Sunday, July 31, 2016

Gen Con 2016: I Will Be There and so Will Some New Zines and Books and Wow

New Crawljammer Zines? What?
Oh, what is this? An update to the Crawljammer blog? Why now?


Here's the lowdown:

Crawljammer: The Vault of Ash, written by Daniel Bishop and illustrated by Fred Dailey (with cover by Matt Hildebrand) will debut at Gen Con. This is the sequel to Daniel's Weird Worm-Ways of Saturn, and while that first adventure explored the surface of the worm-infested killer planet, this adventure takes us underground, where you will probably die a horrible death, let's be honest. The Goodman Games booth will have 30 copies of the adventure for sale, and after I get back from the convention, and after I ship out copies to folks who had subscribed previously (thanks for your patience!!!), I will put the remaining copies up for sale on this here blog. I still have a bunch of copies of Weird Worm-Ways left, and I will put those up for sale after Gen Con as well, if you want the set.

Crawljammer Most Wanted: A Gen Con 2016 Minizine, written by me, illustrated by Fred Dailey, and designed by Matt Hildebrand, will ONLY be available at Gen Con. Matt wanted to make a special giveaway for Gen Con (even though he won't be there -- how nice is that?) and he was going to make a minizine using some excerpts from previous Crawljammer issues. I said, "let's do something new. I bet Fred would be willing to do something new." And thus it came to be that Fred drew a rogues gallery for the Perilous League -- six vile villains -- and I statted them up for Crawljammer, wrote a bit of backstory for each, and Matt took care of everything else (including printing) and shipped them to CJ central. This is a FREE signed-and-numbered, limited-to-100-copies release. How do you get it: see me or Fred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday of Gen Con. Tell us what you like about Crawljammer. Play in one of my games. Give us high-fives at Punjar 50K at the Embassy Suites. Share your snacks. Whatever! We will have copies as long as supplies last!

The Gongfarmer's Almanac 2016: Volume 6, Crawljamming and Other Stuff [not the actual title], written by a bunch of people (and including an amazing adventure by Julian Bernick). This is another FREE issue. It's huge. Like 48 pages or something. And like all issues of The Gongfarmer's Almanac, you can get it by asking for it at the Goodman Games booth. Marc Bruner is the champion who coordinated this year's almanac, so give him a huge hug when you see him. If the anticipated release schedule hold true, with two volumes released per day, then this Crawljammer-centric volume should be available on Saturday of Gen Con. Get there early!


That's a pretty huge chunk of Crawljammer!

Barako. Mysterious, hypnotic, deadly, wet.
But I am involved with some other releases at Gen Con as well!

The Purple Planet gang regrouped to help out Harley Stroh by fleshing out The Lost City of Barako, a companion locale for the brand new Journey to the Center of Aereth. For the Lost City, I created some cool monsters that will kill you, and a cool magic spell-song-ritual that will kill you or maybe save you. Do you dare to find out?

I also wrote up a couple of magical swords for the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Guide. If you have seen these Program Guides, they are a huge lie. They are not Program Guides. They are massive amazing Annuals filled with gaming material. This one is dedicated to Metamorphosis Alpha. And swords. And more!

See you at Gen Con!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Three Games for TotalCon 30!

I will be at TotalCon 30 next week, in historic Mansfield, Massachusetts, running three games and playing in a bunch more. Fellow Goodman Games writers Brendan LaSalle and Michael Curtis will be there too, along with Jeff Talanian of North Wind Adventures. Come along and join us!

Here's what I'm running:

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Four Days of Undying: DAY FOUR -- THIS IS IT!

This is the LAST DAY TO GET 25% OFF YOUR FIRST MYTHOARD SUBSCRIPTION. (Use the code AGEOFUNDYING.) So here I am. Talking about The Age of Undying for the final time (before it's released).

As I have mentioned all week, the only way to get The Age of Undying in print is via a Mythoard subscription, so you should get on that. But I'm not here today to badger you into buying something you don't want. If you do want it, great! If you don't, then that's on you. You're the one who will have to pretend to smile when your players ask for a more vicious and nightmarish world that will test their characters. Or when they see their friends fighting corpse colossi and wonder why they never get to have such fun. Or die so gloriously.

But what I am here for today is to answer questions from the fans! From the readers. The askers. The whomevers. Here we go!

Julan Bernick asks, "What Silver Age supervillain would be most at home in The Age of Undying?"

The answer is...Lord Death Man! Created by Robert Kanigher and Shelly Moldoff, but more famously used in Jiro Kuwata's bat-manga from the 1960s, Lord Death Man is the perfect villain for The Age of Undying for multiple reasons. (1) He wears a costume that makes him look like a skeleton, which is really the only reason you need. (2) He fights Batman IN A GRAVEYARD! Fabulously Undying! and (3) He has died MORE THAN ONCE. In America and Japan! I think you should bring Lord Death Man into your game. Just a straight-up port. No changes needed!

Reader Chris Stenger asks, "How many pages is it? Will the other content in the Mythoard box be for DCC?"

The Age of Undying is 24 pages (2 of which are kind of useless, though the table of contents looks darn pretty and the legal jargon at the back must be fun for someone to read) 22 pages of good stuff! I tried to make it shorter, denser, but Matt Hildebrand, layout-master-supreme, was smart enough to give it some room to breathe. It's probably a bit more user-friendly than the Bizarre Tales book I put out last year (I'm using that one with a 5e group right now and though I'm having fun throwing things from Baulder at the PCs, I regret the font size and big paragraphs about 35% of the time), and though the first draft was more narrative in its approach, the final version is structured around the 10 principles I mentioned in my blog post the other day. So it's like having 10 chapters in 22 pages, which keeps everything quick and tight and easy to reference at the table.

The demigods at Mount Mythoard say that there will be a one-page mini-adventure set in The Age of Undying to going along with the digest-sized book, and there will certainly be plenty of other goodness in the February box (they always try to stuff about $40-50 worth of stuff in there), but no DCC-specific books outside of this one. For now.

David A. Powers comes in like a displacer beast, fast and furious, with a series of lightning round questions to finish up our Four Days of Undying...

(1) Does The Age of Undying change something about death for the PCs? Do people still die?
Yes and yes!

When a PC hits zero hp, they do NOT die. But there are other ways to kill PCs...and monsters...and everything in between. And once the body is destroyed, then things get even more dangerous!

(2) Do new opportunities for profit and pleasure await in the Age of Undying -- or is it one vast nightmare?
Possibly, though that is left in the hands of the judge! In my campaign, it was pretty nightmarish, but maybe your PCs will follow the path of the stitchermen and begin assembling an army of deadboys to find new avenues to exploit. Still...kind of a nightmare.

(3) Does this book lend itself to a mix-and-match modular toolkit approach?
Absolutely! You can adopt all 10 principles or ignore 8 of them and use your favorite 2. It even tosses in some ideas for how to get in...and out...of The Age of Undying, and you can customize that to fit your campaign world. Or, maybe you use all 10 principles for a one-shot that's all hacking and slashing and decapitations and desperation.

And maybe Lord Death Man rises from the grave. And you ain't no Bruce Wayne.

The Age of Undying is only available via Mythoard and subscriptions are 25% off until February 10th for new subscribers. Use code AGEOFUNDYING at the checkout. Go to Mythoard HERE!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Four Days of Undying: DAY THREE -- THE ARTIST SPEAKS!

Viking Warrior in The Age of Undying
Art by Nick Burchard
For the past two days I've been talking about The Age of Undying, the Dungeon Crawl Classics supplement that is only available in print via this month's Mythoard box. For this project, I wanted to do something a bit different with the art. I wanted to work with Nick Burchard, a high school student who had been showing me his drawings (and comics) for years and was getting better every month. He'd done some early work for Crawljammer but he didn't want to stop there. Since the project grew out of an after-school program at the high school, it only made sense for Nick to help conceive of the visual reality of The Age of Undying. So I shared an early draft with him and told him to draw whatever inspired him. He designed the covers and drew a handful of pen-and-ink illustrations for the guts of the project.

Nick is an actor first -- he was Nathan Detroit in the fall Guys and Dolls production -- but he's a heck of an artist too. He's just getting started on his career as his days at high school wind down. I threw some questions his way so you could find out more about his connection to this little project of ours:

How did you get involved in creating RPG art?
Ever since I was young, I've always been really interested in telling stories and creating characters in any way shape or form. As I recall it, Tim Callahan the Assistant Principal of the high school I attend (editor's note: that's me!) noticed me drawing a character from DC comics (I think it was Raven from Teen Titans, but it was probably Batman. Ha! I draw Batman a lot.) And he started up a conversation with me about his knowledge of the comic book world, and we became fast friends. Later on that year. he showed me a role-playing game book titled Crawljammer, I then found out that he was the creator of it, I asked to borrow the first issue and I got one look at all of the fantastic art that these artists were able to create for this unique platform of RPGs. It was super-fascinating to me and I came in to school the next day and said to Tim, "How can I get involved in this project???"

As sort of an audition piece he had me draw a character called the "Technomancer" (basically Gandalf meets Cyborg) and the rest is history!

What RPGs have you played? What do you like about them?
Aside from Crawljammer, and being the comic book nerd that I am, I've played the DC Comics version of Dungeons & Dragons (editor's note: the Mutants & Masterminds DC RPG thing from Green Ronin). I remember having a lot of fun playing that one! I think RPGs, aside from being really entertaining, can also be a really awesome tool for writing stories -- the creator of the game as well as the artist come up with the world -- but the players get to create the story, and that's really cool to me!

Who or what inspires you as an artist?
Oh! This question is always so hard for me! Here's what I'll say, as a young artist that gets to grow up in this amazing time for art and storytelling, what doesn't inspire me? First, I'm a huge film buff, the movie Mad Max: Fury Road was a huge inspiration for me while creating the designs on some of the characters in Age of Undying. The film was so off-the-wall and bold, it can only be described as a "symphony of madness." I think readers will definitely see how that movie inspired the artwork for this one. The people that inspire me artistically are Josiah Brooks who taught me how to draw, acclaimed local cartoonist (and mentor of mine) Howard Cruse, and Tim Callahan for being another fantastic mentor to me throughout the years! I'm a huge fan of Greg Capullo, Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Alex Ross, and Charles Addams!

How would you describe your style?
I'm really interested in the quirks that make certain characters pop, and I try to add every bit of their personalities into their designs. I would categorize myself as a comic book artist -- my style tends to focus solely on what the motivations of a character are. I never really care to "just draw" a character, I want to put them in a scene or give them something to do, whether it's a massive shark-worm exploding out of the surface of a moon (Crawljammer throwback) or a confident Viking Warrior standing atop a mountain of skulls screaming after a battle. I prefer there to be purpose in my illustrations.

What are you trying to improve about yourself and your art?
At the moment, I'm trying to improve my storytelling skills...aside from the art that I do, I am an actor, so storytelling is my passion. As of late, I've been wanting to better my coloring skills, I know that in the comic book business, the penciler normally does, specifically, the pencils, the inker handles the inking, and the colorist does the colors, but I would like to learn how to do all three of those things to perfection!

What other kinds of projects would you like to work on?
I've been doing a lot more writing lately, I'm in the scripting and concept phase of creating a graphic novel series. I'll be attending the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts in
New York City in the fall, and I hope to do more artwork while I am building an acting career. I love working in the RPG industry! I want to create many more characters in my lifetime and let their stories be shared!

The Age of Undying is only available via Mythoard and subscriptions are 25% off until February 10th for new subscribers (that's the date when orders close for the month!). Use code AGEOFUNDYING at the checkout. Go to Mythoard HERE!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Four Days of Undying: DAY TWO -- OKAY, BUT WHAT'S IN THE BOOK?

Yesterday I talked about how The Age of Undying came to be. Today I'll talk more about what it is.

It's not exactly a campaign setting, but instead it's a state of being that you would overlay upon your own campaign. The book describes what might cause this "state of being" to occur in the world of your own game, but basically this book changes the dynamics between the PCs and the creatures who inhabit their world. The "veil between the living and the dead" has been removed, so concepts such as "life" and "death" no longer mean what they once did.

Because of this -- and The Age of Undying is designed to explore these things in detail and provide rules and guidelines for play -- there are 10 "Principles" that describe the new game-state. And here they are:

1. Zero Hit Points does NOT Equal Death.
2. The Recently-Dead will Arise
3. Souls are the Life Force
4. Free Souls May Attempt to Possess a New Body
5. Critical Hits are Extra-Vicious
6. Spells have Weird Effects
7. Class Features are Altered
8. Traditional Un-dead Creatures are Still Traditional Un-dead Creatures
9. Most Gods Take Notice
10. New Monsters Emerge, Thriving in this New Age

You'll have to read the 10,000 word supplement to find out what that all means and what it does to the game, but there you have it!

Remember, this digest-sized book is only available via Mythoard and subscriptions are 25% off until February 10th for new subscribers. Use code AGEOFUNDYING at the checkout. Go to Mythoard HERE!

I'll be back tomorrow a look at some of the art and some of the reasons behind the art...

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Four Days of Undying: DAY ONE -- WHAT IS THE AGE OF UNDYING?

The February Mythoard -- if you don't know about Mythoard, make sure you check it out HERE -- is devoted to The Age of Undying, an exclusive print release for Dungeon Crawl Classics available only to Mythoard subscribers.

Since subscriptions for February close in just a few days (on February 10th), and I want folks to know about The Age of Undying and what it's all about, I have decided to do FOUR DAYS OF UNDYING here on the blog.

No, The Age of Undying is not strictly a Crawljammer product, but as a DCC supplement it is fully compatible AND it features additional rules and information for using Crawljammer classes (in addition to the standard DCC classes) in the Undying world.

But what IS The Age of Undying? Where did it come from?

Basically, The Age of Undying spawned organically out of my home Crawljammer game last year. One of the PCs -- a cleric of Cthulhu -- sacrificed one of the giant greenstones on the Purple Planet in a climactic moment (one that shocked every other player at the table, since that was NOT the party's plan) and since his deity had visited him in a dream in an earlier session and told him to find a way to "remove the veil between the living and the dead," well...he was just doing what he thought was right. And how could he deny Cthulhu any request?

So...that session ended with the crazy sacrifice and the desires of the cleric amplified by the tremendous power of the greenstone. And I had a week to come up with what it meant to "remove the veil between the living and the dead" before our next session.

At first, I thought that it would be enough to have some un-dead rise from the Purple Planet and maybe an aspect of Cthulhu himself climb up from the great dead lake. But then I sat down to put some "ground rules" in writing. I thought I'd write a page or so that we could reference at the table. And over that week I continued to write. And write. And think about the craziness of the "ghosts" from the Gen Con Catastrophe Island games run by Doug Kovacs, Adam Muszkiewicz, and Wayne Snyder. And think about the novel I was then reading, by Gabriel Squailia (Dead Boys, a good one, like a Henry Selick nightmare of an underworld movie by way of The Odyssey). And the unforgettable colossus of corpses from the mind of Clark Ashton Smith. And all of that inspired the world that had come to be. And before the next session, I had 10,000 words of rules about what it meant to live (or try to live -- if you dare) in "The Age of Undying." It was the first draft of what would be revised and playtested for the remaining four or five sessions of the campaign before the school year ended.

After the revision, I sent it off to Joseph Goodman for approval as an official 3rd party supplement for DCC, and he approved. And then I asked the Mythoard folks if they'd want to include it in a box as an exclusive, and not only did they want to do that, but they wanted to name the whole box after it! So here we are. Four days until orders close.

And there's a 25% discount for new subscribers: AGEOFUNDYING. It's good until February 10th! Use it HERE when you place your order.

I'll be back tomorrow with Day Two of FOUR DAYS OF UNDYING with another little behind-the-scenes glimpse of The Age of Undying.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

My Top 10 Role-Playing Games Played in 2015

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I played a LOT of games in 2015. At least 120 board games and role-playing games. It was, by far, the most board gaming I've ever done in one year, and it may be the most role-playing I've done within a calendar year as well. At one point in the fall of 2015, I was running THREE weekly games (Star Wars, DCC, 5e), and playing in ONE bi-weekly game (Rolemaster) and TWO monthly games (Star Frontiers, AD&D).

I also wrote over 50,000 words of RPG material for publication (some of which has come out already, and some is coming in 2016). I was busy! But it was all super-fun.

Anyway, here's where I ended up with my Top 10 Role-Playing Games Played in 2015. I organized it by system, rather than individual experiences, because maybe system does matter!

1. Dungeon Crawl Classics. When I started to write role-playing game material after I stepped away from the world of comics a couple of years ago, I wanted to work for Goodman Games. I was excited to run and play Dungeon Crawl Classics in a way that I had never wanted to run or play anything else. It seemed insane. And alive. And it was. It is. 2015 was a big year for me and Dungeon Crawl Classics. The Purple Planet boxed set finally came out. I wrote Advent of the Avalanche Lords. I contributed to what turned out to be a pretty thick book of madness for the d50. But that's not why DCC is my #1 role-playing game of the year. It's at the top because it was the most fun to run and play in 2015. Whether it was exploring Lankhmar with Michael Curtis, experiencing level 10 characters emerging from rags and nonsense with Marc Bruner, running an improptu session for Catastrophe Island 2 when Doug Kovacs grabbed me at the Embassy Suites and threw me to a table of 10, playtesting the Crawljammer dreamscape of the "Nightmare Beasts" with Fred Dailey sketching away like a courthouse artist, or making up a new subsystem for the "Age of Undying" after the cleric of Cthulhu rewrote the laws of reality, Dungeon Crawl Classic was there. And in NONE of those instances was the game played by the book. It was transformed, tampered with, stretched, expanded, overturned, and molested. It was a great year to play DCC. I suppose any year is.

2. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I worship at the church of Gygax and regularly misread the holy book (the 1e Dungeon Masters Guide). Not only did I run a few sessions of 1e, sort of, in my own sacrilegious way, but I played in a fantastic game at TotalCon in which we played Smurfs and Papa Smurf was corrupted by the elder gods. We had to destroy him to save smurfanity. It was great fun. And now I'm in a monthly game in which we are the chosen ones returning to a world gone wrong. Only it's AD&D, so we're not super-competent, and that only makes it better. I love Vancian magic, descending AC, and pole arms.

3. Marvel Superheroes. This is the classic TSR-era FASERIP system. I ran a game at TotalCon that was basically Secret Wars meets Mad Max, months before the new Secret Wars or Mad Max came out. It was so great -- Venom Zombie Galactus was spectacular, though Ant-Man and Dazzler held their own! -- that I started working on an original post-apocalyptic superhero game that should get some playtesting in 2016. But I can't get Marvel Superheroes out of my head. It is the second game I ever loved, after Moldvay D&D. And it is still a thrill to dish out Karma and watch what the players do with their heroes.

4. Metamorphosis Alpha. I played Bullwinkle at a ski lodge on a spaceship. Michael Curtis was the mastermind. It was a highlight of the year. I need to play this system more often.

5. Gamma World. James Carpio ran this using, I think, his memory of 2nd edition rules. It doesn't matter, because it's Gamma World and I got to play Misty Deth who pretended to be related to Steve Jobs and when that didn't work, blew up a whole lot of cyborgs.

6. Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. I have an AS&SH adventure coming out in 2016, and I'll be running it at TotalCon this year, but in 2015 I yet again had a chance to play in a Jeff Talanian-run adventure, and he runs games like no one else I play with. I feel like he's the Crypt Keeper, but in his younger years. He's like a semi-sane master of horrific ceremonies. He almost looks serene as your character's life slips away into the void. I need to play this system more!

7. Torchbearer. I played this at GenCon in a game run by the designer, Thor Olavsrud. It's a fancy-looking book, full of what seems to be an excessive amount of rules for every little thing. I knew I wouldn't be able to run it without playing it first, because everything in the rules seemed like they were there for a reason, but they all felt counter-intuitive to me. Playing it, I didn't feel that way at all. It played a lot like the OSR games I have been running and playing, but with a bit more attention to the small details that are often waved away (like exact light sources and carrying capacity of sacks). It ends up making every decision more important, and therefore there are prices to be paid for every misstep. But the game moved along and didn't feel clunky. I like it a lot. Plus I got to play with Sarah Richardson and Mark Malone and they are among my favorite gamers in the world.

8. Rolemaster. Let me tell you about my character. His name is Jarn. He's a level 9 Ranger. He enjoys shooting things in the face and trying (but often failing) to climb out of ditches. He has only lost one arm and one thumb, but herbs have helped them grow back. He summons walls of wood and black bears. I have been playing this one Rolemaster campaign for over 3 years which makes it the longest RPG campaign of my life. Sometimes I want Jarn to meet a nice girl and retire. But the world doesn't want him to be happy.

9. Spirit of 77. I called the one-shot "Amsterdamnation" and the "poster" I created for this Powered by the Apocalypse game at the game day featured a day-glo Bootsy Collins. The PCs were Charles Bronson. Elliot Gould, Jim Brown, and other stars of the 70s. They needed to infiltrate a karate tournament to stop drug trafficking and/or the emergence of the serpent god. In describing this, I realize it should probably rank higher. But I think maybe it's best as a one-shot experience, hidden away where the ghost of Telly Savalas will never find us.

10. Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. I have mixed feelings about this game. I fell in love with it in the fall of 2015. I ran (and continue to run) it weekly. But the problem is that the weekly game is an after-school session and so it's limited to one hour. And this game really doesn't work on one-hour increments. The dice pool requires a bit more room to breathe. More room for creativity and interpretation and for one result to build toward another later result. That can happen, but the one hour time constraint makes it too condensed usually. When I ran a 5 hour session at a local game day, it was a spectacular success. I think once this mini-campaign ends in late January I will set this Fantasy Flight creation away for a little while and run Star Wars-inspired Crawljammer games instead. But there's a lot to like in this system, if you have creative players who can get into its nerve center and live with it a bit without caring at all about "official Star Wars continuity."

Okay 2016, I'm ready for you.