Monday, 30 April 2012

When Cowled Men Creep (DCC 0-1st lvl adventure I'm working on)

In the isolated village of Pines Landing, some say that the Cowled Men come every generation. Others claim that the Cowled Men have never been seen before. Either way, folk are disappearing from their homes. Those who are taken are never seen again, and most of their names are quickly forgotten.

The would-be wizard, Manthus Elmarik, was one of the first to disappear. Some say he woke something unnatural. Others claim that emissaries must be sent through the Grimwald Forest to Castle Anwir, to beg protection from the Liege Lord who dwells there.

Only two things are certain: That something must be done, and that those who dwell in Pines Landing must do it.

Friday, 27 April 2012

How I Despise Timeline...Let Me Count the Ways....

Maybe it's just that I am getting old, but I find Facebook's Timeline feature to be annoying, and I dislike not being able to turn it off.  It seems invasive to me, and I dislike the erosion of privacy ongoing in our society.  That plans are underway for all electronic and telephone communications in Great Britain to be monitored and recorded, and that similar provisions are contemplated in North America for the purposes of "security" or "crime prevention" are a shade too 1984 for me.  Or maybe too V for Vendetta.

I dislike the way we are giving away our personal power with both hands, for shiny trinkets.  Maybe we really are that stupid.  Or maybe I really am just getting old.

It has hit the news that some employers in some areas are now beginning to request that employees "Friend" them on Facebook or, worse, be given their employees' or applicants' Facebook passwords so that they can surf Facebook to determine suitability for employment, and keep tabs on their activities both at work and away.  I shudder when I think about how Timeline could interact with such an agenda.

Anyway, I've decided to give myself a birthday present this year.  Either it will be to turn off Timeline and keep Facebook, or, if there is no method to disable Timeline yet, it will be to disable it in the only way I deleting my Facebook account.

The more I think about it, the less of a big step that seems to be.  First off, I don't use Facebook for much more than wishing people Happy Birthday, playing chess, and playing Scrabble.  Second off, even with those few activities, Facebook is a huge time-waster.  Finally, my decision to sever ties with EN World has proven to be a good one, in terms of personal creativity and happiness.

Anyway, although I know that Facebook is bringing plenty of other people joy, and they are certainly not going to delete their accounts, you can join me if you want.  And, if you don't want to, that's completely cool, too.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Second Houserule for DCC RPG

THE NOBODY RULE:  A 0-level character is nobody in the grand scheme of things, and the player need not choose an alignment for every character in a 0-level funnel.  Rather, the occurrences in play should aid the player in choosing an alignment for survivors, and these characters must be aligned prior to (or at the point of) attaining 1st level.

For example, Joe the Butcher need not be aligned, but until Joe has chosen to serve Law, Neutrality, or Chaos, he cannot progress to 1st level.  Joe can put off that choice until gaining 10 experience points and choosing his starting class....but no later.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Return to Quattro Dungeon

Here are some maps to share from my Quattro 8 x 8 Grid Notebook dungeon.  Each page is a discreet area, with each page being numbered and named.  For example, the first page is 01. The Mountain Temple.  Described encounter areas are numbered in red, while connections are simply lettered. 

For example, there are three connections on map 01, listed as A, B, and C.

Because of a desire to make finding things easier, subsequent maps follow the connection letter order.  Therefore, the next map (02. The Dusty Halls) shows the area connected by A (A on one map connects to A on another).  New connections go to D, E, and F.

Likewise, map 03. The River Caves contains connections to G and H.  There is no reason that North need be the binding edge on the notebook; this map is rotated to better fit.  Note also that there is nothing wrong with mapping to the edge of the grid!

Naming each section makes it easier to remember themes when filling in monsters, treasures, and descriptions.

Obviously, with 80 pages and multiple connections per page, letter connections will ultimately include double letters, such as AA, but by going “AA, AB, AC, AD, etc.” rather than “AA, BB, CC, DD, etc.” there should be no need for triple letters.

All maps are 1 square = 10 ft. unless otherwise noted.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Devising Initial Adventures for Dungeon Crawl Classics


When preparing to run a Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG campaign, the aspiring Judge must obviously devise a starting adventure, or use one that is currently on the market.  This essay assumes that the Judge wishes to devise his own adventure.

The initial adventure described in the rule book is intended to be a 0-level character funnel, in which numerous 0-level nobodies are winnowed down to the core surviving adventurers.  Thus ends the initial adventure.

I argue that this is a mistake (and that the funnel in the Core Rulebook seems to imply the same).  In my opinion, the best initial adventure offers a natural stopping point where the survivors can rest, reflect, and grow in power, and then continues with the newly minted 1st level adventurers.

In DCC RPG, the 0-level characters require and average of 5 encounters to reach 1st level.  That may be a lot of encounters to survive at 0-level, but it is not a lot of encounters for an adventure.  The sample initial adventure in the Core Rulebook, for example, contains more than 5 encounters.  Remember that dealing with traps also counts as an encounter!

Obviously, the Judge can vary the number of encounters required (as does the initial adventure in the Core Rulebook) by making some less difficult, so as to result in 1 or 0 XP.  This is perfectly acceptable, and makes sense.  However, this also limits the adventure, and prevents the characters from experiencing actual growth during the adventure.  The setup of the DCC RPG strongly encourages actual growth during the initial adventure – both based upon the ruleset and the Appendix N source material – so that, again, allowing characters to level during this adventure should be strongly encouraged.

Therefore, I encourage you to break your initial offering into two parts:  the 0-level character funnel, and the 1st-level finale.

The 0-Level Character Funnel

Some of the requirements of the 0-level character funnel are obvious, but some might be a bit trickier for the Judge to anticipate.  That the funnel must contain enough danger to winnow the wheat from the chaff is clear – character death must be a real possibility.  But, in addition, character growth must be planned for.

Your surviving characters are going to become warriors, thieves, wizards, clerics, and demi-humans.   The demi-human path is easy; the characters were prepped for this by rolling their starting occupation, and the Core Rulebook contains at least one Patron that is well suited for elf characters.  Elves can buy one set of mithral armour and one mithral weapon at standard prices when they attain 1st level; you will need to have something in place to both allow this to occur, and to not create a situation where said mithral goods are always available.

Thieves are also easy enough to deal with, so long as the funnel contains sufficient traps for them to overcome and sufficient wealth for them to obtain.  Preferably, there is treasure that requires some intelligence and/or work to attain.

Warriors are going to need access to weapons and armour.  Your initial setup must make these available, even if they are not the best possible weapons and armour (and they should not be)!  Potential warriors are also going to need opponents they can fight.  As with the initial offering in the Core Rulebook, this should be a combination of simple and difficult fights, and the difficult fights should be resolvable using brains over brawn.  The opponents must also be interesting, at least some of them demonstrating some unexpected property…even if you only make the giant rats have hand-like paws and be capable of speech.

Clerics and wizards are the tricky pair.  You have to ask yourself, what in the 0-level funnel can encourage a character to take these two paths? 

If you have the Core Rulebook, or picked it up at Free RPG Day last year, read over The Portal Under the Stars.  Now, come back and tell me, why would any PC going through that adventure feel a calling toward clericism?  The player may wish to have a cleric, sure, but that career does not arise naturally from the adventure as presented.  Your initial funnel must include the divine in some way, shape, or form.  It may include a hidden shrine where the influence of a god is felt, or it may include a fight against some unholy thing in which a holy artefact is of aid.  It may include a mark of a god on the floor of one chamber where the PCs find themselves safe against the undead hordes assaulting them.  There must be something.

Likewise, you are going to have to do some background work on the divine in your setting.  If a cleric knows the spells of his god, you are going to have to know which spells those are.  Moreover, you need to communicate this effectively to your players if they choose to level as clerics.

Potential wizards need a way to access spells.  They also need a way to make contact with potential patrons.  This, again, means that you as a Judge should go to the effort of devising those patrons fully.  Don’t worry if the material isn’t used yet; as your campaign progresses, your unused patrons can appear as the masters of NPCs, and may eventually attract different PCs to their patronage. 

You need to be willing to give your players options; just don’t be shy about making them work for it.  In The Portal Under the Stars, there is a way to confer access to the invoke patron spell that will not necessarily be obvious to the players.  This is okay; it is better to have too many opportunities that are hard to find than too few that are obvious.  This is touched upon in some previous blog entries, and is a requirement for a feeling of actual discovery.

Note, too, that not every patron should be wise to choose.  Offering players poor choices, as well as good choices, is a necessary part of allowing them to decide their characters’ fates by their choices.  Moreover, some things that seem to be good, or bad, choices, should be the opposite.  Better yet, whether the choice be for weal or woe can depend upon subsequent choices….


Look again at The Portal Under the Stars, and see how the adventure points towards investigating a dryad sighting to the east.  Your 0-level funnel should contain a similar sense of unfinished business, which draws the characters into the 1st-level finale.  In effect, I argue that the Core Rulebook offers only half of a starting adventure – if you use it, you really ought to prepare the other half!  If not, you steal an important part of the rpg experience from your players.

Remember that in the DCC RPG, characters gain XP for surviving encounters, even if they run screaming from them.  This builds in a good way to transition – a threat remains that must be dealt with, but the 0-level characters are not powerful enough to do so.  They must go back into the darkness, perhaps by another route, to deal with what was left behind.

(There is a precedence for this in Appendix N fiction as well.  See, for example, A. Merrit’s The Moon Pool and Dwellers in the Mirage.)

The funnel may also indicate the resting place of a treasure which can be accessed only at certain times, giving the PCs a chance to rest and level, but a need to head out again before too long.

Another model might be taken from The Hobbit, where the overall adventure is getting from Point A to Point B, and the 0-level funnel is reaching some safe place (ala Rivendell or Beorn’s House) along the journey.  Characters can then rest there and level up.  The advantage of this model is, of course, that what the group is headed to Point B for might make up their first 2nd level adventure, if they have enough encounters along the way.

The point is that (a) the danger (or goal, such as a treasure to be won) must be pressing enough to require returning to the overall adventure sooner rather than later, but (b) must allow enough downtime to believably level the characters.

Imagine a scenario where a village is being attacked by Unknown Things in the Night, and send the 0-lvl PCs to a nearby castle for aid.  On the way to the castle, they experience the 0-lvl funnel as the Things try to stop them, and even see where the Things are coming from.  They rest at the castle, level up, and are sent back to deal with the Things themselves!  Perhaps the local lord is responsible for the incursion in some way – it is a curse he suffers – and he hopes the PCs will deal with it for him, as he cannot.

The 1st-Level Finale

The 1st-level finale need not make the characters reach 2nd level.  Its purpose is twofold:  (1) to resolve the issue(s) arising in the 0-level funnel, and (2) to showcase character growth.

As to the first purpose, even using the “treasure map” scenario, the adventure must “loop back” onto the material in the funnel.  It answers some unresolved questions, faces similar opponents, and/or fulfils the promises of the first half. 

For example, the funnel could include a locked and unopened door, and the treasure the map leads to could be the key. 

Or, if the PCs were forced to flee from some Chthonic horror as part of the funnel, have the danger it presents continue to be real.  Imagine a scenario where the funnel leads in through one set of tunnels, which the horror causes to collapse behind the fleeing PCs.  Now the PCs must enter through another way (possibly by following the horror’s minions), and end its terror for good.  What, then, of the other tunnels leading to its chamber?  Meat for other adventures, perhaps.

Examine the structure of The Hobbit, and you will see how ideas, themes, and creatures recur within the text.  Bilbo lives underground, enters the troll hole, enters the goblin caves, enters the wood elves caves, and enters the dragon’s lair.  He bandies words with hidden meanings with Gandalf, with Gollum, and with Smaug.  He sleeps in on the day the company is to leave, Bombur falls into a long magic slumber, Thorin sleeps beneath the Mountain in death.  He finds the key to the troll’s hole (which they would have thought secret), gets the keys from the wood elves’ gaoler, and figures out how to use the key to the hidden door in the Lonely Mountain.  He finds Sting, the Ring, and Arkenstone.  And so on.  Each section of the story parallels and reinforces earlier sections, just as earlier sessions foreshadow what is to come.

If one was using The Portal Under the Stars as the 0-level funnel, a suitable 1st-level finale would link the dryad to the extradimensional tomb in some way.  Perhaps she was the lover of the warrior-mage from long ago?  Perhaps she also serves the goat-headed patron, but has displeased him in some way?  Better yet, the quest for the dryad leads to a portal to the alien’s world/dimension, giving the PCs strong reason (though perhaps not taken!) to avoid making pacts with the goat-headed entity. 

The point is that the arcs should not seem unrelated by the time they are resolved – the second half brings the events of the funnel to a satisfying conclusion.  The best 1st level finales will make the players rethink what they learned in the 0-level funnel by casting that location and those events in a new light.

No More Generic Orcs!

The Goodman Games “No more generic orcs” concept also means “No more generic campaign milieus” – you will have to work to create a vibrant DCC RPG setting.  Your world will contain gods, patrons, spells, and monsters that are unique.  It is better to start with the first adventure.

The unknown works better within the context of the known.  This is true in much of the Appendix N literature, as well as in role-playing games.  You might create unique orc analogues, and the humanoids in the next valley over might be unique, but you would be wise to develop a stable of recurrent creatures as well.

Consider again the way the goblins, wolves, and eagles are used in The Hobbit.  They are not simply “throw away” creatures that appear in one chapter so that the creatures in the next chapter may be unique.  And all appear again in The Lord of the Rings.  Each of these volumes also has unique creatures which are encountered only in specific locations.

A persistent world needs persistent creatures; and Appendix N worlds also needs unique creatures.  The best of all possible worlds has both.  Horses, dogs, wolves, chickens, and pigs are certainly ubiquitous.  That Conan encounters lions in The Tower of the Elephant should not imply that there are no lions elsewhere in the world – quite the opposite, actually – but encountering Yag within the Tower should remain a unique occurrence.

New creatures allow for surprise, fear, and wonder.  Known creatures give a world depth, and allow choices to be made within a familiar context.  The discerning Judge will have to learn where to draw the line between the two.

Reading the Appendix N books is a good start to this.  You will see how various authors dealt with having enough persistent creatures to make their worlds viable, while allowing unique entities to be unique.  Another good example to follow is Doctor Who.  In classic Doctor Who, various monsters recur, but not always in the same way they had been seen before.  The new Doctor Who series makes use of classic monsters as well, and is not afraid to change them to meet a different vision.  Both versions also include a plethora of new creatures, and you can easily see how the new, the persistent, and the unique are combined to create moments of both surprise and series depth.

In order to showcase character growth, it is actually valuable to have some of the same creatures appear in the 0-level funnel and the 1st-level finale.  Just not all of the same creatures.  That way the players can experience their characters’ growth in a visceral sense.  The “glowing starfish” they found so difficult in the funnel are now easier to defeat….it is the thing spawning these creatures that they really need to worry about.

In my “S if for Sandbox” series of posts, I mentioned that getting at least 2 hours of play for each hour of work is an important goal for Game Masters.  This is as true for DCC RPG as for any other game.  If you want to run a campaign in this system, you should strongly consider how you can reuse the material you have created.  Persistent and recurrent monsters are as important as unique ones.  You should prepare for this with your initial adventure as well.

Different from WotC-D&D

In Wizards of the Coast’s 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons, there was an expectation that characters would gain a level after an average number of encounters, and this has formed the basis of expected play thereafter.  Overall, I feel that this is a bad idea, and that it led to some real problems in the way adventures for these editions were created.

I’ve written about this before.  Specifically, the expectation that challenges would rise to match new levels led directly to a different kind of “funnel” – adventures that were extremely linear in nature.  If an adventure is to take the PCs from 1st level to 3rd level, it is important that they cannot encounter the 3rd level encounters at 1st or 2nd level.  The adventure designer must control the order of encounters, and the only way to do this is to proscribe player choices that would allow encounters to occur out of order.

There is some danger of the same result with the setup I am proffering.  In order to avoid problems of this nature, there must be a logical rest point between stages, and it must be the stages, not the individual encounters, that are level-dependent.  In effect, the rest area acts as a “choke point” between the stages.

There are two considerations the adventure designer and Judge must take into account:  (1) the players must absolutely have freedom in the choices they face dealing with each stage, and (2) there should be some ability to bypass the rest point and/or take the stages out of order.

In other words, while the overall adventure may follow an “A > rest point > B” formula, both stages A and B must be more free-form in nature.  The first stage may be less free-form than the second as a matter of form:  an average of five encounters along a journey offers fewer choices than a sprawling ruin or dungeon complex does.  It is still better to offer more than one possible path, so that would-be adventurers can avoid one set of encounters by choosing to face another.  For example, if stage A required reaching a fortified area, the characters might have a choice of taking an underground tunnel or a mountain pass.  The PCs might even split up (there are, after all, plenty of characters in the 0-level funnel), attempting both routes in the hope that someone makes it through!

Stage B should be as free-form as you can make it.  The more choices the adventures face, the better, so long as those choices don’t rob the scenario of its energy.

The ability to bypass the rest point is also important.  Let us say, again, that you imagine Stage A is to reach a fortress, where the PCs are sent to investigate a ruin as Stage B.  Some trail should lead from Stage A to Stage B directly, bypassing the fortress, and, while there should be sufficient clues that this is the “wrong way” (i.e., is not the way to the fortress, not that the Judge considers it a wrong decision by the players), the players must be free to choose it.  They might just do a reconnaissance.  They might all die.  They might resolve the problem before reaching the fortress.  Indeed, having resolved the problem, they might never bother going to the fortress at all.

All of these results must be okay, or players are stripped of a level of agency they have a right to expect.


The perfect introductory adventure for the DCC RPG isn’t going to come about by accident, and it will not come about by following the TSR or WotC model.  The ruleset offers the potential for a really excellent first experience, but the prospective adventure designer has some unique challenges based upon the ruleset used. 

1.  Design for the “0-lvl funnel > rest area > 1st-lvl finale” structure.

2.  Make sure that each stage offers significant choices, and that the structure can be subverted by the players if they so choose.

3.  Make sure that each class has the requirements to reach 1st level in the funnel stage.  That means the chance to gain weapons and armour, interact with the divine, gain wizard spells and gain potential patrons.

4.  Make sure that the rest area offers a way to gain mithral equipment for elves.  Preferably, the rest area should include a church or temple for new clerics to be invested, and something that hints at future adventures.  There must be some reason that the folk in the rest area don’t solve the problem themselves.

5.  The funnel stage must tie into the finale stage; there must be continuity of plot, theme, etc.  The finale stage serves to bring the funnel stage to a satisfying conclusion, and shows how the characters have grown.

6.  Design work for the introductory adventure should be persistent whenever making it so doesn’t damage the overall milieu.  While some monsters should be unique, others should not be.  There should be reasons for higher-level characters to revisit the initial adventure areas.  Note that, as the Core Rulebook suggests that a relatively small milieu is ideal, this shouldn’t be difficult.

7.  It is never a bad idea to plant the seeds of other potential adventures.  Do so early; do so often.

You can do less, but doing so means that you’ll not be taking full advantage of the strengths of the Dungeon Crawl Classics rules.

Good gaming!

First Houserule for DCC RPG (due to 0-lvl funnel)

GOLDEN LION RULE: (Named for Jad-Bal-Ja in the Tarzan series): For important pets and animal companions, each time the owner levels, the creature gains a new hit die of the same type.  For example, if Girt the 0-lvl herdsman reaches 1st level, Giant his herd dog gains 1d6 hit points as well.

(I used the wolf stats to determine Giant's stats, same hit die, dropped the attack bonus by 1 and the damage die by 1 step.)  

Note that the Judge has final say as to what is a significant animal, but it generally revolves around whether or not the creature is participatory in the game.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

An Ode to Crappy Maps

When I was young, and first getting into this hobby, maps were printed inside modules using blue ink.  For the most part, at least.  The building interior maps in Keep on the Borderlands and Village of Hommlet were the sort of maps I could aspire to draw by hand, and even the main maps were ones that I could draw something along the lines of.  Well, except the Caves of Chaos, which I never was able to satisfactorily copy…er, emulate.

In some ways, the advent of rpg cartographic software has lifted us up from the mire of crappy maps,  but…was that really so much of a mire?

Take a look at the moathouse in Hommlet.  That was a map that inspired, and inspired many (myself included) to feel that even my junior efforts were not only good enough, but were worthy of presenting as a place that adventures might be had.  Even if all I had to create those maps was drugstore quality graph paper and a ballpoint pen.

The way in which rpgs stimulate us to create our own adventures, settings, gods, spells, classes, races, monsters, maps, etc. – the way rpgs empower their users – is fairly unique.  And computer games that have emulated that to some degree (for example, Spore) have been able to use that as a real selling point.

So, yes, I (like many) enjoy the beautiful map of Castle Ravenloft, and the amazing efforts shown in many a Paizo or Wizards of the Coast module (including those from Dungeon Magazine under the guidance of both companies) , but I strongly prefer game materials that make me think “I could do that!” over those that make me think “How the hell did they do that?!?”

So, here’s a couple of my maps.  You could do just as well.  Hell, you probably do better!  But I like to work this way, and I hope you will enjoy (and use!) what you see.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Game of Theseus – The Quest for Control of Objective Identity

As strange as it may sound to some of you, I was recently on a forum arguing, yet again, that there is no such thing as objective identity.  That, essentially, identity is subjective, and that, in some cases (such as to make language work), we agree to standardize identity under special circumstances.  This standardization is agreed upon by a wide range of people, but certainly not by all (or the meanings of words in language would not drift over time).

How does this relate to gaming?

Well, the discussion was on Dragonsfoot, and it related to the question of whether or not some particular edition was “D&D”.  Mind you, no one was arguing that any particular edition was not sold under the trademark name of Dungeons & Dragons, but rather whether or not purchase and ownership of the trademark somehow changed the nature of identity from a subjective value into an objective one.

Now, I don't care what is, or is not, "D&D".  Is 4e D&D?  Sure.  Is 5e?  Why not.  Is Labyrinth Lord?  As far as I am concerned, it is.  My concern isn't what is, or is not, "D&D", but rather ensuring that it is individual human beings -- not corporate entities -- that get to decide.

I am not a lawyer, and the following should not be constituted as legal advice (and I despise the fact that we require such disclaimers to discuss far too many topics these days, lest the lawyers pounce).  Here is a link that might help:

It should be noted here that, while a trademark grants protection in some cases against identifying another product with that of the trademark holder, it grants no protection at all against others refusing to accept the trademark identifier.  I.e., if I purchase the rights to “D&D” and decide to sell a soft drink as “The D&D game” where the rules consist of “Drink as much of this stuff as you can”, my purchase and my actions in no way – legally or otherwise – force anyone to accept that as “D&D”.

Moreover, while my purchase would allow me to act against another company who put out a game and called it “D&D”, it would in no way give me power over the user base of the product calling it “D&D”.  Paizo doesn’t call Pathfinder “D&D” or encourage people to do so.  If the vase majority of gamers decided that Pathfinder was “D&D”, and WotC’s latest was not, trademark does not offer legal recourse.

Part of the problem is caused by conflation of definitions of the words “identity” and “identify”.   

Consider how the definitions here,, actually apply to trademark.  What trademark is intended to do is ensure that people looking for Product X are not confused by a similar Product Y.  Also (and related to this) to ensure that the money spend to advertise Product X is not effectively spent to sell Product Y.  It is notable that it is Product Y, its trade dress, its packaging, its advertising, etc., that must give rise to the confusion for a lawsuit to succeed.  If the public believes that Product Y (despite understanding that it is not Product X) is closer to what the trademark of Product X identifies itself as than Product X actually is, and the public uses the trademark term to identify Product Y rather than Product X, the end result is not that the public is wrong, but that the makers or Product X are likely to lose the trademark.

Again, identity is not determined by trademark.  Not even in a legal sense.  Use of trademark is determined by trademark, and if the public disagrees about identity, the trademark holder can lose that trademark.

If WotC took a deck of playing cards, painted a bunch of cartoon dragons on the backs, and said, "Okay, here's Dungeons and Dragons, 6th edition," then, technically and legally, that stupid deck of cards IS Dungeons and Dragons. It's not 1st edition D&D, it's not Gary Gygax's D&D, or TSR's D&D, but it would still be D&D (unfortunately). – Turko (

One can see, then, why this sort of statement is just plain wrong.  Trademark doesn’t grant some form of objective identity, but rather the exclusive right to use a term, phrase, trade dress, etc., in order to differentiate a product on the market from its competitors.  This is a form of identity – self-identity – but it isn’t objective.

(To make this easier to understand, I could self-identify as “The Handsomest Bloke in Toronto”, and I could even conceivably trademark myself as such, but it wouldn’t make it true.)

Technically and legally, WotC’s hypothetical deck of playing cards would be a deck of cards sold under the Dungeons and Dragons trademark. Nothing less, but also nothing more. When you conflate the trademark identity (which the company owns, within certain legal limits) with the actual identity by which the public (or individual members thereof) views the product (which the company does not, and cannot, own), you make an error of reason.

Rogers Cable can buy the Skydome and rebrand it the Rogers Centre (in fact, that did occur), but they cannot make anyone else identify it as such. Nor is anyone who refers to the building as the Skydome dishonest or wrong.  Despite the religious fervour which some folks are displaying to the contrary.

I only wish I had written as well as jasonzavoda about halfway down the page (

And in answer to Mock26, no number of people “approving” the rebranding makes it objective.   There is no “correct” version of D&D.  If you find yourself  needing to determine which version of D&D is the "correct" one, you need only decide which is correct for you.  Attempting to then claim that your decision is somehow objective, though, is an error of reason.

Writing D&D on a Candyland box does not make Candyland D&D, even if you own the trademark.  All it makes is a Candyland game that you are calling D&D, using the D&D trademark, and that you hope others will accept as D&D.

Just as some call Pathfinder “D&D”, and extend the D&D identity to games like Mutant Future, so too some will not agree that a new edition has the same identity as “D&D”.  Trademark law prevents Paizo from calling Pathfinder “D&D”; it doesn't prevent you or I, or the unwashed masses, from doing so.

Identity is not an objective property of an object. Identity is not a “fact”.

In particular, two questions arise which are relevant to this discussion:

What does it mean for an object to be the same, if it changes over time? (Is applet the same as applet+1?)
If an object's parts are entirely replaced over time, as in the Ship of Theseus example, in what way is it the same?

The Ship of Theseus example is, actually, extremely relevant to this discussion, and a link to that can be found here:

Summary form, in the event that you don't feel like reading all of that: (1) There is no clear rational basis known upon which all of the questions of identity can be answered, especially as relates to things that change over time and/or have their parts replaced; (2) Identity occurs in the space between your ears, not in the objective universe, and ultimately (3) Identity is not real in the way that an object is real.

The 4e PHB is real.  That the 4e PHB is objectively identifiable as “D&D” is not real.  The same is true of the 1e PHB, and the little brown books.  No matter how you slice it, identity is subjective.  It comes up peanuts.

So there is no number of people who accept the rebranding that makes it objective.  However, there is a number of people who do not accept the rebranding, and instead apply the trademark to other products, which can cause the trademark holder to lose that trademark.  How many people?  The courts decide that.  And it should be noted that the courts are not deciding that X isn’t “D&D” if the trademark is lost, or that Y is “D&D” if it gets to use that trademark – all the courts are deciding is whether or not the trademark (which is different than identity) has been lost.

Trademark dilution protection ( in fact exists to protect trademark holders from this to some extent…it is certainly arguable that “D&D” is in danger of becoming, a genericized trademark (, and, like aspirin, may lose substantial protection in the decades to come.

I am ready and willing to argue that a corporation cannot change cultural identities merely because it has the cash to purchase trademarks related to them.  Indeed, I am ready and willing to argue that allowing a corporation to do so is inimical to the health of any culture so affected.

And I am ready and willing to argue that an individual has a right to not give way to corporate rebranding as actually changing the identity of a product. Indeed, I am willing to argue that this is a fundamental right.  A corporation may attempt to expand the meaning of “The Beatles” to include music by Rush, but I have a fundamental right to say that Rush is not the Beatles, even if Rush is rebranded as such by a trademark owner of both bands.

Corporate “citizens” have power enough in this world without also granting them that level of power over language and identity, which, pushed far enough, is ultimately power over how we think.


When the question arises whether Kleenex is also kleenex, Foster Grants can mean any sunglasses, it is the public that has the power.  The courts follow common usage, not what the trademark holder prefers.  The trademark holder is required to defend against changes in public usage, but (in North America at least), fundamental principles of law allow you to refer to coke instead of Coke. 

Pretending otherwise is either intellectual dishonesty or ignorance.  Or both.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Quattro Dungeon

There is something about stationary and art supply stores that I just love.  I mean, really.  I’m happier in a Staples Business Depot than I am at Future Shop.  Something to do with all of the untapped potential lying in wait in all that paper, I suppose.  Also, I really like a good pen, with a nice flow and even lines that don’t smudge.

Anyway, yesterday I picked up a Quattro 8 x 8 grid notebook, pictured below.

This notebook has a 2 x 3 inch grid, 1/8 divided, with 80 acid-free sheets.  I’ve included a scan of the interior, with a pencil beside it for size comparison.  The overall book is 3.4 inches x 5.5 inches.  The grid is 32 squares by 24 squares.  Assuming a scale of 1 square = 10 feet, that allows each page to hold an area no more than 320 feet by 240 feet.

My plan for the Quattro dungeon is this – each page holds a separate area, which links to at least one other page in the notebook (and probably 2-4; sometimes more).  The entire dungeon uses all 80 pages, and no area is larger than can be fit on a single page.  Connections might be long halls, stairs, chutes, chimneys, etc., but the areas must be clearly divided.  What I am imagining here is a hive of relatively small interconnected spaces to explore, extending outward and downward.

I might decide that some area needs a larger scale map, and that some pages will break this down to smaller scale.  Conveniently, the Quattro notebook breaks down 4 squares x 4 squares, and 8 squares x 8 squares, allowing one to create 40-foot or 80-foot scale maps and then break them down with ease (assuming no area uses more than 4 x 3 80-foot squares or 8 x 6 40-foot squares).  I have, in the past, found this sort of scheme useful for creating cavern complexes connected by long passages.

The result will be a potential 491,520,000 square feet of area to be mapped, and while each map will undoubtedly use less than its full potential, this should allow for an area large enough to be considered a megadungeon, mapped on a notepad small enough to conveniently fit into a jacket pocket.

And the notebook cost me about $2.50 Canadian at the Curry’s Art Store near Yonge & College (north, on the west side, across from Wendys).  Nice pen and coloured pencils are extra, of course!

Now, I’ll grant a priori that this may make me an ΓΌber-nerd, but I find the very idea inspiring.  Simple to carry maps, large area mapped, and a cool format as well.

What’s not to like?

Thoughts?  Opinions?  Want to see some finished images when I map them?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Barrowmaze with DCC RPG rules

I am looking to start a pbp game, exploring the Barrowmaze using the Dungeon Crawl Classics rules by Goodman Games.  I have the full rules release pdf, but all players need to get going are the Beta Quickstart rules, located here:

Full Beta rules can be found here:

Each player begins play with 4 0-level PCs.  A random party of four can be generated here:

You can email me the resultant pdf at dbishop at danieljbishop dot ca, and be entered into the PC Roster, or you can use the Unseen Servant die roller to post your results here.

Each character must be made using the random process as listed, including 3d6 in order and random hit points.  Dead characters are replaced at 1 level below the lowest other surviving character, to a minimum of 0.  If you are required to make 0-lvl characters as a result, you make 4.  Hopefully one will survive to 1st level.  This is a potentially brutal game!

Between forays, new players may join.  They start with 4 0-lvl characters, just as the original players did.

Best of luck, and look forward to the mayhem!


Monday, 9 April 2012

Dungeon Crawl Classics - I Have It, and I'm Impressed

So, last Friday morning, I was able to acquire my pdf of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG by Goodman Games, courtesy of pre-ordering.  Then I immediately drove away for the greater part of the weekend, leaving the pdf at home on my laptop so as not to upset family by spending Easter with my nose therein.  Afterwards, while I have perused, and read, and read other passages, and re-read some interesting bits, I have yet to sit down and do a cover-to-cover reading, so be warned that my current perspective is not grounded in having all the facts. 

First impressions? 

This is easily the most beautiful RPG book that I have ever had the good luck to peruse.  This is so obviously a labour of love that it is impossible to “flip” through the electronic pages and not imaging Joseph Goodman is by your side, nudging you with his elbow, and saying, “See that?  Like that illustration?  How about that rule?  Huh?”

And I mean that in the best possible way.  The love and enthusiasm with which this product has been produced is prodigious (say that three times fast).

This book is really a lot of fun to browse through.  The artwork is not all perfect, but it is all evocative of the mood being set by the game.  I don’t believe that it is possible to browse through this book without being inspired; in this way it will deserve a spot on my gaming shelf right next to Gary Gygax’s DMG and Goodman Games’ The Dungeon Alphabet.  Can I give higher praise?  I think not.

Second impressions? 

A lot of randomness, which I had expected from the Beta Playtest, but a lot of randomness that is probably very fun to experience at the table.  I had considered the difficulty in creating NPCs, especially spellslingers, in this system because of the level of randomness, but neither NPCs nor monsters need to follow the rules explicitly, which is a major plus.  Otherwise, the “homework factor” of the game would be like that of 3.5, which is not (IMHO) remotely desirable.

I note with great satisfaction that DCC RPG is truly behind its 3pp supporters, advertising not only the Goodman Games forthcoming material, but also material from Brave Halfling Publishing, Purple Sorcerer Games, Chapter 13 Press, Thick Skull Adventures, Lands of Legend Adventure Modules, Land of Phantoms, Crawl! Fanzine, and Fight On!  There are pointers to OSR blogs and forums, as well as other resources.  This is classy as hell, and points out the amount of support that the DCC RPG is already receiving.

And you will need that support, I am thinking, because the rules concerning spells, patrons, and gods all require that, sooner or later, you will want to create new ones.  It seems unlikely that there will be many generic campaigns using this system – the system demands a certain level of unique creativity on the part of the Game Master.

The section on Judge’s Rules could, quite honestly, be longer.  I wouldn’t mind more insight into Goodman’s thinking on how DCC RPG adventures should be structured.  The two adventures from last year’s Free RPG Day module are included, but it would have been nice to have included something new.

The game notes that the characters have no access to the Internet, and that information is rare and untrustworthy.  That is very good – in fact, it recalls something I wrote in my own system:

It should be recalled that knowledge in pre-modern societies (as occur in most RCFG game milieus) is not an exact thing. Although devotees of some branch of knowledge may refer to their branch as a “science”, this does not mean the same thing in most RCFG milieus that it does in our world. In most milieus, the scientific method has not been invented, and there are no true sciences. An RCFG character with Knowledge (Chemistry) should not be considered equivalent to a modern chemist!

On top of this, there is no equivalent to the Internet or the Encyclopaedia Britannica in most RCFG game milieus.   Knowledge is always uncertain, and there are many things that no one knows — unless someone is daring enough to find out, either through exploration or magic.

The Game Master may decide that any Knowledge check is impossible, if she believes that there is no route for the knowledge to get to the character making the check. For example, no Knowledge check can grant a character foreknowledge of an unexplored continent, or of the contents of a particular person’s pockets.

The idea of braving the unknown, of exploring the unexplored, requires as a prerequisite that things can be unknown and unexplored in the first place.  One of the major problems with certain modern systems is the inherent concept that the players should be able to discover just about anything, just by rolling the dice.

(And I am very glad that I linked to this document in a previous blog, because otherwise it would seem very much like I was simply parroting Joe’s wise words herein!)

But there are areas where I find myself at odds with the philosophy of Mr. Goodman.  One of these is the range of area over which a typical campaign should occur.  Making your world “very small” (original emphasis) may be well and good for starting play, but it doesn’t reflect the adventures of Appendix N characters like Conan or Elric.

This leads directly to another question:  Would the “campaign dungeon” model work well with these rules?  The campaign dungeon is a device that allows a campaign world to effectively stay small; there is always more within that area to explore.  But the DCC RPG reads as though it would be best run as a series of quests – and not all of those quests (even those quests described in the rules) seem to fit well within a “very small world” or campaign dungeon model.

Also, some of the quests described in the rules are going to require the GM to do a bit of homework.  When the PCs start looking for the Eldest Sphinx, you can bet that he doesn’t exist within the 100-square mile campaign area suggested!  One of my sandboxing rules, if you will recall, is that you should get at least 2 hours play out of every hour’s prep, and that means that sites should be reusable.  I am not at all sure how many reusable sites the DCC RPG model would have, if taken at face value.

As an aside to this, if you find yourself directed to seek a dryad in the forest to the east, after having been directed to the Portal Under the Stars, and are then perhaps directed to somewhere else by your cleric’s god, after which your wizard’s patron directs you to another place….that seems an awful lot of directions.  I find myself somewhat concerned that the magic system in this game will result in the player characters dancing like puppets on strings.

(Those calling on higher powers should find themselves in uncomfortable positions, IMHO, but they should not always find themselves so.  I prefer that, given options, the players are largely self-directed.  I am wondering what a DCC RPG sandbox would look like, and how it would play, with the materials in the book taken at face value.)

I also find myself ambivalent about the “No more orcs” mantra.  Yes, it is very good to have new and unknown monsters.  But those monsters are new and unknown within the context of a world where there are things that can be known.  In my own game system, I find myself straddling a line where there are common forms of monsters, and monsters can be easily modified, so that it is never certain that Orc A is like Orc B, but most orcs are just orcs.

Joseph Goodman also seems to accept the 3e-era mantra that the encounter is the metric of play, as the XP system is based on the GM gauging how difficult each encounter was for the players.  I don’t subscribe to this idea; IMHO the encounter area is the metric of play, and encounters are not necessarily discrete.  If the orcs from Room 2 hear fighting in Room 1, and come to help their brethren, is that one encounter or two?  If they flee into a third encounter area, and run into the denizens thereof, is that one, two, or three encounters? 

Design is done encounter area by encounter area, but play may not occur according to that design.  And I despise design created to force play to occur in discrete encounter areas.

Likewise, as in my own design, I think that there is a place for PC-controlled magic with predictable results (ala the SRD-based spell systems whose progenitors arise from Gary, Dave, and Jack Vance) and less predictable systems where PCs can gamble for greater effects and greater costs.

Although by no means unique to Appendix N sources, it is nonetheless true that Appendix N contains many “modern man thrust into unusual circumstances” stories within it.   This includes, but is certainly not limited to, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Pellucidar”, “Mars”, and “Venus” series; de Camp & Pratt’s “Harold Shea” series; much of August Derleth and H.P. Lovecraft, and books such as A. Merritt’s Dwellers in the Mirage.  It is a missed opportunity not to provide direct support for these sorts of tales, but with the amount of third party support, I will be surprised if this hole remains unplugged for long.


If you can read this book, or even leaf through it, and not want to be a player in a DCC RPG game, then you are no scion of Appendix N fantasy!  This is also a game that begs to be run, although I don’t imagine that it will replace RCFG as my go-to game.  As I said earlier, as an inspirational game I will be reading, and re-reading, this game for years to come. 

I will also say this:  RCFG is designed to meet my own personal needs/desires as a gamer.  DCC RPG comes the closest to making me forego the effort.  As I have the chance to examine more support materials, either I will be using this game to support my own design, or my designs to support it.  Right now, I lean to the former.  That may change.

I am very happy with this product.  I am very glad that I preordered it.  It is not my go-to game now, but it has the potential to grow into my go-to game in the future.  At the very least, it certainly is something that I will be using to support and inspire my gaming.

I now need to organize a DCC RPG Barrowmaze game (details will be posted here), and see if the system allows me to run said campaign dungeon in a satisfying way….links and details to be posted here.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Psychic Powers in Doctor Who

In Doctor Who, psionics is the study of psychic powers.  Psychic powers themselves come about through an innate ability to manipulate three special forces which have not been tapped (and, indeed, are largely unknown) to Tech Level 5 science:  artron energy, the lifeforce and fictional energy. 

Artron energy is generated within (or by) the space-time vortex, and is difficult to fully understand even for  a Tech Level 9 civilization.  Creatures that pass through the vortex gather artron energy around them, and artron energy can escape through thin points in space-time where the vortex is closer, as well as actual rifts in the fabric of the universe.  The rift in Cardiff, and the Untempered Schism on Gallifrey, leak artron energy.  Individuals who grow up close to those rifts — or who are strongly exposed to them as children — sometimes develop psychic powers.

The lifeforce is energy generated by all living things, infused with the living down to the molecular level.  The degree to which the lifeforce interacts with a potentially living thing is the difference between being alive or being dead.  Yet, even dead creatures that were once alive maintain reserves of this energy for a long time, or their bodies would collapse into a fine powder.

Fictional energy is a 6th dimensional energy source, which is directly related to probability and creativity.  Fictional energy is not fully understood even at Tech Level 10, except perhaps by creatures such as the Guardians of Time and the Trickster.  All storytelling and imagination utilize fictional energy, but massive uses of fictional energy to create psychic effects usually require very powerful psychics (and can create ionic discharges).

These energy types interact with each other.

The lifeforce and artron energy are entangled (similarly to the way in which quantum particles can be entangled, but with a more widespread and far-reaching implications) but, unlike quantum particles, have properties that can be decoded or programmed by their connections to fictional energy. 

In some cases, primitive creatures devise rituals in order to harness fictional energy to encode, decode, and manipulate these energies.  The science of psionics seeks not only to interpret the purposes of these rituals, but also to understand, harness, and manipulate these energies without the constraints or uneven results of ritual.

As with every type of energy, creatures have evolved to consume artron energy, fictional energy, and even to consume the lifeforce directly, although these creatures are thankfully rare, and usually come from (or have access to) other dimensions or universes.

True artificial intelligence requires a connection to the lifeforce, and allows the intelligence to potentially access psychic powers (as with BOSS and WOTAN). 

At Tech Level 7, it is possible to create materials that can hold or react to the lifeforce and artron energy (even if artron energy is not fully understood), thus enabling the creation of products such as psychic paper and the telepathic pendants of the Arcateen.

Fantasy Heartbreakers & What I'm Working On

Dausuul's Fantasy Game (aptly entitled "Heartbreaker") was announced, and is available for free download here:

If you are interested in Raven Crowking's Fantasy Game, the compiled system-as-it-stands can be downloaded here: – be aware that the OGL may need to be updated, as there is material that I have added since work on that section.

I have been working on RCFG for what seems like a very long time now, as some of you may be aware.  I have also recently been working on the first persistent campaign setting for RCFG, working on the megadungeon known as the Dungeon of Thule.  I am going to post two encounter areas below, but if you have any intention of playing in this game (online or offline), I would advise you to skip the following.

I am also still eagerly awaiting Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, which, if all goes well, I should have the pre-release pdf of this week or next.  No word on the exact date is yet forthcoming…..I’ll be reviewing the game here.

2.  Hall of the Skull Cairn:  The passage leads into a room, some 30 feet north-to-south and perhaps 50 feet east-to-west, with an archway indicating a passage in the centre of each wall.  The room is dusty, with scraps of bone, rags, and similar debris scattered along the walls and corners.  About 10 feet in front of the western archway is a cairn of heaped skulls – humanoid and animal – that reaches to a height of about 3 feet.  The room is barrel-vaulted to a height of about 15 feet.

The cairn was a territorial marker for the Skull Heap goblins, which inhabited this section of the dungeon long ago.  The skulls are mostly those of goblins, dire rats, and the like, although a few are very small humanoid skulls (from mites), and there are one or two human skulls as well.  The skulls are ancient – most have been here for decades or centuries.  If the cairn is disturbed in any way, it will be reformed 1d6 days later, when no one is about, by the goblin spirits who still inhabit this area. 

If, however, the skulls are destroyed or taken away, the goblin spirits become angry, and 1d6 days later creatures passing anywhere in Areas 2 to 40 will begin to hear the almost inaudible muttering of goblin voices, which will grow louder over the next 1d6 weeks.  Eventually, the first goblin spirit incorporates and places the first fresh skull (a fully intact head, use the Wandering Monster chart to see what type) to build a new cairn.  Thereafter, groups of 2d6 goblin spirits will be encountered as Wandering Monsters (1 in 6 chance; if not, use the normal chart), working at severing heads until the cairn is rebuilt.  This will continue until all cairns (Areas 241, and 85) are restored, the undead goblin witch doctor in Area 29 is destroyed, or the goblin spirits are exorcised or slain.  There is a potential pool of 123 goblin spirits.

During this period, the whole area becomes attuned to the Necromantic spell source, at first faintly, and then strongly.  When the muttering is heard, spells cast from the Necromantic spell source are cast at +1 Caster Level.  When the goblin spirits are able to manifest, these spells are cast at +2 Caster Levels, and can be cast using the ambient necromantic energy (not using the sorcerer’s spell slots).  These effects end when the cairns are rebuilt, or when the undead are otherwise removed.

Goblin Spirit (Small Undead):  Mv 20 ft.; AC 14; Init +2; HD 1d6; Att 1 short sword (1d6); SA None; SD Semi-corporeal (can turn incorporeal to flee or manifest to start encounter), silver or magic weapons to hit; SQ darkvision 60 ft., powerless in daylight; SV (Fort –2, Perc +0, Prow –2, Reas –1, Refl +2, Will +0); ML 10; XP 18 + 1/hp.  Skills:  Intimidate +4, Stealth +10, Theft +4.

123 goblin spirits:  Hp:  2, 6, 1, 5, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 2; 3, 6, 3, 2, 1, 2, 6, 4, 5, 4; 5, 6, 1, 2, 4, 1, 6, 6, 4, 4; 6, 5, 3, 2, 5, 4, 3, 4, 4, 1; 4, 5, 2, 6, 6, 6, 3, 6, 4, 5; 6, 5, 3, 2, 5, 4, 3, 4, 4, 1; 5, 2, 5, 1, 3, 2, 5, 4, 5, 2; 2, 5, 2, 6, 6, 3, 3, 1, 3, 5; 3, 2, 3, 1, 6, 1, 6, 5, 1, 5; 5, 4, 1, 1, 6, 6, 2, 6, 2, 4;  5, 1, 5, 3, 3, 6, 1, 1, 4, 3; 2, 1, 1, 5, 6, 1, 2, 5, 6, 3; 6, 4, 5.

51.  Temple of Osiris:  Inner Fane:  Mildly attuned to Celestial (+1 CL) and Eldritch Horror (+2 CL) Spell Sources.

This area is 15 feet high, the ceiling upheld by thick pillars that march in three rows, along the walls and along the centre of the area.  These pillars were carved as though they were living trees, but they seem twisted and fungal somehow.  Thick webs are strewn between the pillars, along the walls, in the corners, and along the ceiling.  The walls appear to be tiled with green, blue, and yellow tiles, but some sheen of iridescent colours seems to be growing across it, like a thin layer of slime.

The walls are cool and slimy to the touch.  Any creature touching the slime begins to glow softly at night with a strange, iridescent hue, after 1d6 days.  At this time, the character must attempt a Fort or Will save (DC 20).  If the save succeeds, the glow fades over the course of another 1d6 days.  Otherwise, the glow is permanent, and the character suffers a random mutation that manifests during the next 2d12 days, with a +20 on the roll.  Repeated exposure causes repeated effects, and each repeat causes the roll to be made at an additional +5.  If the slime is actually tasted, the roll has an additional +10, and there is no save.  If taken from here, the slime dwindles and disappears over the course of 1d8 hours.

Because of the webs (which do not burn), movement here is at half speed, and creatures cannot run or charge.

Within this area lurk eight spiders of Leng, man-sized spiders that can pretend to be human by wearing yellow robes that conceal their features, with four legs acting like “legs” and four acting as “arms”, each “arm” or “leg” being in fact two legs.  They can speak with thin reedy voices, and know all languages.  Indeed, these spiders are fed information from the Akashic record, and have Knowledge +20 in all things.  They also, therefore, know specific things about characters, their families, their fears, their hopes, and their weaknesses.  They claim to be temple priests of Yog Sutehkis, and will answer many questions and promise many things to avoid allow characters near Area 52.  When not pretending to be human, they can climb in this area at full speed.

Spider of Leng (Medium Aberration [Eldritch Horror]):  Mv 30 ft, Climb 20 ft; AC 15; Init +4; HD 4d8+4; hp 20, 18, 20, 12, 29, 20, 15, 24; Att 1 bite (1d6); SA poison (Fort DC 20, 2d6 damage for 2d6 rounds), webs (entangle DC 25); SQ darkvision 60 ft.; SV (Fort +4, Perc +12, Prow +4, Reas +12, Refl +8, Will +12); ML 9; XP 235 +1/hp (255, 253, 255, 247, 264, 255, 250, 259).  Skills:  Climb +10, Knowledge (All) +20, Stealth +10.