Still Alive

The blog’s been quiet for a few weeks. Real life is keeping me busy. Work is unusually hectic for this time of year. Also my oldest son and his family are moving out of state the weekend after July 4th, so I am helping as much as I can plus spending all the time I can with my granddaughter before then. She is about 18 months old and in the last few weeks started calling me Grandpa. It brightens my week to spend time with her. I wish I could afford the gas and hotel expense to drive 9 hours one way every weekend to see her…. I foresee a lot of Skype time in my future….

I had enough energy after work that I wrote and posted a new article on Multiverse, and I drafted two articles for this blog. I have an idea for another article for this blog and will get a draft started for that momentarily.

I’m going to Gamehole Con this year, so I’ll be getting signed up for some games ASAP. I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones, and meeting online friends in person!

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The S’Rulyan Vaults – Kickstarter Received

The S’Rulyan Vaults is the third Kickstarter that I have received the reward in the last week. All of them have been well focused on a short delivery window after fulfillment. S’Rulyan Vaults funded on May 14, with a target delivery of July, 2016. I received mine on May 23rd.

This Kickstarter was unusual in that it had a single pledge level of $5, and is strictly a PDF. It includes two version of the map in old school blue and a parchment style map by Glenn Seal of Monkeyblood Design. There is also a character sheet by James V. West. Interior art and the cover are by Bojan Sucevic. The PDF is a description of a dungeon and lots of tables for what is going on in various locations/aspects of the dungeon.

The PDF is a mini-setting with snake men as the bad guys. The tables each serve a function to help make the adventure different each time it is played.  I like the things the tables do. Some of these tables are for presenting magic items, but in addition to a +x weapon, there is an additional description to make it not just a magic weapon or item.

Glenn’s maps are awesome and the PDF is well designed. The tables are focused on keeping the dungeon “alive”. These tables have ideas that one could use in any dungeon/OSR setting. The character sheet is one of several that James shared on G+ several weeks ago. Interior illustrations are very nice and help set the tone.

One could use this as a stand-alone adventure, or use it as an introduction to the recurring snake men, or the upper level of a megadungeon.

Unlike most dungeons, there are no room numbers or map key. There is a d100 table to roll for what is found on the search of a room. I find this idea interesting, and it will further server to make each foray into the dungeon unique. That is one way to make a dungeon come alive without the tedious task of re-stocking. It also allows GM’s to make it their own and populate as they see fit. One can just as easily run it real time, or roll each room in advance of play.

It definitely gives me some ideas for how to approach my own adventure design to make things flexible across both systems and personal preference of the GM.

The S’Rulyan Vaults is available on RPGNow for $7.00.


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New Big Dragon GM Screen – Another Fulfilled Kickstarter

My order for the New Big Dragon Classic Edition GM Screen Kickstarter came in the mail today. It is quite the hefty package. I’d guess it weight about as much as my AD&D Player’s Handbook. The tables are geared towards 0D&D/Holmes/BX/Labrynth Lord/Swords & Wizardry/Delving Deeper and other similar clones.

The estimated delivery date is June, 2016, and I got mine on May 23, 2016. This is how you do a Kickstarter!

It was well wrapped in a plastic envelope and cardboard shipping box. The contents of the box were tightly shrink wrapped together.



Shrink Wrapped
Shrink Wrapped

As with all the other things Richard LeBlanc has done, the text is clear and easily readable. Thanks to public domain art, it has some very cool illustrations.

There is a nice thank you page on the same heavy card stock as other items, signed by Richard and his colleague, David Wellborn.

Thank You Page
Thank You Page

Similarly, there is the obligatory page for the OGL (Open Gaming License).


Next are two booklets. One for a collection of cleric spells, up to 5th level, and the other magic-user and elf spells up to 6th level. The booklets were shipped flat for better condition on arrival. This requires the user to fold them. I need to by a bone folder, as I have gotten several items like this, and manage to never fold them straight.

Cleric Spells Cover
Cleric Spells Cover
Cleric Spells Interior
Cleric Spells Interior
Magic User Spells Cover
Magic User Spells Cover
Magic User Spells Interior
Magic User Spells Interior

There are character sheets, one generic, and one for each class: Cleric, Elf, Dwarf, Fighter, Halfling, Magic-User, and Thief.  These are heavy card stock, and very nice. I hate to write on them. I’m considering having them laminated so I can re-use them….

Character Sheets
Character Sheets

There is also a spell record sheet and a character log sheet for the GM to keep track of a party. These sheets are also of durable card stock.

Spell Record Sheet
Spell Record Sheet
Character Log Sheet
Character Log Sheet

There is a Game Master’s Table Reference Document with all of the tables on the GM screen.

GM's Table Reference Document
GM’s Table Reference Document

Finally, there is the two part GM screen. Only one section of the screen has player facing tables for experience points for each class, and ability bonuses and penalties.

One screen has the combat sequence, game turn and game day sequence, the saving throws for each class, attack tables, missile ranges, AC by armor type, variable weapon damage, monster reactions and XP, clerics turning, and thief abilities. One handy table is the special abilities by class. It shows the armor, weapons, and shields allowed by each class, if there is infravision, and other notes. The cleric turning table is repeated on the cleric spell sheet.

Screen 1
Screen 1

The other screen has retainers and hirelings with details on recruiting retainers (henchmen), cost for mercenaries and specialists. The movement and encumbrance section has indoor and outdoor movement and pursuit rules. Finally, there is cost of weapons and equipment, and treasure tables. To me, it makes sense to have weapons and equipment on the player side of the screen, but this is something the GM also often needs.

Screen 2
Screen 2

I can’t think of anything that I am always wanting at my finger tips at the table. All RPG designers should keep in mind the most used tables in their game and have a section or appendix with all the most used tables.

The flip side of the character sheets are blank. The only thing I would think to add to them would be the equipment and encumbrance lists. I think that is a minor point.

This offering is high quality. In some ways, it is almost too pretty to use. However, I will endeavor to get over that concern and use it when I run 0D&D or one of its clones.

This Kickstarter includes PDFs of all the items. Once the Kickstarter is shipped, I am sure it will be available on RPGNow, if you are interested.

You can follow Richard’s Blog, Save Vs. Dragon here.

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World Architect Cards – A Kickstarter Has Arrived!

Yesterday’s mail had the fulfillment of my pledge to the World Architect Cards. I pledged at the level for a deck of World Architect Cards, and Dungeon Architect Cards, as I missed the Dungeon Architect Cards Kickstarter. It also includes a PDF of the deck and all stretch goals. This arrived May 20, 2016, and the stated delivery date on the Kickstarter is for September, 2016. Way to go and deliver ahead of time!

Packed Tight
Packed Tight


The Kickstarter was ran by Simian Circle Games, developer of Far Away Land. World Architect Cards is the fouth Kickstarter for Simian Circle Games, and the third to be funded. It took two tries to get Dungeon Architect Cards funded. Far Away Land did not grab my interest, and I missed the DAC Kickstarters. The WAC Kickstarter grabbed my interest.

DAC & WAC Side By SideDAC & WAC Side By Side

I’ve been busy with work and other real life concerns, so I didn’t open it until today. The box used was the right height to hold each deck and the width and length were packed with foam peanuts to hold both decks firmly in place. The tape job on the box plus the label placement hid exactly how the box opened. So I knew the contents should be in good condition.

DAC Back of Box & Instruction Card
DAC Back of Box & Instruction Card on Top of Deck

The Dungeon Architect Cards is a deck of 54 cards with 53 DA cards and one instruction card. The tuck box is unlike any I have seen before, and makes for a tight fit to get the cards out. After taking the deck out a few times, I can already tell that I want a different box. I’ll stop by the FLGS and get a plastic box.


DAC - Showing Box Construction
DAC – Showing Box Construction – You can slide a card or something through that flap.

The DA Cards have a room on each side and each side has 12 descriptive words. You draw a card, pick which side to use by choice or coin flip, put it on your map with a description and decide which door to use for the next room, and repeat. There are cards for room, odd shaped rooms, corridors, and intersections.

There are five other cards that are not rooms. The five cards are Dungeon Lore, Settlement, Wilderness, Traps, and Treasure. They suggest ways to flesh out the dungeon and its surrounding area with categories of information and words for each category. For example, the Traps card has trap type, triggers, location, danger level, disarm difficulty, effects, and disarm by. These five cards alone can be used to help generate dungeons and their surrounding area across your map.

Unlike the DA Cards, the World Architect Cards were shrink wrapped and in a standard tuck box and the cards were easy to remove. There are 72 cards with 71 WA cards and one instruction card. I have the stretch goal deck, the way the rewards on the KS read, there is a 54 card standard deck for some pledge levels.

WAC - Front of box and Front of Instruction Card
WAC – Front of box and Front of Instruction Card

WAC provide locations that are either biomes (forests, desert, mountains, etc.) or builds (castles, bridges, mines, etc.). Each card is double sided, so 71 cards have 142 locations. There are a list of 15 descriptive words and a d6 option for weather. These cards can be used to create area maps, world maps, or random maps for hex crawls or being transported to a new location suddenly. One could also use them to describe illusions.

WAC - Back of box and Front of Instruction Card
WAC – Back of box and Front of Instruction Card

Some of the locations in the WAC deck are dungeons, so you can use DAC cards to build the dungeon.

Need a quick five room dungeon? Then draw five cards from the DAC deck. Or however many rooms you need.

I have an interesting idea for an experimental campaign. I will do a map and randomly place dungeons and then use the DAC and WAC decks to connect it all. I’m thinking a die drop table using d6’s and the number on the d6 is the location of the dungeon entrance on a hex map. I’ll pick a method to generate the number of dungeons over the map, and a method for how many rooms they have. I’m thinking I’ll use a desk pad for the drop so that their aren’t too many too close together. I don’t have hex paper that big so I’ll use a section of Gaming Paper. This experiment will give me a way to evaluate both decks in a way that will be useful for future use.

I don’t have time to implement this idea at the moment. I need to clean out my garage so I can get my kayak down and enjoy the lake now that the sun is shining.

EDIT: I found that Far Away Land has a YouTube Channel and they have this video on how to use the World Architect Cards.

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Latest Order From Wayne’s Books

I was perusing Wayne’s Books and found that he had a World of Greyhawk play copy and a Gamma World 1st Edition play copy.




They may not be perfect, but they are the last two things from my original collection that I had really wanted to restore. I last talked about my collection here. Having the iconic maps by Darlene is the best part. I also love the art by Trampier in the 1st edition Gamma World.

Wayne also had two play copies of the Player’s Handbook, so I picked those up, as I wanted a few more for the table. I now have 5 table copies, plus my OSRIC Player’s Guide.


He also through in a Dragon # 71 and Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits.


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Aaand It’s Gone….

I was sitting in my chair at my desk after a long week. I work from home, and the best spot for my home office is my home office. So for over a year it has been both my work place and my play place.

So I sat here with my eyes closed, my mind adrift. I recalled that tomorrow will the the deadline for the One Page Dungeon Contest. I haven’t yet done anything, but am hoping to come up with an idea. Suddenly it hit me, a cool name. I went to write it down and the name was gone. I still have the kernel of an idea, but wish I had that name.

I closed my eyes again, and drifted. I thought, “I really should post about the latest package I got in from Wayne’s Books.” I continued to let my mind drift. As before, I came close to dozing off. I had several other blog ideas come to me. I sat up to write them down and thought of something at the last minute – I need to officially schedule time off for a couple of conventions. I wrote that down and noted to post something about my package from Wayne’s Books. I went to write down the 3 or 4 other ideas I had, and they were gone….

I don’t know why, but I have this ability to get these really cool ideas that I can see the whole thing, but before I can just make a note to hold the place of that idea, it vanishes.

Usually, when I get ideas like that, I don’t loose the bulk of them, I can at least get two or three of them noted before they fade.

It’s supposed to be too chilly and wet to put in my garden this weekend, so I’ll try chasing nebulous ideas and whipping them into shape so I can share them with others.

As I was proofreading the above, I had an idea for a spell:

The Ungraspable Thought

Level: 3
Range: 1″ per level
Duration: Permanent
Area of Effect: 2″ x 2″
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 3 segments
Saving Throw: Negates

This spell causes those affected to be unable to solve the nagging feeling that they know something. The caster must name the idea, concept, or fact that the one affected cannot grasp. It must be quick and simply stated.

For example, “You cannot know me, my description, or my location.” This will prevent those affected from getting a handle on who the caster is, what he looks like, or where to find him. The one affected will continually ask, “Where are we going?” “Who are we after?” “What does she look like?”

A magical trap might cause adventurers who find a treasure to never be able to re-trace their steps.

The material component is refined smoke, costing 100 gold pieces. The caster can make it with the outlay of 100 gp for processing it.

A save versus spell negates the effect.  A more general and broad command will add +2 to the roll. For example, an evil wizard telling a sage to lose the names and faces of everyone they meet.

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How Many Shuffles?

I read an article way back in high school and it mentioned six shuffles of a standard deck of 52 cards for randomization.

However, this video lays out three ways of shuffling, the riffle shuffle, where you take half the deck in each hand an shuffle it together, the overhand stacking method, and just mixing them up on a table.

Seven riffle shuffles is the most efficient, so six isn’t quite there. Surprisingly, the overhand stacking method requires about 10,000 times to randomize the deck. One minute of mixing on the table is required for the last method.

I don’t play a lot of card games, but I do like things randomized so I get fair results.

I’m curious how many shuffles are needed for big decks or cards that come in some games. How many shuffles do they require? They have other videos that go into greater detail, I’ll have to watch those to see if they cover those larger decks.

I’ve played one game of Dungeon Solitaire, which uses a standard deck of cards. I keep getting interrupted every time I try to sit down and play another game. I also have backed the Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls, which has awesome art! I can’t wait to get it.

I also backed World Architect Cards, and I have a deck of the GameMaster’s Apprentice cards. While neither one is a stand alone game, it is desirable to have randomized results to minimize duplication.

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TSR Launches Multiverse

The new TSR has launched a website, Multiverse, with a focus on Analog Gaming in a Digital World. I am honored to be among the RPG bloggers asked to participate. How cool is that? I can now tell people that I work* for TSR.

This marks the third branch of the New TSR, the first is now TSR Games, that is taking the place of that magazine we won’t name, and the second is the TSR Podcast Network, so far with three podcasts.

While at Gary Con VIII, I approached +Jayson Elliot to get his autograph, because I was trying to collect all of the signatures of the guests pictured in the program. Jayson was all excited that I asked for his autograph. I mentioned that I would write about it on my blog, and he asked what my blog was called. Then he says, “Oh, I read your blog.” So now I’m the one geeking out. Then he says, “I was hoping to talk to you about something.” WHAT!?

So we find a place to talk and he shows me the in development portion of the site and explains what he is looking for. I can re-post articles from my site, or write original content on Multiverse.

Jayson says, “The two things we won’t do are mainstream comics, and video games. Our focus is Analog Gaming.”

I must say that I have learned some things that have me thinking how to re-structure the presentation of my blog and how I do some things behind the scenes. But that’s a sizable project for another day.

There’s already several articles online and more to be added daily. If there is something cool you’d like to see us discuss, PM me on G+.

*It’s not a formal position with TSR, but close enough, right?

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2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge – A Change Of Pace

I have participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge for the past two years. In 2014 I did the challenge with two blogs, this one, and my genealogy blog. Both were focused on introductory topics. Last year, I just did this blog and focused on building cities in a fantasy setting.

This year, I had not planned to do anything, but while putting together some ideas for a western themed RPG idea and a steam punk themed RPG, I came up with two lists. These are just lists of topics I came up with as an exercise to help me flesh out my ideas. I find making such A to Z lists to be helpful to flesh out one’s ideas. You can use them to broaden the scope of something, or to focus in great detail.

For example, I can make a general A to Z list to make sure I cover topics that really need coverage, if I am making up my own RPG. Similarly, I can use such a list for various things in my own campaign. I can also use the lists to focus on topics that I want to know more about or cover in greater detail, such as an A to Z of iron making prior to the blast furnace, Bessemer, etc, for a western setting.

I have a great many things on my plate, and have not gotten back to these ideas. I present them here as others may find these kernels helpful in their own games.

I enjoyed the challenge of the A to Z blogging challenge, but need to keep on task for the other things I have on my plate. I know that there are those who tune out blogs posting in the A to Z challenge, which I understand. The only thing I don’t like about the A to Z challenge is trying to make time to read the other RPG bloggers who post, let alone blogs for other interests. I don’t rule out a return in future years, but I don’t foresee a return anytime soon.

My western themed A to Z Topics:

A – ANIMALS – from the mundane to the fantastic. Can be from any where in the world.
B – BARRELS – Both dry goods and wet and water and alcohol were packed in barrels from keg sized to barrell sized, to even larger than a standard barrel.
C – COWBOYS – Somebody has to keep track of all the cattle.
D – DANGER – Danger on all sides, the environment, outlaws, etc.
E – ELECTRIC – Electricity – Edison (1870’s forward) & Tesla in 1880’s on.
F – FIRE – Mostly wooden or wood frame buildings could wipe out a town. Hand pump fire engines, bucket brigades, etc. Could be sparked on purpose, by lightning, or accident.
G – GAMBLER – Gambling in all its forms was common in the West. From gambling halls to riverboats to gathered around a campfire.
H – HORSES – The main mode of individual transportation, from being ridden to pulling. Lots of smells, see manure. Animals need good care to last.
I – INDIANS – Far more variation than the single word implies, and the stereotypes of novels, stage, and screen.
J – JUSTICE – From frontier every man and woman for him or herself to lynch mobs to the long arm of the law….
K – KILL – Sometimes the good guys have to kill others. Often killing animals is required to eat or survive danger.
L – LEATHER – Leather for shoes & boots, belts, saddles, bridles, reins, chaps, bags, firehoses, etc.
M – MANURE – Everywhere because of prevalence of horses, mules, and donkeys for transportation, and cattle, sheep and other herd animals
N – NAVIGATION – If not following a known trail, or tracks of the railroad, how do you navigate? See The Big Country, for the way Gregory Peck did it.
O – OUTLAW – Outlaws could move from outlaw to lawmen multiple times in their careers. Many people had multiple professions/occupations in their lifetime.
P – PRESS – Frontier newspapers were often one of the first signs of civilization. Every town of a certain size had their own newspaper. Telegraph (wire) extended the spread of canned news.
Q – QUALITY – Things tended to be built well and to last.
R – RANCHERS – Require lots of land for grazing and lots of water for huge herds of cattle.
S – STORMS – Wind, rain, flood, hail, snow, tornados/cyclones, lightning, etc.
T – TECHNOLOGY – Telegraph & Telephones 1840’s for Telegraph and mid 1870’s for telephones.
U – UNDERTAKER – The one man everyone has to see eventually.
V – VILLAIN – Every story needs a villain, whether it is the local bully, or some grandiose mastermind with an intricate plot.
W – WATER – Water is life. Water access was a big deal for people, animals, farmers, ranchers, etc.
X – X MARKS THE SPOT OF THE LOST MINE. Prospectors, miners, and those seeking the lost mine(s) are a good plot hook.
Y – YELLOW FEVER – Various diseases due to poor sanitation, spoiled food, insect born, and so forth made epidemics common. Diseases that have been tamed with antibiotics and vaccines were still rampant and many children died young. NOTE: Yellow Fever is mosquito born virus in tropical and subtropical areas. Hey – I needed something for Y….
Z – ZING – Bullets and arrows fly past your ear. How many different sounds or words for sounds to you need to describe the action.

My steam punk themed A to Z Topics:

A – AIRSHIPS – Blimps, Balloons, Dirigibles, Zeppelins, etc.
B – BRASS – Blimps – Bandoleers – Balloons
C – CALCULATORS – a la Babbage & Lovelace – Corduroy & Cardigan – Carapace –  CHIMERAS – CIRCUSES – CALLIOPE
D –  DETECTIVES – a la Holmes, Pinkertons, Scotland Yard – DISINTEGRATION/INTEGRATION, Dirigibles – DRILLS –
E – ELECTRICITY – Generators, transmission, Tesla.
F – FARADAY CAGES – Ways to fight electricity in addition to rubber for insulation. This was before synthetic rubber.
I – INVASION – a la War of the Worlds
J – JOURNALISTS – This is the time period when journalists rose to be a big deal. Think of Stanley searching for Dr. Livingstone.
K – KALEIDOSCOPE – Multi-colored way of viewing the world, or controlling machines or others. KITES – For power, propulsion, or travel.
L – LOST WORLDS – Dinosaurs, Antartica, Hollow Earth, etc.
M – MONSTERS – a la Frankenstein, robots/Clanks, etc.
N – NICKLE PLATED (When there’s no chrome or brass.)
O – OSTENTATIOUS – The villain often has plans that are huge, and often the initial appearance of overwhelming numbers on his side.
P – POWER – Animal, human, water, wind, steam, electricity, exotic
Q – QUALITY – Things are made well and to last.
R – RADIO – How communicate and control things at a distance.
S – STEAM ENGINES –  Wind is still a primary power for ships and mills.
T – TRANSPORTATION – wagons & carriages, ships & boats, trains, submarines (20K Leagues Under the Sea), airships
Telegraph & Telephone
U – UNDYING – Villains might quest for ways to live on in flesh or machine or both.
V – VILLAINS – Without villains/bad guys/etc. what would challenge the players? Vampires?
W – WILD WILD WEST – TV Show & Movie – Crossover with Western RPG.
Y – YARDARM – Either end of the yard of a square-rigged ship.
Z – ZOO – Zoological gardens were quite the thing in this time period. Zeppelins


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John Carlson – An Email Interview – 100 Sessions DMing AD&D on Roll20

I play in a weekly AD&D online game on Roll20. I have mentioned this before, most recently a couple of weeks ago when we hit session 100 and two years of play. Our DM, +John Carlson writes the blog, Dwarven Automata. He agreed to an email interview where I picked his brain about running a game on Roll20 for 100 sessions. This is the second interview posted here.

In my last article, about hitting session 100 on Roll20, I got a few responses on G+ that there were some that had lasted as long, and one that was over 200 sessions!

Last night was session 103, and John sent me his answers to my questions. I was flattered that he found it fun and was ready for more questions. I’m not sure what else I might ask, but I find it interesting and helpful to learn how other GM’s handle that role.

Some of my questions were spurred by conversations we have waiting for all the players to join the Hangout, such as the one about Cons.

I have two questions that are now standard questions for all future interviews, about having women players and women GM’s. This was spurred by an interrupted conversation about it with +Satine Phoenix at Gary Con VIII. I am hopeful that she will soon have time to respond to my questions for an email interview. I am interested in continuing that conversation.

What was your start in gaming?

My first experience with role-playing games happened when I was around nine or ten years old (in the mid-1980s). It was during school – perhaps a half-day – and the teacher said that when we finished our work we could talk quietly. There was this kid, Scott, who sat behind me and he asked if I wanted to play a game about adventures with magic and dragons he learned from his older brother. It sounded good, so he made some paper chits with numbers and had me create a quick character (probably a fighter).

It was a very short game. My character started on some foggy moor outside a village and soon ran across a terrible creature with greenish skin that kept coming no matter how many times I hit it – its wounds simply knit back together. While Scott kept reminding me I had a lantern, which seemed to me like an odd detail to fixate on while being clawed to death by an unstoppable monster, I had my character run for the hills. Not being nearly fast enough to escape, my character climbed a tree and hoped for the best. Scott continued to mention that lantern throughout all this, which was getting really annoying. Eventually, the creature found me and tore me to pieces.

I don’t remember if Scott explained what a troll was or why the lantern was important, but it didn’t matter. Even with that character’s brief and tragic experience, I was hooked on the concept of role-playing games in general and Dungeons & Dragons in particular. Shortly after that, I picked up the full set of first edition AD&D books and convinced my friends to play the game with me as Dungeon Master. Our group occasionally grew to ten or twelve players (including Scott), but the core of it consisted of four and I was almost always the DM from day one.

When did you first DM?

That’s pretty much answered above – sometime around nine or ten years old in the mid-1980s using the first edition AD&D rules (as interpreted by a kid that age with no background in RPGs). All things considered, I did a decent job from the little I can remember. I was pretty quick at eye-balling a situation and assigning probabilities to outcomes, had a decent recall of the rules, and knew instinctively that making fair judgments and keeping things moving was more important than being 100% correct.

Our group transitioned pretty seamlessly into second edition AD&D when that was released and played consistently through eleventh grade with a short break occasioned by hormones and the desire to “be cool” in eighth grade. There was another member of our core gaming group who tried to DM – a smart fellow who ended up going to Harvard and becoming a lawyer – but he was a bit of a rail-roader and the other players took great delight in running his campaigns off the tracks. In contrast to that, my trick was to roll with whatever the players did and make it look like I had anticipated their choices from day one by weaving the consequences of their actions into what was planned ahead of time.

What other RPG’s have you played?

I have played surprisingly few RPGs that are not Dungeons & Dragons. A member of our gaming group in high school tried to get us into the Marvel RPG, but no one else was really interested in the superhero genre (or comic books, for that matter; we were oddly focused nerds). At some point in the 80s, I picked up the MERP core rules because of my love for Tolkien, but that went nowhere because of the overly convoluted tables for resolving combat.

More recently, I tried Metamorphosis Alpha in the game you ran on Roll20. Besides that, my knowledge of other systems is mostly theoretical from reading rulebooks – probably the non-D&D system I would be most interested in running is Kevin Crawford’s Stars Without Number, although that has a lot of similarities to basic D&D underneath the hood and perhaps shouldn’t count as a fundamentally different system.

Do you still play regularly? If so, what RPGs do you play? Do you play online, like with Roll20?

At the end of high school the pressure of college admissions (I went to a very competitive high school) brought an end to our gaming group and I stayed away from RPGs for the next ten years. I went to college, married a wonderful woman, had some kids, and started graduate school to study medieval English literature (an academic interest that grew out of my earlier fascination with Tolkien). I thought about joining a college gaming group, but didn’t have much free time. Or at least that’s what I told myself – looking back, I did find time for a lot of single-player CRPGs like Baldur’s Gate, Planescape, etc., so perhaps it was a bit of academic snobbery and the need to keep up appearances as a serious scholar.

Fortunately, my wife was a casual gamer (tabletop and video) – she had actually tried playing with a group at our undergraduate college before we met, but did not have a good experience – and eventually got me playing D&D again. She moved with me for graduate school and took a job as a public middle school teacher for gifted students. When I picked up the third edition D&D books to check out the new system, she suggested I run an afterschool group for her students. I did that for several years before earning my PhD and getting a job in academic publishing.

Unfortunately, my job in publishing led to a pretty itinerant lifestyle with frequent travel that made running those afterschool games or finding any other in-person group almost impossible. That’s about the time I discovered and backed the Kickstarter for Roll20 (or rather Tabletop Forge, which was combined with Roll20), dug out my first edition books, and started playing and running games in earnest again. After a while, my travel schedule calmed down and I now run an afterschool game at my wife’s school in which my oldest son plays in addition to my online campaign.

Do you do board games and card games, or only RPG’s? 

My whole familywife and three kidsare pretty dedicated gaming nerds and we have a decent collection of board and card games (although we probably all spend more time and money on computer games). We have two full-size bookcases of games including Catan, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Legacy Risk, Small World, Five Tribes, Lords of Waterdeep, various Munchkins, etc. When our schedules aren’t too crazy, we host tabletop gaming parties for some of the neighbors and teachers from my wife’s school.

Do you play any video games? If so, what games? Which is your favorite?

Video games (especially CRPGs and adventure games) were what I occupied myself with during that decade away from tabletop gaming and I have continued playing in the years since – heck, I had a Steam account within a week of the system going live in order to download Half-Life 2. I won’t list all the games I play or have played because that would be an incredibly long and boring inventory (I currently have hundreds of games between my Steam and GOG accounts). My favorites, though, include Planescape: Torment, the Witcher series (especially the third game), The Longest Journey, the single-player KOTOR series, Baldur’s Gate (really all the Infinity Engine games), the Ultima series (especially VII), Tie Fighter, Deus Ex, and the old SSI gold box D&D games. Currently, I’ve been playing a good bit of Darkest Dungeon, Elite: Dangerous, and Euro Trucker 2.

You mentioned that you have never been to a con, after our last session, do you ever think about going now?

I wouldn’t go to a convention for myself, although it might be fun to bring my sons to one. My first reaction when exposed to large crowds is to retreat inward, so those kinds of gatherings are not likely to bring out the best in me. In addition, my preferred gaming style involves a slow burn where events take on significance in retrospect as the campaign progresses – not something one is likely to find in those modules and scenarios suited to quick convention play. Seeing my sons enjoy such an event might make it worth attending one, though.

Are you surprised at the longevity of our weekly game?

It only surprises me in retrospect since week-to-week it just seems natural to show up Wednesday nights and run the game whether its session ten or session ninety. I think there are a number of factors that have helped the game last this long:

  • A core group of dedicated players (both experienced and not) who serve as the institutional memory of the campaign, bringing new players up-to-speed and making sense of the weekly madness in terms of the overall setting. This basic stability has made it possible for the game to survive several changes to the player roster.
  • A sandbox campaign design in which the only plots are those of the party’s enemies and allies that evolve over time and react to the changes the group makes in the game world. This also helps with the changing player roster since no PC is essential and no particular adventure hook needs to be followed or completed for the world to keep turning.
  • A very consistent schedule so that everyone playing knows that every week (excepting maybe one or two DM vacations per year!) we will have a four-hour game session Wednesday night at 8PM EST. My experience with other Roll20 games is that scheduling inconsistency and last minute DM cancellations kill player dedication and foster the attitude that skipping games without good reason or prior notice is fine.
  • A well-organized G+ community for the campaign with player written summaries for every game session and other documents to provide an ongoing record of the party’s triumphs and setbacks. This encourages the players to think about and anticipate the game between sessions.
  • A steady drip of information about the game world and its peculiarities delivered not via exposition or any other info dumps, but through the party’s interaction with the world’s factions, civilizations, and dungeons (i.e., the slow scratching away of the trappings of a generic fantasy setting to find the gooey center of weirdness underneath).

Do you ever get bored or burned out by it?

I don’t get bored or burnt out with my campaigns, although certain combinations of players (especially in my afterschool groups) can be tiring. Of course, specific activities in-game where the results are foregone conclusions can bore me in the moment (e.g., enemies trapped in web being slowly turned into pin cushions by archers); also, I tend to spread out my preparatory work since too much map keying or NPC creation in a single sitting can leave me itchy to move on to something different.

It’s likely that my feelings about the campaign owe something to its sandbox nature – it’s hard to get bored when I don’t know exactly what the players are going to do week-to-week and how those actions are going to impact the evolving plans of my various NPCs and factions. I can say that the idea of walking a group of players down a narrowly defined adventure path sounds like the stuff of nightmares, although I wouldn’t knock anyone who enjoys that style of play. I’m sure that just reflects my own weirdness, much like my complete inability to run a module or campaign setting written by someone else.

Do you play in any other online games on Roll20 or other outlets?

As I mentioned above, there is the Metamorphosis Alpha game that you were running last year on Roll20. In addition, there have been a couple of first edition AD&D campaigns run by other players in our Wednesday game – both first-time Dungeon Mastering efforts that I found particularly enjoyable. The thought that playing in my campaign has inspired others to try their hand at running a game is a flattering one and probably the best compliment possible for a DM. That same element of teaching and inspiration, given that the middle schoolers are almost all first-time players, is probably why I have stuck with the afterschool D&D club for so many years.

There was another fun campaign I played in for over a year on Roll20 – around the same time that our game began – that started with second edition rules and switched over to fifth edition after that ruleset’s release. That game focused more heavily on tactical combat than my own games, but it was nice to broaden my horizons in terms of what is possible with online play. In fact, the implementation of maps with line-of-sight and lighting effects in our campaign stemmed from things I learned playing that game.

Are you in any regular in-person games as a player or DM?

The only regular in-person game I have right now is the after school group for my son and his classmates. That campaign has run for almost two years, with frequent hiatuses to accommodate my work travel and school vacations. It’s quite a different experience from our Wednesday night games even though I am using the same campaign setting and house rules – the impetuousness of inexperienced players ensures strikingly different responses to the same situations when compared to more experienced players who are both cautious and accustomed to the conventions of tabletop gaming. Seeing these kids discover through trial and error the best practices for dungeon delving (i.e. , listen at every door, never split the party, always check the mouths of gift horses for traps) is great fun, as is being their introduction to RPGs and (hopefully) inspiring them to start building their own campaigns.

How many women players have you had in all of your games?

My childhood group didn’t have any women, although that might owe something to the fact that I attended a high school that was all boys. Since then, there have been quite a few women players in my games, but still a definite minority overall. Our own Roll20 campaign had one female players who stayed for ten or fifteen sessions towards the beginning (first-time player whose prior RPG experience was of the MMO kind) and there have also been a dozen or so in my after school club over the years. I suppose it would be fair to count my wife, too, since she played in a game I ran for my sons, so the total is probably just under twenty woman players. In practice, though, I haven’t noticed any real difference in play-styles between men and women so this is not something I bothered to count before.

Have you ever had a woman GM?

I have never been in a group with a woman DM, although there has been at least one female player in my afterschool group who went on to run her own campaign in high school. She was one of those players who you know will run their own game from the first day: a quick study with the rules, interested in the process of running a game, and full of setting ideas.

I like the scripts and other things you have shared on your blog. How long until we get to see some of the promised PERL scripts?

My intention is to have those posted soon. The holdup has been the last major script I wrote to prepare for our Roll20 campaign: it allows the user to generate the entire population of a city district using some of the demographic assumptions adopted in D&D supplements during the third edition era (there wasn’t too much official information along these lines prior to that). Unfortunately, that particular script uses versions of both the leveled NPC and commoner generation scripts as subroutines I have since improved and published on my blog separately. Ideally, I would like to tweak the district generator to use the most recent versions of those other scripts before publishing, but that involves combing through the code and remembering how it fits together.

At this point, I’m leaning towards just posting the current version of the district generator with a note explaining its limitations and my own decision to stop using that particular tool in favor of building up the generic NPC population of a city on-the-fly as gameplay progresses. Once I do that, I will publish the source code for all the PERL scripts on my blog for others to tinker with as they wish.

What does D&D mean to you?

This is not an easy question to answer without resorting to something glib – in fact, part of the reason I don’t grow bored with Dungeons & Dragons is that the game’s meaning to me is not a static idea. Sometimes I see it as a simulation engine that allows me to model both mundane and fantastical events, resolving their outcome through a combination of logic and random chance. At other times, though, it strikes me as a multi-faceted outlet for creative energies of all sorts, allowing one to dabble in illustration, improvisational drama, fiction writing, fantastic architecture, and other artistic endeavors. Perhaps it is ultimately that tension created when one explores the chaos of imaginary creations by imposing the rigid logic of mathematical formulae that fascinates me most. Such work is a Sisyphean task in which the reward (i.e., fun) comes from trying and failing and then trying again while sharing that experience with others.


This was a cool exercise and helped me learn a bit more about someone I have known online for over two years and would know his voice anywhere. But I don’t know what he looks like, as we are audio only for our Google Hangouts to improve performance. John is an interesting guy and has areas of knowledge and experience that make him a great storyteller. He has intricate descriptions and leaves us wanting more. John doesn’t do funny voices or make noises to move the story along. He role plays NPCs plainly, almost flat sometimes, but the content of what they say is relevant and fits the situation.

One of the players has recorded the audio of several sessions. John commented that he doesn’t like the sound of his own voice. I think most of us have that issue. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with his voice.

I find myself being curious of one thing, what would it be like to play face to face? Being able to see his facial expression and body language would contain a lot more information. I think that after this long, I can tell from certain pauses and intonations a lot more than I would otherwise.

We use a theater of the mind style and early adventures the players did the mapping, but for quite some time, John has used the lighting features to reveal the map. This has sped things up and saved time trying to figure out the map.

I like John’s presentation with the breadth and depth of his world. I have learned a lot from him. I appreciate his way of making it work, and have learned some things from his interpretation of AD&D. He welcomes questions and explains where he is coming from. If we make a good point, he changes his mind. Be we have had rulings I did not agree with, but it is his game, and we move on.

A couple of times I have asked for the page in the DMG he used to make certain rulings, as I had no recollection of his interpretation. Sometimes, the way my brother and I, and our original group did things is nowhere near the way John does it. I find that I could be a rules lawyer without too much prompting*, but don’t like it. I hate interrupting play. It takes our group far to long to make decisions about actions. We’ll spend an hour of our play time arguing about how we want to do something. It is role played, not necessarily with voices, but with the attitudes and motivations of our characters.

I look forward to many more sessions, not necessarily with the same character, unless we survive our current predicament….

*How many have the guts to admit that? I think that is yet another argument for fewer rules and the players not needing to know the rules.

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Ramblings of an Old Gamer