A place wherein this Dwarven Cleric can share his love of maps, dice, miniatures, and all things involving gaming and general geekery--not to mention the occasional witty non-gaming observations--whilst escaping from the humdrum existence of his routine Terran existence.

Hail and Well Met, fellow traveler! May my Stronghold provide a place for enlightenment and amusement, and somewhere to keep your dice dry. Enter and rest awhile.

18 December 2015

A New Hope: Repeated History in the Making

Non-gaming post ahead.

Somewhere a little over 38 years ago, I sat in a theater watching Star Wars for the first of how-many-hundreds of times. I was the perfect age, the perfect demographic. I was a sucker for the toys, the comics, the books...everything.

OK. Not the Ewoks. Never the Ewoks. Those "movies" may be the only mass-market Star Wars product of which I've never participated. I hate those fuzzy little turds.

Seriously...they completely ruin Return of the Jedi for me.

But I digress.

I still remember—and feel—the awe as the docking hatch of the Tantive IV burns away and Darth Vader strides in. The same goes for the gut-wrenching anticipation of the trash compactor sequence and for the stomach-churning aerial acrobatics above and around the Death Star Trench.

I still remember the anticipation and dread and unbelievable angst of knowing it would be THREE! MORE! YEARS! for the next chapter in the lives of Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, and the droids. And I remember the lines—and standing in lines—for each of the three movies.

And then it was over.

Over the years we had the Expanded Universe as it developed and grew. I read the heck out of Splinter of the Mind's Eye, partly because it was a fun story, but partly because it was the only Star Wars we had for a long time after Jedi. We had the prequels; I don't hate them, but I'm not enamored of them, but they're still Star Wars.

But now we have The Force Awakens. I have heard a reviewer say that we, as a culture, will never experience this kind of entertainment event again in our lifetime. [Aside: Look, I realize that in the grand scheme of things, there are bigger things than Star Wars The Jedi and Sith mean nothing to my eternal salvation. But culturally, socially, it's huge. If I have to explain that to this audience, I'll lose hope. End aside.] I remember going to Star Wars with my father, Empire with my older cousin, and Jedi with my big brother. I have great and emotional memories of each of these.

Each of my children have seen at least one of the prequels in the theater with me, so it's really nothing new. But in one respect, it is. Look: I don't hate them, but the prequels don't seem like the same...storyline...to me. Yeah, they're still Star Wars, but they have a different feel. They were "new." The prequels felt more like backstory or explanation. We already knew what happened to Yoda, Vader, and Obi Wan; the prequels just showed us how they got there. This is..."new" but also "more." It feels like the continuation of beloved memories while also the start of something new.

Tonight I'm taking four of my five kids to see The Force Awakens. I can't express how excited I am. Anyone who grew up with Star Wars knows what it means for myself. But I'm also excited to experience this with my kids. It is a phenomenon. But I think it's a bonding experience too. My boys are about the same age I was for Empire and Jedi. My youngest just turned 8 yesterday, and so is a bit older than I was for Star Wars. [Aside 2: I think I may be more excited for her, just because I remember that feeling of wonder, awe, and imagination at that age. End aside 2.] She already loves Star Wars; I'm excited to see that, by every indication, there are some strong female roles she can look up to.

I hope it won't be "perfect." I want my kids to have their own version of the stormtrooper banging his head, their own version of (arguably the greatest line in the movie) "Look, sir! Droids!" (I'm also a bit afraid they'll have their own version of Obi-Wan being cut down, and that it will hurt.) But I hope it'll have all these things; the movies diminished a bit with all the polishing that Lucas did over the years. I'm honestly surprised that the head-bang wasn't edited out, or that there wasn't more exposition included regarding the droid's exact make and model suggested by the bit of desert detritus.

I'm tearing up just thinking about sitting there with my kids, watching them experience this for themselves. It won't be quite the same. After all, none of us—or our parents—could have foreseen what would have grown from those first scrolling yellow words. But I hope that these mean to my kids something close to what the originals meant to me because of how much my kids mean to me.

They mean the galaxy to me.

29 November 2015

[found items] Foliage Template

A few months ago, my wife decided to go back to school in order to get a few more credits required for her teaching certificate. This has had a couple of side benefits for me, as well. For example, aside from being able to sleep with a smoking hot college co-ed again, I've discovered a new college bookstore.

I love college bookstores.

I don't know what it is about them, specifically. Way back when, when I was young and my brothers were going to school, I loved going with them to buy stuff at the University Bookstore. It's not just the books; it's the "other stuff." School supplies, art supplies, random crap...it's all good.

There it is...it's the art supplies. I love books, don't get me wrong. But most of the non-esoteric books can be found elsewhere, cheaper. The cool art supplies, however, and school supplies, these aren't things you can find at your local Michael's or Office Max.

One example: I love writing with pencils. There's just something basic and visceral about using a good, old-fashioned lead pencil. And the best pencil sharpener I've ever owned?  A handheld sharpener that I found at the University Bookstore. Since finding the first one 20+ years ago, I've bought several more. Glass-bodied, they're made to resemble an old-fashioned inkwell. And they sharpen pencils like nobody's business.

It's not just pencil sharpeners; pencils, pens, all sorts of supplies. I found a sweet, solid metal mechanical pencil that's got sufficient heft to make it great to write and sketch with. Perhaps my favorite thing, however, is to raid the architecture aisles for templates.

Not just circles, squares, and ovals, although I have plenty of those. I've got some that are 40+ years old that I inherited (read: sneaked out of his desk because he no longer used them) from my father. I'm always on the lookout for a new one.

This brings us back to my wife going back to school. She made the mistake of allowing me to find the college bookstore. Yep: new pens, a new mechanical pencil, and my eyes on a couple more things. I also struck the Holy Grail: a new template.

That's right: a Landscape Template. Oddly, just a few months ago I was complaining to myself about my inability to draw a tree on a map. They all looked like clouds. Puffy clouds. With dots in the center.

This, I think, is going to help. Look: three different sizes, plus a palm tree. Some shrubs and bushes that will serve as some smaller trees too. French curves built in. and I think there are some pond/pool stencils there too, although those aren't as difficult for me to draw.

I couldn't wait to get the plastic off and start playing sketching. Of course, as soon as I got the plastic off all of my ideas dried up. Ah, well. I've got it with my sketching/mapping supplies and as soon as the muse strikes, I'm all set.

28 September 2015

Shamless Plea for Help

OK, dear readers. I realize that I've dropped off the face of the planet. I barely have the energy to make this post, but I really need some help. Here comes the "shameless plea."

Well, actually, it comes as part of a great big "thank you" to you all in the gaming community. A great big "thank you" because of what you all mean to me, and how your unspoken--and possibly unrealized--support has gotten me through some bad times.

I've had a bad couple of years. After a dozen-plus years slaving for a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge, I bought him out and hung out my shingle. Then I slowly realized, more and more, that he'd taken advantage of me, and had incurred a lot of secret debt that now had my name stuck to it. In the past couple years I've sunk everything I have into this firm and have finally come to the conclusion that my desire to help people has not been outweighed and overcome by my inability to bring in business. I haven't made a mortgage payment in a year; heck, I've not taken a paycheck home in a year. There's been game-related spending, but it's been driven by extreme depression.

You see, I've been suffering from depression for nearly 5 years. I will confess, I was always one who kinda scoffed at depression. I was raised by parents who were nearly a generation older than most of my friends' parents, and were of the "pull up your boots and get back to work" mentality of the Nineteen Forties generation. I'll tell you, that mentality lasts only until the moment you realize that it's all true: depression has a definite mental, emotional, and physical effect on your life.

Then add to that the food allergies that hit about the time I bought out the old man, "Grampa Asshat" as my staff calls him. Severe food allergies. To the point that I have maybe a dozen things I can eat...at most.

I'm not saying this because I'm craving sympathy or pity. I'm getting to my point here soon.

Putting together The Stronghold has helped, putting out this blog has helped, proven a distraction, at least.

Fast forward to about 6 weeks ago. Due to circumstances beyond my control, someone close to me--professionally--screwed me over. I felt like I was the victim in a bad prison movie. I dropped emotionally, mentally, and physically lower than I had ever before experienced. I determined that I was closing my doors. I felt like a failure, even though I knew (and everyone around me knew) that I had been set up for failure by Grampa Asshat. Since that day, I have been nearly incapable of producing any gaming material. Heck, it's been tough to even get up the gumption to game. A few of you've provided some little goodies in the mail that have acted as defib paddles. A month ago, a colleague offered me a job in his firm, providing me an open window to the door I'd just closed. This past 3 weeks I've worked harder than I have in several years; my depression and medical issues have severely inhibited my thinking and processing abilities. All of this? It's exhausted me. Severely. Exhausted. It certainly hasn't helped my desire or ability to produce, game, or think straight. In addition to client deadlines from my new firm and my old firm I also have self-imposed deadlines: editing deadlines for a couple of OSR projects, writing deadlines for several anthologies, and, of course (potentially) Issue #3 of The Stronghold. None of this takes into consideration family stuff, of course.

Now the plea: I'm relying on you all. I've relied on all your support (see above) for the past several years to get me through the past several years.

Do I keep going with this? do I keep going with the blog? with The Stronghold 'Zine? with gaming? I need some reasons. I need your support. Call it prayers, karma, or positive vibes. Yeah, it's selfish, it's self-serving, it's shameless. I think of you all as my friends, and I wanted you--as my friends--to know what's been going on and what you all mean. And yeah, to beg for some positive support as well.

Maybe this is overly dramatic. I certainly don't want to give all this up. I really don't. It's probably all emotional and mental burn-out. I'm sure I'll get past it.

Thanks for listening.

And I certainly can't conceive of WHAT I can use as a Joesky tax for this post. Hope y'all will forgive the intentional oversight.

20 August 2015

Dwarven Happiness--Sometimes it's the Little Things

Some of you may have already seen this.

I'm just going to leave this here, because it makes me happy.

19 August 2015

[From the Mailbag] Post-Vacation Embarassment of Riches

Well, I went away for a week--far away from cell service, land line service, internet service. It was restful. Utterly restful. Gamed a bit with my family (game report in process). Read a bit. Slept a bit. All in all a very, very restful week.

It made coming back to the office dreadfully miserable.

But, oh! What was waiting for me when I got home. The neighbor collecting our mail commented on the number of packages and hand-addressed envelopes I received. I guess all they ever get is bills and shopping mailers.

Here's what made last weekend terrific. Sorry for the bad photo, but I wanted to get everything in one shot.

Going from left to right:
  • A buddy of mine came across some duplicate 3.x titles from "his source" and passed along his extras to me: A Pathfinder module named Guardians of Dragonfall. Also a Pathfinder sourcebook entitled Tombs of Golarion--because one can never have too many tombs or ill-meaning NPCs. A CD, released with Dungeon #87 that includes the first issue of Dungeon as well as some bonus adventures and other stuff. Then there's a Paizo-produced map of the Sleeping Dragon Inn. You may recall I already have a copy of this, but it's gone missing, so I welcomed the new copy.
  • Then there's the latest two creature postcards from +Jim Magnusson. As usual, these are gorgeous and creepy. If you aren't already a patron of his, you should be. Rectify that. Soon.
  • Up top were some duplicate WotC miniatures, also from that great friend of mine. These are the Blackroot Treant from the Against the Giants set (my collection's first treant) and the Flesh Golem from the Night Below set.
  • The July Mythoard arrived as well: no dice or miniature this time, but almost as good--some fire counters from Advanced Deployment and a stack of coaster-dungeonmorphs, and a d12 table of NPC names on a business card (thanks, +Jarrod Shaw, et al.). Also included is a copy of Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! (an introductory RPG), a copy of Issue #5 of the Undercroft 'zine (thanks +Daniel Sell), another binder-ready locale/NPC, a copy of The Red Mausoleum module from Expeditious Press, and a copy of a Judges Guild adventure, Rat on a Stick. 
  • Next to the miniatures are the latest Patreon rewards from the great and incomparable +Tim Shorts. Again, he fails to disappoint. A medieval crypt and a futuristic sci-fi patrol scenario. Great maps, great substance, and laminated for dry-erase or Mountain Dew repellant qualities. If you have ever enjoyed an issue of The Manor 'zine and haven't yet signed up for his Patreon account, get over there and do it now.
  • And the gifts continued after the weekend. When Monday's mail arrived, I found another great postcard map from +Simon Forster. This time a two-room main floor building surrounded by idyllic trees. The basement of the building is filed with surprises, including an attached cavern room. I always love getting these postcards; they are, to be honest, the main inspiration behind my own mail-maps that I've been sending out to Stronghold 'zine customers. These are great little locales just crying out for some dungeon-stocking, awaiting a drop-in into your campaign as a side-quest or random encounter. If you haven't signed up on Patreon to support Simon, well...see the above-pro-Patreon-support exhortations and feel a bit guilty, OK? Then go to Patreon and start clicking to support these fine gentleman artists!
Speaking of mail-maps, I suppose I'm well overdue to pay a Joesky tax. So, I present to you the following mail-map that went out to +Jason Zavoda. As I imagined it, it's a shrine built into the side of a cliff. The shrine has an attached chapel area, with a passageway down to an altar/contemplation pool. Then a little trapped hallway (see the inset for the pit trap side-view) leading into the cult's treasure room. But use it how you will; it's free for your use. As always, if you use it, drop me a line to tell me where and how it went.

The Shrine of Adovaz!

06 August 2015

Pazio Greatness

I know that many of you have a hard-spot in your heart against Paizo. Say what you will about the complexities in their game system, the gunpowder, the power creep...all of that. I understand the issues that many of you have, even if I don't necessarily share all your concerns.

But their customer service is incredible. Over the years, I've been NOTHING but impressed by the speed, efficiency, and caring about their customers that they exhibit.

Well, I have another example for you today. I placed an order last night at 5:15 p.m., Mountain Time. By this morning at 11:00 a.m. Mountain Time, I had confirmation that the package had already left the warehouse. I should have my loot by the first of the week.

That's impressive. I mean, really impressive. Kudos to Paizo.

04 August 2015


I love me some horror. Movies, books, comics...you name it (unless it's a gore-vehicle, torture porn, satanic worship or possession, or voodoo) and i like it.

I have fond memories of watching the local Nightmare theater when I was...oh, let's say pre-school age. I remember sneaking into the basement to watch snippets of Alien that my brother and his date were watching on an early VCR. I read just about anything by King or Koontz that I could get my hands on. Same with Poe. The book fairs in elementary school supplied me with lots of "ghost story" books.

I'm still convinced that there's something in my parents' basement that will grab my hand between the time that I turn off the lights and start up the stairs. (That belief far predates Alien, by the way.) There's also a room in that house in which I will not sleep. Don't ask me why, I won't tell you.

As I mentioned above, I have my limits...again, for reasons I won't go into here. But largely, I love horror. There's only a couple movies that I can say have truly creeped me out. I've only read a few books that have truly scared me. One of those is King's The Shining. I first read it one night with a vicious winter storm raging outside my bedroom window. That lead to a couple of sleepless nights.

Yesterday morning I finished a book that hit that spot. It's being added to the list. That book is Twisted, by Michaelbrent Collings. [Aside & Disclaimer: I consider Michaelbrent to be a friend. However, I've received nothing for my review of this novel except a buttload of goosebumps and some long overnight hours. In fact, now that I think about it, I owe Michaelbrent a good-natured punch in the nose next time I see him. You see, last night I'd just finished my shower and headed downstairs to do some writing. We live in a split-level entry house, with a big picture window overlooking the entry way. As I walked downstairs I could swear--and will swear--that I saw, just for a moment, a white figure--a child--standing outside about 3 feet from the porch, staring up at me through the window. Now, you may say it was a reflection in the glass and a mixture of the stairway light and the porch light and the trees out in the front yard. But I know what I saw; my heart skipped a beat or two and I gasped out loud...and I'm pretty sure it's all Michaelbrent's fault. My wife and kids laughed, but the hair is standing up on my arms and neck just remembering it a few hours later. Not many books or movies have done that to me. End aside.]

Without giving too much away, let me start by saying the book involves the supernatural, the macabre, family relations, deep emotional issues, and complex characters. Oh, and twists. Every time you get comfortably sure you know what's going on, Michaelbrent cranks the steering wheel and yanks up on the emergency break, sending the story--and your suppositions--into a wild spin.

From the back of the book: "The Douglas family just wants to live their lives, and maybe find a bit of happiness. But when the ghost in their home breaks out of a centuries-long sleep, all hope for happiness will die. Because the thing that haunts them is not just evil... It is something much, much worse. Watching them from the shadows. Hungry to start killing once more. And thirsty for the blood of the children, the blood he has so long been denied. The thing that haunts them is not just evil. It is twisted."

I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. Grab a copy. It's available in Kindle e-format, in softcover, and from Audible. 

The book is Twisted. And it certainly is.

03 August 2015

Sick and Tired

I am so freaking sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Backstory (and I’ll try and keep it brief): as some of you know, for the past two years I’ve been suffering from some strange sort of food allergies/sensitivities.  We’ve narrowed it down to where I can basically eat grass and water, but we’re not too sure about grass. Or water. Now, it’s done wonders for my waistline: I’m wearing t-shirts and jeans I last wore nearly 30 years ago. After all, when you’re not eating--and if you do eat it’s immediately and forcefully eliminated for the following 36 hours--your weight can drop fairly quickly. But painfully. Whatever it is has affected my body in other ways: I’m constantly tired, and suddenly so, as if someone had simply “unplugged” me; my depression is aggravated; I have difficulty thinking at all let alone clearly and/or creatively; painful bloating and uncontrollable, vile gassiness.

Short statblock: All this makes me the life of the party and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of the pain, the fatigue, the emotional and mental issues. I’m tired of watching my family eat burgers and pizza, milkshakes and cookies while I’m eating carrots and celery, simple unseasoned ground beef (assuming it has no filler) and the occasional kosher hot dog.

So, sitting here tonight in the midst of an allergy attack and--ahem--“marinating” in my office, it got me thinking. When I game--and I know the rest of my group thinks the same way, so I can only assume we’re not unique--I don’t give much thought to my character’s illness, fatigue, and the like.

In other words, being sick and tired.

You and I get up at 5:00 a.m., maybe work out for an hour sometime during the day, put in a long day at the office or the assembly line with its accordant stress, anxiety, frustration, and back- or mind-breaking labor (physical or mental, respectively). Add in rush hour traffic both ways--or the stress and discomfort (again, physical and mental) of public transit--then you crawl your way in the front door and your toddler climbs up on your lap and either knees you (dad) in the wobblies or head-butts (mom) your sweater puppies. Then there’s the familial stresses and duties expected of you now that you’re home. And it all starts again tomorrow. Five days a week, if we’re lucky. If not, then six or even seven.

Now, I know that the above paragraph is perhaps the biggest reason many of us game. We want to get away from our normal lives. I understand this, I really do. And in this fantasy escape of ours, whatever the flavor or system, why on earth do we want to worry about mundane things. There's a reason we don't play "Houses and Humans." (There's probably several reasons why we don't play it, but that's another story.)  But face it: whether it’s through ability score modifiers, “conditions,” or some other form of RPG abstract health-tracking, characters should feel--and are, by rules as written at least, expected to feel--sick and tired. And this goes beyond simple encumbrance tracking.

Look, like it or not, it makes sense, at least from a ROLE playing standpoint. No matter what any of us do during the day, it’s not likely that we commit deeds on par with the basic tasks of our characters. When was the last time you killed a band of roving kobolds, defended a village from marauding orcs, suffered the slings and arrows of outraged towns guardsmen, or simply ran screaming from the biggest fire-breathing lizard you ever saw? All while wearing armor. And weapons. And adventuring gear. After spending the night on hard ground, half-frozen, and with a rock in your back Right. There. Oh, and you have the runs from a bad tavern meal; you’ve also been saved from near-death a half-dozen times by magic--you have to believe that that puts a little bit of stress on a body. And this is every day of the tenday. Yet we all--and I realize I might be generalizing--we all assume that a healing potion and a good night’s sleep in the woods is going to take care of all those aches and pains.

I mean, if I go camping, I’m on an air mattress and in a nice, cozy tent (if not a trailer). I’m in sweats or pajamas, not armor. And I still get up in the morning with a crick in my neck, a screwed-up back, and the legs of a 90-year-old near-invalid. Forget running from kobolds, I can hardly make it to the breakfast table.

What I’m saying is this: maybe tracking encumbrance or noting conditions, fatigue--or whatever the system equivalent is--maybe it’s a pain in the neck. Maybe it’s that “one more thing” with which you don’t want to hassle. All this might be true. But if you’re in the mood to do a little ROLE playing--or in the mood to force your players to do a little ROLE playing--consider the fact that even semi-super-human demi-demi-gods might get a little muscle-stiff or brain-sore once in a while.

Now, I don’t know the right answer here, I’m just brainstorming. Thinking aloud, as it were. Throw a couple extra conditions on ‘em. Drop an ability score or two. Give ‘em a little extra something to think about when they’re tracking down the big bad. Or running from the big bad. Whichever the case may be. Of course, you’ll have to be judicious: what would be a discomfort to high-level characters obviously could incapacitate low-level characters. Conversely, what would be a discomfort to low-level characters may be nothing more than a mosquito bite (or less) to a high-level character. Scaling the discomfort may not be the right move, as logic dictates the longer you adventure, the more accustomed you become to the rough conditions. On the other hand, the longer you adventure, the older you get, the stiffer your muscles get, and the more fragile your bones get. Then you get into the “aging” rules--something else that a lot of us tend to ignore in our adventures/campaigns.

Just something to think about. Please: let me know where I’m mis-thinking this or what your ideas on the topic might be. Until then, I’m just going to keep muddling along as best I can.

26 July 2015

[The Stronghold 'Zine] Worst Fears Confirmed....

So, a little while ago, I heard from one of my Stronghold readers/customers. It's been two weeks since Issue #2 was mailed out to him and ... nothing.


I sent out a mass e-mail to my Issue #2 customers. I've already heard back from at least one: Another failed mailing.

So I started doing some research. Turns out that the stack of mailing labels I had in my label drawer--sans packaging--appears to be 3.5" diskette labels, not mailing labels. They're apparently the removable diskette labels as well.

Double sigh.

So...my guess is there's a stack of Stronghold #2s out there in the void. There may even be a couple issues of #1 out there as well. If you're one of my customers and you may be affected by this, you should have an e-mail in your in-box (PayPal-related in-box, at least). Let me know and I'll see what I can do to rectify the situation.

My sincerest apologies to all of you who are still waiting. Let's get you taken care of.

25 July 2015


Hello? Is this thing on?

Testing.... 1...2...3....

23 July 2015

Eleven Again and Blowin' Up Stuff

 I got a wild hair last night.... But I'm getting ahead of myself....

We've been doing a lot of day-trip stuff this year, add we really can't afford an extended vacation. We just got back from a two-day trip to Dinosaur National Monument, which was an annual trip when I was a kid. Faced with some hours in the hotel, I got thinking about what to do instead of TV.

When I was 11, my buddy and I pooled  our money and bought some Car Wars stuff. He bought the books, I bought some maps and counters. I photocopied the book. When we went on vacations, I'd usually spend downtime in the hotel designing cats and running scenarios by myself.

I still have all my maps and counters. The photocopies are long gone. My buddy's books? Burned up in a fire.

This weekend, memories ensued. I picked up a dozen Hot Wheels with the idea of fiddling something together with the  PDFrules I have on my laptop.

That didn't happen.

But my wife and I decided to try a "gamecation" late this year. We have some timeshare access...in a place with terrible TV reception, no phones, no distractions...other than what we take there ourselves. So we're taking games.

Scrabble. Boggle. Sojourner Tales. D&D. May even try some X-Wing Miniatures. A couple others.

So, the wild hair. Tonight I grabbed my wife and headed 45 minutes south to a FLGS in a city down south from here. I knew they had a copy, at least they had one back in February. (Of course I'm this obsessive to remember that.) Sure enough, they had a copy.

Car Wars Classic.

And I bought it. Opened it up as soon as I got home. And I was transported back thirty-some-odd years. I was like a little kid, looking at the counters, the blank vehicle sheets. I started giggling at some point, reading the rules. Yeah, they're not elegant, they're complex, and they're not QUITE the rules u remember...but, yeah.

I think my giggling scared my wife a little.

I know what else we're going to play on our our gamecation. And once my kids know the ropes, I know where I can download a turning key for Hot Wheels.

And my youngest son is nearly the age I was when I first played....My kids are gonna blow stuff up. And I'm going to get to do it with them.

  Warm up the side-mounted flamethrowers and the front-mounted linked twin Vulcans. We're goin' auto-duelin'.

15 July 2015

[The Stronghold 'Zine] Pushing Forward

Finished up an article today for Issue #3 of The Stronghold 'Zine.  I'm already getting excited for #3 and this is only the first article. It's a random table article, it's a lot of fun, and my test subjects have shown a lot of enthusiasm for it. It'll be a bit less "repressed 14-year-old gamer" than those in the last two issues, but I think it will please both crowds.

But as I said, it's only article #1. My muse is fickle and doesn't want to work with me. It may be something I'm doing/not doing while I'm attempting to write.

Regardless of the lack of muse, push forward I must. And so I shall.

Meanwhile, there are still copies of Issues #1 and #2 available for purchase. Y'know, just to tide you over for a while.

14 July 2015

[From the Mailbag] Kickstarter TPK Happiness!

If you've been around the internet for any length of time, I'm sure you're aware that Kickstarter projects are a mixed bag. Particularly, it seems, where RPG materials are concerned. Some are just bad ideas to begin with. Some are good ideas, but don't get the backing they need or deserve. Some are great ideas that fund--sometimes spectacularly--and are never heard from again.

Then there's the good stuff. Ahhh, yes. The good stuff.

Look. There are some good Kickstarter campaigns that make wild promises and never seem to deliver. I think we know of at least one "infinite" example. The names associated with these campaigns become watch-words. Just head over to Tenkar's Tavern and you'll learn about a few from his excellent and often money-saving reviews. There are some campaigns that fund and rush to get a project out the door...and it winds up crappy disappointing less than it could have been. I've seen a few of those.

Then there are those campaigns from individuals and/or companies that you can trust; who will fund, communicate, and provide product ... and will take their time to do so to ensure a quality product.

In my opinion, that's TPK Games in a nutshell.

TPK has a great reputation in my house. My kids know (and fear) the company logo. But they also know that it means fun, creative, and imaginative gaming material. And quality.

This is what I received in the mail just ten minutes ago.
 Yeah. So eager to share that I just pulled everything out onto my lap/keyboard and took a photo. The main product of the KS: Fen of the Five-Fold Maw adventure and chase cards. Thrown in as incentives are copies of Feats Reforged Vols II and III. (I already have Vol. I.) And, as a bonus, a TPK pin. Here's a close-up of Fen and the chase cards (and pin).

Brian and his team over at TPK are great people. Not only are they creative and know how to put out a good product, they're honest and communicate with their customers. Fen was a little late coming out in hard copy, largely because of some production issues on the printer's end. But TPK sent out constant and frequent updates, enough so that I never once pictured them sitting on a beach in Cabo drinking umbrella drinks. I cannot stress this enough: TPK Games stuff is so good and they're such a good company that I'll wait patiently and without complaint for their product. Period. They're currently running a new KS campaign, called Wardens of the Wild. Just as soon as my next paycheck comes in, I'm hitting the pledge button on this one. I trust them enough to do so on this elf-centric product, even though dwarves are more my style, simply because TPK MEANS QUALITY.

And if you haven't already picked up a copy of Fen of the Five-Fold Maw for yourself, hit the link and get one NOW.

Now you'll have to excuse me while I go seek out a cold beverage, a shady spot, and start a read-through of Fen. I'll see you all later.

(Go get a copy. Seriously.)

10 July 2015

{From the Mailbag] Terrific Mail Day!

Here's what I found in the mailbox when I got home from the office today. Considering I was suffering from some severe gastro-intestinal issues due to food allergies, it really made my day 100x better to find this.

Right. So...there were two terrific mini-adventures and a mini-module, courtesy of +Tim Shorts. All three items have Tim's great content and imagination. The mini-adventures carry maps that are terrific on their own. The mini-module? Well, I think that's going to be dropped into my own campaign as a little side-adventure. All three are stocked with great flavor.

I also found a postcard map from +Simon Forster. Typically, Simon's maps are of caverns or buildings. This time? This time was worthy of a hex: a mountain range, forest, and two villages. All of these are just BEGGING to be statted out and populated with NPCs and monsters.

These items came to me through Tim and Simon's individual Patreon campaigns. Both of these guys are fantastic vanguards of the OSR. If you haven't signed up to support them, head on over to Tim's Patreon page or to Simon's Patreon page. Better yet, hit 'em both and give 'em some shekels in support. It's definitely worth it!

08 July 2015

[From the Mailbag] Planetary Transmissions #1 Received!

Unless you've been living in a cave--or have been ignoring your OSR gaming feed--you've heard in the past couple months of the new system: White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying from Barrel Rider Games. I've been looking for a good Sci-Fi system for a while--collecting them, really--and grabbed up White Star as soon as it was released. (I'm actually anxiously awaiting the dead tree version.) I haven't had a load of time to peruse the PDF, but I like what I've seen: simple, elegant, and ultimately customizable.

This last is borne out in the sheer volume of third-party stuff that's been put out since the release of White Star. Heck, they've already had a little online controversy of their own, which will not be rehashed here or given any more print space. Suffice it to say, the system is kinda blowing up all over.

Enter Planetary Transmission by Leviathan Publishing. Issue #1 was released back at the end of May 2015 and Issue #2 is just about ready to be released. Just yesterday I got my hands on a copy of Issue #1 and ... HOLY COW.

This is some good stuff.

I think one of the marks of a good 'zine--or a good supplement of any kind, really--is its application to other settings/systems. It's why I try and stack a boatload of system-neutral stuff into The Stronghold. Well, Leviathan did it with Issue #1.

Just on my first read-through, I could see how both the new creature (the Dreg) and the creature template (the Strain) could be taken from the stars and translated to my 3.x campaign. The articles on "Allegiances" and "Contacts" spark some ideas for organizations and guilds in my campaign world, as does the article on "Armor Options." I'm already framing some of my own armor options and modifiers based on appearance, utility, etc.

The Death table easily transports to a fantasy setting for adventure hooks and quest ideas, and the Merchant table provides a useful NPC background for a fantasy bazaar. Granted, the Necro-sword would take some tweaking and the spaceships don't do much for a fantasy setting, but they are still cool ideas for a sci-fi campaign.  (I just need to convince my group to play some sci-fi, dang it all.) OH! Paper minis, too! BONUS!

All in all, a terrific first 'zine. I can't wait to get my hands on Issue #2....which should be hitting the printers any day now.

Do yourself a favor: Grab your own copy ASAP.

[The Stronghold 'Zine] 'Zine Love from a Legend and Another Mail-Map!

Those of you who've read for a while know that +Christian Walker (of Loviatar fame) is not only a good friend, but the late (demise much lamented) Loviatar 'zine is an inspiration for The Stronghold, as it is for many recent 'zines.

Well, Christian's received copies of both Issues #1 and #2of the Stronghold...and then I heard from him last week: his son enjoyed Issue #1 so much that he stole absconded with claimed for his own borrowed Issue #1 and won't give it back to his dad! Christian ordered up another copy of #1...so I included a copy of #2 for the son, with a letter inside (explaining that "This is your copy. Not your dad's."). On the outside of the envelope, this happened:

Yep. Another Mail-Map!

In the short time I've been doing these, as with most of my maps, I typically start out with a general idea, then let the pen(s) go from there, until I realize just how much work the cross-hatching is going to be and then I look for a stopping point. For this one, I just wanted something quick and dirty, short and sweet. I'd actually intended it for a small shrine...one with a hidden danger of ghouls (or somesuch) who live in caverns behind/beneath the shrine and use the shrine for food, water, etc.

Well, Christian took this, and ran with it, making it his own. And I'm awed and honored to have had this map appear on his blog as "The Skin Lab": a secret workshop for a purveyor of flesh golems. Head on over to take a look...as I said, I'm touched and honored. (And remember, all my stuff is free for your use...just please let me know how you used it and how it was received.... I'm a proud papa that way; I love to hear how my kiddies are faring out in the big wide world.)

Oh, and from all reports, Christian's son loved the letter and having his own copy of Issue #2...so, double win!

Oh, and as always, you can pick up your own copies of Issues #1 and #2 here, at Blue Moon Ink Press.

[The Stronghold 'Zine] Heartwarming Thanks!

This past week I received a heartwarming e-mail from a reader thanking me for The Stronghold. Through some further correspondence with +Jarrett Crader, the story deepened and the gratitude became even more heartwarming. I've received Jarrett's permission to share (names have been redacted).
Heya- thanks for putting out an extremely handy zine. Both issues thus far have been great! I used the nose picking section of #1 several times and I am going to make Quimby's Pets into a solo mini-campaign for one of my younger players. She's 9 and plays a 5e/BX hybrid with me and I am always looking for shorter fetch quests that don't tax a single player but don't also force me to be the voice of multiple hirelings. Procuring some of the rarer specimens for Quimby should provide us with several adventures worth of material.
Also, the fart table will be used in every possible campaign I ever run- I am a huge fan of bodily excursions and CON/Fort saves. Awesome s**t! Oh and I have a mid level table of 5e that will be running into a gholl very soon. Keep breathing new life into the game and I'll keep buying. Cheers!

[The 9-year-old's dad] works at one of the coffee shops I frequent (and that my girlfriend used to work at) and she was always fascinated with the dice and books that I had at the table. She is a regular in our 5e public play and is also one of the players in my girlfriend's all-girl group (which consists of the 9 year old and three 13 year olds plus one of the girl's moms. We have a great core of kids that game at our FLGS ... including one table of young people being DMed by a young person as well as two boys that are total rules lawyers (but in a good way!) It's content like the fart table that introduces different dice/gameplay mechanics than the usual 5e stuff that helps keep the young ones engaged and the adults will totally laugh like crazy.
 When I thanked him for helping introduce younger players to the game, and particularly younger female players, this was his terrific response:
I figure we're all paying it forward, right? I was lucky enough to learn BX from my uncle in '82 and since I don't have children of my own I want to pass on the tradition to another generation. Kids these days are lucky- they get to draw from 40 years of the game/hobby. I can't wait until I get to break their game someday!

Kudos to Jarrett for his good work promoting the hobby and a great big thanks for a glowing review. If you don't understand Jarrett's comments, you can pick up your own copies of Issues #1 and #2 here, at Blue Moon Ink Press.

03 July 2015

[The Stronghold 'Zine] Celebration in the Stronghold!

The Stronghold received cause to celebrate this weekend for the US Independence Day: two terrific reviews for Issue #2!

First off, +Tim Shorts over at Gothridge Manor gave a blow-by-blow, article-by-article review. You can read it here. The summary: "The Stronghold is a strong entry into the OSR zine community.  Which continues to grow.  I hope you all take a look at Boric's cool zine and grab a copy or do what I did, ask for the Boric Special and get two!"  As Tim says in his review, we've been friends for several years, but I don't consider that to be a shoo-in good review. Tim's honest in his praise and in his criticism.  (And even better, Issue #9 of his own "Manor" 'zine is in the works!)

Then the Frugal GM gave a good, overall review, which you can read here.  One point I should mention: he states that he is not a "huge fan of the way things are statted out." I hope he doesn't mind me clarifying this. Through an e-mail exchange, I learned that it was that he just didn't care for 3.5 itself--the statblock style in general--rather than something I was doing wrong. I appreciate his candor; I understand that the 3.x system is not everybody's cup of tea. That's part of why I try to include at least a balance of non-3.x and 3.x material.

I tried quite hard for Issue #2 to keep the statblocks, etc. to a minimum and to aim towards a more system-neutral approach. You'll have to pick up a copy and tell me whether you think I succeeded in my goal.

To grab a copy of Issue #2 so that you can judge for yourself, head over to Blue Moon Ink Press and follow the "Buy Now" links. While you're there, you can also still pick up a copy of Issue #1 to keep your collection complete.

26 June 2015

[The Stronghold 'Zine] Map Mayhem!

So...this just happened.

I was in the midst of addressing an envelope containing The Stronghold 'Zine #2 for shipment over the Pond. Then I got inspired. Then I thought, "Hey, let's give this overseas friend of mine a little bonus something with that inspiration." And then the inspiration got out of hand. And then I just had to Dyson-ize it with some cross-hatching. And then the colored pencils came out for some minor touch-ups. The result?

 Yeah. That's the back of the envelope winging its way across the Pond. I +Simon Forster 'd it.... I'm sure I'll get a nasty letter about it from someone from the USPS or the Royal Mail. One would hope they simply enjoy it, get a chuckle at least, and then pass it on its way. [Aside: The eponymous blue moon there is the envelope seal I employ as an extra guard against bad glue. It was merely coincidence that it fits in with the map. End aside.] I plan on cleaning this up a bit and reposting it to the Blog; I just wanted to share it ASAP...'cause, I got a chuckle out of it. So did my family.

Of course, I thought about the potential problems AFTER I had sealed the envelope and put the postage on.

So, to the lucky individual about to receive this extra special envelope, thank you for your support with The Stronghold 'Zine. It's truly appreciated. (And if the pen should happen to have bled through the envelope onto the 'zine itself, let me know, would you? I'll make it right.)

To everyone else...YOU may be the lucky recipient of the next original spontaneous mail-map creation. But you have to order a copy of The Stronghold 'Zine to have that chance! Both Issue #2 and a limited number of Issue #1 are available at Blue Moon Ink Press.

[The Stronghold 'Zine] Issue #2 is Flying!

Day Two into its young life, and Issue #2 is already a world-traveler! Issues have hit the post office and are winging their way to each corner of the continental United States, to Canada, and across the pond to Great Britain, Ireland, Sweden, and Austria.

Sales have been steady and issues are flying out the door. If you've already ordered a copy, they should be showing up soon.

If you haven't already ordered a copy, well, you can do that right now with the button below (or at Blue Moon Ink's website).


I'm also pleased to announce that I've uncovered some additional copies of Issue #1. (That's what happens when you take several different briefcases to the office; things get lost. But then there's the joy of finding them again! And you get to benefit from my forgetfulness. If you need a copy (or a duplicate copy) for your collection--or if you just want to buy a copy for your best friend or your DM, head on over to Blue Moon Ink and pick one up.

24 June 2015

[The Stronghold 'Zine] Issue #2: It's ALIVE!

With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing.... It was already one in the morning...and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.
~Mary Shelley
It is done. The Stronghold, Issue #2 is unleashed!

I'm proud of what's inside. I'm amazed that it's ready so soon. I'm also excited to hear what you think.

The cover of this issue was donated by a talented young lady who shows a lot of promise. Inside, Jim Magnusson has kindly provided me with three (3!) illustrations.

The first few copies are already winging their way to some lucky individuals. The link to buy your own copy is below; still only a print 'zine, in the old-school-style tradition.

**You can see a preview of the contents here and pick up a copy of Issue #1 as well. --OR-- click on the link below to go ahead and buy #2.**

When you do pick up a copy, please drop me a line, especially if you use anything from Issue #2 in your game.


22 June 2015

[Mini Map Monday] The Sepulcher of Craemal the Decayed

I had some time on my hands today, plus a stack of 3" x 5" gridded cards, and a couple of pens, so I decided to jot down a quick off-the-cuff mini map. This has the distinction of being my first attempt at "Dysonizing" a map with cross-hatching.

The map is a bit linear, I'll admit, but I think it makes sense as a sepulcher. I imagine Craemal the Decayed as a low- to moderate-level lich. I also imagine that directly below the large mausoleum there's a room that matches the dimensions and is Craemal's workroom/library. The workroom/library would be accessed through Craemal's sarcophagus. There is a 200' shaft, perfectly smooth, that leads downward to a series of spikes set into the floor of his workroom/library. An illusory panel in the sarcophagus hides the shaft from detection...until it's too late.

In addition to the basic map, I have a numbered version as well as a gridded version. If you're interested in me posting up links to either of these maps, let me know via comments and I'll throw up a link.

As always, feel free to use my map in your home games. You can rename it, modify it, stock it, or abuse it in any manner legal in your particular jurisdiction. If you do use it, all I ask is that you let me know and tell me about it afterwards.

19 June 2015

[From the Mailbag] Mixed Bag of Goodies

An odd day today, deep in the throes of some manner of food allergy--dinner last night got contaminated somehow.... All day today the symptoms have been getting worse; currently I’m feeling like a bad case of the flu. Body aches, dizziness, nausea...then add in the bloating, excessive gas, and “bodily excretions” and I’m down for the count.

Fortunately, we were able to have some family fun today before the symptoms really set their claws into my midsection. My oldest two kids have been at a Youth Conference since Wednesday--a spiritual retreat for the youth of my church, in which all the youth of a certain region gather together for inspiration and spiritual education & growth. Did it myself as a teenager without complaint. This one was held at a two-year junior college 110 miles south of our home; for a variety of reasons, we decided to circumvent the norm (the church youth leaders usually convey them home) by driving down early in the morning with my youngest two in tow, pick up the eldest two, and do some “daycation” day trip stuff. Whenever we head that far south, we usually take the interstate, but when we head home, we tend to take the old state highway back up. This takes you through some quaint little towns and farm communities and is a restful, scenic trip.

This time around, we stopped at a town’s “Art and History Museum”--mostly because the wife’s ancestors helped found the town and I wanted her to have the chance to see some pictures or artifacts from her family and show them to the kids. Sure enough, her ancestors’ names were on a plinth right outside the converted mansion, and then in several of the rooms and nooks were artifacts and pictures of her relations, including a steamer trunk, baby clothes, and musical instruments of her relations that came across the plains with the early Mormon immigrants. Got some great pictures for the family album and the kids had fun.

(Incidentally, I loved the layout of this house and quickly sketched out some ideas to use in a future map. Inspiration is everywhere!)

By this time, the symptoms were grabbing hold and we still had another 60-odd miles to travel. Much to my delight when we arrived home, Fed Ex had delivered some books I’ve been anxiously awaiting. There’s nothing better than learning back-ordered books have finally come into stock and been shipped out. I hate my money hanging out there doing someone else some good while I wait and wait without product.

The only mitigating factor to my happiness (besides my physical ailments) was the state of the package. Noble Knight Games has always served me well in the past, without serious complaint. Even when I had an OOP miniature arrive broken, they rectified the situation immediately. But this was ridiculous.

Rather than using a small box, or even a padded envelope, to protect my shipment, they essentially “flat-packed” the books within a collapsed shipping box. The ends were taped with packing tape (except for slits on the side, which would allow dirt, etc., into the package).

Inside, they were wrapped in layers of butcher paper for padding. Not bubble wrap, or even packing peanuts (like if they were in a normally assembled box) I'm not exactly sure what the "cushion rating" is of butcher paper wrapped around objects, but apparently that's what my order rated.Now, when I got them out, they WERE held in one large plastic zipper-close-type bag. This would have mollified my concerns re: damage, except that the main bag WAS NOT SEALED (See below). This, boys and girls, in case you were not aware, drastically reduces the protective power of a plastic zipper-close-type bag. Sigh.

 But here’s what I received, with a squeal or two of delight from me.

First off, two titles from Expeditious Retreat Press--Monster Geographica: Marsh & Aquatic and Monster Geographica: Forest. These will fit well with the Monster Geographica: Underground volume that I already have in the collection. While I don’t really like the layout of these books (they’re arranged alphabetically under respective CR rather than like traditional monster manuals AND they don’t use the easier-to-read “one page, one monster” format) and they don’t have any artwork, they’re still (a) bestiaries and (b) full of fun, different, and mean critters. Plus, hey, MONSTERS, am I right?

Next was a volume for which I’ve searched for the past year: the Encyclopedia of Villains from Fast Forward Entertainment. Now, I’ve seen/heard lots of complaints about FFE, and some of that is justified and has kept me from picking up some various titles in the past. This one, however, comes recommended by +Tim Shorts  and with good reason. I think Tim likes NPCs about as much as I do...which is a lot. But, for all my devotion to 3.x, I will admit that statblocks and rolling up NPCs is far from my favorite gaming activity. I’ll jump at any chance I get to grab hold of some pre-gen NPCs; add in the fact that it’s an entire book of NPCs and that there’s a wide range of CRs: added bonus. Then add in backstory, associations, maps, etc.? WINNING PRODUCT RIGHT HERE.

I grabbed a copy of Arcana Unearthed because I like Monte Cook’s work, I like the Book Of Experimental Might, and it has some intriguing options/alternative rules. Plus, it was less than $5 and in great shape, so that certainly didn’t hurt.

Finally, the piece de resistance: Armory’s 30-Sided Dice Gaming Tables. I’ve always wanted a copy, but never found one in good shape at the right time. This time I lucked out. I love tables, especially d30 tables, and these are all useful, both at the table and for world-building. The contents take me back to a more innocent time of gaming and of life. The tables are printed around random black and white line images of lead miniatures from various distributors. The back cover is an advertisement for Armory’s 30-sided dice and “dice inking pens.” The text itself is typed out in classic dot-matrix Courier font; I’d use it in my own Stronghold ‘Zine for nostalgia if I didn’t hate the look of Courier so much. But the quaintness and nostalgia was definitely palpable, and the typos (“I do not have to many” jumped right off the page at me) added to the feeling that this really was printed in someone’s basement (or after hours on the shared work printer and then copied under some sucker’s customer code) and took me back decades. Even though this one came bagged and boarded for protection and storage, I think it’s going to see some use.

So, the day balances out. I have some reading material for when I curl up in the fetal position from the physical effects of my allergies. That’s always a good thing. At least I’m done with Issue #2 of the Stronghold ‘Zine until it comes back from my proof readers. Plus, tomorrow is Free RPG Day, one of my most favorite days of the year (although from the website it appears that several companies will be sending out the same re-tread free items from last year (and the year before, etc.)).

Oddly enough, I received shipping notices for this package and a package from another company on the same day; this one from Wisconsin and the other from Missouri. Both sent Fed Ex. Both sent using the same shipping option. Both hit the local distribution hub on the same day. The Missouri package says that the scheduled delivery on the other package is Wednesday, the 24th.  Hmm. Either some higher power doesn’t want me to explode from over-happiness today, or there’s something about Wednesday that requires some “Found Stuff” happiness. I’m not sure which option is more frightening.

17 June 2015

[The Stronghold 'Zine] The Contractions Have Started!

I'm going to catch grief for that title, I just know it.

But the fact remains, birthing pains are increasing, and delivery is imminent on Issue #2 of The Stronghold 'Zine!

Formatting has been finished, copy has been sent to my proofreaders and the cover is being finalized. We're finally fully dilated and ...

O.K., I just can't keep the metaphor going. I'm getting into "sleeping on the couch" territory.

So...what to expect from this issue? Well, honestly, this one is more of a theme issue than #1. A common theme runs through most of the articles, binding them together, but by no means so tightly that it requires using them all together. I've already given a sneak preview of what's in store, but for those who missed the previous post, here's what #2 looks like:

Stats for three new critters; one of these is friendly, one can be friendly, and one is...erm...not so much. While these are 3.x stat blocks, I think they're fairly easily converted to any retro-clone rule set.

There's a new locale described, with an accompanying new map. Two of the above-mentioned critters are directly associated with the locale, as is the new NPC statted up (3.x) and illustrated by the great +Jim Magnusson. I've also included names and descriptions for nearly a dozen-and-a-half new and system neutral critters. There's another installment of system-neutral random treasure tables included; these can be used with the locale as well as in your own setting of choice.

I've also drawn up a series of new wondrous magic items; I tried to make them fairly system-neutral or as easily imported as possible.NOTE:  these are NOT associated with the locale and the "theme" of the rest of the issue.

The cover art was donated by a young lady of my acquaintance who is working on her artistic talent and, I think, amazing potential. I'm proud to have been given what she terms "my best one yet" for the cover of Issue #2.

Finally, even though the random nose-picking article was not a big hit with some readers last issue, my philosophy is that every game needs a little bit of humor. Accordingly, and due to the joint fault of +Tim Shorts and +Jason Zavoda, there's another useful (I think) set of random tables to add a little bit of humor and ...erm... flavor to your game. No, really...I think thre's some great role-playing potential with this article. I guess we can discuss and debate once the issue is released into the world.

So...prepare yourselves. Spread the word. Issue #2 is coming. A birth announcement and purchase links will be forthcoming...SOON.

09 June 2015

Reliving the Old School Ways

This post has taken me ten days to put down on paper. Loads of personal stuff going on, all of which are sapping my creativity, energy, joy, happiness, drive, etc. Anyhow, that's a soapbox for a different day. Bear with me while I ramble through these thoughts, would you?

The one real bright spot in the last...oh...let's count it in months, shall we? The one bright spot was our game night last month. Why a bright spot? For that, we need to jump in the way-back machine.

First, some background information: I've had some great DMs over the years. I've had a couple bad ones; I've had a great one that went bad suddenly, violently, and all over the place. The last several years our group has cycled back and forth between two guys. They're both terrific at their craft. But both got a bit burned out a couple months ago and I didn't have the mental processes available to take over the screen...so another one of the guys jumped in and volunteered. The first couple sessions went great.

Now a confession.... I've told the guys this, so it's not really a surprise. My personal issues have taken some of the fun out of playing the past year or so. Don't get me wrong; I've had fun, but just not as much as I've had in the past. It's more of a "going through the motions" for me on game night.

Well, as I've mentioned before, our group plays Old School-style, with a home-brewed 3.x rule set. I will freely confess that--as much as I love the rule set--it can sometimes require some serious note-taking and attention-paying to track all the modifiers in play at any one time.

[Aside: Before anyone jumps in and points fingers with an "A HA!" moment to say, "See?!? 3.x is just TOO complex/rule-heavy/ponderous" or somesuch, take a look back at one of my previous posts wherein I shared the two-page THAC0 tracking sheet that was common in our 2E days. End aside.]

So, it can be complicated, right? So we surround the table with laptops with our character-tracking software of choice running. A few years back, we helped one of our buddies build a dedicated game room in his garage. For a while we gamed with a digital projector mounted on the ceiling projecting our maps onto an old dining room table.

Then we took the next step: the owner of the table called in some favors and, voila, we soon had a flatscreen television mounted inside the table, covered with plexiglass, and a removable cover to protect the television. A server was added and the DM suddenly had a digital tabletop map. This is how we've played for, oh, a year or more. It's a really sweet setup.

Now, we fast-forward to the present. One of our players broke his leg, requiring surgery, which would keep him from our monthly game. None of us wanted that, so we decided to take the game on the road and play at his house. When we all arrived, we found that the DM had forgotten the battlemap, one of our other players had no laptop, so he was going pencil-and-paper. A couple of us hit the road to a local game store to grab a battlemap while the others called in the Chinese food order for dinner. Yeah, we still sat around--most of us--with laptops. But it was around a gridded battlemap, the color of parchment. Wet-erase markers were the tool of the night, scribbling out rooms and hallways in the forgotten desert temple.

IT WAS THE MOST FUN I'VE HAD IN A LONG TIME. I don't know if it was the new setting, the use of the battlemap, or what it was. But it was fun. It. Was. Fun. I think the other guys all agree--we were riffing, and role-playing, like we haven't done in a while. I haven't talked to the guys about this, though, and I'm not sure what this means for the future. I don't think it means we'll be abandoning the game room, the digital table, or anything else. But it certainly raises the question for what happens next time I sit behind the screen. Do all the players need laptops? Could the DM track all the modifiers and crunch all the numbers instead? Could a battlemap and wet-erase markers, along with pencil-and-paper character tracking, be in our future? I dunno. But it certainly is food for thought.

And it certainly felt good. Really good. Really Old School.

28 May 2015

[The Stronghold 'Zine] Possibly the Worst Part of the Process

Update time for Issue #2:

Personal life has set me back a bit: Mom's been in the hospital. This, allied with some ailments of my own, mean that #2 has been pushed down the calendar just a bit.

The good news? I think I finally have everything: art, articles, stat-blocks...the works.

The bad news? Now the formatting begins. In truth, I had everything nearly perfect, then decided to add the infamous, dreaded "Just One More Thing" to the issue. Now that has me editing, changing, and just plain cutting text in an effort to make everything fit. (I'm sure I'll have a couple people when the issue comes out tell me freely that there was one or two select pages that could have been spared publication.)

So...wish me luck as I go and ready my red pen. I'm going back in.

18 May 2015

[The Stronghold 'Zine] The Countdown Begins to #2

That's right, boys and girls. I'm officially starting the countdown to Issue #2 of The Stronghold 'Zine. I'm just waiting on one more piece of artwork and one more bit of info to finish up an article, then it's Foreword and Table of Contents time.

After that, it's a trip to the office supply store for a new color of cardstock for the cover.

Then the fun begins anew.

What's in store? Well, let's see.... Where's my draft ToC?

O.K. First, we've got some stats for three new critters; one of these is friendly, one can be friendly, and one is...erm...not so much.

There's a new locale, with a new map. Two of the critters are also associated with the locale, as is the new NPC I've included. In addition to the statted critters, there are nearly a dozen-and-a-half new and system neutral critters described. There's another installment of system-neutral random treasure tables included; these can be used with the locale as well as your own setting.

NOT associated with the locale are a series of new wondrous magic items; these are fairly system-neutral as well. And finally, even though the random nose-picking article was not a big hit with some readers last issue, my philosophy is that every game needs a little bit of humor. Accordingly, and due to the joint fault of +Tim Shorts and +Jason Zavoda, there's another useful (I think) set of random tables to add a little bit of humor and ...erm... flavor to your game.

Keep watching for the roll-out announcement and purchase links to be coming soon!

12 May 2015

[review] The Manor #8

I can't tell you how much I enjoy mail-call here at The Stronghold when I see the "GM Games" logo on an envelope. Well, that happened yesterday: Issue #8 of The Manor appeared!

The usual disclaimer applies: I am one of Tim's proof-readers, so...there's that. That doesn't color my perception or review; all it means is that I get to see the good stuff in advance. Even still, there's nothing like holding the final version in my hands and giggling reading the good stuff. So...without further ado...let's look inside Issue #8!

John Larrey's cover art sets the tone for the issue. Who among us has not been in the shoes of that fighter, facing down a slavering troll, with naught but our shield between us and certain death?

In point of fact, all of the artwork in Issue #8 (as usual) is top-notch and fits perfectly in its assigned place, setting the scene for the article.

The grappling article by Cole and Dell'Orto, while written for S&W, is going to be stolen for my 3.x house rule file, at least for my kids' game. It's just so neat and elegant, especially when you compare it to the cluster that is Wizard's attempt at explaining a grappling system. (Honestly, 3.5's grappling rule is one of the things cited by a player who left our group as one of the things driving him away from the hobby.) This system seems like it would resolve grappling quickly, neatly, and easily.

There's only one thing I would change, and that's an addition. Now, I will admit to knowing very little about the S&W rule set. I know, I know...go ahead, get the gallows started. But as far as using this grappling rule in 3.x, there are times when a creature can substitute a DEX modifier for a STR modifier. I think that this should be one of those instances, at least for certain classes or Prestige classes (the "Brawler" or the "Swashbuckler" for example). I don't think this would violate the spirit of this easier rule; instead, I think it fits right in to the very spirit this rule change is designed to promote. Additionally, it adds a bit more flavor to the rule. As an illustration, remember back to The Princess Bride.

[Aside: I'm referring here to the BOOK version of the story, as it's the version I prefer. However, for purposes of this example, I suppose one could refer to the movie version as well. It fits my purposes just as well. Just this once, though. End aside.] 

So...The Princess Bride. Fezzik lies in wait for the Man in Black (MIB), waiting to crush his head with a stone. When the MIB appears, Fezzik agrees instead to best him in a Feat of Strength --mano a giant-- instead. They begin to grapple wrestle and it quickly becomes apparent that Fezzik's STR modifier is MUCH higher than that of the MIB. However, after a few initial grappling attempts attempted holds, it also becomes apparent that the MIB's DEX modifier was equally higher than Fezzik's.

SPOILERS: The MIB's DEX wins the day and Fezzik succumbs to the grapple, the MIB successfully (essentially) pins Fezzik and renders him helpless. The MIB then runs off after Vizzini for a Battle of Wits for the Princess' life.

As for the other articles, they're also just as useful as the Grappling article. I just purchased a copy of Trey Causey's Strange Stars RPG. I'm looking forward to getting my print copy and sitting down to absorb a great-looking Sci-Fi setting (and then trying to convince my group to play it, but that's another story).

Tim's hirelings, torches, and Torchbearer class all made me ask the same question: Why isn't our 3.x party using hirelings?!? It's a proposal I'm prepping in my head already to present to members of my group. Definitely some good stuff here.

My recommendation? Get yourself a copy. Even if you've never picked up a copy of The Manor before, get this one. 5 out of 5 stars. Yeah, it's that good.

09 May 2015

[The Stronghold 'Zine]The Rallying Cry Goes Forth!

Issue #2 of The Stronghold is in the works. But I want need art. Don't get me wrong; I love +Jim Magnusson's work and am extremely grateful for his generosity, help, aid, and talent. I've got a great line-up of his work just waiting for content.

But I don't want to kill him with over-work, either.

So, if there are any artists out there that would like a chance to appear in an upcoming issue of The Stronghold 'Zine, please...contact me. Or, if you know of an artist that might be interested, pass my contact info along to him/her. I can't promise much in the way of recompense, save a gratis physical copy of the issue. That and my undying gratitude and respect, of course. I've got some ideas for Issue #2 that would benefit from some artwork, or we can discuss ideas for later issues.

My artistic abilities are incredibly limited, especially when it comes to drawings, sketches, etc. Therefore, I rely on the kindness of strange artists. Wait, let me rephrase that. I rely on the strange kindness of artists. OK, third time's a charm: I rely on the kindness of artistic strangers. I'd like to rely on you.

Yeah, you. Right there. You.

07 May 2015

[review] Pounded By This Pound Of Dice

You all know how much I love dice, right? You all know that I believe that there's no such thing as too many dice, right?

Well, I may have to eat those words. I've been mulling this over for a while and finally need to post it to get it out of my craw. My review may not be startling news to anyone but myself. I freely admit that I could in fact be late to the party. [Aside1: I'm reminded of the News Radio episode (Season 3, entitled "Rap") in which Bill McNeal discovers that his beloved rap music has lyrics and wants to run an expose to proclaim his outrage at the "disgusting" lyrics. The station manager tells him in response: "Put aside the editorial, invent a time machine, travel back to the year 1988, and you might actually be one of the first thousand journalists to break this story." Yeah, this post may be like that. End aside.]

So, I watch and read with great interest reviews concerning "pounds of dice" (or "PoD")from the various dice companies. There's the ubiquitous Chessex "Pound-o-dice" of course; I hear tell there's another company on eBay that's even cheaper, and (depending on the review you read) has similar quality of dice. The reviews ALWAYS state (and often show) that one can pick out several complete 7-die sets from each of these massive bags. Even given my earlier-stated opinion, I prefer full and complete 7-die RPG die sets.

Heaven knows that I have a bag-load of loose singles (especially d6) from my years of gaming.

Well, I've looked at them as they've crossed my awareness, but I've never been really "in the market" for a PoD until now. But now, my eldest son has decided to pick up the DM screen for his buddies and I thought a PoD would be a cheap way to get him a bunch of dice to let his players use.

Unfortunately, when I was first looking for it, I couldn't fine a PoD at ANY of the local game and game-related stores. So I put it off.

So, imagine my glee when I went to my FLGS and, although they had only the d6 version of the Chessex PoD, I learned that Crystal Caste had started selling their own version of the PoD. I was excited that I wouldn't have to mail-order myself a PoD...plus it was at least $10 than the Chessex PoD (and it came in one of Crystal Caste's nifty "skull" bags. Now, as I said, I haven't seriously looked for a PoD for purchase until now, so this may not be a new thing.

Apparently they're calling their PoD, Skull Bag: Skull + Bones. At least, that's what the tag on the dice bag says. Perhaps it's just referring to the bag, I'm not sure. I'm guessing it's the PoD name; one of the selling points was that each bag contains one of Crystal Caste's awesome Dwarven Stones dice. At any rate, let's open it up and see what's inside, shall we?

So I got home and cracked it open. This is what I found. At first glance, there seems to be a heckuva lot of d6...NOT my favorite die. (I don't often play wizards or other characters with massive d6 attacks, after all.)

So I spread them out, grouping them by type. Hmm.... I'm starting to worry at this point.

Not nerve-shattering, teeth-rattling concern, mind you. Just a mild sense of unease. The FATE dice didn't help me feel much better, as I don't play any FATE-driven games. And I've already got a handful of +/- dice as it is.

Then I spread them back out and sorted them out to collect my 7-piece set(s) before turning the singles over to the boy. And THAT looked like THIS:


[Aside 2: OK, technically I suppose you could say I have a couple complete sets...if you're counting d6 sets. I don't. End aside 2.]

Not one. The closest I got was one matching set of 4 out of 7. There were several that had 4 (or in one case 5) matching dice...but they were 3 or 4 of the same die, with 1 different die. There were a couple 3 out of 7, but nothing close to 7 out of 7. Not a single complete set. I mean, look at the yellow ones in the upper left, for crying out loud: 1 d6 and 4 d%. No joke.

Oh, and right below the yellow dice, do you see that little "L"-shaped bit? That was another bonus: a piece of sprue.

So, I did what any anal-retentive nerd would do. I started counting. Here's what I found, out of 162 total dice.

Percent (Decimal)
(Percentages are rounded up.)

As you can tell from the picture, a few of these dice are from Crystal Caste's "Crystal" range. (Specifically, and just for the record: 1 d4; 3 d6s; 2 d8s; 7 d10s.)

[Aside 3: a d1000 for Pete's sake? Not only did I not know Crystal Caste made such a thing, I already have one, made by Koplow. I mean, I'm a dice freak, but really...how many d1000s does a person need? How often am I going to need a second d1000? End aside 3.]

I suppose if you're looking for a cheap bag of dice to let your players (or kids) play with, without regard to matching dice or complete sets, this is the deal for you. If you're looking for a good source of a cheap stack of d6 mixed with a few other polyhedrals, then this is the deal for you.

If you're looking for some random complete sets + loose dice, however, at a cheap price, I'd try the following:

  1. Chessex Pound-O-Dice ($24.95 on Amazon, MSRP $35.00)
  2. Easy Roller Dice Co. -- 105 Polyhedral Dice (15 Complete Sets), plus a velvet dice bag ($24.95 on Amazon, MSRP $39.00)
  3. Wiz Dice -- 100+ dice (guaranteed at least one matching set in a velvet dice bag; also guaranteed 6 different colors) ($19.99 on Amazon)
And that's just from a quick search. Now, I WILL confess that the Dwarven Stone included in this set kinda makes up for some of the other disappointment: it's a mini d20; I haven't been able to identify which stone range it's from, but it's a pretty li'l thing. It also contained the largest d6 in my collection; that will be good for hucking at inattentive players. As for the rest of the set? YMMV.
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