Excuse the Mess...

I am gearing up for a few changes here on The Outer Dark, so please excuse any mess I might create while doing so. I have been getting an online store ready to open (still debating whether to use CafePress or Zazzle) so I can offer a few items of swag to help finance a certain little project I have in the works. I am sure I will be adding a gadget that allows these items to be displayed and browsed once I am ready to pull the trigger. I am also working on a new look for the blog. It has been quite a while since I changed how things look around here, and I believe it is high time I do so. Other than that it is business as usual.

Oh yeah, if anyone has a strong opinion about which is better, CafePress or Zazzle (or any other e-commerce site that allows me to sell t-shirts, mugs, etc.), I would love to hear about it. It might help me make up my mind on which one to use.


[Sword & Sanity RPG] Labyrinth Lord Compatibility License - Final Word

Earlier in the week I made an announcement that Swords Against the Outer Dark: Sword & Sanity Roleplaying was not going to be a standalone book, and would require the Labyrinth Lord core rules, as well as the Advanced Edition Companion. To my surprise I received quite a bit of negative feedback from friends and followers about this announcement. It seems that most everyone who has an opinion on the subject has their heart set on a standalone rulebook.

As it turns out, I have been writing the book as a complete ruleset all along, and only faltered in this decision once I reviewed the Labyrinth Lord compatibility license. To carry the "Labyrinth Lord Compatible Product" logo on the cover I would have to comply with this portion of the license:
No work may constitute a complete game. For the purposes of this license, a "complete game" is defined as any work that a player of a PC and/or the player in the role of the Labyrinth Lord can use for character generation and/or reference in game play exclusive of the Labyrinth Lord core rules book. As a general guideline, if the work is so complete as to make the Labyrinth Lord core book obsolete to one or both of these kinds of players, it fits the definition of a complete game for the purposes of this license.
As it stands, I would have to go back through portions of the book and take away much of what I have written to be in compliance with the license. I have done a lot of thinking about how to proceed from here, and I have come to the conclusion that I am not ready or willing to do this. Instead, I will take advantage of much of Labyrinth Lord's Open Game Content, as well as some of the Open Game Content from Swords & Wizardry, Castles & Crusades, Conan Roleplaying Game, Grim Tales and a few others, to help build the system I am wanting to present with this book. All with my own personal tweaks of course, not to mention the original Open Game Content I will be designing just for the game.

As stated in the introductory chapter of the book:
A Note about the Rules
This gaming tome was written as a complete game system, and does not require any other rules manuals to play. However, the system presented herein is highly compatible with many other classic versions, as well as modern simulacra, of class-and-level-based fantasy roleplaying systems. This allows for the importing and exporting of game rules and adventures with little effort on the player’s part.
So there it is. No more wavering on whether to proceed with writing a complete game or not. The game will be very compatible with Labyrinth Lord, but will not have a "Labyrinth Lord Compatible Product" logo emblazoned on the cover.

Does this mean I will no longer support Labyrinth Lord or Goblinoid Games? Hell no! It just means I do not want to be hindered in any way as I try to write the best roleplaying game that I possibly can.


[Sword & Sanity RPG] Illustrations

I am pleased as hell to announce that Chris Huth has agreed to illustrate Swords Against the Outer Dark: Sword & Sanity Roleplaying. Chris is a very talented artist, and I feel his work captures the tone and feel I am looking for for this project.

This morning I wanted to take a moment to share the first illustration Chris has turned in. I sent him this as a concept for the piece:
The idea I have is to incorporate the "when the stars are right" statement that Lovecraft used for when the Great Old Ones would awake and return to rule the earth again. The idea I had was a scene of a battle between druid-like cultists dressed in dark robes and wielding curvy daggers, and a group of stalwart adventurers. The encounter takes place amongst an ancient set of standing stones, perhaps on a barren hilltop. The scene is at twilight, and an exaggerated star field acts as the backdrop. Maybe within the constellations there is an implied image of Cthulhu or some other Elder Thing looming down from above. I am thinking two large stars gleam where the eyes would be. I prefer an ancient look for the armor and weapons, so more Atlantis or Hyperborea over quasi-medieval.
From this concept Chris sketched a few ideas and sent me this:

When I saw the sketches I knew I had the right guy. I could see the potential behind these rough images, and I could tell the direction he wanted to take the piece. Chris took these concept sketches one step further and refined them into this:

Needless to say, I was hooked when I received this sketch. I couldn't have been happier with what Chris was producing here. He took my idea, and was able to keep it within the frame of the concept, while presenting a scene that is both straight forward and powerful. Another early comment I made to Chris was this:
Overall, I am looking for pieces with atmosphere over gonzo.... I know a lot of people mixing fantasy and cosmic horror tend to take it over the top with tentacles everywhere and "full frontal" Cthulhu kind of thing. I am not saying that sometimes going that route is wrong. I am sure we will have several illustrations with sword on tentacle action. It cannot be avoided with a product like this. But I would like to present a product that is rich in dark texture and has a brooding atmosphere to it.
Chris understood this comment an delivered an illustration that was very faithful to my wishes. A few days later he sent me the final piece, seen here:

In the end the constellation idea morphed into the swirling nuclear chaos of Azathoth. Three cultist stand at the base of a set of standing stones, cauldron in front of them, as they perform a dark ceremony. A strange smoke emits from the cauldron, boiling up to the heavens; rising and mixing into the the swirling chaos in the sky. All the while, Azathoth looms above, gaining in power as the invocation is performed. At the base of this strange outcropping of rocks stands our stalwart warrior ready to risk everything to stop this terrible act he is witnessing.

I believe this will end up being the cover of the book. It will definitely be used for a t-shirt design I am currently working on. The sale of these shirts, and other swag I will be offering, will help finance the illustrating of the rest of the book. I will have more on all of this before this coming weekend.

All in all, I think Mr. Huth has done a great job with this first illustration. I personally can't wait to see what he is able to come up with as the project moves forward.


[Sword & Sanity RPG] Labyrinth Lord Compatibility License

Work progresses on Swords Against the Outer Dark: Sword & Sanity Roleplaying, my supplemental rulebook for use with Advanced Labyrinth Lord. It has been a very long time since I have looked over the compatibility license agreement for Labyrinth Lord, so I decided to do so again tonight. I realized I am going to have to alter my plan just a bit to be in compliance with the agreement. This is not a huge deal, and in the end may help save me a bit of time.

A while back I published a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for my project, and this is one of the entries I will need to adjust:
Q: Will the Sword & Sanity RPG book be a stand alone rulebook, or will the Labyrinth Lord rulebooks be required to play.

A: When I first decided to take on this project I thought the book would be designed as a supplement and require the Labyrinth Lord rulebooks to play. When the writing began I quickly changed my mind on this and now I am writing it as a stand alone product. This is not to say that some of the Labyrinth Lord rules I have decided to not use or to change cannot somehow be worked back into the game, so in essence I am not making the Labyrinth Lord rulebooks obsolete with this product. Just not totally necessary.
The new answer:
A: Swords Against the Outer Dark: Sword & Sanity Roleplaying will not be a stand alone rulebook, but a supplement for Advanced Labyrinth Lord. This project will carry a Labyrinth Lord compatibility logo on either the front or back cover, so the Labyrinth Lord core rules and the Advanced Edition Companion will be required to play.
So, my plan to create a complete rulebook has been nixed. I think Dan Proctor has done a hell of a job with Labyrinth Lord, and I see no reason not to show my support for the product and release compatible supplements and materials. Why reinvent the wheel... again?

What this means on my end is that I need to adjust the way I am approaching the classes, by building on existing ones and offering a few new ones, as opposed to ignoring all the old classes and designing the game around a complete package of all new ones. Also, I will offer ways to integrate existing spells from the Labyrinth Lord rules, though the rules for spellcasting will not be the same. Also there will be new spells included with this supplement.

All this also means its back to the drawing board for just a bit, which should not take long to readjust things and get some forward momentum going again. I am just glad I reread the agreement again, and realized the error in my design plans before they had gone too far.

Spoils of Christmas

This was my first Christmas as a married man, and I am glad to report that there was fun to be had all around. My wife, Stephanie, came through in a big way, and proved to all that she is indeed the best wife any Lovecraftophile could ever ask for. I have waited aeons to get my hands on a copy of Arkham Horror, so I was completely taken aback when I found it waiting for me under the Christmas tree! The deluxe dice set rounded of the gift. Needless to say I am one happy bastard! Now the trick is going to be getting Steph to play the game she bought me... :-)


Thinking About Sword & Planet Adventures...

The sword & planet (also referred to as planetary romance) sub-genre of heroic fantasy has been on my mind quite a bit of late. I am sure this has much to do with the fact that I recently read Robert E.Howard's Almuric, read and reviewed Clovis Cithog's Red Planet: The Fantasy Roleplaying Game Based on Selected Martian Tales and I have Michael Moorcock's Kane of Old Mars series of books waiting in the wings to read. And come to think of it, I watched Flash Gordon just a few weeks ago as well. All this has me pondering an idea for a setting that can be used as the backdrop for a Sword & Sanity campaign with a strong sword & planet flavor. This is inevitably going to spawn a series of posts that I will tag under "Dark Corners of High Adventure", which I will begin in the next few days.


[Mini-Review] Red Planet by Clovis Cithog

About a month ago I received a couple of copies of Red Planet: The Fantasy Roleplaying Game Based on Selected Martian Tales from the writer and designer of the game, Clovis Cithog. As you can probably tell from the title, Red Planet is a roleplaying game designed to emulate the planetary romance stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I have taken the time to read over quite a bit of the rules, and I wanted to take a moment to share some thoughts. This is by no means a full review, but I may take the time in the near future to amend that. I would actually call this a mini-review or even an overview since I have not had a chance to playtest the game.

Red Planet is a do-it-yourself publication released by Clovis' Abbadon Games, and is an Open Game License (OGL) product. The book is 69 pages, not counting the index, glossary, Open Game License and the included character sheet. By the looks of things, this is a complete game, and should contain everything you might need to run a sword & planet campaign of adventures on Barsoom.

Though this is not a d20 product, Red Planet is an OGL game that has a lot of similarities to the Dungeon & Dragons system. There are some difference though, but most are more cosmetic than a real departure from standard D&D rules. A good example of this is the six ability scores the game uses: Strength, Agility, Tenacity, Reason, Intuition and Persuasion. Obviously, each of these are just D&D ability scores by another name. As I said before, most of the differences are merely cosmetic. There are no rules for the feats found in most d20 products, which keeps the ruleset lean and flexible. Red Planet uses all the same dice conventions as D&D, and I could see very little difference in the way the game is played. It would not be hard at all to convert much of the material presented in Red Planet over to your D&D or Labyrinth Lord campaign if needed.

I would go out on a limb here and say that Red Planet can be considered "old-school" in its overall design philosophy and presentation. It feels like a game that could have been produced during the early years of the roleplaying hobby, but keeps and eye on modern game design sensibilities. The artwork presented is a mixed bag of interior black and white illustrations, pictures of a line of Barsoom inspired miniatures and digital artwork for the cover. All the artwork is serviceable and appropriate, with the interior illustrations being on par with many of TSR's pre-second edition publications. My only nit to pick here would be the cover. Generally, I am not a fan of digital art, so this next statement is a result of my personal taste, but I would have much preferred to see the cover illustrated by one of the artists that provided the interior artwork. Having said that, the cover is serviceable... and obviously eye catching! :-)

There are ten chapters in the game manual, and they are as follows:
  1. Measures - this chapter covers pertinent information for the setting of the game, such as a brief overview of Burroughs' Mars fiction, as well as a brief timeline and map of Barsoom. It also covers important game measurements, such as increments of time, linear units of measurement and money conversion. This is a strong introductory chapter, and serves it's purpose in introducing the players to the setting, various Barsoomian terms (the Game Master is referred to as "nolach") and overall flavor of the game.
  2. Races & Vocations - as the title suggests, this chapter details the playable races and vocations of the game. The races include Red Martians, Green Martians, Yellow Martians, Therns, Black Pirates and Exotic Races. Vocations include Scientist, Trooper, Criminal, Warrior, eXtra and Priest. Each race has a preferred vocation, and each vocation has a primary ability score that it is linked to. The rules cover the first ten levels of the game.
  3. Abilities & Saving Throws - This chapter covers ability scores, ability throws, saving throws and hit points. If you have played D&D then you will be right at home with everything in this chapter. Saving throws are handled as follows: roll d20 + appropriate ability modifier + character saving throw modifier +/- GM circumstantial modifier. Ability throws are handled as followes: roll 2d6 + apprpriate ability modifer +/- GM circumstantial modifier. Difficulty class is the number to beat for the saving and ability throws, and can range from 4 to 40.
  4. Weapons & Combat - This chapter does a good job covering equipment (weapons and armor) that span through the ages; including Tech Level I: Stone Age through Tech Level IX: Inventions, and everything in between. Also, combat rules are thoroughly explained, with rules for combat actions, movement, defense class and parrying. Again, very much in line with standard D&D rules.
  5. Spells - this chapter covers spells and spell-like effects for priests. These spells could be dropped into any D&D game as written.
  6. Critical Hits - in this chapter you will find advanced combat rules covering critical hits and their effects on characters damaged in combat. There are critical hit charts for blunt, energy, piercing and slashing damage.
  7. Skills - there are twenty-one skills detailed in this chapter. I have not held the list up to the one found in the d20 SRD, but I suspect the skill list is somewhat similar. The list is obviously not as long, but it seems to do a good job in covering much of the same area as the d20 SRD, but with fewer skills.
  8. Fliers - this chapter has all the needed information and write-ups for various Barsoomian flying vehicles.
  9. Starting Adventure - Red Planet has an adventure designed for beginning adventurers, complete with maps.
  10. Beasts of Barsoom - as the name implies, this chapter is the creature compendium. There are creature write-ups for: Apt, Banth, Calot, Plant Man, Ulsio and White Ape.
After chapter 10 there are rules for calculating experience in the game, a glossary of terms used on Barsoom, the Open Game License and a character sheet.

Overall, I am very pleased with Red Planet. I like the old-school feel of the game, and the less-is-more design approach Clovis took. As I stated before, I have not had a chance to playtest the game as of yet, but I would have no problem recommending Red Planet to anyone looking for a rules-lite system to run sword & planet adventures. Especially at the $10 cover price! Those of you who are interested in ordering a copy of the game should go to Clovis' blog, Jasoomian Dreams, scroll to the bottom of the page and the ordering instructions are listed there.


Fun With Google Reading Level Filter

Following Sean's lead, I decided to see what results I would get if I used the new Google Reading Level Filter on my blog. Here are the results:

I apologize for not offering any advanced level reading... :-)

Note: I ran some other very high profile blogs I follow through this filter, and I actually feel pretty good about my results. The blogs in question will remain unnamed to protect the innocent.


Thank You To My Readers!

I have been out of town for the past few days, and I sat down this evening to catch up on some of my blog reading. I was floored when I went over to Cyclopeatron and found he had updated the list he has been maintaining for OSR blog rankings, and Swords Against the Outer Dark had moved up the list! It seems I am number 15 on the "December Blog Rankings", and number 5 on the "Hottest Blog List". Basically, this means I have gained 30 new followers in about a month and a half.

You may be asking, what did I do to gain so many new readers? The honest answer is, not much! And this is entirely my fault. I have been working very hard on my supplement for Labyrinth Lord, and I just haven't taken the time to update very often in the past few weeks. I am sorry for that. I have decided it will become a priority for me to update much more often, and keep everyone in the loop with the book.

As for the new readers, welcome! I am proud as hell that you have taken an interest in this blog. For old readers, thank you for sticking around! I promise this coming year is going to be a big one for Swords Against the Outer Dark. No one said maintaining a gaming blog was going to be easy, but it sure as hell has been an interesting ride.

Thanks again, everyone! It means a lot, so please keep coming back.

New Goblinoid Games Forums Up

I just wanted to alert everyone to the new and improved Goblinoid Games forums. If you have even a passing interest in Labyrinth Lord, Mutant Future, Starships & Spacemen and/or GORE, I urge you to join the community and become active on these forums. Hell, if you are interested in old-school roleplaying games in general, you should join. And join the Labyrinth Lord Society while you are at it. There is no such thing as too much support for a company as cool as Goblinoid Games!


Bonazzi "Head of Cthulhu" Pipe On eBay

For those interested, one of Andrea Bonazzi's hand-carved pipes is up for sale on eBay. The pipe listed is the "Head of Cthulhu" model, which on Andrea's site is titled ""Tobacco-Pipe V", and there is a "Buy It Now" price of $799.99. It is listed as new and unsmoked. If only I had the money...

Interestingly enough Swords Against the Outer Dark is specifically mentioned in the classified on eBay, so it is only right that I help spread the word. I believe this is Andrea's brother who has the pipe listed for sale, he has 100% feedback on eBay and if you look at his other items he has many other pipes listed as well.

This could be the only chance to obtain a one of a kind piece of Cthulhiana created by the gifted hands of Andrea Bonazzi, so if you have the means to do so please do not hesitate, because there may not be another chance like this again in the foreseeable future.


Looking For Celtic Legends RPG

If anyone out there in the blogoverse has a copy of Celtic Legends, a French roleplaying game published in the early 90's, and would be interested in selling or trading it please contact me (psmangus at gmail dot com). It is one of those games I traded ages ago, and for whatever reason I have had the itch to get a copy of it again. So far I have almost zero luck finding a copy for sale on the 'net, and I don't think a PDF copy is available. Thanks!


The North Winds of Ithaqua Blow South

Our first snowfall of the winter season fell today! For North Carolina it is a rarity that we get snow before Christmas, so we were surprised and elated when we saw the white flacks begin to fall. I hope this is a sign of things to come, and we get a lot more as winter pushes on!


Poll Closed, Multiple XP Tables Wins

Well, anther poll has closed and this one was very close. I was curious to see if most folks playing classic Dungeons & Dragons/Labyrinth Lord/Swords & Wizardry play the game as written, and use a different experience point progression table for each class, or do they use a single experience point chart that everyone uses? Turns out that the answer is almost split, with multiple tables winning out by only four votes. The comments that were left for this one were interesting, and there are some compelling arguments for both styles of play.

I am not sure where I truly stand on this one. I have played the game both ways, and honestly there is not a whole lot of difference in the end. A single chart is much easier to keep up with, but it also detracts from any kind of strategy a player might enjoy when deciding which class to play. Thieves have the lowest experience point requirements, and in my opinion Clerics get the most bang for their "experience buck". This kind of thing should matter when deciding what class to play, and maybe even adds a kind of game within a game for some players. In the end I believe it is a matter of wanting some variation and texture in the system over having the elegance of unity.


[Sword & Sanity RPG] Resolution Systems

Roleplaying games are designed around two very important building blocks, player interaction and task resolution. I want to take a moment to discuss the later, and some of the choices I have made while designing the various task resolution systems for Swords Against the Outer Dark: Sword & Sanity Roleplaying.

As I have discussed extensively in the past, this game is being designed as an extension of the Labyrinth Lord rules. When I decided I wanted to take on this project it became clear early on that I wanted the design and gameplay to be as close to LL as possible. So far, I feel I have achieved this, but there are a few things I have changed along the way. Task resolution has been a big change, though my approach has been more of a reorganization of the rules more than it has been an overhaul.

In Labyrinth Lord there are several task resolution systems which are used. A very thorough breakdown and discussion of this can be found here (B/X D&D and LL work the same). All in all, I do not have many complaints about how most things are handled, but I have to admit that the OCD part of my brain tends to squirm when I try to understand the reasoning behind some of the game design decisions that were made.

A good example of what I mean by this is the way thieving abilities are handled. Six of the seven skills listed require percentile dice to be rolled when used, but Hear Noise instead requires a d6 to be rolled when it is used. Why is this? Why not have all thieving abilities use a d00? Also, why do thieving abilities use percentile, as does the Ranger's tracking ability in AD&D, but the Cleric's turn undead ability uses a 2d6 when used? It just seems odd to me to create a different task resolution system for Class Abilities each time a new class was designed...

Anyway, as I said before, I am not redesigning the game as much as I am reorganizing and cleaning things up the way I feel they need to be cleaned up. Quickly, here are a few thought I want to share concerning the task resolutions systems I will have in place:
  • Texture and Fun - I could have easily discarded most of the dice mechanics present in the LL system, and pared it down to just one task resolution system, but I decided against doing that. The main reason for this is because rolling dice is fun. Its that simple. I honestly believe that some of the system burnout I suffered from playing d20 based games came from the fact that all of the subsystems present in older editions of D&D were thrown out and replaced with a single d20 based system. It took me a long time to realize that by doing this D&D/d20 lost a whole hell of a lot of texture and flavor. The system became boring. By keeping multiple systems to resolve various tasks it allows the players to roll a wide variety of dice during the game. It sounds childlike, but I feel that rolling a wide variety of dice makes the game that much more interesting and engaging. This is just my opinion, of course.
  • d6 Common Adventuring Actions - In the Sword & Sanity RPG all player characters are Adventurers first and foremost, no matter what Class the player chooses to play. Each of the different Classes in the game simply represents a "class" of Adventurer. Nothing revolutionary about this, but it is a different way of organizing the game data. As it stands, LL has a few common adventuring "skills" that use a d6 to resolve, such as Find Traps, Hear Noises, Foraging, Hunting, etc. Unfortunately, all of these skills are scattered throughout the rulebook, just as they were with the B/X D&D rulebooks. In the Sword & Sanity RPG rulebook all of these Common Adventuring Actions have been compiled and listed under the entry for Adventurer. These actions on the most part work the same as they did before, and use a d6 to resolve.
  • d00 Class Abilities - As I mentioned earlier, it bothers me that Clerics use one dice system for their Abilities and Thieves use another. Why not have all Class Abilities resolve using the same dice mechanic? I decided to use a d00 to resolve the use of Class Abilities across the board. I have designed six Classes for the game, and every one of these classes has Class Abilities that use the d00 mechanic. (I will be discussing the Classes in greater detail beginning next week) So, why not use a d6 to resolve Class Abilities just like the Common Adventuring Actions mentioned above? The reason I chose to use d00 over d6 is because I feel Class Abilities require a dice roll that offers pinpoint accuracy in the results. When rolling a d6 the range of results is very dramatic (i.e. 1 = 16.66666666666667%, 2 = 33.33333333333333%, 3 = 50%, 4 = 66.66666666666667, 5 = 83.33333333333333%, 6 = 100%). This seems fine to me when rolling to resolve Common Adventuring Actions, because they are not as important to the character as Class Abilities are. Class Abilities deserve more attention to detail and accuracy, which can only be gained by using percentile dice.
  • 2d6 Calculating Results - When a Class Ability is used sometimes there is a need to calculate a random number that represents the end results of using said Ability. The number of undead which are turned, or the number of rounds it takes for a lock to be picked, are two examples of how this works. If larger sums are required, simply add additional six sided dice to the mix, roll the dice and add up the total.
  • d6 Initiative - Nothing has changed here. Initiative (so far) has remained unchanged from the LL rules.
  • 3d6 Ability Checks - Ability Checks work as explained in the LL rules, but instead of using a d20 to resolve these checks I decided to use 3d6. This allows for more predictable results due to the belle curve 3d6 creates when rolled. Using a d20 can be more unruly than I wanted for Ability Checks in the game.
  • d20 Combat - Unlike Ability Checks, I wanted combat to be chaotic and unpredictable, so I decided it best to keep the d20 mechanic in place. Not much has changed in this regard.
So, what do you think? Am I on the right track here, or have I included too many resolution systems in the game? I look forward to hearing arguments for and against my design choices.

I Am Now A Pundit

Last night, as I slept, I advanced to a new level in the OSR blogging community due to gaining some new followers. I now have 160 followers here on The Outer Dark, advancing me to Level 7, which grants me the title of Pundit. I would like to welcome all the new folks, and thank all the regulars who takes the time to stop in from time to time to read my stuff. It means a lot!


Blogger Word Verification As Random Name Generator

A game I started playing with myself a while back was writing down interesting words that happen to pop up on Blogger word verification when posting comments on other people's blogs. You know, the little popup that asks you to type in a randomly generated word to verify that you are a flesh and blood person and not a spambot? Anyway, if you pay close enough attention to these things you begin to see that sometimes a pretty cool sounding word happens to be generated. It doesn't happen all the time, but sometimes you get lucky and it happens more often than not that an inspired word presents itself. Case in hand, here are the last twenty words that were generated for me these past couple of days:
  • semerris
  • rorapp
  • poidenh
  • sycherco
  • selis
  • caten
  • dinunsep
  • chezdeg
  • olopiga
  • cuush
  • nessen
  • prusneb
  • cularic
  • enaria
  • lisuru
  • uluxin
  • sotra
  • morgos
  • coffl
  • tresneg
Yes, these are all gibberish words. Nothing here Tolkien could hang his hat on. But there is plenty here for a writer of Weird fiction to love. Many of these words have a strange and exotic sound to them. Add little flourishes, like hyphens and apostrophes, and they begin to take on even more character. If you think about them for a minute, some of these words begin to evoke images in your mind. People, places and things all present themselves when I hear some of these words. I am not sure if it is some kind of word association thing that is working on an almost subliminal level, but when I hear some of these words I can't help but associate them with things I can use in my game world.

Let's take a handful real quick, and I will quickly share with you the first thing that springs to mind as I type the word:
  • Semerris - a notorious sorcerer who is a known diabolist. Some whisper that Semerris killed his own master as a blood sacrifice to enter into a pact with a powerful demon.
  • Nessen - (the Nessen Forest) the old wood where the tower of Semerris lies enshrouded in an unnatural tangle of thorn trees. Some say there is a "Black Man" luring young maidens deep into the old Nessen Forest, never to be seen again.
  • Enaria - a local girl who has recently gone missing, and is widely thought to be held captive in the tower of Semerris. This is the daughter of the mayor of Coffl, and he is willing to pay anything for his daughter's safe return.
  • U'luxin - the demon with whom Semerris is aligned. Uluxin requires an annual blood sacrifice to be performed in his name as payment for any pact that is entered into with him.
  • Coffl - the town that lies just on the edge of the Nessen Forest. Folk have whispered of seeing a "Black Man" skulking on the edge of the forest, and "hell hounds" can be heard in the forest, baying at the moon deep in the night.
Like I said, these are the words that jumped out at me, and I typed out the first description that came to mind for each one. In my descriptions I linked all five words together to weave a small tapestry. This tapestry could easily serve as an adventure seed, and even provide a foundation for a larger campaign.

So here is the challenge. I would like to see other bloggers try this same experiment, and post the results on their own blogs. Take a group of randomly generated Blogger word verification words, choose the five that "speak" to you and quickly describe what each of the words could be used for in your own game, which could be anything -- places, people or things. The choice is yours. Once you have them posted, come back and leave a link to your post in the comments, so others can check them out. I look forward to seeing what everyone comes up with.


[Poll] XP Charts -- One For Each Class, or One Size Fits All

While working on my Sword & Sanity RPG I have been doing a lot of obsessive thinking about Dungeons & Dragons/Labyrinth Lord and why certain rules were designed the way they were. I have been going back and forth on whether or not I prefer a unified experience point table, or if I prefer having each class in the game have its own unique experience point table. I can find justification for both, and will probably include rules for each in the upcoming book. Or I may not. Time will tell.

I am curious to see what you guys think. I am only including a vote for one or the other, and not allowing a middle of the road choice on this particular poll. Please take a moment to cast your vote, and leave a comment if you feel strongly about your answer. Thanks!


Heroic Fantasy Quarterly -- Prose. Poetry. Pulp.

Looking for an online magazine that specializes in publishing heroic fantasy? Well, look no further than Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. I ran across this site back in January of this year, and I have to say that the quality of stories and poetry that they publish is very good. I have yet to be disappointed and I highly suggest anyone who is interested in the genre to take the plunge and read an issue. I can safely say you will not stop with just one.

From the site:
Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is an ezine dedicated to publishing short works of heroic fantasy. More than that, through both prose and poetry we hope to hearken an older age of storytelling – an age when a story well told enthralled audiences. Traits of great oral storytelling survive the ages to influence treasures of literature, the pulps, radio plays, late-night game sessions, and now Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.
Think you might have the writing chops and want to see your stuff published by these guys? Here are their submission guidelines:
As its name suggests, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is a quarterly ezine dedicated to publishing heroic fantasy — in both prose and poetry. We are unrepentant in our goal of elevating unapologetic sword and sorcery to a rightful high place. We pay $100 for stories and $25 for poems, upon publication. (Scroll down for info on art submissions.) We purchase first world English language electronic rights, electronic rights for 90 days, archival rights for twelve months, and excerpt rights.

We publish in July, October, January, and April. Each issue will include up to three stories and two poems. We accept submissions year-round. Our fiction word limit is 10,000 words, although we are willing to serialize at a maximum of 50,000 words over four issues. You may submit up to three poems, with a cumulative maximum of 30 pages. Tolkienesque (as in really long) poetry epics/sagas/vedas will most likely be treated — and paid — like fiction. Similarly, prose pieces of fewer than 1,000 words will be paid at poetry’s standard rate of $25.

Art: HFQ is looking for quality banner art to accompany each new issue. Please review art from the past two issues to see the style we prefer. Image dimensions should be approximately 850 x 250 pixels. We’re not interested in non-banner art at this time. We’ll pay you, but rates are negotiable. If you’d like us to consider your work please email a link to the website where your art is displayed. DO NOT SEND US AN EMAIL WITH YOUR ART ATTACHED; WE WILL DELETE IT, AND YOU’LL NEVER KNOW IF WE EVEN GAVE YOU A LOOK! Follow our submission instructions below, but insert ART instead of fiction or poetry in the subject line of your email. We look forward to seeing what you’ve got!


Seal of N'gah

In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft makes an offhand reference (like he often does in his letters, as well as fiction) to a symbol he calls the "Seal of N'gah". He also mentions the Elder Sign in the same sentence. Here is an excerpt of that letter which contains the reference:
"Again thanking you in Tsathoggua’s name for the recent shipment, & hoping to see more items from your pen ere long, I append the Elder Sign & the Seal of N’gah, given in the Dark Cycle of Y’hu."
I have done quite a bit of looking around for more information on this particular reference, and I am surprised just how little there is out there concerning the Seal of N'gah. It seems to be one of the very few pieces of Lovecraftian lore that has been ignored. Especially considering how much coverage the Elder Sign has gotten. Strange, given that both were referenced together in the same letter.

Looking in The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia there isn't an entry for "Seal of N'gah", but there is an entry for "N'gah-Kthun", which is listed as a, "pre-human city in which the high temple of the Elder god Ulthar was built." This comes from "The Whisperer In the Darkness", written by Lovecraft in 1930. Still the reference is vague and may not even be related. But that seems to be the way Lovecraft wanted things.

Anyway, for the sake of documentation, and the fact that I could not find an image of this anywhere I seemed to look on the 'net, here is a scan of the Seal of N'gah:

Elder Sign & Seal of N'gah, illustrated by H.P. Lovecraft

Something that is instantly noticeable is just how crude the drawing of the Seal is. Even the Elder Sign has a certain flare and a cool mystique to it. The image Lovecraft drew of the Seal of N'gah looks hastily drawn and uninspired. This must explain why there is not a whole lot of discussion to be found on the subject. There is really nothing very cool about it at all.

If by chance there is more information on this than what I found please let me know. I would love to learn more. Special thanks goes out to Andrea Bonazzi for dragging out his copy of Selected Letters vol. III, scanning and emailing the above image to me.


Counting Lovecraft's Tentacles

A recent blog post from another gamer who enjoys mixing Weird fictional influences with traditional fantasy gaming got me thinking. I totally agree with the opinion that tentacles in and of themselves do not make something "Lovecraftian". Not at all. But, how they are used, on the other hand, can add a Lovecraftian flavor to something, be it fiction, art, film, whatever.

It is a delicate thing all together though. The trick to achieving a sense of cosmicism or existential horror is to weave together a dark, mysterious atmosphere by combining various elements that are designed to unnerve us. There are a lot of things that can be called "Lovecraftian" (alien gods, blasphemous tomes, gibbous moons.... and yes, even tentacles), but none of them stand alone when trying to create a sense of foreboding doom. Woven together in the proper amounts though can result in a type of weird tapestry that Lovecraft could be proud.

The true Yog-Sothothery is to find those elements that unnerve us personally, and use those to weave our own unique mythologies of cosmic horror. As students of Lovecraft's genius we tend to lean too heavily upon the master's own personal nightmares and ignore his overall lesson, or to tap into our own unique and personal brand of darkness...

Now, back to my original point. The thing this post got me wondering about was just how many times H.P. Lovecraft used the word "tentacle" (or tentacles/tentacled) in his fiction? Through clever use of and the Alt-f keyboard command I came up with these results:
  • "The Alchemist" = 0
  • At the Mountains of Madness = 9 (tentacle 1, tencacled 1, tentacles 7)
  • "Azathoth" = 0
  • "The Beast in the Cave" = 0
  • "Beyond the Wall of Sleep" = 0
  • "The Book" = 0
  • "The Call of Cthulhu" = 1 (tentacled 1)
  • The Case of Charles Dexter Ward = 0
  • "The Cats of Ulthar" = 0
  • "Celephaïs" = 0
  • "The Colour Out of Space" = 0
  • "Cool Air" = 0
  • "Dagon" = 0
  • "The Descendant" = 0
  • "The Doom That Came to Sarnath" = 0
  • The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath = 2 (tentacled 1, tentacles 1)
  • "Dreams in the Witch-House" = 1 (tentacled 1)
  • "The Dunwich Horror" = 2 (tentacles 2)
  • "The Evil Clergyman" = 0
  • "Ex Oblivione" = 0
  • "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family" = 0
  • "The Festival" = 0
  • "From Beyond" = 0
  • "The Haunter Of The Dark" = 0
  • "He" = 0
  • "Herbert West: Reanimator" = 0
  • "The Horror at Red Hook" = 0
  • "The Hound" = 0
  • "Hypnos" = 0
  • "Ibid" = 0
  • "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" = 1 (tentacles 1)
  • "In The Vault" = 0
  • "The Lurking Fear" = 4 (tentacles 4)
  • "Memory" = 0
  • "The Moon-Bog" = 0
  • "Nyarlathotep" = 0
  • "The Music of Erich Zann" = 0
  • "The Nameless City" = 0
  • "The Other Gods" = 0
  • "The Outsider" = 0
  • "Pickman's Model" = 0
  • "The Picture in the House" = 0
  • "Polaris" = 0
  • "The Quest of Iranon" = 0
  • "The Rats in the Walls" = 0
  • The Shadow Out of Time = 4 (tentacles 4)
  • The Shadow Over Innsmouth = 0
  • "The Shunned House" = 0
  • "The Silver Key" = 0
  • "The Statement of Randolph Carter" = 0
  • "The Strange High House in the Mist" = 0
  • "The Street" = 0
  • "The Temple" = 0
  • "The Terrible Old Man" = 0
  • "The Thing on the Doorstep" = 0
  • "The Tomb" = 0
  • "The Transition of Juan Romero" = 0
  • "The Tree" = 0
  • "The Unnamable" = 0
  • "The Very Old Folk" = 0
  • "What the Moon Brings" = 0
  • "The Whisperer in Darkness" = 0
  • "The White Ship" = 0
There are 63 fictional works listed, with 8 of those containing a variation on the word tentacle (i.e. tentacle, tentacles or tentacled) and the total number of times it was used is 24.

There you have it. More useless information to impress your friends and family with, courtesy of The Outer Dark.

Thanks to Andrea Bonazzi for the assist on this one. Add these ghostwritten tales to the list ("Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" written for Houdini is already listed above):
  • "Out of the Aeons" (with Hazel Heald) = 3 (tentacled 1, tentacles 2)
  • "The Horror in the Museum" (with Hazel Heald) = 1 (tentacled 1)
  • "The Diary of Alonzo Typer" (with William Lumley) = 3 (tentacled 2, tentacles 1)
  • "Collapsing Cosmoses" (with Robert Barlow) = 2 (tentacles 2)
  • "Within the Walls of Eryx" (with Kenneth Sterling) = 9 (tentacled 1, tentacles 8)
  • "Medusa's Coil" (with Zealia Bishop) = 1 (tentacles 1)
  • "The Mound" (with Zealia Bishop) = 1 (tentacled 1)
Making the new totals 70 fictional works, 15 of those stories had the word "tentacle" (or variations there of) being used 44 times.