Gamehole Con 2021 approaches!

Gamehole Con 2021 is coming (21-24 October) and I am excited!
Today’s Topics: Swords & Wizardry, Old School Essentials, Savage Worlds, Munchkin, Adventures Dark & Deep, Exhibitor Hall.

I haven’t been to a physical convention since Con of the North in February of 2020. The virtual cons over the last year and eight months have been fun in their own way, so I will probably make use of them in the future if I am unable to attend physically (However, I will not be attending Gary Con XIV in person in 2021, so I have been hoping virtual Gary Con goes forward, but sadly it currently only looks like 14 people have signed up for Ethereal Gary Con so far, so I may not even get to participate in Gary Con online next year).

For this upcoming Gamehole I was saddened to not see Castles & Crusades games being offered. I could, of course, run my own C&C games (friends have asked me to do so), however, I run six games in two C&C campaigns each month, that means I run up to 72 C&C games each year, that is a lot of C&C games! So, I use gaming conventions as my time to relax from the pressure of being a GM and just be a player in someone else’s game.

I also love to play different types of games to broaden my perspective on rules and rulings that might come in handy for my C&C game. At Con of the North, Dungeon Crawl Classics has a strong presence, so I get a heavy dose of DCC at that convention, and I expect to again this upcoming February. This time at Gamehole the games I am playing are heavily focused on Swords & Wizardry (S&W) (three games, including the classic Mythrus Tower with Matt Finch), an Old School Essentials (OSE) game, a Savage Worlds game, and a fun session of Munchkin.

As you can see, I will be wearing my shirts promoting the greatest of all RPGs – Castles & Crusades – but I am bringing my S&W and OSE books to use at the gaming tables.

Swords & Wizardry
S&W is a fun game and I look forward to three solid games. Three S&W games will be the most S&W I’ve played at a single convention. It can be fun to immerse yourself in one system (much like I do DCC at Con of the North).

Old School Essentials
I am surprised that OSE doesn’t have more people running the system (I think there was only the one OSE game offered at Gamehole – the one I got in) considering that most OSR designers are now making their games OSE-compatible, OSE games should be offered more at conventions. OSE is a great system and I want to use my OSE books, so we need more people at conventions to run OSE!

Savage Worlds
I’ve never played Savage Worlds before. I’ve heard a lot about it, though, so I am long overdue to get a feel for what it can offer.

I only played Munchkin a couple of times in 2008 when I had moved to St Andrews, Scotland, to pursue my Masters degree. One of my fellow graduate students from Poland was a huge role-player and he introduced a bunch of us to Munchkin. Unfortunately, the Masters programme was grueling and I had to drop gaming to focus on my studies. So, after 13 years I look forward to trying Munchkin out again.

Adventures Dark and Deep
This is more of a public service announcement. I love this game. I wish there was more love for Joseph Bloch’s Adventures Dark and Deep (ADD). I have yet to see anyone run ADD at the cons I visit. I want to play ADD. So, if there is anyone out there who also loves ADD and wants to run it at Gamehole or Con of the North in the future, contact me – I will join your game!

When I checked the exhibitor information at Gamehole, I was sad to see that Troll Lord Games and Goodman Games won’t have a location in the Dealer Hall this year (they normally have double-sized booths). It is always a joy to talk with the Troll Lords, and Goodman Games and the people at their table are also great people to chat with. On the other hand, that just means I get to spend my time – and money – in the Dealer Hall on companies and products that I have previously overlooked! Having said that, I have spent far too much money on RPGs and I have already shut down my Indiegogo account and my Kickstarter account will be shutdown early next year as I focus on what I already own. Still, there are so many enticing things to find at a convention, so we will see by next Sunday evening how good I was at resisting the new trinkets, bits and bobs that will be calling out my name in the Dealer Hall!

The Drive
I am heading out for the roughly 4.5 hour drive from where I live in Minnesota to Madison, Wisconsin on Wednesday. The lovely autumn coolness and the leaves changing color should make the journey there fun! Maybe I will see some of you there!

Character Creation Challenge: Adventures Dark and Deep

For this entry in the Character Creation Challenge, I made a character in Adventures Dark and Deep (ADD). This game is based on an intriguing concept (quote from the back cover of the Players Manual): “What if Gary Gygax had been allowed to go through with his plans for a second edition of the world’s most popular role-playing game?” Joseph Bloch took AD&D (including the additional material from Unearthed Arcana (UA)), as well as drawing upon articles in Dragon magazine and various online forums, and ADD is his interpretation of what that might have looked like. I find the results to be quite interesting. The game does feel like the next step after UA for the AD&D game (if not an alternate Gygaxian AD&D 2nd edition, it could be thought of as 1.75, if you consider UA as 1.5). UA added the barbarian, cavalier, thief-acrobat, and new playable elven, dwarven, and gnomish races. ADD builds on this. Additional classes you find in ADD are the jester, mystic, bard (as a full class of its own), savant, and mountebank. The Player’s Manual doesn’t just feel like an extension of AD&D, it even looks that way with a font that is similar if not identical to the AD&D 1st edition Players Handbook with similar chart and table formats. If you ever wanted to play a more expanded AD&D 1st edition without switching over to 2nd edition, then ADD is worth looking into (let me also add for those GM’s looking for OSR monsters, that the bestiary for ADD is one of the best collections of AD&D monsters you can get. It is over 450 pages and has over 900 monsters).

But enough of this introduction, let’s move on to my character.

I decided I wanted to make a Jester. This was a way for me to make an expanded AD&D-type character. I had to re-roll my attributes (3d6 six times) several times before I was able to meet the requirement of having at least a 13 in Dexterity, Intelligence, and Charisma. I then did the usual of populating the attribute scores, writing down what the modifiers do, consulting the saving throw charts, rolling starting coin and buying equipment. All of that is like AD&D. What stood out, however, is that much of the character background and character building material in AD&D which you had to get from the DMG (such as social class, birth order, family traits) are in the ADD Players Manual. I always loved choosing that in AD&D but going through two books at the same time – or three if you were also using UA – was a hassle. ADD has all of that in one book in the order in which you need it.

As for the Jester, what do they get? Frankly, quite a lot of unique abilities. Their powers and abilities are: verbal patter, tumbling and performing, pranks, spell use (starting at 3rd level), attract a troupe (10th level). The verbal patter is broken down into subcategories: assure, distract, befuddle, enrage, etc. These all go up percentage-wise like thief abilities. Likewise, tumbling and performing is broken down into: evasion, entertain, falling, balance, fire breathing, juggling, knife throwing, sword swallowing, etc. Like any other AD&D thief-like character, you get a lot of abilities, but they start out quite low (my evasion is 10%, balance is 20%, juggling is 25%, and so on). All these abilities are laid-out in charts, so they are easy to reference. This would be a fun class and character to use with all his acrobatic maneuvering possibilities and the different ways in which he could manipulate his target’s perceptions!

All in all, I had a lot of fun making this character. It was a pretty big shift from the previous characters I made in this challenge from games that were clones from 1977, 1981, and 1983 Basic D&D with their much more simplistic and bare-bones rules, but if you love referencing AD&D 1st edition-inspired charts and tables, this will make you happy! Much like Old School Essentials, and Blueholme, I’d love to play this at a convention, but I get the feeling that this has a much smaller group of adherents. I own all of Joseph Bloch’s ADD books (Players Manual, Game Masters Toolkit, Bestiary, Adventures Great and Glorious, and Castle of the Mad Archmage), but I make use of them for inspiration in my game of choice: Castles & Crusades.

RPG World Building and Campaign Uniqueness

I have two Castles & Crusades campaigns I am running, Barrowmaze for nearly two years, and Dragonclaw Barony for the last four months, they seem sturdy and I look forward to expanding them and making them richer and more unique.

The Tuesday evening Barrowmaze adventure was originally made for the Labyrinth Lord (LL) rule system, although I’ve frequently drawn upon the C&C monster books, as well as the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary.

My Saturday afternoon Dragonclaw Barony campaign is using adventures made for the BasicFantasy RPG system (BFRPG), and my emphasis has thus far been using C&C monster books or those from Malevolent and Benign (modeled off AD&D 1st edition).

However, I feel there needs to be greater differentiation and a more unique feel between these two campaigns – I think they need a more personalized stamp – so I am shifting to more LL monsters for Barrowmaze, and BFRPG monsters for Dragonclaw Barony. My players should notice this, since LL is a retroclone of the 1981 D&D rules system, and BFRPG is a mixture of classic D&D from the 80’s with d20 rule additions that appeared in the 00’s. The look, feel, and variety of the monsters should keep them on their toes, and it keeps things interesting for me.

When I am not working on these two campaigns, however, I am engaged in the long-term building of my own world and capital city. I still have the deepest love for my home from 2009-2015 – Edinburgh, and I am slowly turning it into a living, breathing fantasy RPG city to explore (although I will be calling it Edenburgh based on a reference I found on an antique map c.1500’s). I took pictures of Edinburgh every week during the 6 years I lived their, and have thousands of photographs. I also took the ghost tours, wandered down every close (alleyway), hidden graveyard, garden, and nearby castle during my time there that I could find. I want my players to have one giant sandbox to explore. A place where – no matter where they turn – I can spontaneously go with them and have ideas of what they might encounter.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to have some help on such matters, and some spectacular game products from kickstarters and indiegogo are arriving at my doorstep. These books are great for adding extra character or constructing something from scratch. The Spectacular Settlements book, for example, is 500 pages mostly filled with charts from which you can create any fortress, village, town, or city you need with helpful reference sheets, along with examples of each type of settlement, and the the books on taverns, shops, and inns provide ready-made locations with a rich history and NPC’s to use or inspire. The Deep Magic books is 350 pages of new spells and new types of magic, which keeps mystery in spellcasting and magic, and treacherous traps ensures that my players can never fully predict what traps might lie in front of them.

RPG Kickstarter loot


I love table-top RPG kickstarters, there are so many great things to pick up!

More are coming as the year comes to an end, but here are photos of some of what I’ve received recently.

1. Castles & Crusades: Digest-sized versions of their core books and those for the world of Aihrde.
2. Old School Essentials. Wonderful books loaded with rules based on the 1981 Basic D&D rules. If you wanted to run a Basic D&D game, this retroclone is probably the best out there.
3. Adventures Dark and Deep. This game is based on an extrapolation of what AD&D 2nd edition might have looked like if Gary Gygax had continued with TSR. There is some great oldschool goodness in these books covering AD&D-type races, classes, and spells, there is an immense bestiary, a rule book for building kingdoms, and a massive dungeon adventure with map and illustration books.
4. Black Oak Workshop. Advent-ure Calendar. This is an advent-type box with custom made dice inside! I will have 24 custom polyhedral dice that will reveal themselves to me on the run up to Christmas. I also got a holiday dice bag, pin, and dice stockings!
5. In the last photo you see a collection of loot I picked up in kickstarters recently:
a. a Low Fantasy Game book filled with numerous charts and flexible, light rules to add more grit to your game.
b. some Handy Maps by Glynn Seal. These are wonderful city and village maps that I can place anywhere in my game.
c. Black Dragon OSR ‘zine and Maximum HP RPG zine and a digest sized pad of old school character sheets. It is nice to see digest-sized zines filled with art, rules, and ideas to spice up your fantasy game.
CnC Digest kickstarterOSE kickstarter
ADD kickstarter
Advent ure kickstarter
kickstarter items

Gary Con XI Day 1: Afternoon. Artists, Dungeons, Conan, Northlands, Archmages…


This morning and early afternoon I’ve spent acquiring the most incredible game products and speaking with their designers!

At the Troll Lord Games booth I had a great and extended conversation with Jason Vey (game designer and blogger). I joked with Stephen Chenault – Troll Lord’s CEO – that I would like to buy some Castles & Crusades products, but that I already own them all!

Over at Frog God Games (FGG) I picked up their Northland Saga and Borderland Provinces and they were kind enough to throw in a bunch of free adventures. FGG puts out some great products and now I have some superb campaign world expansion. With the Northland Saga and extra adventures, I have over 700 pages of Nordic/Viking flavored material to work with for my game world.

Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea is an old-school game that draws on Robert Howard (Conan), H.P. Lovecraft (Cthulhu) and Clark Ashton Smith. Jeffrey Talanian was kind enough to sign my copy. This is another rich resource (600+ pages) to draw on to pull rough and rugged swords, sorcery, and weird fantasy into my game.

Then there was Adventures Dark and Deep, which is envisioned as what 2nd edition AD&D would’ve been if Gary Gygax had not been forced to leave TSR. I purchased The Castle of the Mad Archmage, which is based on Castle Greyhawk. Joseph Bloch was kind enough to sign my copy. It has three booklets – the 13 levels detailed out, a book of maps for the DM, and a book of player handout illustrations – just like it was done in the old days! This should nicely round out the material I already have on Greyhawk and Castle Zagyg.

Barrowmaze Complete and The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia are adventures put together with numerous types of monsters and many types of crypts and barrows to explore. This is old school, so you jump into and explore a barrow, and if you manage to survive, you get back to a nearby town as quickly as possible with your loot and heal up to try again. Classic style game.

Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC). I got their massive 500 page sourcebook and some of their classic dice (d3-d30). One of the many cool things about DCC is that whenever you cast a spell any number of weird things can happen as you roll a die and consult a table (each spell takes up an entire over-sized page). If I ever want a spell to go awry, this is the book to consult.

Then there are the wonderful artists I met – Darlene and Larry Elmore. Darlene is one of the truly great artists. I got a signed reproduction of a piece of art of hers that appeared in the AD&D 1st edition DMG, plus some fun cards. For Larry Elmore I got a signed copy of one of his art books. I was now so encumbered with books I couldn’t purchase anymore (indeed, as you can see from the photos, my DCC book bag handle tore off!). I may go back tomorrow to purchase a signed print of Elmore’s to put up in my new home.

I will soon head back. I am currently taking a brief rest in my Comfort Inn room which is 1.5 miles from the convention, but they offer a constant and complimentary shuttle service to and from the convention. When I return this evening, it will be to attend ‘GM Tricks of the Trade’ by Stephen Chenault of Castles & Crusades – it will be time to discuss Game Mastering techniques and tricks!

I can’t believe how much fun I am having and the great people I am meeting!spinesDCCBarrowmazeHyperboreaDarlene

Gaming Diary – Bestiaries and Monster Manuals

Many Dungeon Masters have a never ending need to collect monster collections because lets face it – monsters and monster lore are fun to look at and read about! We get to be children again. But more than that, we get to use them to scare and challenge our players, and players love to see brand new monsters, as well as old monsters in a new light.

I have collected a good number of the lavishly colorized and “realistic” modern style monster manuals (I have at least a half dozen from 3E and 5E, and the artwork in them is indeed attractive). But I am now running traditional-style D&D, my tastes have changed, and I have lost a lot of interest in the uber colorized, flashy, post-3E monster art style. I have gone back to appreciating and wanting more of the classic black & white line art. This style allows the players to color it in the way *they* want. *They* get to use their imagination to fill out and expand the piece of art provided. I want to move away from the video game style of art where everything is put in your face. I want my players to hear my descriptions and visualize it for themselves, ask questions, and fill in the details themselves. This is what tabletop roleplaying gaming is supposed to be – collaborative and immersive. I think this black & white art style supports that.

So, with that in mind, I have been looking far and wide for some old school bestiaries and I have been fortunate to find some. Many of these are inspired by – or based on – the classic Basic D&D Creature Catalog, the AD&D Monster Manuals I and II, and the Fiend Folio, with slight stat differences and new black & white line art. I really love them! Sadly, though, this is a niche market and you have to really dig around to find the small publishers and independent game designers who cherish these alternate ways of doing things.

Just as OSR rules are light and allow for more options and imagination, the black & white art also allows people to open their imaginations to the strange realm of fantasy.

Imagination. Wonderment. Mystery. That is what I am focusing on in my game. It is my hope that I am moving in that direction.

Bestiaries (3)Bestiaries (4).jpg