Sunday, December 14, 2014

Behold, He Is To Thee A Covering Of The Eyes Unto All...

-Genesis 20:16

Still redoing the Monster Manuual,--FINALLY A GOOD MONSTER!

Beholders are wonderful and terrible, of course--and the several variations that the Monster Manual lists just spread the terror thin. Before you get to the actual Eye there's all these preparatory minor terrors like Spectators to worry about. Fuck that. Also, the eye-themed lair actions seem misguided.

Here's a beholder-lite (and sort of a lair action) that makes sense to me. Y'know the gas spore...
…the monster that notoriously looks just like a beholder but is hollow and filled with murder?

I assume these are bio-engineered by the beholder itself as decoys in its moist and stygian alchemical pits.*

(Also, I figure beholders--what with telekineses and no hands and therefore likely thinking of their entire environment as part of their body--are philosophers.)

But where do the Beholders themselves come from? 

Do you remember that issue of Thor where he went to look for Odin's missing eye and he found it and it shot fire at dwarves and told Thor stories? Well that's obviously a beholder.

Beholders are the cast-off eyes of gods--that's why they're so rare.

When psychotic white elf alchemists get ahold of beholders, they do this with them...

*Scrap Princess has a great idea: the gas spore is a cordryceps-like fungus that takes over the eye.

OH WAIT HOLY SHIT: the Beholder itself is what happens when the fungus takes over a god's eye and the gas spore is what happens after thousands of years when it finally gets totally fungusized.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

These Are The Days, This Is The Hour


Sure, these famous artists and writers and designers like it, but what do random D&D people think?

"I spend a great deal of my time waiting with people. Waiting in courts. Waiting in hospitals. Waiting in office buildings. Waiting for someone whose hidden behind a door to walk in with a proclamation that will alter the course of the person I'm sitting next to. Distraction is key. That is where A Red & Pleasant Land comes in. 

I'd say that when Zak was writing this book I doubt he was thinking that it would be used in such a manner but, let's be honest, if anyone could grok his books being read on the floor of crisis centers and in high back courtroom pews, it's going to be Zak. 

People know Alice. People like games. People love stories of how there are people in the world who make things, especially when they are stuck waiting for a door to open and someone to walk in and pronounce ruin or rebirth. It makes it a little less awkward for all those involved to have something to do with their gaze. The very least this world can do is offer them something beautiful. A Red & Pleasant Land is that." 

"It's good, really, really good. "
Here (of all places).

"I really liked what I have read and seen and I gave me lots of game ideas. Somehow, it is the direction that I wished Ravenloft and Vampire : the Dark Ages had taken : a bold and weird direction..."

"If you don't buy a copy of this while you can, you will regret it. It's a masterpiece of RPG artistry." -Here.

"It makes most full-colour rulebooks look like some old bullshit. "

"The book is gorgeous, and it reads like literature."

"I am thoroughly impressed. Not only are the illustrations beautiful (of course), but it exudes weird faerie tale, the old old kind filled with cruel murder and dream logic."

"In a year that saw the release of yet another edition of Dungeons & Dragons, A Red & Pleasant Land is nevertheless the most impressive – and inspiring – RPG book to have come out in 2014. It’s wittily written, beautifully appointed, and, above all, bold in the way it reworks its source material to create something at once recognizable and original. Even if you’re not the least bit interested in adventuring in Wonderland, consider taking a look at A Red & Pleasant Land simply as an artifact. It’s a reminder of just how much energy and creativity is to be found in the old school/DIY gaming scene these days."

"It may be the best thing to come out of a small press RPG publisher ever."
Here (David's post isn't public, so if you don't believe me and aren't one of the 2000 people in his circles, ask him)

If you're curious about what's actually in it--there is an extended review here --along with a sample of what it's like to use the tools inside to generate an adventure location.

If you want to hear what it's like from a player's point of view, there's a nice write-up here.

Thanks Kelly Sue!

Yeah, ok, that is just a bunch of random internet people but on the other hand: zero disappointed customers so far. Just think: hundreds of gamers have been looking at this pdf for six whole days and still not found anything to complain about.

So, yeah Red & Pleasant Land is selling well enough to have turned the publisher from a man into an order-filling Christmas elf for the rest of the winter. Be patient with him, if you have any trouble ordering check out this post he made. There are still copies of the hardcover as of this writing.

Also: here is an interview I just did for Bleeding Cool where the writer uses the word "controversial" four times and which features a photograph of me next to a chihuahua dressed like the devil.

Oh and here's a message from Santa:

Monday, December 8, 2014

Silence Darkness Death Silence Darkness Death

So the party was rolling up on this castle tucked away in the excellent Shoe Thief map Jez drew for Red & Pleasant Land* which I have defaced with…
…"Pale King's knights fighting decimator".

Being hungry for adventure--and noticing the decimator had 60,000gp worth of gems embedded in its wrists--they decided to intervene.


The Decimator

Colossal Avatar of Ona -- a deity of indeterminate gender and variety that snuffs out illumination in all forms. Particularly hates books, and it's priests punish speaking with death. Paradoxically also associated with light, but in forms like Cherenkov radiation and white phosphorus. (Ona invented by Odyssey)

AC: 19
HP: 300
3 Atks at +10 for 2d30/2d30/d100

1st round--Silence Aura 1000'
2nd round--Darkness Aura 200'
3rd round--Death Aura 20' (1st hit knocks you to zero hp, second kills anyone at or below zero)
…then it starts over again

Move: as human

(and yes this is this same rancor as this guy…



The D&D W/PS team…

Stokely the tiefling wizard
Brian the human wizard
Kerowhack the human thief
Tizane Ildiko the tiefling cleric
Gypsillia the half-elf thief
Mariah the human cleric

The megalethality of the monster did what I wanted--it forced everybody to work together...

So Brian wasted no time casting Reverse Gravity...
…and now an interesting situation obtains: the spell's radius is smaller than the height of the Decimator, so he was reverse-gravited from his nipples to his toes but the top of him was fine.

(Also note Reverse Gravity has a ceiling of 100' in 5e.)

This cleverness freed everybody up to start artillerying the now-floating decimator, who had to make a Dex Save Vs Bryan just to move on account of having to use its big paws to walk.

Still, that left it with two attacks doing 2d30 each per round, and it (that is: I ) figure out it could throw pieces of castle at people….

At least until they disintegrated its right arm, at which point all it could do was hold on with its left and kick stuff.

Oh, and do the silence then darkness then death thing.

Kerowhack came through with a natural-20 with a dagger for 44 points of damage (non-spellcasters add their entire d20 roll to damage) and Mariah used locate creature during the darkness rounds.

There were a few close calls (Rolling d30s for damage creates so much tension at the table it's amazing. Try it. Stokes was down to 4 hp at one point and I rolled a two. Everybody exhaled.) but only Gypsillia fell afoul of the death aura, mostly because she was trying to climb into its butt and timed the rounds wrong --quoth Gypsillia: "Trying to get into a Decimator's butthole is like doing double-dutch".

Mandy shot a blade barrier at it in the dark and missed, then Stokely used Bigby's hand to shove it towards the barrier and that was the end of the Decimator.

So she's up there in the sky at zero hp, floating against the 100' anti-gravity ceiling along with dozens of shredded chunks of colossal flesh.

Someone had featherfall and cast it just as the spell wore off--allowing Gypsillia to avoid becoming Flatsillia and then healing her up.

Good job, team…though since they used so many of their best spells I surrrre hope there's not another one….

*Available now! GO GO GO! BUY BUY BUY!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Red & Pleasant Land And Death Frost Doom Deluxe Are Out But Disappearing Fast

Last I checked Red & Pleasant Land was disappearing at faster than a copy a minute--at the current rate they will be gone in two days. Anyone who's tried to scrounge up a print copy of Vornheim knows how hard it is to get your hands on these things once they disappear.
Connie says: "This is the greatest book I have ever read…"
"…Glory can be yours, too."
So I am very happy with it and you should buy eleven (one to mark up, one to keep and nine to give people on each day of Hannukkah) now.

But don't take our word for it! Here's what the rest of the free world has to say:

China Miéville (author of Perdido Street Station and The Scar)

"How lucky are we? Once again we get to experience the artistry and art, the cantankerous smarts, the dissident gaming philosophy of Zak S. It's inadequate to call Red & Pleasant Land brilliant. With alchemist swagger, Zak takes the base matter of well-worn fantasy standards and our cheerful nerd hobbies, and makes the strangest gold."

Molly Crabapple (artist, journalist, author of Shell Game, King's County suspect # 2-2-14 08955-10)

"God, it's so beautiful, I love this. It just makes D&D look so fucking now."

Kenneth Hite (author of Qelong and Night's Black Agents)

"It should be next to impossible to do anything original with Dracula or Alice, but Zak S demonstrates instead that it's next to impossible for him to put out a bad game book. He trails his barbed artistic and gaming sensibilities through these two modern myths and emerges with something more than a mashup or a collage: it's a necromantic restoration of a nightmare that never was."

Monte Cook (author of Numenera, Ptolus, The Strange)

"Zak is not just imaginative, he's bold. Which means that while he recognizes the value of fantasy traditions, he doesn't hesitate for a moment to throw out anything that's become tired or dull. Going to Zak's blog is like opening a window to let in fresh ideas when the room is full of only stale, trite, conventional ones."

Keith Baker (creator of Eberron)

1-21. Intriguing
22-49. Innovative 
50-62. Insane
63-92. Indispensible
93. Warm & Fuzzy
94-95. Torn through a wormhole from a dystopian future that can only be stopped by the timely intervention of a Nordic cyborg
96-100. Roll twice and use both results.  "
--Keith Baker

Vanessa Veselka (journalist, author of PEN-prize winning novel Zazen)

"Let me be plain in case it is not obvious; you want Zak Smith as your GM....Zak unfolds one mind-blowing illustration after another. Art is never absent from anything he does. The world we are in was once the site of a giant castle roughly the size of a continent. Worn to its roots now, all that’s left is the foundation of old power structures. There is a Red King (who dreams of an Antiland) and a Heart Queen (who is cruel) and a Slow War. One name for this place is “The Land the Gods Refuse to See.” It has mirror portals that lead to a Quiet Side of the glass where you go “unplayably insane,” a reminder that Zak uses Lewis Carroll like manga uses the atom bomb, as inspiration for a terrifying and wondrous landscape…"

…in Matter.

Charlotte Stokely (star of Skater Girl Fever and Not Too Young For Cum 4)

The new, deluxe Death Frost Doom--the classic fantasy module that I started my campaign with--is also out. James had me completely re-write it.
with massive new art by Jez Gordon

From the introduction:

When a freakishly original thing is made, it inevitably contains both inherited and mutant genes. When the original Death Frost Doom was found on the doorstep of the old school gaming scene, its horror-short-story tone and structure came thinly wrapped in familiar adventure-game trappings. James and I agreed that this new edition should maintain that tone and structure, but replace as many of the handed-down bits as possible with more creepy magic.

When I first read James' Death Frost Doom, I considered it not just the best module I'd ever read, but the only usable one I'd ever read. It demands only a little of your campaign's space and time, but it does something with every inch of that space and every second of that time. I've tried to keep it as disturbingly efficient as it was when I first met it five years ago--when it helped kick off the campaign I am still running today (and when it caused most of the trouble the characters have been dealing with since).

I think we've done no violence to it, and given you and your players a few more toys to play with. And smash.

…the reception of the pdf has been good:

So go buy things. There's a package deal on shipping, too, so literally, this is the best time to pick up anything else you might want from LOTFP including the must-have Carcosa hardcover (which not nearly enough people own) and new ones like The Idea from Space and No Salvation For Witches.

I am extremely pleased with everything we've done here. It's been years of effort to bring this to you. These are days the like of which will not be seen again. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

If Nobody Ever Asks For Your Ideas You May Not Realize Some Ideas Are Better Than Others

Sometimes you read people on-line--you read their game blog or in a forum or whatever--and you think: this is the first time anyone has ever listened to you about anything, isn't it? Some handle it with grace, and it's cool to see. Some don't--but they don't in a very specific way.


If people often seriously ask you for your opinion and then go do something with your opinion that affects something, then you might start to think of opinions as affecting things.

If nobody ever seriously asks for your opinion, then you might not think of your opinion as carrying much weight or affecting anything.


If you think of your opinion as affecting things, you might be incentivized start to try to make sure it makes sense.

If you don't think of it as carrying much weight or affecting anything, you might not be incentivized to think too hard about trying to make sure it makes sense.

("Makes sense"--that is: matches what you know or could find out.)


If you try to make sure your opinion makes sense, you might think of opinions in general as things people have thought out and really believe.

If you don't think too hard about whether your opinion makes sense, you probably think of opinions in general as inherently provisional things that you usually keep to yourself because they're not thought out.

(Like: if you don't think too hard about your opinions or value them much, your opinion of who is smarter might be, in your mind, about as meaningful as who is wearing a better shirt. The idea that one might be a thing you could go figure out and check on and the other isn't might never occur to you, if nobody much ever did anything based on your opinions anyway.)


If you think of opinions in general as things people have thought out, you'll tend to think of sharing opinions as basically just polite.

If you think of opinions inherently as provisional things people usually keep to themselves because they're not thought out, you probably think of sharing one as a bold, confident act.


If you're used to thinking of opinions as things people have thought out, someone sharing an opinion is (baseline) helpful, good, productive, polite, respectful, necessary and…inherently to be challenged by other opinions. And all subject to fact and being thought out.

If you think of sharing your opinion as a bold, confident act then someone saying what they're thinking is risky to everyone involved--it is asking for things to be put at risk, it is asking for people to make themselves vulnerable. After all--everyone risks revealing their opinion is not thought out, don't they?


You see people who seem shocked and alarmed not just to have their opinion contested (which is strangely common) but to be asked at all. This is frequently followed by a diatribe about how unimportant they are--as if that were the point. 

If people often seriously ask you for your opinion you won't see that request as hostile and won't see why people do.

If nobody ever seriously asks your opinion you may be scared. It's not just that you can't handle a conversation about your ideas, it's that you misunderstand why you're being asked to have one.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Blood Frenzy and Larceny and Level Drain and Cute

Stokely missed a session. So we were updating her:


They want to see the Pale King because they want to collect their reward for rescuing the Sleeper ("that mouse"). The Sleeper himself was not forthcoming with loot.
The Pale King

It went like this:

A month ago they get into the dungeon, find a bunch of bottles with messages floating in them in a pool. One (the ranger could tell) was written by a mouse. It wanted to be rescued.

So then they spend like hours and hours and session and sessions roaming the dungeon...

…fighting demons and vampires and giant rooks, Mandy loses all her stuff, people almost die 2 or 3 time, Stokely loses 2 levels, Halloween comes and goes...
Yeah, I know, Tuxedo Mask sucks, but what am I supposed to do? 
…be all "Yeah, you guys can all go out as Sailor Scouts and I'll just stay home"?

...and then after like 5 sessions, they find the mouse, thanks to the druid's owl.

Chewie played the owl. Owls are good at finding mice. 

After all that shit, the party's expecting the mouse to give them a reward. Because, y'know, a writing mouse: it's probably rich, right?

And, frankly, the DM is expecting the mouse to give them a reward.

But then Mariah the cleric had found this teacup, so she's all "Tell the mouse we have a teacup it can rest in".

"The mouse comes out, crawls into the teacup…and disappears"

"No way…"

Y'know how sometimes you get to show your players your notes to prove you didn't just make up a gotcha because you're horrible?

Well I got to do that with my new book for the very first time...

Then I kind of just couldn't stop laughing for ten minutes because: seriously.

So Mariah turned her attention to other things, like the manticore Joey Vs Skin had drugged in other room that was paddling in circles thinking it was a manta ray after rolling a 1 to save vs hallucinogen.

Mariah found this obscurely charming even though manticores are jerks.

All this interspecies romance got everybody talking about rolling on the carousing table.

Stokes' witch problem turned into a whole elaborate plot thread--Mandy dealt with her unexpected morning after a lot more efficiently:

Then they fell in a river and fought some dragonfish. But that's life.

No more cute stuff for like a year after this. It's all claws made from the dreams of dead men after this.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Behir In Name Only

Ok, first: announcement: So James Raggi had me rewrite his classic Death Frost Doom module (the one I started my own campaign off with) to create a new deluxe version with more new stuff in it (and less old stuff) with Jez Gordon ilustrations. I feel good about it "…this feels like the essence of D&D crushed into diamond. Overworld and Underworld. Pure myth. "

It is currently available as part of the Bundle of Holding charity thing, where you can get this along with the Labyrinth Lord Advanced, and +Dyson Logos 's Dyson's Delves (awesome maps) and much more--all together for like 8 bucks or whatever. Only available for a week.

If you have any questions about what the differences between the old and new Death Frost Dooms feel free to ask in the comments--I definitely think the rewrite is worth getting even if you have the old one, as there's a lot of new content you can scrape fro other dungeons.
Ok, now on to the main course, continuing to vandalize the 5e monster manual.

Behirs. Behirs are basically crappy semidragons as if D&D needed more of those dating back to AD&D Monster Manual 2. However, the new 5e illustration is very cool and salamandery, and I did was black-in the shadow to make it look nice and slimy.

I completely, if lazily, overhauled this monster:
The behir is now a familiar-type monster maybe a foot and a half long.

"Behir" is a nice, pseudo-Arabic Jack Vance-style name--so I figured chaos wizards of the Dying Earth thousands of years into the future send Behirs back in time to whisper spells into the ears of sorcerers while they sleep.

The Chaos Wizards hope to place the right spells with the right wizards at the right time in order to carefully manipulate timelines so that futures where they rule come about.

Since these effects are subtle and have a butterfly-wing-theory-like effect on the future, practically speaking it seems like the wizard's just getting random spells each night. Which, in game terms, they are.

This very speedy revision of the Behir is based on two way better ideas you should read:

1. False Patrick's Shaman class-which chases spells in dreams using a cool mechanic which you can totally port over if a PC gets hold of a Behir.

2. Arnold Punch's idea about where faeries come from.