Friday, September 15, 2017

Save Yourself From Hell


This blog post serves two purposes (ok, three).

The first is to tell you about my new Alpha Blue scenario Save Yourself From Hell.  Check out this totally awesome illustration by +Denis McCarthy.

The second is to inform y'all that I'm going on a family vacation starting tomorrow.  So, it'll be awhile before I'm in contact with anyone.

I had planned to launch a Kickstarter just before leaving, but sick kids and packing and trying to get SYFH out the door stymied me.  Gamma Turquoise: Santa Fe Starport will happen upon my return!  Along with a ton of other projects...

Thanks for everything,

VS


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Open Rebellion


I've been struggling against shit that chafes against my very being since I was a small child.

Today, there was a post on Tenkar's Tavern about +Frank Mentzer getting booted from the Dragonfoot forum.  You can read about it here.

My assessment?  Ideally, we would live in a meritocracy where the merits of creative effort would outweigh all other considerations.  That means artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, etc. would essentially be running the world.  That might sound insane to some, but oh well.  I've been called a madman many times over.

A popular RPG reviewer, Endzeitgeist, has been taking my titles to task for over a year.  I not only submit to it, but keep sending him PDFs to pick over like the masochist I appear to be.

It's not just a love of pain, though.  Often, feedback helps improve the work.  Normally, I'm grateful for his critique, even though his particular feedback rarely helps (we have differing design goals).  But I really can't beat the signal boost he provides.  However, today's rpg.net review of Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss was simply too much for me to bear.

I've copy/pasted it here for posterity (here is the forum thread - with a response from Endzeitgeist - which I've also replied to)...

First, I'd like to get this out of the way - Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss is also a primer for those looking to self-publish their scenarios.  Gamers love to share their work (and occasionally get paid for it).  This guide will help such enterprising adventure writers.  Is this the only book they need in the world to succeed in their goal?  Probably not, but I see published scenario after scenario after scenario that fails to live up to the baseline standards we should all strive for. 
My book serves a definite purpose.  It's needed.  Hundreds of scenarios a year would be improved by adhering to my advice.  Just because it leaves out things that might benefit those looking to get published by Pathfinder... I don't take that as a knock against my book.  If anything, Adventure Writing Like a Fucking Boss is a manifesto against that kind of RPG corporatization.  The revolution starts now! 
Now, onto my primary grievance... 
I have to object to the "wasted my money" part of your review's number system (4/1), Endzeitgeist.   
Sure, if told about the basics of adventure writing, you might say "Yeah, I know all that."  However, that doesn't mean the material is totally redundant or useless or obvious to everyone but noobs.  Having everything in one place is valuable.  So is the material's presentation (examples, illustrations, way things are communicated, personal insight, and motivation).
Additionally, things that are important to you and your gaming style are not a priority for me.  For instance, a PDF filled with intricate Pathfinder-esque rules about spells having to do with wheat fields or feats related to a bard/shaman/canteen-boy would have no value to me (other than possible amusement/ridicule), though you might favor them with 5 stars.  That's almost inconceivable to me, but you can't argue about taste.  On the other hand, a guidebook about adventure writing is more or less universally valuable to gamers - GMs especially.  If any of the advice (regardless of whether the information was previously known to the reviewer) has merit, then I can't understand a "1" rating. 
Anyone plunking down $3, checking to see the page-count of 14, or reading the product's description should not be surprised that Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss is not an exhaustive treatise on every aspect of writing, designing, and self-publishing RPG adventures.  So, I'm not clear on why this title is being penalized for having a limited scope.   
Your review of Play Your Character Like A Fucking Boss received higher marks in both categories, even though the titles are similar (though one is a guide for players and the other is a guide for writing adventures). 
And what about this line at the review's conclusion?  4 and 1 averaged together makes 2.5, unless my math is ever worse than I thought.   
[QUOTE]In the end, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars[/QUOTE] 
Our stylistic, aesthetic, and philosophical differences keep us from seeing eye to eye on many things, Endzeitgeist, but I just don't understand what happened here.

___________

While I'm not part of the establishment, I also get short-changed by the flamboyant, self-aggrandizing RPG counter-culture that either ignores me, blatantly tries to tear my work down, or minimizes my contributions.

That's ok.  I have the third side.  Neither the empire nor rebellion (though if I had to pick a side, it would obviously be the rebels), but a man on his own - yeah, I'm the Boba Fett of the RPG universe.

Just as in my youth, I'm still struggling.  Down with RPG corporatization!  Hail the OSR!  Long live the revolution!

Thanks to all those who've been supporting, encouraging, and contributing to The Work.

Venger As'Nas Satanis
High Priest of Kort'thalis Publishing


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Delving Deeper Into Old School


Prompted by the possible acquisition of Star Frontier trademark(s) and/or intellectual property, there was a discussion on g+.  Particularly, I want to focus on the exchange between myself and +Pierre Savoie.

What this blog post is about is the slippery notion of "old school" which fits right in with the "old school renaissance" or OSR.  Indeed, we've all thought about, read about, or talked about what defines the OSR.  I've done it myself.

But if we go back to the origins of the OSR - old school itself... what do we find?  Clearly, there's a division.  Two separate camps that occasionally believe themselves one and the same.  The first I'll define as primordial; the second complex (I tried not to use any language bias, either praising or putting down the respective sides).

For examples, I'll go with Basic D&D for primordial and AD&D for complexity.  In the above linked Star Frontiers g+ thread, falling damage was mentioned as a possible litmus test for old school.  Ah, yes... but which old school are we talking about?

Ironically, the falling damage that seems the most "narrative" or "story-game" appears more old school to my eyes.  Is that because we've come full circle?  Have RPGs evolved so far into the future that we're nearly back at the beginning?

Yet, many gamers believe that sophisticated mechanisms and extensive rules make old school what it is.   There are certainly more examples of complex RPGs than AD&D.  Not being as familiar (I'll plainly admit, I'm not a fan of complexity in my RPGs), what other advantages does this style of old school have over simpler systems?

I liken this division (having a number of striking similarities) as the difference between old and new testament in the Bible.  We call early RPGs - such as 80's D&D - old school as if it's all the same.  However, in some ways, those two camps - primordial and complex - couldn't be further from each other.

Do they get at the same things but with different approaches?  Or do they each have completely separate goals?

VS


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Blood Dark Thirst D6


I believe my unconscious mind deliberately held off on publishing Blood Dark Thirst because it knew something wasn't quite right.  I just realized it yesterday, which is why I'm making this official announcement.

Blood Dark Thirst (my upcoming vampire RPG) will use the VSd6 system just like Crimson Dragon Slayer, Alpha Blue, and The Outer Presence.  I'm going to start working on it soon, but until then... here are the basics.

  • Pick two things you do well, and one thing you suck at.  That takes the place of class, race, profession, ability scores, skills, etc.  I'm talking about defining characteristics like "tough" and "clever."  Let's say my character's weakness is "getting along with others."
  • The stuff you're good at, you'll roll 3d6.  The thing you're bad at gets 1d6.  All things being equal, everything else is 2d6.  However, if the GM decides a challenge is particularly difficult you subtract a d6 from your dice pool; and you add a d6 if it's easier than usual or you have some sort of edge.
  • Other characteristics will be addressed in the form of a questionnaire, such as "What is your character's look, sense of style, or visual aesthetic?" There's no formula for coming up with an answer, it's purposefully open-ended.
  • The following will be rated between 1 - 6 (instead of 1 - 10): Health, Willpower, Blood/Ichor, and Humanity.

I've got one or two things to finish up before I really dive into the revision, so expect a professional looking Blood Dark Thirst PDF available just before Halloween.

VS


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Adventure Writing Contest Criteria


Before August ends, I wanted to set down my own personal criteria for judging the Adventure Writing Contest - submissions due November 1st!

The following is what I came up with (in no particular order)...


  • Genre emulation:  If I'm playing or running a sci-fi game, then I want to see, interact, and experience sci-fi type stuff.  Successfully emulating the genre you're writing for will surely deepen immersion - which is the primary goal of roleplaying games.
  • Non-standardization:  I don't want to see any +1 swords!  Show me something different, something special.  Attention to detail and a desire to make things weird will go along way towards giving your adventure the impression that it's not like any other.
  • Conflict:  As you've learned from Adventure Writing like a Fucking Boss, compelling conflicts are the building blocks of every scenario.  I want to see something juicy that draws PCs in and forces them to act - not because they feel they have to, but because they really, really want to!
  • Easy to use:  Make the GM's job fun and simple by providing what's needed.  Anything you can do to help the GM out - even if that's just you - will improve the scenario's performance once it hits the table.
  • Encounter variety:  You find monsters, they immediately attack.  You find bad guys, they immediately attack.  You explore an ancient tomb covered in green slime (cool), and immediately a lich-mummy attacks!  Nope.  I want all three pillars.  Not only that, but nuance and subtlety, as well.  This is a short scenario - no two combat-based encounters should be alike.  Same goes for exploration and character interaction.
  • Originality:  While it would be great to read something so strange that I've never seen it before, I'm not expecting that.  I merely want to see familiar things arranged in a new way so that there's some kind of surprise.  If you can't remember ever seeing a story element in an adventure, then it counts as original - even if you essentially ripped it off from a cult TV show or movie and combined it with something else familiar but slightly different.
  • Testing the limits:  We all know how these adventures are supposed to go.  The format is predictable.  That's generally a good thing.  However, every once in awhile, I want to read something that breaks the rules, that exceeds or confounds my expectations.  Testing the limits is always a risk, so use caution... but also don't be afraid to shock your audience from time to time.

Those are the seven things I'll be looking for in order to determine whose adventure is the best.  

Imagine that $500 in your hands.  Sure, it'll be sent via paypal, but you could always cash it out and flutter the green paper before you - make it rain!

Plus, think of the bragging rights - and eventual RPG writing opportunities that may open up before you...

Bring us infamy with your creative genius!  Help out your old pal Venger Satanis.  Kort'thalis Publishing needs gamers like yourself to keep the dread gates open!

I hope to read your submission this fall.  Start conceptualizing your adventure now!  Bring your A-game and wow the fuck out of me!  I know you can do it.  Good luck.  ;)

VS


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Battle For The Purple Islands PDF is live


Well in time for H.P. Lovecraft's birthday (he's in the adventure, after all), I proudly present the latest work in the Purple Islands franchise.  Oh yeah, this purple shit is getting real!

It's O5R compatible and fully illustrated - the art and layout is expensive, but so worth it.

Additionally, I planned on this scenario and jungle hexcrawl sandbox to combine The Planet of the Apes, The Dream Lands, Thundarr the Barbarian, Heavy Metal, Land of the Lost, and so many other things that inspire me.

Get your Battle For The Purple Islands PDF here from DriveThruRPG.

Thanks to everyone for supporting me here, on Kickstarter, and other places in the universe.  I'm grateful for your continued awesomeness!

VS


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 (part III of III)


This is the final installment of my RPGaDay answers.  Hope you find them enlightening!

Here's part I and part II.


#18:  Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

That's got to be D&D because I ran and played so many weekly campaigns years ago.


#19:  Which RPG features the best writing?

I like Gary Gygax's writing style in some of those old D&D modules.


#20:  What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?

Ebay.


#21:  Which RPG does the most with the least words?

I'm trying to think of the shortest and best RPG.  Whatever that is will probably have to be my answer, because it does the most with the least words.  Hmm, maybe WEG Star Wars D6?  Of course, it's easier to convey a lot when you have a trilogy of movies behind the work.


#22:  Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

Generic D&D because it's "whatever fantasy."  That means it borrows from everything and doesn't need to limit itself - aside from including a few basics, like magic, swords, monsters, etc.

With D&D, you don't need any kind of plot, story, or even a scenario.  Just go from tavern to dungeon and start exploring, interacting, and hacking/slashing away until you've found the loot.


#23:  Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

I'm not really impressed with a game's layout.  Good layout is important, but I can't point to any book where I was just in awe of how the thing was laid out.


#24:  Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

I've no idea, sorry.


#25:  What is the best way to thank your GM?

I mention several things in Play Your Character Like A Fucking Boss.  How about words of praise like "Fire & Fury?"  If our country gets nuked by North Korea, then I apologize in advance.


#26:  Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

I like later editions to old school games because they usually include vital supplements and essential sourcebooks that improve upon the core text by itself.  I'm thinking of Toon: the Cartoon RPG, Paranoia, Call of Cthulhu, etc.


#27:  What are your essential tools for good gaming?

If I was to go to an RPG convention and asked to run some kind of sleazy pulp science-fantasy RPG (which happens from time to time), I'd take the following 7 books with me: How To Game Master Like A Fucking Boss, Alpha Blue, Universal Exploits, Girls Gone Rogue, Swords & Wizardry, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and whatever Monster Manual was nearest to me.


#28:  What film/series is the biggest source of quotes for your group?

That's a great question, but I can't come up with anything.  Which is weird because I feel like we joke around and laugh quite a bit during our sessions.  Awesome and funny lines are said, but sometimes they're original and other times they're from disparate sources.


#29:  What has been the best-run Kickstarter you have backed?

I haven't backed that many.  Maximum Mayhem and Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea are two that I've been pleased with.

Surprisingly, my very first Kickstarter campaign, The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence actually made the most money, but only a few dollars.


#30:  What is an RPG genre mash-up you would most like to see?

Late 60's / 70's gothic exploitation vampire camp, The Vampire Happening meets Dracula: 1972 A.D.  That's a genre mash-up I haven't seen yet.  If not that, then maybe Shadowrun meets some kind of post-apocalyptic after-the-bomb mutant wasteland.


#31:  What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

Self-publishing some weird and wild stuff!  I've got lots of ideas.  Things I've already talked about and some things that will be a complete surprise (to me, as well).

______

Well, that's it.  Thanks for joining me during this 3 part Q&A.

VS

p.s.  I had that exact Dracula poster on my bedroom wall after college. Mmm...


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 (part II of III)


Here's part I of my RPGaDay answers.  Let's get to some more questions, shall we?

#7:  What was your most impactful RPG session?

I've had RPG sessions that were so bad that it forever changed how I approached the hobby.  Some games were too boring, others too difficult, many too complex, a few that were too stingy.  I've talked about many of these experiences before.

One that I've never mentioned happened just 2 or 3 years ago.  Not sure why, but I was interested in joining a D&D game as a player.  There was one I had heard about in my home town and even knew one of the players.  Looking back, I can't remember if it was D&D or Pathfinder.  I was coming into the middle of this "adventure path" type campaign.  The entire session was getting from A to B and encountering a few things along the way.  Most of it was combat and everyone had this specific role, including my character - a wizard.  We were mid to high level and I just kept lobbing fireballs.  While it was mildly exciting being in combat, the entire thing just left me wanting.  So, I never went back.

Also, the game took place in this guy's cold, unfinished basement that smelled weird with boxes of kitty-litter everywhere and cats with dried dingleberries on their bottoms constantly roaming around. Oh, and we were seated on metal folding chairs that were super uncomfortable.  Are you surprised I never returned?

These days, I've got to play somewhere decent and always try to give players something for their characters to do besides these ubiquitous robo-battles that could easily be handled with some kind of RPG autopilot or computer program.

#8:  What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2hrs or less?

Personally, I think both dungeoncrawl fantasy and investigative sessions are best when there's at least 3 hours to play.

What works best for shorter sessions, in my opinion, are RPGs that focus on interaction.  These also take the most out of a GM, so it's probably a good thing that they're usually shorter.

Over the past year, I've run about a dozen 60 - 90 minute sessions of Alpha Blue on Roll20 and while they felt short, it seemed like quite a bit was accomplished.  You go somewhere new, talk to some people, get in some trouble, have a short combat encounter, and get laid.  Boom!  Done.  In, out, and put the kettle on.

#9:  What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

Pretty much anything.  If you're not doing a one-shot, I think somewhere around 10 sessions is just about ideal for any campaign.  But then I prefer shorter campaigns.

#10:  Where do you go for RPG reviews?

RPG.net, TheRPGsite.com, Endzeitgeist, Ten-Foot Pole, Tenkar's Tavern, and Swords & Stitchery.

#11:  Which "dead game" would you like to see reborn?

Encounter Critical or 1st edition Vampire: the Masquerade.  Basically, all I would be interested in are adventures.  The former just needs more official content while the latter quickly jumped into meta-plot and option bloat.

Although, if the game exists, it's not dead.  Sometimes, a company can kill an RPG by over-supplementing it.  Like a really great movie, sometimes sequel after sequel dilutes its awesomeness.

#12:  Which RPG has the most inspiring interior artwork?

Dungeon Crawl Classics is probably the best black and white interior artwork RPG I can think of.  I was going to also pick out one with color artwork, but I'm drawing a complete fucking blank!

#13:  Describe a game experience that changed how you play?

I'm trying to remember the first time (or just a vivid early memory) of using random tables during an adventure to improvise some detail about the adventure.  I must have been exposed to random tables early on and loved them because that's the thing I'm probably best known for.

Hmm, besides rumors and wandering monsters, I can't come up with a damned thing.  Too bad, that would have made for an interesting anecdote.  [Edit: ok, I took a short walk before posting this and came up with something.]

I used one of the introductory adventures in the back of Call of Cthulhu 4th edition multiple times - especially when I wanted to introduce new people to the game.  I dimly recall a d6 table for what happens when someone touches or activates this strange cube found below the house.  Back then, it struck me that rolling on the table would send the rest of that adventure into entirely divergent narrative threads.  And it did... forcing me, as Keeper of Arcane Lore, to go with the flow.  Controlled chaos!

#14:  Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

Most campaign play should be open-ended.  The only type of RPG campaign I can think of that isn't open-ended is an investigation that keeps going and going, leading deeper and deeper into the heart of a singular mystery.

#15:  Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

If by adapting, you mean "changing," then I'd have to say D&D.  There are so many rules and so many editions and partial editions or versions of the rules, plus all the retro-clones and retro-compatible RPGs that it begs to be adapted... molded to suit each individual table.  In 2017, no two D&D games are exactly alike.

#16:  Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

The RPG I've adapted/changed/house-ruled the least might be Call of Cthulhu.  Turning everything into a percentage role is so easy to use that it's almost a shame.  I'm a firm believer that house-rules should organically occur during play - it means you're group is interacting with game instead of merely adhering to its rules.

#17:  Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?

There are a few RPGs I acquired in the late 80's / early 90's that looked promising but for one reason or another, we never ended up actually playing.  Here's a brief list...

  • DC Heroes RPG - too complex.
  • Kult - lack of accessible entry point, but love the vibe.  
  • Skyrealms of Jorune - what are you supposed to do in the game - try to become a citizen?  Uh, no thanks.
  • Cyberspace - I'm not sure why I never tried to run this.  From what I remember, it wasn't overly complex, though it did have a lot of numbers.  Maybe lack of an introductory scenario?

________

Ok, I'll try to get the final installment of my #RPGaDay Q&A posted tomorrow.

VS


Monday, August 7, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 (part I of III)


Whether or not these lists have value in today's RPG blog-o-sphere, I'm going to answer as many as I can over the course of three days.

Why three days?  I don't want to tie up my precious blogging space with random questions for each day of this month (and I'm a bit late to the party).

#1:  What published RPG do I wish I was playing right now?

Assuming this is going to be a one-shot and assuming that I'll be playing as a player (rather than my usual position as GM), I'd love to play one of my own RPGs (Crimson Dragon Slayer, Alpha Blue, or The Outer Presence).  To this day, I've never been a player in the aforementioned RPGs.  I'm sure it'll happen soon, though.

But if that wasn't a possibility, then something fun, oddball, and awesomely ridiculous like Encounter Critical.

#2:  What is an RPG you would like to see published?

Hasn't everything been published already?  Just to see how far I could get (didn't really expect much), I contacted ABC to see what they wanted for the license to make an official RPG for Lost.  They never emailed me back, unfortunately.  So, I guess Lost might be my answer.

#3:  How do you find out about new RPGs?

Through blogs and the occasional forum thread.  DriveThruRPG makes it easy to see what's new or what one might like based on similar purchases.

#4:  Which RPG have you played the most since August, 2016?

I think that would have to be Alpha Blue.  I've been running a lot of demos on Roll20 and ran 3 or 4 sessions at Gary Con IX.  Plus, the odd home game.

#5:  Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

Which game?  My favorite cover is the Tom Moldvay magenta box with Erol Otus art.  A close second is the AD&D Player's Handbook.  I've seen a lot of cool answers that other people have given, and agree with many of them - 2nd edition Paranoia, 3rd edition Call of Cthulhu, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st edition...

#6:  You can game everyday for a week.  Describe what you'd do!

I'd either have to envision this as the mother of all RPG conventions or traveling back in time - before a career, wife, and 5 kids.

While I like hopping from one game to another, sampling this and that, there's something deeply satisfying about sticking to a particular game for consecutive days/nights.  I have fond memories playing Vampire: the Masquerade, D&D, WEG D6 Star Wars, and Call of Cthulhu day after day or night after night in the summer with friends in the early 90's.

So, I'd probably run something simple and spontaneous where I never seem to lack for ideas - Alpha Blue.  It's my sleazy go-to baby for when I don't have anything prepared.

If I had to choose something that I didn't write, it would probably be Masks of Nyarlathotep.  If I worked at it, I think we could get through the whole thing in 7 days, assuming 5 - 6 hours per day.

BTW, just saw the PDF for the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion.  Awesome cover!  Sure, it's over 700 pages (hmm... they can't all be winners with that much content, am I right?) but $47.50 for the PDF?  Damn, that's expensive.  I mean, it's more than double the cost of the actual Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign!  Doesn't that kind of price gouging encourage gamers to pirate the digital content?
_______

Ok, the next 9 or 10 questions tomorrow and the final installment on Wednesday!

VS

p.s.  Only 3 days left to back the Battle For The Purple Islands Kickstarter.