Monday, November 21, 2022

Mechanisms: Sunderbolt for Savage Worlds Adventure Edition

 I love Transfomers. A lot. I picked up Morphtranserbots and I'm working on a one-shot for the eventual future so I'm making some pregenerated characters. Sunderbolt is the first. 

Sunderbolt is a member of the Covenant, an ancient order of Mechanisms who seeks to protect the Polyverse from Escahtron and his Exarchs who wants to reshape reality into a single universe ruled by him.

Sunderbolt devoted to the protection of the Polyverse and wants to honor his Mother's memory as a general within the Covenant's forces. He is a bit immature and believes that he has been cursed by the Exarch warlock Witchlight.


Wild Card


Race: Morphtransorbot

Attributes: Agility d10, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, 

                   Strength d12, Vigor d6

Skills: Athletics d4, Common Knowledge d4, 

           Fighting d8, Focus d6, Intimidation d6, 

           Notice d8, Persuasion d6, Piloting d10

           Shooting d10, Stealth d4

Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Toughness: 13 (4)

Edges: Arcane Background (Gifted), 

            Combat Reflexes Fleet-Footed, 

            Hover*, Flight*

Hindrances: Bad Luck, Curious

Gear: Laser Rifles x2 (30/60/120, 3d6, AP 2, ROF 3, heavy         

          weapon), Mk67 Grenades x2 (5/10/20, 3d6, MBT, heavy 


Vehicle Mode: F15 Eagle 

Special Abilities:

• Armor: 4 (heavy armor)

• Powesr: Havoc, Smite

• Power Points: 15

* Found in Morphtranserbots 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Shadowdark RPG: Dogman

I'm currently at Cryptid Con in Lexington, KY and so I felt like I should spotlight some of them.

Dogman for Shadowdark RPG

Solidary humanoids who haunt roads.

AC 14, HD 2 (9), ATK 1 bite +2 (1d6), MV double near, S +2, D +1, C +1, I +0, W +2, Ch +0, AL N

Hunter. They have Advantage on WIS checks to detect an ambush or spirits and to track a creature.

Territorial. They have advantage CHA checks to intimidate other creatures.

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Thursday, November 17, 2022

Spotlight: Shadowdark RPG Quickstart

I've written a bit about the Shadowdark RPG from The Arcane Library so I thought I'd highlight what I think sets it apart from other OSR products I own.

The game's author has mentioned she wanted to build the game from B/X DnD's foundation and obviously, with the success of Labyrinth Lord and Old School Essentials, B/X DnD seems to be the most popular, at least within the OSR. Shadowdark does use a unified roll high mechanic, as well as, a Difficulty Class system that we've seen since DnD 3, but I also think Call of Cthulhu, Basic Role Play, and other percentile systems are inspirations too. DC's in Shadowdark are 9, 12, 15, and 18 and since Ability modifiers are the focus (skill just grants Advantage) in it, those map to a 60%. 45%, 30%, and 15% chances of success before Ability modifiers come into play.

When a Wizard or a Cleric casts a spell they roll against a DC of 10 + the Tier (level) of the spell and if successful the spell is cast and some spells have bonus effects on a Natural 20, but if you fail the spell doesn't go off and is lost for the day. I think adding spellcasting to the unified approach to the rest of the system makes far more sense, especially to new players, than the various exception-based and sub-system approach to B/X, its clones, and DnD's "vancian" spell casting as a whole. This also eliminates Saving Throws as a separate sub-system because when a spell requires some kind of roll on the Target's part it is merely another Ability Check.

One of my favorite parts of the game is that when rolling damage you don't add your Strength or Dexterity modifiers to damage. If you gain a bonus it comes from a class Talent or a magic item. I think this slightly speeds up combat as even people that are excellent at addition can take an extra bit of time totaling the die and adding something to it. 

The final bit that appeals to me are the Class Talent tables mentioned above, at 1st and every odd numbered levels you roll 2d6 on table with specific Talents for your class. These tables give you bonuses to attacks, ability scores, Advantage with particular spells, and additional uses of class abilities. I know that Shadowdark didn't come up with this idea but I'm really glad they included it and I like that the advancement rate it uses has that Old School feel. I remember when Wizards of the Coast began talking about "dead levels" when your Hit Die was the only thing you got and while I do appreciate mechanic abilities I also like rulings over rules and the mindset behind a game where what I do as a player and a character can be as much as what I and the DM think should happen and not "rule for everything" approach. As a new gamer having a rule for everything did help me out and we have millions of new DnD players that want and need that kind of structure but the OSR's allure, for me, was the DYI approach. With those Talents only coming every other level I think it keeps a lot of what makes a character unique specific to the player and their adventures. This is the kind of game where let's say there is aa character that bargains well through role playing, I'm comfortable not requiring a dice roll to succeed or at the very least give them Advantage on their roll. The fact that the bonuses are fairly bounded and most bonuses will never go above +4 combined with the chance of success the DCs  represent gives me a very tight engine where the math is very clear and I love that.

I know that the Shadowdark RPG is yet another game in a crowded area featuring a number of B/X D&D clones and derivative works but I really feel that the game's author Kelsey Dionne had a similar goal to Joseph Goodman when he published Dungeon Crawl Classics. Their aim was rooted in older editions of DnD as a guidepost and the end goal of both games honors that era while blazing new ground.

Do I own a bunch of OSR clones? Yes. But. I'm going to run the Shadowdark RPG while many of them gather dust.

Right now you can purchase the Shadowdark RPG Quickstart in print or digitally, there will be a Kickstarter for it in March of 2023.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Spotlight: Horror at Headstone Hill for Deadlands & Savage Worlds Adventure Edition

Horror at Headstone Hill is a sandbox campaign for the Deadlands Weird Western RPG for Savage Worlds Adventure Edition.

It presents to you the entirety of Uinta County, Wyoming beginning Mid-May of 1884. The County's important areas are broken down for the Game Master and important people are introduced and statted out. A timeline of the settlement is also presented to help the setting take shape. While there is a central adventure presented here, like many Savage Worlds products, several dozen Savage Tales are included as well. These Savage Tales help the GM fill in information about certain areas, groups, personas, and critters and give them handy smaller adventures.

The level of detail for the setting is pretty perfect for my habits as a GM, which means the basic information is well presented but there is enough left open to easily customize the campaign area. To help bring my tastes into focus I can get very bored of dry descriptions of room after room or dense background information and this product has none of that. I think I spent less than an hour reading over the County and main campaign or Plot Point in SW terms. I then spent another 30 minutes skimming Savage Tales and where they might intersect certain NPCs or locales. I took some notes of less than a page for use in the game and at the table. My prep was less than two hours but when our first session began I felt very prepared. As a 50 year old gamer with not enough free time I love that Pinnacle gets this is important for a busy GM.

Horror at Headstone Hill works so well for me because it gives a light, but solid foundation to use as a springboard so that when my Players inevitably (within an hour of the first session) went for something I wasn't expecting I had enough information sketched out for me that I could roll with it pretty easily. And while about half of the first arc of the Plot Point has been central to the Character's actions I have not missed a beat by using this product's many options to ad lib player driven plot lines .

This product is literally perfect for my GMing style. I'm not overwhelmed with information while having plenty of resources to make Headstone Hill a living region. The box set and its maps are wonderful and I use my MacBook at the table to quickly look up something in the PDF if I haven't noted it.

I could not ask for a better tool to help wade into Deadlands for a long term Campaign, my first attempt, a few years, back didn't go as well and HaHH lets me confidently adjudicate unforeseen situations.

I'd also like to state that while I've owned every edition of Savage Worlds, it's newest edition known as SWADE, communicates information far better than any of the previous core rules and all of the SWADE products I've purchased have been top-notch. In a lot of ways, I think it took technology and our industry to catch up to what Shane Lacy Hensley originally envisioned for SW (I remember his original format was going to be three-hole punched products that you could print off as the rules changed or when errata was corrected. I'd also like to take a minute to call out how much I enjoy having the SW Power Cards and Status Cards at our table. I tend to forget who is Shaken or Wounded or has what Condition and the cards make that so much easier to remember while communicating the appropriate rules, as well.

HaHHH succeeds as a great product for any GM wanting to run Deadlands. While I think it could be used with other systems I don't think it would succeed as well if the setting did not have magic, weird tech, Native Americans, and undead desperados. I also love that this product is a box set which scratches the nostalgia itch I have for 1990s TSR AD&D and Role Aids products I loved so much.

I heartily recommend Horror at Headstone Hill and I'm excited that a similar product will be Kickstarted for Savage Rifts by PEG on Black Friday.  I will wholeheartedly back that project too.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

State of the Planes: Pushing Myself

One of the things I enjoy most is making Monsters for RPGs. If you've read this blog you probably know that. I like adapting outside properties and creating things whole-cloth, but I struggle with two things: One, Monsters don't get a ton of views these days and I get it, as much as I love making them there are already a lot of antagonists for most RPGs, especially for DnD and the OSR; Two, I think I've retreated to making Monsters so I don't have to actually write down my ideas, be they new mechanics, response to stuff I've read elsewhere, sessions reports, etc.. Its become a kind of crutch a way to keep the blog going but with the barest minimum effort.

I've decided I'm going to push myself to write more, to convey my creations beyond the Monsters you find here, things I've realized I've actively been avoiding. It's weird to realize that I've been hiding behind Monsters to some degree for awhile and that I need to attempt to stop doing that. 

I want to challenge myself and this post is mainly about calling myself out and pushing myself creatively in ways I used to do on this blog.  I've been playing it safe and I want to do more than that. 

Monday, November 14, 2022

Dungeon Mastering 101: Its okay to not be okay

I have always dealt with Gaming ADD and as the primary Game Master for most of my groups it really bothers me. Between November of 2021 and about May of 2022 it was my turn to be DM for our Friday group and I ran 3 or 4 different games because I just couldn't stay focused. On top of that, I ran a game off of the rails because I decided that the direction the players took in sessions 1 & 2 were wrong and I railroaded them on a different path. After that 2nd session ended I knew I had just f#cked up. Hard.

Most of my inspiration as a Game Master has come from action movies and comic books. I like high action with explosive results that focus on the players and their characters. I want the players and their characters to be the stars of the show. But somewhere in the last few years, I started focusing on "challenging" the players and in all honesty started trying to kill their characters. I worried about Encounters Per Day and Challenge Ratings and The Math Behind The Game, things I'd never focused on before. If you grok those things or love things that is awesome, I just lack the brainpower to figure it out, I just don't find it fun, and it was contributing to my lack of focus in its own way to the games I was trying to run.

As I handed my time off to another DM in our group I honestly felt defeated. In the past I had run one 5E game from level 1 to level 20 and a second from level 5 to level 15 and I felt like I'd never have that experience again. 

It was then I decided that I would just start running a game and only focus on the first adventure. No promises beyond that. I also took a smaller number of players from our Friday Group to help make things more manageable. I love our Friday group. All of the players are amongst my best friends and having them has helped  me through some truly dark times in my life in the last several years. Unfortunately, there are eight of us and sometimes that is a lot. So I just saw who could make the other night and kept a cap on 5 of us.

I've been playing and running 5E for over 10 years now and it's a great game but I'm bored of running it. I have always loved Deadlands and while I had disliked Savage Worlds for not having Hit Points in the past, I have found that no longer bothers me. That first adventure took about 5 sessions, about 2 sessions per month and it felt SO good. We had very little combat in those sessions and that adventure's success reinvigorated my interest in running games. However, while I kept notes about future plots I still focused on this one adventure here and now. When I finished that first adventure I took a week to see if I had another adventure in me and I did. So we started the 2nd adventure next.

We are approaching the finale of the second adventure soon. After that we will break for the Holidays and I'll see if I had have another adventure I want to run.

For the finale I'm really focusing on the player's goals and their accomplishments. There are things I'd like to emphasize and throw at them but those haven't been priorities to their characters and so they stay in the toolkit, possibly for the future. 

I'm a lot happier as a GM again.

Yes, I had reached a point where I just wasn't sure if I could be a GM any longer and it really hurt my soul. I take pride in being a DM and I've always felt like I was a pretty good one and these little victories means an awful lot to me.

DMing is hard just from creative, organization, and logistics issues and its even harder as an adult running a company with a wife, kids, and grandkids. Not that being a player is easy for the same reasons. I'm really blessed that my group meets mostly once a week and that I've been able to eke out another session about three times per month with all of it in person.

If you are having a tough time as a DM you are not alone and while Critical Role has given us millions of new DnD players it has also asked many of us to be compared to Matt Mercer and most of us just aren't him.

And that is okay. 

If you are primarily a player feedback to your DM is essential and please keep in mind that there are things about the game that require a lot of time to work out and that means your GM is taking that time from something else in your life. And don't forget to let them know that you are appreciate them or that you are having fun.

My solution to all of this was just to break it down into smaller chunks and be honest with myself about my own shortcomings. That is never easy and it took time to have the courage to do it.

One last thing, sometime no gaming is better than bad gaming. I'm blessed in that I haven't had that issue in close to a decade, but sometimes you need a break and that is okay too.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

I Ran a Shadowdark RPG One-Shot

Our regular DM had to work late and only about half of our group could make it so I ran a Shadowdark RPG one-shot last night. What drew me to ShadowDark were several features:

1) After playing a lot of Shadow of the Demon Lord versus DnD 5, I've come to enjoy rolling damage with few if any modifiers. I think it speeds things up at the table.

2) The Difficulty Classes are clearly given and they map to straight-forward percentage chances and range from 9 to 18.

3) Ability Scores drive the game and "skill" gives a PC Advantage on a Check.

4) It uses Ascending AC and a unified roll high system.

5) Spellcasters have to roll to cast a spell and as long as they succeed they continue to be able to cast that spell until they fail a check and it lost for the rest of the day. This also means that if a "Saving Throw" is required it is merely an Ability check by the targets.

6) Random Class Abilities, called Talents in ShadowDark, are gained as a PC levels on class-specific tables.

7) The game is easy to House Rule.

I think the adventure was a hit and my players, who are most familiar with 5E, grasped the mechanics faster than they did with Hyperborea 3E.

I made a 5th Level Witch, Warlock, & Knight of Ydris regenerated characters from Cursed Scroll 1: Diablerie!

My intention was to combine two adventures from Goodman Games' Chained Coffin for Dungeon Crawl Classics however, about three minutes in the PCs threw me a curve ball. They were hired to take the corpse of the son of a powerful member of the local Syndicate to a pool in the middle of the Nightwing Forest to resurrect him. Tancred Locke, however, was a real bastard and the PC's decided they didn't want to help him come back. Luckily, I had a bit of side stuff planned, including a meeting with an anthropomorphic raccoon with bifocals named Theodocious Took, who ended up becoming a forest spirit who could take over the body of any creature that ate his current body or who put on his bifocals. 

A good deal of the adventure, initially, was Theo promising them a place to live while the PCs discovered creatures whom Theo had grifted. We had a small combat that went well and the spellcasting system performed even better than I expected. Since this was a one-shot, the group's Witch ended up using various Forest animals as agents, spies, and assassins to eliminate and take over the Locke Syndicate. It got kind of absurd but the end, but we were all laughing a lot so I consider it a win.

Because our group is so heavily invested in 5E, I have trouble justifying an older version of DnD or its clones because at the end of the day they are all very similar in what they do. While I don't know that I could this group to switch to it over 5E long term, it is a game that I hope to use with some newer players in the future. 

I really like the blend of old school and new school that Shadowdark RPG offers and I look forward to the Kickstarter for it coming in March of 2023.

If you like any of the system choices I cites above I think you will love this game. If you appreciate streamlined designs and don't have a set favorite DnD-Adjacent game I think this game is for you. While I prefer ShadowDark over say B/X DnD, Old School Essentials, or Hyperborea 3E and I do think you could find things to add one of those game, I don't know for sure that you will find it that useful, but since the QuickStart is free and the Cursed Scroll 1 offers a great dungeon you can't really go wrong picking both up.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Now on Sale: Folk Lore Additional Races for the Shadow Dark RPG on DriveThruRPG

I've really been taken with the OSR-Adjacent Shadowdark RPG from The Arcane Library and I've launched a new product to support it: Folk Lore: Additional Races for the Shadowdark RPG. It's a slim volume that adds Aasimar, Dragonborn, Ducks, Genasi, Tieflings, and Warforged Ur-Forged. Its only 7 pages and it cost .99¢ 

If you can spare a few sheckles please check it out.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

ShadowDark: Manacaonda Race & Manaconda Shaman


Manaconda for the ShadowDark RPG
The subjects of the Nagarajah are always guarded and weary. Many cultures view serpents and the snake folk with fear and suspicion. They are lithe, but powerful with scales colored white, red, brown, yellow, or green in myriad patterns.

You know the Common and Primordial languages.

Serpentine. You get a +2 bonus to grapple a creature. You can climb at your full movement. 

Manaconda Shaman for ShadowDark RPG

Shamans are the sacred guardians of temples devoted to Mother Naga.

AC 12 (leather), HD 2 (9), ATK 1 spear +1 (1d6), MV near, S +1, D +1, C +0, I +0, W +2, Ch +0, AL C

Shaman. Know the blind/deafen (DC 11), cleansing weapon (DC12), shield of faith (DC 12) and silence (DC 12) spells. They cast spells using WIS.

Slighter. Climb at their full movement.

Strangle. Has a +2 bonus to grapple a creature.

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Thundarr the Movie

As a life-long comics fan and a retailer with a quarter century of experience, I was today years old when I discovered that Buzz Dixon and ...