Yesterday we played the first session in +Colin Ritter‘s new GURPS Dungeon Fantasy campaign, which he calls Darkwoods.

I decided to play another hand-to-hand combatant, this time a Swashbucker. But rather than a straight-up Swashy, I wanted to try my hand at a pirate. Thanks to +Sean Punch‘s take on the pirate theme from Pyramid #3/64: Pirates and Swashbucklers, this was fairly straight-forward. 

That being said. Colin wanted to run something a bit more sophisticated? detailed? than something with “town” and “not town,” so he gave us an extra 50 points total. So I’ve got (for example) 20 points in Seafarer 2 and another 20 points in “I hope they’re useful” social skills. Heraldry already came in handy, so we’ll see.

The first session was basically a quick intro, then setting off into the woods to find some traces of goblins that have been plundering the local supply routes. Only three characters: a Knight, a Scout (half-elven, I think?), and Sh’nan Ettalur, the Swashbuckler-oid. Our Scout totally spanked the goblins in the tracking/scouting roll, and we found that (a) we were being followed, and (b) we could approach from behind, ambushing our ambushers.

We basically came up behind them, thanks to Sean again for that “skills everyone should have” post from a while back, we all made our rolls and I was able to All-Out Attack a goblin from behind to open the combat, hitting him for something like 10 cut and 11 cut with a dual-weapon attack with sword (2d+3 cut) and hatchet (2d-1 cut). Even through DR 2 leather, it was 24 or so injury and an instantly incapacitating/mortal blow. Our knight came up behind another, and decapitated him. We even found a severed head icon in Roll20. The scout pincushioned the third, and I think Sh’nan came up to the last one, cut him once (might have been our Knight) . . . and he tried to cut and run. Well, hatchets do swing damage when thrown, too, and four yards is only a -2 penalty. So thwack to the back, no defense, KO’d. 

We left one alive to interrogate, but none of us spoke Goblin, and he didn’t speak Common. Sh’nan has a hatred of Goblins (see below), so with no complaints and legal sanction, they were dispatched. Biggest loot was a fine thrusting broadsword on the part of the leader, which the Knight took as his own. That’s good loot, too. 

We did manage to find a crude map leading to this tribe’s cave (the Blue Hand, I believe). Colin was worried that with only three of us, we wouldn’t stand a chance against the two dozen goblins in there. I asked if they were all in one room, or strung out. Strung out. I noted this was DF, and the two ‘front line combatant’ templates were well represented. We decided to press on.

We came to the cave mouth, and staged a quick plan for a rush. The Scout went in first and Double Shot the shaman-looking spellcaster dude, dropping him instantly. SwashyPirate rushed in with a Heroic Charge, and on his turn, critically failed a cut with his cutlass, Unreadying it in my hand. Knight (Gabriel, or Sir Gabriel) rushed in to the third guard and something else untoward happened that I can’t recall. That hatchet came in handy, though, as I was able to Parry and then incapacitate my target, and Gabriel took care of his. Technically, three guys down in 2-3 seconds, I think, which is about right for DF.

We ended there.

Sh’nan Etallur

As soon as I get home, I’ll paste in the character details. He’s not what I feel is a typical Rapier-22 DF starter character. I think we established that our Scout has Bow-22 and the Knight has Sword-20. My skills are spread around more, with Shortsword-18 and Axe/Mace-16. As I said, I have 40 points in “not related to killing things,” though, which could easily be cashed in for +1 to DX, +3 to Shortsword, and perhaps +2 to Axe/Mace, or just focus on the one weapon to maximize the first-offender. Still, I like him, and that parrying hatchet was cool for many reasons.

Attributes [170]

ST 13 [30]  DX 14 [80]  IQ 11 [20] HT 12 [20]
HP 13  Will 12 [5]  Per 12 [5]  FP 12 
Basic Lift 34; Damage 1d/2d-1
Basic Speed 7 [10]; Basic Move 7
Ground Move 7; Water Move 1

Social Background
TL: 3 [0]
Cultural Familiarities: ****;  Languages: Common (Native) [0].

Advantages [110]
Ambidexterity [5]; Combat Reflexes [15]; Enhanced Dodge (1) [15]; Luck [15]; Perfect Balance [15]; Seafarer (2) [20]; Trading Character Points for Money ($2,500) [5]; Weapon Master (Fencing Weapons) (one specific weapon) [20] 

Perks [3]
Fearsome Stare [1]; Sea Legs [1]; Weapon Bond (Shortsword) [1]

Disadvantages [-55]
Chummy [-5]; Code of Honor (Pirate’s) [-5]; Greed (12 or less) [-15]; Impulsiveness (12 or less) [-10]; Obsession (Get rich enough to regain his former status and position (he’ll never feel rich enough)) (Short-Term Goal) (12 or less) [-5]; Overconfidence (12 or less) [-5]; Sense of Duty (Adventuring companions) [-5]; Vow (Never refuse a challenge of combat.) (Minor) [-5]

Quirks [-5]
_Unused Quirk 3 [-1]; _Unused Quirk 4 [-1]; _Unused Quirk 5 [-1]; Proud [-1]; Trademark [-1]

Skills [77]

  • Acrobatics DX/H – DX+1 15 [4] – includes: +1 from ‘Perfect Balance’
  • Axe/Mace DX/A – DX+2 16 [8]
  • Boating/TL3 (Unpowered) DX/A – DX+2 16 [2] –  includes: +2 from ‘Seafarer’
  • Brawling DX/E – DX+1 15 [2]
  • Broadsword DX/A – DX+1 15 [0]
  • Carousing HT/E – HT+0 12 [1]
  • Climbing DX/A – DX+0 14 [1] – includes: +1 from ‘Perfect Balance’
  • Cloak DX/A – DX+0 14 [2]
  • Connoisseur (Dance) IQ/A – IQ-1 10 [1]
  • Crossbow DX/E – DX+0 14 [1]
  • Fast-Draw (Sword) DX/E – DX+1 15 [1] – includes: +1 from ‘Combat Reflexes’
  • Fast-Talk IQ/A – IQ-1 10 [1]
  • First Aid/TL3 (Human) IQ/E – IQ+0 11 [1]
  • Gesture IQ/E – IQ+0 11 [1]
  • Heraldry IQ/A – IQ+0 11 [2]
  • Interrogation IQ/A – IQ+0 11 [2]
  • Intimidation Will/A – Will+0 12 [2]
  • Jumping DX/E – DX+0 14 [1]
  • Knot-Tying DX/E – DX+2 16 [1] – includes: +2 from ‘Seafarer’
  • Merchant IQ/A – IQ-1 10 [1]
  • Navigation/TL3 (Sea) IQ/A – IQ+2 13 [2] – includes: +2 from ‘Seafarer’
  • Observation Per/A – Per+0 12 [2]
  • Savoir-Faire (High Society) IQ/E – IQ+1 12 [2]
  • Seamanship/TL3 IQ/E – IQ+3 14 [2] – includes: +2 from ‘Seafarer’
  • Search Per/A – Per+2 14 [8]
  • Sex Appeal (Human) HT/A – HT-1 11 [1]
  • Shortsword DX/A – DX+3 17 [12]
  • Stealth DX/A – DX+0 14 [2]
  • Streetwise IQ/A – IQ+1 12 [4]
  • Survival (Island/Beach) Per/A – Per+2 14 [2] – includes: +2 from ‘Seafarer’
  • Swimming HT/E – HT+2 14 [1] – includes: +2 from ‘Seafarer’
  • Throwing DX/A – DX-1 13 [1]
  • Thrown Weapon (Axe/Mace) DX/E – DX+0 14 [1]
  • Wrestling DX/A – DX+0 14 [2]

Stats [170] Ads [110] Disads [-55] Quirks [-5] Skills [77] = Total [300]

Hand Weapons
1  Cutlass  LC:4|4|4  $1500  Wgt:2  
    Swing  Dam:2d+3 cut  Reach:1  Parry:12 
    Thrust  Dam:1d+3 imp  Reach:1  Parry:12
    Hilt punch  Dam:1d+1 cr  Reach:C  Parry:11

1  Hatchet LC:4|4  $40  Wgt:2  
    Dam:2d-1 cut  Reach:1  Parry:12  ST:8 

Ranged Weapons
1  Crossbow (ST 13)  LC:4  Dam:1d+4 imp  Acc:4  
1  Hatchet  LC:4|4  Dam:2d-1 cut  Acc:1  
1  Heavy Cloak  LC:4  Dam:spec.   Acc:1  Range:2  

Armor & Possessions

  • 1  Bandages
  • 1  Blanket
  • 1  Boots 
  • 1  Bull’s-Eye Lantern
  • 1  Canteen
  • 1  Compass
  • 1  Delvers Webbing
  • 1  First Aid Kit
  • 1  Grapnel
  • 5  Iron Spike
  • 1  Leather Gloves
  • 1  Leather, Medium (Legs)
  • 1  Mail, Light (Arms)
  • 1  Mail, Light (Neck)
  • 1  Mail, Light (Torso)
  • 1  Mirror, Hand
  • 1  Plate, Medium (Pot Helm, Nasal, Padding)
  • 2  Pole, 6′
  • 15  Rations
  • 1  Rope, 3/8′ (30 yards)
  • 1  Tent, 4-Man
  • 1  Torch, Waterproof

Parting Shot

So, as I do my own campaign prep for Alien Menace, there were some things that came out of the game session, and more importantly, from the time leading up to it.

1) Having clear rules and expectations for what GCA files and equipment lists will be used is key. Write these down and make them accessible. +Nathan Joy does this with a Wiki for his campaign, and I’m doing it (though badly) with my Alien Menace campaign.

2) You’d best have the players talk to each other beforehand, and set up the campaign background. Sir Gabriel was a sanctioned Knight of the Realm or some such. Michael’s character, some Elvish name I can’t recall but really should, is an official Ranger-type. 

Sh’nan? Criminal pirate. 

“How will your player fit in with these guys?”

” . . . ” I said. After hemming and umming for a few moments, I gave the straight answer: “No idea.”

We retconned it. I was a privateer, not a pirate. And my character’s ship had been sunk by Goblins (need to add that disad to my sheet). So the sheet was the same, as was, mostly, the motivation, but now he could fit in with the other two better. That’s the sort of thing that you really want settled before play starts.

3) Setting up a big background without a map or at least a sketch does not promote immersion.

4) Practice with your VTT interface before you start the session. Get your first map(s) in place, have tokens for all PCs and NPCs, learn how the initiative tracker works, and realize that the GM often has powers and abilities in the VTT that the players are denied, so you must be facile with it.

5) Understand the rules “exploits” you have on your own character sheet. I totally forgot about some of the real awesomeness other than the damage bonus that come along with Weapon Master. Cadmus, my Warrior Saint in Nate’s game, doesn’t have it. But some of the real benefit to Knights and Swashbucklers in a DF campaign is making brutal use of Weapon Master. Bad Doug! No biscuit! I also tend to forget you get unlimited Dodges, and I think I have a natural Dodge of something like 11 without a retreat. That’s not bad, and if I can get to light encumbrance via magical armor and other things that give Defense Bonus, that could get nice as a floor for how hard it is to hit me.

Really, what I learned here is no surprise: be prepared. RPGing is a joint effort of storytelling, and no one want you to play, either apurpose or by accident, the loner ass-wipe. Make your party fit together and have a good reason for going out together and adventuring. If you’re going to have a background world, the players should be given the opportunity to be at least a tetch familiar with it before play starts. A short session only focused on character interaction and background setting (maybe 60-90 minutes) wouldn’t go amiss, either.

Hopefully the teething pains on this first session will subside for the next game in two weeks. 

It’s been a long time coming, but I feel like things are steady enough that I can apply myself properly to a campaign.

It’ll be modern, probably monster-hunter-ish. It will start with templates and characters from Action 1, Action 3, or Monster Hunters 4: Sidekicks. I’m not going to be slavish about that, though.

It will be modern, TL8. For now. Mwa ha ha.


The rules for character generation are in flux, but will likely revolve around:

  1. All characters have to show that they’ve kept their head in a crisis in the past. This need not be “I was in the military,” but it could be.
  2. All characters must either belong or have belonged to an organization that sends you to potentially dangerous places around the globe. Oil exploration, private security company, military all might qualify
  3. The first 4-6 adventures will be somewhat introductory, giving the team a chance to gel as a team, while also killing monsters. It will set up the future plotline. 
  4. The first adventures, then, may well have some finagling and social stuff – and see below for campaign options.
  5. The characters shall be mundane. No sorcerers, psions, robots, or werewolves.

Notes on the notes

I’m playing in two DF campaigns, or will be. I have a great outlet for sorcery, magic, and divine stuff. I want to run a modern-day campaign that lets me play with stuff I’ve written and enjoy. +Jeromy French ran a one-session GURPS Sci Fi campaign that started to scratch that itch, and resulted in quite a few fun posts about the futility of dodging lasers. And two articles, one published, one not.
I’m not sure how valuable social skills will be, or if the campaign will morph into something more resembling Night’s Black Agents, which still works with the theme.
Some of this will be decided by my core player group. I’m chatting with some not-surprising people, and will be morphing the overall game and theme to fit what we all want to play. Once that’s settled, other players will be invited.

It’ll be online, will be video-based, and will use a Virtual Table Top. My personal experience is with Roll20 as a GM, with MapTool as a player. Since I’m interviewing lots of VTT guys this month, if I see something that’s more user-friendly and GURPS-compatible than either of those, I’m in. 
We’ll be using GCA to make characters, and I’ll want to be emailed copies of the file so I can upload it. Not sure if campaign management and tracking will be a big deal or not. +Nathan Joy‘s game uses a Wiki (successfully), while others try to use Obsidian Portal (less successfully for me). I’ve seen some other game aids out there that might be fun to try, but “come join my game, and spend $500 to do it!” isn’t a goal here.
The video thing is a must for me. I play games to be social, and I find it easier to be social if I can see people’s faces. It’s also a lot faster, I find, and I’ve gotten more done in a two hour session with video than in four-hour sessions with chat-based only. And since I get to GM, it’s my call to make, and I”m making it that way.
I may wind up using Snaggit to grab video of the sessions, in case there are fun things that happen or as tutorials for in-play stuff, because . . . 

House Rules

I’ve written a lot of stuff. Some published, some pending. Some of these rules would make good additions to any game, and some will make particularly good additions to this style. Stuff for consideration:
  • The Last Gasp – long term fatigue and action points
  • Technical Grappling – in one form or another is almost guaranteed
  • Dodge This! – I wrote it do deal with oddities involving guns and beams
  • Delayed Gratification – might not matter in a game mostly involving projectile weapons, but ditching Feint might be a good thing
  • The Deadly Spring – I rather suspect no one will be carrying a bow or crossbow. Might be wrong.
  • Rescaling Melee Damage – maybe, maybe not. If you dare to get up in a monster’s face, doing more damage than a .45 ACP is your reward
  • A couple articles I can’t talk about yet – sorry. FNORD. 
  • Armor as Dice – almost certainly, but can be talked out of it
  • Tactical Shooting – lots of stuff from here, though most of that is gear rather than rules; some rules, though, like requiring AoA(Determined) for sighted shooting and aimed fire. MoA rule. Maybe even bullet travel, but maybe not.
  • Partial wound channel modifiers – this will depend on whether the VTT we use can handle it. If I can say Injury is 3d+2 x 1.2 and just drop fractions, then this is attractive. If we have to do the math ourselves, it’s not.
Thing is, too many of these and the game might be unplayable. So my prospective players will get a heavy vote in what’s going on.
Parting Shot

It’s been a long time since I’ve GMed anything, so this will be a re-learning experience for me. It will also be the first time I’ve sat in the GM’s seat as a driver of the VTT technology I’ll be leveraging to run the game, so the first sessions will likely be shorter in included content due to my own issues with the medium. 
But with some trepidation, I’m looking forward to starting something here.

I promised to do this a while back, and am only now getting to it. I’m now doing Sandbox Friday, where I try and use the d30 Sandbox Adventure Generator to slap down two seeds.

Trigger accusation
Major Goal solve mystery – phenomenon
Obstacle to Goal awaken sleeping NPC
Location cemetary
Location Feature plaza
Phenomena darkness
Villian Goal/Reason loyalty (misplaced)
Artifact/Relic mask
Theme shadow
Key NPC soldier

Behind the Lines, a Dead Man’s Party

With the theme being shadow, the key NPC being a soldier, and the obstacle having to do with slumber, I’m going to go with this episode having one or more of the player characters having to penetrate through the lines of a military encampment to steal a valuable artifact from that forces commanding officer (also a soldier).
That commander, a noble once loyal to the kingdom that commands the services of the PCs, has been tricked or ensorcelled into leading an attack on his former friends. The darkness is a mental darkness, akin to the “Have you seen my mask? Isn’t it pretty? It raises the dead!” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Dead Man’s Party) fame. So long as the commander wears the mask, he can command the loyalty of anyone whom he perceives.
Thus the raid must be done at night. Entering past the guards, and removing the mask. It will continue to hold influence over the troop of soldiers until its powers are broken by exposing it to the breaking dawn in the central plaza of a consecrated cementary – all such have this feature, a staple of the local god of life and death. The plaza features a sundial at the center of an always-circular cemetery. When the shadow of the dial lays on the mask at the breaking of the dawn, it will be destroyed.
The trigger? The once-loyal noble accused a wizard of treachery. A correct accusation that if the PCs can foil the invasion before it overthrows the kingdom, will need to be repaid.
The mask should give some sort of power to the army at large in addition to the power for the wearer to enslave and control others. Maybe it turns them in to Zombies of some stripe. giving a set of traits such as (in GURPS) Unkillable and/or Regeneration, so that this body of troops will pose a real threat that can’t be defeated by normal means.
Head Down with the Writing

This weekend I was almost totally head-down working on that article +Peter V. Dell’Orto keeps mentioning we’re working on (and have reached the 30th revision; it does keep getting better, if you must know), as well as the fourth revision to what is supposed to be a short article relating to an old topic starting from this blog. I like where it’s going, but it needs polish and playtest.
Upcoming, I’ve firmed three interviews, with actual scheduling having occurred and questions being written up, and homework being done. I’m comfortable stating that I’ll be chatting with +Stacy Dellorfano, who runs the ConTessa online gaming convention, +Tim Shorts of Gothridge Manor, and +James Introcaso, and he and I will almost certainly be chatting about D&D Next.

Last week I sat down with +Richard LeBlanc and +David Welborn of New Big Dragon Games Unlimited to discuss, largely, the d30 Sandbox Companion. It’s been #1 on the RPGNow “best seller” list for some weeks in a row, and after +Erik Tenkar and +Tim Shorts raved about it, I decided to check it out.

My reiview was decidedly positive.

I asked if they would like to sit down and chat, and chat we did. Two hours worth. So buckle up, as we talk about the Sandbox Companion, telling stories, what’s next for New Big Dragon Games Unlimited, and a whole lotta background.

I will admit this interview wandered a bit. Richard and I both engaged in some serious tangency. Still, if you watch (or read) to the end, there’s good stuff in there.

As always, I’ll upload pictures and links as time goes on. Please let me know if there are any egregious issues that must be fixed! And also as always, if you want to see more of these, such as next week’s conversation with +Kenneth Hite, a small donation to the Ballistic Interview Fund would not go amiss.

Without further ado:

YouTube MP4 Video Output


Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Greetings, welcome to Gaming Ballistics’ Firing
Squad. We’re here with Richard LeBlanc and David Welborn from New Big Dragon
Games Unlimited. They’ve graciously agreed to join me and talk largely about
the d30 Sandbox Companion. Which has taken the role-playing by, at least in
miniature, by storm.
Where did it hit on RPGNow
was it?
Richard LeBlanc (New Big Dragon Games): That’s where we released the PDF, through RPGNow, and
I think as of this evening it was going back and forth between #1 and #2 today
with a maps release for a couple of bucks. It’s hard to compete with six maps
for two dollars.
I think we’re right now
back in #1, but it’s been 3 weeks straight since its release.
Douglas Cole:
Sort of the role-playing equivalent of the New York Time’s Best Seller list I
Richard LeBlanc: You know what? It’s funny I think DriveThruRPG must be the more OSR
oriented because they track OSR sales separately. But we did this release
through RPGNow . . . but yeah it’s sort of like the Wall Street Journal, but
very limited.
Douglas Cole:
So tell me a little bit more about this…

Douglas Cole: I reviewed it a little bit
about it on my blog. Erik Tenkar read it  –  raved
about it. Which lead me to take a look at it and I looked at it again.
So tell me a little bit
how the sandbox companion came about. It’s a really interesting idea, and we’ll
get into why it’s really cool and interesting later.
But it seems really
interesting, and how did the ideas occur to you guys and how did you bring it
to fruition.
Richard LeBlanc: It’s really is tied directly into my beginning with blogging back in
2011, because early on when I sort of launched the blog I wasn’t even really
posting. I was just using it to start following other people’s blogs. Because I would open a blog account so I
could follow, particularly OSR blogs.
And I was looking for
stuff to start to putting up, and my very first post ever, when I decided
“Okay, it’s time to do a post.” I had a wild hair to write a d30 based RPG because
I not seen anyone who had done it before and done it effectively.
In developing a d30 set of
mechanics I started  looking at how the
d30 could be used as a d5, d6, d10, d15, d2. It’s very flexible as a die. And
starting sort of putting some of the thing that were supposed to be charts in
this game out as downloads on the blog, and it just had some “stickiness.”
The d30 thing people
responded to. I mean I only really thought about the d30 thing because I’d seen
other OSR bloggers doing Order of the d30. I don’t know if you are familiar
with that thing that happened in 2008-2009.
I don’t want to get to far
into the background, but I can in a minute.
I was just doing these d30
charts and I decided every Friday would be a d30 chart day.
And I just started doing
all these charts for download and before I knew it I had these sort of dungeon
themes ones. Mushrooms, molds, traps, poisons, magic items, so that’s how the
d30 DM Companion happened. Which was the first d30 book.
Then I just started…as
Dave was helping me finish up polishing on the content on that one, I was still
putting out new d30 charts, but those d30 charts were not dungeon-related, they
were very wilderness-driven.
So all of a sudden d30 DM Companion
hadn’t even come out yet and I announced the Sandbox Companion. Which was a
little premature, and now I know how those guys who kind of go out there with
the Kickstarter ideas, but without the whole thing ready to go feel, because it
took us almost two years since I said “Hey, there is going to be this d30
Sandbox Companion” to finish it.
Douglas Cole:
I learned a bit of the folly of that on a much smaller scale, I do writing for
Pyramid magazine, and I get myself into more trouble with Steven Marsh by going
“Hey, I’m thinking of this idea” as opposed to “Here is the finished article, I
hope you like it.”
Richard LeBlanc: That’s a sort of a little bit how it happened, but the other thing
that happened was that as we started adding charts . . . As I started developing
new charts and getting Dave’s feedback from that, more charts kept happening.
What was originally going
to be about 30 to 35 pages ended up at 52. Because in the meantime, I said “You
know what…” I was just looking for other stuff to do for the blog, so I did
this wilderness map, this hex map crawl, this hex crawl mapping thing. I did a
week focusing on just hex crawls.
I put a map out there and
put this worksheet out there, a couple of resources like that. People started
downloading the hex crawl worksheet. So I said I’ll do some more worksheets and
then we started developing the charts so they worked directly with the
worksheets. And the whole time it was when this thing was done and it was going
to be like a fill in the blank of your wilderness to respond to your players.
Douglas Cole:
Right. And you know the interesting thing, at least for me, is I’m getting
older and I’ve got one child and got another one sort of in formation. And you
just run out of time, but I still do
want to game, and the thing that’s interesting about this is that
(and we’ll get into this
in a little bit because as always – this is some background for readers –  I always send my interviewees the questions
I’m going to ask as a discussion guide. I also think it’s polite. One of the
things we passed back and forth is some of the adventure seeds from the book. I
will talk a little bit more about that that we can maybe talk through.)
 It’s like “Oh! I’m stuck for a plot today. So
let me roll a d30 a couple of times. Oh look, here’s an episode. All I need is
some orcs and a NPC.” It’s very directive and with a little bit of a
imagination, you have the evenings plot.
As a matter of fact, I was
so inspired by this that I’m going to do every Sunday, I think, the Sandbox
Companion adventure of the week [Richard laughs, Dave smiles]. Because it’s so
easy and so interesting and . . . why not?
Anyways, just to sort of
get into a little bit, you talked a little bit about the interesting d30. Did
you ever consider d6 x d6 or any of that, or did you just have this fascination
with d30s and you must exploit it.
Richard LeBlanc: That’s it more than anything. In Jr. High, my best friend who I
dragged into a few games, but was no means a regular gamer like I was. He went
on a family trip to Colorado and he came back from some big hobby store in a
huge mall in Denver with an Armory smoky clear d30 that I’ve had ever since
[holds up d30 to camera].
Douglas Cole:
That’s the source of inspiration for all things. It’s like the Orb of Aldur if
you are a Eddings fan.
Richard LeBlanc: But he also brought me the Armory’s charts.
Which have…I’ve been
meaning for a long time to actually review the charts on my blog, but I would
feel like I’m bashing them because it’s a poor excuse to buy a d30 to have
these charts because there is not much in them.
There is stuff that we were
actually going to do in the Sandbox Companion that were similar to these charts
that Dave goes…this…this feels like fluff. It just feels like absolute fluff.
And we cut.
I’ve always been
fascinated…I did my first d30 chart a week after I got this book, it was a hit area
chart. Hand-drawn little kid legal-size paper kind of stuff.
So that fascination never
went away, but when I rediscovered the…when I sort of discovered the OSR
blogosphere it was sort of a excuse to bring it back out. And my fascination
that had never gone away immediately came back.
Sorry, I got a little off
track from the question.
Douglas Cole:
Ah you know! [waves hand in a “Aw, shucks” manner]. That’s OK.
David Welborn (New Big Dragon Games): You know, it’s not that we thought of doing it this
way, but the…being the d30 it does tend to differentiate the product from those
other books of lists and charts.
Richard LeBlanc:  And one of the other things
was, and Dave’s the guy who basically always stays on my butt about being good
about this: To really use the d30 to its full effectiveness.
Because in both the DM and
Sandbox Companion there are a lot of five by six charts were one roll creates
two sets of results. You roll and you check the header on the column and the
sidebar on the row and you have two results from a single roll. The six by six
can do that, but you’re sort of having to put one set of dice down and pick up
another die, if you’re mixing that with d20s for example.
Douglas Cole:
Sure, sure, sure.
Richard LeBlanc: That flexibility was something that we never questioned early on is
because the reason the Sandbox Companion is a d30 book is because it wasn’t
developed to be a Sandbox Companion originally. It was a set of charts that
came out of using a d30. It just happened to be really damn useful.
Douglas Cole:
Well, you know, a lot of Ph.D thesis are nothing but four or five pages stapled
together, so you’re in good company [Richard laugh].
So you guys have gone back
and forth just a little bit. What are your two roles, David and Richard, in New
Big Dragon Games.
Richard LeBlanc: I’ll actually let Dave talk to that, as he can give a better insight
where I drag him in.
David Welborn:
Alright. Well I’ve always kind-a been a sounding board, Richard and I tried to
put together a band early on. So he’s always writing the songs, and I was there
as a sort of sideman. I gave him my input and you know “this part of the song
is top-notch, and this part isn’t up to everything else.”
We had this working
creative relationship, and somewhere in there I got married, he got married, no
time for bands anymore, and Richard discovered this OSR thing and was sort of
showing it to me. And it’s weird, and he gave me a module he was working on to
sort of proofread and to make sure he didn’t make any big typographical errors
and to just check it out. We just sort of fell into the kind of the same
working relationship we had prior.
He’s pretty much is the
engine and I’m the sounding board…
Richard LeBlanc: Game Swiffer [?]
David Welborn:…yeah,
honest opinion.
Richard LeBlanc: There are times where it’s like: this just doesn’t work or is clunky,
and honestly one of the reasons . . . I’m going to out Dave a little bit for why
the Sandbox Companion taking so long. Dave has two twin boys who are two and
half or three now…?
David Welborn:
They’re three now. Yeah.
Richard LeBlanc: They were two, and they … [all laugh].
Douglas Cole:
It seems longer.
David Welborn:
Both of them at the same time.
Richard LeBlanc: As they got out of toddler stage, they’re still toddlers, as they got
out of that infant stage to toddler stage, they required a lot more of his
attention, especially later in the evening and that tended to slow up the
process a lot.
And it’s funny because…’cause
I really needed Dave’s input on some of these charts and whether their working.
Because the two of us together completely rewrote the NPC…the henchman/hireling
charts that are in the books, as well as the weather charts that are in the
book, a couple of times before the versions you see in the book.
A lot of that stuff kind
of had to happen. Because we were waiting for so long, and I was waiting for Dave
in some cases, I actually put out to modules in the meantime.
And so I did the ballet of
the Five Fires module, which is like a 56 page Mongol-inspired OSR setting, and
this little 12-16 page Egyptian sort of little one-shot thing.
And that was in-between
all the other times we weren’t working. Two things: the amount of attention we
put to make sure these charts worked, and . . .
David Welborn:
 . . . the amount of care, right? We
didn’t just want to throw it out.
Douglas Cole:
Sure. So you mentioned, and obviously the d30 Sandbox is very much centered
around the Old School Revival, OSR.
Why is that important to
I played DnD, I played the
red box and I got the blue box, I think I may have even been given them both at
the same time. I got into AD&D in high school, and this would have been
from 85-89, I played a whole bunch of stuff because my friend Ken Cappeli and
Mark Worthy, those guys were a sort of the game of the week, game of the month.
Did Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay for a while.
Eventually they introduced
me to GURPS which was almost the last system I played before I went to college
and then what I found there is…I was playing, actually, I think it was the Dark
Conspiracy setting and loved the setting, couldn’t really deal with the rules,
and then I got into GURPS big time – sort of converting it on the fly – my
first game was fifteen worldbooks . . .
So now we find ourselves
in 2014 and Old School Revival – why do you guys find that compelling to write
Richard LeBlanc: I really kind of was away from the hobby for a long time.
There is nothing that
really turns…and I don’t want to offend your GURPS viewers here…but there is
very little that turns me off more than a lot of splat, in terms of splatbooks.
It’s why I’ve never been able to comprehend Palladium. Not that I don’t
comprehend Palladium, but Palladium RPG and GURPS are just like “Here is the
library of stuff that you need to kind of go through depending on the game you
want to play.”
And even DnD got a lot
like that, which turned me off to DnD at some points. And I am not a three or 3.5
player or 4.0. Dave is. Dave’s a 3.5 guy.
So I had done other RPGs stuff
off and on in the 90’s and in the early part of 2000 to 2008 really hadn’t done
Discovering OSR was
bringing back to the stuff I loved early on. And that’s one of the reasons why for
a lot of us, it’s nostalgia and for a lot of us it’s just we like that style of
I just miss that and it
was nice to get back to it.
Douglas Cole:
David Welborn:
I also was away from the hobby a lot. I think I played in elementary school in
the early 80s and [Doug: “Now I feel old.”] and I didn’t play again until
Somewhere in high school I
was introduced to Call of Cthulhu and Paranoia and Car Wars, right? It kind of
hit there.
But then I went off to
college and didn’t really play much except when it was DnD. Played some of the
superhero RPGs – it was like we couldn’t just put together the time regularly
with all the people and the school workload.
And then a bunch of my
college buddies – the guy who was the DM – moved back to town, the guy who was
the GM, around 2000 and we just started cranking it out. The guys just a genius
at storytelling and 3rd edition was just the vehicle.
But OSR came around and it
really kind of…with Richard pulling me into it, kind of realizing that the way
we played the modern rulesets were very old school in a way.
But much like the
conversation you were having the other in the other Ballistic Interview [LB].
Much more narrative based then the simulation kind of rules.
Douglas Cole:
Sure. Sure.
You know in my own
experience, and this is interesting, one of the best and longest running games
I had going, first in college and then honestly in grad school as well, was d6
Star Wars. And the nice thing about that is the incredibly simple rules-set, I
believe at the time it won a bunch of awards and in my opinion it deserved
But the thing about Star
Wars is probably the same thing that is good or interesting or really binding
about the OSR, it’s a fairly narrow ruleset in a world or style of play that everyone
Everyone in our generation
gets, and frankly the next generation as well, with the new movies.
Say what you will about
them – and there is a lot to say – (Han shot first!) [Richard laughs]
And that’s even the old
ones . . . see you can even ruin perfectly good stuff! It’s like new rules editions!
There’s an analogy to be made here, between the continual revision of the old
Star Wars movies and what we actually go and play.
But in a way, that’s what
it is. In the end, you go back and say Okay, hack n slash fantasy – and I mean
that in the nicest possible way because I play a lot of it.
It’s something that
everyone understands and you go back to the old box DnD or even AD&D and
you say “This is just a fairly straightforward way.” And Star Wars is the same
way, you can go and inhabit that world, as opposed to doing all the work.
And its wonderful and deep
and I want to see a movie in it . . . and I wow I approached David Pulver’s
Transhuman Space with fear and shock and awe because I just couldn’t
penetrate…it. I couldn’t figure out how to play in it . . . but I know how to
get a cleric, a fighter, a magic-user, a thief, a fighter and another fighter
in. And kill some damn orcs [all laugh].
So you know what to do
there, oh we’ll go NW and kill more orcs and we’ll branch out tomorrow and kill
goblins. And I think that’s one of the things that’s compelling for
time-stretched people is you can get together and do…and it doesn’t require
method acting…it doesn’t require a lot…I don’t want to say investment because
you can have a lot of fun and inhabit
the characters, but it just doesn’t require quite so much overhead.
David Welborn:
It takes real work to create a universe that has sort of internal rigor that’s
believable that just doesn’t become gonzo.
Douglas Cole:
Correct. And I will give mad props to Transhuman Space for doing exactly that, but boy
there is a reason the introductory adventures start way the hell away from
Earth and all the complexities of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Wave or
whatever. You gotta start by “killing orcs” so that you can understand the
Coming back to the d30
Sandbox Companion just because that’s the point.
It took me five, maybe ten
minutes to open up Excel and drop the 30 column headings in and hit a random
number generator. And I did the math because I’m a dork. There are 590 trillion
potential adventure seeds that come out those two pages of text.
Richard LeBlanc: I think we actually referenced that in the introduction to the
Sandbox. So go ahead, sorry.
Douglas Cole:
No, go ahead, it’s your interview, not mine.
The thing is: at the push
of a button I’ve got a idea so what I wanted to do, if you’re willing and if we
can take the time.
I wanted to throw up one
or two or three, we’ll see where this goes because it could take a while, of
these ideas because I sent them out ahead of time. But seeing where they took
me and see where two different people took each one if you’re willing to do
indulge me for a moment.
Richard LeBlanc: Absolutely.
Douglas Cole:
So let’s do this – PowerPoint it, unfortunately – the first bit.
So for those of you who
don’t have the book: shame on you and go buy it because for what you get it’s
worth it.
There are ten categories,
sort of major plot points or axes and each table has 30 different pieces.
So what you see here is
randomly generated bit.
You got the Adventure
Trigger, a drawing of some sort.
Goal, scavenger hunt,
city, pedestal, etc. etc.
So what I did with this
one, is to me the drawing implied a map or a picture. Disembodied voices, mystery,
the Queen Mother as the key NPC . . .this started to sound to me like
divination. Predicting the future.
The geographic. . . I’m
sorry. My parents were both English Majors so I have to fix that misspelling.
The geographic features
are really neat and I remember in Frank Miller’s Batman Year One book Batman
talks about the one distinctive detail and he puts on a scar so people would do
So the geographic part of
this is that there is a pillar in the center of the city somewhere, which is a
really great bit of flavor. So there is a pillar in the center of a city, the
pillar is beautiful, artistic, and probably magical. Maybe it was even there
before the city was there.
The Queen started painted
scenes of incredibly destruction, and her close confidants were reporting that
she was talking to herself and talking in her sleep and she wasn’t a artist but
she is now. And maybe she’s only using techniques that only exist in modern 2014
– maybe’s its pointillism or perspective or maybe it’s 3D looking stuff whereat
that didn’t exist in this time.
The court is disturbed
because they’re really worried about this and the Queen’s sanity, but the King
knows his wife to be a pretty stable person, but the council won’t let him
commit forces or troops to protect the city.
The Queen recently
completed another drawing – a giant catastrophe being perverted by a powerful
figure standing on the pillar. The figure is cloaked in black and gold with a
distinctive bracelet on an outstretched hand. That hand and the bracelet are in
the kings treasure room. It’s a lost relic on display very clearly visible and
it’s known as the Hand of the King and it’s one of the royal treasures –  it’s probably one of the things they hold up
during coronation.
So the Queen contacted a
party of adventurers because the hand is probably part of a larger statue which
if placed on the pillar will protect the entire city and they have to do that
before disaster strikes.
And that’s the scavenger
hunt piece of it and why is she getting this instructions – the voices are
talking to her and that’s a little crazy and that’s why the council is
skeptical and that’s why they have to branch out to the random murder hobos and
that’s why they have to chase down the pieces of the statue.
So, that’s where this took
me and so it was just one of these
things where you start putting the different pieces together and it was really really interesting. And as we get into
the next two you find out that you can really tie all these together into a
overarching campaign.
So what do you guys make
of this thing?
Richard LeBlanc: Dave you want to go first or you want me to go first? Did you have
time to work on this at all?
Douglas Cole:
We’ve lost Dave’s sound.
David Welborn:
I’m sorry, I was on mute. I was talking.
Richard LeBlanc: He has a tendency to mute himself by the way [all laugh]. This happens
a lot when we Skype and there’s this long period of silence, and I go dude, I
think you’re on mute.
David Welborn:
I took this somewhere else, I went with a heist theme.
So you had a guy, he was
out sort of pretending to be a street artist. He had like a sketchbook and he
was drawing, say like the equivalent of a bank on the street, and what he was
really doing was he was casing the joint.
Something happens and he
loses his sketchbook, and the player party character, the PC party finds that
sketchbook and it’s got the bank and some portraits of his friends and maybe
the insides of some taverns and other phenomena around town.
That brings in the
scavenger hunt aspect that you’re trying and go around town and figure out,
perhaps, who this guy was and what was going on. The disembodied voices are
coming from the sewer which leads people down below ground – sewers are part
and parcel to heist adventures.
They’re going to try and
take the figurine or idol from the vault in this basically Tower of London or
bank-type place. It’s a figurine or idol that was the basis of the sculpture
that sets atop the pedestal in the city. And that’s going to be used by the bad
guy who actually hired the bank robbers to destroy the royalty of the town and
bring everything down.
Douglas Cole:
Cool! Cool…you know what I think that I might do for time sake, you know what
I’ll do – Richard, you go to town.
Richard LeBlanc: I started this one thing that I completely abandoned because I…I don’t
know if I sort of saw all the answers on this at one time or not, because I was
trying to just really make it too complex honestly.
I had one where there was
this pedestal in the middle of town, but the thing that happened in that
direction, where I took it, it was on this day called the feast of the hunt
where young adults in the town were drawn out of a lottery.
So in this case the
drawing was not a physical drawing, but a lottery drawing. And names were drawn
and this was how the PCs were meant to be together in the first place, this was
meant to be a 1st level adventure, and they were all going to have
to get on this pedestal which would start this scavenger hunt for this festival.
I found myself sticking too
close to what the results from the rolls were supposed to be – in other words I
kept looking going “Scavenger Hunt is the object or goal – which is really
just  extension of the trigger.” So let
me rethink that.
And I ended up scrapping
that whole idea because I was over thinking the results [laughs] and went with
this sort of set up and this is where I ended up:
I did keep the drawing was
a lottery drawing and that will be my trigger here.
The king’s away at war and
the Queen is on a diplomatic mission and the Queen Mother is sort of running
things while they are gone and there is this figurine that’s been sort of
locked in the lower depths of the castle and it’s missing and there is no other
clue to its disappearance other than this black mark on the pedestal where it
was kept.
So there is the pedestal, there’s
this sort of trigger for this mystery thing, there always has to be this sort
of one clue left behind so Scooby Doo and the gang can find it, right? [“Right,
Raggy”] But here’s the real problem, the statue is one of the Seven Keys of
Sylum, I love putting names on things, so the idol itself is one of the Seven
Keys of Sylum, and it’s a set of statues that supposedly, when put together
will unlock this extradimensional gate which brings this powerful being in from
another dimension that cause this destruction.
Now this is the part where
Dave smiles, because Dave knows that I’m infamous for cults, opening portals,
bringing Lovecraftian beasts through them . . . and so I did this really like
to poke at Dave because he kind of pokes at me all the time for it.
So the reason this
figurine was locked in the castle in the first place was just in case this was
rumored to be true so it wouldn’t be an issue. But now with the statue missing
somebody obviously wants to put them together.
So the Queen Mother asks
the PCs to find this old key. I think in here I accidently ended up editing out
the part where she choose them via lottery drawing. So here are these people
from a bank of heroes that are trying to get the castle to hire them from these
kinds of things.
Her task to them is if not
to find the stolen statue to at least find one of the other statues and bring it
so that at least the city will be safe and she hooks them up with a mystic to
help them divine the location of these statues. What the problem is is he’s a
few ingredients short on the spell, but they’re going to help him on that. The
scavenger hunt that triggered this whole thing will be a scavenger hunt for the
ingredients for the mystic’s spell which will then lead upward.
Douglas Cole:
Neat! Neat.
Okay, so that really “shows
to go ya” that three very different takes on the same thing, so instead of 500
almost 600 trillion possibilities, really it’s infinite. Because we could
probably come up with the same random number is actually gonna produce idea
after idea after idea depending on what you are thinking of, what you had for
lunch that day, what movies or entertainment you saw, and you know, for example
– drawing, David and I thought “Physical Drawing” but you said “Lottery
Drawing” – maybe it’s drawing a wire like pulling it through a mandrill or
something right?
So there is all kinds of
meaning that you can imbue to these things.
So moving onto the next
one – cause we did three of these to see what could be done.
I came up with drawing
again, which is interesting. Major goal is to locate or track down a NPC.
Obstacle – clear name or restore honor in a citadel or keep. So we’re back to
the city.
You’ll note that I only
knew these were all in the same place with the same king and queen and the same
plotline after I’d come up with the
ideas – but I’m going to present them as if they were all part of one giant
Another statuary, so
apparently we are all about the statues – which is interesting because it’s
come up in two different ways, but would make an interesting overarching theme
in a series of adventures that they all have to do with some kind of sculpture.
Shadows, domination,
control . . .a candle – which is kind of fun – and a noble which is actually what lead me to come up with the noble
And so if you’ll forgive
me . . . actually I’ll just leave this up.
The peasant – which is the
key NPC – saw someone get killed. A powerful noble was killed in the darkness
and it was explained as a accident, a statue fell over on him, shoved over by a
different noble who was naturally a friend of the king. The peasant saw it
differently – the statue physically reached out to crush the dead noble’s head,
and only fell over after it had been animated to do this deed.
The culprit is another
noble who used a magical candle that instead of casting Cast Shadows – the
wizard, of course it’s a wizard, it’s gotta be a wizard – can control any stone
that the shadow touches.
The peasant saw all that,
but being smart (if poor),
immediately went into hiding because there is certain information that just can
get you killed, and everybody knows that if you’ve got two neurons to rub
And this person is gone,
but you need the evidence to accuse the noble of a major crime. So the king
expects treachery and this is one movie in a power play and will probably end
in strife in regicide because they always do. Kingdom changing hands,
everything at stake, but a scrap of the drawing, because of course much like
every movie that we’ve ever seen the person who sees it has to make a picture
of it.
The scrap of this drawing
has been found, but the drawing isn’t good enough, it has to be personal evidence.
It’s all about people and character and honor and you can’t have physical
evidence – it’s all about somebody’s word. Which tells you a awful lot about
the legal system that has to underlie this world.
Before the usual court
process can remove the King’s friend, you have to find the evil noble, because
he has to be evil, or it would be really interesting if he weren’t evil – which
just twists things – but the perpetrator has a army of magical and magical
abilities of his own, so he’s a real threat, and so can PCs interdict and stop
the plot in time. So that’s where I went with that one.
David Welborn:
Yeah, umm, I was going to say the first one for me was the hardest because I
kept trying to turn it into a Dan Brown novel. With the [all laugh] with the
scavenger hunt which tends to be a…
This one. I too have a magical candle and that’s
really what – once I got that idea it really drove my ideas.
Mine was a candle and the
shadow that the candle cast – that shadow could leave the person, almost like an
out of body experience and travel through the shadows to do bad things to other
people’s shadows thereby killing the target.
So you had this evil mage,
who was looked away in a tower, which gets us our citadel/keep.
When they locked him away
they cut out his tongue and smashed his hands so he could no longer do the
somatic and gestural components of the magic…
Richard LeBlanc: Awesome! [laughs]
David Welborn:
Yeah, but somebody snuck him these magic candles and his shadow crept out to do
vengeance on the people who locked him away. So his shadow strangled the shadow,
and thereby the persons, who put him in this situation.
So you have to…Your PCs
are kind of left with trying to figure out how to avoid shadows, like a
streetlight is a bad place to be, but daytime’s fine because there is not a lot
of shadows – it would have to be a clear shadow, multiple light sources or
diffused lightning you’re pretty safe.
You kind of have this
puzzle of how can you trap this shadow, and keep it, while you try and locate
who it belongs to or try and prevent an assassination of the head noble of the
town. And that’s pretty much where it went.
Douglas Cole:
Richard LeBlanc: Are you ready for mine now?
Douglas Cole:
Richard LeBlanc: Okay, well on this one I actually had Dave take the email that you
sent, change the order of the results, and add spaces between them, so when I
got the email I’d have to scroll from item to item so I would not be able to
see them all at once.  And I went through
them in a different order than they were rolled or developed because you sort
of…I wanted to see what the difference was in my natural way of doing it, which
would be to sit down and roll them one at a time and dealing with each result
as it popped up . . .
Douglas Cole:
Richard LeBlanc:  . . .rather than seeing the
group at once as generated by a computer. What I tended to do on this one which
was to go through each item and think on it a little bit before I rolled the
next one.
Douglas Cole:
Got it, got it, got it, got it.
Richard LeBlanc: The thing I started with was the location feature which was the
statuary – so that sort of drove my “thematic wrapper” because that was the
first thing I did.
What I came up with was,
I’m not necessarily a Stan Lee fan, but I like the way he over-alliterates
everything, so I had this Hall of the Hundred Heroes just because I like the
alliteration. So this statuary is expansive gold domed rotunda lined by a 100
statues of the heroes of the realm. These are guys, young, old, of every sort
of race, shape, or size that have given their lives in their furtherance of
freedom within the the realm.
At this point I went ahead
and figure out what the shield, the heraldry crest looks like so I actually went
to the heraldry tables in the Sandbox Companion and what I ended up with was a
roll of 28, 15, blah blah blah, that’s the graphic I put together today and
it’s purple and dented division
David Welborn:
We can’t see it.
Douglas Cole:
You will…
Richard LeBlanc: [chuckles] He’s getting there, with a purple cross charged.
Anyways, that’s sort
of…one of the things I love about, and I didn’t come up with the name later,
that’s the shield for the heraldric crest for the realm.
So the next item on my
list was the candle and because I already had this statuary the candle was a
artifact it sort of sits in the middle of this statuary and I called it “The
Flame of Undying Loyalty” and it set on top of a large pedestal, and it’s
really a symbol for those heroes who have died near and far. It’s said to
provide magical abilities to its possessor in terms of loyalty and strength in
battle. That I sort of left a little open and ended up coming back to.
The next thing that I came
to was the villain or goal, and I went ahead and rolled him up first in the NPC
tables in the book and so my first roll was a natural 30. And for BX users, that’s
going to be a re-roll, and for original or first edition and that’s going to be
rolling on the multi- or split class table, and I did that for interests sake.
What I ended up with was
this fairly high level fighter/thief as the villain.
So the next thing I had in
mind on my ordered lists was the citadel and I for a long time just had this
named “The Ebony Citadel” just sitting back there that I’ll do something with
at some point, so just right now I put the Ebony Citadel in and kept going.
For the key NPC of the
noble I went ahead to the noble tables in the back of the book and rolled up a
baroness who is just basically a friend of the family of the king. I went ahead
and gave her a name: she’s Baroness Enly (Emily?) Uthain.
So now we get to the
trigger, a drawing, I didn’t do the drawing like the first which I did this one
first which is one of the reasons I did the other one like a lottery drawing as
opposed to a physical drawing as this one is a physical drawing.
This is where it all took
shape and all these little pieces were out there and this is where it all took
shape for me. So the Baroness, she’s kind of known around the area as being a
very good artist, and one night while she was sleeping she had this dream where
– this is all sort of written out in my prosaic thing here so I’ll sort of go
through it:
One night while she was sleeping, a dream of man with
such evil and darkness in his eyes that it shook her to her very soul. In this
dream the man entered the Hall of One Hundred Heroes and toppled each statue to
the ground turning them all into piles of rubble, he then took The Flame of
Undying Loyalty and retreated to his citadel. A Citadel of absent blackness
engulfed in flame. The baroness awoke, shaken, thinking nothing more of her
dream other than that it was a dream until the next day when word reached her,
where she is in a barony, that the Hall of Heroes had been vandalized and the
flame had been stolen.
This is sort of where I
wrote back in that the candle provides unquestioning loyalty from all those who
serve its possessor – granting not only but other advantages in battle
including a host of magical abilities – to be determined. Her vision is the
only clue to this man’s identity, and circulated throughout the realm is her
drawing of this man with the offer of reward for anyone with information about
The next thing that I came
to was revenge. I put that aside to come back toit.
The obstacle/goal was to
clear your name or honor.
As your party walks through the streets of the town
you notice the flyer and you also can’t help but notice the man on the flyer
bears a striking resemblance to the fighter in your group.
So basically at this point
these people are looking at you and you know you look like this guy, but you
also know you’re not him so you got to either find out who this guy is or your
mistaken identity could lead to dire consequences.
The back story that has
yet to be revealed to the players at this point is that this fighter/thief –
Norrack the Herokiller that I’ve created or I kind of called him – has more
than once try to claim a portioned realm as his own, and his efforts were
crushed time and time again by several of those who were honored in the Hall as
heroes. Though they died fighting Norrack, their efforts have continually held
him at bay. And the toppling of the statues was simple payback, but the
stealing of the candle was simple strategy – to raise a undyingly loyal army
and take over the realm.
Douglas Cole:
Interesting. As you were talking I’ll admit that…you got a hundred heroes? I
would take that and say “There are one hundred baronies in the Kingdom of
Ulthain.” There are one hundred nobles and the toppling of the statue
represents the toppling of these barony using your candle of loyalty to
eventually take over the entire country. So even with one adventure seed you …
Richard LeBlanc: Yeah, absolutely. But the way I went through that had a lot to do with
where I ended up.
Douglas Cole:
Yeah, it’s real interesting. Lastly, just to complete it out, we’ve got the 3rd
adventure seed, where Doug has had far too much fun with fonts.
Anyway: Trigger is exotic
item, the goal is to stop conflict, obstacle to find hidden or lost entrance, Forest,
Door, Poisonings, mass destruction, greed, and slave.
Now I will admit that the
slave never really featured in what I was talking about, largely because I think
I just started writing, but that’s the whole point of this is to get a idea and
run with it.
So this one felt like money to me. There are unusual coins
being spread around, people who come in contact with these coins tend to die.
Falling victim to some sort of toxicity some days after they come into contact.
It’s part of the plot that
had been discussed in the first two – a way to subvert, weaken, destroy the
king’s hold on the land.
A magical artifact – lemme
see I think I came back around to that – anyways there is a magical device that
actually is responsible for making the lands coinage, but a piece has been
removed and without it the money is tainted and bad for you.
It’s a ancient device and
no one really knows how it works who’s still living, except for this old noble.
Not every coin is toxic –
it’s a random event. But those that are, compel the possessor to spend them
spreading in a disease-like vector.
The PCs have to venture to
a special vault deep in the enchanted forest to retrieve the piece, a otherwise
unremarkable silver cube which looks normal but detects strongly of magic.
Naturally the evil wizard
has hidden the door – or even better maybe some other creature such as a fae or
other spirit or other neutral party stole the cube from the wizard.
So the PCs still have to
get it back, but maybe they even have to collaborate with this evil noble
because what you are really looking at is the random end of all things. Total
stop of all commerce which will kill the realm, or enough coins get made and tainted
and that everyone dies.
In any case, bad news:
there is time pressure, there is a bit of mystery, and maybe perhaps the hint
of collaboration with the bad guy because – I always wanted to see what
happened when Han Solo and Princess Leia and those guys sat down to dinner with
Darth Vadar so that allows something like that.
Just to tie it all
together all of these seem to revolve around a king or queen of particular land
so they could be linked. Same noble. Instant BBEG, just add hate. You get an
opportunity for a party of murder-hobos to come to the attention of a royal
family and thus be enmeshed in all this political stuff and if its over there
head – if all that politics is over there head even better but these guys
become special agents for the royal family and thus you can explain why they
are involved in one friggin’ thing after another like Bruce Willis’s character
in Die Hard. “Why does this keep happening to me.” Next.
Richard LeBlanc: Before we go on. “Why does this keep happening to me” and why do I
have to sit down to have dinner with Hans and get involved with him. It’s kind
of like…Anyways, I won’t respond. I’ll come back to yours and I’ll let Dave go.
David Welborn:
So this one was more of a…you got two crime syndicates in the town going at it,
because one of them was poisoned and one of the families’ sort of regional
treasures or weaponry found at the crime scene of the assassination at the
houses in one of the crime syndicate families.
Long story short – spoiler
– it was a slave inside the house who used a Wand of Escaping to escape through
a tunnel and then through a hidden door. So these guys are gonna – maybe the
PCs work for one of the crime families or associate or have dealings with them.
They have to stop this conflict started by this slave a revenge for all the bad
things that crime families do. That’s pretty much where it went.
Douglas Cole:
Okay, Richard?
Richard LeBlanc: I, you know when I was looking at the list of results I actually have
a adventure I’m working on in the back of my mind right now and I ended up
tying it into that, making it a part of that thing. So when I reference this Fair
Shadow Valley as the location – it’s actually part of a map that I posted on
the blog a while back and I said “Here’s this map I worked up” with the
intention of sort of working on it generically over time to see what happens.
So that’s the location of this thing instead of the overreaching campaign
you’ve put together. It’s more a piece of this other overreaching campaign that
I’ve actually been putting together.
A major pass into the
north end of Fair Shadow Valley is being controlled by goblins who are
attacking everyone who passes through. If the dwarves and the elves who are
encamped in the forest just north of that side of the valley, outside the
entrance, if they would join forces the goblins would be easily dispensed, but a
misunderstanding between the dwarves and elf leaders has them bickering instead
of dispensing.
The dwarves have come in
search of a place rumored to be laden with treasure. The “key” to this door
which supposedly hides this treasure is a small (3 inches a side) cube ornately
engraved with an array of dwarven runes which slides into the door to allow entry.
That’s how the story goes.
The dwarves had the key
which now seems to be missing and the dwarves blame the elves for the theft,
while the elves need to secure a path to through the valley so they can bring
medicines to the towns on the side where there are people suffering from these
mass poisonings.
Given the greed of the
goblins, it’s most likely they’ve stolen the cube. Taking the goblins head on
is kind of foolhardy and if the PCs could, say, find a back entrance, which is
ultimately what they’re looking for . . .the thing that sort of happens is
there is this goblin slave that escapes his goblin masters and he’s sneaking
out of a back entrance just in time for the PCs to see this.
So it’s a little
coincidental, but it’s workable I suppose.
So I decided inside the
compound, the PCs will eventually find the cube. And the door is in there too,
but in a different part. The dwarves know these go together, the PCs know these
go together, but the goblins obviously didn’t figure this out.
And they’ll find evidence
that the goblins are being backed by an as yet to be determined person who is
responsible for the poisonings and he’s paying these greedy goblins pretty well
just to keep people out of the valley – especially these elves.
I went back and forth on
what exotic item should be the trigger and at one point it was a herb, the
medicinal herb the elves were bringing in for the poisons.
Douglas Cole:
Okay, interesting.
Richard LeBlanc: Then I thought the cube was the exotic item but I think I may have
decided on the herbs.
Douglas Cole:
You know on the flipside there is no reason why there can’t be several exotic
items, so yeah okay.
Cool. I hope that anyone
who is watching is still watching.
We spent a long time on
those three adventure seeds. But at least if my blog traffic is any indication
there is going to be four people who actually watch this and everybody else will read it, so hopefully people
will bear with us as we go through these ideas.
Overall I think it’s
really interesting, we had three random rolls at least ten different ideas, out of those three rolls times three
people, and it’s just “What am I going to do for tomorrow’s adventure?” I’m
going to roll some dice and have a great idea.
Which leads me into a
different kind of question.
Do you see a future of any
sort for something like – right now it’s OSR (which is dungeons) do you see a
expansion for this for a d30 action movie, or d30 special ops sandbox generator,
the expanded daily terrorist activity tabke, or the the Jack Bauer kneecap
damage table or something. Science fiction. You could have a science fiction
What do you think about
the market or the work involved – I mean toddlers aside it seems like it took a
long time to come up with these kind of tables. I would probably wind up with
the Disney Princess Superhero Alien table because my daughter will freely
combine such. [Richard and Dave laugh] Pretty soon it’s going to be like the –
you know Ariel is going to ride into fight Lex Luthor on an Orgre – like a
Steve Jackson Ogre, not a Ogre Shrek-Ogre.
So it’s…inspiration comes
from a lot of places.
So what do you think
beyond the old school Dungeons and Dragons or fantasy stuff – do you think
there is more out there? Because it’s a wonderful utility to have this kind of
idea generator, and you got a lot more genres that are out there.
Richard LeBlanc: Dave and I talked about that for a little bit, because strangely
enough when we were putting the Sandbox Companion to bed, and I say that like a
month before it’s released as we sort of got all the tables together as it
became proofing and writing the introduction.
We sort of felt like we
had completed the “Fantasy” sort of thing. There wasn’t much left there in in
terms of fixing quick needs, and maybe there are some details that aren’t there
yet, but there is nothing sort of bigger or daily important that should
absolutely be in there.
The next question: Should
we do something outside of that realm and in sort of a different place.
My initial reaction is –
there is very little I would know well
enough to do a good job of it
, because this is one of those things that I’m
familiar with, and got a good handle on and the only other thing that would
come close or sort of consider would be a mutant/future style. Gamma World-ish,
Thundar the Barbarian-ish, sort of Aftermath-ish…Dave’s a big fan of the ah…
David Welborn:
Morrow Project.
Richard LeBlanc: Morrow Project!
And it’s sort of a, it’s a
little too serious than something like Gamma World where you can have bunny
ears and extra arms and things.
I would feel more
comfortable doing something like that, but it does take a big time commitment
to do it, because what happened with the Sandbox Companion was that it developed
one week at a time and as I was putting out on the blog.
Right now my interest is
still in that place, that sort of Fantasy place, and unless it takes me and I
won’t say it won’t. But I’m severely ADD when it comes to the kind of projects
I work on or the number of projects I work on and they tend to be on the same
style of thing.
It would just sort of have
to happen and I’d have to be passionate about it – because if I’m not
passionate about it I can’t be convinced I’d do a good job at it. If that makes
Douglas Cole:
That’s sort of a theme in creativity, right?
Richard LeBlanc: [Laughts] It is.
I mentioned this Valley of
the Five Fires, a Mongolian-inspired setting.
It was triggered because a
guy I know who has this other blog, the ramblings of the Great Khan, by William
Dowie, was going to do a single-page Mongolian-themed adventure contest. It may
not have been a single-page, but it was Mongol-themed adventure contest and I
started developing new monsters and started putting new maps together, and it
over grew over two or three days for a contest kind of thing because the
passion got a hold of me.
Douglas Cole:
Right, it just snowballed.
Richard LeBlanc: Yeah, and so if one of those other things happens, it will be because
it snowballs, but because I’m also sort of passionate about it anyway.
Dave and I collectively
probably have enough anime background to pull off something like that.
Douglas Cole:
Right, right, right.
Richard LeBlanc: But that would be a …I’m not an action, like the Jack Bauer kind of
theme you mentioned earlier. I’m not much for the espionage and/or suspense
thriller sort of stuff. I’ve never been a blow up helicopters movie kind of
guy, it would take  lot for me to get
behind that sort of . . .
Douglas Cole:
[waves hand] You are now dead to me. [all laugh]
Richard LeBlanc: You know my brother’s passion for that should more than make up for
Douglas Cole:
Fair enough, fair enough.
It’s funny because there
is a blog, and it’s a new blog, and I’m going to forget the name of it, and I
really shouldn’t. I think I call him Mr. Insidious, I think it’s called
Insidious GURPS planning.
But he’s running a really
interesting, intricate espionage campaign, and to come up with these
interleaved conspiracies is a challenge and next week I’m interviewing Ken Hite
and his Night’s Blank Agents has a conspiracy
and I’ve ordered the book, and I’m going to read it because that
just has to be awesome.
One of the hardest things
to do I think is to come up with enough layers so it’s not just “Oh, I…this is
the bad guy, and I shoot him in the head.”
Well, okay then, the plots
over and it’s time to start a new game.
But that’s the kind of
thing where if you could come up with scenario after scenario and weave it in
as such so that you could find a overarching theme. It would be a time saver
and it would be something that wouldn’t require quite so much thought.
And I don’t want to make
it sound as if we’re all a bunch of clods out here who don’t want to think – and
as David, as I am sure you know with twins: you just run out of time. You just
run out of time.
If you want to get a bunch
of people together of like mind and like age – I used to get 15 people together
to game and that was in college, and actually I was working, but I was in a
martial arts group that had a lot of college students in it.
And I’d say we’re going to
play GURPS game with some Dungeon Fantasy type stuff. And I did a Firefly
campaign, and I could like I said, I once had 18 people around the table, but that
was because most of these guys had a lot of free time (even though they
wouldn’t admit it). But you know, now that we’re adults we know what free time
really looks like.
So you could do that sort
of thing, but coming up with a campaign? You know you’ve just put in 40 to 80
hours of “real work” and you’re home and you’ve got a game tomorrow and you
haven’t been able to work on so what are you gonna do? I’m gonna hit F9, damn
And here’s the scenario
and I write it up and I can generate some NPCs and you just go from there. It’s
usually the activation energy, to borrow a dork phrase, to get over the hump
and get inspired and go.
That’s where I think the
Sandbox Companion and Sandbox clones for different genres has so much power.
David Welborn:
Right. One of the things that Richard passed his time prior to getting into the
OSR thing was periodically trying to write screenplays, and so his adventure
generator – I see it’s coming directly out of his experienced and expertise.
In understanding story
arcs and sort of how to create a heroic plot, and everything that needs to go
in there to be a satisfying experience and story.
Douglas Cole:
And that’s really interesting because it almost seems like, especially for
someone with experience in writing screenplays or plays or scripting novels,
you could almost say like you have a d30 table that would be kind of the object
of the adventure, and you have the plot twist table. Betrayal, and complication
and other payer/other faction you could really see how you have a series of
five to ten rolls that would lay out almost a trilogy of an idea. Here’s the
first act, here’s the second act, and something goes horribly wrong with the
heroes in true Empire Strikes Back fashion, and here’s the resolution. It’s
Richard LeBlanc: The thing about screenplays…and this is why I can’t…why the espionage
genre overwhelms me in the terms of the conspiracy thing we’ve talked about.
And not to say I can’t
spend all day and do a book on Bourne Ultimatum or Trilogy marathon. The
ability to weave that escapes me because from a storytelling point of view you
have to know where it ends and you have to back it up.
If everything that happens
in the course of a really great story is about conflict, or being sidetracked
from your original goal. Because if you look at any kind of great story arc, is
what happens is the person sets out thinking they want one thing and finding
out it’s something else, but being sidetracked the entire time until they come
to that realization.
The thing with really
great mysteries and espionage and those sorts of things, the conspiracy sort of
stories, you almost have to start from the end and work your way back, and then
figure out how to weave them back. In a RPG that seems…um . . .
David Welborn:
Well, you aren’t in control of the story…
Douglas Cole:
Yeah, I agree.
David Welborn:
It’s a collaborative storytelling genre.
Douglas Cole:
Right, as a writer you can say “Oh, and here is where the plot twists occur and
this is what all seven primary characters (or nine or ten if you are Joss
Whedon), this is where they all go with that, and I’m going to dictate that,
and it works.
If you’re Joss Whedon or
J. Michael Strasynski, you pull it off, and it’s beautiful and wonderful, and
unless your show gets canceled after fourteen episodes, you’re good.
Whereas in a role-playing
game if the players decide they’re not interested in chasing after the Valley
of the Lost Troglodyte, you’re done. And the players will deeply resent any
attempt to get them back in the frickin’ valley.
Richard LeBlanc: Yeah, Dave and I had the opportunity . . .  No, I’m sorry, Dave wasn’t in this game, but
he had the chance to watch me. I played in Michael Curtis’ game. He was
playtesting his new game, and of course he did the Dungeon Alphabet, and
Stonehell Dungeon, and everything. Michael, he writes a lot of DCC modules.
Michael’s been working on
a new game called “Shiverwind” that’s sort of…if you go to the Shiverwind blog
you could get a better feel than if I tried to describe it here.
Douglas Cole:
I’ll link to it so people can follow it.
Richard LeBlanc: I had a chance to play in one of his test games for the North Texas
RPG Con last year, and as a group of players we were much to cagey about our
first interview.
It’s kind of like. it’s
got some conspiracy elements, but it’s set in a almost retro-apocalypse sort of
thing so it’s kind of Depression-era feeling.
We come to this first…the
first encounter sort of gets us off the bat and right into the story, and there
is this interview period right afterwards, and we played it too cagey, and I
think we spent thirty minutes sort of cagily doing this interview when we
really just sort of asked the guy a question, and gone to the other side of the
That’s where the sort of…the
best constructed conspiracy plot can be side railed by players who don’t know
where to take it.
So Michael handled it fine
for what needed to happen, but it’s one of those things where those things are
difficult for me, and it’s one of the reasons why I sort of love trap-dungeons
and that sort of traditional dungeon-crawl thing, is because I love little bits
that are self-contained that require you to pass them…require you to unlock the
key to get to the next step.
And it’s easier to deal
with in those chunks. That’s what the adventure generator is – it’s little chunks
of information and you weave it how you need to weave it.
And it’s one of those
things in my screenplay writing that always feel apart for me was continuing to
bring it to that point at the end and making it fulfilling.
Douglas Cole:
Richard LeBlanc: The bits are great and I know where to take it when people are
involved, but you might feel the resolution’s a bit flat as I just drag you
Douglas Cole:
Right. But I do have to ask one question.
So you’ve sort of passed
on screenplays for movies. You decided to not do the rock and roll thing, and
you settled on role-playing game publishing.
How can we really trust
judgment like that?
Richard LeBlanc: You know…
Douglas Cole:
[waves hand] I’m sorry, I was just funning.
Richard LeBlanc: It goes back to my ADD thing – I was…as a screenwriting thing it was getting
better at it, entering contests, getting some response from that, and I got to
the point where I was ready to put some things out there, but I was actually
doing fairly well in getting to the final stage in some of the competitions.
But I’ve also done short
films of my own in the past, and there is nothing I hate more than not being in
control of what that product is. I realized that my goal had always been in
screen writing to like, be able to make my own movie as the Director as well…
Douglas Cole:
And that is in fact a super-8 camera right behind you, is it not?
Richard LeBlanc: It is, it’s one I’ve never used, but that is a super-8 camera.
There is film and video
stuff in all corners of this room actually.
So I made a few short
films, and the process works best when everybody else stays out of my way in
terms of the filmmaking, and it’s why I prefer to edit my own stuff when I make
short films. In some cases I’ve even scored my own stuff.
I was getting…what was
starting to wear me out in the screen writing was the amount of investment it
takes to polish this thing. It’s why I’ve never been interested in novels
Just to have somebody go “we
don’t think there is a plot here.” Or it’s a very subjective thing and you are
so separated from the people who are judging it.
With the music, I
had…before when Dave and I were working together I played in a local band here
in the Dallas area, and we were starting to get some response but again I fell
victim of the fact that the problem was the band that I was in at the time was
that there were other guys in it.
So that was sort of a
problem. So when the guitar player accuses the drummer of outing his affair,
you know behind his girlfriends back with his other girl and he blames the
drummer when its really him that’s the issue. And then the band fall together
because these guys personal lives was just a pile. The filmmaking, the
screenwriting, it was always relying on too many other people to make it
Douglas Cole:
And yet . . . you could have probably turned that into a reality show.
Richard LeBlanc: You know what? We probably could’ve [Doug laughs, Dave smiles].
Funnily enough. Strangely enough.
This is a complete
unrelated story and related to reality shows, and I knew Dave was afraid of
this happening at some point [Doug and Dave laugh].
The guitar player in the
band applied for the Bachelor one season, or the Bachelorette, he was trying to
be one of the suitors.
And he made the interview
cutoff, but one of the questions on the questionnaire is “Do you have any
He outright lied because
he had a kid outside of a marriage, because he had never been married, and just
write out “NO.” I think they even flew him out to do the original interviews
while the background check was being done on him. And this is the guy…who
Douglas Cole:
Anyway, so?
Richard LeBlanc: So…[throws hands up in disgust].
Douglas Cole:
See, that’d be called the cliffhanger because you are not gonna tell the rest
of your story…
Richard LeBlanc: He got booted before he even got on the show. That’s the end of that
thing. The egos involved with that are just too much.
So what was nice about
getting back into the gaming thing and doing the publishing side of this: It
started through the blog, and the response is immediate it and you know how
many people are coming to see it every day. And because I do all my free downloads
through Media Fire, I can track how many people have downloaded them.
I’d almost rather know –
in this case the Sandbox Companion – I’d rather know that a few hundred people
have downloaded it, and eight people have given it five star ratings, then to
have done a movie and have no idea if the millions of people liked it or not.
You know what I mean?
It’s the immediacy of
that, you know if you are at a table with these guys and it’s working, you know
that it is working.
Douglas Cole:
Richard LeBlanc: And that…so it’s still getting a chance to go through that creative
experience, but to get that immediate reaction. Even with short films or even
playing with a band you got to practice, practice, practice and go out. The
gaming this is almost immediate, you kind of get your basic thoughts out there
and you put it on the table and it happens or it doesn’t.
Douglas Cole:
Now it’s really interesting because, it is creative, but it’s also
collaborative, and it’s hard. And part of it is that you really do need to
balance between a totally open – and this is where the Sandbox thing starts to
really shine – it’s open, it’s only open from day to day and it’s a bit random
but the players can do what they want, but also you do get some sort of
I want to – we’ve been
chatting for a while and I’ve been having great fun – but I do want to talk a
little bit more about the Sandbox and also what’s coming next for New Big
Dragon Games.
A couple things, I guess:
Two specific things and a more broad piece.
The prevailing weather
section is really interesting, do you think that’s something the GM is going to
do every day? Is that something where you’re always rolling dice to see what’s
going on? How does that work?
One of my friends, Peter
Dell’Orto looks out the window: “It’s really fricking cold today, it’s 4º F and the wind is blowing” and never gonna change
until May, because it’s Minnesota. And it makes me long to be back in Irving,
So how do you guys
envision that working?
Richard LeBlanc: We talked about this I think during the development. Honestly, I see
it being used the same way as everything in the entire book. Differently by
every person that has it.
Because I could see if
I’ve got my players in a tropical rainforest, hell yeah I’m going to roll on
that thing every day. But if we’re in a temperate zone I can say “Yeah, it’s
nice, it’s windy,” but move on.
Douglas Cole:
It’s Los Angles, it’s sunny 72, sunny 72, sunny 72…
Richard LeBlanc: Exactly. I think it’s one of those things you’re not going to use it
all the time, but you’ll probably use it in a little window and then it goes
away again.
The same as the
foraging/hunting thing. You’re really not forced to use that until the DM/GM
sort of looks at everybody’s sheets and says – these guys have been out of
rations for two weeks and I haven’t said anything, and I’m going to make them
go hunting or foraging just to see what happens.
Douglas Cole:
And that’s interesting I think because the thing about hunting/foraging and the
survival part of these overland journeys which are so inherent to sandbox
campaigns, or old school hex-crawls, or GURPS Dungeon Fantasy if you’re not
actually in a dungeon, for going from place to place.
The ration bit is
important, unless you’ve got something like Peter’s Felltower campaign, where
you always start in town and you always end in town. I think he’s had one
session, among thirty-eight or some crazy number, where they haven’t gone, done
the adventure, and come back to town. I think he doesn’t even give you
experience unless you get your loot back to town.
The thing is, what I liked
about it, your tables are really interesting, and the thing that struck me
about them is your do your dice roll and the way you can leave it is “you are
now within 30 yard or feet or whatever your unit is of the game animal, what do
you do?” it almost sets up the situation. You’ve come across a wild deer, or
boar, or dire badger, or whatever.
Then you get to deal with
it, do you actually successfully hunt or not.
And the other thing – and
this ties into something else that I estimated that 80% to 85% of this book is entirely
generic regardless of system as long as you’re doing wilderness fantasy
campaign. Was that deliberate? Or was that a byproduct of the fact that
plotting, a plot line is generic.
Richard LeBlanc: I think the latter. I think it just sort of happened naturally. I was
thinking about what fills in these stories. What am I going to need to use.
What am I using?
Oddly enough, the table in
the book that I probably used more than any of the others is the chart that
determines which kind of suppliers or venders are in the town based on the size
of the town.
Because you sort of can
always say, it’s got this, this, and this, but if you’re out of arrows you need
to know whether there is a Fletcher in the town. That’s the one I’ve come back
to a lot.
I’ve also used the NPCs a
lot. That tends to be what I need to generate. What’s here when these guys
stop. It wasn’t intentional. It just sort of happened. Which is just sort of
opposite…completely opposite of what the DM companion is.
Douglas Cole:
I don’t have the DM Companion.
Richard LeBlanc: It is much more system dependent, if you will.
Douglas Cole:
Okay, okay.
Richard LeBlanc: There is a good six pages of three good spreads in the book that are
nothing but classic dungeon monster stats in the sort of…I don’t know if you’re
familiar with the old monster treasure assortment from TSR that was put out
sort of between first edition and original edition and the Holmes blue.
Because the monster stats
in it are in a weird mix, because there are monsters in it that you’ll see that
end up in the Moldvay red book only, and there are other descriptions that are
only obviously in the first edition monster manual.
But they are also written
in such a way as to be generic between those original three systems. And so the
monster stats in the DM Companion are written up in that way.
If you’re doing Swords and
Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord, you can sort of take them and run with them and it
sort of acts as a sort of compact monster manual/statblock.
There is a lot of that
because there is DM…a lot of it is generic, here’s molds, slimes, mushrooms,
this kind of stuff. And about half of it is.
Then you got this complete
list of monsters and encounter tables which are very much system dependent.
David Welborn:
Treasure Types.
Douglas Cole:
Richard LeBlanc: Treasure Types as well.
Even with that Treasure
Type set of tables in that first book – it really speeds up treasure type rolls
– it says if you are using this system then you need to use this table instead
because it’s a bit of a conversion issue.
Douglas Cole:
Richard LeBlanc: Where the Sandbox thing, I think it’s more generic because it just
sort of happened. You’re right, it’s what you said, what Dave said, it’s really
about story. And who are these people and personalities, and its creating the
flavor – it’s really a book of flavor.
Douglas Cole:
So I wanna ask…
Richard LeBlanc: It’s…
Douglas Cole:
Yeah, go ahead.
Richard LeBlanc: I was just gonna say that the tables of NPC personalities and their
backgrounds and descriptions – you’re right that’s generic to almost anything.
You could pick those up and put them in any other kind of game. It doesn’t have
to be fantasy to know .  . .
There’s a … I don’t
remember what we changed it into, but for the longest time there was a
personality quirk in the NPC tables listed as “Talks out of his ass.”
David Welborn:
We kept it.
Richard LeBlanc: We did keep it? We couldn’t find anything that did justice to that
It doesn’t matter if
you’re playing a Star Wars campaign or a fantasy campaign, if you meet a guy
who talks out of his ass, he’s gonna talk out of his ass.
Douglas Cole:
And he will be memorable for it.
Richard LeBlanc: Exactly.
Douglas Cole:
I wanted to tie a couple of things together and see if I can do my consulting
thing and be thematically complete here.
So we have Sandbox, we
have a lot of tables, we have spontaneity, we have lack of time.
At what point – if ever – do
you sit down and say anything that can be tabular can be computerized. Where,
if at all, do you say, instead of publishing 56 pages of this, we’re going to
come up with an application that allows – what you don’t want to do, I think –
is sit down and say “you come to a village. . . You guys go get pizza because
the time you get back I’ll finish rolling dice and making notes about the
village that you find.”
Better, I think, to say give
me a village and it’s like the Excel thing I did, which is how I would
implement your book. Lot of vlookup, but I can easily see doing something crazy
like taking a fractal terrains map, use your tables to populate it hex by hex.
Kind of hey, instant
world, just have a couple of clock cycles on a reasonable – you wouldn’t even
need a powerful computer to do this sort of thing because you’re doing a random
number generator and a lookup and some inspiration seeds, is not that hard from
a computation stand point.
Do you see taking
advantage of the modern, digital, computational medium to take this kind of
gamemaster aid one step farther?
Richard LeBlanc: [sighs] I’m sort of torn on that. Because, I love paper [chuckles] and
I will read books on my ipad but prefer to have physical copies, but at the
same time if I were to want to do something like that, or we were going to do
something like that, I would rather see it be an app for a device rather than a
computer thing or website.
Because there are plenty
of websites where, depending on what your interest is in terms of your game
genre, where you can just go “Okay! Create a town.”
Or there is a Dungeon
Room, where not only will it generate the dungeon, it’ll tell you what the
traps are, the magic items are, and the monsters. And hell, at the click of a
button you’ve got it on your screen and you can walk your guys through it.
And there are several
things that are similar things that will generate taverns, towns, and
personality types, and some of those are out there in those different places,
and what you’re really talking about is putting them all in one place so it’s
sort of a “Master Sandbox.”
This is, to me, the only
advantage of doing something like that would be.
It’s not anything that’s
on the top of our radar right now – it’s not something we’re going to rule out
– but it’s not where our heads are at.
David Welborn:
We’re kind of deep into the Old School vibe at this point and that’s sort of
paper and books and those sort of supplements are where it’s at. And rolling
dice is metal…
Richard LeBlanc: [chuckles] when he says metal he means metal [holds up “thrash”
David Welborn:…and
that’s where we are at with that.
And the d30 Sandbox
Companion was never intended to be a world generator. Typically as a GM you
probably have your campaign and your world, it’s sort of…you have that in your
head, and the day that the players decide to go one place instead of the place
you predicted, or go on just a huge tangent, you kind of need to give them
something and the d30 Sandbox is there to make that worthwhile.
Douglas Cole:
A piece of jerky to gnaw on until you can come up with a new plot to work on.
David Welborn:
Right. It’s rich enough, and hopefully it gives it enough structure and
framework, that you as a DM can use all those ideas to…it gives you enough
space so that you as a DM can put in the things that you need to, to maybe get
the characters back on track and maybe give them nudges in a different way than
you planned originally.
Richard LeBlanc: I think there is something about that that resonates with me.
I teach a couple of
graphic design classes at a local college, and one of the things that happened…
happening…more over the last seven or eight years, are that my students who
have come to the class with…
 . . .it used to be that we worked on paper and
boards when I first started teaching this 13 or 14 years and before there were
big labs at the campus where everybody could get to all the time.
I have found that since
the students are more computer-aware, they tend to do things – this is the way
they tend to lay things out: they put a block down where the headline goes and
put a block where the photo goes, and they sort of push them around the page.
What I like about the DM
Companion as an item – I don’t even really like using the PDF version, even
though it’s completely “click on the tables and the tables take you where you
want to go.”
I like the physical copy
because it is a little bit more nebulous in the way I interact with it. The
thing about what you are suggesting is, it does solve that issue of “I need to
populate or fill this in very quickly.”
Douglas Cole:
Right. It is instant gratification instead of “Let me sit down offline with
this and then plot out what’s going on.”
Richard LeBlanc: If that’s the case then what you are doing is going exactly to some
place that’s spitting that result back out immediately for you.
It’s taking the process
out of…taking that interaction out of the process and if that’s what you are
looking for I think that’s workable. I think that’s something that can benefit
a lot of people. It’s not the way I tend
to interact with it.
Douglas Cole:
Richard LeBlanc: So because of that I think it’s the reason neither of us is, like
right now, has that on our scopes or on our radar for doing that sort of app.
Because it’s not that
we’re trying to be those independent musician guys who say “No I never want a
record deal and I’m never gonna sell out…” you know…
Douglas Cole:
Right, right, right…
Richard LeBlanc: It’s really not that, I think 
it’s that because we don’t approach from that point of view and haven’t
found ourselves needing it that way that we don’t think of it as a thing that
needs to be done.
David Welborn:
But that doesn’t mean technology didn’t play any part of the creation of what
we did here. Especially with the d30 DM Companion.
I had a program that I
wrote to help create some of the dice curves when we tried to use the d30 to
emulate the probability space of say, 3d6 or 4d4 and all this other stuff.
Richard LeBlanc: We actually, in the DM Companion there are bell curve tables that
emulate all of the different first edition number encounters.
So it’s everything from a
2d4 to a 3d6 to a 4d8 kind of crazy combinations of numbers. Like he was saying
he wrote a program to develop those probability curves.
I’m a layout guy, so I
tend to love layout, and something about the interaction, the functionality of
that point and click thing takes that fun away from having it all sort of appear
in front of you as a display.
Douglas Cole:
I guess I’m kind of either one or the other. I do like the visceral feel of
books and when I read, I do have a Kindle and I prefer the Kindle to a active
display tablet, because it’s more like paper, but I can have a entire library
that comes with me.
I actually don’t use the
tiny Kindle – I use the DX – largely because I can read my PDF files, my GURPS
PDF files without a magnifying glass.
David Welborn:
Do you have the d30 [in PDF?]
Douglas Cole:
I have not yet imported it onto the Kindle, but I do have it on my computer
screen, largely because I do my creation of content on my computer because I
find both the tablet and the Kindle unsatisfying. I’m very mathematical so I
need Excel.
If I’m reading a Stephen
King novel or I’m reading Robert Ludlum – I need Excel – I don’t know why, but
I do.
David Welborn:
I thought it would be…this would be a good point to try and plug the fact that
in the PDF version we did take, and put forward, a lot of effort that it was a
active PDF with clickable links to and from the cross page references.
Because we knew that a lot
of DMs are bringing their tablets and Kindle-type things/devices to the gaming
table, as opposed to the paper.
Douglas Cole:
Honestly, that is one of things I talked about a little bit in this interview.
Clearly I did it with the
F9 and I can get access to 590,000,000 adventure seeds by pushing F9 over and
over again, and really what that is because of the layout choices that you guys
made, I was able to highlight choices and paste them into Excel, and I don’t
have to do crazy formatting.
It was literally paste/paste/paste/paste/paste
and I could do the same with weather and hunting, and I could link the hunting
to a creature generator. I could link several different pieces of a town
together so it’s like, you know, instant town, add F9.
The utility there, and
this is part of the 85% to 95% generic, 95% to 100% if you work at it a little
bit is why I think it’s so compelling, why I think Erik continues to rave about
it, and where it gains great utility.
So just to kind of wrap
things up, although by wrapping it up what I’m going to do is hand you guys the
wheel again: What’s next for New Big Dragon?
Richard LeBlanc: I’ve always got more going on then I will let on. So there is stuff
that Dave doesn’t even know, for example, I’ve got happening. I’ll show up one
day and hand him eighty pages and go “Here, look at this.” That’s when he knows
he’s in trouble.
But immediately there are
sort of two things that are right in front of us.
The first is, we’re
working on – I mentioned earlier the Valley of the Five Fires module which is
this Mongolian-inspired setting. I was sort of inspired to take the setting and
wrap it into a task force style war game. It fits in the old small envelope like
when Steve Jackson first put out Car Wars and Ogre and everything they were in
like pocket box games, very similar format. In a more traditional move the
chips around the table war game.
We’re in the process of
testing that for playability right now. There is this really great back-story in
the Valley of the Fire Fires that tells itself quickly in a war game which is a
nice sort of thing.
We started playtesting
around New Years Day was our first physical playtest at the table. It went
really well and we’re working some mechanics out.
And that’s another one of
those complete OSR vanity projects, if only ten people ever buy it, I’ll be
happy, because those guys are in love with that format as I am and they’ll be
happy to have something new to add to that collection.
Another thing, I mentioned
earlier that I loved a sort of puzzle-style dungeons.
I’ve been – starting last
year for the A-Z blogging challenge in April, I did a blog a day that was an
additional room of this themed dungeon, and we’ve been refining it, and playing
through it some and just getting a group together to give a good final playtest
run on what’s there.
I sort of like to think of
it as a first-level version of Tomb of Horrors, if you will. It’s sort of like prevent
some of those challenges that you can easily die in the first room.
Douglas Cole:
The Crypt Of Mildly Eerie.
Richard LeBlanc: It’s actually very innocent, not nearly as sort of creepy as the Tomb
of Horrors or anything like that. You’re not going to face this demilich at the
end or anything.
It’s still got a lot of
those…it’s challenges room after room that you gotta make your way through.
It’s gonna require a lot
of player hand out sheets and it’s again in that sort of OSR style “Here’s the
module, and here’s the separate illustration book” so you can show your players
at the table.
Would love to have it
tested enough with the group that we’re about to start that we could release it
by North Texas RPG con. Not likely, but we’d love for that to happen.
And then other stuff:
there is always something going on in the background. Dave can probably
remember stuff I’m forgetting to talk about right now. I know he’s always got
David Welborn:
Richard LeBlanc: Oh yeah, we need to get back on the community Geomorph project that I’d
It was, I collect a lot of
Geomorphs and I was redrawing them so they were all in one style.
Ultimately, the goal is to
benefit the Chrones/Colitis Foundation. Because that’s…I think it’s Dave’s
Mapper that sort of started that.
And that was the goal but
I got sidetracked with finishing the Sandbox Companion and now that that’s put
away, that’s really where my sort of blog and OSR media attention needs to go
when we’re not playing stuff.
Douglas Cole:
So, actually, I lied, I’m going to take control back for a sec, because you
brought up something that is interesting I think.
Speaking for myself, not
as a content creator necessarily, I’m not a employee of Steve Jackson Games,
but I do a lot of work around the system because I like it.
It’s very difficult. I
think there is one recent, maybe two recent adventures for GURPS. Mirror of the
Fire Demon by Matt Riggsby, and there are some things that have appeared in
You just talked a couple
of times about various adventures and modules. Are those labors of love? Are
those something you do because you like them, and sell ten copies and you never
recoup the money, or is there a market there in the OSR module because it’s fairly
self-contained that isn’t going to exist in a more generic game.
It’s a point of great
contention. If you want to start a fight on the Steve Jackson Games Forums
bring up adventures and you’ll get the same people…it’s great. “Oh, there need
to be adventures for GURPS and it would be see great, but unless you give me
this, this, and this I’m not gonna buy it.”
Which kind of [laughs] – and
everyone has a different list of this, this, and this and it very rapidly
becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In y’all’s experience, you
just tossed out a couple of different ideas for modules or adventures or
whatever. How do you look at that?
Richard LeBlanc: Yeah, honestly, those tend to be more…everything is really a labor of
love because we never expect things to do super great.
The nice thing about it,
it was John Stadter who did Blood and Treasure, and some other stuff – he’s a
big OSR guy as well.
He recently blogged about,
he just wants to make enough back to cover the cost of putting them together in
the first place.
In the old sort of days
when things were put together on copy machines or stapled and sent out, which a
lot of guys are putting these zines together now. That was kind of really the
point, we’re doing this and we kind of want to share it with you.
The blog gives us the
ability to do that for free, and Valley of the Five Fires was absolutely a
passion project. And it’s one of those things where it’s such a unique setting
that I knew before it was out that people would just like clamor to.
The d30 DM Companion was a
passion project, and I was – people responded to it but not nearly in the way
they have the d30 Sandbox Companion.
And the DM Companion was
good response, and people were speaking of it and it did what I really wanted
it to do which was to have a better source than Judge’s Guild old Ready Ref
Sheets, and TSR’s old Monster Treasure Assortment. Sort of like a much better
flexible version of that.
And that was the goal for
the Sandbox Companion.
We have the huge benefit
that I do all the drawings myself unless I’m using Public Domain clipart, and I
do all the layout myself, and everything is done via PDF or POD so there is
next to nothing as far as out of pocket cost goes.
If money is made, it’s
profit. But if you look at it and say “In my day job, this is what I like to
charge an hour for my graphic design services.” We don’t make nearly that back.
Douglas Cole:
So let…
Richard LeBlanc: But there is essentially no overhead for me as opposed to guys like
John Stadter who have to buy art for his work.
Douglas Cole:
So let me ask a quick question. In order of magnitude – and feel free to say
none of your business – ten, hundred, thousand, hundred thousand . . . d30
Sandbox Companion 3 weeks on the bestseller list, what order of magnitude is
that? And feel free tell me to take a flying leap, because those are usually
tightly held.
Richard LeBlanc: It’s a small publisher thing. I think people will be surprised by how
few copies you have to sell to stay at the top of that list.
Douglas Cole:
And that’s what I’m looking at. When you’re looking at a growing concern for a business as opposed to…I just want to
make enough money to recoup losses, and interest me in the next project.
I really think you are
talking two different pools, or two different risk profiles if you were a
investor, or looking to make your livelihood at this, as opposed to “I just
want to make it so I can do another one so I don’t feel stupid about it.”
Richard LeBlanc: You know, when we did the DM Companion we made enough to cover our
costs to the trip to North Texas RPG Con. And we both live here, so we didn’t
stay in a hotel, we just sort of drove except for one night in a hotel but it
paid for our meals and paid for our passes and paid for some other expenses
while we were there and that was nice.
I think that was our goal
for the Sandbox Companion, and we’ve done a little bit more than that and it’s
been nice to have that, but it’s given us some room.
Our intention was always
to take anything we made and put it back into other stuff, not take the profit
and start to become a huge company.
Douglas Cole:
Buy a Matchbox Mercedes or something.
Richard LeBlanc: Right. For example . . . .for example, I mentioned this little Valley
of the Five Fires sort of small war game with cardboard chits and everything.
If the game is good enough
that we feel it deserves to be a full box with tokens and cards – which it has
the potential to be I think. It would actually simply the play to have all the
unit counters on cards which you pull from a deck rather than referring to a
small rulebook constantly, it may be worth doing as a Kickstarter for example.
We would try to never have
to go to Kickstarter. Cause I think our preference would be to put the
prototype together, but that’s a big risk to say “Let’s put together something
that needs to be on the shelf of game stores across the country.”
Douglas Cole:
Richard LeBlanc: It’s a different model and I don’t know that we’re ready to step to
that yet.
Even with that response
and three weeks at the top of the RPGNow charts is one thing, but going to the
annual toy fair to connect with retailers across the country is another. And
it’s sort of one step at a time.
David Welborn:
And walking in with a game in the form you could get it cheaply in 1979 in a
little bag. [all chuckle]
Yeah. The other thing
about the modules that Richard creates, is he’s always working on new mechanics,
and that’s typically…they’re all kind of workshops for trying new ideas, and
he’ll come up with a story or plot line and say “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if
this or that.”
One of the things I liked
in the Valley of the Five Fires module was he had a…right you could be…it was a
huge sandbox setting, more than a module, so you have all these side adventures
that could occur.
You had an encounter like
a sliding scale. Is your PC party – what level are they are at? So you sort of
scale up or scale back the number of bandits they encounter. And different ways
to approach those sort of problems and trying to come up with mechanics that
worked well and felt right at the table.
Richard LeBlanc: Yeah, it’s actually…the idea that he’s talking about specifically is
there is a bandit lair, it’s laid out in such a way that there is a three
column chart so that if your characters are levels 3 through 5, you use the
first column for all the encounters and if their levels 4 through 6 you use the
middle, and so on. And it’s sort of this sliding scale and it’s really one of
the inventions in that that I would like to use in other places. Anyway, that’s
specifically what he’s talking about when he’s saying that.
Douglas Cole:
No, that’s really cool. It sounds like you guys are not hard up for ideas.
I probably need to wrap
this up if you don’t mind. I want to thank you for your time, we’ve been here
for just shy of two hours and I’ve had a great time talking to you guys. I hope
that you’ve enjoyed the opportunity to talk about your game, the Sandbox
Companion, and also the other things.
Richard LeBlanc: It’s been wonderful, actually thank you very much for having us. It’s
been great.
Douglas Cole:
David and Richard, again thank you for your time and may come back to you at
some point later and talk about The System which I’ve purchased, printed out,
and started to look at.
David Welborn:
Alright. I appreciate it.
Douglas Cole:
Alright good, have a great night.
Richard LeBlanc: Goodnight.
David Welborn:

This is one of those interesting oddities that shows up in Pyramid from time to time. A truly systemless article that’s useful for any GM in any system, as well as being a trove of information to be mined

I’m going to give away the ending, and note that this was far and away my favorite article of this issue. 
The entire premise of the work is to dig into the journey that the newly deceased must take to get to the afterlife. It notes how similar the journey myths are between the Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, and the Norsemen. She then explores different aspects of this myth.
The writing is extraordinarily good, and both the content and presentation drew me in from the start. The opening vignette is very, very well done, and you could see it as either a great example of how to deal with this topic in an RPG, or as an excerpt from a good piece of fantasy fiction. It is, of course, both.
The Death-Touched Character

This short block provides a small (very small) amount of directly GURPS-related advice. It’s effectively a short touchstone of skills, advantages, and disadvantages that anchor the concepts presented to the GURPS system. The implication here is that this sort of thing (dead men’s journeys) is primarily narrative, with just enough plot hook in the form of character traits to serve as a reason for what’s going on.

The Hero’s Decent

Another short section describing a bit about who takes the journey (everyone), and then gets to the meat of it – characters may very well want to take a road trip to the underworld in order to get one of their friends back, or for some other purpose.

This can be, in a word, tricky. Not the least of which is finding a physical door to the underworld, which must be appropriately creepy as well as mystically connected to the land of the dead, one presumes. That’s not really in the article, but again, the writing is such that it evokes these thoughts easily and naturally.


A much longer section, Ms. Ward spends a full page-column on the subject of omens. A few famous legends (Achilles and Sleeping Beauty) are mentioned. Also mentioned are using omens as a response to divination spells – a nice bit where the GM can say “OK, great . . . you cast divination” and then get the plot moving along, and have the results of that not be a core dump on the player group saying “here are all the answers you need.”

This is nice not just because of the naturalness of how the information is given, but because players can surprise the GM with questions or “OK, here’s the spell!” and if the GM didn’t have that planned out ahead of time, he’s either going to have to wing it totally, or stop play to think. Or he may give out too much information, short-circuiting his plot or mystery.

Letting the information/divination leak out bit by bit is a nice way to put some space, and plot, and time for other characters to get some spotlight time in between the casting and the answer. It also lets everyone else play by giving the entire group a chance to make Hidden Lore, History, Occultism, or other rolls when these omens appear. An entirely elegant solution.

And just in case your Omen Fu is weak, she lists a bunch of them. That’s a good omen for future success.

Also in this section is a bit on psychopomps, entities that are tour guides on the road to hell. But in a nice way. Valkyries? Looking at you. Also mentioned in passing are the kinds of challenges heroes might face – and avoid – in trying to bring ’em back alive.


A gateway is a great symbol of the beginning of a journey and the boundary between two places. It’s both a symbolic and physical marker of realm and journey. The article touches on how to know what places are reputed to be (or known to be) gateways, as well as some warnings about how to conduct yourself on the journey. This section is over a page long, and takes about some common features of such journeys, including rivers, gates, the Hall of the god watching over the underworld, and the journey out of the underworld, since it’s rather unlikely that the denizens of such places will be happy to let you go.



Finally, she spends a page on those who guard and protect the gates, the paths, and the destination. This includes reference to a couple of monsters, with GURPS stats (though not in stat-block format, for which I’m somewhat grateful). This section is sprinkled with actual game references, though few mechanics (no loss there, really), as well, so GMs will have a notion on how to handle some of these challenges.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Recall that a score of 0 means “didn’t get in the way,” and doesn’t represent a bad score. As mentioned in the main text, this may be the best-written systemless article I recall in Pyramid. My own commentary above, frequently launching from a concept she brings up, show how easy and natural it is to springboard from her writing to game ideas. 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: These concepts would fit well and make good consideration for fantasy gaming from generic fantasy and even (or perhaps especially) Dungeon Fantasy, where “oh, look, our friend died, let’s hie off to the underworld and bring him back” is a viable decision. This article could also inform the background mythology of a well run Monster Hunters campaign. It would play well with concepts such as +Christopher R. Rice‘s neat treatment of Thresholds, which are so important in the Dresden Files. Each section has ideas and concepts that can be mined and developed to taste. The article is one solid bit of inspiration, background, and epiphany from start to finish. I’d give it more points if my scale allowed, but since it doesn’t . . . 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utliity [0 to 4 points]: While this is system-lite, really – there are a few GURPS concepts (skill rolls, a mention of HP for Harvest Demons, etc.) this is not a mechanics-heavy article. Nonetheless, many of the concepts themselves are drop-in or easily ported to the appropriate game setting.. 2 points.

Overall: 8/10. A very strong offering, and a vastly entertaining read.

Would I use it? Yes. This gives me something very, very tangible to think about for any sort of fantasy or modern campaign setting that involves (or might involve) the mystical and life-after-death as a plot element.

Note to my readers: There seem to be many Kyla Wards on Google, and I couldn’t link to her as I’d have liked. If one of you could help draw this review to her attention, not only would I like her to read it, I’d love to invite her to a Firing Squad interview! Maybe +Robin Laws could help!

I most often throw down
some sort of tidbit or observation on rules and tinkering with them on
GURPS-Day, but today, my mind is on campaigns.
I’m starting to get the
itch to GM one again. Not out of disappointment with the three in which I’m
playing, but it’s a good way to ensure familiarity with the system, exercise
creative muscles, and generally ensure some proactive social action on my part.
So, with that, what
would I run? Not sure, but some possibilities in no particular order:
Krail’s Folly
The concept of “go
north and conquer the wilderness, and you get lands and title in exchange”
was hashed out a while back, and the game concept carries as much appeal now as
it did then.
I’d vacillate a bit, but
likely come down to using Dungeon Fantasy as the core basis. It is, quite
simply, the best supported part of GURPS, with tons of cool stuff. I’ve also
got a direct line into +Nathan Joy‘s pool of players, far more
experienced in playing this genre than I am. Of course, +Peter V. Dell’Orto is no slouch either, and
since he and I collaborate on stuff on a regular basis rather well, there’s a
monster pool of talent I can go to. Not to mention rules-authors and tinkerers
such as +Antoni Ten Monrós.
What would I bring to
the table? Well, I’d still use Divine Favor for clerical powers, since I
really do love the feel of it. I might tweak out a few things, since as Peter
points out in today’s post over at Dungeon Fantastic, there are a few
potentially fun-killing/fun-reducing aspects of Divine Favor’s Learned Prayers
that could use some tampingdown.
I like the granularity
of the Low-Tech armor and weapons and whatnot, but I am right there with Peter
in thinking that it’s a bit too fiddly. GCA can be used pretty well to design
kits of armor, even very complicated ones. But there’s something rather nice
about NOT having to get crazy with it, and fine tuning each piece gets
What about my own rules?
The Deadly Spring for bows is a behind-the-curtain thing. So all that work is
done ahead of time, and won’t interfere with the game much . . . but “realistic”
bows in Dungeon Fantasy? Meh, what’s the point? So I might bypass that in favor
of ridiculous levels of smackdown. More fun that way.
Magic? Ah, there’s the
rub. From what I’ve seen of Ritual Path Magic, I like the feel of the system
but it seems every bit as fiddly as the armor-building issue I talked about
above. I’d be tempted to try a Divine-Favor inspired magic system, but then, really, that’s not that different in fiddly
than Divine Favor or RPM – you’re still creating “spells” based on some sort of
metasystem, and as long as you ruthlessly quash “let me design a spell while I’m
sitting at the table” behavior, it’d probably go fine.
I’d definitely bring on
the Setup Attacks I introduced in Delayed Gratification. I might even eliminate
the RAW Feint entirely. Not sure about that, but likely.
I would probably try to
use Technical Grappling too, since it would be way easier for me to answer future
questions about that book if I’d had experience playing it and adjudicating the
Would I also do
long-term fatigue and action points, from The Last Gasp? Grar . . . might be
nice, but that would make a LOT of new rules to swallow, and both TLG and TG
require characters to be built with those rules in mind. So I’d probably skip
the Action Point rules this time.
Monster Hunters
This is probably my
favorite genre of all time. It combines creepy horror and magic with a world
that we’re more or less all familiar with, and has the over-the-top  Black Ops feel that I loved when I GM’d that
campaign years ago, without being 1,000-point characters.
I feel like it’s got a
nice combination of swords, guns, and monsters. Action Points and TG would fit
in here pretty well, I’d not have to worry about Low-Tech fiddliness (though I
would have High-Tech fiddles, but that’s rather well defined due to the nature
of it being right-here, right now).
This also lends well to
being an episodic campaign that can see players come and go without too much
pain. Given the variability in modern adult life, I think that would lend
itself well to my needs.
Modern Special Ops
I was Lead Playtester on
Tactical Shooting for a reason: I’m pretty familiar with this trope, and I love
laying out tactical challenges. I could also see doing this as a variable tech
level science fiction setting, Colonial Marines style, and near-future (TL8/9)
Sci Fi is pretty familiar to most people. Hell, given how much fun I had
playing the game, GURPS X-Com would rock on toast.
Parting Shot
I’d obviously see who’d
want to play in each campaign, how often (but no more  than twice a month, but no less frequently
than once every three weeks, I think) and if someone says “hey, wouldn’t it be
cool to run X” and I get inspired, I’m in.
But I really do kind of
want to run a game, and I’d love to get my wife in on it; she’s gamed with me
before and we’ve both enjoyed the experience.
One thing I would do,
however, is have to learn MapTool or Roll20 way, way better. I would also insist
that all players use webcams, because my experience is that the camera experience
is simply better (for me) than the
chat-based games. It’s faster, more social, and for me, more fun.
I’m getting that itch,
though – and it might be time to run something again.

I love Divine Favor. I think it’s a far better and more elegant solution to the question of miracles and clerical “magic” than the existing GURPS system, which is basically the same as Magic, with Power Investiture standing in for Magery, and Sanctity making the tag for Mana levels. You pay your cost and you cast your spell.

With Divine Favor, you are (thematically) buying a level of influence with your god(s), and you can appeal to them for aid. The quality of the aid is based on a reaction roll, and can have pretty far-reaching effects.

Cadmus, my Dungeon Fantasy character in +Nathan Joy‘s game based on Pathfinder’s Golarion and Jade Regent Adventure Path, has “Divine Favor 8” which is good for getting my deity’s attention about one time in four if I’m subtle, about half the time if I wave my holy symbol in the air and generally act like a street preacher.

Now, you can request a specific effect, such as the ever-popular Smite, which inflicts 2d burning damage of really ugly holy fire on malign supernatural creatures. It’s particularly effective against the undead. Anyway, the book comes with a list of pre-defined miracles intended as guidelines for effect, and each “level” of miracle has a reaction minimum that comes with it.

You can also buy these as Learned Prayers, which are basically something you can just do, since you’ve paid points for it, and your god has granted you the ability to get the job done more or less at will.

Game mechanically, these are Alternate Abilities, costing 1/5 (round up) the cost of the power that is bestowed; the buy-in is the level of Divine Favor required to “qualify” for the prayer.

Cadmus has used his LPs to great effect, and has several. Protection from Evil (Enhanced) and Smite are great for stomping undead, while Righteous Fury turns him into a Cuisinart for 3d seconds (adds 1d to each of ST, DX, and HT).

Recently, though, I have started to wonder if the “IF Pray, THEN Miracle” nature of how Learned Prayers work might make them a bit too “by rote,” taking away some of the variability and thus mystery of divine intervention.

I’ve not thought this through completely, but I wondered if it would be interesting to work off of the following:

When using a Learned Prayer with things that have a defined benefit, roll 3d and consult the following table:

6-       Half normal effect, double time, or -2 per die damage
7-8    2/3 normal effect, 1.5x time, or -1 per die damage
9-11   Normal effect
12-13   1.25x normal effect, 80% time, or +1 per die damage
14+     2x Normal effect, half time, or double damage

Now, the approximate weighted average of all that crap is about 105%, meaning that on the average, your Learned Prayer is about 5% more effective than the rules-as-written. Kind of a bonus for rolling dice.

Let’s take a look at a few common prayers, and see how this would impact them.

Final Rest: Here’s a great example of an example that isn’t great. You pray for a minute, and at the end, your subject (who is dead) can’t be made undead later. The only thing I can think of here is that the prayer takes longer – two minutes if you roll a 6 or less, but only thirty seconds if you roll well. Big deal.

Protection from Evil: Again, this minor miracle doesn’t let malign supernatural entities approach within a
yard. in this case, you might say that the bad results mean then can get within your hex but can’t touch you, while the bonus effects mean they stay 2 yards away. That’s actually a real benefit, especially for (say) skeletons of the sword- and axe-wielding variety.

Lay on Hands: You can transfer HP from yourself to your subject. This one’s straight-forward, I think. You say how many HP you want to transfer, and roll the dice. If you are planning on transferring 6 HP, a bad roll means you spend 6 HP to restore 3 or 4. A good one means that you either spend 6 HP and restore 8 HP or 12HP, or if (say) your guy is only wounded for 6 HP, you might spend 4 HP or 3 HP in order to restore 6 HP.

Smite: This one’s easy. Roll variable effect, roll damage. You can either just roll the damage and modify that flat out, or use the per-die suggestions above.

Righteous Fury: Cadmus’ favorite prayer, it adds to your physical stats: 1d for 3d seconds. This one could go either way, meaning you might roll only 1d-2 on a bad roll, but roll 2d on a great one! Alternately, for those who don’t relish the possibility of +12 to DX, 3d seconds might be modified directly.

Why bother? 

Honestly, I like variable effect rolls, though in many cases, the effects are already variable. The bottom line is it makes relying on your relationship with your deity just a bit chancy, but also potentially even better than you think.

Why not just use the Reaction Table again?

Um, because I didn’t think of it initially, but it’s a good idea. It’s more granular, and it’s the same basic mechanic used for Divine Favor in general. What the Learned Prayer would do, then, is bypass the Petition Roll, and have an average effect on the same magnitude as the current LP.

Try this as an alternate:

Very Bad 25%
Bad  50%
Poor 75%
Neutral 100%
Good 150%
Very Good 300%


Some people like rolling dice. 🙂

More seriously, it would definitely take some real prep on the part of the GM and/or player. Using the guidelines above, you either need to be willing to make stuff up on the fly so that you adjudicate the prayer results as you go, or you need to create the reaction table for each prayer on the PC’s sheet. Might be too much trouble, but I still like the idea that you can never really guarantee an effect when negotiating/praying for intervention.

Magic is not Technology

People who are keen on this can take it one step further, and apply the same sort of thing to magic. Either make the effects per mana point spent variable as above, look up the margin of success or MoS+some number (maybe 5?) for a casting on the reaction table (that might easily be too good), or some other “you can’t really use a magic spell the way you use a gun” type impact.

Parting Shot

Again, some campaigns styles or player character concepts would break doing this; some players would not enjoy this sort of thing. But as I said when I started, the variable and occasionally unknowable impacts of prayers is a lot of fun in the game I play now, and applying that to Learned Prayers as well is something I jotted down in my Journal of Pretentiousness as a thought experiment.

I swear that this blog will never digress into any sort of political stuff that doesn’t directly involve gaming. That’s not what it’s for.

But politics and rulers and kings and kingdoms are a staple of gaming, and one of the things one hears a bit is how certain plot devices, like the evil mad king that spends a lot of time chewing the scenery is a hackneyed, tired, overly-used trick.
Way better to have “evil rulers” that don’t think of themselves as evil. Not “misunderstood,” but they really do think they have the right plan, that only they can shepherd the people/their clan/the country/the world into a better time. 
Every now and then, it’s interesting to even make them right.
But for all of that, sometimes the world – our own world – actually serves up someone who really is the scenery-chewing type. The current third-generation ruler of the unfortunate and starving country of North Korea seems to fit the bill. And he’s clearly dangerous, along with his military ruling cohort, possessing a rather large army and nuclear weapons.
Without too much effort, this real-world country that is nearly totally dark at night would make a fine stand-in for a fantasy kingdom. A large, militarized country where the strong rulers do what they like. A ruling council of the powerful, rich warlords. And a mad sorcerer-king with a terrible magical weapon that is enough to plunge a world into chaos or devastate an area, but not enough to win any significant victory.
But perhaps that destruction would be the displaced twig that triggers the flood. A more powerful neighbor or three? Longstanding tensions? By taking some of the local tensions in this region and imbue them into your fantasy world, with a twist as you like, you impart some very real political pressure and motivation, with some pretty big potential consequences if the wrong stone is removed. 
Such an evil king might only be dealt with by a party of adventurers, which are really a good analog for special ops troops in most cases (though they are plundering murderous spec-ops for hire, as often as not).
But hey, that’d never be a fun RPG romp, right?

A while ago, I wrote a note about the relative perils of doing what is effectively a joint venture between any two companies. This was in relation to how cool I thought it would be, nonetheless, to have the world of Golarion written up for GURPS, and available for actual adventures. I’m playing and writing about the Jade Regent Adventure Path done with GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, and it’s tons of fun. I’ve heard tell of others doing the same thing.

Well, if you’re in the mood, check out +Andrew Hackard‘s last line in the April 13 Daily Illuminator.

“Thanks, as always, for your enthusiasm! I’m really proud of this set, and I hope that it brings Paizo for all of their help and for letting us play in their sandbox in the first place — they’ve been great partners and I look forward to working with them again very soon.”

Whether it’s more Pathfinder Munchkin or something deeper, more sinister . . . the unholy spawn of such twisted minds that hell itself recoils in shock [1] . . . I’m quite excited to see my favorite game company teaming up with Paizo for stuff. 
It’s possible to be a realist and an optimist at the same time. That way, all your surprises are pleasant ones!

[1] …and then goes squeeeeee! as that much fun is dumped in one place. I’ve heard hell has good parties, but the cover charge is kinda steep.

Over at The Troll Dens, +Stephen Chenault links to this image of a fortified town.

by ~solon-deviant Photography / Urban & Rural / Cityscapes & Skylines
City of Carcassonne, photographed by air, south-west France.

This fires up my imagination something fierce. He notes that this is what the dragon sees as he decides to get take-out. True, true. The thing that gets me is just how cool it is. Wiki has a list of fortified towns in England, and of course France, home of Vauban (whom I studied in college, many years ago), boasts quite a few.

The Citadel of Besançon, shown to the right, is something that even when I spent hour upon hour designing
castles and keeps out of the old AD&D books, I would not have had the moxie to set down. Not ten-foot walls, but 15-20 feet wide, and up to 60′ high! Interlocking fields of fire, concealment in defenses and terrain – well, Vauban was Vauban.

We look at our modern constructions, cities, etc. And they are impressive. But out ancestors did all this stuff without the diesel engine, and certainly without magic!

As I noted in my post on Pirates, magic – especially the more banal but far reaching infrastructure magic in GURPS, should allow all of the above, and more. Truly fantastic castles, towers and towns.

Makes me want to run a DF campaign, it does.