Published on 2/28/2011 Written by 3 comments

Notes from the Master - On Writing Weird Fiction by H.P. Lovecraft

This is not just great advice for writers of weird fiction, but could easily translate into great advice for the crafting of weird adventures.

Notes On Writing Weird Fiction
by H.P. Lovecraft

My reason for writing stories is to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly and detailedly and stably the vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy which are conveyed to me by certain sights (scenic, architectural, atmospheric, etc.), ideas, occurrences, and images encountered in art and literature. I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best - one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which forever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of Nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or "outsideness" without laying stress on the emotion of fear. The reason why time plays a great part in so many of my tales is that this element looms up in my mind as the most profoundly dramatic and grimly terrible thing in the universe. Conflict with time seems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression.

While my chosen form of story-writing is obviously a special and perhaps a narrow one, it is none the less a persistent and permanent type of expression, as old as literature itself. There will always be a certain small percentage of persons who feel a burning curiosity about unknown outer space, and a burning desire to escape from the prison-house of the known and the real into those enchanted lands of incredible adventure and infinite possibilities which dreams open up to us, and which things like deep woods, fantastic urban towers, and flaming sunsets momentarily suggest. These persons include great authors as well as insignificant amateurs like myself - Dunsany, Poe, Arthur Machen, M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood, and Walter de la Mare being typical masters in this field. As to how I write a story - there is no one way. Each one of my tales has a different history. Once or twice I have literally written out a dream; but usually I start with a mood or idea or image which I wish to express, and revolve it in my mind until I can think of a good way of embodying it in some chain of dramatic occurrences capable of being recorded in concrete terms. I tend to run through a mental list of the basic conditions or situations best adapted to such a mood or idea or image, and then begin to speculate on logical and naturally motivated explanations of the given mood or idea or image in terms of the basic condition or situation chosen.

The actual process of writing is of course as varied as the choice of theme and initial conception; but if the history of all my tales were analysed, it is just possible that the following set of rules might be deduced from the average procedure:

1. Prepare a synopsis or scenario of events in the order of their absolute occurrence - not the order of their narration. Describe with enough fullness to cover all vital points and motivate all incidents planned. Details, comments, and estimates of consequences are sometimes desirable in this temporary framework.

2. Prepare a second synopsis or scenario of events - this one in order of narration (not actual occurrence), with ample fullness and detail, and with notes as to changing perspective, stresses, and climax. Change the original synopsis to fit if such a change will increase the dramatic force or general effectiveness of the story. Interpolate or delete incidents at will - never being bound by the original conception even if the ultimate result be a tale wholly different from that first planned. Let additions and alterations be made whenever suggested by anything in the for mulating process.

3. Write out the story - rapidly, fluently, and not too critically - following the second or narrative-order synopsis. Change incidents and plot whenever the developing process seems to suggest such change, never being bound by any previous design. If the development suddenly reveals new opportunities for dramatic effect or vivid story telling, add whatever is thought advantageous - going back and reconciling the early parts to the new plan. Insert and delete whole sections if necessary or desirable, trying different beginnings and endings until the best arrangement is found. But be sure that all references throughout the story are thoroughly reconciled with the final design. Remove all possible superfluities - words, sentences, paragraphs, or whole episodes or elements - observing the usual precautions about the reconciling of all references.

4. Revise the entire text, paying attention to vocabulary, syntax, rhythm of prose, proportioning of parts, niceties of tone, grace and convincingness of transitions (scene to scene, slow and detailed action to rapid and sketchy time-covering action and vice versa... etc., etc., etc.), effectiveness of beginning, ending, climaxes, etc., dramatic suspense and interest, plausibility and atmosphere, and various other elements.

5. Prepare a neatly typed copy - not hesitating to add final revisory touches where they seem in order.

The first of these stages is often purely a mental one - a set of conditions and happenings being worked out in my head, and never set down until I am ready to prepare a detailed synopsis of events in order of narration. Then, too, I sometimes begin even the actual writing before I know how I shall develop the idea - this beginning forming a problem to be motivated and exploited.

There are, I think, four distinct types of weird story; one expressing a mood or feeling, another expressing a pictorial conception, a third expressing a general situation, condition, legend or intellectual conception, and a fourth explaining a definite tableau or specific dramatic situation or climax. In another way, weird tales may be grouped into two rough categories - those in which the marvel or horror concerns some condition or phenomenon, and those in which it concerns some action of persons in connexion with a bizarre condition or phenomenon.

Each weird story - to speak more particularly of the horror type - seems to involve five definite elements: (a) some basic, underlying horror or abnormality - condition, entity, etc. - , (b) the general effects or bearings of the horror, (c) the mode of manifestation - object embodying the horror and phenomena observed - , (d) the types of fear-reaction pertaining to the horror, and (e) the specific effects of the horror in relation to the given set of conditions.

In writing a weird story I always try very carefully to achieve the right mood and atmosphere, and place the emphasis where it belongs. One cannot, except in immature pulp charlatan-fiction, present an account of impossible, improbable, or inconceivable phenomena as a commonplace narrative of objective acts and conventional emotions. Inconceivable events and conditions have a special handicap to over come, and this can be accomplished only through the maintenance of a careful realism in every phase of the story except that touching on the one given marvel. This marvel must be treated very impressively and deliberately - with a careful emotional "build-up" - else it will seem flat and unconvincing. Being the principal thing in the story, its mere existence should overshadow the characters and events. But the characters and events must be consistent and natural except where they touch the single marvel. In relation to the central wonder, the characters should shew the same overwhelming emotion which similar characters would shew toward such a wonder in real life. Never have a wonder taken for granted. Even when the characters are supposed to be accustomed to the wonder I try to weave an air of awe and impressiveness corresponding to what the reader should feel. A casual style ruins any serious fantasy.

Atmosphere, not action, is the great desideratum of weird fiction. Indeed, all that a wonder story can ever be is a vivid picture of a certain type of human mood. The moment it tries to be anything else it becomes cheap, puerile, and unconvincing. Prime emphasis should be given to subtle suggestion - imperceptible hints and touches of selective associative detail which express shadings of moods and build up a vague illusion of the strange reality of the unreal. Avoid bald catalogues of incredible happenings which can have no substance or meaning apart from a sustaining cloud of colour and symbolism. These are the rules or standards which I have followed - consciously or unconsciously - ever since I first attempted the serious writing of fantasy. That my results are successful may well be disputed - but I feel at least sure that, had I ignored the considerations mentioned in the last few paragraphs, they would have been much worse than they are.

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Published on 2/27/2011 Written by 0 comments

Links of DOOM - 02/26/11

I have moved the links of DOOM to this auspicious day in the hopes of staving off the inevitable apocalypse for yet another week. As always reading the links is one of the best ways of protecting yourself and all of us from the eldritch darkness that dwells just out of mind.

Apparently D&D is dead. Someone should tell Mike Mearls.

A nice little dungeon entrance from A Paladin in Citadel.

All the best stories emerge from play.

Who is Solomon Kane? - This is how to write a proper description of a bad ass by R.E. Howard.

What do you do when the game turns dull?
The best magic sword description ever written.

The Regulars

Visit the Underdark Gazette for all your OSR news.

Chicago Wiz always has something good to say.

Visit A Paladin in Citadel, because he's awesome.


Visit my wife's adorable blog My adorable small town life.

Check out the art at J.H. Schmitz Art.

Visit Viking Dad, for a dose of Viking goodness.

Read the Happy Whisk for all the best culinary awesomeness.

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Published on 2/26/2011 Written by 3 comments

Saturday Sorcery - The Ghost Scroll

This magical item appears as if it were a normal blank parchment placed in an elaborately carved scroll casement. If detect magic (or equivalent type spell) is cast, it will register a slight magical residue and after some time glowing runes will appear on the outer casing. The runes give instruction on the ghost scrolls use and dangers.

To use this item you simply write a question on the parchment. Any question of any complexity will do. When the question is written in full, the ink will absorb into the parchment. It is is then placed back in its case and left overnight. Be careful what you ask, for there are many things that should remain unknown.

In the morning an answer to the question will be written on the scroll.

The magic used to create and use this item is a type of necromancy, and like all necromancy it can be unpredictable and dangerous. The scroll summons a spirit that can see and access most mortal, astral and ethereal knowledge and then relay that information to the scroll. But there is always a price to be paid for such information, in this life or the next.

If you're lucky the summoned spirit will just leave you alone and go back to whatever dimension it slums around in. But sometimes the spirit will linger and decide to haunt you a bit, or in the worst case scenario it might decide it likes you and wants to be your friend and companion... forever.

You see, spirits are lonely and miserable sons of bitches, and having one as a friend is a surefire way to make a person equally lonely and miserable. You generally don't become a spirit without some sort of onerous debt in your past that left you forever locked in between worlds, incapable of moving on, but equally incapable of letting go.

Hug me, I'm so desperately lonely.
Spirits are kind of like that really lonely and really irritating guy that no one likes to hang around with, but he just can't figure out that he's really lonely because he's really irritating -- and if he was just less irritating maybe people would hang out with him, and he wouldn't be so damn lonely. You can start to see the cycle of ethereal social despair developing here. So having a spirit "friend" is kind of like having that guy around you all the time. And to make matters even worse he can speak telepathically to you, and because he's non-corporeal he can also follow you into whatever intimate and private moments you're having, and hopelessly ruin them.

As you can see the ghost scroll has both advantages and disadvantages to its use. The stats for a chance of "spirit friendship" or "haunting" are up to the GM and can be tailored to their campaign. I might also say that the risk is directly proportionate to the complexity/revelatory nature of the question, that might encourage players to not ask things like "what's the meaning of life?" But then again as the GM you can be as devious as you want and just answer "42", and then inform the player that a really irritating spirit is now his characters bestest friend.

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Published on 2/25/2011 Written by 0 comments

Awesome Pic of the Week

This is another great piece of art by my good friend James H. Schmitz. This is a particular favorite of mine. I love monsters, and I especially love it when monsters wreck shit -- and seeing that this picture shows a monster, and that monster is wrecking shit...  well my friends, that is a double awesome.

Visit J.H. Schmitz Art for more cool stuff.

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Published on 2/24/2011 Written by 22 comments

Monks Suck

Continuing the idea of sucky character classes from C.D.'s last post, I humbly present the Monk.

Monks in D&D suck. They sucked bad in 1st Edition, they sucked bad in 3rd Edition, and even now they suck more than a little. The only edition they didn't suck in was 2nd Edition.

But that's because they weren't there.

I suppose my beef against the Monk class is not so much in its intended function but in the players who choose to try and play it. Never has a class been more rooted in a heightened form of reality than the Monk. Except maybe the Thief/Rogue, but I can't say anything bad about them or they'll steal my coinpurse.

Now see, I've always had this understanding that a monk was a fairly religious fellow who didn't care much for the company of those that didn't share his belief. Or, so I've gleamed from various PBS documentaries. I'm sure things are a little different in real life. But I've yet to encounter a player who understood how to A: Roleplay a monk character, or B: What it is the Monk class actually does.

And I guess can't really blame them. Hell, I just learned that the original Monk class (from the Blackmoor supplement, or so Wikipedia tells me) was based around the protagonist from the men's adventure series The Destroyer. Now, I frigging love those books, but I can't imagine a less monk-ish personality than either Remo or Chuin. In fact a Destroyer RPG would probably kick all kinds of ass, but that's a story for another day.

But those charmingly ultra-violent characters are a good example of how the Monk sucks. The Monk, at its very core, is a martial arts based religious figure who probably doesn't talk much and likely shaves his head and will never have sex, ever. But all anyone hears about that sentence is "martial arts", and immediately this image is conjured in most people's imagination.

And let's not forget that Bruce was able to beat down Chuck Norris. Who doesn't want to kick ass like him?

The problem, of course, is that the Monk class is not an unstoppable fighter. Oddly enough, that's why there is a Fighter class. The Monk, in 1st Edition, is a unique experience, a decent fighter, and still cooler than the Bard, but flawed. The flaw is that almost everyone assumes the Monk should be a solid solo fighter at level 1. This is true; the Monk kicks ass in solo combat.

When was the last time you had one-on-one battles in D&D anyway?

Almost never is an accurate answer. And in crowded situations, the Monk's abilities do not shine. And then the PCs die. All because someone wanted to play Bruce Lee at level 1.

3rd Edition corrected many of the flaws and made the Monk a much more viable player option. 4th Edition did its best to balance the class, or so I've heard (still don't have the doggone 3rd Player's Manual yet...). But in the end, I still feel the Monk has little place at the gaming table.

I've seen a Monk played well...once. But mostly, I'd rather they were shunted off to the side, or were a prestige class. Something earned, perhaps, instead of allowing a 1st level fool to march into a death squad with reckless abandon. Let the PC go off for a few years (or decades) for study, or not. After all, if you can multiclass to magic-user at the drop of a hat, why not bypass all the years of solitude that reality imposes in favor of something more enjoyable?

Of course, maybe I have this all wrong. Sound off in the comments. Do you think Monks suck? Have you seen similar methods of play at your table? Or have I just been spewing nonsense? And would you be willing to pay 29.95$ for a Destroyer RPG? I know I would...

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Published on 2/22/2011 Written by 47 comments

Why Clerics (Still) Suck

There are some jobs that are just terrible. Cleaning industrial septic tanks. Being that kid with the drum at the front line of those old army battles. Even working on a porno set, which one would think is the best employment in the world, has at least one position that downright sucks (pardon the pun). Seriously, would you want to be the guy that has to mop up/towel down/hose off the actors and set afterward? Depending on the genre of movie being filmed, you may have some seriously screwed up stuff to deal with.

Know what’s even worse than all of those things? Being the cleric for an adventuring party.

It used to be worse. Through third edition, clerics were treated like a walking first aid kit. You were one of those little boxes with a red cross on them like in Wolfenstein or Doom, but with sexy legs that stick out of the bottom (that’s how I always pictured clerics, anyway). Your job was to cast healing spells, and if you ran out of healing spells you got out of the way while everyone else did the dirty work. It’s not like you could attack effectively anyway. Blunt weapons? Really? I play D&D because I want to use a big ass sword. Or throw fireballs and shit. Or at least stab people in the kidneys with a dagger.

Clerics are like the Aquaman of D&D. Except at least he gets to use a pointy weapon.

Fourth edition turned your healing spells into “minor” actions, so you could attack AND heal during the same turn. Halleluiah! Finally, the gods had taken pity on their dutiful servants and made them fun to play. You could actually get involved in battle, instead of just hanging back and throwing magical band-aids around. If I wanted to spend my life supporting others I would have been a brassiere. It would have been far more enjoyable.

But the evil, sneaky designers snuck a huge, greasy wrench into the gears of the game to totally nerf clerics. What is so terrible, you ask? All those stupid, hard-to-track, confusing and book-keeping heavy status effects and afflictions, that's what! Suddenly, if clerics want to be useful they can’t just worry about healing hit points anymore. Now they have to heal ongoing damage, stun and daze effects, vulnerabilities, and god only knows what else. And guess what? Using your healing skill to attempt to remove these effects counts as your standard action, so you end up losing your attack anyway.

Wizards of the Coast Head Office: "Make the cleric suckier or I swear to God I will murder your children."

You may be wondering what brought on this rant. Well, at a recent D&D Encounters event our group of 6 adventurers (including 2 clerics, one of which was played by yours truly) faced off against a black dragon. It was a brutal, drawn-out affair that required the clerics to spend every turn healing and trying to remove the aforementioned hateful status effects. At the end of the night the dragon lay defeated and the clerics were dead, both of us having spent all of our time and resources keeping everyone else alive. I don’t think either of us even hit the stupid monster. So while the rest of the party rode off with the experience points, the treasure and the glory, our bodies were left to rot in a dark damp hole, and not the good kind.

I’m never playing a cleric again. From now on I’m just hiring cleric henchmen. That way they’re doubly expendable.

I take no responsibility for this. I typed “kill the hireling” into Google Images and this was the first picture that popped up.

Has anyone had a good experience playing a cleric? Or have another class that just pisses you off? Please feel free to share. I hate to be whiny all alone.

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Published on 2/18/2011 Written by 0 comments

Links of DOOM - 02/17/11

Blah, blah, blah... read these, doom, something, something.

The Links

Zak of Playing D&D with Porn Stars and Greg Christopher of the Errant RPG Blog had a very long discussion about sex and gaming, at least that's what I think it's about.

Zak is also hosting a Female Gamer Roundtable discussion at his blog, be sure to check it out.

Tim from Gothridge Manor created a most excellent adventure called Knowledge Illuminates.

Favourite Mini painting Blog

Painting Mum - Ana's Blog

The guy who I blame for my current obsession with mini painting Blogs

Porky's Expanse

The Regulars

Visit the Underdark Gazette for all your OSR news.

Chicago Wiz always has something good to say.

Visit A Paladin in Citadel, because he's awesome.


Visit my wife's adorable blog My adorable small town life.

Check out the art at J.H. Schmitz Art.

Visit Viking Dad, for a dose of Viking goodness.

Read the Happy Whisk for all the best culinary awesomeness.

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Published on 2/17/2011 Written by 17 comments

The soundtrack of a game

Just a short post today, posing a question I had never even considered (being the newb I am) until last weekend.

Do you use music to set the mood when you game?

To me, even the thought of music intruding upon my gaming session would have been distressing just a short time ago. Then I ended up listening to a song out of Apocalyptica's Inquisition Symphony album during a game last weekend and I must say, it actually did add to the atmosphere. Everyone agreed to try adding in a little music some other time, though I want to be very careful with it, seeing as I still think too much background noise could be utterly distracting with my group.

But now that the seed has been planted, the ideas roam rampant and unchecked. I'm thinking of using some Blue Öyster Cult for a Mutant Future game I've got planned. Can't argue that Dancing in the Ruins would make for an...interesting mood setter.

I suppose it only goes to say that as an icebreaker a bit of music can help set the tone and style for the game. Some eerie chords play as your stalwart adventurers explore ancient ruins...a rousing drum solo calls the charge of battle to mind...a harp sends the lulling message of a peaceful valley into the fires of the imagination. All things that can be achieved without music, but with the addition of music the scene is better understood and more vividly imagined as different senses come into play.

After all, how interesting would Walt Disney's Fantasia be without its musical compliment?

I suppose the concept of props beyond player handouts have never really appealed to me. Heck, I don't even use minis or battlemaps unless absolutely necessary as space at my table is at a premium and I don't like to clutter things up. But the more I game the more I realize that gaming is, at its best, an experience that can use more than mere words to help convey the setting.

So how about it? Have any of you had good experiences in utilizing music while gaming? Or bad experiences for that matter?

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Published on 2/16/2011 Written by 0 comments

Female Gamer Roundtable

Female gamers, if you haven't already heard, head over to Playing D&D with Porn Stars and join in the female gamer roundtable discussion that's going on. Zak has opened up his blog for this important (and entertaining, and awesome) dialogue between female gamers. This has the potential to be a very enlightening and fun thing.

So if you're a female gamer, stop wasting time here, and head over to Playing D&D with Porn Stars and join in the discussion.

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Published on 2/14/2011 Written by 14 comments

Love, Sex & Dice

Because of the special romantic holiday we celebrate this week, I decided to come up with a special romantic theme article. Did you know that February 15th was National Flag of Canada Day?


Of course, the holiday I'm referring to is Valentine's Day, and the special theme is lovin' and bangin' in role-playing games. For those of you who are uncomfortable with this topic, you can stop reading now, and go here instead.

Does love and sex have a place in table-top role-playing games? It obviously has a place in video RPGs, if Final Fantasy VIII and Dragon Age are any indication (WARNING: That second link is probably NSFW). But many players are uncomfortable acting this at the table and I can't really blame them. Sitting around the dining room table with four other sweaty guys drinking Dr. Pepper and eating Cheetos can make it hard to look into your friend's eyes and profess your undying love for him - I mean, his character, Mistress Clitoria Hexblade. It's just really difficult to take it seriously. I ran a game once where one of the characters was trying to seduce a princess, but he kept giggling as we role-played it. "I keep seeing this hot chick with your head on her body," he told me.

Even if you're lucky enough to have players of compatible genders and sexual orientations, this can still become awkward. I guess it's fine if the players who are significant others in real life have their characters become involved, but what about if those characters get involved with someone else? I currently play a game with my wife, her sister and my brother-in-law. Am I supposed to role-play a relationship between my sister-in law and an NPC with her husband and my wife sitting at the table? Picture Abed and Annie on Community in the D&D Episode (Jump to 2:00 for the scene in question, but the whole episode is pretty awesome). Now picture how weird family dinners and special occasions would be at our house from then on.

Like this. But more awkward.

What happens if the parties involved don't want to just describe what their characters are doing to each other, but want to roll dice for it? Since there are rules in RPGs for everything from fistfights to diplomacy to turning on a computer, should there be rules for sex? There have been a number of fascinating and interesting books written on the rules for intercourse in D&D. While they're great reads, they're far more useful in theory than in practice. The rules they suggest, while hilarious (and in some ways frighteningly realistic) really don't add any romance to encounters.

Player 1: I roll a 19 on my Constitution check. I can keep going for another round.

DM: Okay, Player Two, make your Time-to-Climax check.

Player 2: I fail. Sorry, you're going to have to keep going.

Player 1: Dammit, I can't keep this up all day.

DM: Wait, Player One, how big is your wang again?

Player 1: Um, 11 inches. I rolled it fair when I made my character!

DM: Whatever. That gives you a +2 to your TTC checks, Player Two.

Player 2: Awesome! We'll get this right yet!

I tried these rules a couple of times and just gave up. It was much less embarrassing and painful to just say, "You go upstairs with the barmaid. You come down an hour later and she has a satisfied look on her face."

Sometimes you just can't win.

Despite the awkwardness, some players still insist on charging forward with romance like a bull in heat through a sex toy trade show. I ran a Call of Cthulhu game once where a male player, playing a female character, spent the ENTIRE session getting ready for a date, acting out the date, and then taking the guy home, all while the other players fought for their lives against the unspeakable forces of madness-inducing darkness. That takes commitment. Of course, being Cthulhu, she also ended up being the only character to survive the game, so maybe that was the player's intention all along.

Has anyone else had better luck incorporating love, lust and related paraphernalia into their games? If not, feel free to share more hilariously awkward stories. National Flag of Canada Day is a perfect opportunity to reflect on the foibles and flubs of imaginary sex.

Or to reflect on the rights of sex workers.

Happy Valentine's Day! Now go roll some dice with that special someone in your life.

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Published on 2/11/2011 Written by 10 comments

What Makes RPG's Awesome?

Lately there's been some negativity floating around in blog land (negativity on the Internet, no way) about the relative suckiness of RPG's. I want no part of this kind of flame baiting, it's unproductive and doesn't actually inspire any type of worthwhile discussion (no worthwhile discussion on the Internet, no way... yeah I get it). I like to try and be as positive and encouraging as I can about our shared hobby. I know it's hard sometimes, but I'll take positive and encouraging over reading grown men bitch about games any day.

So lets all try and create some old school positive vibes here, and ask ourselves a very important question:

What makes RPG's awesome?

I asked the other writers here at Rule of the Dice to contribute to this post as well, and this is what we all came up with...

RPG's give you a chance to hang out with people who are your friends, or at the very least share your interests - Unless you're a sociopath or Raistlin Majere, you probably really enjoy hanging out with people. And getting a chance to hang out with people and do something everyone likes is awesome.

You get to use your imagination, and that kicks ass - In a world that spoon feeds us constant crap, and tries to brutalize our senses at every turn, it's nice to just sit back and imagine awesome shit from time to time. And with RPG's you get to share and participate in the awesome stuff you're imagining... amazing.

If you're the gamemaster you get to create cool shit - Yep, this is really the main reason to be a gamemaster. What GM doesn't love creating cool shit for his players to encounter, explore or just see. This is why GMing rocks.

If you're a player you get to have awesome adventures (at least in your head) - Unless you're Bear Grylls I'm going to assume that you probably live a fairly non-adventurous life. But you're character can be a crazy ass adventurer in a crazy ass fantasy world, and all from the comfort of the gaming table.

RPG's are fun - Games are fun, RPG's are games, and that means RPG's are fun. You may have a particular style or genre that works best for your group, but in the end you chose that because it was FUN.

C.D. Gallant-King...

It helps shy people get out of the house - I don't mean this to be offensive, but the classic image of a gamer is the awkward geek with no social skills. In some cases this may be true.  Yet, if a shy, awkward person can go out with friends and laugh and joke and improvise and play-act and everything else involved in role-playing, then doesn't that make for a pretty productive hobby? Going out for stuff like D&D Encounters and LARP and meeting new people is even more impressive.  What's the alternative?  Staying home and playing Warcraft and Call of Duty in the dark by yourself?

It develops analytical skills - Role-playing games, some more than others, involves a lot of book- keeping and number crunching.  Many players take pride in tweaking the stats and numbers of their characters to create an optimal build. Even if you're not into the math and probability, role-playing involves problem solving, often with a group.  Not only do you get riddles and logic problems and so forth, you also must work with a team to build strategies to overcome obstacles. ie, "Okay, I'll hold him down while you use the salad tongs on his genitals and Sally fights off the zombies with the flame-thrower." Somehow, I'm sure this problem-solving teamwork will be useful in the real world.  Someday.

Knights of the Dinner Table - Without role-playing games, there would be no Knights of the Dinner Table and the world be be a much sadder place.

Joe Nelson...

No 'ending' - Every videogame eventually ends. Every book eventually ends (unless it's the frigging Wheel of Time, but I digress...). But an RPG can last for months, years, perhaps even a lifetime. It's not uncommon to talk of your characters years later with your friends, reminiscing about stories and adventures shared. No other experience comes close to that!

No age limits - You can play at 10 or 100. There is no set limit to the age at the table. I've played with people thirty-years older than me and people ten-years younger than me. I've had fun with both. Now that is special!

Dice - Yeah, we get cool freaking dice. No one can beat our dice. Even the lowly little d4 makes non-gamers stop and stare.

Andy (Carpe Guitarrem)...

RPGs encourage you to shape the world and make decisions - In a game, you have free reign to do things to the world, and the GM will respond appropriately. RPGs can be a great way to build confidence and a desire for action. Change a dungeon... change the world!

RPGs get you thinking about stories in a new way -
They often throw giant monkey wrenches into the works whenever the players (or the GM!) have a definitive idea about how the story should progress. When plans go awry and blow up, the art of making a great story out of the pieces enters the picture. You learn to tell stories on the fly, making up interesting plot developments to adapt to the story.


So whenever you want to gripe about the industry, or share your (generally unwanted) opinion on the relative lameness of DIY products, or scream with blind nerd-rage over how some particular edition of whatever game is ruining everything, you just need to chill the fuck out. Sit back and reflect a little, think about what brought you into this hobby in the first place, use your imagination... and let the awesome back in.

Leave a comment, we want to hear your ideas on what makes RPG's awesome?

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Published on 2/10/2011 Written by 8 comments

Dying is good...sort of.

What is the most fun part of being a GM? Creating the worlds your players inhabit? Crafting the story they will play out? No! The most fun part, as any good GM knows, is slaying the PCs in the most horrific ways imaginable. Sometimes with maniacal laughter.

But when the big moment comes and you are about to enjoy a chortlingly delightful TPK, you chicken out, or maybe one of your players begins to whine and complain that you aren't playing fair. Well, it's true. If you deliberately enjoy slaughtering the PCs that adventure in your world, you probably deserve to be called a bastard and a terrible GM. I know I do.

This is actually how most of my campaigns end.

But even assuming you aren't a psycho killer out to crush your players' will into a sticky red paste, you will most likely encounter the same problem: A player complaining you are being unfair, even if you play it completely straight and let the dice dictate the terms.

I've had a player who was an otherwise excellent player, but was incredibly protective of his characters, and assumed that any PC death was my fault for stacking the odds against him. I could have just toned everything down and made my game less lethal, but I wanted to try nipping the problem in the bud. After all, why risk it coming up again later?

It took a lot of patience on both our parts, but eventually we found a compromise that worked. It was a challenge, but worth it in the end. If you ever have a situation like that, perhaps some of what I went through could be helpful.

#1: Try to make sure everyone has backup characters.
At least a spare one or two rolled up in advance so they can be brought back into the game ASAP. This is even more vital if you run a death-heavy game using a more complicated ruleset like 4e or 3.5e.

#2: If they don't have a spare character give them something to do.
Let them roll up a fresh character and in the meantime let them take over an NPC or control a villain or two. Be warned, if the player blames another one for his demise this can only lead to disaster.

#3: Don't use insta-death.
There is a reason saving throws exist. Always give the players a chance to wrest victory (or at least survival) from the jaws of defeat. Just because Medusa can turn you to stone with one glance doesn't mean you should automatically kill your players for not shining their shields in advance.

#4: Give problem players a more satisfying finale.
Even in 3.5e and 4e death can feel somewhat permanent, but to help prevent tantrums try to make sure that a player's PC isn't just forgotten the minute it takes a fireball to the face. Have an NPC reminisce about them for a minute, take a second to hold a little eulogy, or come up with something so that the player doesn't feel his/her character's death was a waste of time and didn't contribute anything to the party.

#5: If all else fails, hand these out at your next game.
I guarantee a chuckle or two, especially if you fill in the details with a bit of flavor. :-)

What about you? Have you ever had a player entirely unwilling\unable to handle PC death? How did you deal with it and how did it affect the way you run games?

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Published on 2/09/2011 Written by 12 comments

Steal This Map

I ran a short steampunk campaign a while back and whipped this up. The background is from an earlier hand drawn map to which I added the Campaign Cartographer symbols (Oh Photoshop you make my life so much easier). I usually prefer to draw my maps, but I needed something quickly (even though it still took two weeks to make... I'm a perfectionist). It turned out pretty good, but alas that campaign has come and gone, and now this map needs a new home, so please...

Steal this map.

Enjoy the map, and let me know if you use it in your game.

Several people have inquired whether they could my maps in their commercial (for profit) projects. The answer is: No, you cannot use these maps for any commercial project. Read the creative commons copyright below.

But, if you are a DIY RPG person, with little to no money, and really want to use one of the maps for something that you're working on, that might earn you a bit of money, let me know. We can talk, and if I like your thing, I will most likely let you use my maps for free.

Creative Commons License
This work by John Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada License.
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Published on 2/08/2011 Written by 16 comments

2 Simple Rules for Being a Teenage Game Master

I don’t claim to be an expert Dungeon/Game Master. I’m not bad, and while I’ve been doing this on and off for years, I haven’t had time to play four times a week since I was seventeen. I recognize that I’m probably behind on those 10,000 hours it takes to master a particular skill. However, I have played a variety of games over that time: some great (Star Wars d6, Most version of D&D) and some god-awful (anything with Kevin Siembieda’s name on the cover). I’ve also played with a huge variety of people: from old-timers who actually played with Gary Gygax (and Kevin Siembieda, ironically) to non-gamers playing for the first time, to WoW addicts going through withdrawal to my 10-year old sister. I’ve probably had a much higher female-to-male ratio at my tables than most, which may have coloured my perceptions (and probably instilled much better manners) and I’ve led groups ranging in size from as few as 1 player to as many as 12.

(What did I learn from playing with 12 players? Don’t play with 12 players. Just don’t. At best, you end up playing with 3 or four guys while everyone else wanders off to play Nintendo or carve their initials into something. At worse, you become the referee in the middle of a no-holds barred, gloves-dropped hockey brawl.)

Like this. But with nerds and dice.

Anyway, my point (and yes, I do have one) is that through my experience I have learned that there are only 2 rules you need to play role-playing games, and they apply to ALL role-playing games.


Everyone knows this one. It’s in all the rule books: it’s just a game, don’t take it too seriously. When the rules fail you, make a decision to keep the game moving and to keep it fun.

What many people may miss is that “fun” is very different for different people. For some people fun is driving out to a fair to get ice cream and to play ring toss with their children. For others, fun is having a total stranger wearing a latex mask perform bodily functions on them. Similarly, no single game system or style of play is going to appeal to everyone. One player's "fun" is another player's "oh-my-god-if-you-describe-your-character's-jiggling-bosom-one-more-time-I'm-going-to-punch-you."

For some players, fun is kicking open the door, rolling buckets of dice, and having the GM tell them how many experience points and how much treasure they won. For others, it’s weaving a long and intricate story while fully immersing themselves in their character and gently dabbing the tears from their eyes as their comrades applaud their masterful performance. Some people even have fun arguing endlessly about the rules. For example: whether or not they can actually shoot the gun out of the bad-guy’s hand while blindfolded and riding a horse, whose reins are in their teeth because they are simultaneously fighting off a knife-wielding bandit with their other hand.

Well, this guy could do it, anyway.

Because there are so many different definitions of “fun,” we need the second and I believe far more important rule:


This goes for GM’s and players alike. If you’re enjoying yourself while everyone else is bored and/or frustrated, what’s the point of playing a social game? Why not just go jerk off? Seriously. If you’re a GM running an adventure/campaign into which you have put hours of work but which your players don’t enjoy, then you’re doing something wrong. Or maybe you're just in the wrong group. If you’re a player being a git to get attention and trying to be funny but you’re just annoying everyone else, then you’re also doing something wrong.

I played at an organized event a while back where someone showed up expecting to DM, but because we were short on players he ended up joining the party. He obviously didn’t want to be a player, and subsequently acted like a jacakass all afternoon.

Now, it is customary for a GM who doesn’t get to play much to act up a little when he gets on the other side of the screen. It’s okay and even expected to harass your GM a little bit (especially if they’re new and look like a crier). It’s not okay to attempt to derail the game by wasting time and going out of your way to actively screw up the adventure for everyone else. Wandering off on personal (useless) missions, harassing or outright attacking NPCs without provocation, and stealing the focus from everyone else when they attempt to do something productive or fun are all really jerky things to do at any table.

Everyone is there to work together and have a good time. Be respectful of the other players. Some tables may enjoy beating up/maiming/killing/pillaging NPCs for no reason, or arguing for hours about whether or not that goblin sharpshooter has line of sight to their warlock. Many do not however, so if you find yourself in a situation where everyone around you looks bored or annoyed, ask yourself if you could be doing something differently. The answer may surprise you.

Are these guys having fun? No, really, I can't tell.

Actually, these rules apply to any game master or player, regardless of age, but I wish someone had explained them to me when I was a teenager.
Does anyone else have suggestions for having fun at the game table? Or even better, stories about people who thought they were having fun but were actually annoying/embarrassing/pissing off everyone else at the table? (Bonus points if the annoying player was you). John posted some great rules for new players a couple of days ago. After you've master these, you may want to think about those.

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Published on 2/06/2011 Written by 4 comments

Introducing New Players to the Game - Part II

A while ago I did a post about introducing new players to the game. It was written as part of the  introduction for the RPG that I've been labouring over since July. My goal was to explain some general principles for better play. I felt that these ideas could give new players some guidance when gearing up for their first foray into the unknown world of tabletop RPG's. 

I received some comments that I feel are worthwhile adding to the original post, and have decided to re-post the central "playing well" section of the article with these new additions (names are highlighted).

Playing Well
While it may be impossible to define “playing well” in a completely objective way, it is certainly possible to give general guidelines to aid new players participating in a role playing game for the first time. The following is a simple list of general principles that can help anyone play better.

General principles for better play:

  • Your ingenuity as a player is far more important than what's written on your character sheet. Think about everything, be strategic and use your characters skills and abilities to your advantage.
  • Always ask for details. This might be the single most important thing to do during play. A good gamemaster will only describe what is needed, it is up to you to ask for the details. If your character fails to spot a trap or is ambushed, it is most likely the result of failure to examine the details of a given situation. Always, always ask for details.
  • Have the proper equipment. Adventurers need things to help them while adventuring. Never forget your torches, rope and handy 10' pole. Always be prepared, the proper equipment can save your characters life.
  • Get out there and explore the world. Don't sit in the bar waiting for someone to come in and give you a quest, explore the world yourself. Role playing games are in essence games about exploration, the players use their characters to explore the campaign world, and adventure ensues.
  • Be self motivated, but not self absorbed. Do not look to the gamemaster to find out what to do next, tell the gamemaster what you would like to do and see if it's at all possible. Don't be afraid to be aggressive, but be sensitive to the other players and don't steal the spotlight after you've had your say.
  • Be decisive as a player, and as a party. If the game is slow it is likely the result of being indecisive. The best way to avoid indecisiveness slowing down the game is to assign a group leader. When things slow down for too long the group leader can step in and make the executive decisions for better or worse. 
  • Combat is not always the best alternative in every encounter. Bravery does not win wars, strategy does. Always rushing headlong into fights is the worst possible strategy, and will most definitely lower your characters chances for survival. And always remember that retreating and regrouping is the best method of survival in harrowing situations.
  • Remember that the game is in no way balanced in your favour. A good gamemaster attempts to be as impartial to the players as possible, but the dice will fall where they may. And only your good or bad judgement will ultimately decide your characters fate.
  • Everything you do in-game has consequences. Remember that guy you beat up in the tavern. Turns out he has a brother, and his brother is a local lord and you are on his shit list now. Think before you do things, and expect consequences for all your actions.
  • The Gamemaster may be impartial, but they will be playing people who are your enemies in the game. This is an important point, that although the gamemaster doesn't hate your character, they will be playing those who do. And those enemies will do whatever it takes to survive, and succeed with their diabolical plans.
  • To play a role playing game, you have to role play. While it may seem redundant to make this statement, it is a point worth remembering. You will be expected to act, react, and speak for your character. The more you are immersed in the character and the world they inhabit, the more enjoyable your experience will be. This doesn't mean that you need a degree in theatre in order to play the game well. Just do your best to imagine what your character's feeling and thinking, and use that when it comes your turn to take action in the game.
  • You have to earn awesome stuff (Carpe Gultarrem). You don't start the game as an uber-awesome hero with magic items pouring from your backpack, and you certainly don't get cool stuff just for gaining levels. You have to earn these things. You have to prove that you're a hero (if that's what you want to be), and each and every magic item that you acquire will come with lots of sweat and blood.
  • Knowledge is power (R.W. Chandler). This goes along with asking for details. Find out information in-game. Learn about your enemies weaknesses, consult sages, and research things before you trudge off to the dungeon. This is a great way to increase your characters chances of survival and might just give you the edge over a terrible foe.
  • Gaming is about fun and spending time with your friends (Jason). This is what it's all about. You are playing a game, and games are supposed to be fun. Fun trumps everything, and is the whole point of  this hobby in the first place. If the rules get in the way of your fun, change them, if the campaign isn't fun, drop it and start another one, and if you're just not feeling it at all anymore, find a new hobby.  
If you have any ideas for additional advice for new players, let me know in the comments.

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Published on 2/05/2011 Written by 4 comments

Saturday Sorcery - Old-Timey Magic Items

John has other commitments this week, and since my last post generated such a positive response, he asked me to fill in for him on Saturday Sorcery to talk about something magic-itemy.

If there's something I miss in 4E (well, there's a few things, actually, but this one stands out), it's the weird and crazy magical items. Nearly all the items in the latest edition are combat oriented (since nearly the entire game is now combat oriented), and without so much time spent exploring and discovering, you have far fewer opportunities to throw in items that encourage (or discourage) said exploration. Part of the problem is that they've moved the magic items from the Dungeon Master's Guide and put them in the Player's Handbook - it turned them from mysterious, forbidden artifacts of forgotten lore into a shopping list. Reading the gear section of the 4E PHB is like looking through a walkthrough guide for Final Fantasy or World of Warcraft.

Do you have a +5 vorpal holy avenger? Does it come in blue?

I recently went through my well-loved and well-worn 2nd Edition DMG, and reminisced about some items that don't really exist in the current incarnation of our favourite hobby. Here are 5 of my favourites, in no particular order.

Deck of Many Things
"A deck of many things (beneficial and baneful) is usually found in a box or leather pouch. As soon as one of these cards is drawn from the pack, its magic is bestowed upon the person who drew it, for better or worse."

Some sample cards:
Sun: Gain beneficial miscellaneous magical item and 50,000xp
Moon: You are granted 1d4 wishes
Throne: Gain Charisma 18 plus a small keep
Talons: All magic items you possess disappear permanently
Fool: Lose 10,000 XP and draw again
Void: Body functions, but soul is trapped elsewhere

Your campaign, about 5 minutes after introducing the Deck of Many Things.

This is the item you include in your party’s treasure if you’re bored of your campaign and want to end it. Seriously, you cannot insert this into your game without virtually destroying everything. Even if the players pull a card that does something great, like give them extra magic items or free experience points or whatever, that will just make them greedy so they’ll pull another card and kill themselves.
Still, if you’re bored, pull out this little gem. It livens up everything.

Wand of Wonder
"The wand of wonder is a strange and unpredictable device that will generate any number of strange effects, randomly, each time it is used."

If that's a wand of wonder this prank is about to go horribly, horribly wrong.

Like the Deck above, the Wand of Wonder just makes weird crazy shit happen. A few of the possible effects: You may get a fireball, a lightning bolt, a cloud of butterflies or a rhinoceros. I have a soft spot in my heart for players who purposely set off traps just to see what will happen (which in turn inspires me to come up with crazier and crazier traps), so using an item that you know will have a random effect, and keeping your fingers crossed hoping that it’s something good, just brings a joyful tear to my eye.

Rod of Resurrection
"This rod enables a cleric to resurrect the dead - even elven - as if he were of high enough level to cast the resurrection spell." (Yes, in the old days, you couldn't cast raise dead on elves. Suck on that, you pointy-eared freaks.)

Regarding the rod, see my last two entries, above. Sometimes it’s the only thing to keep a campaign going.

Girdle of Masculinity / Femininity
"This broad leather band appears to be a normal belt, but, if buckled on, it will immediately change the sex of its wearer to the opposite gender. There is no sure way to restore the character's original sex [...] it takes a godlike creature to set matters aright with certainty. Ten percent of these girldles actually remove all sex from the wearer."

You may notice a theme in my choices, here. Something about screwing players. In my defence, this item doesn’t actually kill or even physically harm the character. Also in my defence, in my three occasions of seeing this hilarious item in action, not a single player ever tried to have the curse removed. So, what does that say about my players? Are they secretly transvestites or transsexuals? (Maybe) Are they committed actors looking forward to the challenge of roleplaying a character of the opposite sex? (Not bloody likely) Are they horny teenagers/twentysomethings getting a kick out of talking about their boobs? (Bingo)

This is what happens if you try to pull the belt off before the curse fully takes effect.

Whatever the case, players always fall for this item. You would think the fact that it’s a “girdle” would make them suspicious, but the beautiful thing about this cursed belt is that most players’ favourite item is the girdle of giant strength, which appears exactly the same until you put it on. It’s your job as DM to try and keep from snickering while your players fight amongst themselves over who’s about to get a magical sex change operation.

Flying Beaver Cleaver

I know, I know, this is not an official item. I made it up. And no, it’s nothing dirty. It’s a magical battle axe forged for killing – you guessed it – flying beavers. I really wanted to make a weapon called the “Beaver Cleaver,” so I had to build into my campaign that demons invading from another dimension involuntarily changed their form so they looked like beavers in our world. Of course, most demons have wings, which is where the “Flying” part comes in. I thought it was brilliant at the time, so you can imagine my disappointment when my players said “Beavers? When are we going to fight beavers?” and promptly sold the weapon.

(Yes, I know the proper response in such situations is to then make the party face an unrelenting horde of beaver demons to teach them a lesson, but I was too pissed and spiteful. I gave them a Deck of Many Things instead.)

Do you have a favourite magic item from the old editions of D&D? Or maybe you know of something equally cool and hopefully ridiculous from 4th Edition? Tell me all about 'em!

On Tuesday, I'll tell you about a couple of things that I know now that I wish I knew then.



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Published on 2/03/2011 Written by 6 comments

Review: The Horror at Dagger Rock

Review: The Horror at Dagger Rock

(Disclaimer: When writing reviews I don't bother with a numerical rating. I give my thoughts and opinions on a product, no more, no less. I suppose you could call it an "overview" rather than straight review. If you really want some kind of verdict, skip straight to the bottom where I list pros and cons. I should also warn that spoilers are inevitable though I shall try to keep them to a minimum.)

I had four players who had never played 3.5/Pathfinder, but who all wanted me to run them a game when the holidays ended. Being at a loss as to what would be best to run for them I resorted to looking for a cheap/free module I could toss at them while they learned the basics. Free, as always, took precedence, but then I'm cheap. Yes, the kind of cheap that hasn't bought a new article of clothing for nearly three years.

And why bother when consignment stores have what I need? But I'm digressing...back on topic.

So I went with The Horror at Dagger Rock by Sagaworks Studios. It's a little horror gem by Andrew Gale and I selected it not only because of the price (Free!) but also because it was more sandbox-y and open, which I felt would be a good fit for my players. That should be enough to turn off anyone seeking a lengthy dungeon crawl, but I'd advise anyone with an interest in nonlinear gameplay to keep reading.

The first thing anyone reading the module will notice is that it has only a vague beginning and an ending. There is no sequence of events to take your players from point A to point B. This is not a series of endless combat encounters. This is the skeleton of a story, and the players will provide the meat just as much as the gamemaster. And if those players get stuck, there is a helpful list of potential events to guide the plot in a non-railroading sort of way.

The module is broken up into a couple of segments. A lovely keyed map of the town where the adventure takes place, several special keyed locations, a keyed map of the mine (the sole 'dungeon'), and a couple pages on the new foes the PCs will encounter. No artwork other than the maps, but that's a relief as it spares my printer's ink cartridges and will let me stretch them for another month (see: cheap).

The entire thing is written in an older style that will be familiar to fans of mystery/horror adventures. The PCs end up in a little mining town (how is left open, but several helpful suggestions are provided) and must solve the disappearances, murders, and general aura of evil that has overwhelmed the little town since a massive earthquake.

Sounds like a good ol' Elder God romp to me! And really, the plot and NPCs could probably be used for a Call of Cthulhu game without much trouble. It's eerie and filled with suspicious characters.

Yes, a good portion of the NPCs are as friendly as this charming old lady
Possibly too filled. I had to do up a separate paper just to list all the NPCs and their personalities. And this was after reading the module four times. I also found a lot of the NPCs to be a tad underdone in regards to personality. The important few got quite lengthy descriptions, but the rest were blank slates with only information as to whether they want the PCs dead or not. Not a complaint necessarily, but it does mean a little effort should be expended beforehand to flesh out the NPCs, especially if your players want to get to know any of them better.

So The Horror at Dagger Rock is not intended for the novice gamemaster who just wants to jump in with little to no work. Sure, it provides plenty of suggestions (all excellently written), but it does rely on a lot of improvisation and skill on the part of the GM. Fortunately the setting is generic enough so that I barely needed to alter a thing to fit it into my campaign world.

The combats are mostly scaled to the recommended party of level 1-3, though two of them are rather challenging and may require some tweaking depending on the party make up. I know I had to drastically alter some of the encounters when one player left the game, leaving me with one fighter-type and two support. But it's a testament to both Pathfinder and to the module that doing so was easy and did not break the flow of the game or cause it to lose tension at all.

The open-ended exploration lasted for several exciting sessions. Even though the plot itself is nothing ground-breaking (it has plenty of Lovecraftian potential, but nothing a well-read fantasy/horror buff couldn't put together) and there is a little bit of effort needed to help flesh out the multitude of NPCs, I find it impossible not to recommend checking this module out, especially if you like sandbox adventures. It can also make for a heck of a campaign starter if used properly. And could even be adapted to play in an older edition of the rules with a bit of patience with the monsters.

The author is working on a semi-sequel adventure and is, in effect, using this initial module as free advertisement. I've gotta say, it's worked for me. I'm very interested in the next installment. Even if it means my cheap self shall have to pony up a couple of bucks for it.


Pros: Nonlinear; has a decent horror vibe; loads of locations and NPCs; plot seeds galore.

Cons: NPCs could use a little more flavor; not for the beginning gamemaster.

Download from Paizo (registration required).

74 pages, Sagawork Studios, 2010.

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