Wonders of the Wyld in Dead Tree Format

You can now get 10+ Treasures: Wonders of the Wyld, our currently latest volume of magic items for Dungeon World, in print (if you already purchased the pdf, check your mail for some discounts). You can also get all three 10+ Treasures volumes in print format at a discount.

Unlike the previous two 10+ Treasures volumes, this one follows a theme: the forest, its denizens, and the fae. We think that will make it a more useful resource, whether you are running a thematically similar campaign, an adventure features those elements, or just want a more consistent sampling of items.

There's a staff that infects people you strike with fungus, which can gradually kill them (and you if you aren't careful). If it does, then they reanimate as fungus zombies that you get to boss around. There's a night-powered "moon-saber" that becomes progressively more powerful as the moon becomes full. There are fungus spores that you can sprinkle on a corpse, causing it to sprout mushrooms that if you eat allow you to experience the deceased's memories.

All told there are nearly 40 magic items, which is a step up from the previous two volumes, but in addition to an increase in quantity we've also increased the quality with a few simple tweaks to the layout. Here's a side-by-side comparison (the one on the left is from the second volume):


Product Milestones
A couple of our products hit some really awesome milestones over on Drivethru RPG this month: The Spider is now a Best Copper Seller, while The Witch has made it to Best Silver Seller.

Our thanks go out to everyone that's supported us over the past year and a halfish, including those that have given us awesome feedback and criticism: you've both helped us do better, and even set a better standard.

Next month (ie, tomorrow) we've got a few sales we're going to run for that whole Valentine's Day thing.

A Sundered World: Kobold Art & Some Other Stuff

So Melissa just finished coloring the kobold, which means that it's time for me to get back to drawing. I'm going to do the tarchon next, because one of the players in our current Sundered World campaign—play report is nearly done—is playing one and I haven't really decided what they're going to look like.


Quick question: which coloring style do you prefer? Flat colors (as seen above), the water-color look of the cambion and deva, or maybe something in betwee? We're going to offer the book in four different styles (depending on whether you want the pages and/or art in black of white or color), but I doubt I'm going to convince Melissa to color all of it two or more different ways.

Product Milestones
A couple of our products hit some really awesome milestones over on Drivethru RPG this month: The Spider is now a Best Copper Seller, while The Witch has made it to Best Silver Seller.

Our thanks go out to everyone that's supported us over the past year and a halfish, including those that have given us awesome feedback and criticism: you've both helped us do better, and even set a better standard.

Next month (ie, tomorrow) we've got a few sales we're going to run for that whole Valentine's Day thing.

A Response to a Response to 5 Problems With "Magic" in D&D

Since someone took the time to make a post responding to my article 5 Problems With "Magic" in Dungeons & Dragons, I figure I should make my own response post (because if I just leave a comment I'm likely to forget about it in case they want to keep the dialogue rolling).

Here we go:

"I should start by saying that while D&D magic may have started out influenced by Jack Vance's work, it has become something completely separate that stands on its own.  It is... D&D magic."

However it might have been influenced by The Dying Earth before the actual release of Dungeons & Dragons, I'd say that the end result has always just been D&D "magic".

Bizarre, lazy, nonsense D&D magic.

I think it would have worked out much, much better if Gary had just used Vancian magic. This is not to say that he should have only used it: there are plenty of other magic systems out there that are not Vancian and still make sense. You could have removed levels, had spells take x turns to re-prep, it would've avoided the 15-minute adventuring day, and ideally there would have been less reliance on magical healing to get by.

"As such, unlike the poster in the article linked above, I see a direct correlation between the game mechanic and the in-game explanation of how magic works."

That's the crux of my problem: there is no in-game explanation. I've asked proponents of pseudo-Vancian magic to come up with one, and they never do (when they even bother to try: plenty just parrot "it's magic, doesn't need to make sense").

You can cast some spells whenever you want without any problem (and all wizards start with the same amount, and learn more at the same rate), you can cast some spells whenever you want with enough time (only certain spells, for some reason), and other spells can only be cast x times per day using whatever the hell a spell slot is.

Is it magical energy? Then how come you can't use a bunch of lower level slots to cast a higher level spell? How come, when you use a higher level slot to cast a lower level spell, that it only sometimes gives it any extra punch and/or there isn't any energy left over?

Is it "mind space"? Well, then how come I can't just opt to not bother with lower level slots once I get to a higher level, and instead use that space for higher-level slots?

Then there's mention in the Player's Handbook of magic being wild, enigmatic, and both mentally and physically taxing, but there's nothing in the rules that supports any of that. It, like most of 5th Edition, comes across as very half-assed.

"In fact, the wizard's only true power is in knowing how to lock a spell's inherent magical energy into his or her mind, so that it can be unlocked later."

Note that in 5th Edition you don't to memorize/prepare a specific number of spells. You I guess "ready" a number of spells (the spell's level doesn't matter), and spend spell slots to cast them. So, instead of memorizing/preparing 2 magic missile spells, you just ready it, and each time you cast it you use up a 1st-level spell slot.

Going with previous editions, then why can't you use your "mind space" to just hold onto larger spells? Why do you have to stick with the lower level stuff? Why does a 1st-level spell completely occupy the "mind space" of a 9th-level spell slot?

"Now, granted, in the game a wizard has no idea of a spell's level.  Not in the sense of the game mechanic, at least."

Why not? A wizard player should be able to tell people that she can only cast x combination of y spells in a given day. She should also know that by using a higher level spell slot, the spell will (sometimes) have an increased effect.

"Certainly they would have a hierarchy and know that some spells are easier to "memorize" than others, and they would probably have some idea of their own capabilities and how they relate to that hierarchy."

In 2nd and 3rd Edition yes, in 5th Edition no: wizards ready a number of spells without any regard to their level.

On the note of lapsed editions, I would have to ask why a wizard cannot memorize/prepare, say, another 3rd-level spell instead of any 1st- and 2nd-level spells. And, again, if I use a 9th-level slot to memorize/prepare a 1st-level spell, why isn't there any, I dunno, "mind space" and/or magic energy left over?

"Cantrips, then, are the minor magics taught to apprentice wizards which teach the fundamentals of capturing a spells energy in one's mind.  They themselves require very little arcane energy to be locked into the wizard's mind."

Again, in 5th Edition you don't memorize or prepare individual spells based on your number of slots: you ready a number based on your Intelligence mod and wizard level, then use spell slots to cast them.

Personally I look at cantrips as more akin to rotes from The Dresden Files, though it still doesn't make any sense that a wizard can only ever learn a set number, and that all wizards know the exact same amount. I could see a wizard wanting to learn more, or less, in exchange for more or less spell slots.

"Divine magic, well, honestly I'm with the linked article's poster: I think divine magic should not use the same mechanical system and should be a bit more fickle based upon the cleric's patron at the time of the casting.  I'm not real happy with the cleric kneeling down with a holy symbol every morning and praying for the god to grant spells.  Seems like a... magic drive-thru to me:"

Precisely. I think that people seeing clerics channeling power from their gods should be viewed as more miraculous, and less...predictable and expected. It should be at least somewhat unreliable. A cleric shouldn't have absolute knowledge of how and how often their god will respond to their whims.

But, nope. We get the same lazy, nonsense system that we've always had. Coming up with something fresh and explainable would have taken time and involved actual game design. Why should WotC go through all that trouble when they know people will just buy the same game all over again?
January 30, 2015
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World Update & Product Milestones

Melissa just finished coloring the deva, so here's a before-and-after comparison.


Let us know what you think about the colors (as well as the cthon and cambion, if you have any problems with those).

The final book will be available in four different options, allowing you to choose whether you want your pages and/or art in black and white or color. You'll have to choose which one you want printed, but you'll get all four options as pdfs when you buy either the pdf or book. 

The kobold was completed a few days ago, so that's what she's going to do next.

Product Milestones
A couple of our products hit some really awesome milestones over on Drivethru RPG: The Spider is now a Best Copper Seller, while The Witch has made it to Best Silver Seller.

Our thanks go out to everyone that's supported us over the past year and a halfish, including those that have given us awesome feedback and criticism: you've both helped us do better, and even set a better standard.

A Sundered World: Deva

This week we get to see the B&W art for the deva race section in A Sundered World.


Here we got a deva shaman, with her angelic-looking spirit, and a big-ass stone club, floating before the rotting face of a dead god.

I know I said I was going to do dwarves next, but Melissa is rolling up a kobold pirate for our upcoming A Sundered World campaign, so I figured I'd do those next.
January 26, 2015
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Cambions in Color

About a week ago I posted some art for the cambion race section from A Sundered World.

Whelp, Melissa finished coloring it today:


Whaddya think? I hadn't originally planned on doing A Sundered World in color (or frankly doing any of the art myself), but she likes coloring my art, so if this is something people would want available, I can always offer the book in both B&W and color.

As a quick aside, I know that last time I said that dwarf was next, but since I'm going alphabetically that means that devas are actually next. So, expect the B&W piece sometime this week.
January 25, 2015
Posted by David Guyll

Cthulhu Wars: Playing the Yellow Sign

The Yellow Sign is a...different faction, and not just because they have two Great Old Ones and a few "do this, then do something else" spellbooks.

When we started learning and playing the game I handled it just like I did the Black Goat: I sent out a pair of Cultists to build some Gates in adjacent zones, and then on the second round I Awakened my Great Old One and started Summoning monsters to defend myself.

This was a huge mistake that cost me the game, as by the time I amassed a horde of Undead and started moving about trying to Desecrate zones in order to get spellbooks, Melissa had already build up a formidable force of Shoggoths and Star Spawn.

This, along with Cthulhu's Submerge spell, allowed her to drop in on my starting zone and utterly decimate everything. I think at the time I was rolling a grand total of 4-5 dice, since the King in Yellow has no Combat and you need pretty much all of your Undead out to make them worth anything.

The second time, rather than just wing it and learn as I played, I took the time to read the faction sheet and spellbooks. Once I saw how the abilities and units worked and interacted, I developed a new strategy that differed greatly from what I was use to, and in the end I was much more successful.

So, to help others avoid making the same mistakes, here're my thoughts and strategies for the Yellow Sign. Note this is only applicable to the Core Game: we haven't used any other expansions, yet.

Minions, Monsters, and Masters
Unlike other factions, you've only got two monsters to choose from, but you also get to tour about the world with two Great Old Ones.

Cultist
There's nothing special about these guys (unlike, say, Black Goat cultists with the Frenzy spellbook), but if you have the Passion spellbook you gain 1 Power whenever you lose one.

It's basically paying you back for the cost of having to Recruit another Cultist later (though you could get one back for free with a Desecrate attempt), but it's still better than nothing.

Byakhee
These are your heavy hitters, which honestly isn't saying much. Their Combat is one higher than the number of Byakhee in a zone, meaning that worst case they're on par with most other monsters, and best case still puts them behind, say, a trio of Dark Young (though they could still soak up one more Kill/Pain result).

Another nice thing about them, besides getting them for free with a Desecrate attempt, is that with the spellbook Shriek of the Byakhee you can move any of them to a zone of your choice for just 1 Power.

Undead
The only other monster you can Summon, but you probably won't bother since you can get them via Desecrate attempts. In contrast to the Byakhee their Combat is one less than the total number of Undead in a zone. This means that if there's only one, you don't get to roll any dice at all, and even with six you're still just rolling 5.

The upside is that it's easy to get them for free, they're always useful for absorbing Kill and Pain results, and you need them for Zingaya.

The King in Yellow
The first Great Old One you can Awaken. He has no Combat, but he's required to Awaken Hastur and can Desecrate zones. Desecrate nets you a free monster or Cultist whether you succeed or fail, has the potential to garner you extra Power, and is necessary for three of your spellbooks (of which you need all six to win).

You can summon him in any area without a gate, which works out great because unlike other factions you don't really want to waste time building them yourself anyway (or, at least not too many). At a paltry cost of 4 Power he's also Cthulhu's Second Coming cheap.

Hastur
Your other Great Old One has a Combat equal to the current Ritual of Annihilation cost, which means that if no one has bothered to advance it then his Combat will be a pretty meager 5. I guess he at least comes with a Combat value.

At any rate his main perk is that when he fights he gets to choose where Pain and Kill results go, meaning that you can opt to, say, immediately kill an opposing Great Old One.

Spellbooks
Two spellbooks require you to Awaken your Great Old Ones, three require you to Desecrate certain zones (there's a special symbol), and for the last you just have to give another faction three Doom Points (so, if you're allied or controlling another faction, just give it to that one).

He Who is Not to be Named (Action: Cost 1)
For 1 Power, move Hastur to any zone that has a Cultist from any faction, and then take another Action, like Battle, Capture, or Shriek of the Byakhee (in case you want to prepare for a Battle). Note that the action doesn't have to involve Hastur in anyway, you just can't use it in conjunction with The Screaming Dead (and vice versa).

Passion (Ongoing)
Each time a Cultist gets eliminated in the Action phase of the game, you get 1 Power right away. It won't stop other factions from gobbling up your Cultists, but at least you'll get something for it. Plus, you can replace them for free with Desecrate.

Shriek of the Byakhee (Action: Cost 1)
Move any number of Byakhee to one zone. This is great for reinforcing an area (say, after Cthulhu drops in after using Submerge), or swooping in to pick off a Cultist. It should be snagged early on, typically your third or fourth.

The Screaming Dead (Action: Cost 1)
You can move the King in Yellow and any Undead in his zone, just for the cost of 1 Power. Even better, you can take another action when you're done, allowing you to Battle, Capture a Cultist (which you can do even if there is a monster in the zone, since the King in Yellow is a Great Old One), Zingaya (see below), or even Desecrate the zone.

The Third Eye (Ongoing)
Desecration now only costs you 1 Power, and if you succeed you also get an Elder Sign. The only requirement is that Hastur has to be Awakened.

Zingaya (Action: Cost 1)
If you have Undead in a zone with an enemy Cultist, then you turn one of them into an Undead. This makes it a great combo for The Screaming Dead: spend 1 Power to move the King in Yellow and all of your undead into a zone, then spend another to use this.


Strategies
At the start of the game your best opening is to move a Cultist into Scandinavia, North Asia, or Arabia, and then on your next action Awaken the King in Yellow (because he cannot be Awakened in an area that already has a Gate). This nets you a spellbook, and I recommend taking The Screaming Dead so that your Undead can follow the King in Yellow about for free.

Once you Awaken him, just move back to your starting zone and use Desecrate. Since you'll have six units there the attempt automatically succeeds, so you get to put down a Desecration token (+1 Power is there is at least one unit there when you Gather Power), drop a Byakhee or Undead for free, and you get another spellbook. This time I recommend Shriek of the Byakhee, or maybe Zingaya if there're some lone enemy Cultists scattered about.

Yes, you could build gates, but you want to get the King in Yellow out and about, Desecrating zones for spellbooks, free units, and even a power boost before the other factions spread out too much. You'll probably be 1-3 Power behind for the first round, but on the next few rounds you'll close the gap as you continue Desecrating zones. It's even possible that you'll come across a lone enemy Cultist, which with The Screaming Dead will be easy to Capture (or transform into an Undead if you have Zingaya).

I do not recommend sending the King in Yellow after the Black Goat or Crawling Chaos's cultists, because his Combat is 0. Yes, you could try capturing a Cultist--because Great Old Ones can capture a Cultist even if there's a monster in the zone--but if the enemy Summons a monster--or has a spellbook that lets other monsters jump in for free, like Crawling Chaos's Seek and Destroy--then there's a risk-free chance that they can take him out.

If you do feel like capturing Cultists, beware of the Black Goat, because their Fertility Cult trait allows them to Summon multiple monsters at once.

Anywho, on later rounds you're going to want to do what I call "the pilgrimage": just march the King in Yellow about (aiming for zones bearing symbols that will net you more spellbooks), using The Screaming Dead so that you only have to pay 1 Power to move your Undead retinue with you (though you'll want to leave some monsters behind, like Byakhees, to get the Power bonus).

You can do this to snap up a nearby enemy Cultist, use Zingaya to change an enemy cultist into an undead, or even just Desecrate a zone (leaving Byakhee or Undead in your wake).

Sometime around the third or forth round you should summon Hastur, namely when it means that you'll have The Third Eye and (ideally) He Who is Not to be Named spellbooks. Third Eye is likely going to be necessary to help you keep pace in the Doom point race, since without many gates you'll be lagging behind. Keep in mind that you don't need the most Doom points to win, just more than any other factions packing all six of their spellbooks.

Speaking of having all six spellbooks, an excellent tactic/nasty combo once you've got all of yours is to use He Who is Not to be Named to move Hastur somewhere, Shriek of the Byakhee to drop in support for him (more Combat dice and some cheap Kill sponges), and then Battle (which becomes Unlimited at six spellbooks). This is useful for killing other Great Old Ones, but can also be useful for taking out a Gate or weak outpost.

Finally, don't forget about the Ritual of Annihilation: you get double the Doom points and some Elder Sign tokens each time you participate, but it also boosts Hastur's Combat. Definitely do this if you have a surplus of Power and/or you end up squatting on a bunch of Gates.

Expedition to Castle Ravenloft: Rocks Fall...


Cast
  • Felicia (level 6 human thief)
  • Gamamyr (level 6 elf wizard)
  • Kyr (level 6 living star)
  • Locum (level 6 slayer)
  • Mim (level 6 witch w/ familiar)

Summary
Gamamyr poked his head through the door that the woman had retreated through. The room was spacious, unexpectedly clean, and illuminated by a crackling hearth.

A pair of large, comfortable red chairs squatted before the hearth, and an enormous painting of a woman hung above it, easily twice their height. A long red couch was positioned against the far wall, between two doors, and there was a third door in the left wall.

Three doors, and no sign of the woman. Not wanting to split up to increase both the odds of finding her and—more likely—getting picked off, they examined the room for any clues as to which way she might have gone. Locum noticed two things. The first were the streaks on just one of the surfaces inside the hearth, suggesting a hidden passage.

The second, more pressing observation was that none of the shadows in the room moved. He quietly muttered this to the rest of the party, and explained that they would need to expose whatever was lurking about the room in light to make it vulnerable. Kyr started to glow; his light pushed the darkness away, revealing several inky "pools" on the floor. They hissed at him, and began slithering forth.

Mim held the silver holy symbol above her head and began praying. Nothing happened until Locum procured an appropriate holy symbol from his bag and followed suit: the silver raven flared to life, bathing the room in a silvery light that forced the shadow pools back.

Gamamyr noticed another shadow behind the door. It differed from the rest in that it was much, much larger, had a vaguely humanoid shape, and was wielding a very solid-looking black sword. Mim's holy symbol seemed to also be keeping it at bay, but rather than take any chances he sealed it in a prison of force.

Felicia and Kyr went about dispatching the shadow pools, but this broke the symbol's protective power, allowing them to strike back. Though Gamamyr couldn't use his magic he could still bash them with the silver raven statue, but when he went to club one it suddenly lunged at him. He recoiled, tripping over a table and tumbling to the ground behind one of the chairs. This blocked his line of sight to the shadow he had contained, which caused the prison to dissipate.

It stabbed Mim in the shoulder. She screamed and dropped the symbol, and the room was engulfed in darkness. Locum dropped to his knees and desperately searched about for the holy symbol, but accidentally struck it with his hand and knocked it away.

Gamamyr briefly entertained the idea of hurling a fireball where he believed the sword-wielding shadow to be, but wasn't sure if he'd hit Mim. He instead touched a chair, instilling it with magic. It began to glow, but the light wasn't much, and he could tell that it was rapidly dwindling: the shadows were somehow siphoning his magic away.

Even so it was enough for Kyr to see it, and as it again stabbed at Mim he crashed into it, pummeling it with his fists. He could tell he was hurting it, but it was much stronger and tougher than the pools. It raised its sword, but before it could strike Locum began relentlessly hammering it...with a burning painting.

Yep, a burning painting.

At some point he had torn the canvas from the painting free, doused it in wine, lit it on fire, and was now wielding it against the shadow. Their combined light and fire caused it to, well, evaporate was the only word they could use to describe it, and with no more immediately recognizable threats they investigated the room.

They found a box brimming with silver and gold pieces above the fireplace, nearly a hundred coins in the couch cushions, and an unopened bottle of wine. Once they gathered everything up into the ghost bag, Locum pointed out the secret passage in the hearth. Mim asked if the treasure they sought was behind the fireplace, and her bones came up yes.

They extinguished the fire, discovered that it opened by pulling on one of the fire pokers, and crawled through. The room beyond was cramped, and contained a chest, several gold coins scattered about, and an armored skeleton clutching an unlit torch was slumped against one of the walls. The wall bore two torch sconces, one of which was empty.

Felicia inspected the chest and discovered that it was in fact a trap. This was honestly only surprising insofar as it was the first trap that they'd found since they'd intruded into the castle. It was set into the floor, and when opened would release poisonous gas. In hopes that there was something inside, she pried one of the panels off and disarmed it, but was disappointed to find it empty.

The wall behind the chest concealed another hidden passage, which Felicia opened by simply placing the torch into the empty sconce. A portion of the wall slid away to reveal a cobweb-choked hall. Kyr burned them away, and at the end of the hall they found a set of double doors. They groaned loudly when opened, and lead to a second passage that was similarly clogged with thick webbing.

Kyr again torched them, but when they got to the end they only found a rope that extended high above them, out of sight. Suspecting another hidden passage, or at least a lengthy climb, they carefully inspected the walls. While examining one of the sections Gamamyr heard magical energies chiming from beyond.

They discovered a crack, and when Kyr peered through could see something glinting. They could find no buttons, levers or even any seams, which made sense since Strahd could simply turn into mist whenever he needed to. So, they went to work tearing the wall down.

To say their labor was well rewarded would be an understatement. In fact, calling it an understatement was itself an understatement: tens of thousands of coins made of silver, gold, and even platinum were heaped in the center, along with gems, small statues and idols, and weapons. This was in turn surrounded by numerous paintings in ornate frames, larger exotic statues of various types of stone, hanging tapestries, urns, racks of weapons, mounted shields, and suits of armor.

While everyone was understandably transfixed, Gamamyr looked past all of it to see a black book resting upon a table. It called to him, literally, because of the magic it radiated.

Strahd's book.

He thumbed through the pages, and though he didn't completely comprehend the contents was able to ascertain their general meaning: methods to create all manner of undead, storing and consuming souls, increased longevity, possibly immortality, creation of potent, deadly magical devices, and more. So, so much more.

Felicia snatched his ghost bag and, along with Locum, began piling treasure inside. When they were about halfway done a bright light shone from within the heap of coins. It was a massive diamond, larger than both of his fists combined. It was heavy, so multifaceted that it was almost like a sphere, and shone as brightly as the midday sun. Outside of Barovia, of course.

He presumed that it was somehow linked to the Sunsword, but when he couldn't figure out what to do called to Gamamyr for assistance. Shaken from his reverie, Gamamyr turned about...and saw someone standing at the vault's "entrance".

Strahd.

He looked at each of them before calmly asking who had destroyed his painting. Locum had barely begun speaking his admission when Strahd mentally commanded Gamamyr to seal Kyr in a magical prison. With Kyr and Gamamyr taken out of the fight, his hands transformed into terrible claws and he charged at Locum.

Locum easily evaded his attacks, and after they'd ransacked part of the chamber Mim held out a poppet. It had some of Ireena's hair affixed to it, and she told Strahd that if he did not allow them to leave with everything they had, she would stab it and kill her. He stood there, obviously considering her words and a variety of other factors, before flatly agreed and left.

Moments later the castle began to rumble. At first they were uncertain as to what was happening, but then the ground began to buckle, stones fell from the ceiling, the statues and armor that Felicia hadn't stuffed into the ghost bag toppled over, and the floor began to sink and collapse into the ground level. He was going to try and bury them in the castle.

They quickly retraced their steps to the ramparts and, well, descended to the ground in their own way: Kyr and Mim tried using flight, but the falling stones and tumultuous terrain prevented even them from escaping unscathed.

Exhausted and battered, they limped back to the village. Their horses were gone—after all they were not part of Mim's bargain—but while the trek was long it was at least uneventful. They arrived at the village to find it completely abandoned. Doors were torn from the hinges, corpses of animals and livestock littered the streets, but there were no human remains. Food was left on some tables, but that was it.

Everyone was gone.

Behind the Scenes
The living star is going to get several tweaks, the major one being the reduction of radiance to a flat 10. So, if you own it check for that email in the next few days.

Technically there're two more sessions, but both were very short so I'm just going to mash them into one. Not sure when the finale will be up, but I will say that someone dies.

We talked about what we want to do next, and last session (which will be covered in the following play report) it was decided to do a full on, for real Sundered World campaign. It'll be nice to return to the setting for something besides one-shots and playtests.

On that note, Melissa is working on the cambion art. We've only got one Wacom tablet between us, so we just take turns using it. Once she's done I'll be busy cranking out the deva, as well as more art for A Really Simple Dungeon Crawl. We're also working on a cultist and oni playbook, as well as a fourth 10+ Treasures volume.

So, business as usual for us.

Image Dump







Cthulhu Wars Review


After waiting just over a year longer than advertised, I finally got part of my backer reward from the Cthulhu Wars Kickstarter (just the core game: still waiting on the extras/expansions/exclusive content).

So, was the wait worth it?

For me, yes, and for several reasons.

First, as anyone that reads this blog knows I'm a huge fan of Lovecraftian horror: I have several volumes of Lovecraft's stories (both in dead tree and pdf format), ran a 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign based around it (woulda run more, but one of the players started having nightmares about it), often include stars cults in my games and materials, and featured several thematic items in one of my books.

Board game-wise I own Arkham Horror plus a couple expansions, and almost everything from the Mansions of Madness line, but I'm honestly only really a fan of them in concept, especially the latter: unfortunately the setup time, complexity, and—particularly in the case of the latter—the staggering difficulty largely relegate them to our bookshelf.

Cthulhu Wars bucks this trend by not only having an incredibly simple setup time, and being very easy to learn and quick to play (after a few games Melissa is no longer asking questions at all), but it also flips the concept around: instead of playing fragile, mortal investigators that get driven insane and/or devoured by monsters, you are monsters, and an entire cult's worth at that.

Phenomenal cosmic power (in various states of paintage), or itty-bitty investigator?
So the game is easy to learn, setup, and actually play. All great benchmarks for any game, but there's something else that I like about it. See, one of my upcoming setting books takes place on a world orbited by the charred corpses of beings at least thematically similar to great old ones, and after our Ravenloft game wraps up the players want to go through an actual Sundered World campaign (which has corpse stars).

What does Cthulhu Wars have to do with any of this, you ask? The minis: they're not only mostly awesome, but perfectly scaled for tabletop use. Honestly even if I hated the game in actual play (which I don't), I still wouldn't feel like I wasted any money just for this reason.

And on that note the game is somewhat surprisingly (for me and my group) fun, mostly because we're not into wargames, which means I'm not sure if it's similar to other wargames out there.

I've never played Risk, and I've played Axis & Allies once but don't remember it. Besides Warhammer 40,000 the only other wargame I've played more than a couple times is Conquest of Nerath; this game is much, much simpler, you only use six-siders, and I think there is some actual diversity faction-wise (I might be mis-remembering, but from what I recall the units did the same thing, just had different names and models).

So...yeah, I can't make a recommendation by comparing it to another wargames out there. We'll be doing a boardgame hangout next week, so if you wanna get in on that or just watch and see how it plays, feel free to jump in (hit me up on G+). Otherwise if you like fantasy games, or any game with Lovecraftian horrors, if nothing else the box will give you plenty of quality minis to play with.

What's In The Box
The Core Game comes with four factions (and there are expansions aplenty on the way): Crawling Chaos, Great Cthulhu, Black Goat, and Yellow Sign. There's a faction sheet (for tracking power, ongoing benefits for your faction, showing the costs for summoning monsters and awakening old ones, and recording what spellbooks you have/how to get them), awesome minis, and six spellbooks for each.

There's also a crapload of standard six-siders (though you can get special ones with symbols), gate tokens (still waiting on my gate marker minis), desecration tokens (for the Yellow Sign), a Doom Point tracker, Doom Point markers for each faction, several Ritual of Annihilation trackers (depending on how many people are playing), and two double-sided boards that depict the world (which sides you use depends on how many people are playing).

As I said above the miniatures are mostly awesome. I'm sure some people might complain about how certain monsters are depicted, but my main criticism—aside from the sculpt quality of a few—is that since I like painting my minis (check the image dump below) I wish they had come un-assembled; some of them (namely the fungus of Yuggoth and byakhee) will be all but impossible to complete without chopping them apart.

Bringing About the Apocalypse
Setup is a breeze: you gather the minis and spellbooks by the corresponding faction sheet, put a gate and six cultists in each starting location, lay out the Doom Point and Ritual of Annihilation trackers, and you're ready to go.

At the start of each turn, every player gathers power. You get 1 point per cultist you have in play, 1 per uncontrolled gate on the map, and 2 per gate that you control. You can also gain bonus power if you manage to capture enemy cultists. Some factions can gain power through other means: Great Cthulhu has an option to gain 1 power for each enemy controlled gate in an ocean zone, and the Yellow Sign gains 1 power for each zone that both has one of their units and a desecration token.

Once you've got your power all figured out, each player takes turns spending it to perform one or more actions until they run out of power, at which point the round ends and you start over.

Most actions are Common, which means that you can only do one of them before your turn ends. This is stuff like Recruiting a Cultist (which you can only do if you have fewer than six), Move (you can move multiple units by spending more than 1 power, but only one zone per turn), Summon a Monster, Awaken your Great Old One, use some faction spellbooks, and so on.

A couple actions are Unlimited, which means you can do them in addition to taking a Common action. By default the only Unlimited action is Control/Abandon Gate (so you don't have to spend an entire turn leaving or hopping on a gate), but once you have all six spellbooks Battle also becomes Unlimited, so you can move all of your units into a zone and get straight to fighting.

Speaking of fighting, this is also incredibly simple: each unit has a Combat Value, so both players add them all up and roll that many six-siders. Each 6 is a Kill, and each 4-5 is a Pain. For each Kill you inflict the opposing has to remove one of their units, and for each Pain they have to move a unit one zone away, into a zone that doesn't have units from the faction that forced them to flee (if you are completely surrounded, then you lose one more unit and you don't move at all).

Now, there are some things that can make combat a bit more complicated, namely pre- and post-battle effects.

Pre-battle effects are triggered before the dice are rolled, like Cthulhu's Devour ability, and if you have the Invisibility spellbook then your flying polyps can exempt a unit from the fight (great for keeping your cultists safe, or preventing a potent enemy unit from participating). Post-battle effects happen once the dice settle, like the Black Goat's Necrophagy spellbook.

Keep in mind the point of the game isn't to crush the other factions (though it certainly helps): the goal is to have the most Doom Points and/or all six of your spellbooks, either when someone hits the 30 mark on the Doom Point tracker, or when the Ritual of Annihilation is advanced to Instant Death.

You get one Doom Point for each gate you control when the round starts, and can get more by snagging Elder Sign tokens or by advancing the Ritual of Annihilation. You have to choose whether to advanced the Ritual at the start of the round, after you've gathered power, so depending on when you do it, it can eat up a significant chunk of your power for a turn (and it gets progressively more expensive each time anyone does so).

The upside is that you both get double the amount of Doom Points you get from gates and some Elder Sign tokens.

Elder Sign tokens are worth 1-3 Doom Points, but you don't have to reveal or even play them right away. In fact you can keep them hidden from the other players, and cash them in at the end of the game when Doom Points are being tallied (great for fucking over a player that thought they were winning). Each faction has their own way of getting Elder Sign tokens besides the Ritual: Great Cthulhu gets one each time they Awaken Cthulhu, and with the right spellbook the Black Goat can sacrifice a cultist before gathering power to get one.

That's something else that I love about this game: each faction plays very differently. We've played the game several times, usually with all factions at the table (we didn't know you were supposed to at first), and it's been an interesting learning experience for us.

For example the Black Goat can summon more than one monster per action, you just gotta pay the total power. This means that you can drop a trio of dark young out on one action, and quickly start spreading out. This is something you want to do, since three of the Black Goat spellbooks require you to occupy a certain number of zones at a time, and one of them requires that you share spaces with each other faction at some point.

On the other hand, the Yellow Sign works best when you move a cultist out, Awaken the King in Yellow right away, and start slowly making your way around the board desecrating zones. Not only do you get free units doing this, but you also get extra power if you have units in desecrated zones when you gather power. Finally, three of your spellbooks are acquired by desecrating zones with certain symbols.

And that's just scratching the surface: each faction has something unique that they get (Crawling Chaos units move two zones instead of one), the Great Old Ones each have their own thing (like Cthulhu being stupidly cheap to Awaken once he is killed the first time, and the pre-combat auto-kill), and spellbooks have different requirements, obviously do different things, and can be gained in any order (which adds to the replay ability).

Image Dump








January 22, 2015
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Cambion Art

A week and a half ago I posted the first piece of art for A Sundered World, the section cover for the cthon race. At the time it was still a work in progress, though since then I've finished it (and Melissa has even colored it).

I had originally intended to do all the races alphabetically (followed by classes, locations, monster settings, etc), but for some reason I overlooked the cambions. I dunno, maybe I was still thinking of them as tieflings?

At any rate, here are a couple:


As with the cthon I wanted to showcase some variety. They're kind of like older-edition tieflings in that their appearance depends on the parent devil. From left to right, you've got a gluttonous nomad and a wrathful battlemind.

So, what does that mean? Well, currently when you roll up a cambion you choose a sin. There are currently four to choose from—gluttony, greed, lust, and wrath—with advanced moves for each, as well as one that's independent from your choice of sin, and another that nets you another sin. This adds several layer of flexibility, from the sin you start with to whether you decide to expand upon the moves it grants.

Anywho, next up are dwarves!
January 18, 2015
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeon World: The Psion

The Psion is now on sale over at Drivethrurpg!

(It's also been added to our "all of the playbooks" bundle.)

Conceptually it's very similar to the psion from 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, in that it focuses on telepathy and telekinesis, though I personally preferred the astral shaping powers. So, might have to do that later.

Where it differs is that you don't spend any power points (the moves either do what they do, or you roll+INT to see how it goes), and there are overall fewer options to choose from (which isn't surprising since Dungeons & Dragons sure does love it some spell lists).

The upside is that there's no nonsense per day limitation: you can either always try to use your moves, or in some cases (like Copycat and Telekinetic Flight) just always use 'em.

The class starts out being able to manipulate objects with a thought, pepper your enemies with mind bullets, communicate telepathically (and even poke about the minds of creatures that know something they don't want you to know), and hear the surface thoughts of nearby minds.

The advanced moves let you move larger objects more quickly and easily (and slam them into enemies), communicate with multiple creatures at once (and even allow them to communicate with each other), tear your enemies apart with a thought, dominate the minds of others, fly, steal memories, and even learn moves from other party members.

And, as with our other playbooks, it also comes with a digest-sized pdf that features some move explanations, new weapons, armor, gear, a few poisons and magic items, and five other advanced moves.

So what are you waiting for?


January 17, 2015
Posted by David Guyll

A Really Simple Dungeon Crawl: Art Preview

Here's a preview of some of the art I've been grinding away at for A Really Simple Dungeon Crawl (still thinking of a better, more concise name), in between drawing the cover for our upcoming Dungeon World class, interior art for A Sundered World (which Melissa is coloring), and yet more interior art for Fright Night.

I normally go with a Mignola look, but since this game is kind of aimed at kids I wanted to go for something different. During our last playtest we used minis from Super Dungeon Explore, which given the target audience seemed to fit.

The downside is that it means me learning a new art style (which in the long run is also an upside). Note that this isn't finished art. It's just where I'm at right now. I drew the top picture first, so means I'm going to have to change the hero to better match the second one (which I'm also much more satisfied with).


UPDATE: Here's where I am with the elf wizard.


January 12, 2015
Posted by David Guyll

Expedition to Castle Ravenloft: Wedding Crashers


Cast
  • Felicia (level 5 human thief)
  • Gamamyr (level 5 elf wizard)
  • Kyr (level 5 living star)
  • Locum (level 5 slayer)
  • Mim (level 5 witch w/ familiar)

Summary
With no other apparent way inside they opted for the path of—hopefully—least resistance, strolling across the drawbridge and through the open gate. The mist was somehow even thicker in the courtyard, so they kept to the cobblestone path, which conveniently lead them right to the front doors.

The doors towered above them, easily over three times their own height, and were reinforced with iron bands. They were flanked by a pair of guttering torches that provided only only meager light. Along the walls they could see darkened arrowslits evenly and strategically spread about. Knowing nothing of Strahd's defenses they carefully moved forward, wary of whatever might be stationed behind them.

Felicia examined the door for whatever traps it might possess, and when she determined it was safe Kyr opened them. The chamber just inside was squalid, unfurnished, and lit by another pair of torches, this time set in the mouths of two coiled stone serpents. They were situated directly across from the entrance, and together framed an archway that led to another room cloaked in darkness.

Locum suspected that there would surely be a trap in here, something along the vein of oil or perhaps flammable gas, but when Felicia again checked she still turned up nothing. Her skills were substantiated when Kyr—who volunteered due to a combination of being completely immune to fire and the most heavily armored—crossed the threshold and nothing happened.

The next room was much larger and more open, which was not necessarily an improvement. Statues of gargoyles squatted high above them, and there were several possible routes to choose from: a staircase wound up and out of sight, a hallway across the room extended into more darkness, and a large pair of bronze double doors stood before them. Mim consulted her bones, and with some slightly circuitous phrasing determined that the quickest path to Strahd's book was through the doors.

They opened into a long hallway that extended well beyond Kyr's light. The filth and cobwebs were at this point expected, the statues less so: they were innumerable and varied, both in appearance and condition, and lined both walls. By themselves they would have been ominous enough, but as they cautiously moved through the hallway it seemed as if they were watching them.

Once they ventured into the hall Felicia heard a faint scratching noise behind her, and spun about to see a pair of gargoyles skulking towards them. She shouted a warning and tried to skewer one, but her rapier glanced ineffectually off of its stony hide. Mim's hammer proved much more effective, demolishing one with a single blow, but the other managed to tear into Felicia before Gamamyr could enclose it in a magical cage.

Everyone circled around the cage, preparing to attack once Gamamyr dismissed it, but as soon as it vanished two more gargoyles fell upon him. In the chaos that ensued the one that was trapped tried to flee, but Kyr gave chase and hacked one of its wings off. It crashed back to the ground, where Felicia was able to finish it off with a dagger to the head. Locum hacked one of them off of Gamamyr, who managed to crawl away and again use his magic to imprison the other.

They destroyed the last gargoyle—thankfully without another "interruption"—and at the end of the hall found another set of double doors. These were made of wood and bore the crest of the Silver Raven, Barovia's patron deity. Locum had learned from the villagers that at one point Strahd might have belonged to the Order of the Silver Raven. Gamamyr confirmed this, and further elaborated that Strahd had been jealous of his brother's fiance and youth, so killed them both, and for this he was cursed.

Felicia wondered if he was trying to resurrect his brother's fiance, or turn her into a vampire. The mayor's missing daughter gave credence to their theory, and unfortunately she'd already been gone for several days, so there was no telling what Strahd had done with her.

The doors opened into a chapel. In addition to the signs of neglect they had grown to expect, there were shattered stained glass windows, pews flung about in disarray, and most interestingly a corpse. It was sprawled across a dais that lead to an alter, atop which stood a statue of a raven that looked to be made entirely of silver.

Locum could tell that it had been dead for a while, but not more than a month or so. It was wearing a suit of chainmail underneath black ropes, and a holy symbol around it's neck depicted a black skull holding a rod made of gleaming ruby in clenched teeth. One arm was extended towards the raven statue, which on closer inspection looked to have been damaged: the wings were a bit bent, and the face had been scratched up.

While everyone else busied themselves investigating, Kyr flew up to check out the balcony in case gargoyles or something else was lurking about. Not only was it something else, it was the very something that none of them wanted to bump into, especially alone: Strahd. His skin was pale, his hair long and black, and most of his features were concealed in a black and red cape. In contrast to the castle that he inhabited, he looked meticulously clean.

Strahd bowed, looked Kyr right in the eyes, and motioned for him to approach. Kyr did, though to his credit it was against his will. Strahd apologized for the delayed introduction and welcomed him to his castle. Kyr quickly realized that though he could talk, he could not speak more than a whisper: calling for help would not be an option. They spoke for a time, during which Kyr learned that Strahd had in fact been keeping tabs on them, and though he was surprised they had managed to avoid getting themselves killed, he was also glad.

Though already fairly certain of the answer, Kry nervously asked why. Strahd replied that he wanted to hunt them down himself, and that he was especially interested in Kyr due to his...unique origin. Strahd asked if Kyr bled, and when he nodded wondered aloud what it tasted like. After a brief-yet-somehow-still-too-long pause, he then asked Kyr if he had come to kill him.

Kyr only responded that it was one possibility. Strahd simply smiled, nodded, and turned to leave. As he reached the stairs Kyr offered to introduce him to the others, and without stopping Strahd told him that he would in time. Once Strahd left Kyr found himself able to move and speak normally again, and spared no time flying back to the rest of the party.

During Kyr's absence the rest of the party busied themselves investigating the alter and raven statue. To Gamamyr's senses nothing in the chapel was magical, and Locum could find no hidden compartments on the alter. All the same the raven statue looked valuable, but when Gamamyr tried to load it into his ghost bag it burst into flames. He extinguished it and checked to see if it was still working by successfully producing a bottle of wine.

Since the statue didn't hurt any of them when they touched it, they could only conclude that it was harmful to the undead. Of course they'd have to perform some "field testing" to be sure, ideally by dropping it on various "test subjects". Given its size and weight they decided to tie it to Gamamyr with some rope, who was carrying most of his possessions in a weightless bag.

Kyr returned once they had finished, and told them what transpired on the balcony. Everyone had assumed that they were being watched and hunted, but the ease with which Strahd was able to crush Kyr's mind was more than a bit disconcerting: they would just have to keep their guard up, and hope that if and when they encountered him that their numbers would be sufficient.

Mim continued to consult her runes at every crossroad to help guide them to Strahd's book, and after moving through a few rooms, ascending a very lengthy staircase, knocking over some inanimate skeletons, and pushing a throne to open a secret passage found their way into a narrow passage. The runes directed them up another circular staircase, which eventually brought them to the castle's ramparts.

They could see a few doors, but the height, rain, wind, and flashing lightning understandably caused them to hesitate: they couldn't see the ground, and they'd encountered gargoyles, which had the advantage of flight and were presumably the least of the perils that the castle had to offer. They argued about who should go first and whether Mim's divinations were accurate, until Gamamyr impatiently ventured forth and entered the first door he could find.

Candles dimly lit the room, allowing Gamamyr to see a long table that was covered in plates and silverware, which were in turn covered in dust. A large, tiered cake dominated the center, coated in a combination of white icing and green mold. A woman sat serenely at the far end, wearing a tattered wedding dress. Next to her stood a skeleton, wearing finery that had long been reduced to rags, and playing a haunting melody on a violin.

The women didn't react until the skeleton, seeing Gamamyr, leaned close and whispered something in her ear. She then stood wordlessly and exited the room. Gamamyr asked the skeleton if he would let them pass, but the skeleton said that he could not permit them to impede the master, and then began playing the violin.

Gamamyr, overcome with grief, grabbed his dagger and prepared to slit his wrists, but Locum came barging in and shoved the table into the skeleton. It dropped the violin as it fell to the ground, and when it tried to retrieve it Mim directed rain and wind into the room, hammering it against a wall. The impact shattered a few ribs and both of its legs, rendering it completely helpless, which was when Locum used the violin to cave in its skull.

Behind the Scenes
Nothing much to report besides the fact that I really don't like the isometric maps. I know that they were part of the original Ravenloft module (and maybe some other Ravenloft things), but like so many things from editions past (and frankly even current) I wish they would have ditched them in favor of something easier to navigate. At any rate I'm glad Melissa erased the map over the holidays, because I'm certain that I didn't lay out some of the rooms correctly.

Locum's silver kukri got upgraded a bit, and is now featured in 10+ Treasures: Wonders of the Wyld as Mani's Revelation (which you can see in either of the previews). If you liked 10+ Treasures or 10+ Treasures: Volume II, then be sure to pick this up (or get the bundle and save yourself some cash).

Finally, after talking with Adam we increased the the living star's damage die to a d8 (making it on par with the thief). Other potential tweaks on the table include being able to spend radiance to hover, and reducing the overall radiance to a static number (we're trying out 10 to see how it goes). If you've played the living star and have any comments or suggestions, let us know!

A Sundered World: Cthon Work-in-Progress

I originally started doing my own art as a way to add something to my products, without having to resort to Creative Commons art (which I fucking loathe). Initially I planned on building up something of an art budget so that I could pay a fancy-schmancy artist, but the more I actually put in time and effort, surprise surprise the better and faster I got.

People seem to really like my art. Whenever I post a new product the covers always get praised. For The Playbooks of the Dead I even whipped up two new pieces of art for the equipment and director's cut chapters, and I've been going back through If These Stones Could Scream to create more original art for that (including a new cover).

Now that the holidays are over and there're less projects on my plate (and others nearly off), I've started doing buckling down and just doing art for A Sundered World. Not concept art, but actual completed works to be included in the book. All told it needs around 40 pieces (minimum), and as of today there are nearly two done.

Progress!

The first I want to show you is where I am at with the cthon:


I wanted to showcase the diverse shapes and sizes that they can have, though these aren't by any means comprehensive. The starting racial move for the cthon is an elemental essence: you choose one that "powers" you, each of which has a different effect. Left to right their essences are water (which is why it's got an octopus face and plants growing on it), fire, and wind (which isn't completely connected, with small stones orbiting it).

Now Melissa thinks I can "do better", by which she means another, non-Mignola style entirely. So I'm going to work more on this one, then do another using the "other style" she has in mind, and see which people prefer.

EDIT: Here's the 99% finished piece! Coloring by Melissa.


January 07, 2015
Posted by David Guyll

10+ Treasures: Wonders of the Wyld

10+ Treasures: Wonders of the Wyld, our third magic item compilation for Dungeon World, is now on sale over on Drivethrurpg! There's also a bundle that lets you snag all three volumes at a reduced price (and if you own the first two, check your email for a discount coupon).

The first volume, 10+ Treasures, was largely a random collection of magic items without any particular theme, just whatever happened to pop in my head at the time.

It was so well-received that I wrote a second volume, which I predictably titled 10+ Treasures: Volume II. This one was similar to the first in that it included whatever I could think of at the time, though there were several items with a Lovecraftian "body-horror" element.

That one caught up to the first volume's sales in a fraction of the time, so I decided that a third one was in order. This time I wanted to go with a theme, something that you could consult for a particular type of adventure or campaign, namely the forest, its denizens, and the fae.

There's a staff that infects people you strike with fungus, which can gradually kill them (and you if you aren't careful). If it does, then they reanimate as fungus zombies that you get to boss around. There's a night-powered "moon-saber" that becomes progressively more powerful as the moon becomes full. There are fungus spores that you can sprinkle on a corpse, causing it to sprout mushrooms that if you eat allow you to experience the deceased's memories.

All told there are nearly 40 magic items, which is a step up from the previous two volumes, but in addition to an increase in quantity we've also increased the quality with a few simple tweaks to the layout. Here's a side-by-side comparison (the one on the left is from the second volume):


I used to just slap on a page background to try and spruce the pdf up a bit, but some people asked for no background to save on ink for home printing (or just personal preference). So to make things easier this time I've included three pdfs: one has no background at all, and the other two have either a black and white (the one above) or color background.

You don't have to choose: you get all three just by purchasing it.

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