Monday, May 29, 2023

more cool skeletons

These cool party dudes are from a 19th century work by an artist named Kyosai.


a fun little cartoon

I'm a sucker for anything that depicts skeletons, orcs, etc. as ordinary working stiffs.


Friday, May 26, 2023

Venger Con is a thing that is happening again.

Venger Satanis is having his own convention again, in Madison, Wisconsin on July 21-23. The funny thing is, I will be driving through Madison on the 22nd, but I don't have time to stop to play anything. 

(Of course, I might not find it to my taste if I did stop, as it is advertised as "non-woke." I don't consider myself woke, but I rarely find myself on the same page as folks who get themselves worked up about "the wokes".) 

Saturday, May 20, 2023

two new Heroforge characters

My daughter wanted to play around with making characters on Heroforge today, so I whipped up versions of two new NPCs in the Dillhonker City campaign.
Please do not invade his section of the dungeon until Undead Steve has had his morning coffee.

Stanky the Elf has all 8s for stats, a magic wand, and terrible fashion sense.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

an unexpected synthetic deity

So I just finished the English translation Konrad Schmid's Genesis and the Moses Story. I give it a strong recommendation to anyone who would see 6 untranslated ancient Hebrew words and 5 footnotes on page frickin' 1 and go "that's my idea of a good time." Not much of it is gameable unless your game is set somewhere between the 8th and 5th centuries BC. But the section on Hellenic reception of the Pentateuch had some nifty stuff about Moses and Abraham being identified by Greek scholars as wizard guys. Here's my favorite bit game-wise: 

I love the idea of Hermes-Thor! The footnote says that he is also mentioned in Eusebius, so I'm going to have to check that out.In my current campaign all mainstream gods have 2 aspects pulled from two different pantheons. Instead of Hermes-Thor, I have Osiris-Thor, who is popular among adventurers. Gods with only one aspect are considered heretical. Only crazy cultists belong to one aspect faiths. 

The idea of these double gods came from an episode of Cosmos. In a segment on the Library of Alexandria, Carl Sagan mentions the synthetic Greco-Egyptian god Serapis, who struck me as a sort of multiclassed Zeus/Osiris.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

About This Past Week

Friday, May 12, 2023

problematic critique

James removed the identifying information when he posted this tweet thread to facebook. A tweet is a public statement, so I don't see any reason to do that.

Even when I am not a fan of the work itself, I have nothing but admiration for people who try to make a go in the RPG industry. You really have to bust ass pushing the boulder uphill to pay the bills. That's why I find it problematic as fuck that a small game company (it's just two people, as far as I can tell) would decide after the fact to rob a freelancer of the credit they are due. It seems like the message that sends to future freelancers is that Leyline are willing to do the same if, at some point, the publisher decides that they don't like you.  I dunno, maybe I'm being a crazy lefty worried about the rights of a worker in the face of corporate ownership.

"Corporate ownership" is a harsh term for a two-person garage band of a game company, but I stand by it. After all, they could have dropped the editor without pushing them into the Leyline Press memory hole. They could have stood by them and said "Hey, freelancing is hard and you got to take work where you can get it sometimes." Or they could have said, "We know our editor has some fucked up stuff in their credits. We know they have a gig with that bastard James Raggi right now. Some cowards and cheapskates are urging us to drop our editor like a hot potato. But we can do better. We've decided to help them shake off these bad gigs by hiring them full time/throwing more work their way/paying a better rate. That's how you improve the RPG scene, by investing in better outcomes." Instead, they chose the Hasbro Wizards option.

The first tweet of the thread is a fascinating artifact, by the way. If I was teaching a composition class right now I would build a lesson around it. Why the choice of the preposition "on," for starters? What does it mean to work on LotFP as opposed to for or with? Is this word choice the result of a clumsy attempt to come in under the character limit, or is something else going on here? Does Leyline Press even know what a Lamentations of the Flame Princess is? Hard to tell with that "on" in play. Maybe they are just replicating the rumor mill at several removes from anyone who has actually read any of LotFP's output.

Furthermore, it's a sly rhetorical trick to not explain what is wrong with LotFP but to immediately juxtapose it with "other problematic works that have received widespread critique for bigoted and other harmful issues." This creates an association between the two in the audience's mind, whether true or not. This is one of the tricks that venues like Fox News use to convince folks that mainstream democrats like Joe Biden are pinko commies. So, well played. I guess.

While I've got my teaching hat on, I would deducts points from this piece for its reliance on the term problematic. Better yet, I'd send it back for revision. Here's my comment from James's facebook post:

I regret the day problematic escaped out of academic discourse and into the wild. In grad school problematic meant "hey, this looks kinda fucked up, so we should slow down and pay attention to it and figure out what it means." Nobody slows down on the internet. Nobody tries to understand.

The way problematic is used in public now seems to be "this is fucked up and I am running away from it." Which is fine, I guess. Language changes over time. But it seems to me that what liberals have achieved with problematic is the same sort of politically self-serving bastardization that the right has applied to the term "woke."

And this is going out on a limb, since I don't really know what the "other problematic works" are, but I will hazard a guess that they have sustained criticism but not much in the way of actual critique. Criticism is about the critic's agenda. "The magic deer in Blue Rose promotes the fantasy that authoritarianism can work and is therefore bad" is a criticism based upon my personal politics. Critique is based upon the creator's agenda. "Broodmother Skyfortress lacks an extended example of how to apply the various re-skinnings offered as options, and thus fails its avowed project as an introductory module" would be a critique.

Finally, can I just say that I find it problematic (in the academic sense) that the Leyline Press blog contains a fic with openly stated themes of "grotesque body horror, torture, dehumanization, bestiality, pregnancy, sexual situations, and non-consent?" Can we talk about that? It feeds into my (admittedly paranoid) theory that liberals believe that you can create any kind of fucked up art that you want, so long as you are willing to make your own personal identity as a victim part of your artistic persona. If James wrote and published the exact same text, would he be put on blast? I suspect so.

Anyway, the LotFP sale is still a thing. There's never been a cheaper time to form your own opinion about what Raggi chooses to publish.

RPG Editor Gets Canceled for LotFP Affiliation - James Raggi Responds

I think Tenkar's refrain here of "just let the market decide" is not quite right, but I appreciate his coverage of this topic.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Big LotFP PDF sale

Some dipshit from some game company I never heard of was talking smack about Lamentations of the Flame Princess, so James did what James does in these circumstances: he sells more stuff. From now through the 16th, every LotFP title is only $1.25 on DriveThru. If you don't already own a copy of my award-winning adventure Broodmother Skyfortress, there's no better time than now to buy one.

Friday, May 05, 2023

"I can't tell"

 One of the greatest compliments a player can give me as a DM is to express confusion of a sort. 

Like the session where the party encountered a dungeon room that was a 1970's office full of clerks and secretaries and middle management types, except they were all bugbears. Zak said something like "I can't tell if this originally appeared in the crappy old module or if it is something Jeff added for his own amusement." I'll take credit for the suit-and-tie clad boss bugbear's two-handed sword +1 bearing runes in Old Bugbearese that spell out 'complaint department', but as for the rest? I'll never tell.

Or this week when Bec's PC saw "a crow or something" fly away from the old abandoned church. She was stumped. "I can't tell if that is integral to the plot or if you just made that detail up."

I suspect that the ability to seemlessly move between the module's nonsense and my own personal nonsense is the result of two tendencies:

  1. I try to never read aloud from the module. Okay, sometimes I'll read the boxed text that sets up the adventure. And occasionally I will read from the module for comedic effect, such as if it is really poorly written. (Example: I will read aloud dumb mistakes like "32. This chamber is 40' in diameter and perfectly circular, with a chest in the northwest corner.") In general, I'd rather restate the module info in my own words and, if I get things wrong, make my misstatement the reality of the gameworld, then take the words on the page too seriously.
  2. I don't take my embellishments to the module that seriously either.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

this actual play is nuts

I don't really watch actual play videos all that much, as I don't consider D&D to be a spectator sport. (Though I quite like Dungeon Majesty, if anyone remembers that silliness.) But this was one that my wife, who is a normal well-adjusted non-gamer type person, was interested in watching. We've been fans of Rhett and Link and their show Good Mythical Morning since 2020. The extra wrinkle to this actual play is the so-called "exorcist", who steals the show. He is one of those interesting people who seemingly can't distinguish fantasy from reality and sees demons as the explanation for nearly any phenomena. Also hilarious is how Link unironically makes his own daddy issues into his character's whole deal. Big thumbs up to him for sneak attacking the demon in the balls, though. That's A+ dungeoning and dragoning in my book.

After the Dungeon Master's first line my wife said, "Yeah, that's a Dungeon Master all right." I am having trouble thinking of another dungeon master she has heard run a game. You know, besides me. Make of that what you will.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

a typical spellbook from the Dillhonker City campaign

Title(s): Grimoire of Par Kaar, The Blue Book of Waaz

Language(s): Demonic, with some marginalia in Smadj

Period: The chaotic days of the Wizards of Old.

Author: The obscure wizard Par Kaar, with some additions by an unnamed apprentice of his and margin notes by a later hand but in the ancient hieroglyphs of a nearly-forgotten language.

Blasphemy: The world is a bit like a planetary turducken, with a second, smaller world inside it, and a third, even smaller world insider that one.


  • Magic Aura (reversible) (standard LotFP version)
  • Slivers of Stone (Invocation/Evocation) (Great Net Spellbook, sixth edition)

Range: 30 yards + 10 yards per level
Components: V, S, M
Duration: Instantaneous
Casting Time: 1
Area of Effect: One creature
Saving Throw: None
Author: Peter Gourlay <>
This spell creates a stream of sharp stone shards that unerringly hit their target. The stones inflict 1d4 + 1 points of damage. For every three levels gained, the wizard inflicts another 1d4 + 1 points of damage. This spell is the earth elementalist version of the magic missile spell, and protections against that spell are also useful against Slivers of Stone. Slivers of stone has the same limitations as magic missile. The material component of this spell is a handful of stones, which must be thrown at the target. 

  • Par-Kher’s Pain Blast  (Arduin Grimoire III)

Level: 4th Area Effected: 30' diameter. Number Effected : All within 30' diameter. Effects: Blast of sheer pain. All within go insane with pain for the number of turns less than 20th level they are. Range: 120 feet. Save negates.

  • Animate Dead (standard LotFP version)  

Note 1: The spell name and the title of the book have different spellings of the relevant wizard's name. Par Kaar/Par-Kher is inconsistent in his spelling practices in general.

Note 2: There may have been more spells in this spellbook at one time, but the last 33 pages have been scribbled over by either a mad man or a really determined toddler. Nothing can be gleamed of the secrets written on these defaced leaves.

Monday, April 17, 2023

There's an Ian Fleming quote

"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action."

Well, this is at least the fourth win for Zak. I wonder what Ian Fleming would say about that?

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Jordan rules

So my Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure Broodmother Skyfortress has this dead god in it called the Sky King. It is possible to bring this entity back to life. The consequences of doing this are less than ideal for the party. Here's a brief report of that happening, from the LotFP discord.


Forest: One of my younger players changed his name after the group lost three PCs to the Sky King.

Image from another discord shows user name Jordan (Fuck You Jeff Rients).

2 laughing so hard I'm crying emojis.

That Dark Sky: In the nice way?

Forest: Just salty lol

Spider Minstrel: What, only three?]

This is the first actual play report I have seen of the Sky King being awakened, so bravo to Jordan and his group.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

a step closer to my grand vision

I am a bad drawer. Or, at least, I haven't devoted any time to the prospect of getting better at it. One idea I have had knocking around my head for a long time is "What if a dungeon was laid out like a multi-level shopping mall, in all its 3-d splendor?" My lack of drawing skills has made this hard to realize in a visual form, so today I asked to do up this idea. The results were... not terrible.


Friday, April 14, 2023

you are the grimoire


I found this meme on the tumblrs. If you find yourself the DM in this situation, I strongly recommend not taking the time to look up the spell description. Instead, just make some shit up. Change the spell effect every time it is cast until the player looks it up themselves.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

found during a google image search

click to embiggen


Tuesday, April 04, 2023

the hobgoblin's map

 The X is where the party encountered the hobgoblins, killing 5, routing 3, and capturing the hobgobbo sergeant. The arrow indicates stairs up to level 1. The corridor labeled "monsters" indicates where the hobgobbo enemies reside, including some undead, some sort of black cats, wererats, and an unknown invisible killer.

The party made a nonagression pact with the hobgoblin commander ("boss") and agreed to avoid the hobgoblin/orc areas of the level.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

pledge allegiance

Booty and the Beasts is a 1979 monster and treasure book from Fantasy Art Enterptises. Art by Erol Otus, text by Otus, Mathias Genser, and Paul Reiche III, A pdf of this book has been floating around for a decade or more. As you can see from the dude on the front cover, some of the stuff in it leans more sci-fi than fantasy.

Anyhoo, the last page of the text (other than the inside back cover add for the Necromican, the spell book from the same outfit) is an illustration of the flag of the United Empire of America:

For a while I wanted to see what a color version of this flag would look like.

I'm just guessing at the colors here. Some combination of red, white, and blue seems like a no brainer. The texturing used by Otus suggests a non-white color for the small stars. The central star lacks that texture, suggesting a different hue. I went with yellow since ol' Sol is a yellow star. Here's an alternative take:

Here's another take that less resembles the flag used by Japan in WWII. Not sure which I prefer. Anybody got any other ideas?

Friday, March 17, 2023

something less than complete success

My first attempt at 3-D printing came out a little rough. It's supposed to be a 1/7000 spaceship on an integral hexagonal flight stand. My buddy Pat got good results on his rig, so I know the design isn't the issue. The tiny peg structure connecting the base to the ship snapped off with just a little hamfisted handling, but maybe that wouldn't have occurred if there were fewer supports obscuring what I was doing.
Maybe I'll try the same printer set-up but with a larger scale vessel.  

Thursday, March 16, 2023

How tall is my brood giant?

In a comment to last Sunday's post, Zak asked about how the beasties from Broodmother Skyfortress matched up to the math I was doing there. He did not like my answer, saying "The Broodmother giants are WAYYY bigger than 21 feet iirc". I'm not so sure. This cover art from Ian Maclean looks at least in the right ballpark to me:

Did I specify in the book an actual size? I don't remember doing so. I'll have to go back and check. However, I do know that the original logic of the broodmother and her kin was the following: AD&D Cloud Giants, but they are Elephant-Centaurs and also Sharks. (Also the broodmother is the Slurm Queen from Futurama, but that's not important here; I'm wanting data on a typical brood giant.)
This morning I had a lengthy exchange with ChatGPT to try to find out what an 18' giant body on a bull elephant would come out to height wise and how much that body would weigh is it was made of dense shark flesh. The answer we came to was 28 to 29 feet tall and a weight between 11,200 and 12,300 pounds. This puts the brood over the top of the scale of Raggi's animal chart.

If you'd like to see the ridiculous conversation that led to these conclusions, here's a transcript.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

AI and Dragons

AI tools like ChatGPT has the whole educational system in a kerfuffle right now, so this post technically counts as work for me.

And here's GPT-4 getting all sorts of things wrong about Broodmother Skyfortress.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Ettins weigh just under a ton.


I was re-reading the Referee book from the old Lamentations of the Flame Princess boxed set. It's really good stuff and the PDF version is available for free. James includes a chart in this book for eyeballing the stats of normal animals based upon their weight.

James notes that herbivore would do half the damage listed above.

This time reading that section reminded me of another weight-related D&D items, the article "How Heavy is My Giant?", which I read in Best of The Dragon, volume 1. It includes this handy chart of average weights for human-types of various sizes:

Since people are animals two, we can put these items together and get the totally unofficial LotFP hit dice and damage for big gronkos, like so:

The results are lower powered than the Monster Manual version, which makes sense given the deliberate flattening of the power curve in LotFP. Note that the clay, stone, and iron golem weights are based upon the density of their respective substances, rather than ordinary flesh. Also, all the weights assume that everyone on the chart has the same general build and proportions as an average human. Of course, back in the day when everyone used human minis is various scales for their giant figures, this made perfect sense.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Dig this 3-D goon!

 I was poking around as I am wont to do from time to time, when I stumbled over a file called "Brood Giant." It turned out to be a .stl file, which is what one uses for 3D prints. A cat who goes by the moniker cobra-surfer made a model inspired by the baddies in Broodmother Skyfortress! Dig it:

"Put up your dukes, bucko!"

Here's the Thingiverse page for it. I've been meaning to try out the 3d printers at work...

Thursday, March 09, 2023

Take Me Back to Dillhonker City

In this venue I haven't talked about the Zoom game I have been running for a while. The game started as a little pick-up dungeoneering affair with Zak S. and James Raggi. The first batch of sessions focused on exploring the Halls of Tizun Thane, from White Dwarf #18 (1980), written by late great Albie Fiore.

I colored this illo to share with the group.

Zak had an existing goblin cleric/thief from some old game and another character I forget and James made a pair of LotFP characters, so we started very FLAILSNAILSy with a mishmosh of rules in play. It was during this phase of the campaign that I was relying heavily on my homemade Remedial Underworlds & Unicorns Dungeon Bastard's Quick Ref, though I didn't use all the charts in that booklet. Near the end of this adventure we gained our third player, a friend of Zak's also in LA.

Our second adventure was an obscure old dungeon from Judges Guild with three authors and not much going for it despite that fact. I ran Tizun Thane because I wanted to have a go at what is often considered a classic. This second adventure I ran for the opposite reason; sometimes I like to try to make the most of a dungeon that I find subpar. I think that went pretty well.

This second dungeon came to a conclusion a little early one session. Also, it was a successful enough outing that Zak was looking to start wrecking havoc on the campaign world status quo. The problem was, we didn't really have a campaign world up until this point, only a couple of dungeons.

Now, I had in my back pocket this clever/stupid scheme of dropping the PCs in a D&D-type conversion of The Court of Ardor, perhaps the least canonical of MERP setting books. The game had been bending towards LotFP style play and I thought secretly dropping Lamentations PCs into the super elf drama of a faux Tolkien setting would be hilarious. I had even gone so far as to prep an innocuous player handout to the setting.

But I hadn't counted on Zak asking me my own damn 20 questions. In the moment I couldn't resist just making up all sorts of stupid bullshit answers, so now the game is set in just about the stupidest campaign world I have ever seen. Judge for yourself. Here's the ongoing campaign world doc. So that's the world the players find themselves in now.

Along the way we picked up a couple of new players, Bec in Texas and Simon in Ukraine (as I understand it, he's located pretty far west in the country, relatively distant from the fighting). Bec's playing the first dwarf PC in my own games who made use of my How to Name a Dwarf charts. Simon is playing a LotFP specialist/bard with a penchant for perverse activities such as washing with soap. The main party are currently exploring a wizard's tower that has been engulfed by a very large, very slow slime monster (a One Page Dungeon I've been wanting to play for ever).

Last week only Bec and Jimbo could make the game, so James got out his back up PC and Bec whipped up a quick magic-user. They went on an adventure inside the mind of a madman, another One Page Dungeon. Bec's new MU was the first in the campaign, and we're using the MU rules in Vaginas are Magic!/James Raggi's Eldritch Cock. To make the campaign spell list, I started with my huge custom MU spell lists from the Vaults of Vyzor days and smooshed them together with the official LotFP spells and any other LotFP magic I had handy. I've been slowly adding other spells to my list, with the goal being to have every third party Old School MU spell on it. Or at least every spell appearing in everything I have a copy of. When Bec rolled her PC's three starting spells, there were 913 spells available. As of my last updating of the list, I now have 1,315 spells on it.

So that's my current game.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Zak update

Monday, February 20, 2023

good ideas from Mausritter

Mausritter is a fantasy role-playing game in the neighborhood of Bunnies & Burrows and the Redwall novels. Neither of those are my normal bag but I can see the appeal of playing a cute little mousey with a sword. My good buddy sarkos pointed me towards it and after a quick glance it has at least two things referees for other FRPGs could borrow:

1) Card/tile based encumbrance tracking. This is easier to show rather than tell, so I'll share an image from the Mausritter website:

As the website says, this "minimises bookkeeping and maximises hard choices." A physical medium like this can also make it super easy to adjudicate who is holding what in what hand. You ever discover that the mapper (who should be wielding ink and paper) is also the torchbearer and is holding a magic wand ready as well? Having a spaces labeled "right hand" and "left hand" that only fit one item card each solves that nicely. 

Also, I dig the six space backpack. If I used that I'd actually keep the items in the backpack shuffled and face down during combat. If someone wanted to get something out of their pack, they would turn over one or maybe two items per round searched. Do you make use of what you've found or do you keep searching?

2) Need a quickie adventure? You could do a lot worse than Mausritter's online adventure site generator to get started. It's not a complete dungeon generator, but it's enough to riff off of.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Forge beats Machine is ostensibly a website where you can design and purchase custom minis for your D&D game. My daughter and I use it the same way we previously used we sit around with a couple of laptops and make characters as a funtimes art-type activity. Here's what I made in today's session.

Frog Detective!

Elizabeth requested I make an image of her, so
I decided she would be Princess of the Space Ninjas.

You know what is really fun? Dressing skeletons in outfits.

Also requested: Strong Bad.

Anybody else remember the Thumper from the
Spider-man segment on The Electric Company?
That show had the best spider-villains.

I am a bird-centaur with a scorpion tail and goblin ears.
Why do I exist?


Saturday, February 04, 2023

The Space Goopies

 Had a weird but almost coherent sci-fi dream last night. Here are some ideas that might be worth stealing for someone.

A long distance space war starts as the result of a first contact gone wrong. Little is known about the alien race Earth is fighting. Apparently one dying eyewitness described them as "goopy."

They may be smarter than us. In order to try to end the war, they built a computer than can translate what we say into meaning in their own language. We can't do the same, so they understand us better than we understand them. This computer acts as a go-between but also allows the Earthicans to learn about their enigmatic foes by asking it seemingly harmless questions.

The one thing the people talking to the diplomat-computer were able to figure out was how differently the goopy approach to mathematics is. Goopy number theory isn't based on quantities like 1, 2, 3... but rather on rotations. Although they have their own squiggly symbols for them, the goopies count pi, pi/2, pi/3,.... Their idea of infinity is closer to our idea of the infinitesimal, as they count towards zero. I don't know if any of that makes sense, but that was my dream.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

a videro grame review

Fateful Lore is the first outing from Fantaseel Interactive. It's a tiny Japanese-style retro RPG for your phone (iOS or Android). You play a lone hero trying to save the kingdom. You level up by defeating monsters. Along the way you learn some spells, all combat related. You spend gold on potions and better equipment (though you can find a few of both in dungeons). You visit towns, dungeons, towers, etc. on an overland map.
The world is just big enough that I got lost a couple of times.  The first spell you can cast (for zero points) is Teleport, which always takes you back to the starting castle. It's very handy in the first third of the game. Also, I had trouble navigating the second tower (the mini-bosses live in the towers) and got frustrated at one point. So I cast Teleport to go home. By the time I got back to the tower, I had leveled up. Which was nice.
I'm no JRPG player, but I think this style of combat screen will be familiar to a lot of people. Also, I adore that the slimes in this game all show up in their own buckets. Sometimes they bonk you with the bucket rather than use a normal slimy attack.
This is an example of a dumb little detail of the sort that makes this game delightful even though it is super vanilla. These wizards are having a wizard convention in a basement. Not in a dungeon, just an ordinary basement. If you go up those stairs, you find yourself in a cottage where a peasant couple are complaining about the noise and regretting renting their basement to the wizards. This has nothing to do with the plot.

Look at this adorable little pink demon! The first one of these I encountered almost kicked my ass. Nearly all the monsters are cute as heck despite being deadly.

The developer says the game takes about 8 hours to play through. I spent a wee bit over ten to complete the game, but I am not very good a video games. But I enjoyed those 10 hours. A couple of the dungeons were a bit too twisty and the mini-bosses more grindy than I like, but overall I recommend Fateful Lore to any casual dungeoneer.

True Fact: The last phone game I gave a crap about was Snake on my Nokia.


Monday, January 16, 2023

one more quick one on the OGL

 I am going to quote myself from an unrelated kerfuffle in 2005, with one edit:

Also, the fact that one or more decision makers at White Wolf WotC actually thought the first policy was okey-dokey and that the customers wouldn't react still leaves me a tad bit uneasy. "Yay! Coke decided not to put dogshit in their beverages after all!" is not exactly a cause for celebration. Why didn't anybody at the Coca-Cola company understand the blindingly obvious fact that no one wants to drink dogshit?!?

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Monday, January 09, 2023

Game of Theseus?

FULL DISCLOSURE: I was comped a copy of this game and I played in one of the playtest sessions.

I think that says Encounter Critical.

Q: If you take a game, replace the mechanics AND swap out the setting, is it still the same game?

This is the question that Venger Satanis's new Encounter Critical III demands an answer to. At first, I thought the answer was "No, duh." But consider how many changes have been made to D&D and how many settings have come and gone. Even with all the various changes over the years, the spirit of the game somehow remains.

That's kinda my conclusion with ECIII. In the S. John Ross Hank Riley and Jim Ireland original, Vanth is only a "sample setting." There's no real reason you must keep Vanth, Venger's setting Cha'alt (an Arrakis/Tatooine/Arabian Knights mash-up) works just as well. Hell, I ran a short Encounter Critical campaign set on Tatooine several years ago.

And as much as I like the intentionally arcane and fiddly mechanics of the original game, that's not everyone's bag, baby. Christian Conkle's Challengers of Vanth keeps the setting but swaps in the fast and functional Mörk Borg rules light d20 adaptation. Venger also has a light touch d20 approach here that looks quite functional to me, even slick.

What my mind's eye sees every time someone mentions Mörk Borg.

But Jeff, without the setting and the mechanics, what is left of the original EC in Venger's version? Well, for one thing, there's nearly all the weird races and classes from the original, albeit in streamlined d20 format. Venger also adds some new races. I quite like the Banana-Man, the Cereal Spooks, and the cyclops from freakin' Krull. One of the fun things about EC is that you can play all these weirdo race/class combos.

In the valley of the shadow a booberry attacks!
But for the other thing, a game has something beyond mechanics and setting: a tone, an attitude, a spirit. For EC, I always felt that tone was my god, this has so much goofy stuff in it. The ridiculous mishmash of it combined with the wonky rules all gave a sense of wahoo freedom, inviting you in as a co-collaborator. ECIII has that as well.

What might go too far for some is the sleaze. I thing Venger makes a pretty decent argument for why his brand of self-professed sleaziness intersects with Encounter Critical, so I am just going to quote the forward:

Remember, Encounter Critical supposedly came out in the late 70s. There’s something I’m about to call “sleaze inflation” or “sleaze-flation” that should help explain. What seems innocuous now was not so back in the 1970s because our culture is progressive – it’s progressing towards degeneracy. Back in the days of bell-bottoms and flower-power, a mutation such as “strange sexual gifts” was pretty damned sleazy.  

By today’s standards, “strange sexual gifts” is the title of a book handed out at your local library during story-hour. Gamers wouldn’t even raise a current-year eyebrow. If you want the same punch today that Encounter Critical had (or would have had) back in the 70s, you’d have to really go for it... ramping up the blue language, explicit details, and depraved ramifications (wink wink, nudge nudge).

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that Encounter Critical has always been sleazy (you just didn’t know it). Furthermore, I learned my decadent ways from reading Encounter Critical. I LEARNED HOW TO BE SLEAZY BY WATCHING YOU, DAD... uh, I mean... Encounter Critical.

This sort of thing is, of course, a matter of taste.  ECIII is naughtier than I normally get in my own games, but in general I'd rather be the most vanilla guy in a room full of freaks than hang out with the puritans.

Here's a few things individual items I want to note about the new ECIII:

  • The d100 mutation table is pretty effin' sweet.
  • Venger's command of the in's and out's of roleplaying are more sophisticated than his book titles and cover art choices let on. Heck, some of his roleplaying concepts are downright indie in nature.
  • Where the heck is the equipment list??? Is this a riff on the omission of the armor chart from the original game?
  • Some of the art is AI generated. I know this is a BIG CONTROVERSY right now, so I just wanted to warn folks.
  • I like how the sample adventure combines some palace intrigue with good ol' fashion dungeoneering and some cthulhoid horrors, but, man, that dungeon map does nothing for me.
  • I honestly thought I was done reading RPG products with faux aged-parchment effect on every ding dang page. It's not unreadable, but I still kinda hate it.

So would I run ECIII? Yes, if I had players requesting it. Would I play it? Again, yes, but I am not breaking down any doors to do so. Is this game a betrayal of the true fans of EC? Hell, I dunno and it doesn't even really matter since there were never more than like 16 people super into the original. Would someone who didn't know the original game get the wrong impression of EC from ECIII? Almost certainly, but I think it would be the right kind of wrong impression.

If you like gonzo games or if you consider yourself a connoisseur of retro stupid roleplaying products, you could do a lot worse than dropping 10 bucks on Encounter Critical III.

Sunday, January 01, 2023