Sunday, March 30, 2014

New Illustration: Linnorm (for Creature Compendium)

I usually don't have the patience for full-page illustrations. But in working on pagination for the Creature Compendium, I knew I really needed a full-page illustration for the linnorm.

The stats for my version of the linnorm (and its variations) will actually appear first in Dragon Horde Zine #2, but will be accompanied by a vintage public domain illustration (which is the vibe I like to give the DHZ when I can).

Since I'm trying to do all the illustrations for the Creature Compendium myself, I knew I'd have to undertake this at some point. The other day, I made myself a list of the illustrations that had yet to be done, and this begged for me to do it first. So...
here 'tis.

Friday, March 21, 2014

d30 Feature of the Week: Troll Mutations

Recently, while working on my most recent Monster Index (MX6 Monster Index: Trolls), there was one thing that became more and more evident... there are so many kinds of trolls because they are so disposed to mutating (which is called out in a lot of articles on trolls, but almost as a throwaway line. So I started making a list of simple troll mutations that could almost act as a substitute for the Monster Index (applying a simple mutation or two to the standard troll). Which brings me to this week's d30 Feature... d30 Troll Mutations.

I like the idea that even one troll from a group of trolls could be different from the others. It's easy to say that a mutated troll who is stronger than others might be the group's leader (for an in absentia female troll chieftain). But what if the troll has a "weakness" (e.g., is cycloptic, or is the runt of the group). What's that relationship like? How does he fit into the context of a group where every member is stronger/better than him? To me, this chart isn't just a list of monster variations, it's a chance for storytelling.

So what are you waiting for? Download it from the link below.

Click here to download a free PDF of the
d30 Troll Mutations from MediaFire.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Couple of Docs: Guides to Better Typography

While listening to Doug Cole's Gaming Ballistic interview with Tim Shorts of Gothridge Manor (because I tend to put these on in the background while I work, rather then actually watching), there was mention of the Formatting Guides for GURPS Fourth Edition. There was a specific reference to a guideline where authors/publishers are told to find/replace all double-spaces with single-spaces (especially after periods). Some people may see this as a very minute detail that is unimportant. But would it surprise you to find out that this has been a standard in graphic design and advertising firms since the invention of desktop publishing? Or that this is one of the first things I teach my students in my Art Direction class? Hell, even Stan Richards of the Richards Group (the largest privately-owned advertising agency in the country) says it's one of the first things they teach newly-hired writers and art directors (go to 18:48 at the video on the link).

So what's the big deal about double-spaces after periods? Well, simply put... it's a matter of finesse. Most typefaces are designed with proportionate spacing in mind, and there's actually a little extra space after the period in most typefaces by default. Double-spacing after periods is a leftover from the typewriter (and the nature of monospacing). And finesse is the difference between an "average" layout, and an "elegant" layout. Like using a "space-after-paragraph" rather than blindly double-spacing between them (hell, even Microsoft Word actually let's you adjust spacing between paragraphs).

Today, I'm sharing two documents that are part of my initial typography lecture. Really, I'm just sharing them because I think there's a lot of stuff in here that people just don't know to do, but would if they did.

The first is a Guide to Better Typography, which details things like number of typefaces, spacing after periods, using grids, etc. These are more about suggestions for improvements.
Click here to download the Guide to Better Typography from MediaFire.

The second is my 10 Commandments of Type for Students, which really dogmatic and is not so much a list of suggestions as it is a list of Do's and Don't's. And treats things like using the typeface Papyrus what it really is... BLASPHEMOUS AND SINFUL!
Click here to download the 10 Commandments of Type for Students from MediaFire.

Please understand, while both documents appear dogmatic (particularly the second one), there's nothing to say there shouldn't be exceptions to each rule or suggestion. Nothing above is concrete; they're just ways of making you give more thought to something that most people are doing blindly. For hundreds of years, typography was in the hands of masters who apprenticed and studied to master their craft. These are just a couple of documents to help you on the path to design/layout mastery.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Next Step Thoughts for a B/X Psionics Model

A few weeks ago, I put forward some thoughts concerning my thinking for working psionics into BX/LL. The goal was to make the rules familiar and easy to grasp, and attempt to put into into terms and mechanics that are fundamental within the game (as opposed to OD&D and AD&D psionics, where are an entirely separate system "frankensteined" onto a dissimilar system).

The keystone to making the system seem familiar (for BX players who need to quickly "get" how a psionic system can work easily with their system) was the idea of incorporating a mental class (MC), and rolling “to hit” with psionic attacks. This would be for psionic-vs-psionic combat only, though; "to hit" rolls are not needed vs. non-psionics, but non-psionics do get a saving throw based on their INT and the range of the attack (this is actually something that comes from OD&D). As for MC, I see it being based on the defender's intelligence and their level as a psioncist.






There would be a separate attack table for psionic attacks based on attacker's psionic level and defender's MC (and it would look just like a standard attack table). Also, combinations of attack and defense modes would just affect the defender's MC while in that mode (e.g., if an attacker were to use an Ego Whip attack vs. a Mind Blank defense, the defender would suffer a +5 MC penalty against that attack).

In this model, any monster with psionic powers would have to be given a psionic level specifically for psionic attacks/defense (in addition to its normal HD/AC, which would still be used for determining physical attacks). This BX system would still need some sort of "psionic energy points" in addition to level determination. I'm probably going to take a cue here from the 2e psionicist, with each level giving the psionicist about 10 additional energy points (give or take a few based on WIS). Using this standard, a monster like the 1e shedu with a psionic ability of 70-100 would attack defend on mental attacks as a 7th-10th level psionicist (which seems about right for a 9+9 HD monster). The su-monster, on the other hand, while only having 5+5 HD, would attack as a 12th level psionicist (since it has a psionic ability of 120).

Ultimately, my goal is to be able to quickly convert 1e psionic information (particularly for monsters) into a simple to use BX system (that could be handled in less than a dozen or so pages).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Coming Soon: My Square Storefront

Yesterday in my post updating the status of The Dragon Horde zine issue #2, I mentioned something about a Square storefront. This really all started as a result of my complete and utter disappointment with a large order of my books wrongly printed by While they didn't admit their screwup until the last few days of February, the original order arrived nearly a month earlier (with every one of 8 copies of 4 different titles printed incorrectly). More than anything, I was scared that people ordering copies of my books were getting incorrectly printed books. There is absolutely no way to ensure quality control (or even consistency of paper, color, etc.) with an on-demand system that fulfills each print copy individually on a "first-come-first-served" vendor assignment program.

I got lucky... REALLY lucky. First, while working on the program for wife's school's auction, I came across a small local printer, perfectly set up for short run printing (25-50 copies of each) of my books. Second, the d30 Sandbox Companion was so well-received (thank you all again!), it's allowing me to print a small stock of all the New Big Dragon books, in order to fulfill orders directly.

I got all the files off to the printer late last week, and swung by yesterday to look over proofs of the covers, and was quite happy with the result. (In fact, I think the cover for the d30 Sandbox Companion is going to look better in this run than it's ever looked before.) Today, he's running a test of the guts of Valley of the Five Fires (it's the thickest of all the NBD books to date); the test is to make sure the 32 lb. text stock folds well when stapled into the cover (to avoid issues like the Lulu copies that don't actually close because the printer was too cheap to score the spine of the cover on the extra-thick film stock that I didn't even want in the first place).

If the test goes well, I should have a good supply of each title (Valley of the Five Fires, Ogress of Anubis, d30 DM Companion and d30 Sandbox Companion) by the end of the week. The Square storefront is already up, and the various titles are readied (though they're not actually available for purchase yet). I just need to get my packing/mailing supplies and I should be "in business" any day now. And as soon as the 2nd issue of the The Dragon Horde is ready, I'll be printing copies of both it and the first issue, and adding them to the store as well.

Stay tuned!

(P.S., since the Square marketplace uses email addresses for shopping purposes, I can fulfill free PDF copies of the books without having to get a separate email from the purchaser proving their purchase.)

UPDATE: The printer had some issues with another job this past week that delayed mine by a few days. Now looking to have everything fulfilled by the Wednesday, March 26th.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Update: Dragon Horde Zine #2

When I launched The Dragon Horde zine with its inaugural issue, I made a commitment to myself to have as much of the zine's content as possible appear in the zine exclusively (if not as its only appearance, at least as its first appearance). With my work schedule as of late, it's been tough to maintain regular blog posting in addition to the "behind the scenes" work on the next issue of the zine. While the zine is coming along nicely, I feel like this blog (my first baby) is being neglected. I'm going to do my best to post every day this week, including a free adventure on Thursday (which has been written for weeks, but just needs a hair of tweaking), and a new d30 chart on Friday (again, something that's mostly complete, but has been sitting around waiting to be laid out).

Over the weekend, I did make some really good progress on the zine.
  • The page count is now up to 32 pages + cover (from 28 + cover)
  • I finished an article on Viking longhouses (which supports the adventure in the issue).
  • I've added an article on dealing with level drain
    (since wights are part and parcel of Nordic/Viking-themed adventuring).
  • I've added some new magic items.
  • I've started work on an article takes tribes/characters from William Morris’s
    The House of the Wolfings, and turns them into sandbox fodder (giving some overview information on each group, and listing a few notable NPCs from the story). It's about 1/2-done.
  • I made some progress on the rune-based adventure seed generator.
And, yes... beginning with issue #2, both issue #2 and back issues of #1 will be available in print through my new Square storefront. Wait— did I mention my new Square storefront?

Then I'll talk about that tomorrow.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Dragon Horde Zine #2 Coming Along Nicely

So these are the articles I'm looking at as the "anchor" pieces
for what is to be a Nordic-themed issue...

Monster Roster: Linnorms. I know this is a creature that has been dealt with in a few places (e.g., 2e's AD&D Monstrous Compendium Annual 1, John Turcotte's Stormcrows Gather. I felt like 2e's linnorms were too strong, and Turcotte's linnorm really only came in one variety. I wanted the variety of 2e, but executed with more of a BX vibe (even though Oe/1e stats will be included).

The Völva: A New NPC Character Class. Honestly, the way I've done this one up, there's no reason it doesn't work as a PC character class. I've seen other people mention they'd like to see this as a class for a Nordic/viking-themed RPG, but haven't found anyone working it up (especially for old-school D&D editions and clones).

Vifillmein. This is the issue's adventure designed for beginning level (1st=3rd) characters. I'm feeling pretty good about the concept, and the presentation (even though I do have a lot of work left to flesh out the bones).

A Futhark Rune Adventure Seed Generator. It's based on the actual meaning of the runes, and the various methods used to draw them from the bag. I'm really trying to make this substantially different than the adventure generator from the d30 Sandbox Companion, and keep with the spirit of the runes used as predictions (things for the DM to aspire to, rather than design around, as the adventure goes on). I'm feeling pretty good about it so far, and the "bones" of the system are in place. Mostly, I've just got to get runes broken out to match the dice rolling (trying to keep it completely d6-based).

There will be some other, smaller articles (about a half-dozen or so). But, like I said, these are the main anchors of the issue.

Friday, March 7, 2014

"Shreds of Fabric" Adventure Design Technique

This is a sketch for the adventure I've got in the works for Dragon Horde Zine #2... for which I shared the illustration recently.

There's actually a lot of story going on here that's not obvious from that illustration or this sketch (which really does nothing more than lay out the major encounter areas, and note how they're related). The story does, however, drives the whole thing.

In some ways, the way I'm approaching adventure design as-of-late is based on a technique I'm calling the "shreds of fabric" technique. Hah! I just made that up. Look, if Hemingway could use an "iceberg" approach to storytelling, why can't I use a "shreds of fabric approach." Okay, I'll admit, "shreds of fabric" is just my way of saying that little clues are planted here and there, and as more shreds of fabric and placed to together, the clearer the picture becomes of what really happened. I know that's not really a new technique (and those writing professors out there will probably chime in with a more appropriate term for the technique), but it does help me think about how I want the story to be woven as the characters progress through the encounters, regardless of the order of those encounters.

Part of what I'm resolving in this map-sketch (which actually deals with both encounters AND story), is when and how to reveal the story's big plot twist. (I'm avoiding the tendency to want to railroad this kind of reveal. As such, I'll be reworking those "blocked passages" in the middle of the map.)

I'm reminded of the movie The Sixth Sense. Somebody had warned me not to read too much about it before I saw it, because of the big plot twist at the end. Because I knew there was a twist, when I saw the movie for the first time, I started looking for it. Halfway through the movie, I figured it out. Watching the rest of the movie just reinforced my hypothesis. So when the twist was finally revealed at the end, I thought to myself, "Yep. I figured it out." But it didn't necessarily reduce my enjoyment of the story. I'm hoping this adventure is the same. That even if the characters discover the "plot twist" (i.e., get the "whole picture") halfway through the adventure, that it doesn't keep them from enjoying the other little shreds of fabric as they discover them.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

New Google+ Community: Classic Microgames

I've just started a new Google+ community dedicated to classic microgames (think small boxes and zip bags) popular from the late 70s through late 80s, as well as to the support and development of new games in the same vein. Membership is open. Please join if this interests you!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Valley of the Five Fires Wargame Test/Update
Beta Version 98% Ready

Welbo and I actually finished our most recent playtest of the Valley of the Five Fires wargame on Sunday night. Long story short, it was a rousing success! Huzzah! (Which is to say, "I won!")


The original mechanic was based on a number of d6s rolled equal to the chit's Attack Rating (from 1d6-4d6), both sides rolled, and the difference was subtracted from the lower roller's Wound Points as damage. This was repeated until one of the two combatants was dead. While it seemed good in theory, in practice it was... well... it just wasn't fun. Weaker opponents died pretty much 100% of the time, regardless of whether the advantage was 4d6 to 3d6 or 2d6 to 1d6. The reworked mechanic was based on a 2d6 roll on an odds table (like the ones on this post, but with 2d6 instead of 3d6), and a separate damage roll (based on the result of the 2d6 roll). At first glance, it would seem that 2 rolls per "round" would be more confusing and take longer than 1 roll per "round," but not so. It was smoother, much more balanced, and makes even the 1d6-Attack-Rating Skeletons potentially deadly (but mostly "potentially").

Encounter Wound Points
Given the deadliness of even minor encounters under the new combat paradigm (yes, I used the word "paradigm," what of it?), the Wound Points (i.e., "hit points") for all the animals, monsters, and warriors (player and NPC warriors alike) had to be re-thought. In most cases, their Attack Ratings stayed the same, and only the Wound Points were adjusted (usually down by about 1/2) so that combat resolution didn't take forever.

Added Victory Condition
Originally, winning the game required only acquiring all four of the Luuzhin coins. The updated victory condition requires the player make it back to their base camp to return the acquired coins to their Khan (the player parties are searching on behalf of their respective khans). This creates a bit of a gauntlet during the last moments of play, and creates some extra tension.


Somebody asked the playing time. I think given the most recent experience, whether you're playing with 2, 3, or 4 players, I'm thinking about 2 hours. Ironically, having more players potentially shortens the game time, while fewer players means it could take longer. With a certain number of spaces on the board that have to be investigated, more players means investigating them goes more quickly. And fewer players means investigating them goes much slower (duh).


At this point, I just need to retype the rules to accommodate all the little tweaks we've made along the way, as well as the re-figured combat rules. I'm not quite ready for volunteers yet, but give me a week or so, and keep your eye on this blog. Most likely, the next post I make about the game will be the call for beta playtesters, and I'll tell you what/who we're looking for, and how we'll choose. Welbo and I will probably run a few sessions via Roll20 (with 2 recruits per session), but we'll also likely be sending out some "prototype" versions to a few others (for blind play, without our assistance with the rules).

Monday, March 3, 2014

Another illustration from the upcoming
Dragon Horde zine #2....

This is the image for the title page of the adventure for the issue.
The adventure is tentatively titled Vifillmein ("beetle plague").

BTW, I'm not sure why I love putting halfings in my illustrations. I just do.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

New Illustration: Völva (Before & After)

No... "völva"... with an umlautted "o" (not a "u") - a Norse shaman/seeress. It's an NPC character class I'm working on for issue #2 of The Dragon Horde zine. I was really looking for an old public domain illustration from the lat 1800s or early 1900s that would fit the bill, but to no avail. In lieu of that option, I decided to do my own. My first stab (bottom) was really an attempt to start using my brush pen again. While I like the line quality, it just didn't have the visual punch I wanted (and felt a little to "new school" for what I wanted visually, especially the punkish haircut). So I took another stab, attempting to give it that woodcut inspired look with which I've had some success (see my Bartleby illustration for reference). The new illustration makes her look older, but that's intentional. The further I got into the development of the class, I realized making her a tad older made more sense (and was more in line with the traditional image of a völva).