Tuesday, January 15, 2019

STATUES adventure reviewed on Fear of a Black Dragon podcast

Fear of a Black Dragon, at The Gauntlet, devoted a 55-minute podcast to reviewing my STATUES adventure!  

Maybe I'll return to this with more detail in a future post, but it's gratifying how deeply they sunk their teeth into analyzing something into which I poured my heart's blood. 

Fear of a Black Dragon won a 2018 Silver Ennie award.  The podcast consists of Jason Cordova, who sounds like a fellow American, and Tom McCready, who sounds like an entertaining and erudite Britisher.  It's a very polished production.  There is fun interplay between the hosts, without the podcast becoming aimless or off-topic.

They cross media and genre lines, they get intertextual: There are comparisons and references in the podcast to Altman's classic 1975 film, Nashville, to Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser's doings in Lankhmar, and 1979 cult film The Warriors.

Wandering through a city, meeting a vast range of people...

Each Fear of a Black Dragon podcast is cut into sections titled "The Basic Crawl", "The Expert Delve" - in which they dig deeper into a topic related to what they are reviewing, and "Companion Adventures"- in which they mention other artworks, TV, movies, games, which pair like wines with the roast beast they have just carved in front of you.  In the Expert Delve for STATUES, Tom McCready coins the term "Urban Picaresque" for the genre of this adventure.  Interesting analysis!

In summary, podcasts well worth listening to:  Fear of a Black Dragon

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

For Your Consideration...

Sorry it has been so crazy long since I have written anything.  I have been THINKING plenty of things, sometimes when I am lying in bed, the radiator cold and malfunctioning, the portable heater whirring in the darkness, my wife's soft, comforting snoring a few inches behind my back, my right nostril plugged up, my mouth open for wheezing, my parched lips begging for Chapstick.

I have been doing a major overhaul and expansion of The Lost Lush: Extracting a Carousing Fool Before He Obliterates Peace, Prosperity, and Basic Human Dignity.  I will send people who already bought the old version on DriveThruRPG/RPG Now a free upgraded copy.  I will eliminate the old version to replace it with THE LOST LUSH: RELOADED.

When I finish, if anybody wants to give even a cursory look-through and critique, please feel free to email me for a free copy (and "Consultant" credit on the final version, if you want it).

Some things I worry about lying in bed with one nostril plugged:

1. Is this adventure fun to play?

2. Is this adventure fun to run for the DM?

3. Are the mechanics too kludgy and awkward at the table?

4. Is the tone OK?  I've got humor, buried literary allusions, historical references, folklore, and horror mixed together.
5. The actual history I am referring to is tragic (but A LOT of countries have very sad histories as well).  The actual people (Czechs) who deal with the consequences of this history often do so with black humor and sardonic wit.   Did I handle this history and these sardonic jokes appropriately in my stuff?

6. Is the German vs. Czech ("Schwab" vs. "Krajan") theme handled fairly enough so that a German could have fun playing and not think: "Well, verdammt! THAT sure was racist against my folk..." I'm trying to get the over-the-top satiric tone of Theater Jara Cimrman in Prague, which doesn't rankle or inspire violence against actual Germans.

7. Alcoholism - The main premise of the adventure is the PCs being hired to quietly find a loose drunk before he breaks the fragile peace prevailing over a conquered population.  I don't want to be a facile edgelord who creates material that is stupid, tasteless, and mean.  People say that one 1970s Dudley Moore movie - Arthur- in which he played a rich drunk, isn't funny anymore and is painful to people who have close experience with alcoholics.  I hope I handled this right in my adventure.  My wife, who grew up with people she loved suffering from alcoholism, read my adventure and said it was fine.  Maybe just the title of the adventure is warning enough for people.

I also really need some playtesters who don't know me well and can give a more objective idea of how The Lost Lush runs as written.

For here, for now, I want to post some ideas for the cover.  Please feel free to comment, give thumbs down or thumbs up, or give any advice.

The aesthetic I'm trying to go for is something different, something classy, but also maybe slightly humorous.  I don't want to ape the old TSR module livery.  I don't want to have anime or manga or other modern cartoon styles.  I'm looking for a slightly bawdy, humorous late medieval woodcut feeling.  Or, barring that, a 1960s Czech look like Adolf Born. I bet Arlin Ortiz could do something amazing that would fit well.

Which one is the best cover?  Please click to embiggen the lot.

Contestant #1


#3 - Kind of a subtle Robin Hood feeling somehow

#4 Fossil fish background

#5 Woven mat background

#6 Granite

#7 Plain Jane Grey
#8 Cardinal Red? Candy Apple Red? Cherry Red?
                                                         Thank you for reading. I hope you sleep better than I do.

Thursday, August 16, 2018


Logan Knight at Last Gasp has one of the coolest imaginations in this corner of the blogosphere.  Commenter Yami Bakura thanked him for for pointing out how random encounters with those strange monsters - other human beings - can make for interesting gaming and how DMs often squander the potential of an encounter with 1d6 humans. Here is the post: Close Encounters with Humankind

In addition to the main reasons why that post was interesting, my brain got stuck on a small detail (which I do with too many things) and started spinning like a hamster in an exercise wheel.

Logan's sub-table "If It's Not Clear How They're Traveling..." had an entry for "Warpigs"-  I was seized with visions of medieval woodcuts of bristling, armored, over-tusked Panzerschweine with reins of chains and saddles.  I had to channel Trampier, lubok prints, Motörhead's logo, the Black Sabbath song.  I couldn't help stirring the ingredients with MS Paint et al until I got these.

I hope someone who reads this is inspired to make their own, vastly superior pictures of warpigs ridden into battle, used for jousting, limping home after battle, stampeding, taking on all comers in the arena, etc.

MS Paint 3-D combining of logos from Motorhead and Gov't Mule, then film grain effect

The same under paint brush "artistic effect" in Word
And because I can't stop messing with it...  Wish I could get the arm right!
The lubok Baba Yaga vs. the Crocodile had me beat with an awesome warpig image nearly 500 years before I started

Thursday, March 15, 2018

So, I Lashed Out and Wrote Another Adventure...

Baron Hanswurst the "Loose Catapult"
"Just... Just let me stay for a couple more...  Listen, I swear I'll shape it up... 
HOW can you SAY I gotta go when the view is so BEAUTIFUL... 
and SOO-WEET JEE-HOSPHAT! The LADIES are so beautiful here, too..."

"SOMEBODY'S gotta regulate on that fool!  Not me.  Not again.  YOU go talk to him, girl!"

Recently, Bryce Lynch of Tenfootpole.org reviewed Stephen J. Grodzicki's Revelry in Northgate.

Commenters agreed with Bryce that the premise of having to retrieve a drunken nobleman on a jag makes for a lot of potential fun, but urged that the mechanic for finding the noble should be improved: greater player agency, meaningful player choices, etc.

Aaron Fairbrook/Malrex- who recently released the high-quality 39-page Norse blood-sacrifice-inspired adventure The Red Prophet Rises with Prince of Nothing - made some suggestions for this mechanic.  Others, like Edgewise, also brainstormed.

You know when Michelangelo saw a chunk of granite and just HAD to carve it?  Ahem!  So I HAD to make this adventure! 

I didn't buy or read Grodzicki's work at the time to protect myself from inadvertent plagiarism (NOW I can - it costs $1) and I decided, for proper good karma and due diligence, to credit him and provide a link to his piece in my re-think.

Besides the lack of an optimal search-for-the-sauced-noble mechanic, Grodzicki took different aesthetic forks in the road than I would have taken.  He wanted the setting to be vague and generic for DM's greater ease in dropping into their campaigns.  What cultural details there are, are English.  The lost nobleman is Lord Hargreaves.  Maybe that's a subtle shout-out to Arduin, but I decided for my rework to go for a 90% specific flavor-saturated setting and to go FULL CZECH!

I was blessed to visit (1991) and then live in my great-grandparents' country from 1994-1999.  What an amazing culture, history, and people!

Not only positive, but also embarrassing details, were the inspiration for my adventure THE LOST LUSH: Extracting a Carousing Fool Before He Obliterates Peace, Prosperity, and Basic Human Decency.

For my one of my jobs in Prague, Czech Republic, I had to take groups of Americans and other foreigners on cultural orientation tours.  There was this one Virginia Tidewater dude who was an OK guy when he was sober, but after I took the group to a fancy restaurant, he had drunk too much.

"I was raised well," he drawled as I took him aside, "So I HAD to finish a fine dinner with PORT!" 

Time was running out before the group needed to go across the street to the National Theater - holy ground for the Czech people - to take in Dvořák's opera Rusalka, which is about a water nymph from Czech folklore.  The theater was built with materials and funding contributed from Czechs in all corners of the Czech Lands in 1881.  This was part of the National Revival, in which determined Czechs revived their language and culture after the ethnic-German-dominated centuries in which Czech-language schools were closed, Czech books were burned, and Czech as a language was suppressed and dying out.

So the American nudnik assures us earnestly that he will behave and we have him drink coffee.  We all enter the theater, get seated, the opera starts.  So far, so good.

At the 1st intermission, I seek out young Foghorn Leghorn to see how he's doing.  He is firmly in apologetic, trying- to-behave mode.  He seems in clearer condition.  He says he wants to find the restrooms.  That's not a bad idea.  We go off in search of them and push through heavy doors onto the outdoor balcony overlooking the city.  A gorgeous panorama of the lights of Prague on a summer night is the backdrop for gorgeous young women of Prague to elegantly drape themselves, equipped with bottled water and plunging-neckline opera dresses, against the railings.

I say: "Well, this sure ain't the restroom.  We'd better hurry up and find it before intermission ends."

Dude exclaims: "But it's such a gorgeous night!"

He shines the full force of his huge-mouthed smile directly onto a pair of smoky-eyed Czech Aphrodites in front of us: "And such a gorgeous view..."

I winced inwardly as the young, lubricated hybrid of Rico Suave and Colonel Sanders tried to chat them up, despite their limited English.  Reminded Dude we had better find the restroom so we (but more urgently he) wouldn't soon be in difficulties during an endurance-test aria.  Told the women in Czech (it sounds weird, but this is the way to politely excuse yourself to hit the facilities): "It was very nice to meet you, but pardon us, we must jump up."

Smoke-eyed neo-flapper #1 quips: "Takže, odskočte..." ("Well, jump up, then...")

At that point, I made a poor decision.  I let someone who was an even poorer decision-maker at that time assure me that he'd catch up and find the restroom. He swore up and down he wouldn't be late back into the theater when the bell would signal the end of intermission. 

Minutes later, the bell sounds, the National Theater lights darken, velvet-muffled doors shut.  Dude isn't in his section and his seat, and so I sit down in mine for Act II of the opera.  Maybe he took too long and is waiting out Act II in the lobby, I reassured myself.

 Then, awful sounds punctuated with bawling in English:


Long story a little shorter: The chicks had abandoned him out on the balcony.  He got confused.

I told the other members of the group to meet us on the front steps outside after the opera.  Dude and I got cheap coffee, loosened our ties, sat on the stone steps to wait.


Ruthless DMs: How cruel are you to your players?  Do you dare to give errant drunk Baron Hanswurst von Possenreisser a Foghorn Leghorn accent!


But check for yourself:

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The National Obsession as Observed by Outsiders

From John Maus - Touchdown - Directed by Jennifer Juniper Stratford

Is it good or bad that what I want to write about just now has nothing to do with RPGs, except maybe Blood Bowl?  Thus decays thematic unity.  Blog entropy ensues.

Making excuses for not posting in a long time is a venerable cliche.  The second most common excuses (behind "I've been swamped at work") are health-related.  Sometimes they are written up in a humorous way, but more often they are serious and the reader who comes to the blog for entertainment comes away that day with a sincere (and not-entertaining) pang of sympathy.

There is a lot of potential humor in the cruddy condition I have not borne with very good humor since Christmas, but instead I'll just go into what I would have written about earlier if I hadn't been afflicted with this dumb thing.

My hometown has been hosting the Superbowl.  We're mopping up from it now.

Later today I'll call my friend to see how her significant other's idea to rent out his downtown condo to out-of-town strangers and football fans worked out.  They shacked up and hid out together in a distant neighborhood far away from the action for a week.  Worst case scenario: he has to replace all the broken or missing stuff and scrape up dried vomit from the remains of their partying. Best case scenario: they were genteel middle-aged Patriots fans and not prone to self-medicating.  In any case, this was a clever way to make money.

So, below is a take on America's national obsession from John Maus a college philosophy professor, composer, lo-fi musician, singer, and friend of Ariel Pink.  Even though he is from Austin, MN, he channels a really alien, outsider point of view. Director Jennifer Juniper Stratford adds her own icy weird elements to the Gesamtkunstwerk of the video. 

As astute commenter ThrashingMadPL on Youtube put it:
"It's like in circa 1981 some West German experimental artist came to the US, and got inspired by the culture of the natives." 

KLICKEN SIE bitte hier unten!

John Maus - Touchdown

This is just some of his latest work.  I really like his 2011 album We Must Become Pitiless Censors of Ourselves.  Here are some of the rest of my favorites, which completely garden-path-divert away from any tenuous unifying Superbowl theme I was trying to set up with this post.

John Maus - Navy Seals

Like a lost Joy Division song, but with newer synthesizers- Dig that bass and the reverb-ed low singing!

John Maus - Quantum Leap

Would pair well with a chilled white wine and a chaser of the Flamin' Groovies' "Shake Some Action":

John Maus - No Title (Molly)

Just a pretty, echo-ey, hypnagogic tune:

John Maus - Do Your Best

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Rye Of Sauron

The Eye of Sauron:
koltergeist - Imgur - 9-27-2015

The Rye of Sauron:

Photo by Max Blachman-Gentile of some of the bread he bakes for Torst, Brooklyn, NY, swiped from a Bloomberg article his bread is featured in, which makes ZERO mentions of the Dark Lord of Mordor. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Spells dreamed by machines

The last time on this desolate, near-endless path you saw a face without a muzzle or a snout or a beak was three nights back.  Cold mist alternates with chilling drizzle. The terrain has become very rough, but there still is a trace of a beaten trail to follow up the mountain.

The weathered wooden door of an unmortared fieldstone hut built against the cliff face creaks open and the priests emerge.  They are dour and unsmiling, but they offer you a dry sheepskin to throw over your shivering shoulders.  They remind you of the necessary preparations before consulting the oracle:

Fast for 3 days, perform the ritual ablutions in the mountain stream each day at sunrise, whisper the sacred palindromes in nine sets of nine repetitions into the darkness after nightfall.

There is a narrow cleft in the side of the mountain; the stream trickles forth from the bottom of the cleft and down the mountain.  At the top of the cleft, between boulders slimy with lichen, a hole only as big as a man's shoulders leads into the mountain.  Water rushes and echoes somewhere inside.

Are eldritch whispered words and phrases tangled in the echoes?

After three days of shivering, cold washing, and palindromes in the dark, you are ready for the oracle. The priests cense you with poppy and sulfur, and slide you, feet first, on your back, across the slick boulders toward the small dark hole. You stretch your feet just inside, feel them dangle over a wide void.  The moving water sounds and scraps of voices are loud as you lie on the stone so close to the hole.

Something- not human hands- yanks you swiftly and entirely into the cold, wet void.

Twenty minutes later, some force in the mountain abruptly spits you out of the hole again: wet,  blue, babbling, gasping, sobbing, shivering, shrieking.  The priests have been waiting nearby, and cover you in the warm, warm sheepskin.  They listen intently as your raw, nonsensical ululations gradually resolve into weird sentences, many of them palindromes and rhymes.  They have trained themselves to remember and reproduce verbatim what pilgrims bring back from the oracle.

When you are calm enough, and can finally stop yourself from vomiting words, they will hand you a bowl of broth, and begin to tell you what you said when you emerged from the mountain, and what their interpretations are.


More to read about this ritual (minus my fictional details) is in Tony Perrottet's excellent Route 66 AD, which in turn follows Pausanias's Description of Greece book, which was the 2nd Century Lonely Planet guide for early tourists/pilgrims emboldened by the relatively safe travel conditions of the Pax Romana.

Speaking of oracles and interpreting the results...

A scientist with a great sense of humor is blogging about her experiments with training "neural networks, a type of machine learning alogrithm...to imitate human datasets."  In more of her words: "Letting neural networks be weird."  She inputs human-created data like recipes, My Little Ponies, and D&D spells and the machines twist these things into really weird and off-the-wall humorous results.

I found out about this scientist from reading Swamp of Monsters, whose author Nate L. does an excellently poetic elaboration of spell descriptions and effects from the neural networks' spell names, for example:


Duration: 8 hours
Area: Up to a 50 foot cube

The lelent warder appears as if lit by moonlight. It generally takes the form of falling dust, though sometimes it will be a cat that stalks the area, and sometimes will be a young boy who watches carefully. The spell is simple and cruel [...]"

For more, visit the Swamp