ORACLE

10/13/2011

Coolest Dreamlands Map EVER!


I have the Chaosium published map of the Dreamlands, illustrated by Andy Hopp, hanging on my office wall. I have had it for well over a decade. I love that map, and it would be hard to estimate how many hours I have spent pouring over all of its intricate details. If you were to have asked me if another Dreamlands map was needed my answer would have been, "no!" Then I ran across Jason Thompson's map, and I was floored. I am still trying to soak in all the details Jason has added to his map. It is quite striking, and I fully intend to buy a print if he ever offers them for sale.

While we are on the subject, Jason is in the process of taking his previously published The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath comic, and updating it as a graphic novel. The project has a Kickstarter fund drive that has already reached its goal, which is exciting news. I have read the original Dream-Quest comic, as well as his Clark Ashton Smith tribute, Hyperborea. Excellent stuff. And judging by Jason's most recent work, it looks like this new graphic novel is going to be topnotch. 

9/04/2011

Crypts & Things Cover Revealed

Behold! The new cover for Crypts & Things, created by the incredibly talented Jon Hodgson. Check out the official announcement over at D101 Games.

8/21/2011

The Trolls Offering C&C Books for a Steal

I ran across something pretty cool today that I thought was share-worthy. Troll Lord Games is offering the Castles & Crusades Players Handbook and Monsters & Treasure, both 4th printing hardbacks, as well as the adventure module Shadows of the Halfling Hall, all for $20.00. I think this is an amazing deal, and a great way for anyone remotely interested in C&C to get started without shelling out a lot of cash.

8/16/2011

Sorry I'm Late... Here Are My Dice

Tim, this ones for you! Sorry I am late, uh make that very late, to the party...

So, you want to see my dice, huh? I had to do a bit of digging in the closet, but I managed to find all the dice I have been able to hold onto over the years. Let's begin with the random-ass dice from the 'catch-all' box:

Notice the Rune Dice by Flying Buffalo. I found the dice, but haven't seen the book that came with them for years, so I believe it is lost to time. I thought they were cool when I saw them, but I only gave them a roll maybe three or four time. Those were an impulse buy for sure. Also, I did not realize I still had the dice from the old HeroQuest game. I also have the minis and props from the game, but no longer seem to have the actual board. The other dice are from various other games, of which I have no idea what they might be. The wooden d6s have me puzzled more than any of the others...

OK, onto the more organized sets that I have, but mostly never use anymore:

It was cool walking down memory lane as I unboxed many of these sets for the first time in decades. My cherished set from the Moldvay Basic D&D set survived better than I ever would have imagined. Most of the crayon is even still in the numbers! This was the very first set of dice I ever owned. The blue precision dice next to these are the first set I actual chose for myself, and bought with my own money from my local game store. Hey, it was a big deal to me back then! I was also pleased to find the set that came out of the RuneQuest 3rd Edition box set. I actually hated these dice back in those days, so I never used them. I am actually thinking about inking them now, because I think they are kind of cool. The only one I can't say for sure belongs with this set is the orange d4.

The next picture kind of turns my stomach now:

Dragon Dice... why, oh why did I ever fall for this money pit of a f'ing game?! I can't tell you how much cash I dropped on this game. It makes my brain hurt to think about it! What is shown in the picture can't be all the Dragon Dice I bought either, so my brother or one of my buddies must have helped themselves to some. Is anyone out there still playing Dragon Dice? Or better yet, has anyone figured out a way to use these dice in their regular D&D game? I would love to find a way to put them to good use.

Next up, my copper and steel set:

I bought these dice for a Conan game I was playing in back in 2005 (I think that date is correct). If you haven't figured it out yet, I freely admit I have a dice fetish. I like to use dice that, to me, evoke the feel of the game. When I found these dice they screamed out sword & sorcery to me, so I had to have them. As for the gigantic metal dice, yeah I went there! They are GIANT METAL dice! What more needs to be said?!

Next, my go-to set that I have used for several years now:

There is no real reason I have chosen to use these over my copper and steel set. I just have. I guess I just needed a change. Not to mention that they are easy to read and have a nice look to them when they catch the light just right. The glass beads in the lower right corner have the same luminous colors as the dice, so they complement the set well. I have used these beads to keep track of various things during games. Here is this set ready to travel:

The next set I showed off earlier in the year:

Black GameScience precision dice with the numbers inked white. I like these dice a lot, and will probably make them my go-to set once I find a steady gaming group and have a regular game going again. To me, there is just something Zen-like to plain 'ol black dice with clean white numbers.

Last but not least, more GameScience dice:


These are 'diamond' with the numbers inked in black, and they are lined up in order in the pic. These are pretty dice, but tend to be a bit hard to read sometimes. This is almost a complete set of Zocchi dice. I am missing a d7, which I doubt I will ever bother to buy, and a d30, which I would love to have one that matches this set.

There you have it. Those are my dice. Like 'em? :-)

And to end this on the proper note, my name is Shane Mangus and I am a dice-oholic...

8/06/2011

Twitter and Me

I have had a Twitter account for around two years now, and I occurred to me the other day just how worthless it is. Or at least worthless to me. Or maybe I am just not using it to its fullest potential, which is most likely the case. At any rate, I am considering turning in my twit card and dropping my Twitter account all together. If you guys would like to talk me out of it, for whatever reason, I am all ears. If not, then expect it to quietly fade into the void within the next week.

8/01/2011

[Music Mondays] Jex Thoth

I have been listening to a lot, I mean A LOT, of Jex Thoth this past year. I have seen their music categorized as doom metal, but I feel this is a bit shortsighted. Yes, they do have a strong Black Sabbath influence, but their sound also has a deep psychedelic quality that sets them apart from many of the doom acts operating out on the musical landscape right now. I have read somewhere that Jex Thoth, lead singer of the band, refers to their music as "alchemical doom." Heavy guitars, spaced-out keyboards and Jex's haunting voice create an atmosphere that is lush and hypnotic, with just a touch of underlying menace thrown in for good measure. Help me, I have been bewitched and can't seem to quit listening to this band! On second thought, under no circumstances help me!

7/31/2011

D&D Sacred Cows: Ability Scores

I have been thinking about all the different components in D&D system, and I can't help but wonder what most people would considered "sacred cows" of the game? You know, the various elements of the system that would be considered game breakers if removed or changed.

Abilities (I prefer calling them attributes) are a good example of what I mean. Seeing the six of them listed together (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma) is a clear indicator that the game is D&D. But does this mean they are hardwired into the system and if taken away, or altered, would this somehow change the game in a negative way? Would doing this make it something other than D&D?

Playing around with Microlite20 (M20) has me questioning their importance. M20 uses Strength, Dexterity and Mind, which seems obviously influenced by The Fantasy Trip. Personally, I really like this approach, and applaud the design choice to take a bold step toward simplicity. Some people add Charisma back into the scheme, but this is a point of debate in the M20 community. I can see using Charisma only if henchmen are a key element of the campaign, but if not, then there is no real need for it. But I digress...

So, I have given all of this a lot of thought, and here are the abilities I would use if I did decide to change them:
  • Body (BODY): Represents physical strength, toughness and overall health.
  • Mind (MIND): Represents reason, analytic thought and the ability to learn.
  • Prowess (PROW): Represents agility, hand-eye coordination and reaction speed.
  • Spirit (SPIR): Represents personality, ability to lead, intuition and strength of will.
Pointing out the obvious here, but I rolled Strength and Constitution into Body, changed Intelligence to Mind, as well as Dexterity to Prowess, and I rolled Wisdom and Charisma into Spirit.

So, what do you think? Do you like the abilities I have chosen? Would using these abilities change the game so much it would no longer "feel" like D&D? If you would change, or have changed, the standard array, which abilities would you choose to use?

7/28/2011

Mail Call

Last week I received something very cool in the mail from a reader of the Outer Dark, David Chandler; his soon to be published fantasy novel entitled, Den of Thieves. David had emailed me a few weeks back and asked if I would be interested in receiving a copy, and of course I was more than happy to do so. The book will be released on August 11th, by Harper Collins.

In his email, David revealed to me that he is a player in the New York Red Box group, is a longtime reader of my blog and from the sound of things he is a proud member of the Old-School Renaissance. Needless to say, he is my kind of guy! He had this to say about his book, "This is not fan fiction, nor the dreaded 'game company novel', but an original story. It is heavily inspired by the contents of Appendix N, most specifically Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar books." I read the prologue and chapter one last night, and though it is still very early, I can already see I am going to like the story. The main character is a thief named Malden "who had never set foot outside the city" in which the story takes place, the Free City of Ness. All in all, it looks like a fun read, and I will have a review of the book posted as soon as I finish reading it.

Thanks for the book, David!

7/27/2011

My Results for the "The World’s Hardest Gary Gygax Quiz"

Shane Mangus took the Hardest Gary Gygax Quiz in the World and got 100%!



You are a Gary Gygax Dungeon Master. You are a world expert on Gary Gygax. My guess is you are either a former TSR employee or an extremely obsessive fan. You can be proud of your in-depth knowledge - few are so expert in any subject! Also, I would like to be in your D&D group.

Paladin Code: You completed this quiz without using Google.

Happy 73rd Dungeon Master!

Today would have marked the 73rd birthday of Gary Gygax. If only I could somehow give him a gift as large as the one he gave to me... Happy birthday, Dungeon Master!

7/25/2011

[Music Mondays] Corvus Corax

Tonight, I would like to share a few selections from German Neo-Medieval drum and bagpipe band, Corvus Corax. I am a longtime fan, and have used their music during my games on more than a few occasions. Their sound is firmly rooted in early music traditions, while also possessing a bombastic quality that is normally found in more modern musical genres, such as heavy metal. Their stage presence is an odd mix of medieval and Mad Max, with flamboyant costumes and hairstyles. Despite this, the groups's members have gone to great lengths to keep their sound authentically medieval as possible, even going so far as to handcraft their own instruments. Their live show looks to be a ton of fun, and I hope to be lucky enough to attend one someday.


7/19/2011

Conan the Barbarian - When Blood Is Spilled (Red Band Clip)

As most of us involved in the fantasy roleplaying hobby, I have been watching the production of the newest Conan movie with a keen eye. It has been a roller coaster of excitement and then disappointment as each new tidbit of information about the movie has been revealed. Though I have tried to stay optimistic about the film, I have to admit, I have been feeling a little underwhelmed by the previews released so far. Then I saw the clip I have embedded below, and for the first time in a while, a spark of hope sprang up in my heart again. Maybe this is wishful thinking, but I am hoping this is a sign that the movie isn't a total wash...

7/18/2011

[Music Mondays] Univers Zéro

Univers Zéro is one of my all time favorite bands. There are many words I can use to describe their music; dark, brooding, beautiful, harrowing, intellectual, delicious and obscure all readily come to mind. Hailing from Belgium, Univers Zéro emerged from the Rock In Opposition movement during the mid-70s and are widely credited for being a seminal force within the genre. Sighting influences ranging from Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky, King Crimson and H.P. Lovecraft, their music is a combination of modern classical chamber music coupled with jazz, rock and even early music arrangements. Univers Zéro is not for everyone, and admittedly, is an acquired taste. Their music is challenging, which makes it that much more appealing to me. Tonight I have decided to share one song from each of their first three albums. Enjoy!

"Malaise" from the album 1313:

"Jack the Ripper" from the album Heresie:

"Dense" from the album Ceux du Dehors:

7/17/2011

Congrats to Laird Barron

I wanted to take a moment to send some positive vibes out to a friend of the Outer Dark, Laird Barron. The 2010 Shirley Jackson Award winners were announced, and Laird was lucky enough, or should I say talented enough, to have won two: the Single-Author Collection award for Occultation, and the Novella award for “Mysterium Tremendum.” Laird specializes in writing dark, creepy stories, and he is damn good at it. Do yourself a favor and buy some of his books. Your life will be better for it!

7/14/2011

Crypts & Things Playtest Edition

At the beginning of June I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the playtest version of Crypts & Things, being published by D101 Games. It is way too early to give a complete review of the game, but today I would like to share an overview of some of the things Crypts & Things will offer, as well as a few personal observations along the way.

I have had a few weeks to peruse the playtest files Newt Newport was kind enough to send my way, and overall I have a very positive feeling about the game. Crypts & Things (C&T from here) is a variant of the Swords & Wizardry (S&W) rules, fine tuned for dark sword & sorcery action. Though I have not had an opportunity to actually run a game of C&T, I can say with confidence that this is my favorite variant of the S&W rules I have read so far.

Here are a few things C&T will offer that sets the game apart (my personal comments are in brackets):
  • First, the game dials back the standard Tolkien influence found in most fantasy games, and ramps up the Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber influences. [Love it!]
  • To bring a strong sword & sorcery flavor, Elves, Dwarves and Halflings have been omitted from the game. Humans only for player characters. [This is the type of game I prefer, so I highly approve.]
  • A Barbarian character class has been added, which was inspired by a version of the class first published in White Dwarf magazine in 1977. [White Dwarf!!! 'Nuff said...]
  • Fighting styles have been included, which adds a way to help differentiate one Fighter from another.* [Anyone who has been paying attention will know that I have implemented my own version of this into my game, so Newt and I are on the same page here.]
  • The Magician class has been added, which replaces the Magic-User and Cleric.*
  • Magic has three flavors, White, Grey and Black.* Magic-User and Cleric spells are combined into a single spell list. There are no spells in the game above level 6, except Restoration, which is a 6th level spell in C&T. [I think this is a very sensible approach that reflects the sword & sorcery setting.]
  • Damage characters suffer in combat is handled through Hit Point (exhaustion and fatigue) and Constitution (actual life points) loss.* [This has been a long standing house rule of mine, so two big thumbs up!]
  • Casting spells causes exhaustion, so a number of Hit Points are lost depending on the spell level. The spell Cure Light Wounds only restores Hit Points and not Constitution loss.* [Once again, great minds think alike.]
  • No Vancian magic system, and spells can be cast as many times as a Magician desires.*
  • A Thief variant has been added, inspired by the Grey Mouser, so they will lean heavier on their fighting skills than Thieves normally seen in other games.* [Love it!]
  • Speaking of thieves, the rules state that every character in the game is essentially a rogue, so everyone has the ability to back stab, which means two damage dice are rolled when a successful attack from behind is performed.* [I love this rule!]
  • The ability to Turn Undead has been removed from the game, making undead much more powerful in C&T than seen in other fantasy games.
  • During character creation the player can roll on the Life Events chart, which will randomly generates important events that have occurred in the character's past. [I like this... ALOT!]
  • A Saving Throw mechanic is used to handle class skills in the game.* [Very cool!]
  • Sanity rules have been included, which boil down to Wisdom loss when mental damage and deterioration is suffered.* [This is a very easy and sensible way to handle sanity loss. I approve.]
  • The "Compendium of Fiends" has around 120 creatures, with about 60 of those being designed specifically for C&T.
  • A fully fleshed out sword & sorcery setting will be included in the book, which is "the dying world of Zarth."
This is just a taste of what C&T has to offer. Taken all together, I would say this is a very complete package. It is really hard for me not to like C&T, mainly because I have implemented many of the same rules, or something remarkably close, in my own game. Newt has taken an approach that is very close to my own vision of what I think a dark sword & sorcery game should be. I know this is just the playtest version, but already the game is coming together nicely and one I suspect the old-school community will enthusiastically embrace.

Final note, Newt asked me to mention that 90% of the alternate rules found in C&T are from Akrasia's OGL Sword & Sorcery house rules. These rules are marked with an asterisk (*) above.

7/13/2011

[Poll] Facebook or Google+, Which Will You Use?

There seems to be a new mayor running for office in Social Network Town. Google+ has thrown its hat into the ring, and wants to give Facebook a run for the title "Big Kahuna." Now that we have a choice, which will you be choosing as your social network of choice? Please take a moment and cast your vote for Facebook, Google+, both or neither. If there is a particular reason you have chosen one over the other, please share your reasoning. Thanks!

7/11/2011

[Music Mondays] My Favorite Black Sabbath Album

Looking back, 1980 was a very big year for me. I was eleven, and in that year I began playing Dungeons & Dragons, read The Hobbit for the first time, and discovered the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, by first reading "Rats In the Walls." It was also the year I began listening to Black Sabbath, having acquired an eight-track tape of their self-titled first album from my uncle!

I can't stress enough how influential this album was on my young imagination. To me, D&D, Lovecraft, Tolkien and Black Sabbath will forever be hardwired into the nostalgia-space of my psyche.

In future "Music Mondays" posts I doubt I will link to entire albums, but this is a special case. Black Sabbath is, in my opinion, a perfect album and it would be a crime to not include all of it's songs in this post.


[Music Mondays] Intro

Since the birth of my daughter, I haven't had an opportunity to posts here on the Outer Dark as much as I would like. Even though I am a stay at home dad at the moment, I find that spare time is a hard thing to come by. When I do seem to find some extra time that can be spent working on game material or blogging, I am often just too drained to concentrate on getting anything done. It goes with the territory, I suppose...

One of the things I am able to do, even when tending to Ellie, is listen to some tunes. Music has become my main source of stress relief, and it helps me unwind. Not to mention, music has always been a source of never ending fuel for my imagination, just as gaming.

In an effort to jump start my blogging habits again, I am going to begin posting some of my musical picks each Monday, with posts aptly tagged "Music Mondays." My taste in music is very broad, but I have always gravitated toward progressive rock, as well as all the various sub-genres of doom music. I also have a penchant for instrumental music. In the end, it is hard to say what I will be inclined to post, but I hope you guys will find it entertaining.

The first post in this series to follow...

7/05/2011

Mike Mearls on Minimalist D&D

These past few weeks have left me with absolutely no time to devote to the blog, and I apologize for that. I would like to get back into the swing of things and share some of the stuff I have been working on in the spare time I have managed to find. No promises, but I will make a real effort to make this happen.

Anyway, back to the real reason I am posting today. I read Mike Mearls' new Legends & Lore article, "Minimalist D&D." The title alone drew me in, since I have been on a Microlite20/75 tear hereof late. First, let me say, I agree wholeheartedly with everything he says in this article. Personally, I think making ability scores the cornerstone of a character is essential. I also agree that ability checks can replace both saving throws and skills.

One thing I wanted to point out, which is obvious to almost everyone in the OSR, is that Castles & Crusades has been doing this for years! It is the main thing I love about C&C, and something I have ported over to other games. I am not quite sure why Mr. Mearls is presenting this game mechanic in his article as if it is something completely new. (Or at least that is how I read it) If he did not realize this fact, then I find that damn irritating. A manager for the Dungeons & Dragons research and development team at Wizards of the Coast should at least have had a look at the competition just to see what the "other guys" are doing. If he knew that C&C is designed around ability checks, then I find it even more irritating that he is rolling this out like he has had some kind of epiphany!

That's it. That's the only point I needed to make. If it sounds like I am being overly critical of Mearls' comments in his article, you are probably right. I am in an incredibly bad mood today. Anyway, now that I have that off my chest I feel a lot better!

6/08/2011

DCC RPG Beta Rules: First Impressions

I have been reading over the beta rules of Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game for about a week now. With the rules being released for public playtest, I feel I am free to go ahead and share some initial observations. Here are my first impressions, in no particular order of importance:
  • The Art Direction Is Inspired - it is hard to open the PDF of the rules and not have an opinion about the art, and the way the book is laid out. Joseph Goodman is credited as the art director for the book, and I must say that he is doing a hell of a job. The art is very old-school, and it makes me want to play the game! Peter Mullen's work is probably my standout favorite, but I feel all of the artists involved have done a fantastic job.
  • Race As Class Is In - I am not too thrilled with this. Even when I was a kid playing Moldvay Basic I gripped and questioned why demi-humans were handled as classes. I didn't like it then, and thirty years later I like it even less.
  • Dice, Dice and More Dice - this is going to be a sticking point with a lot of gamers. In the age of unified dice theory I am not so sure many people will be willing to go back to multiple dice conventions used in the same game. And not just that, but the game also uses Zocchi dice -- all of them! There is already an outcry of pain because DCC RPG uses percentile dice for thieving skills... Personally, I don't see anything wrong with this approach, but I would like to see the dice in play before offering my opinion.
  • Tables, Tables and Even More Tables - here again, this will make or break the game for some. DCC RPG is table heavy. There are tables involved in character creation, like how Luck affects you during your adventures. There are Critical Hit and Fumble tables for combat. There is a table for two-weapon fighting, and one for Turning Unholy. There is a table for Spell Duels and tables for various other things involving spells (Corruption, Spell Burn, etc.). Each Wizard and Cleric spell has a table of its own to determine how well the spell was cast, and the various things that might result. The beta rules only list the first level spells. Personally, I am not sure how I feel about this. Here again, I want to try playing the game, with all of its tables, before I decide if I like it or not.
  • Skills - being a d20-based game I expected a long list of skills, but I was wrong. Skills are mainly handled as Ability Checks, with the character's Ability Scores, Class and Occupation factoring in with bonuses to the check; a d20 is rolled, adjustments are factored in and a target number assigned by the game master must be beat. I like this, and it is basically the same way I handle skills in most all my games.
  • Classes - classes read like most any other game inspired by D&D. Each class seems to have a lot of flavor, and should be fun to play. I have already expressed my disappointment over seeing demi-humans handled as classes and not races...
  • Combat - I do not see a lot of complication involved with combat, but there is more to it than say Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry. Critical Hits and Fumbles are a big part of the game, each with tables. Also, there are Mighty Deeds of Arms, which allow Warriors to do cool stuff during battle. I haven't read too deep into this, but Mighty Deeds seem like a nice addition to the game without adding in the complications found with d20 Feats.
Well, that about covers it for now. I am sure I will have more to share as I look more closely at the game. So far, I really like what I am reading and it is a joy seeing the old-school art direction of the book. I really hope I have an opportunity to play the game soon, so I can post a proper playtest report here on the Outer Dark.

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Open Playtest is Live!


6/06/2011

Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG Beta Rules Release Date Announced

Joseph Goodman sent out an email this morning announcing that the public beta of Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game will be released Wednesday June 8th, so I am doing my part by helping spread the word. I am pretty excited about this announcement, as I am sure it will open a floodgate of opinions and reviews on the game as it stands right now. It will be interesting to see what people think, and to read the gameplay reports as they are posted. I am sure this game will not be for everyone, but I have a feeling it will have a strong following. Personally, I can't wait to try the game out for myself.

6/03/2011

Playtest Madness

This week, I have been fortunate enough to receive playtest copies of two games I have been following very closely these past few months. I am very excited to have gotten my grimy hands on both of these games, and hopefully will find time in the near future to try them both out.

The first is the "beta draft" of Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, being produced by Goodman Games. DCC RPG is a d20 variant that is being designed to emulate the Appendix N suggested reading list from the Dungeon Masters Guide for 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Everything I have seen and read is a strong indication that Joseph Goodman has succeeded in this goal. The public beta version of the game will become available on June 18th, which is Free RPG Day.


The other is Crypts & Things, from D101 Games. C&T is a Swords & Wizardry variant, tailor made for dark sword & sorcery adventure, a genre that is very close to my heart. Newt Newport has told me his biggest influences for this project have been Clark Ashton Smith and Michael Moorcock. Reading through the rules and setting ("the dying world of Zarth") it is obvious that Newt has a real love for the genre, and is well on his way to publishing a great game.

In the coming days, time willing, I would like to share more information about both of these games and hopefully have a couple of playtest reports for everyone.

5/25/2011

[Rant] Lovecraft Appears on Supernatural... Well, Not Really

Earlier in the week I had a chance to finally watch the episode of Supernatural that introduced H.P. Lovecraft to the ongoing Winchester Brothers saga, entitled "Let It Bleed" (season 6/episode 21). I should tell you right up front, I had some serious problems with the show and was left terribly disappointed, to say the least. Also, if you decide to read further, I should warn you there are spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk.

From Wikipedia, here is the synopsis of this episode:
Crowley has Lisa and Ben kidnapped as a warning to Dean not to meddle in his plans. The brothers summon Balthazar for help but to no avail. Their investigation takes them and Bobby to the world of H.P. Lovecraft, who supposedly wrote a manuscript describing Purgatory shortly before his death. They discover that Lovecraft invited guests for a first-hand look into another dimension during a dinner party, where all of them eventually ended up dead or insane. Sam begs Castiel for help, who is enraged that Crowley threatened Dean with his loved ones. Balthazar meets with Castiel and tells him that he knows that he is in league with Crowley, but agrees to help Castiel to the end. Castiel saves Bobby speaks with the sole survivor of the Lovecraft party back in 1937 to know more details, but inadvertently finds out that the old man's mother is Ellie Visyak (who Dean acquired the dragon-slayer sword from back in "Like a Virgin"), who is actually immortal and originated in Purgatory. She explains to Bobby that she fell through the cracks from the opening of dimensions and has been hiding out on Earth ever since. She refuses to tell Bobby how to open the gate to Purgatory or accept his help to protect her. Meanwhile, the brothers get help from Balthazar who teleports them to where Lisa and Ben are held. While the brothers are split up, Sam is knocked out while Dean fights his way to Lisa and Ben. He discovers that Lisa is possessed by a demon who stabs her body to convince Dean to stop the exorcism spell. However, Dean is undeterred and exorcises the demon. He then carries Lisa all the way outside and reunites with Sam and the group heads for hospital. Castiel arrives to heal a dying Lisa. Castiel never wanted her nor her son involved. Dean then asks for another favor and Castiel also wipes clean all memories of Dean from them. Dean although grateful for his act remains unchanged about Castiel's goal. Later, Ellie prepares to leave her safehouse but Castiel arrives and captures her.
First off, I want to state up front that I have been a BIG fan of Supernatural from the very beginning, with my enthusiasm for the show only waining about halfway through season four (but that is another story for another time and place). The way I see it, the show has been something of a "tribute band" for all the great horror movies and literature that came before it, and overall I feel the writers have done a fine job being respectful of their influences. This is one of the big reasons I consider myself a fan. In this regard, the show has excelled... until now that is! And for me, they chose the wrong time and subject matter to play fast and loose with. The way they handled the character and history of H.P. Lovecraft was uninformed and, in my opinion, shameful. And again, disappointing!

The show opens with Lovecraft himself sitting at his typewriter typing away. The date flashes across the screen, March 15, 1937; the date of Lovecraft's death. As the scene progresses, we are shown that Lovecraft is working on "The Haunter of the Dark," which is entirely inaccurate. This is where things start going downhill for me. Every source I could find states that "The Haunter in the Dark" was written in November of 1935. This inaccuracy could be forgiven if the show did not portray this as the last story written by Lovecraft (just before the dismemberment of his body)...
Next, it is revealed that Lovecraft apparently likes to have a slug of whiskey when he is scared and stressed out. AGAIN, wrong on all accounts! Lovecraft was quite clear on his attitude towards alcohol, which he completely abstained from. Here is what S.T. Joshi wrote in A Dreamer and a Visionary: Lovecraft In His Time:
One has to wonder why Lovecraft became so obsessed with temperance. He himself was fond of declaring that ‘I have never tasted intoxicating liquor, and never intend to’. When he remarks that ‘I am nauseated by even the distant stink of any alcoholic liquor’, one is reminded of his extreme aversion to seafood, and cannot help wondering whether some event in infancy or boyhood triggered this severe physiological and psychological response.
Now, to be fair, I realize this information might not be common knowledge, even for those who have a passing interest in H.P. Lovecraft. I am not sure where I originally read about Lovecraft's disdain of alcohol, but I always figured this was a no-brainer, with his prudish ways and attitude toward life in general. For the quote provided above, I reached out to my friend Andrea Bonazzi, who has many of the Joshi written biographies of Lovecraft I do not own (thank you Andrea!). But, I feel this helps illustrate the point of this whole rant. I knew just enough to realize that I needed to do a bit of fact checking before I wrote this post. Why didn't the writers of Supernatural do the same?! Their handling of "Lovecraft the man" was careless, which can only be characterized as shameful, in my opinion.

And there is more! The straw that broke the camel's back was when the character, Ellie Visyak (the entity that came through the dimensional door from Purgatory, so I guess that makes her the Haunter of the Dark), makes this statement about Lovecraft: "Please, that guy couldn't even write hello!" Now, if I have overreacting about everything else, surely I cannot be blamed for my outrage over this one! As I stated before, by my estimation, the writers of Supernatural have always tried to pay proper homage to their influences, and have given proper respect to the subject matter and the roots of the genre. This is why I am so frustrated over their handling of H.P. Lovecraft. After seeing the episode, I am not even sure why they used Lovecraft as a character at all? None of the elements from "The Haunter of the Dark" were used; no Church of Starry Wisdom, or avatar of Nyarlathotep. What I would have given to see the Winchesters face off against the modern day cult and have to hijack the Shining Trapezohedron! I feel there was a real opportunity here that was completely missed...

The episode really comes off as name dropping just for the sake of name dropping. The entire scene with Lovecraft lasts less than three minutes, and in truth could have been written without his inclusion and the story would not have suffered in the least. Other than the mentioning of a dimensional gateway, the episode has no real Lovecraftian elements and is practically devoid of existential/cosmic horror. At least by my estimation. And to top it all off, they felt the need to slight a man who is by all accounts considered a master and founding father of modern horror literature. The flagrant disrespect is staggering!

5/20/2011

Two Years and Counting!

Today marks the two year anniversary for the Outer Dark! And what a year it has been. Looking back on things, I am surprised I was able to get any blogging done at all! I moved to a new city, lost my grandfather, I got engaged and then married, and my wife gave birth to our baby girl. Wow, I am tired! :-)

But I did publish quite a few posts this past year, which mostly dealt with the design and writing of Swords Against the Outer Dark: Sword & Sanity Roleplaying. This is a project that started out as a Labyrinth Lord supplement, but after writing about 80 pages of the book and spending quite a lot of time reflecting on the whole thing, I decided to take a break and put the project to the side, which I did mainly because something just didn't sit well with me about what I had written. When Goblinoid Games released Realms of Crawling Chaos I began to ask myself if the Labyrinth Lord community really needed this supplement? The answer I heard echoing back at me was, no.

I am glad to report that the Sword & Sanity RPG is not dead... but it is dreaming, and soon will rise again in a new form! The time away from the book has allowed me a fresh perspective, and a slightly different approach as well. The game will still be viewed as an old-school RPG, but I have taken a different direction with some of the design elements of the game, so I don't think it will be classified as a retro-clone. Let's call it a tribute to classic D&D, seasoned to taste. The one thing I can report right now is that one of the new design goals is to keep the page count very spartan. This game will be lean and mean. I have had quite a bit of exposure to Microlite20 and Mini Six this past year, and I very much like the format of these games. I want it to be a complete game, while maintaining a very minimalist page count. I will begin sharing much more on this in the coming weeks.

Another highlight for me this past year was interviewing artist Andrea Bonazzi. This interview is in the top three most viewed posts I have published thus far, and that makes me very happy! Andrea deserves as much publicity as possible. I feel he is an unsung hero of the Lovecraftian community, and I am very proud to have developed a friendship with him.

A more recent post announced the partnership I have formed with another online friend and fellow blogger, Sean Robson. Together we have formed Hopeful Monster Creations, which is our ambitious, and grossly undermanned, game publishing alliance. We have a lot of cool ideas, which cannot get written soon enough. A couple of projects we have already discussed: Sean has been busy working on Megadungeon!, which is now in playtest, and I have offered up a reference screen for the 4C System. I am sure the four or five folks on the planet who play 4C (which is a shame, because I personally like the system) will appreciate my effort. I am sure I will have much more to report on the Hopeful Monster front very soon.

Another super big post for me this past year was publishing my Advanced Labyrinth Lord Screen. I first published it via Scribd, but soon discovered that Scribd had moved away from free file hosting to charging customers to view archived documents, so I switched all my downloads to Google Docs. If my information is correct, between the downloads logged on Scribd and those from Google Docs, the screen has been downloaded over 1000 times since it was published. Not bad for a niche product for a niche game! :-) In hindsight, maybe I should have put a small price tag on this screen. It would have been a better fundraiser than selling t-shirts and mugs! Live and learn, and all that...

Finally, as I look back on this past year another proud moment for me was commissioning Chris Huth to illustrate a piece for the Sword & Sanity RPG. I think his illustration speaks for itself, and I couldn't have been happier with the final product.

So, there it is. If doomsday comes and goes, and we all live to see another year, you can expect a whole lot more coming from the Outer Dark. My thanks to all those who stop in and read my stuff from time to time. I really do appreciate it!

5/19/2011

DCC RPG Free RPG Day Adventure Starter "Advanced Look"

Tuesday morning I checked my email and found a surprise waiting for me from Joseph Goodman. Besides a nice note saying something about "an advance look at our Free RPG Day module," the email had a PDF of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Free RPG Day Adventure Starter (cover art shown above) attached! Joseph, you made my week, man!

Unfortunately, I have not been privy to the playtest rules that have been introduced at various gaming conventions these past few months, but looking over this introductory pair of adventures I can say that I am excited as hell to get my hands on the upcoming beta rules that will soon be released! According to Joesph the beta rules are in a “race to the finish”, and Goodman Games is "hoping to release them a couple days before Free RPG Day." I can't wait!

Looking over the adventures, there are two contained within the adventure starter: The Portal Under the Stars (Level 0-1), by Joseph Goodman and The Infernal Crucible of Sezrekan the Mad (Level 5), by Harley Stroh. Both are well written, and seem like they are going to be a ton of fun. I really like the art direction Goodman has taken with DCC RPG. The artwork hearkens back to the game's pulp roots, as well as the roots of the hobby, and it makes me want to play the game. There are several full page panels that showcase fantastic pieces by Jim Roslof and Peter Mullen. The hand drawn maps illustrated by Doug Kovacs are inspired, in my opinion. Not to mention the great cover by Mr. Kovacs.

It is apparent to me that Goodman has pulled out all the stops here, and is setting a precedent with this Free RPG Day adventure starter. If this is a sign of things to come then it looks like DCC RPG is going to be a huge hit. If ever there was a time for this kind of game I feel this is the time. And I am saying this without having played the game. I can be a hard person to impress, especially when it come to games. So far, color me impressed!

4/23/2011

My Thoughts On Designing a One Page Adventure

Of all the things to come out of the roleplaying blog community I would say that the concept of the one page adventure* is my favorite. I think it exemplifies the do-it-yourself attitude this community has come to be recognized for. I have never been a big fan of modules for some reason, but I am a huge fan of one page adventures. This is why I am a great supporter of the One Page Dungeon Contest (1PDC), and I was more than pleased to participate as a judge in this year's competition.

Something I thought would be helpful, especially to future participants, is to share a few thoughts on what I personally look for when judging a one page adventure. The comments that will follow are, of course, my opinions, and I am sure not everyone will agree with everything I say. We all have different expectations from games and gaming supplements, so having said that, I still hope this post will be viewed as helpful.

So, without further ado, here are a few things I think are important design elements for any one page adventure:

Design Your Entry to Be As Complete As Possible
There were several entries I had to judge this year that were not complete adventures, and as such, I had to all but disqualify them. No matter how nice a diagram or map may be, if there isn't some sort of additional corresponding adventure details included on the page, then I am afraid the entire point of the design was missed. Why spend hours creating a lavishly illustrated map or diagram and fail to include the most important element, which is the actual adventure? The most basic design goal of any one page adventure that is submitted to the 1PDC is that it must be a complete adventure, and be able to be played at the game table with little additional design effort from the Game Master running the game.

Your Design Should Be As User Friendly As Possible
One-pagers submitted to the 1PDC are supposed to be designed to be used by others, so keep the text and layout of the page as simple and clear as possible. This is easier said than done. It is very easy to get carried away with dense background text and small fonts to help fit everything on the page. Find ways to breakup the text, and make finding important information easy to spot. Embolden, highlight or use different colored text to make these important details pop off the page. Keep background details flavorful, but also keep them brief. The easier it is to read and use a one page adventure, the better chance it will be viewed as a great design, and as a potential winner.

One Page Adventures Should Be Self-Contained
The whole idea behind a one-pager is to present a complete adventure on one side of a single sheet of paper. I think I am stating the obvious here. But you would be surprised how many of the entries had links to outside sources to help fill in the blanks for additional information. For personal use I see no problem with this at all, and I might be splitting hairs with this suggestion, but for the scope of the 1PDC I feel this is an important point. If part of the design of your one page adventure requires additional information from an outside source then you might want to consider another entry for the contest.

Write Your One Page Adventure for Others, and Not Just for Yourself
When presenting a one-pager that others will be using, and judging, I feel it is important for all of the background information to be as complete and clear to the reader as possible. Avoid including information that is so personal that it comes across as confusing to others. Its like telling an inside joke to a perfect stranger. For the scope of the 1PDC, I suggest only presenting generic information and text that is easily understood by the average gamer.

Simple Concept Is King
When designing a one page adventure you must be able to convey a lot of detailed information in a very limited amount of space. Keeping the concept behind the adventure simple and straightforward is important for this very reason. If the concept is too grand then chances are you will never truly capture the entire essence of that concept on a single sheet of paper, and attempting to do so will only result in frustration on your part as a designer, or on the part of others as readers of your entry. Try to be as laser-focused as possible when developing the concept behind a 1PDC entry. In the end, avoid trying to be too clever or too complex, and just concentrate on a straightforward, clean concept. I think it will result in a much stronger overall design.

Everything Old Can Be New Again
It is tough trying to come up with a concept that is entirely fresh and new, but this shouldn't deter anyone from taking an old concept and trying to present it in a new light. A great way to set your 1PDC entry apart from all the others is to do just this. Even a simple dungeon crawl can be spruced up by adding unexpected twists and turns, or by looking at the design from a different angle. But, as stated above, keep the complexity of your concept simple. The trick is to not over conceptualize things, and to strike a nice balance between being straightforward and being innovative.

Don't Be Afraid To Think Outside the Box
The one thing I wish the 1PDC had was a different name. I feel that One Page Adventure Contest would be more appropriate, as the scope of the contest is not limited to just dungeon crawls. It is nice to see submissions with concepts that step outside of the confines of the contest's name. The one page adventure concept is broad enough that it can be applied to any genre you can imagine. Also, do not feel you are limited to creating just an adventure that revolves around a single location or event either. Some of my favorite entries read more like one page campaigns, and provide the blueprint for countless adventures over a long period of time. In the end, design your one-pager with any concept or scope you feel is appropriate.

The Devil Is In the Details
Despite the limited amount of space, it is possible to present a flavor packed adventure when creating a one page adventure. Including small details like non-player character concepts, lists of rumors and tables for random events and wandering monsters can make a huge difference in the design of a one page adventure. Choose your words carefully, and try to pack as much flavor into them as possible, without inflating the word count. Details like these can change a one-pager from being seen as "just another dungeon crawl" into something unique and special. Above, I said the overall concept of a one page adventure should be kept simple and straightforward; I am also saying the details added should be as rich and lavish as possible. These flavorful details can be the game changer, and win the contest for you.

Nice Maps Are Important, But They Will Not Always Win the Contest for You
OK, this is purely my opinion, but I think it needs to be stated. Not everyone involved in the 1PDC has the ability to create the perfect map. I say, who cares? But don't get me wrong here. Maps are an important element to any adventure. They can also provide the "wow factor" that can set your entry apart from the others. I do not want to downplay their importance at all, I am just saying that they do not have to be perfect little works of art to win the contest. When creating a map that corresponds with your adventure just make sure it is neatly presented, can be clearly read and is keyed properly. There are plenty of free mapping tools available out on the 'net, so there is really no reason a decent map can't be rendered for you one-pager. In the end, just do the best you can and make up for any shortcomings with the other details you add to your overall design.

Just Do It
I guess the last and most important piece of advice I can give is to just get out there and create. You never know just how good of a one page adventure you can design until you actually get you hands dirty and design one. This was the attitude I had when I decided to create my own entry for last year's contest, Raid on Black Goat Wood. I had never attempted to design a one-pager before, and it turned out to be a bit more work than I had imagined it would be. But it was also fulfilling as well. Especially when I started getting feedback from others.

Well, that about covers it I suppose. I am sure I will think of other things I should have added or said, but I think I highlighted the things I feel are most important. I just hope this post will be useful to future participants in the 1PDC.


* I use the term "one page adventure" and not "one page dungeon" to help broaden the focus of this post, as not all one-pagers, even those submitted to the 1PDC, can be seen strictly as dungeons.

4/22/2011

[1PDC20011] My Top Picks

So last night I finished up going over all the entries for this year's One Page Dungeon Contest, and I got my top picks turned into Alex. For those interested, here they are (in no particular order):
I rated each entry from 1 to 5 in both Function (mainly how easily it would be to use the 1PD at the game table) and Design (layout, graphics, overall presentation), and then took the average to come up with an Overall score. These eight entries were the only ones on my list to all score above 4 in the Overall rating, which made them my top picks. The category titles are mine, and are subject to change as other judges suggest their own titles and we all hash everything out.

If your entry is not on my list, please do not be disappointed. I had over 30 entries that scored at least a 4 out of 5 in the final Overall rating, so there is a LOT of good stuff to be found in this year's contest, but sadly I could not include them all on my final list. I urge those who haven't to take a look for themselves, as I am positive everyone will find at least one entry that will be of use to them at the game table.

Also, I want to let all those who submitted an entry into this year's contest know that I am willing to share my thoughts and opinions of all the entries directly with each of you, so just email me (psmangus at gmail dot com) to let me know if you are interested. I tried to be as objective as possible while judging the entries, and any criticism I might have will be constructive, and I hope helpful.

Over the next week or so all the judges will be corresponding back and forth, and we will take all the top picks and whittle them down to the final winners. It will be interesting to see the final list and who comes out on top.