Sunday, September 19, 2021

10 Year Anniversary of Terrible Sorcery!

September 19, 2011 was my first post on blogspot. A big round number like that is cause for reflection, not that I have the spare time to be doing it right now.

Ten years of blogging! Where do I begin? It feels like this whole thing was started in another lifetime, by a different man. Let's look back and see how the blog developed over the years.




2011-2012

I had quit the band I was playing in (a really great one BTW), quit my job, and was on the outs with my girlfriend for a while. Perfect time to think about D&D again after a five-year break from gaming! I bought the Pathfinder core rules (little did I know...) and started playing with my roommates. This was the original Land's End game, which ended sometime in 2012 after a few arguments with one of the players. 

I was reading all kinds of OSR blogs at the time, starting with Grognardia. I decided to get in on the action. At this time, blog content was mostly me trying to figure out how to write and what to write about. A fair number of articles were rambling nonsense, or based on some dumb notion that crossed my mind. A few bits and pieces of actual gaming content, like the Secret Santicore contest which was great fun.


2013-2015

Of course, almost immediately I got a new job with more hours/week, patched things up with my girl and started a new band. Free time commensurately dwindled and you can see the posting frequency drop off until I actually go two and a half years without posting, between Feb. 2013 and Sept 2015! I was recording and producing my band's first record all by myself, and that was a lot of fucking work. 

Blog content - the beginning of my "Nameless Cults" series, some of which are fairly good. My favourite opinion piece I've written, which of course is about the best video game ever, Dark Souls.


2016-2017

At this point I think I was between jobs a lot and didn't have much money. These years were pretty lousy as I recall. I could have spent more time thinking about gaming, but I didn't have a group to play with around this time. I started dating a new girl who would ruin my life a few years later (referenced obliquely in The Saints Have Turned to Crime).

Blog content - In an effort to get my friend Manscorpion to publish more stuff (he writes a lot, but hardly ever releases anything) I gave him a spotlight on the blog to talk about the dungeon he was running at the time, The Crater of Termination. These posts were fun, I wish he did more of them but I can only whip a giant sized scorpion-abomination so much. I started working in earnest on one of my grandest & least workable ideas yet: a campaign of Arthur's Knights vs. Chthulhu Cults. Somehow it never gelled together, despite me spending years thinking about it. Failed experiments actually seem to comprise 75% of my gaming ideas!


2018-2019

While my personal life was still fucked up at this point, I was gaming lots more. I got to be a player for a while in a 2nd edition game, which was great until it wasn't (Why the OSR?). I restarted Land's End with most of the original players when my brother moved to town (The Return!). I ran some Labyrinth Lord games for some brand-new players, and we had great fun. I got on Google+ just in time for it to collapse, but managed to participate in one or two communal things (the Henry Justice Ford MM). Somewhere in there I discovered Judges Guild and the Wilderlands of High Fantasy, and they blew my fucking mind. I started playing in some online games with G+ people that have been tremendous fun and really mind-expanding. I think it was sometime in the winter of '18-'19 that I became obsessed with WFRP 1st edition, and managed to find a copy of Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness on eBay for a reasonable price. Still looking for the second book, though.

Blog Content - Finally after six or seven years, I was actually producing decent content. A good mixture of play reports, some gameable material and opinion pieces. My first reviews appeared around this time. This will never be a review-focused blog but I do like writing them and will continue to review things that I find fun, useful or annoying. The Random Monster Generator Shootout began here, and that's probably my favourite part of this blog. Fun on the Velvet Horizon was also a great series, if intermittent. I commissioned that bad-ass banner artwork up top from Mr. Penny Melgarejo, who you should contact if you want some metal-as-fuck artwork at a great price.


2020-2021

A mixed bag. My personal life has vastly improved. Work is steady. The newbie-friendly Wilderlands game I started in 2019 has moved online and now has players from across North America including a few of my old gaming pals from back home. That's a great feeling. I released my first sizeable project: a 20-page dungeon for Footprints magazine #25 which included my own hand-drawn maps & artwork, something I never thought I would ever do.

Blog Content - Still doing well. I put up a small dungeon used in my home game (The Black Pyramid). Many series continued. The Historical Weapon & Armour Lists were published with the help of my good pal (& player in my Wilderlands game) Steve. Now that you've been granted this platform, I don't want to hear any more comments about 'realism' during a game, OK??


Today and Tomorrow

I am so busy trying to prep for all the games I'm running, I don't have time to come up with ideas for the blog! I have three campaigns going right now that play at varying frequencies:

1 - The revived Land's End campaign is still going (three years later) although play is currently intermittent. Honestly that's fine, the next dungeon is proving extremely complex and difficult to write up. I don't want to spoil anything about it yet - but it's going to be a RAGER.

2 - The Labyrinth Lord game set in the Wilderlands in and around the City-State of the World Emperor. This is the newbie game mentioned above, began in 2019 in person and moved online in 2020. I have a rotating pool of 7 or 8 players who show up at various times.

3 - A brand new Land's End Part II campaign, set some distance away from the neighbourhood of the original. This is a small game (just my brother and his wife). I am using Melan's Sword & Magic ruleset, which is proving flexible and easy to use. I am planning on using several great modules in this one including Sision Tower, the JG classic Caverns of Thracia and more. More updates as this one develops...

My roommates bought me a drawing tablet for my computer. I am getting better at using it with photoshop to screen-share maps and drawings during online games. This is a lot of fun and is opening up new vistas in terms of skills to develop. My digital maps are getting much better after some mistakes and lots of practise. Now I just need a better computer!

This year I have been studying after work which has really cut into my free time. Juggling gaming, musical projects, education, exercise and (on occasion) a social call to one of a dwindling circle of friends has been tough to manage. I have always been one for hyper-focus on a single topic and multitasking is kind of a time-sink. Sometimes game sessions get missed or I have to learn to improvise (another thing I've never been good at). I am using modules more than I ever have before, but I'm getting better at using my limited prep time usefully, focusing on game-relevant detail. I feel like my DMing is better than it's ever been.


As for the State of the OSR...

Just kidding! I don't give a fuck! What kind of blog do you think this is? 

Things with me will continue in the same general vein. When my latest course is done, some updates will be forthcoming from Land's End II. Reviews for some new (or at least... vaguely recent) products that I really love. Maybe some play reports from the City-State game, a few Nameless Cults that I have in draft form, more Fun on the Velvet Horizon... you get the idea!

*****

Now c'mon everyone, get out there and Fight On!



Tuesday, June 22, 2021

New Release: Footprints Issue #25

 It's finally out!



Footprints Magazine from Dragonsfoot. Packed with almost 200 pages of Completely Free old school gaming scene goodness.

Get it HERE.

I bring this up because this issue has a 20-page adventure for Labyrinth Lord written and lovingly illustrated by ME. For characters of levels 3-6 with about 50 keyed areas.  

It's called Gilded Dream of the Incandescent Queen. Originally it was for a random dungeon design contest and then took on a life of its own after that. I wrote it so that it could be dropped in to anybody's campaign, and I hope you, gentle reader, give it a chance and try playing it in your own game.

Venture into a floating sanctum built to transcend mortality itself! Weigh your soul on the great scales before Zarmuun, Eater of Hearts! Battle the sadistic Witch-Queen, plunder her vast treasure hoard, sail her ocean-going barge, or climb the celestial staircase up to a mysterious fate...?




Friday, April 2, 2021

REVIEW - On Downtime & Demesnes: just what I needed

I bought quite a few LARGE gaming books in the last year or so, but they take some time to read thoroughly. When this landed on my desk, it immediately moved to the top of the list - but it took me a while since I've been so busy actually playing lately!

*****

On Downtime & Demesnes (Basic D&D version)
by Courtney Campbell
Hack & Slash publishing
print and PDF here

Once in a rare while, an RPG supplement comes out that doesn't need doctoring around with, adaptation or fiddle-fucking - it just works. OD&D (hahaha I see what you did there) is one such product.

Courtney Campbell has proved his worth many times over, both on his blog Hack & Slash and his other products on DTRPG. Even if all he ever released was his classic treasure document (which I use constantly) he would still have made a huge contribution to my own gaming table. Before he gutted it, his blog was a tremendous resource for traps, tricks & DM techniques, along with controversial classics like the legendary "Quantum Ogre."

How many times has your player tried to do something and you thought "Huh... where are the rules for that?" What I often find I need in a gaming book are not more combat rules or magic items but guidelines, tables, sub-systems and procedures. The kind of things I usually have to write myself, ad-hoc when the situation calls for it. I have always had to range far and wide across blogs, published books, pdfs and my own customised rules to cover the situations dealt with in this book. Now Courtney gives us the total package at a single stroke! In a way, the book is like a best-of collection from one man's gaming blog all put together in a nice & usable package. It is accompanied by plenty of Courtney's hand-drawn black & white artwork, which brings a charming '80s 1st-edition feel to the whole thing.

With OD&D we get an extensive list of downtime activities, domain-management rules, options, tables, ideas and hooks. Want to build a castle? Clear a hex? Buy & sell trade goods? Learn a new skill? Find rumours? Whatever it is, Courtney has your back.

Carousing. Healing. Rumours. Bragging. Buying fancy clothes. Gambling. Buying influence! Building your own vehicles! Simple rules for magic item creation and spell research!! Even some good rules for ARENA FIGHTS by Jove, and a few sample arenas to have them in!!! In true B/X house-rule fashion, almost everything is handled with a 2d6 reaction-style roll. Usually on an 9+ something good happens, but this varies between sub-systems. 

I used this book in my home game the week I bought it. Vuk Thuul the oracle sacrificed an animal to his mysterious "divine patron" (a demon lord, hahaha). I had no idea what would happen, and then I cracked open OD&D and noticed there are rules for exactly that!

In addition to rules, guidelines and tables, great ready-to-use content is sprinkled throughout. Whenever Courtney gets specific, his imagination blasts off the page. Sections include "Example Mercenaries & Companies" (5 pages of juicy, weird NPCs I would run any day), "Strange Funeral Rites," "Dungeon Doors," "Strange Inheritances" (could easily kick off your next campaign), "Random Items for Sale at a Bazaar," "Strange Pet Stores" (OK, not sure when I'll use that) and several quirky, memorable sample villages.

I also like the lists of "100 obnoxious peasants" and "100 noble patrons," written by Chris Tamm of the legendary Elfmaids & Octopi blog. This section was cited in Melan's review and he didn't seem to like it much. They definitely bear the familiar feel of Tamm's work, but I don't mind that at all and will for sure use them. Just reading them sent me into fits of chuckling as I imagined the bizarre, dangerous and funny antics these NPCs might bring to my game. Would I use these tables every single time? No, but that ain't no crime.

Campbell draws from a wide range of wisdom here in developing these rules. Actually, I think he doesn't cite his sources enough. Would it be too much to ask for a mention of the 1st edition DMG(!!!), or maybe Jeff's Gameblog for the carousing rules[1]? Maybe a lot of this stuff is covered in ACKS, which he does list in the bibliography? (I haven't read it). Also, this book does duplicate some material you probably already have, especially in the AD&D dungeon master's guide - in fact, it could probably be thought of as a B/X DMG. I don't mind too much. Having almost every fucking thing I could want to run the "Greater D&D" in one book is more than worth it.

One other complaint I'd level at OD&D is that it covers such a tremendously wide range of material, sometimes it doesn't do so with the depth I'd like. The Influence rules could have been delved into more deeply, or maybe explained better. And the "carousing mishaps" table has 10 entries of familiar stuff - compare them to Ben's vivid table here. Ultimately this is a minor complaint, this book was clearly written so it can be used in anybody's game, and a DM who wants to expand these tables to suit his own setting obviously can.

I bought this in pdf and after paging through it once, I immediately ordered a hard copy. It's going right in between Realms of Crawling Chaos and Labyrinth Lord on my old-school gaming shelf, it is that good. If you want to run a sandbox game (and if you don't... what's the deal?) you will definitely make use of this. If you play just about any old-school game or retroclone, there is now one less reason to bring your 1st edition DMG along to game night anymore, just to reference the rules on sages for the twentieth time. Just as well, since mine is crumbling before my very eyes!


Don't waste your RPG lunch money. The marketplace is crammed with unimaginative dreck, impossible-to-run adventure path railroads, retro trade dress porn, kickstarter money grabs and pretentious glossy award-baiting. Buy something you can actually use at the table for once. Who the fuck says the OSR is dead? This is as OSR as it gets. 

9 eccentric henchmen out of 10. An almost flawless victory. 


*****

[1] - Jeff's "Party like it's 999" post is not the first time carousing is mentioned (Dragon magazine covered this in the old days), but it is the benchmark for the rules that OSRmen play with today. 

Courtney's new book Artifices, Deceptions & Dilemmas is out now I think, so watch for a review of that one too. In the meantime, get fucking hyped with this:



Saturday, March 13, 2021

REVIEW - Knock! #1: miss me with that nonsense


KNOCK! #1
Edited by Eric Nieudan
Layout by Oliver Revenu
Contributors: see below
Published by The Merry Mushmen
get the pdf here


Knock! is a new OSR zine I somehow discovered on Kickstarter last year. I hardly ever back anything, but the blurbs for this product were too compelling to resist:

"It has everything you’d want from an old school slash adventure gaming publication: articles about the history of Dungeons & Dragons, reflections about genre and gameplay, some clever rules, a bunch of maps, tons of random tables and lists, 7 new classes, 7 new monsters, and 3 complete adventures. If you’re reading this, some of the names below will ring a bell, or five: Emmy Allen, Benjamin Baugh, Joe Brogzin, Caleb Burks, Brooks Dailey, Nicolas Dessaux, Paolo Greco, James Holloway, Anthony Huso, Arnold K, Ethan Lefevre, Gabor Lux, Bryce Lynch, Fiona Maeve Geist, Chris McDowall, Ben Milton, Gavin Norman, Patrick Ollson, Graphite Prime, Stuart Robertson, Jack Shear, Jason Sholtis, Skullfungus, Sean Stone, Chris Tamm, Daniel Sell, and Vagabundork."

As is my wont, I sent KS the money and promptly forgot about it. A couple months ago it arrived in my mailbox and I excitedly packed it in my overnight bag for a work trip, not knowing what I was in for...

To start with, the book looks tremendous. Revenu needs to get some more work, right now. The print quality is high, the colours are so bold & vivid they fairly jump off the page. I don't think any of my other gaming books come close to being so brilliant. Even LotFP doesn't look this good. Each bloody article has individual fonts, colour schemes and a layout all its own. This must have been a huge undertaking, and I can't lavish enough praise on the zine's aesthetic. Even the damn dust jacket has a whole adventure on it (which Bryce reviewed here, saving me the time).

But how does it play? Well, I am no expert, but I cannot see how I would ever use 90% of this zine. In fact, Nieudan cops to this on the first page, where he writes

"This first issue is a bet: a bet on your interest in owning content you may have read before, collected in this dense volume for posterity and for prep sessions."

May have??
Dude, had I read half this zine before this Kickstarter was ever dreamed of.

All, and I do mean all of the content by the heavy-hitters, those who often singly but definitely combined made this an auto-buy for me (Arnold K, Gabor Lux, Daniel Sell, Anthony Huso, Graphite Prime, Chris Tamm, Jason Sholtis, Emmy Allen) turned out to be existing material from their blogs! I am not exaggerating. I don't need to pay some guy to give me a glossy, high-colour version of these articles. I had that shit bookmarked for years, my son.

Do you not already read these folks' blogs? Have you guys not heard of the OSR links to wisdom? You know that people have been updating that page for something like a decade now?

Furthermore, this book is simply not user-friendly - not during prep, nor at the table. This is where the Mushmen's obsession with cool layouts works against them (or would work against them, if I thought they had actually made this book to be used). The articles are more easily read on the blogs where they were originally posted, and the tables (except for a few very short ones) are fucking colossal, undifferentiated blocks of text! It comes across more as an art project than a tool or game document.

As I read through this zine recognizing article after article, a growing sense of indignation rose within me - I felt I'd been had. Like Don Draper trying to blend in with some hippies, Knock! throws out the "right" talking-points but none of them come together. Halfway through reading, it all I could think of was Geeks, MOPs and Sociopaths. It all comes across as if Nieudan woke up one day, read someone's "What is the OSR?" blog post, and decided to create a zine on that basis. The articles are all over the map, and while many of them are tremendous and useful CLASSICS individually, there is nothing connecting them together which might justify buying a bunch of shit I already have, no 'editorial voice,' no curation that might be considered a value-add.

I can't get over one question: who the fuck is this zine for

Where are the supply-demand curves for people who haven't read these articles already, but are willing to spend *checks notes* fifty Canadian dollars on a glossy OSR zine? What does that Venn diagram look like? Clearly, I am not the target audience. I suspect that most people who buy Knock! #1 will read through it, say "hey, nice" and put it on their gaming shelves where it shall rest, un-referenced, for many a year. Am I all alone in being displeased with that?

The answer of course was available from the beginning which, paradoxically, only adds to my feeling of being hoodwinked. As if the Mushmen were saying "hey man, you didn't read the fine print! Not our fault." 

Knock! is exactly what it says: a bric-a-brac of OSR material. 

According to dictionary.com, bric-a-brac is: "Miscellaneous small articles collected for their antiquarian, sentimental, decorative, or other interest." That description fits this zine precisely. An assortment of stuff, packaged in an attractive form and not especially useful. Meant to be put on the mantelpiece or sideboard, for kitschy display purposes.


4/10 well-read blog posts. Don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining. 


*****

(Having said all the above, if the Knock! fellows want to use one of my blog posts in an upcoming issue, I will delete this review.)

Now, a little palate-cleanser: