Friday, December 29, 2017

Updated Persona Sheets

Here is the newest persona sheet for C-N-C. As the mechanics of the game evolve, so does the infrastructure to support player information. Can you judge a game by its character sheet? Download the new sheet here:
For reference, here is an old sheet:

The style of the new persona sheets represent the new style presentation of the next iteration of the C-N-C rules, which will be available in 2018.

They are made as digital collages. I basically collect things that normally thrown away, photograph them, digitally cut them up and reassemble. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

"...I Don't Want To Go On The Cart..."

Here I am, listening to Hans Zimmer's greatest hits on You Tube, thinking thinky things during this in-between time, before the grist mill comes back on line. Crypts and Creepies is on deck for an a new shiny version. Time has allowed my brain to structure this into something that I can get excited about. Blind will also get released, I've run it a number of times, once I have the support material I need...yes.

Enough hollow promises. Oh, wait, here is one more:

I plan to put in writing on how to create an RPG. Strangely, there is really nothing substantive out there on the subject.

To this end I have collected, read, reread and taken copious notes. This is the main references I'll be using.

Here are my picks as core books on actual game design:

Playing at the World (by Jon Peterson) is the essential history of RPG gaming. A book with a terrible name (picked to sell), it describes Kriegsspiele, Braunstiens, Diplomacy and Chainmail. Seeing how these were congealed into D&D allows the game designer of the future to understand the artifacts that were passed forward to the present. My review:

Rules of Play (by Salen and Zimmerman) and Characteristics of Games (by Elias, Garfield and Gutschera) are design textbooks from MIT and are the only ones I have found that give specific details on actual design. They cover all types of games, so the stuff relative to RPG design has to be distilled. Some have complained that these are "dry" and "hard to read". These are not beach reads, they have real data in them, for most folks (who are not into game design) I recommend something more pleasurable, like Twilight. 

I have a number of books on designing wargames, The Art of Wargaming (by Perla) and The Complete Wargames Handbook (by Dunnigan) are my top two. Reading about Pol-Mil and Naval War College type games is a must.

Randomness (by Bennett) gets into the history of dice and the math behind probability. Gotta understand your tools, especially if you going to create new ones. I got this from the bibliography of another text, always check those lists.

Hack & Slash Compendium Blog Collection 1 (by Campbell). This is a Lulu print of posts about player Agency, it gets to the meat of RPG issues on this subject, so also essential to any RPG designer. Oh, lastly up there is my own notebooks, if you are really in this, then you need to keep track of your own thoughts and reactions to what your reading. My review:

I completely forgot Hanz wrote the music to Gladiator and Pear Harbor. Bleh.

Here are some books that will punish you, lot's of promises, no content.

How to Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck (by Goodman Games, essays by various authors) has a lot of advice that amounts to "write things that are fun". A lot of vaugue theoretical advice, but no actual words on how to design anything specific. People love to spout design theory's, I have learned this is all very interesting but means nothing until you have actually made something. If you have always wanted that kool barbarian coffee table off Etsy, but lacked a flashy game design book to put on it, then buy this book and you'l be set. If your looking to learn to design RPG game mechanics and adventures, then just skip it. (BTW, one of the essayists is James Ward. I had the pleasure of running an adventure a couple of years back next to his "Women Only" table at Gary Con. If only Fame were a thicker whitewash.)

Tome of Adventure Design (by Frog God Games) is really a glorified Ready Ref Sheets (a very old and wrinkled Judges Guild product). It is marginally useful to have lists of different types of unusual book bindings, thematic ideas for mastermind humanoid races and information content of rumors. This is not a bad book, but not really useful for any kind of thoughtful design.

One reviewer said that "whilst
Cyborg Commando isn’t the
worst game written, it is
outstandingly poor.
This is a product that should
be held up to designers as a
lesson in how not to write a game."
Lastly there is Role-Playing Mastery (by Gygax), which when read is the psychic equivalent of having gravel rubbed into one's rectum. I bought this back in the day for 4 bucks and attempted to read it through on several occasions over the last decade. I had convinced myself that the creator of Cyborg Commando must have some useful knowledge to pass forward on RPG design... Sadly Role-Playing Mastery is a thinly veiled swill of "Why I am a Master" and "D&D is the best" described in very, very, very long sentences. Surely it is a skill to write so much and have it mean so little. I can only recommend it to get your blood boiling on what not to do when designing an RPG game.

Here is some game materials that can show a correct path.

The original Dungeon Master's Guide (by Gygax) is a treasure trove of inspiration and even after combing through it for literally decades, I still find interesting things I never saw before. It's "official" so you know it's got to be good. It's a mess of contradictions and bizarre mechanics that make no sense, but still an amazing catalyst when thinking about RPG design.

The Weird That Befell Drigbolton (by Norman and Gorgonmilk) is a current adventure module that is strange, easy to digest and well written. It is not over-designed and not a railroad. Just a really good model as excellent adventure creation. I have already reviewed it here:

Yoon-Suin (by McGrogan) is a city/region supplement. While I have some technical issues with it, it's greatest strength it's not another cookie cutter European city. Someday, RPG games will get beyond LOTR crap and there will be non-white cultures, trans-damsels in distress and characters who have hard to explain mixed up ethics. Someday. Assuming, if our prez, mr. T, doesn't turn the clock backwards too much.

The Dungeon Dozen (by Sholtis) is a compendium of d12 tables from the Dungeon Dozen Blog. This is useful because the restricting construct of making weird tables of 12 results forces you into a new place. Carry forward RPG design will need new maps.

Interactive Fantasy (by Rilstone) is an old magazine collecting thoughts on game design. Useful, in that it addresses the actual question by people who have useful thoughts on the subject. Long out of print, but you can find digital versions floating around.

Maze of the Blue Medusa (by Sabbath and Stuart) is a mega-dungeon. Shows we can get over "Room/Treasure/Monster" and make something that is engaging and says FU all at the same time. A very well executed and designed adventure, so important to any designer simply for that reason alone. My review:

Deep Carbon Observatory (by Stuart and Princess) shows the way to what adventure design can be by being bold enough to follow it's own logic and not that of money formula. The presentation is rough, but the adventure design breaks new ground. It is amazing what we take for granted, without thinking, Carbon will open your eyes, if you let it.

Finally, Blucher (by Mustafa) is a table top Napoleonics miniatures game. Talk about a genre of games that defines tired and old. The design of Blucher shows that stepping back and really looking at what you are doing and trying to accomplish by asking questions can bring you to something amazing. All this and a rule book that is extraordinarily well written. Again, I wrote about it here:

OH, I almost forgot. There are these books outside game design proper. Very important to get ideas outside the box you are in.

Understanding Comics (by McCloud) of course is required reading for any creator. It has been around for a while and speaks to RPG issues in terms of character and narrative. If you are a game designer go read this book right now or I'm going to tell your mom.

Designa (Wooden books) is something I stumbled across in a book store. This book is icing really, but has hundreds of two page articles on how borders and patterns are created. I tend to be visual, not wordual, so this one works for me. It shows that there is a reason for everything.

The New Analog (by Krukowski) is a music book that talks about the shift to digital medium and talks about signal and noise. RPG's are essentially systems and reading about mediums (which are basically systems) will change how you design. Krukowski shows the importance of noise in communication. Judge's Guilds Ready Ref Sheets has lot's of "noise": bad drawings, typos, poor typesetting and crummy paper. Nowadays the accepted standard is to make your game look all polished and shiny. Finished artwork becomes more important than the game experience itself. Selling becomes more important. Bleh.

How Music Works (by Byrne) shows the importance of understanding how the medium defines the creative process. When I wrote my game back in 87', I simply sat down wrote up some rules and gave no real thought to anything. For me (at that time) it was important to create this idea that my game was a legitimate thing just like the others on the market. It needed clever rules and artwork. I never questioned the underlying system. Until I did that (which was recently) I was never able create something that would mean something. I will never sell lots of games, but I will have something of value. Cardboard boxes make the best toys. However, to really grow you must knock them apart and cut holes in them with a kitchen knife.

Yup. My goal is different now. I have no interest in the old definition of success. I don't need to make some big audience happy. Yup.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

BLASTA-DHONN: SM's New 1/42 Scale Kit Will Have Crypt Lords Drooling

I was fortunate enough to have been sent a preview sample of the upcoming Blasta-Dhonn in glorious 1/42nd scale by Chicago based Schwartzpunk Models. This is the latest kit to literally crawl forth from the ichor tanks of their production house and also the 4th offering of the "Classic Creepazoids in Plastic" series. 

The kit comprises of 9 parts molded in grey polystyrene. The fit is excellent for a Limited Run kit, indeed minimal cleanup will be needed to get this critter up and laying waste to hapless crypt openers. The two stalwarts of C-N-C already know the ferocious history of these creepazoids, "they have twin bio-cannons that can discharge super dense fecal matter clods accurately at speeds greater tan 160 feet per Na-nuta...upon birth they take a single breath and live on will power alone...they loathe every living thing". Crypt Lords revel in the raw power these give them in both ranged and close quarter combat.

A shot of the asexual nether regions of this beast. Note the accuracy of the puckering of non-essential biomass.

All nine parts showing the cleanliness of the moldings. This will have the modeler in you totally "stoked".

We have seen two of these kits already, the obsequious Orbo "The Great" and Megamumu. Strangely, SM brought us a Fighting Scroatt, which is not listed. There are rumors that the Hairy Mormon is next to be released. If true we look forward to the backlash ranging from religious groups to the billion dollar hair removal industry. 

Many thanks to Nesbitt Pepperpot who was kind enough to send this preview sample along. It is much appreciated!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

My AD&D "Cyclops Of Yew" Dungeon Circa 1979

This was one of my fancier dungeons, probably based on Tomb Of Horrors. OK, definitely based on TOH. I have no idea where would have gotten this parchment paper to type on. Stolen from my dad's dresser? After TOH, I knew creating a riddle to give to my friends at the start was the ticket. It generated anticipation and provided logic to avoid the traps.

I had a set of colored fine tip markers (an X-mas present) that I used to make all my maps. This was always my favorite part. Cool Map = Cool Adventure.

My spelling is still atrocious.

A nice snap of me in that dreaded year. I hated the 70's. I listened to Zappa and...apparently wore bad cloths. To be fair...well, never mind. On my right is the infamous "Mike the Mangler". During one of the games he DM'ed we planned an assassination while he listened. When we carried it out there were suddenly new guards and procedures that meshed perfectly to foil our plan. From that point forward we would make him leave the room any time we made plans. 

You can find the whole "Cyclops Of Yew" here:


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Header Causes Quadrupeds To Burst Into Flame

Well, not really, more like a smoldering...think of the smell of burning carpet.

Process: Sort old model parts, cut them up and glue together.

Print out a background, photograph, Photoshop and viola, a header. Enjoy!
(Note, the V2 version of the rule book will be done like this)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Carl’s Dungeon of “Mazes of Xanth” 1978

"Mazes of Xanth" map detail
Somehow (because I am a particular sort of hoarder) I had a bunch of my friends dungeons from the late 70’s and early 80’s. This is one was created by Carl Kestor, who by the way was not really my friend, just a guy I played a few games with. The memory that bubbles to the surface about Carl is that his girlfriend would sit on his lap while he DMd. She ignored us completely. Occasionally they whispered and smooched, and when Carl had to look at one of us he had to crane his head to see past his girlfriend. I am quite sure I never asked or was told her name. I recall being mildly annoyed, in real life Carl had a “low charisma”. However, none of us could convince any girl to sit on our lap, let alone while playing a game synonymous with note taking and tedium. I raise my bag of off brand cheese puffs to you wherever you are now, Carl.

Cover page of "Mazes of Xanth"
Yes, I am older than dirt. Often I will say this to the yoots of today, thinking that I can impress them or more importantly get respect. Medication has removed this need, so I will not bore you or myself by trying to impress you with aged based credentials. Ahem.

Typical page of "Mazes of Xanth"
Look at Carl’s dungeon: It is instructive to note the sheer amount of characters carefully recorded on each page, all 16. I’m sure I didn’t write this amount in one whole year of high school, so this mass of carefully scrawled graphite is an achievement in its own right. So many words and so little actual detail in the rooms other than monster, stats and treasure. Kinda like a video game minus every scrap of enjoyment. Heed the the title itself, appropriated from a popular book series. Look at the map with its incomprehensible rooms and serpentine hallways specifically designed to discourage accurate mapping. Consider in 1978, this was considered a better alternative to the four broadcast channels on TV. And it was.
Here is a link to the whole thing:
More will be posted so “stay tuned”. That is all.

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