Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Weird That Befell Drigbolton, A Review

I am a sucker for buying indie RPG stuff, mostly because I eschew the power mad game apparatus and would rather lock myself in a half sunken laundry room to concoct rules governing the chance of parasitic infestation. Close inspection of the cover artwork shows a skull dripping blood from a hole in it’s forehead and wearing a red wig with two ponytails. Enough ribald banter.

The Weird That Befell Drigbolton is really good. Here’s why:

Drigbolton is well organised and not overloaded with bloated text blocks delineating invisible poison needle traps hidden in every third sock. All of the descriptors are perfect for any master running the game who only needs a concise description. I have been analyzing old TSR modules lately and they are overstuffed with lengthy descriptions of how some useless doodad in the background was beautifully carved out of bla bla bla. The makers of Drigbolton unprovides you this needless detail. Thusly shielded, the Master is then free to flesh out mundane details on the spot as god intended.

The prose itself has a certain mocking tone, much like the first few dry lines of a Monty Python sketch. The text itself however, never quite drives into pure parody. This is the perfect manner to offer this up, as it perfectly preserves both player’s and master’s agency to create the style of narrative they see fit.

The artwork is excellent. It perfectly sets the tone of the module and doesn’t over define anything. I have a huge pet peeve for the super slick images you see in the big name offerings. Too much photorealism robs the participants of their own ability to be creative.

This module is not a railroad. Players are dumped in and it’s their job to figure out stuff before the proverbial star stuff hits the fan. The scale of the map hex (at 6 miles) allows players to move around quickly. They just need to decide where they want to go. Information learned within these areas lead naturally to one or more others. Random events also conspire to drive the story to its “unnatural” conclusion. 

There is lots of great Player/NPC interaction here too. The Master will have many opportunities to talk like Thurston Howel the Third, Clint Eastwood and any of the various Rat Bags from MP’s Flying Circus. Make sure a glass of your favorite beverage at hand to keep your pipes lubricated.

There is a lot of weird stuff. Not just weird “Horror” as is the current flavor in the indie RPG community these days, but Drigbolton is just “off”. Like your uncle Carl from the war. And this is how it should be. If everything you encounter is weird, it all becomes the same. There has to be enough of the commonplace to push the odd stuff into the light. There are a host of random encounters in the back, broken up into groups. The designers created a simple and effective bit of mechanics to parse them out as the timer of the module runs out. I promise you will not randomly encounter two goblins with their weapons drawn looking for a fight. Maybe, instead you’ll run into “a maiden of innocence who is merely a lure for…” Let’s not give it away.

Lastly, the whole thing is easily mutable, allowing the Master to easily change things to suit his/her/its group. Sadly most of the stuff I buy is useless or too much of a PITA to alter for my game. Drigbolton will fit in perfectly within my world of Yogi-Rabbis, royal mobile armored thrones, and rectal port miss-fires.

When I convert this adventure to run, I’ll post my notes as a public service. The fine makers of Drigbolton promise more material in the future. Assuming this is not a hollow threat, I will gladly buy the next. Empire was better than the original, right?

The Weird That Befell Drigbolton
Suitable for Labyrinth Lord or any other fine FRPG
Gavin Norman, Greg Gorgonmilk writing and design
Andrew Walter illustrations
Kevin Green cartography

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Workable Encounters: God's Workbench Part 6

Getting ready for Gary Con IX suspended work for a couple of months. Don't fret, I am still here, still beating the proverbial dead horse. The encounter mechanics have been lying idle and picking them up last week, something bothered me about them. They were...clunky. First the Crypt Lord had to figure out how often to check for an encounter depending on circumstances and then roll for each interval to see if there was an actual encounter.  There had to a better way. Once again, I sat down with my dice and some graph paper…

I tried all kinds of crazy stuff to cram several random results into one die roll. It can be done, but you would have to go through some crazy mental gyrations and cut holes in cardboard. The trick was keeping things as simple as possible.

What I wanted was a standardized roll that had built into it both frequency and whether there was an encounter or not.  The dice should show this without having to look at any tables. Here is it is: Roll 3d8 at the start of each OTU (8 hours). If you roll either a pair or three of a kind, there is an encounter. The number rolled indicates the hour of the OTU it takes place. Further, if there is a greater chance of encounter, add one d8, (for a total of 4d8), which increases the odds dramatically.  If there is a much reduced chance, subtract a d8 (roll two d8). I wanted to easily mod this roll to take into account areas in which encounters were more or less likely.

In the design there were a couple of things I wanted to keep. First, the time interval. The outdoor movement time division is the OTU, or Overland Travel Unit which is 8 hours long. This will prove to be quite useful as the number of hours corresponds to a d8 roll and a day is logically broken up into 3 OTU. The second bit of infrastructure is a modular 24 row table and it's corresponding Thumbtrix.

In it’s simplest form the table is designed around a d12 and has two banks of 12 fields each, for a total of 24 slots. To use you roll a d6 "controller" and a d12 for the result. It is designed to be modular so it can be plugged into any game subsystem to generate results. You can generate either completely random or weighted results depending on the current need. I took the same the same 24 fields and rearranged them into a different format, or what I call a Thumbtrix. The Thumbtrix allows the user quickly generate multiple results without rolling any dice.

Example: I roll 3d8 at the beginning of an OTU and get a pair of 3's. This means there is an encounter and it's during the third hour. The card above is an overview/cheat sheet.

It so happens we are in the magical land of Pewlon, so I grab the encounter card for that region and roll a d6 and d12. The d6 is a "controller" and the result indicates the column (1-3 left or 1-12 and 4-6 right or 13-24). This is a pretty traditional way to roll a result off a table.

Using further tables I can determine other elements of the encounter. The blank cards allow me to easily customize for different terrains, towns and regions.

Here are the same tables (above) with the same information, but now in Thumbtrix format. The disc has 12 results, 1-6 twice (one set is "repeat" the other "consecutive").

The Thumbtrix are stacked and spun or rotated (usually under the table in a random manner). After spinning them around, line up the stack.

The number up on the disc tells you which result number to start on (there are 6 in each quadrant) and if you repeat or go consecutive. Notice that you get a lot of information all at once. In this instance I got "2" and "consecutive", so the first Thumbtrix starts at 2, the second at 3 and so on. Once you have these, they are totally reusable and great for urban encounters when you need stuff on the fly.

I usually have a few encounters generated beforehand. Here are notes for the one shown above. I treat the encounter as a kind of mini table top miniatures game. Some are elaborate, others not. The system allows for great flexibility. Having a bunch of key word elements jazzes things up. I have a simple method for determining which group in the encounter has the "Upper Hand", that group gets to control some of the set up.

So that's the encounter system, next time I'll show how I worked "Epic" encounters into it. These are the reoccurring narrative non player characters...

Friday, March 31, 2017

Urkoid Drawrring

Back to drawing, getting back up to speed after a whole bunch of worldly deadlines. Here is an Urk from my sketchbook. Carry on!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

30 Hours at Gary Con IX 2017

Gary Con is an annual event (I misspelled "annual", my spellchecker wondered if I meant "anal" instead) held in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. says "Welcome to one of the best kept secrets in gaming! Gary Con is an annual game convention held every March in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. It honors the memory of the Father of Role Playing Games, E. Gygax".

Two years ago I stuck my toe into the water and ran the ignominious "Towering Inferno of Death", an adventure using the non-award winning Crypts-N-Creepies game system. I missed it the year before last, this time I did not miss the deadline to sign up to run games for the 2017 event. Instead of a singular event, I would be running four.

I rolled up to the Grand Geneva around 11 am, this gave me an hour before my first event. I zipped through the vendor area and met Lou Zocchi selling platonic and non-platonic solids. He wore a bow tie, not to be hip, but I imagine he's probably been wearing one since the 60's. A very nice gentlemen, although I was hoping he would have more than few 0-9 d20's for sale. They were all tepid colors, only slightly brighter than the covers of the worn out sci-fi novels and 70's era Strategy & Tactics he was selling on another table. Across from him someone was selling wall decor, I snapped a pic of the one that caught my eye featuring the Millennium Falcon.

Being here brought back vague memories of my friend Mike the Mangler’s dad driving us in 1980 to Gen Con XIII at Parkside. I recall buying a Grenadier Demogorgon in the Dungeon from the plastic bins behind the counter. I went to another before MECCA with Mike Lange and ran a “Poseidon Adventure” event using the Mach game system. I remember playing Trivial Pursuit with the Blumes. It was not a fun experience, they knew the answer to every freaking question. But I digress.

I was set up in Evergreen 1 for my first event “Psst...Wanna get small?”  I knew from last time getting people to play an unknown game with a dumb name was going to be tough. When I asked people to play they would even say “I’m here to play D&D”. Ouch. Four people signed up online, only two showed, both had the first name “James”. Both excellent players and as far as I could tell enjoyed being shrunk down and fighting for their lives in a matchbox.

My second event was kind of a breather, basically I brought my 70’s era Cosmic Encounter game and had slots for players.  I ended up with three, so the four of us played two games until 8 pm. I lugged all my stuff back to the car. A bit after 8 I ran into James (from my earlier game) who was sitting down to play QUAGS Fratboys Vs. Crabnado. There was five of us, myself, James, the GM and a younger couple. The genre is akin to B-movie and meant to be very light hearted. I felt like I was totally out of my element, first I knew nothing about frat boys and the couple there were like these amazing stand-up roll players. They were constantly in character and  making up the funniest and strangest stuff on the spot, constantly until midnight. It was not a “game” but an amazing experience. I simply have no words.

I went back to my hotel and climbed into bed. Where I was staying was very practical, eventually I got used to the steady hum of the various machines on the wall of my room and buried elsewhere in the complex. I got up early and had a complimentary breakfast, while sipping my Starbucks singles enhanced beverage I put final touches into my big event that I would be running at noon. I got to the parking lot at 7:30 am and manhandled my bins and map cases up to Evergreen 3. E3 was much better than E1, it was slightly less loud and there was a window on the wall letting in natural light. Additionally, I was running the noon even from the exact same table, so no moving camp.

Suffice it to say my 8 am game went belly up (You break bought it). The cynic in me would write that it’s frustrating to be at an event where creative people gather to celebrate uniqueness and be spurned by “I’m here to play D&D” syndrome. Fortunately, it’s a less pressing voice in my consciousness, I decided to enjoy what comes and put my energy into creating content and not complaining. So far this has been a good deal. However, I was worried that the four or five who had signed up for my last event, the “big one” might not show. I walked around and studied what other groups were doing and bought two books in the vendor’s room. I had a nice chat with Allan from Black Blade about the Tomb of Horrors. Fifteen to noon I headed up to Evergreen 3.

At noon one player had showed. By 10 after it was still just the two of us. This morning while trying to hustle players they would ask what they would be playing. Going out into the hall now, the answer to that question would be “’s a game I wrote called Blind. The premise is that you don’t know what kind of game you're in”. Throw on to this that the game lasted six hours. I could feel my skin getting thicker. Several steps out into the hall I accosted a young couple and asked “looking for a game?” Their answer was a quick yes. I paused. “A game that I can’t tell you about and lasts until 6”? I pointed into the room at the table. I made a rapid circuit of the halls, nothing. Three it was then. I had put a lot into this game over the last 5 months, every scrap of it was built from scratch. The setting required research. The artwork was as important as the mechanics. It was a game I had wanted to make for a few years, GCIX was the artificial deadline I needed to get this thing done.

It turned out that the four of us were exactly the right people to play this game. As far as I am concerned it was one of the best, maybe even the best, RPG experience I’ve been part of. I will talk about what went down in a few days over on the BLIND blog.

To wrap up: I plan on going next year. Crypts-N-Creepies is always going to be that funny game no one’s heard of. BLIND is that other game I can’t tell you much about and takes six hours to play. There will never be accolades or big fat checks. All I need are a few brave souls to make these things happen.  Thank you James, James, Scott, Jess and Jason!

Back to my regular game and to the 2.0 version of C-N-C. Plus the usual stuff here and more chapters of God's Workbench!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

This Game is Ugly

A few nights ago while wrapping up a game, I realized drawings are ugly. Misshapen, lump ridden, fluid oozing, splotchy, wall-eyed. At their best simply just visually maladjusted. My technique is both amateurish and unpleasant. This is not entirely through lack of skill.

These drawings, the ombudsmen of my DIY RPG has been online for a while now. I do not get comments on my drawings. (I used to drive a Charger painted camouflage. No one ever commented on that either. Par for the course).

My illustrations are purposeful, they are faithful representations of my game reality. I like them the same way that rust blossoms from underneath a protective coating. It brings to mind something my mom once said about my artwork, that it “glorified war and objectified women”.

I read a lot. In between books two and three of the Dune sextilogy, I read a Zine called Rocket Queen. It’s authored by a stripper who writes about her vocation. In the second issue she talks about “The Whore of Babylon” and I quote “The whore as a symbol is a shortcut. A lack of imagination supplemented with an easy metaphor.” This struck a chord with me and partially clarified why I make everything in my game ugly. 

Ugliness is a great leveler. In this world we allow ourselves to be conditioned by the trope of beauty.  In the world of RPG’s beautiful imagery becomes an “easy metaphor” which encourage “a lack of imagination”. Beauty = Power. So shortsighted and dull. Why can’t Galadriel have buck teeth? Wonder Woman with a huge proboscis and a uni-brow? If anyone deserves a hump, it’s Maleficent. Alas, I am truly beating a dead horse.

Everything in my game is riddled with a flaws. One table might inform you that you have a “head shaped like rotted fruit”.  You can elect to take the skill “Nervous Tick” and throw opponents off by twitching. Arcanists can cast a spell called “Big Long Tongue”. A “Fighting Scroatt” has an attack in which you are grabbed by its mouth so that your “head goes down into stomach acids that melts facial features”.

Non-beautification bonds everyone together. I find that people interact within the game differently, they ask questions more, want to know, spend time on actions and details. One reason may be that the “Beauty = Power” formula erases creativity. When a player sees the “Beautiful (fill in the blank)”, they don’t ask any more questions.

I don’t think I’ll be trying to draw anything beautiful soon.

You can find all two issues of the Rocket Queen Zine at:

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Amazing Crypt Lord Screen

Many moons ago I posted a new ref screen, designed for more referee/player visibility. It's a great design, except that it's not very portable. Well, not any more...


Typically I carry all my stuff to some location to play. The goal it to have everything fit into two small portable files, designed to hold 8 1/2 x 11 paper. This screen has many features: 1) I made it as short as possible so everyone could see my face clearly at all times (this also works in reverse). 2) The front acts as an angled display base for illustrations, maps and notes. 3) The top edge holds dice and pencils. And now it fits into my portable file. Gaming infrastructure gets a bad rap, but when the detrimental elements of the physical process of gaming is eliminated, you are left with a better experience. 

I am still slaving away on my events for Gary Con IX. After that, there will be a more svelte version of the above screen. Eagle eyed viewers may have spotted the other big innovation in the video, it will be revealed soon!

Here is link to the ref screen post:

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

You Break It...You Bought It!

Real crypt openers give the tourist infested White Market a wide berth. But a few days of climbing out of pits and listening at doors wears down even the most veteran plunderers. Ah! The market awaits. You have a few sodiums jingling in your pocket and those sun dried meat strips sure look good. Never mind the whole place is awash in the cheapest trash this side of Mordor. What harm is there in laughing at the “Big Svensen” t-shirts, sand-globes and mustache steins? Live a little! Why look here’s a replica of Eve L. Hay Ed’s Cursed Crystal Skull. Look at the detail of the mystic runes and the simulated anti-life glow. It even seems to radiate pure evil and the tag says it’s only 1 mercury piece...

Crypt openers will have literally 240 minutes of non-stop fun in this adventure I like to call…”You Break It...You Bought It!”. The event is scheduled for 8 am on Saturday. Your chair awaits!

One of the many interesting characters in C-N-C