  •  The Circle of Saturn: Aging Maji who are searching for immortality—by any means necessary.
  • Prima Materia: Alchemists who seek not to change lead into gold, but perfect their mortal bodies into near-indestructible killing machines.
  • The Projecteers: Maji who walk the halls of government, using military funding to engage in their own private wars to win the Old Game.
  • The Quiet: Magical police (or are they assassins?) working for the enigmatic Veiled Masters who might be pulling all the strings in the Mehen.
  • Schwarze Sonne: A tower of Maji birthed in Nazi Germany that still has access to the strange occult experiments enacted during that time.
  • Sodality of Thoth Eternal: Maji on an archeological quest that travels the world, collecting artifacts and grimoires.
  • The Thessalians: Witches with the power to draw down the moon and harness its energies against their enemies.
  • The Witchfinders: Outlaw bikers who have no interest in the Old Game and serve as a (relatively) safe haven for those of similar thinking.
In addition to the towers, there’s a new breed of Maji in the Old Game, one that came out of the Age of Aquarius and the increased interest in magic during the 1960s. Known as “erratics,” these Maji are independent agents who might be the key to winning control of the Skein or disposable pawns easily manipulated by the towers.

You’ve got Maji, but urban fantasy is rife with other supernatural creatures. Any in MAJUS?

A dozen of them, not counting rules for creating your own astral entities like angels, nature spirits, devils, and demons. As with the magic of MAJUS, I drew on real world folklore to populate the supernatural ecological niches of the game, but gave each a different twist. From magic viruses that turn the infected in bloodthirsty maniacs, to indestructible ogres created by twisted French nobles, to psychic vampires, to aquatic bogeymen who keep the souls of drowned victims in bottles, there’s a lot of nastiness in the shadows of MAJUS. You might never look at a neon “LIVE NUDE GIRLS” sign the same.

I’m not that familiar with the other Pacesetter games. How compatible is MAJUS with other games?

The good news is that MAJUS is a complete game and you don’t need the other Pacesetter games available from Goblinoid to play. Hopefully, once you read the rules, you’ll use them as written and launch a MAJUS campaign with the rulebook alone. Plus, as an Action Table system game, MAJUS is fully compatible with TIMEMASTER and ROTWORLD, allowing you to throw in magic-wielding foes or new monsters in those game campaigns.

However, even if you decide not to use the Action Table system, the MAJUS setting is detailed enough (but not overly detailed) to easily be used with other RPGs. You can adapt the background material, towers, default setting, and other aspects of the game to build an exciting campaign using your rule system of choice. Plus, MAJUS features a short primer on “noir” campaigns, which is extremely helpful to the novice game master looking to incorporate those elements into other games.

Hopefully this clears up some of the questions surrounding MAJUS and gets you all excited to play. If so, please consider helping fund the game by visiting the Kickstarter page and pledging. If you have further questions, feel free to ask them hear or comment over at the Kickstarter page. Either Dan Proctor or I will address them whenever possible.