Category Archives: Personal Stories

Neve Canri

ErinSassinationThis post is entirely self indulgent. Any enjoyment you get out of it will be purely incidental.

Fiction

If I am the referee, then Neve Canri exists in the game world. Whether her machinations are visible to the players, or her attention is focused on some far off corner of the cosmos, she is there.

Neve Canri is a God. Various worshipers claim she is the patron of various things: secrets, lies, conspiracies, undeath. But these are human attempts to understand the divine. Neve Canri is the patron only of her own unknowable will.

On a divine scale, Neve Canri is young. But her ceaseless campaigning has left only a few gods that remember a time before her. The rest are mere infant godlings by comparison, having risen to fill the vacuums she created.

She typically appears as a dark haired woman wearing an elegant gown. There are diamonds where her eyes ought to be, and her withered hands that are little more than skin and bone.

She resides in the Citadel of the Seed, a tower hidden amongst the mountain ranges of the abyss. Each of the tower’s 16 levels appears to be a whole world, with the pathway upwards hidden somewhere in its landscape. At the center of the top level is a great mountain, at the peak of which is the granite throne from which Neve Canri rules.

Orcus is dead. All undead creatures serve Neve Canri.

The Background

Neve Canri began life circa 2008 as an NPC I largely improvised on the spot when a game session lasted well beyond the material I had prepared. I was a different kind of referee back then. The kind who planned out storylines in advance, loved D&D 3.5, and had never killed a character at his table.

I still have all my notes for that first session of what I later called the “Ascendant Crusade Campaign.” I’d recently grown close with some new friends through World of Warcraft, and I wanted to introduce them to the hobby. The first line of my notes is “Start: Almost cartoonishly generic.” This is followed by what I think is supposed to be boxed text. Like I said, a different kind of referee.

FirstPageOfNotesThe structure of the adventure was, indeed, generic. The players would begin in town A, and there was a caravan going to town B. They’d first be presented with the opportunity to join a group of bandits planning to ambush the caravan. If they turned down the job,  they’d be approached by the governor with a counter offer to protect it.

I actually wrote notes for three different paths the players could take through the adventure, and felt quite proud of myself for the level of agency I was providing. As an amusing aside: the players immediately split the party. The halfling rogue went off with the bandits, while the rest joined up with the caravan as guards. It was all sorts of amusing, but that’s neither here nor there.

More to the point, these were the halcyon days when D&D lasted for as long as everyone felt like playing. The group was still going strong, even as they approached the end of my prepared notes. So I began weaving rumors of cult activity in the town they’d just arrived in. Some additional adventuring revealed a hidden cavern beneath the city, and what appeared to be a human sacrifice in progress. A young woman lay on an altar, with chanting cultists and burning braziers around her. Her name was Erin Wallcraft.

I don’t remember exactly how much about Erin was improvised on the spot. I seem to recall it had always been my plan to have a rival adventuring party in this campaign. I might have even outlined who the characters in that rival party would be. But, I certainly didn’t plan for the whole conspiracy which grew out of this improvised moment.

See, Erin wasn’t being sacrificed. She was, in fact, a very important member of the cult, and a fellow worshiper of their god: Vecna, lord of magic, undeath, and secrets.  Under Erin’s orders, the cultists were performing a ritual to transform her into an undead creature. A ritual the players interrupted on the assumption that they were rescuing her. But Erin was pretty good at rolling with the punches, so she happily thanked the PCs for her ‘rescue.’

I was careful to note that Erin got up off the altar on her own, because of course, she hadn’t been restrained. Further, when Erin told the party that she needed to go “free” her companions, I described her running ahead of the group. She opened the door (without unlocking it), and said something to the effect of “Hey guys, these adventurers right here just rescued us from the evil death cult that was trying to kill me! Yaay!” When the players saw these supposed prisoners, I mentioned that they were all fully armed and armored.

I often think back on my younger days as a referee with some shame. To this day, though, I’m proud of how much agency the players had here. I dropped hints like crazy that Erin and her friends were lying, but the players were oblivious. It made the many betrayals that followed so much sweeter.

Erin’s adventuring party wove their way in and out of the campaign from that point onward. They showed up in roughly every 3rd adventure.  My original intent was for them to be the PCs’ rivals, but my players really liked them. The two parties became very buddy-buddy with one another, and the players would actually get excited when they ran into Erin & Co. The single longest game session I’ve ever played was 15 hours straight of of the PCs assisting Erin in recovering “her teacher’s journals” from a trap-filled dungeon. “Her teacher’s journals,” of course, being code for “The copy of Ordinary Necromancy penned in Vecna’s own hand.” Failed spot checks allowed her to slip the book under her robe and claim someone else must have raided the dungeon before them.

Between game sessions I was developing Erin and her party voraciously. Something about these characters took hold of me. I planned out their whole story, backwards and forward. I started drawing them a lot. I’ve never drawn so much in my life as I did when I was trying to pin down these NPCs.  I even outlined two sequel campaigns that would pick up after Erin conquered the world. In the first, the PCs would start as low-level mooks in Erin’s army, as it marched into the Abyss to overthrow Graz’zt and place one of her party members on his throne. And after that campaign ended, I’d jump forward a thousand years so the players could be the peasant children that were destined to defeat Erin once and for all. I had a bit of that frustrated novelist syndrome, for sure.

ErinLounging

Unfortunately, life began to pull everyone in different directions. Like so many other D&D games, The Ascendent Crusade petered out. The final session (played with only 2 of the original group), was meant to be the first of a new phase of the campaign. The players encountered Erin’s group. They were fording a river with a coffin, and Erin wasn’t with them. They told the PCs that they had encountered someone called “The Whispered Empress,” and that this mysterious figure had killed Erin. They were on their way to bury her now, after which they were planning to retire from adventuring for good.

What had really happened is that Erin had become a vampire, slain & replaced the High Priest of Vecna, and re-dubbed herself “The Whispered Empress” in preparation for her coming war of conquest. This encounter was one final clue for the party, albeit a subtle one. Vampires cannot cross running water under their own power.

It has always bothered me that I never got to finish Erin’s story. The very fact that I thought of that game as “Erin’s Story” speaks to my frustrated novelist syndrome, but by all accounts the players were enjoying themselves. One actually told me they wished I still ran more narrative-driven games. No harm no foul, I suppose?

Years after the campaign ended, I did have the pleasure of revealing to one of the players that Erin had been evil the whole time. I told her  my plan had been for the campaign to end when the players finally met The Whispered Empress, and it turned out to be their old friend Erin. She would have offered them positions of power within her empire, and killed them (or tried to) if they refused. That player’s complete surprise at this revelation was satisfying to me.

Erin’s adventuring party inspired me to do some of my first really serious D&D writing. Like the clumsy addiction system I put together for Erin’s drug habit, or the Arcane Surgeon class I drafted when I decided Erin’s party needed an irreligious healer. Notably, many of the very first posts on Papers & Pencils were my attempt to tell Erin’s story through The Girl and the Granite Throne. But that never really worked out either. Such is life.

WarmistressErinAtPlay

All of which finally brings us around to Erin’s transformation into Neve Canri. It was October 2012, and my younger brother Ronnie came to me and asked me to run a D&D game for him. He had never played D&D at that point, and I was happy to put together a campaign. I recruited my ladyfriend (one of the original Ascendant Crusade players), and Ronnie recruited one of his friends, and we had a quorum. I hacked together a quick custom ruleset that I called D&D&LB. Dungeons & Dragons & Little Brothers.

I set the game in the distant future of the Ascendant Crusade world. One where everything I planned had taken place, and then faded into obscure legend. Erin had conquered the world, placed one of her allies on a demon lord’s throne, and reigned for a thousand years before the world was freed from her iron-fisted grip by a band of plucky upstart heroes.

As a little treat for my ladyfriend, the whole world was designed to be vaguely recognizable. I was really just curious if she’d pick up on it. Most of the names for places and things were altered to sound like they’d gone through a thousand years of playing ‘telephone.’ So the town of Heathrop (He-Thrup) became Haetrop (Hay-Trope). Stuff like that.

It was as I was answering Jeff’s 20 questions that I decided to take it one step further. “Who are your campaign’s gods?” Why not Erin? But “Erin” is a silly name for a god. So somehow I came up with the name “Neve Canri.” I honestly couldn’t tell you how I got it. There’s a better than even chance that I just played around with syllables until I found a jumble of them that sounded good in my ear. And it still does. It’s a fuckin’ awesome name for a god, if I do say so myself.

I didn’t plan for Neve Canri to play any special role in the campaign. There were two good gods, and two evil gods, and she was just one of the latter. I suppose, though, it was inevitable that she started to show up more and more. I had such a strong sense of her character compared to the other three gods. Plus, the megadungeon the players were exploring was specifically the remnants of one of Erin’s fortresses. It was only natural the players tended to find a lot of cultists and artifacts dedicated to her.

Late in the campaign my brother’s Hireling died. He was bummed. He looked at me and declared that his character would call out to Neve Canri. He offered his soul in exchange for his Hireling’s life. I wasn’t really prepared for that, but the exchange seemed reasonable enough. I agreed. His hireling returned to life with full hit points, and his PC’s eyes turned into diamonds. I told him he would be expected to act always in the best interests of Neve Canri. And he did, for about ten minutes.

Maybe two sessions after that, the players slew a dragon. This was exciting not only because of the horde of treasure they earned, but also because that game allowed PCs to consume bits of dragon to empower themselves. Or maybe die, if they failed a save. My brother chose to eat the dragon’s eyes, which I warned would be a betrayal of Neve Canri. He did it anyway. A pair of dragon eyes forced the diamonds out of his sockets. He gained dragon eyes, and his resurrected hireling immediately exploded in a rain of gore.

During the last few sessions of the campaign, Neve Canri sabotaged the party at every turn. Undead would pop out of nowhere to attack at the worst possible moment. A doppleganger of my brother was created with the express purpose of assassinating and replacing him. The final session of the game was a flash-forward to 10 years in the future, where the PCs were all super high level and badass. They ventured into Neve Canri’s own realm to destroy her, which they utterly failed at. It was a good time.

It was in the aftermath of that campaign that I decided I wanted to keep Neve Canri around as a meta connection between my game worlds. She’s hardly the most original or interesting god. Honestly she’s pretty much a ripoff of Vecna that I’ve tried to contort into something vaguely resembling an original creation. But after spending 10 years with this NPC, she feels like a more substantive deity to me. Her ridiculous backstory actually happened, more or less. And while “her” story is over, I find that her continued presence pushes me to come up with schemes that are worthy of her.

So if we ever play together, remember: Neve Canri is watching.

ErinNWhisperblade

Your Dragons Suck

D&D Dragon Toy TiamaatBack in 2012, when I had only just started to immerse myself in the OSR, I was playing in Courtney Campbell‘s Numenalla. Because of timezone fuckery, the game started at the ungodly hour of 5am for me. On a Saturday. It was always a struggle to show up, and when I did I was groggy as all get-out. But, Courtney was one of my OSR heroes at the time, and it was worth it to rub elbows with him. Plus the game was pretty damn fun.

Usually the sessions were packed, but on this particular morning, none of the regulars showed up. Aside from Courtney and I, it was just some dude I barely recognized, and a woman I’d never met before. It was a small group, but enough for a quorum, so we delved into the halls looking for a bit of adventure.

Being groggy as I was, and playing a healer to boot, I had become accustomed to letting other players take the lead in our adventures. So this dude I barely knew wound up taking the reins of the party, and leading us around the dungeon. As it turns out, he was kind of a twat.

At one point, when presented with a hall full of doors, he kicked them all open. Not one at a time, just kick, kick, kick, kick, kick. Don’t bother telling him what’s inside the rooms he’s just revealed, that would slow down the process of moving to the next door and also kicking it open. Unsurprisingly, this strategy exposed us to some serious danger. Namely, a dragon.

As soon as I heard that, I wanted to run. Most of my experience up to that point was with D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder. My context for dragons was that they were these immense creatures of unfathomable destructive ability. A challenge meant for a full group of 15th level characters. But the twat wasn’t in any mood to slow down, so he attacked. And, being the loyal dumbass that I am, I refused to leave a party member alone to die.

Then a funny thing happened: we killed it. We slew the dragon.

Not without cost, mind you. The twat got himself killed, and the rest of us were pretty banged up. But the dragon was dead, and for the most part we were alive. That’s how I was introduced to oldschool dragons, and it has stuck with me ever since. The idea of dragon designed to be fearsome and terrible, but also to be conceivably so. A creature that can be an ever-lurking threat, without being a guaranteed TPK.

In other words, a dragon that looks like this:

Rather than like this:

“But wait!” I imagine you saying, because I’m a hack writer who relies on cliches. “Most editions of D&D have a whole range of dragon sizes, some of which are small enough to challenge a low level party without being a guaranteed TPK.

And you are correct, imaginary strawman. But what do they call those dragons? Wyrmlings, Very Young, Young, Juveniles. They’ve got these diminutive fuckin’ names that make them feel like a joke when you encounter them. Nobody tells stories about the cool time they killed a Very Young Dragon at level 3. And anyway, this is about much more than the number of hit dice a creature has. It’s about keeping the game on a relatable scale.

That one encounter in he Halls of Numenhalla changed my whole perspective. Truth be told, I’d long hated dragons at this point. I thought they were a goofy cliche. Something that might have been cool once, but which had been overplayed so often in fantasy games that it was cringe-inducing to see them used. Plus, they never really made any sense to me. They’re these friggin’ apocalypse machines that desire nothing so much as wealth and adoration–both of which they could easily take for themselves. But they don’t go out and get them because they’re…lazy.

If they wanted to, a modern fantasy dragon could rule any world it exists in. But most people don’t want their campaign setting to be ruled by the iron-scaled fist of a draconic dictator. So, instead, dragons spend most of their time sleeping on piles of wealth. It’s bourgeois, yeah, but it’s hardly an act worthy of the pride-of-place dragons hold in the annals of fantasy villainy.

Once the scale is dramatically reduced, though, all that nonsense falls away. Dragons want wealth, and they’re powerful enough to take a lot of wealth, but not all of it. They can’t just knock over castle walls with a sweep of their claws. Indeed, if they cause too much of a ruckus, knights will be sent out to kill them. And since they aren’t towering behemoths capable of squishing knights into paste, that’s a serious threat they need to worry about.

It also helps if you assume all dragons are just walking bundles of mental disorder. Traditionally they’re already portrayed as narcissists. Build on that. Narcissism doesn’t just mean that a person likes praise; it means that a person is incapable of understanding that some things are not all about them. They believe that everything good is somehow a result of their desires, and that everything bad exists only to make them suffer. If dragons are not the god kings of all monsters, then they can be pathetic.

Dragons are also noted for their hoards of treasure. They sleep upon mountains of items they’ve collected and cherish, despite having no use for those items. I’m sure I’m not the first person to point out that hoarding is symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder. Dragons should have rituals and rules which completely govern their lives and the way they interact with others. They should be carefully avoiding the cracks in the dungeon floor, or closing every door they pass through 7 times before moving on. They don’t breathe fire every 3rd round because their breath needs time to recharge, they’re doing it because they have a mental illness.

The best monsters have always been more defined by their flaws than by their strengths. This conception of dragons, as deeply flawed and broken creatures who none the less wield immense power, has transformed them into one of my favorite monsters. It’s why I include dragons on every single encounter table I use.

Which is appropriate, right? They’re literally half of the game’s name. Yet in my experience, I see way fewer dragons than I do dungeons, and that’s a shame.

Nick LS Whelan Project Roundup

Like most writers I know, I have a bad habit of committing time to more projects than I can feasibly complete. It’s the kind of thing which, intellectually, you know you should avoid. Yet somehow it just…happens. One day you realize its been three weeks since you last touched Project A, and those doodles you were working on in your spare time have become a full fledged project B. It’s a massive drain on my output, and I’ve been making an effort to reign myself in.

On the advice of Brendan, part of that effort is going to be more openness about what I’m working on. This will be difficult to me, as it seems entirely self indulgent. The satisfaction of doing a thing should come when the thing is done. Sharing half-finished work seems like an attempt to steal a little satisfaction for yourself before you’ve actually earned it. But, Brendan has one of the more successful books in the OSR, and is working on a marketing PhD, so what the fuck do I know?

So, cards on the table. Below is a catalogue of every project I’ve devoted a significant amount of time to, and which is still more or less on my radar. I’m not including anything that I’ve definitively abandoned, nor anything which hasn’t progressed beyond being some ideas scribbled down on paper. There are too many dozens of those to share.

I’m sorry if you think this is boring. I’ll make sure something really cool is scheduled for next week.

Ongoing Projects
This is stuff that will never really be “finished.” Projects which will require regular effort from me until some completely arbitrary point when I decide to stop doing them.

Papers & Pencils: This website! Hopefully that doesn’t require any further explanation. Currently it consumes about 9-12 hours of my time each week.

On a Red World Alone: My current campaign, and a frequent topic of discussion here.  Eventually I’m planning to produce a 100~150 page book. It’ll primarily cover campaign setting information, tables, and the various rules adjustments I’ve used. It’s not something I’m pursuing seriously at the moment, but I’ve already written a collective 36 pages of back-end material, just to help run the game. There’s also the play reports, which take a few hours each week.

Dumb Stuff Taken Seriously: Did you know I have a podcast? Well I do! It has absolutely nothing to do with tabletop games, which is why I’ve never mentioned it here before. It’s just me and my buddy Rabbi Tzvi Kilov sitting around trying to find common ground on silly topics. When we’re on top of things, it updates weekly. When we’re not, it updates sporadically. It’s not something that either of us stress about. It’s more of a palate cleanser. An easy way to spend some time chatting with a friend, and feel like something has been accomplished at the end of it. None the less, on a week when we update it, it takes up about 4 hours of my time, between recording and editing the thing.

…Ahem: I write salacious material under a pseudonym. Without rendering that pseudonym pointless, there’s not a whole lot I can say. I make no money from it yet, but I probably get more personal recognition for it than I do for any other project I’m working on. I debated as to whether I should include this, but it’s something that consumes a chunk of my writing energy, so it would seem dishonest not to.

Imminent Projects
These are things I will release this year. Preferably in the first half of the year. I realize I have a terrible track record with deadlines, so you can take that with as much salt as you like. But, if I stop setting deadlines, that’s the same as giving up, and I won’t do that.

Bubblegum Berzerk: The working title for a completely new game that is unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It’s a kind of hyper-masculine, fast paced, guns blazing, science fantasy, dungeon runner, that exists somewhere on the gradient between role playing game and board game. It’s not the sort of thing I would have come up with on my own, but a few months back my buddy Jesse Newman invited me to a one shot. He was running a game he had quickly homebrewed himself, and let me tell you: it was a uniquely entertaining experience. I had never played another game quite like it.

During the whole last hour of the game I was distracted by all the possible rules tweaks that kept popping into my head. Afterwords, when Jesse asked me if I had enjoyed myself, I asked if he would let me co-author a publication with him, so we could  sell it for mad crazy cash money. He said yes.

Since then we’ve been polishing the game up, adding some tables, some custom flavor, some sample adventures, etc. At one point we sincerely thought we could get the thing published before Christmas. Unfortunately both of us had bills to pay, and jobs to work, and that didn’t pan out. But we’re certainly close to having the writing done. After which the art & the layout stuff may take some undetermined length of time.

Be excited for this.

▓▓▓ ▓▓▓▓▓ ▓▓ ▓▓▓ ▓▓▓▓▓▓ ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓ ▓▓▓▓: This is a total copout, I know. The whole point of this post is to be more open about what I’m working on. I can say that right now, this is the project that is devouring most of my time. Roughly 6-8 hours every day, 5 days a week. It’s an adventure module. And, at least in its core concept, I think it’s probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever written.

I don’t want to say any more because I’ve already put a ton of work into how I will reveal this project to the world. The blog post announcing it is already on the schedule and everything. So in this singular instance I’m going to continue playing my cards close to my chest. But I promise: this, and that one thing in the section above, are the only things I’m keeping from you.

As Seen On TV: This is a card game I came up with a few years ago. When I started writing this post, I put it very firmly in the category below this one. At that point I hadn’t touched it in over a year, and had no plans to get back into it soon. The single playtest I’d run had been a crazy good time. But the execution of the game felt sloppy, and I could never think of how to fix that.

Then, as I’m typing up this very summary, I realized something: I’d actually played it much more recently. Not my game exactly, but another game, professionally published, which used an insanely similar resolution mechanic: Superfight.

Using that game to guide my thinking, all of the problems with As Seen on TV just fell away. Over the weekend, when I usually avoid working on projects, I couldn’t stop myself from cutting up paper and sleeving 100+ cards. I’m currently waiting on more sleeves to arrive so I can get the full game put together.

The basic idea is that one player draws some ridiculous problem. The other players then use the cards in their hands to create a ridiculous invention which solves that problem. Then they’ve gotta make an infomercial style pitch in favor of their product. At the end, the player with the problem “buys” one of the products, and that player gets 1 point.

The real trick with this one is going to be navigating the publishing process. I don’t mind self-publishing books, because there are tools which allow me to self-publish a high quality product.  Card games are a whole other can of worms. I’ve never played a print-and-play card game, and I don’t want to ask other people to do so either. That means I gotta be a grown up and find a publisher.

Projects I Will Finish
None of these are part of my day-to-day writing routine at the moment. There are only so many hours in the day, and everything above this point in the list takes priority. That being said, I will not give up on any of it. I’ve spent way too much fuckin’ time on each of these to let them rot away, unread, on my hard drive. As soon as I’m done with one of the things above, something from this section will move up to fill the space.

Miscreated Creatures: The biggun, my monster book. I started working on this fucker at some point in the later half of 2013, which means it has been in serious production for 4 years now. At this point it’s pretty much a textbook example of that book that some pedantic fuck you know is always “writing,” but never actually finishes. I’m just glad I never kickstarted it.

I could write a whole post on the issues with this project alone. But, for the sake of brevity, I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes on how the last few years have gone.

I completed my second draft at some point in late 2014 or early 2015. The full book. A second draft exists for all 331 monsters. Right around the same time, two things happened. First, I had an accident which caused me to lose most of the skin on both of my hands, and prevented me from doing any writing for a few months. Second, three new monster books came out that I read: Lusus Naturae, Fire on the Velvet Horizon, and Creature Compendium.

Reading these books, and reflecting on my own 2nd draft, I realized I’d made a fundamental mistake. The very core philosophy on which I had based the writing of Miscreated Creatures was flawed. Very little of what I had written was interesting, and much of what I had written was just pointless reinvention of the wheel that was more frustrating than it was worth. I’m not talking about some kind of juvenile “ugh, I hate that thing I wrote” bullshit. The 2nd draft of Miscreated Creatures was legitimately a shitty, unlovable book.

So I started a 3rd draft, and worked at a frantic pace. Within a couple months, I had 70 of the book’s 331 monsters updated, and they are glorious. The 3rd draft is really friggin’ good, and I’m excited to share it with you.

But at this point, still in early 2015, life got in the way. My girlfriend and I hit some serious financial troubles. The kind where you spend a lot of time hungry, and you’re not sure if your relationship is going to survive. Miscreated Creatures fell off my priority list as I spent all my time looking for a job, packing up my apartment, and trying to avoid the next inevitable fight with my ladyfriend. Things finally started to get back on track in late 2015 when I found a job. An emotionally demanding, full-time job that didn’t leave me a lot of energy to write when I got home. I started working on smaller projects. I continued working more or less full time from September 2015, to December 2016. And so Miscreated Creatures still sits,

But after the nightmare that was 2015, I’m finally starting to find some stability in my life. Enough to plan my writing around. My hope is that after those two projects listed under “Immenent” are completed, Miscreated Creatures can go back to being my #1 priority, and I can finally get this beast out the door.

Dungeon Moon: Out of everything I’ve ever done, I think more people have expressed interest in seeing a Dungeon Moon book than anything else. (Though ORWA may have eclipsed it recently.)

The thing is, very little of what I have actually written for Dungeon Moon would work as the basis for a book. It could be repurposed for a book, but I can’t really publish it the way it was originally written, because the way it was originally written was completely unsustainable, and barely usable.

Fortunately, about 7 months ago, I stumbled on an idea that I called Unspecified Dungeon Space. It’s something I’m planning to write about in a future post, but TL;DR it’s the missing piece of the Dungeon Moon puzzle for me. Now my mind is swirling with ideas for how I could put together a Dungeon Moon book. The only thing I’m missing is some space in my schedule. It’ll be a long time before I have that, and even when I do, it’ll be a long road before Dungeon Moon is ready to publish. But when I finally get there, I’m confident you’ll love what I’ve got to share with you.

The Boulder Dungeon: A little less than 2 years ago, a buddy of mine wanted to play some D&D. So I spent 10 minutes coming up with a dungeon, then I ran it for him. He died 3 times, then gave up. Later, I talked about the experience on Google+, and Cecil Howe spontaneously drew some art and maps of my idea. Then he told me to key them, so I did.

The funny thing is that the writing for the Boulder Dungeon is about 80% complete. Both of us fell off the project, but it really just needs a few tweaks and some polish before it’s done. After that it just needs some art, and some layout work, and it’ll be ready to share. But as with many things, all I lack is time. I’m already writing 12-14 hours a day, and can’t really push that any further without breaking my poor fragile little brain.

The Sideways Tower of Slaggoth the Necromancer: Do you remember The Hidden Tomb of Slaggoth the Necromancer? It was the first module I completed and published, and people seemed to like it. Well the sequel has been sitting on my shelf, more or less a complete first draft, since 2014.

The vast majority of the creative work is done: maps, room descriptions, NPCs. It’s a lot bigger, and a lot more interesting than Slaggoth’s tomb, and I’m still excited to share it with you. I just need to find the time to finish it.

The Luncheon: One day in like…friggin’ 2013, I sat down at lunch and I sketched out a dungeon on a pad of paper. Every day for a week I came back to this dungeon and worked on it for an hour before going back to work. I dubbed it the Luncheon, and it was really kinda clever.

I later expanded the dungeon to exist in a symbiotic relationship with a town built above it, full of people who don’t want anyone exploring the dungeon beneath their town. It’s a small, simple project, but one that I think people would enjoy. Like the Boulder Dungeon and Slaggoth’s Sideways Tower, most of the work on the Luncheon is long finished. I just got distracted when I started the second draft.

1,000 Dragons: Like I said in my post about how I structure encounter tables, I think our games need more Dragons in them. I’ve got this whole dragon philosophy that I want to share, how to make them, how to run them, how often they should appear, etc. And because I can’t ever take the simple road, I figured I’d make 1000 examples to help communicate that philosophy effectively.

Currently there’s only about 250 dragons in the book, but that’s a solid start!

Projects in Limbo
I honestly don’t know what will happen with any of these projects. I’ve put enough work into them that I’d like to do something with what I’ve written. But I haven’t written enough to feel bound to finish them.

Anything is possible with these. Some might move up the list over time. Other might end up as much smaller projects than they were initially conceived as. Still others might be rolled into other projects, or just scrapped altogether.

They Came from the Silver Wheel: This is a weird one. One day, someone asked me to run a campaign for them. I said yes, then I sat down and wrote a 6 page player document on the spot. I even made some art for it.

The idea of the campaign was that the players were these semi-brainwashed people who would occasionally wake up standing outside of a giant silver disk. Their job was to collect fuel for the disk on whatever world they landed on–a different campaign setting each time. Once they gathered the fuel, they got back on the disk, the session ended, and the disk moved on to a new world.

The PCs were essentially slaves, but there were some crazy cool benefits for remaining enslaved. Laser guns, hit point boosts, the works. That being said, it’s explicitly stated in the document that if the players want, they can just not return to the disk. They’re not the only ones slaves, so it’ll eventually get fueled up and leave without them, leaving them stranded forever in whatever campaign setting they chose to settle down in. Their cool toys will all break down, and they’ll have to start from scratch in a new world.

I was incredibly excited about the project for all of about a week. I still think there’s a lot of potential in the idea, but I never did end up running the game, so it never really had an opportunity to develop properly.

Serial Killer Board Game: A slasher movie twist on asymetrical war games. One player plays the killer, while the others all play as potential victims. The players move around the board,trying to escape without getting killed, and the killer tries to kill everyone. I’ve come up with a dozen different board game ideas over the years, but settled on pursuing this one because it seemed like the most managable concept.

I’ve got a thrift store copy of monopoly that I’ve chopped up and repainted to experiment with. So far, though, I haven’t managed to make the game even slightly fun. Which, ya know, is kind of a problem.

The Clitoris is the Devil’s Doorbell: One day I found this image, and I showed it to my girlfriend:

The Clitoris is the Devil's Doorbell
Yes, I know it’s fake.

She and I thought it was riotously funny. Then we then spent the next hour or so pacing around each other, talking about what kind of wacky adventure module could arise from that idea. We came up with this horrible hell dildo which could turn a vagina into a portal to hell. And what if the church was keeping it in hiding? And what if a rebellious young nun who had been forced into the convent decided to use the dread artifact?

Long story short, there’s a fairly well researched outline of this idea sitting on my hard drive. At one point I even spent several hours pouring over maps of France looking for a suitable location to set it in. If I ever do finish it (and, of all these projects, this is easily my favorite), it’ll be set in a village based off of Baume Les Messieurs.

SciFi Game: I have a strong dislike for pretty much every Science Fiction RPG in the OSR. I’ve read a few which I’d call decent, but just don’t fit my needs. Others are…dumb, and bad, and awful.  Anyway, a few years back, there was this SciFiRPG which everyone told me was amazing, so I read it. It was not amazing, which made me frustrated.

I got myself pretty worked up over this at the time, so I started to sketch out my own SciFi rules. Something which stuck to the core D&D model, just with different base assumptions about who the characters were and what they’d be doing. I spent about two months working on this in my spare time, before I realized I was distracting myself from more important projects, and that I needed to shelve this idea before it consumed too much of my time.

I’d still love to complete a Science Fiction game, but at this point I think it’s more likely that everything I wrote here will be rolled into ORWA if the players ever manage to find a space ship, and escape mars.

Fallin: Ironically, Fallin is the one project on this whole list which I am almost certain I will abandon, but it’s also probably the single most complete game I’ve ever written from scratch. (With the exception of Bubblegum Berzerk).

The goal of Fallin was to emulate the feel of the best Fallout video games, without ripping them off completely, and without trying to emulate their mechanics in the slightest. At it’s core, the game was a B/X clone, tinkered with until it was barely recognizable.

The reason I probably won’t move forward with Fallin is ORWA. When my players in ORWA discovered the Internet, I was forced me to quickly add some technological elements to the game, so I drew on Fallin. At this point, about 80% of the cool stuff from Fallin is already in ORWA, so it seems redundant to persist with the project.

The only reason I haven’t written Fallin off completely is that there’s still a lot of cool stuff in it that doesn’t fit in ORWA. Most likely I’ll just try to fit it into a later draft. Other stuff may just be lost to the ether. Gotta kill your babies, yo.

D&D Christmas Carols: Searching for Silver and Gold

Look here my goodly gentlefolkRemember last year when I wrote & performed a D&D themed Christmas song called “Damage Dice the Ref Rolled High?” Remember when I said I wanted to make it a yearly tradition to write & perform a D&D Christmas song each year.

Well I did you one better. I wrote a D&D Christmas song, then I found someone with actual ability to do the singing part! This one is to the melody of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and is performed by my sister, Olivia Whelan.

Searching for Silver and Gold

Lyrics:


Look here my goodly gentlefolk
This map won’t lead astray.
A path to fame and fortune,
It can be yours today.
The journey will be perilous,
But you will be okay.

[Refrain]
O searching for silver and gold.
Silver and gold.
O searching for silver and gold.

With dreams of future glo-ory
A band began to form.
Comrades with nothing else to lose
Swore to brave any storm.
A Thief, a Witch, a Farming Boy;
Left Homes both safe and warm.
[Refrain]

The Bloodwood lay ahead of them,
Each feigned to have no fear.
The warnings of their mo-others
Were ringing in their ears.
All knew within the forest dark
The serpent would appear.
[Refrain]

It came upon them quietly,
Just as the stories said.
A cry rose from the farming boy,
One bite took off his head.
The witch invoked a sleeping hex.
Now two left, frightened, fled.
[Refrain]

Before them lay the gra-ave yard
As far as they could see.
Inward swung the iron gate
Shedding rusted debris.
Passing between the marker stones
They made grim repartee.
[Refrain]

Sleeping among the grassy mounds,
A day’s march from the gate.
Here the ghoul stumbled over them
With hungers yet to sate.
The witch awoke and raised a cry
The thief’s blade was not late.
[Refrain]

Fin’ly the lake shore beckoned them,
The goal of all their strife.
The witch would breath upon the shore,
One lung to keep each life.
The thief dove into the cold dark,
Teeth clamped around her knife
[Refrain]

The Sun’s light far behind her now,
A sight near broke her will.
A faceless mass with glowing skin,
And wicked, waiting quills.
Beneath the thing she saw their chest.
Her task she would fulfill.
[Refrain]

With shroud of dark to cover her,
Through water the thief creeped.
But eyeless it still spotted her,
Foul barbs cut her breast deep.
With flailing hand she snatched the chest,
To surface quickly leaped.
[Refrain]

Sensing that the beast followed her,
The thief scrambled for shore.
Ran to her love with chest in hand,
Not knowing what’s in store.
The barb that had been meant for her,
The witch’s lung did gore.
[Refrain]

Far from the graves, she buried her.
Too good for that foul place.
The fortune bought cheap pleasures,
But could never erase
The loss of one whom she had loved.
The thief died in disgrace.
[Refrain]


To all who celebrate it, I hope you’re enjoying your Christmas, and that this brightened your day. As a little bonus, here’s a supercut of all the times Olivia fucked up:

And for those of you looking for one more tragedy that can be attributed to the 2016 meme, here’s me singing the song. Because I wanted a record of it, and I enjoy blowing audio levels.

Do not attempt to place dice in another person.

Earlier today I was at the thrift store with my ladyfriend. As I am wont to do, I spent some time pulling through the board games. It’s 99% crap, but there’s always a chance of finding something cool. Like I did today!

Collective Wisdom ABC Dice GameThis unmarked tin caught my attention, so I popped it open and discovered these large dice with letters on them. These by themselves would have been worth the $2 price sticker. My immediate thought was that I could use them for generating the names of people or places. But also included were some rules for a fairly simple scrabble-like game where players roll dice, then try to create as many words as they can from the letters they roll. All in all, a very neat find. This is exactly the sort of thing that I love about garage sales and thrift stores.

But then there’s this:

DACE CAN KILL YOU BRUHThis warning takes up the entire back side of the 8 1/2″ by 11″ page that the rules are on. For the benefit of Lynx users (and google), here it is in normal text:

Do not play this game on a surface of glass or on a fragile surface that may be cracked, scratched or dented.

Do not forcefully toss the dice so as to damage the playing surface. Never throw the dice: Do not throw the dice at another person because this can cause severe injury. The corners of the dice can cause injury if contact is severe.

Do not throw the dice at glass or other objects because this can cause property damage and broken glass which is hazardous.

Place the dice back in their box when you are finished using them.

Store the dice in a place out of the reach of small children (under the age of 3 years) or pets who might try to chew or swallow them.

Do not leave dice on floors, steps, beds, chairs, sofas, or other places where someone might step on them, trip over them, or recline on them.

Do not beat dice with a hammer or heavy tool, which may cause them to chip or crack. If dice become chipped, cracked, or broken, discard the dice and broken pieces.

Do not place or attempt to place the dice in your mouth or any other body part or in that of another person.

The dice are not designed to be used in conjunction with any other product.

The dice should not be used to support the weight of another object.

Children should use the dice only under adult supervision.

Warning: Severe bodily injury could result from a failure to follow these guidelines.

This makes me feel very odd, because I can’t even.

D&D Christmas Carols: Damage Dice the Ref Rolled High

I have made a terrible mistake.

See, for Christmas of 2012, I rewrote the lyrics to Good King Wenceslaus, and performed the rewritten song in a YouTube video. I am not a performer, a singer, a lyricist, or a musician of any kind. Occasionally I go back and watch that video, and it’s a struggle every time. I am deeply embarrassed by every aspect of it. The performing arts are really not for me.

BUT, despite the deep shame that video causes me, it was a fuckton of fun to make. I’m always making up little songs and singing them at people as a joke. And taking it somewhat seriously, really trying to come up with interesting and consistent lyrics for a song that I love, was a fun project. And even sitting down to sing it was fun.

AND, this Christmas I’ve been thinking about how I’d really like to start establishing some traditions for myself. Things I do every year to get me in the spirit of things.

And, well…what Christmas tradition isn’t embarrassing, really?

At least this time I have the excuse of saying I wrote the whole thing in an hour and a half, unlike the lyrics for Dark Lord Wenceslaus, which took at least a week.

(To the tune of “Angels We Have Heard On High”)

Damage dice the ref rolled high,
causing PCs endless pain.
And the monster’s black-hole eye,
driving all of them insane.

(Refrain) x2
Ma-a-a-ake your save, Ma-a-ake your save, Ma-a-ake your saving throw. Or die in the dungeon.

Thief, please find what traps there be,
that our lives you may prolong.
What’s that colored gas I see?
Where’d that flick’ring flame come from?

Rise the horrors from below,
Hung’ring for soft player meat.
Plate armor won’t help you though,
Level drained in a heartbeat.

Down the cor’dor PCs creep
Trespassing a wizard’s home.
Conj’ring spells from hell-mouths deep,
Punishment from out her tome.

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