Monday, July 8, 2019

Consider This - Slaying the Big Bad.

An epic adventure or campaign often culminates in a massive battle between the heroes and the main villain of the story. Fun and satisfying. Straightforward and expected.

What happens when someone kills a demigod, demon prince, or arch-devil? Permanently.

Well, some points to consider might be along the lines of:
  • Power vacuum needing to be filled. Possibly by a powerful lieutenant or rival.
  • An imbalance in the cosmic order. Perhaps this entity truly embodied one or more traits that are now no longer represented in the universe. You've destroyed the Demon Prince of Evil Sawhorses and now evil sawhorses are disappearing from Creation itself. Is this a good thing? Or, even worse, you killed the Demigod of Low Interest Rates.
  • From bad to worse. Bet you didn't know that arch-devil you took out was the guardian of the Gate of Inescapable Horror - keeper of the lock that kept a nameless world-devouring monster from entering our dimension. Now that the guardian of the Gate is gone... 
Honestly, there are lots of possibilities. But, there have been moments in my own campaign where I wanted more immediate, or intimate, results.

You dealt the final blow to the demigodlike villain of the campaign! What are you gonna do next?! Wait - let's not get ahead of ourselves. Are we treating the Dark Lord of Glitter and Fingernail Clippings as just another fallen foe? Sure - we could do that. But, that's not really my style.

Let's address that particular phrase: "...dealt the final blow..." The DM is free to spread the love around, but the character that laid the villain low should receive the best/worst of what is to come. Where does all the power held by the demigod/demonlord/hellduke go? For my money, most of it will go back to the source - or go nowhere at all. Depends on the circumstances and direction of the campaign. But, some of it will go to the slayer - who will probably never be the same again.
  • What was the slain foe known for? Being a powerful warrior? A crafty tactician? A domineering presence? Increase one or more ability scores of the villain's slayer accordingly. To the PC that dealt Asmodeus the killing blow, raise that guy's Charisma - at the very least.
  • While you're at it - add some HD to the character. Give them a permanent HP boost.
  • It won't all be good. Make the PC toss a saving throw die. Failure indicates an alignment shift toward that of the slain villain's. Eventually, the hero's physical appearance could start to change as well.
  • Transfer one or more powers from the villain to the PC. Not necessarily under the character's full control, but definitely something distinctive and disturbing.
  • With all this power, it is definitely reasonable to increase the PC's lifespan.
  • Give the PC dreams or flashes of "divine inspiration." Harbingers of changes to come. Glimpses of the true workings of reality. Premonitions of danger from divine rivals.
  • Did the slain entity have followers or worshipers? Will any of that devotion transfer to the slayer of their deity? Or, will they seek to punish the PC that took away the object of their devotion?
If the campaign is to continue beyond the death of the big bad, it might be fun to have the hero of the hour be the catalyst through which evil continues. The PC might be able to harness the power for good. The PC might fall to a rival. The PC may succumb to evil. The PC could somehow destroy the dark energies within - thus eliminating the threat for all time. In any case, the player gets a truly epic struggle to play. It also gives all the players something to think about as they strive to be the hero that puts down the next great evil.

Consequences. Do we play them?

Sunday, July 7, 2019


Having studied or tried every edition of D&D (including Pathfinder), I find myself exhausted by the later super-crunchy rule sets. For me, at least, they stifle creativity and dampen enthusiasm.

So many different ways to tell a player what their character can and cannot do at any given time during a game. Personally, I don't want to be browsing my character sheet in search of my next action in the middle of an encounter. I also don't want to be planning my brand-new 1st level character's entire career out to 20th level while I'm wading through skills and feats.

My anxiety and OCD really don't like those systems. D&D was a dream come true for me. A game of creativity. An area where I could shine. At least, that was how it would be at first.

I'm told (in no uncertain terms) that the countless class options, race options, skills, feats, and advantages allow for more creativity and individuality. It is possible I will never truly agree with this. I feel all of that simply offers more and more tiny pigeonholes in which to stuff a character. I guess I just don't need to be told every single little thing my character can and should be able to do. It's probably because I have always been a DM far more than a player. I'm used to a minimum level of trust in my ability to make decisions and come up with solutions to problems.

My wife did not grow up playing D&D - despite spending her childhood not terribly far from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. By the time she met me and got dragged into playing the game, we were using the D20 System of rules. She learned D&D by possibly the most unnecessarily complex means necessary. It turned her off a bit to running characters that used magic - as that was a rules-heavy option with a lot of choices to be made. Still, she created characters and ran them in my campaigns. She only really learned the rules that applied to her own character. I honestly couldn't blame her for that. The Player's Handbook is essentially a colorful textbook with more pages than strictly necessary. During the game, my wife would come up with practical solutions to in-game problems. It warmed my heart to see her play the game.

The party comes to an ancient rope bridge spanning a bottomless chasm. They start to carefully cross the bridge. From the far side, a rust monster comes into view. Smelling the tasty metal worn and carried by the party - the rust monster starts across the bridge. Panic ensues.

My wife is running a fighting character that happens to be wearing non-metallic armor and wielding non-metallic weapons. She rushes forward and grapples with the rust monster, lifts it up, and carries it to the far end of the bridge - where she dumps a pile of disposable metal items like iron spikes and extra daggers for the creature to eat. Thus distracted, the monster allows the rest of the group to pass.
No, she didn't have Animal Handling. She didn't have some kind of specialized wrestling feat. She just saw the problem and came up with a logical solution. And it worked. Had she stopped to consult her character sheet, things would probably have gone very differently - but not necessarily in a good way. There was nothing on her character sheet to prompt the very simple reaction that she employed to such good measure. Certainly not the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-inspired plan the rest of the party had been about to settle upon. Rust monsters have no hands with which to grip - how could this possibly fail?

I'm not a cranky grognard lamenting the destruction of my beloved game. I'll play your fancy, newfangled fantasy games. I've run my campaign using 3.0, 3.5, and 3.75 edition rules. For the most part, it went well. I don't begrudge players their preferred editions of the game - though I have had plenty of forward-thinking gamers tell me how wrong I am for preferring older editions. I just don't agree that D20 is the best. And, I definitely feel it tends to stifle creativity by defining everything in terms of modifiers and challenge levels. I didn't get excited about D&D for the math - I'm in it for the adventure. I'm also not one to cut a rope to spite my face.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Bloggery of a Semi-Retired Publishing Madman

Early this year (2019), I voluntarily left the workplace to stay at home to do stuff.
The idea was to support my wife in developing her own business so she could follow me out of the daily grind and work from home. I'd be taking care of the cats and the household. Running errands. Doing chores. Preparing meals. Oh - and run my own home publishing business.
Then, I kind of imploded.
It was a gigantic life change. People thought I was genuinely retired - so they thought to help me occupy all my newfound free time by helping them with stuff.
Also, things happened. Money became really tight - then, too tight.

No, this is not meant to be a self-serving sob story. This is a response to recent queries - and, possibly, a cautionary tale for those who might follow after.

Suddenly, I had so much more time - right? Right. Suddenly, our four cats realized they had someone to tend to their every whim 24-7. Cats are aloof? Perhaps. Our cats are needy and demanding as human toddlers - and twice as destructive.
My able assistant - Miranda.
So much more time. Time for a never-ending avalanche of chores. So much needing to be cleaned, organized, trashed, fixed, and maintained. This was my first tour as a househusband. I was not good at it. I'm still not - but I am a little less-awful. Oh - my business. I almost forgot!

That moment where you know all the stuff you don't really know. Sure, I'd self-published a half-dozen Avremier booklets. That was eeeeeeeasy. Publishing for mass consumption - that is HARD (for me). Learning new software. Learning new techniques. Doing things like an actual professional. The horror. The sheer, brain-shuddering horror of it all. My anxiety screamed. My OCD choked. My depression - well...never mind that for now.

Yeah, I was writing. I was even drawing - in fits and starts...mostly fits. I couldn't focus on one project for much longer than a day at a time. I was trying to justify the hours spent working on my own projects. I wasn't selling them yet. There was no money coming in from my efforts. I was falling behind. I was letting my wife and feline dependents down. I was failing. All of this was being constantly shouted into my brain by my anxiety. Kicking my OCD into maximum overdrive as I struggled frantically to fix EVERYthing. As for my depression - probably don't wanna know.

Now - July. More than half a year into this exercise. Things might be stabilizing. I never  assume. Anxiety won't let me. Not unless finances look genuinely solid to me. I've got ducks lined up. I've got projects languishing in a state of near-completion. I've got personal deadlines to meet. I've got stuff to publish. Otherwise, I need to admit defeat and hit the eject button.

I don't wanna hit the eject button.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Fiend Folio – Tome of Frequent Rants and Much-Maligned

During the past almost-forty years, I’ve learned that I’m not exactly the typical D&D user.
I’ve never DMed a module. I’ve never set an adventure in another setting besides my own. Every book or supplement I own is used as reference. Sometimes, as a source of inspiration. So many players like to say “Make the game your own,” or, “The rules are just guidelines.” Agreed. But, I tend to take those observations very much more to heart than most.

So many of the monster entries in the Fiend Folio really suck. Sure. I can say the same for the Monster Manual II. Hell – I can bust on quite a few of the original Monster Manual entries as well. But, what is the point? So many of these monsters were created for use in a very specific fantasy game environment. If you’re playing a game where much of the action takes place in a grossly unrealistic “dungeon” environment, then why disparage monsters created to complement that environment? That might be another blog entry entirely. I’m here to talk about the damn Gorbel.

In Avremier, some kobold tribes found deep underground cultivate fungus as a food staple. One in particular is a big, reddish, globular specimen that grows from a pair of extremely tough stalks. The pinkish flesh inside makes for a delightful meal. In time, the fungus passes through the more viable stage of its life cycle, and is no longer edible. The outer skin grows thick and leathery – or rubbery. The reddish hue becomes more pronounced, almost as a visible warning. Rhizome stalks sprout along the upper circumference of the spherical body. An aperture opens near the bottom to slowly release spores that have built up within. The inside of the fungus fills with a spore-laden gas that can cause vivid and pleasant hallucinations when inhaled. Some kobolds like to climb inside, curl up snugly, and take a relaxing little hallucinogenic “trip.” Sometimes, the “trip” goes bad and the kobold tears off on a brief and addled rampage. This is known as “going gorbel.”

So – the Gorbel in Avremier is an LSD-tripping kobold in a crazy leather mushroom suit. Much less ridiculous than the original, I know.

The kobold wakes up from its hallucinogenic reverie and tries to act out something it sees in a lucid dream. The kobold’s little legs and feet find their way into the twin stalks of the fungus – which break off, and it’s off to the races! Hopped-up on goofy-gas, the kobold is immune to blunt damage – like impacts and falls, which it just bounces back from and then goes off on its merry way. The kobold’s arms have nowhere to go. They stay inside. So, all damage inflicted by the gorbeling kobold is through the jagged stem-feet. Piercing the fungus causes it to burst outward – leaving the kobold inside a calm epicenter, totally unharmed and wearing a great big smile.
Some kobold tribes send gorbeling kobolds out into battle as somewhat unreliable, but surprisingly effective, shock troops. And, yes – the Gorbel is related to the Gas Spore, which is related to the Beholder (in Avremier). All those creatures are fungus-based (in Avremier).

Fragmentation Parade

Sometime around 1982: The Moldvay Basic Set of D&D comes into my possession. Work on what would eventually become the Avremier Campaign Setting begins almost immediately.

Late-90s: I wanna do a funny campaign setting or game. My mind obsesses over the idea of what would become Duckin’ & Braggin’. Sword & Farcery becomes a genre for my project development.

Y2K: With the release of the D20 3E rule set, I set aside my long-running D&D campaign to try my hand at a new setting – Pelagena. Due to – reasons, the game falls apart and Pelagena is mothballed, but eventually becomes integrated into Avremier as select bits and pieces.

Circa 2004: Development begins on a new setting called Avremier. While this one eventually falls through, many of the core concepts, along with the name, are retained for the project going forward.

Sometime between 2004 and 2010: Taking my notes for regions of Avremier that never saw use, I set aside these areas for future consideration. They never seem right for inclusion in the “final” incarnation of the “official” Avremier setting. Thus, they languish in development Limbo.

2008: D&D 4E is released and I swear off the brand entirely. I have enough books and materials to keep me going for the rest of my life. Not long after, Pathfinder rears its shiny new head.

Circa 2010: I embrace Pathfinder as my rule set of choice. An attempt to compile and edit Avremier to share, using Pathfinder rules, is launched – to frustrating failure. Too crunchy for me at the time. Still too crunchy for me today. I'm also trying to be an author.

Not long after 2010: In a fit of depression, I dive back into development of Duckin’ & Braggin’. It seems easier and more fun. At least, less frustrating. I am wrong, as the focus and direction for the project still eludes me. Back to Avremier.

2012: This is a hazy period for me. I lose my mind entirely and decide to go back to formula. I started with the BX rules, so that’s where I should start. Right? Nope. I go back even further…no – further still. I manage to acquire copies of all the original booklets from 1974-1976. Naturally, Wizbro decides to release a retro set of booklets in 2013. Screw it – I get that too. I never played this edition of the game, but I’m gonna learn it. I am now a historian. I wanna know where it all came from.

Early 2015: D&D 5E is released. I decide to give it a chance. It isn’t bad. But, I’m already in the throes of a nostalgic fit. I set 5E aside for now.

2016: Start of the Avremier Project. I want some nifty little booklets of my own setting – for myself. I want to see if I can write, compile, edit, layout, illustrate, print, and publish these things all by myself. I’m neck-deep in madness now.

2018: It’s done. Avremier is a thing. Mothshade Concepts is a fledgling thing. My mind implodes and I descend to new subterranean dungeon levels of insanity.

2019: What have I done?! Well, whatever it is, I need to figure out how to make it work. I need to become Mothshade Concepts. But, there are SO MANY projects. I’ve devoted my mind, body, and soul to Avremier these past few years and it’s taking a toll. Oh, look – Duckin’ & Braggin’! Wait – I’ve finally figured out just how I want to approach developing D&B! Buuuuuuut…I have a few ideas for some entirely new D&D campaign settings. Remember those early, unused regions of Avremier I set aside – yeah, me too. Now I have RedStaff, Grayharrow, and Violet Grimoire to contend with. New stuff to develop! My brain loves that! I’m doomed.