Thursday, July 6, 2017

Monkey Business by Jens D., The Disoriented Ranger



For those of you who haven't yet heard Jens D of the Disoriented Ranger produced an adventure, Monkey Business. He's published it on Drive Thru RPG as a pay what you want venture and this is my not review, review. 

Now what do I mean by that silly sentence?

I cannot divest myself from my feelings for Jens. I think he is a brilliant person and I love reading his blog every time he updates. I think that in each post he often puts together a more passionate and thought provoking piece than many of us do over the course of a dozen posts (myself included). As a result I find myself so predisposed to liking this adventure that I can't tell you that it isn't because I think so highly of him. And that puts me, as a reviewer, in a terrible place: I'm unreliable. 

Let me tell you what I like about this adventure.

From the moment that I began reading the descriptions of the cast I found myself taken with this adventure and I have been actively working to incorporate them into the campaign I'm preparing. I'm a cherry picker of a Dungeon Master and the way Jens has created these characters makes them very easy to throw into my pulp heavy games. I love things like this, and Jens is always a fountain for such things on his blog, so it's good to see that in this adventure there's a lot there for me to use. It's also just zany as all get out and I fucking love that. I love the drug running gorillas, the world's strongest man, the carnival, and the aliens! There's just so many wonderful things here, and they're all strange, and funny, and just hitting right in my sweet spot.  

Also, I've totally added the Mark Van Vlack Monkey Generator to my Dungeon Master's Toolbox. That thing is just a quick, useful way to describe monkeys beyond, "You see a fucking monkey flinging poo at you from the tree."

Should you go out and download Monkey Business

I say absolutely. It's fun and zany - but here's the best part about about Jens publishing it as a pay what you want venture: you can try it for free. You can download the adventure, and if I'm right, you'll find that it's more than worth paying for at which point you can purchase it again from Drive Thru RPG and toss Jens some well deserved cash. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Should There Be a Coherent Theme to Dyvers?

Since I first began this blog nearly four years ago I've kind of been an eclectic read. Sure I've come back to my primary topic, Greyhawk, time and time again, but I wouldn't exactly say that Dyvers has been a particularly focused blog. I've run series on art, the best reads from across the blog-o-sphere, great blog roll calls, actual play write-ups, game theory, rebuttals to other blogs, video game reviews, book reviews, role-playing game reviews, and in general just been a bit all over the place. Lately though I find myself wondering if I shouldn't theme the blog better. Run a month on one large topic exploring the various subtopics attached to it? 

I don't know, would you all get bored if Dyvers started running month long series? Do you even like it when I write a series of posts?

You guys have been such an incredibly big part of Dyvers over the last four years that I want to know what you think. What excites you on the blog? Is it when I write titles that amuse me, or do you prefer the ones I've been doing lately where I'm a bit more (accurately) descriptive of what is actually happening in the blog?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Greyhawk Wars

So last night I was reading a bit of Carl Sargent's work on Greyhawk and it got me to thinking how much fun it would be if we were to get some new exploration of the Greyhawk Wars time period or the era shortly thereafter. There's so much fertile ground to explore there that I would love to see it done. 

Perhaps I will.

Anyway, while I was thinking about it I made this thing. It's a bit massive when you blow it up, but I like it all the same.



If you like it, please share it with your friends, with the people at Wizards of the Coast, and with random strangers you meet at game shops. Spread the word about Greyhawk kids!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Is Being a Geek a "White Kid" Thing?

Back in May Daniel Jose Ruiz wrote an article for The Millions titled, Dragons Are for White Kids with Money: On the Friction of Geekdom and Race, in which he tied being a geek to being white and then attempted to illustrate how difficult it is to be non-white in the larger geek culture. It's a fairly interesting read though I disagree with many of his suppositions that he attempts to establish as facts of the culture and hobby. 

There are two passages in particular that I find myself disagreeing with as I find Ruiz conflating a racial bias with a situation wherein people have no interest discussing the subject at the gaming table. In the first he wrote: ". . . I can run a D&D campaign about how poorly certain races like half-elves are treated, and my group will rail against the injustice of it all, but if I bring up any real-world situation of inequality, I get the cold shoulder at best or at worst booed down and given “focus on the game” lectures. As Junot Díaz allegedly said: “Motherfuckers will read a book that’s 1/3 in Elvish, but put in two lines of Spanish and [white people] think we’re taking over.” . . ." (Ruiz).

In the example that Ruiz provides the problem is not one where his players refuse to explore racial injustice in their games as they openly discuss and become motivated to work against the injustice that half-elves experience but rather one in which they don't want to have real world situations brought into their games. I completely understand their reticence to have real world events intruding on their game's escapism - which is precisely what Dungeons & Dragons is for many of us: escapism. When Ruiz forces them to confront situations going on in the real world he's intruding on a game that allows them to get away from all of that for a few hours. He's violating the social contract of the game where we get together and escape from the real world to loot the dragon, kill the girl, and save the treasure. 

Ruiz went on to write: ". . . But growing up around my more working-class family, I was teased for reading, and I was especially teased for reading books like Redwall or Lord of the Rings. That fantasy crap was for losers, gueros, and jotos. Some of my family even thought that Dungeons & Dragons was a gateway to Satanism and possession . . ." (Ruiz). The supposition here is that this was a unique thing to happen to him because of his race. It is not. Lots of people are teased, called names, and have their sexuality questioned because of the things they like that others do not. It is unfortunately a part of growing up and a side of things that I worry about constantly as my son quickly approaches school age.  

I don't know why it happens but people often attack others when they don't understand what they're doing. Read a big book and you're a nerd. Love the wrong thing and you're a faggot. Spend too much time doing something others don't understand and you'll find yourself ostracized and treated like you're somehow less valuable then they are. 

People are shit. 

And the worst thing about that is that you won't be able to get completely away from them as you get older either. You'll run into terrible people everywhere you go and there is no underlying reason that will explain away their awfulness. You can blame it on your race, your financial background, your social status, your political affiliation, the way you look and it won't matter one damned bit. They'll still be shit. 



Works Cited
"Dragons Are for White Kids with Money: On the Friction of Geekdom and Race" The Millions, May 11, 2017, http://www.themillions.com/2017/05/dragons-are-for-white-kids-with-money-on-the-friction-of-geekdom-and-race.html. Accessed June 19, 2017.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons Doesn't Have to Follow the Traditional Foundation Laid by Tolkien.

As far as I am aware it has long been established that the game worlds of any Dungeons & Dragons game is essentially a quasi-Medieval world wherein the concepts of Arthurian and Tolkien fantasy hold sway over the possibilities available to the players. Knights, dragons, trolls, and whatnot rule the landscape with legendary quests on every horizon. Over the last few years, though, I've begun to wonder if this isn't only a partial picture of the game worlds available to us as colored by the overriding appetite of the average Dungeons & Dragons consumer of the early years and TSR's need to fulfill that hunger. 

Unknown title by Melvyn Grant

I started thinking about this when I first read the introduction to the Appendix N of Gary Gygax's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide: ". . . Inspiration for all of the fantasy work I have done stems directly from the love my father showed when I was a tad, for he spent many hours telling me stories he made up as he went along, tales of cloaked old men -who could grant wishes, of magic rings and enchanted swords, or wicked sorcerors and dauntless swordsmen. Then too, countless hundreds of comic books went down, and the long-gone EC ones certainly had their effect. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies were a big influence. In fact, all of us tend to get ample helpings of fantasy when we are very young, from fairy tales such as those written by the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Long. This often leads to reading books of mythology, paging through bestiaries, and consultation of compilations of the myths of various lands and peoples. Upon such a base I built my interest in fantasy, being an avid reader of all science fiction and fantasy literature since 1950 . . ." (Gygax, pg. 224). The list he then provided to the reader stretched from the fantasy works of authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, to pulp authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs, and genre defying authors like Jack Vance. 

1920 - Warlord by Jakub Rozalski

Over the years I've read stories from the early days of the hobby where Dungeons & Dragons players played in games that defied what has become known as the fantasy genre. Tanks, laser guns, machine guns, rocket ships, aliens, and B movie monsters made appearances. They pushed the boundaries of their imaginations and went wherever their fancies took them whether it was up an elevator or down a water slide into a mountain of treasure. So why did that stop? Why did we go from having a game that jumped the shark at every opportunity into one that dogmatically declared that you must play in a quasi-Medieval world where magic was in the ascendancy and technology was languishing behind?

Snail Mail by Jean-Baptiste Monge 2016

My suspicion is that as TSR continued to publish adventures and supplements to meet the ravenous appetites of Tolkien's fan base that it steadily pushed players who wanted to do other things to wayside. Instead of riding rocket-powered, mechanical, flying horses and chasing space pirates across the night sky in Dungeons & Dragons they moved on to other games; and as they left so too did the wilder, pulp, and genre defying side of the game. The fantastic Medieval world became the standard genre and for a lot Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts the literary exploration of Gygax's inspiration begins and ends with the fantasy authors of Tolkien, Moorcock, Anderson, and Leiber. The games become homogeneous and the stories we tell are nothing more than trite rehashes of the same adventures people have been having for the last forty years. We don't make new things, just re-imaginings of past glories; and it leaves us all with a boring wasteland of mediocrity as a result. 

Tavern,
Dungeon,
Orcs,
Goblins,
Dragons,
Treasures,
Repeat.

Repeat.

Repeat.

Over and over, and over, and over, and over again. 

It's past time we start breaking that cycle.


Works Cited 
Gygax, Gary. Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide. TSR Games, 1979. pg 224

Monday, June 19, 2017

Let's Talk About the Meatgrinder Mode for a Bit

Wizard by Peter Andrew Jones

This weekend I was reading a bit more about Wizards of the Coast's latest storyline, The Tomb of Annihilation, when I ran across this tidbit on i09 that got my attention: ". . . There’s even a new difficulty modifier called “Meatgrinder Mode” that makes it even harder for players making their Death Saving throws—the check they make when they’ve reached 0 health points to see if they cling on to life or actually die—to emphasis the fact that the stakes in Chult have been well and truly heightened . . ." (Whitbrook).

"Meatgrinder Mode?" 

Well, shit, let's talk about that motherfucker for a minute. 

untitled by Jose Antonio Domingo

Currently D&D 5e runs with a three strikes policy on death. Essentially you have to succeed on three of six possible stabilization rolls before you fail three times. It's really a generous system designed to give dying players an opportunity to do something during the game that is meaningful for them besides going into the kitchen, getting a soda, and crying in a corner. I kind of hate it. There's no noticeable difference for the player if they succeed on their first three saving throws or if they've failed two and succeeded on their fifth roll. It all amount to the same thing: they're fine.

So the idea that now we're going to add in a "Meatgrinder Mode" intrigues me. How grinder-esque are we going to get here?

In my black, crass heart I want the Meatgrinder Mode to truly get vile for the players. I want it to cast lingering effects on them for each failure --- limps, seeing dead spirits, hearing the screams of the damned in their sleep so they can never fully rest again. I want the player's brushes with death to impact them and to matter to their character for the remainder of their time in the game. I want players to sit down at the table and to wonder if maybe they shouldn't have started drinking earlier in the day instead of after their third death. 

I want it to be a game that makes life and death matter to the players. 

Odds, though, are against the game going down this route. The Wizards of the Coast design team has consistently erred on the side of the players by being generous towards them in their rules on saves, magic, and the like. Even their "Meatgrinder Mode" will ultimately follow this pattern as their ultimate goal isn't to satisfy black-hearted bastards like myself but rather to appeal to the largest cross section of players possible without offending their delicate sensibilities. I can't fault them for this. 

No, no, no. Likely as not we'll find that the "Meatgrinder Mode" is a change to the Death Save where players must either succeed or fail on a single roll. Of course they could dispense with it entirely and make those who get raised have to work on a time clock or have their character permanently dead and turned into some sort of ghoulish beast working for the main bad guy. That would actually be pretty cool now that I think about it.  

Oblivion and subservience. Now there's a downside any player can recognize and fear. 

AA74, by Zdzislaw Beksinski


Works Cited
Whitbrook, Jason. The Mind Behind Adventure Time Helped Craft Dungeons & Dragons' Newest Story. i09, June 5, 2017, http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-mind-behind-adventure-time-helped-craft-dungeons-1795816921. Accessed June 17, 2017.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sober Thoughts about the Newest Adventure from Wizards of the Coast

Last night I spent a bit of time, sober, looking at what Wizards of the Coast is doing with the latest adventure path and I'm just so damned disappointed with what we're getting. Again we're getting a re-imagining of a classic adventure. Again we're seeing a classic Greyhawk adventure and villain being transferred into the Forgotten Realms. Again I'm fucking disappointed. 

I fully understand that the Forgotten Realms is the engine that pulls the Dungeons & Dragons train right now, but I'm also aware that the only reason that is the case is because they have spent the better part of the last twenty years pushing that setting to the fore while minimizing all their other settings. They could have just keep all these re-imagined adventures in Greyhawk and they would have sold just as well while reinvigorating the setting for a new generation of players - or they could have moved us into Eberron and done something really interesting with all that settings lore. Fuck, they could have come up with a wholly new setting and it would have been better. I'm just so done with being in the Forgotten Realms in all the published material. I want to see adventures set in Greyhawk, Dark Sun, Dragonlance, and Eberron. 

Fucking bring on Planescape. I'm ready to move on to new worlds and fertile ground.

by Dean Ellis

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Chult, Huh?

So the new adventure steals yet another Greyhawk villain into the forgotten realms only this time with have zombie dinosaurs.

Fucking A.

I'm a go drink some more. Be back in a while to talk about this in a more dignified manner.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

E-mail Crash

So I fucked up my contact form for the last little bit and didn't know it until someone sent me a message through my twitter account asking if I had gotten their request. Sorry about that, kids. I fucked up.  Anyway, I've fixed it and you're welcome to send me messages again. I promise, I'll even read them!

Don't want to use the form? No worries. Here's my contact info that I regularly check

Twitter: @ThatAkinsboy

Right, so here's a cool cat gif as penance for taking up your time with all this noise. 


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Let's Make Bad Decisions Together

I've been thinking a bit about the amount of gods that we tend to throw into our role-playing game worlds, and in particular in the World of Greyhawk, and how as a community we tend to overpopulate them. Often the gods tend to cross over each other offering the same opportunities for a player mechanically while providing a limited difference in the character's narrative, if any at all. Take for example the way that the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, the last real supplement on the World of Greyhawk as a whole, dealt with gods. In it players are presented with an option of 71 gods in all their various power levels. Each is presented with its own lore and their respective domains. Largely though it feels superfluous; like a tacked on afterthought, barely worth mentioning but still too expected to be left out of the book. 

On its face the obvious solution to this glut of gods is to limit the players choices in the matter and to focus on a core group that the Game Master finds palatable for the adventure. It's not a very satisfactory solution to the issue, though, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The problem is that if you pick twelve gods to focus on one of your players is bound to have a love for some alternative god, such as Dalt, and if you allow the one exception then why not another? And suddenly your twelve is now sixteen, or 20, or 30 and your setting is dealing with a divine bloat all over again. 


Recently I've been considering a solution that feels a bit more satisfactory to my delicate sensibilities and that explains away the overlap in a fashion that I can accept. Instead of having a world filled with dozens or hundreds of individual gods there is a single, all encompassing god and all the various incarnations that people worship are just aspects of that being. Even the conflicts between the various aspects of the god are simply expressions of its natural conflicts; the various thoughts and urges within a being played out on a cosmic scale.

More later. 

Something New

I didn't make the daily post goal. I mean, it's a bit obvious, isn't it. Not one post from me since March 7, 2017 and no real noise unless you're reading my twitter feed which isn't even on here anymore with the new theme. 

Anyway, I've been having a bit of a fugue going on lately. So I'm going to be trying some stuff out on the blog. Hopefully it won't suck. 

More later.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Wizards of the Coast Recognized Product Publication Schedule Since 2006

Since the release of Dungeons & Dragons 5e in 2014 I have been attempting to collect everything that Wizards of the Coast has published. As many of you know I'm a bit too cheap to buy anything at full price so I tend to wait until the price gets low enough that I'm willing to buy it; which often means that I forget some of the things that Wizards has published. So yesterday I started trying to make myself a checklist of all the things Wizards of the Coast had published since D&D 5e went live so that I could remember what I had and still needed only to find that their official website is very unhelpful in this matter, that their product listing page is poorly designed, and that it's missing quite a lot of material. So rather than throw my hands up and walk away from the whole thing I thought that it might be better to organize the products that Wizards of the Coast recognizes on their website in a reasonable fashion and to publish the list here on the blog. 

It's here that I need your help gang. Help me fill in the gaps and missing materials. I don't have the dates for any of the Dungeon+ issues prior to issue #9. I know that they've published other things as I caught the fifth book from the Sundering series being left off their official listing. What else have they missed and where does it go on the list?

As new information becomes available to me I'll update this list every so often to reflect the missed materials and the new products as they're announced so that it'll be a useful page and not just a footnote.


2006


2010
August 31             Castle Ravenloft Board Game


2011
February 15          Wrath of Ashardalon Board Game
May 25                 Daggerdale (Video Game)
June 21                 Conquest of Nerath Board Game
October 18           The Legend of Drizzt Board Game
November 1         Brimstone Angels by Erin M. Evans (Book)


2012
March 20             Lords of Waterdeep Board Game


2013 (Run Up Year to D&D 5e Launch)
March 19           Dungeons of Dread (Collection of S-Series Modules) 
June 5                 Chronicles of Mystara (Video Game)
June 18               Against the Slave Lords (Collection of A-Series Modules) 
August 6             The Companions (Sundering Book 1) by R.A. Salvatore (Book)
August 15           Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle (Next Preview) 
August 20           Scoundrels of Skullport Board Game
August 20           Murder in Baldur's Gate (Sundering Part 1)
October 1            The Godborn (Sundering Book 2) by Paul S. Kemp
November 15      Baldur's Gate 2: Enhanced Edition (Video Game)
November 19      Original Dungeons & Dragons Premium Reprint
November 21       Lords of Waterdeep (Video Game)
December 3         The Adversary (Sundering Book 3) by Erin M. Evans


2014 (D&D 5e Officially Launches)
February 4           The Reaver (Sundering Book 4) by Richard Lee Byers
February 4           Scourge of the Sword Coast  (dmsguild.com exclusive)
February 25         Fell's Five (Graphic Novel)
March 4               Night of the Hunter (Companions Codex Book 1) by R.A. Salvatore
April 1                 The Sentinel (Sundering Book 5) by Troy Denning
April 2                 Cutter (Graphic Novel) by R.A. Salvatore and Geno Salvatore
April 17               Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition (Video Game)
June 3                  The Herald (Sundering Book 6) by Ed Greenwood
June 24                 Dungeon! Board Game
July 9                    Legacy of the Crystal Shard (Sundering Part 2)
July 9                    Dead in Thay: Dreams of the Red Wizards (dmsguild.com exclusive)
July 15                  D&D Starter Set (Boxed Set)
July 15                   Icons of the Realms: Starter Set (Miniatures)
August 12             The Legend of Drizzt: The Collected Stories (Audible exclusive)
August 19             Hoard of the Dragon Queen: Tyranny of Dragons Part 1
August 19             Player's Handbook
September 30        Rise of the King (Companions Codex: Book 2) by R.A. Salvatore
September 30        Monster Manual
October 14             Fire in the Blood (Brimstone Angels) by Erin M. Evans (Book)
October 15             Legends of Baldur's Gate by Jim Zub (Comic)
October 30             Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition (Video Game)
November 4           The Rise of Tiamat: Tyranny of Dragons Part 2
November 19         D&D Icons of the Realms: Bahamut
November 19         D&D Icons of the Realms: Tiamat
December 9            Dungeon Master's Guide


2015
January 20              Dungeon Master's Screen
March 3                  Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf by R.A. Salvatore (Companions Codex, Book 3)
March 4                   Elemental Evil: Booster (Miniatures)
April 7                     Princes of the Apocalypse
April 16                   Player's Companion: Elemental Evil
April 29                   Temple of Elemental Evil (Board Game)
June 2                      Spellstorm by Ed Greenwood
September 1            Archmage by R.A. Salvatore (Homecoming Book 1) (Book)
September 8            Gold Box Classics (Video Game) (Good Old Games)
September 9            Rage of Demons: Booster
September 15          Out of the Abyss: Rage of Demons
October 20               Sword Coast Legends
November 3             Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide
December 29           Ashes of the Tyrant (Brimstone Angels) by Erin M. Evans (Book)


2016
March 15                  Curse of Strahd
March 31                  Siege of Dragonspear (Video Game)
April 1                      Tarokka Deck
April 5                      Maestro (Homecoming Book 2) by R.A. Salvatore (Book)
April 6                      Icons of the Realms: Monster Menagerie
June 7                       Death Masks by Ed Greenwood
June 16                     Tyrants of the Underdark Board Game
September 2             Dragon+ #9
September 6             Storm King's Thunder
September 6             Storm King's Thunder DM Screen
September 21           Icons of the Realms: Storm King's Thunder
September 22           Monsters and Heroes of the Realms (Coloring Book)
October 4                 The Devil You Know (Brimstone Angels) by Erin M. Evans
October 25               Hero (Homecoming Book 3) by R.A. Salvatore
October 28               Dragon+ #10
November 8             Dungeonology
November 15           Volo's Guide to Monsters
December 7              Rock, Paper, Wizard
December 15            Dragon+ #11


2017
January 4                  Icons of the Realms: Monster Menagerie 2
January 11                Frost Giant's Fury (Comic) by Jim Zub & Netho Diaz
February 15              Assault of the Giants Board Game
February 27              Dragon+ #12
April 4                      Tales from the Yawning Portal
Announced               Dungeon Chess (Virtual Reality Video Game)


Sunday, March 5, 2017

My Wife Wrote a Book!

Well, a novelette really.

Anyway, super proud of her and you should check her out if you get a chance. She's pretty awesome and not just because she can write.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Why Not Waterdeep?

Last night I was talking with a friend of mine about Dyvers as a setting for an adventure that he was getting ready to run and he said something that has been kind of stuck in my craw ever since: "Why begin in Dyvers? Why not Waterdeep?" Why not Waterdeep indeed.

I'll tell you why not fucking Waterdeep. 

Waterdeep is a bullshit town without good music, easy sex, or ready access to drugs. It's a puritanical nightmare covered in a veneer of scum that barely covers the city, and by extension the whole setting. It's the fucking Branson of fictional cities. I don't want to go to god-damned Branson. I want to go to Vegas where I can be covered in cheap whores and expensive liquor while snorting cocaine off the craps table. 

Fuck Waterdeep!



Actually, now that I think about it there are a few things there that I like . . . Never mind. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Four Way Tie? Well, That Was Unexpected.

Last night when I went to bed I expected to wake up this morning and find that the first Dyvers Abroad project would begin in Talislanta. The morning, however, has proven that not to be the case. Instead I have been greeted with a four way tie between Talislanta, Mystara, The Palladium World, and RIFTS Earth. 

So we're going to have a run-off.

For those of you who aren't familiar with these settings allow me to provide you with a very brief explanation of each so you can have a baseline familiarity before casting your vote in the final poll. 


Mystara: Originally known as the "Known World" this setting was the baseline for Basic Dungeons & Dragons. It's a fun world populated by societies built around concepts that gives it a weight that has allowed it to garner ardent fans over the last forty years. As such if you're familiar with more traditional Dungeons & Dragons styled settings than you have a passing familiarity with this setting as well. 


The Palladium World: This is the world of Palladium Fantasy Role-Play. It's a rich world more reminiscent of Games Workshop's early incarnation of the Old World setting as it has a depth of brutality to it that often can leave a player reeling if they aren't prepared for it. Unlike the Old World, however, the Palladium World doesn't have that sense of hopelessness attached to it that often pervades Games Workshop's products. By comparison to other Palladium settings the Palladium World is largely undefined and open to interpretation in a way that is similar to the Greyhawk setting from TSR / Wizards of the Coast. It has a few unique options to it but none is so notable as the Wolfen, a race of humanoid wolves that vie for control of the world. 


RIFTS Earth: This is the base world for Palladium's RIFTS system. It's a shattered world that has been torn apart by dimensional rifts that allow players to play at any time, in any place, and in any reality that their Game Master can imagine. The core setting, that of the baseline earth, is one where the players are struggling for survival against extra-dimensional beings, magical legends, living gods, and fascist dictatorships. Technologically you'll see everything from cyberpunk future technologies to sword wielding barbarians. By far an away it is the most diverse of all the settings I've ever read.


Talislanta: This setting is a complete reinterpretation of the pseudo-Medieval world pulling from such diverse sources of inspiration as Jack Vance, William S. Burroughs, and H.P. Lovecraft. It is a refutation of the Tolkien inspired setting and as a result it is breath of fresh air. Tone wise it varies from the grim to comical but the players will rarely feel hopeless unless they place themselves in such situations.

Good luck to your favorites! I'm kind of excited to see who will finally win!


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Whole of Fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons

Jupiter and Europa by Marit Berg

Last night I was reading a pdf copy of Europa when I ran across an article by Gary Gygax, How to Set Up Your Dungeons & Dragons Campaign - and Be Stuck Refereeing it Seven Days per Week Until the Wee Hours of the Morning! This was actually the second part of a series he had been writing, which I have yet to fully explore as I haven't found any other copies of Europa other than this one, and I noticed something that I had suspected for some time but not actually seen in print before. Gary wrote, ". . . Now fantasy / swords & sorcery games need not have any fixed basis for the assumptions made by its referee (my own doesn't) except those which embrace the whole of fantasy . . . Settings based upon the limits (if one can speak of fantasy limits) can be very interesting in themselves providing the scope of the setting will allow the players relative free-reign to their imaginations. Typical settings are: Teutonic / Norse Mythology; Medieval European Folklore (including King Arthur, Holger the Dane, and so on); The Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser; Indian Mythology; and Lost Continents such as Atlantis or Mu. Regardless of the setting you can have it all taking place on an 'alternative earth' or a parallel world . . ." (Gygax, 18).

The part that got my attention was that first line, that ". . . fantasy / swords & sorcery games need not have any fixed basis for the assumptions made by its referee . . . except those which embrace the whole of fantasy . . ." (Gygax, 18). Embrace the whole of fantasy.

Too often when I read and discuss role-playing games - especially when concerning Dungeons & Dragons - I find that there are all of these established boundaries that delineate what I'm allowed to do with my games. The world must be set in a quasi-Medieval time period. Guns, if they exist at all, should be rare. The world should feel big and the players a small part of it. Oh, and the literary inspiration for your games should come from Tolkien, Martin, or Gygax's Appendix N. 

Fantasy, especially the way that the term was understood before we decided to subdivide everything to death, was so much larger than the truncated spectrum that comes from limiting our imaginations to any guiding light. Take for example my own favorite source of inspiration: pulp fantasy. 


I know that for some of my readers they might be reminded of James Maliszewski's exploration of pulp fantasy and his definition of the term or as he put it ". . . In general, 'pulp fantasy' roughly equates to what we nowadays call 'sword and sorcery.' However, the term is more expansive than that, because it also includes authors and stories that do not, strictly speaking, fall under sword and sorcery, such as Burroughs and other 'sword and planet' authors, as well as 'weird tales' of the Lovecraftian variety. I chose the term because, by and large, most of the authors whom Gygax cites as influences in the famous Appendix N of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide were published in the pulp magazines of the 20s through 50s . . ." (Maliszewski).

Unfortunately James' definition of pulp fantasy ignores a large part of what made up the pulp fantasy of the era. As a result, if we were to hold to his definition than we wouldn't consider pulp standards like Doc Savage, Buck Rogers, Tarzan of the Apes, The Shadow, Green Lama, or Zorro as something that we should look to for inspiration in our Dungeons & Dragons games. Our heroes would be craven things who acted out of a slavish devotion to selfishness rather than because they were doing the right thing. We wouldn't have alien battles, tanks, high speed car chases, mystical hokum, or super heroics. Instead we would be bound to endlessly repeating pale imitations of Howard's adventures and Tolkien's quests.


Listen, It's all too common for people to coalesce around an idea and codify it as conventional wisdom. Today in our hobby we have as our conventional wisdom the standard refrain that our Dungeons & Dragons styled games are all supposed to be pseudo-Medieval affairs hinged on the literary roots of Conan the Barbarian, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and the Lord of the Rings; and James held to this line of thought in his discussion of pulp fantasy. As a community we have internalized this conventional wisdom and now it is taken for granted that if we are playing Dungeons & Dragons then it must be this way and any deviation is anathema.

Yet it doesn't have to be that way. 

Yes, we can explore a setting bound by certain limits as Gary noted in Europa, but we can also go further and take the game in different directions without it being something other than Dungeons & Dragons. We can hop a ride on the back of a floating cart with hairy aliens and six legged horses to take back our lives like Prince Valentine did in Robert Silverberg's  Lord Valentine's Castle. Or we can race across the globe in a desperate race to get back home after we crash landed on some god forsaken planet like Adam Reith did in Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure novels. We could even fight evil like Buck Rogers in Philip Francis Nowlan's Armageddon 2419 A.D. But we don't; because too often we let ourselves be convinced that if we're playing Dungeons & Dragons it has to be the same way that everyone else has always played it. We have to be Aragon dragging some fat, little halflings half way across the world to save it on an epic quest; or we have to Conan sneaking his way through the palace. 

I have spent the better part of the last decade having fun exploring worlds like that but they're not enough any more. I want my games to be more. I want aliens. I want laser guns and high speed rocket chases across the universe. I want to fight evil. I want to out smart the villain and save the day. I want to go to sleep and wake up a thousand years later only to jump right into a gun fight as I rush to the aide of some poor sap beset by vicious gangs. 

There is so much out there for a Dungeons & Dragons game to be that isn't just a rehashing of Howard and Tolkien. I want all of it. I want the whole of fantasy.





Works Cited

Gygax, Gary. "How to Set Up Your Dungeons & Dragons Campaign - and Be Stuck Refereeing it Seven Days per Week Until the Wee Hours of the Morning!" Europa. April 1975. pg 18. pdf

Maliszewski, James. "What is Pulp Fantasy?" GROGNARDIA, http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2008/04/what-is-pulp-fantasy.html. Accessed February 21, 2017.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Cthulhu and the Old Ones Sing the Blues: The Beast in the Cave


The Beast in the Cave is the first story published in The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. The story was written by H.P. Lovecraft when he was only 14 years old and shows signs of the author's inexperience. The story is short, only six pages, and builds towards a conclusion that makes little sense in connection with the information the author provides his readers. 

Still there are hints of the weird fiction elements that would become more pronounced in his later works once the Beast makes its appearance. While it's an early effort by Lovecraft it still has the hallmarks of his prose which make for an enjoyable, if all to light, read. Largely a forgettable story that leaves me unfulfilled. 

If you haven't read this one yet, then you're not missing anything.


Table of Contents
Introduction
The Beast in the Cave
The Alchemist
The Tomb
Dagon
A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson
Polaris
Beyond the Wall of Sleep
Memory
Old Bugs
The Transition of Juan Romero
The White Ship
The Street
The Doom that came to Sarnath
The Statement of Randolph Carter
The Terrible Old Man
The Cats of Ulthar
The Tree
Celephais
The Picture in the House
The Temple
Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family
From Beyond
Nyarlathotep
The Quest of Iranon
The Music of Erich Zann
Ex Oblivione
Sweet Ermengarde
The Nameless City
The Outsider
The Moon-bog
The Other Gods
Azathoth
Herbert West - Reanimator
Hypnos
What the Moon Brings
The Hound
The Lurking Fear
The Rats in the Walls
The Unnamable
The Festival
Under the Pyramids
The Shunned House
The Horror at Red Hook
He
In the Vault
Cool Air
The Call of Cthulhu
Pickman's Model
The Strange High House in the Mist
The Silver Key
The Dream-Quest of Unkown Kadath
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
The Color Out of Space
The Descendant
The Very Old Folk
History of the Necronomicon
The Dunwich Horror
IBID
The Whisperer in the Darkness
At the Mountains of Madness
The Shadow Over Innsmouth
The Dreams in the Witch House
Through the Gates of the Silver Key
The Thing on the Doorstep
The Evil Clergy Man
The Book
The Shadow Out of Time
The Haunter of the Dark

Cthulhu and the Old Ones Sing the Blues: Introduction

I like big projects and series that tend to push me to accomplish things with my blog that I wouldn't otherwise attempt. It keeps me honest. It motivates me - and right now I need that because I have a lot that I want to do on the blog this year. Anyway, way back in December, 2016 I got this bright idea that I was going to do a complete read through of H.P. Lovecraft's fiction so I purchased a copy of The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft from Amazon and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.


Then it arrived  earlier this week and I was thrilled. The book looks to be of a fair quality and I absolutely love the subdued cover.

So here's the deal.

Over the course of this year I'm going to be reading all 69 short stories and novellas contained within this weighty tome. As I go along I'm going to be publishing my thoughts on the stories here on the blog under the series Cthulhu and the Old Ones Sing the Blues because I think that title is hilarious and it's my blog. You're more than welcome to join along in the process as I would love to hear your thoughts as we progress.

Now I should mention that the works of H.P. Lovecraft are in a kind of nebulous space within copyright law as there is a party that claims ownership of the copyright but has not yet produced proof of it so far as I've been able to ascertain online. You see you can read all of his works online, for free, from places like hplovecraft.com and the internet archive yet you have a copyright holder who is trying to assert their claim and from here things get into legal terms that I'm unskilled in describing or involving myself in. So instead I'm going to be very clear from the outset that I will be using quotes form H.P. Lovecraft sparingly and only in furtherance of the discussion of his works as is covered under Fair Use. I have no intention of circumventing anyone's claim on the property and have no interest in being sued. My only goal is to explore his works and to gain from them as a writer, reader, and Game Master. 

With that out of the way, welcome to the Cthulhu and the Old Ones Sing the Blues!


Table of Contents
Introduction
The Beast in the Cave
The Alchemist
The Tomb
Dagon
A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson
Polaris
Beyond the Wall of Sleep
Memory
Old Bugs
The Transition of Juan Romero
The White Ship
The Street
The Doom that came to Sarnath
The Statement of Randolph Carter
The Terrible Old Man
The Cats of Ulthar
The Tree
Celephais
The Picture in the House
The Temple
Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family
From Beyond
Nyarlathotep
The Quest of Iranon
The Music of Erich Zann
Ex Oblivione
Sweet Ermengarde
The Nameless City
The Outsider
The Moon-bog
The Other Gods
Azathoth
Herbert West - Reanimator
Hypnos
What the Moon Brings
The Hound
The Lurking Fear
The Rats in the Walls
The Unnamable
The Festival
Under the Pyramids
The Shunned House
The Horror at Red Hook
He
In the Vault
Cool Air
The Call of Cthulhu
Pickman's Model
The Strange High House in the Mist
The Silver Key
The Dream-Quest of Unkown Kadath
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
The Color Out of Space
The Descendant
The Very Old Folk
History of the Necronomicon
The Dunwich Horror
IBID
The Whisperer in the Darkness
At the Mountains of Madness
The Shadow Over Innsmouth
The Dreams in the Witch House
Through the Gates of the Silver Key
The Thing on the Doorstep
The Evil Clergy Man
The Book
The Shadow Out of Time
The Haunter of the Dark

Friday, February 17, 2017

Explorations of Other Settings

As long time readers will no doubt testify, I love me some Greyhawk. I make posters about the setting, write blog posts exploring it, and generally just fly my Greyhawk Flag high. But lately I've been thinking a lot about diving into a new setting and just kind of finding out what else is out there beyond the borders of the Dyvers and the known shores of my humble world.

Judge of Ages by John Harris

Where to explore though?

To be perfectly honest the lands and environs of our shared fantasy worlds are too numerous to even attempt to name them all, so instead I'm going to limit the choices to the books I currently own and can fairly confidently explore as a result. Let's see, looking at my bookcase that gives me a few choices: Blackmoor, the Forgotten Realms (Neverwinter), the Forgotten Realms (general), Dark Sun, Ravenloft, Palladium World (PFRP), the Old World (WFRP), Mystara (Karameikos), Red Steel, Alternity, the Iron Kingdoms (IKFRP 3rd Edition variation), Talislanta, Post Earth (Gamma World 1st Edition), Eberron (3rd Edition variation), Eberron (4th Edition variation), Dragonlance (1st Edition), Dragonlance (Tales of the Lance variation), Dragonlance (3rd Edition variation), Star Frontiers (Alpha Dawn Basic/Expanded), Chaos Earth (RIFTS), Hollow World (2nd Edition variations), Al Qadim, Once & Future King (Amazing Engine), and Bughunters (Amazing Engine).

I'm a bit hard pressed to make a decision on these so I'm going to throw a poll up on the right to let you guys help me pick. For the ones with more than one entry I'm going to put them up once and then, if they win, we'll have a run off for which one you all find the most interesting. Right, so, good luck to your favorites. Vote early; choose as many as you like, and vote often.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Letters to Dyvers: Problems, Problems. We've All Got Them, but Only a Few of Us Wallow in Them.

Have I ever mentioned that I like getting mail from you guys?

Well, I do.

Anyway, I'm in the process of catching up on about a year's worth of e-mails so I'm going to do a bit of a clearing house and answer three of them real quickly.

P.S. I've cleaned up the e-mails a bit to make it easier to read.




Problematic Media 

Have you seen the Mary Sue article, Everything I Love is Problematic? Thoughts?

Largely the article is just a bunch of pretentious hand wringing designed to get people to recognize that the author is so very self-aware of her privilege and blah, blah, blah. Boring rubbish for the most part that wants you to feel guilty for loving the things that you love. 

Forget that noise. 

Love what you love; don't hate on other people's things. Moving on.



Magic Items

If you could pick one Magic Item, and have it in real life, what would it be?

In my games I always have a downside to the magical items that I introduce to my players. Life is more fun when there is a consequence to your actions and the game is more fun that way too. Still, I would love to find something like the Mighty Servant of Leuk-O.  




Arts

You post a lot of art on the blog: who's your favorite?

As much as I love art I don't really have a favorite. I have styles that I love but there isn't really an artist that I go out of my way for over the others. That said I've been really digging the work of John Harris and Jakub Rozalski lately. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

I'm Kind of Digging the Ladies of Girls, Guts, Glory.

Watching people play role-playing games on YouTube can often be a painful experience. The camera work is often shoddy; the audio sounds like someone is screaming in front of a fan; and the people playing are usually too busy mugging for the camera to remember that they're playing. So when I find something that looks promising I tend to get a little bit excited. You see I want to want role-playing games online without having to wait a full year for the next episode (I'm looking at you Penny Arcade) and for them to be an enjoyable experience.


There aren't a lot of games out there that meet those two criteria. In fact, I can only name one: Harmon Quest. But this teaser for Girls Guts Glory has me hopeful that we might soon have another one. 

Check it out.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Welcome to My Dungeons & Dragons World! Where Everything is Just Like You Remember It, Even Though You've Never Been Here Before.

In the last few months I've become increasingly convinced that the problem I face with making Dyvers something unique that people want to adventure in is that it can't fall into the same patterns that everyone else does with their cities. It can't be the exact same fucking thing that everyone adventures in each and every god-damned weekend

(1) It can't have winding, serpentine roads that meander their way through the town - and they can't be dirt, rough stone, or wood. 

(2) The city needs districts but the shouldn't be hard lines where there is no bleed over. The world doesn't work like that and neither should my game world.

(3) Not every building needs a detailed description but they shouldn't be fucking blank, wood blocks set on the table as filler either. Theme them together as you would find in a normal neighborhood. Look at the world around you. It works that way for a reason.



(4) Important buildings should feel important when your players look at them. Every city - whether it's New York, London, Nashville, Calcutta, Paris, or fucking Madison - has something that makes it stand out. As human beings we have an inherent need to make things that are pleasing to our eye. It's why architects are a thing and we're not all still living in fucking caves. Use the shit you love architecturally instead of just leaving it in the back of your mind. Make it a part of your world and make your world special as a result. 


(5) Stop fucking around with names that don't matter to you or your players. If it's fucking nondescript and unimportant than don't waste your time naming it just to throw a name at them that they'll promptly forget. 

(6) Same rule when it comes to the fucking history of the place. If it doesn't matter and won't add to the adventure then Move. The. Fuck. On. You're wasting your time and everyone else's. 

(7) Descriptions: Less is more. Hit the high points and let their imaginations fill in the rest.

(8) People build sculptures every-fucking-where. Get them in the game.


(9) Common structures for every town that aren't homes: bars, churches, hotels, restaurants, police stations, convenience stores, shopping markets (however you associate the term), pawn shops, banks, fire department, doctors' offices, city hall, Courthouse, and lawyers. Get these in your city because they didn't just show up in the 1950s.  

(10) People live in apartments. They've been around since ancient Rome so throw them in your game. 



Credit: All images were found on the fantastic Tumblr How We Imagined It Would Be

Friday, February 3, 2017

Congratulations, Kids. We Just Passed 2016's Total Post Count.

Fucking A, it feels good to be writing again. Now back to work!


Your Hands are Bound by Forces Beyond Your Control and She Awaits You.

I've never really been one to enjoy horror games because they tend to begin on a simple premise: the player cannot win a fight with the villain. The extent to which this is enforced runs the gamut from the villain simply being more powerful than the players are able to overcome under normal circumstances to the villain being invulnerable to the players machinations. Some games I have been asked to play even go so far as to say that the players cannot cause harm to the creatures terrorizing them. 

I fundamentally reject such noise.

The Entomologists Dream by Edmund Dulac 1909

In role-playing games we are the heroes of our stories. We're not scared, little children hiding in the cupboard hoping that some shiftless drifter doesn't find us. We're the kids who pick up axes, guns, and knives to hunt that bastard down and show him what fear really means.  And yet even with that fundamental truth guiding our hobby I have found myself rendered powerless in role-playing games three times. The first time we were told that the mere sight of a creature drove us beyond the realm of sanity and thus we were devoured body and soul. I got up from the table and drove to a local bar where I proceeded to drink for six hours and fool around with women who though make-up was best applied by the bucketful. I still regret not having done so sooner that night. 

The second time I sat down at the table and the Game Master informed us that all of our possessions had been taken from us and that we awoke in a dungeon with monsters hunting us. I made plans to murder them only to be told that this wasn't the game we were playing. We were the prey. They were the hunters and if I didn't like it I could get the fuck away from the table. So I left and ended up fishing under the stars while a beautiful Jewish girl read poetry to me and asked me questions about God. 

I still don't have all the answers.

The last time I was sitting down to play a game when the Game Master told us that this would be a fantastic experience for all of us. We were going to be playing children who were hiding from some dastardly villain but that we couldn't hurt him. Hell, we couldn't even attempt to harm him. I left that table with my brother, Poot, and went down to the lake where we talked about our children and drank until the sun came up instead. 

Look, as role-playing enthusiasts we're often asked to pretend that our characters are bound by limitations all the time. This character isn't as strong; that one isn't so smart; that one likes to smoke and cut itself. All of these simple limitations are fine, but when you take away my ability to choose how my character will make its way in this fictional life I reject your game. 

I know the sort of player I am. I tend towards violence, bloody and unrepentant, and I like to push the limits of what is considered acceptable within the game world (though never in the actual world). I make off color jokes; use terrible accents; and am always planning ways to make my character the one thing in the game world that will scare the shit out of every Dragon and Devil alike. I want to use my mind to find the solutions to difficult situations and to take that away from me because you want to make the game scary is to ruin any fun I might have in the game. 

Now back to my book.

Monkey Business by Jens D., The Disoriented Ranger

For those of you who haven't yet heard Jens D of the Disoriented Ranger produced an adventure, Monkey Business . He's publi...