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.

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.
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