There are two kinds of people…

5 03 2012

When you describe a book as letter-sized, 84 pages, and jammed with 9 point type describing a huge terrain occupied by squabbling humanoid tribes… Some people turn and run. To others, I hope, it sounds like something worth reading.

After almost two years of work, IN THE SHADOW OF MOUNT ROTTEN went on sale today.

Mt. Rotten cover

Get the PDF from RPGNow, at one-fourth off for GM’s Day through March 7. Still only $12 after that.

Preorder the print edition from us for a similar discount. Files are at the printer’s. I can’t wait to see Mark Allen’s beautiful cover image in print.

Opus Next

2 03 2012


So yes, we have a new product. It will be ready for your grasping hands, virtual or fleshly, for the upcoming con season. It’s huge. It’s old school. It’s a little insane. It’s called “In the Shadow of Mount Rotten.

Review copies go out this month. I don’t want to say too much in advance. But Bighara tells me that I should talk about it, instead of laying my work silently on the stoop in the middle of the night and running away. Very well!

To give an idea of scope, here are some lines excerpted from the Charts & Tables list (which supplements to Table of Contents and the Index). I’ll even leave in the page numbers.

Reputation & Ransom Reference Tables……9

Typical Herd Animal by Terrain Aspect……31

Slaves; Prisoners of War……32

Types of Cave……42

Mineral Resources; Precious Ores; Crystals; Richness & Production……43

Ruins Types; Spell results (in temple ruin)……46

Conditions and Precipitation by Terrain & Season……51

Cold & Exposure……52

Spread of Wildfire……52

Productivity of Foraging by Terrain……53

Approximate Yield by Carcass Type (hunting)……54

Barter Rolls……63

Regional Value of Salt……64

Speciality Goods: Slaves……72

Speciality Goods: Ornaments……73

Totem Figurine shapes……73

Caravan Goods……75

That’s maybe 30% of the charts.

You know you have something worthwhile when someone steals it.

1 03 2012

oh crap...So LTTP a bit… or 30 years early. Anyway. Wizards more-or-less simultaneously announces 5th edition, calling for input from fans, and plans to re-issue the AD&D books.

Why would they do either of these things? Money. Duh. And I’m going to arrogantly suggest that the OSR, in its metastasized giant form, is responsible.

5E is vaporware, a concept generated because Pathfinder started outselling 4E. Raggi’s response, as many have noted, is hilarious.

AD&D is being reissued because someone noticed that some people were making money– a little money at least– by publishing their own versions of the rules.

Simple as that. Say what you like but the people at Wizards are not dumb. We in the OSR should be flattered that we are worth crushing.

Blog is back — Now with sexism!

29 02 2012

oh crap...In one of those coincidences, iconic iconoclast Zak of “Playing DnD with Pornstars” posted about the problem, or the idea that there is a problem, with sexism in RPG and comics publishing. His solution: Hire women! And a fine idea too.

What makes it seem oddly coincidental to your correspondent, apart from a brain evolved for vastly fewer bits of info that might coincide, is the pains I’ve been through in recent days with our next release. To wit: Disclaimers, plastered over my book like banana stickers, lest I seem to be encouraging sexism and racism.

All four readers of my past RPG work will have had opportunity to note my world view, which I make little effort to hide. Succintly: Life sucks and that’s pretty funny. Pain and doom are the norm, yes, but not in a teen angst way that makes for charismatic suffering. No, people are no better than they are forced to be, and their efforts must ultimately come to naught. There’s heroism, since this is a game, but it’s never easy to overcome circumstances, and the triumphs are always local, relative, and short-lived.

So. In this new book, there is a cast of thousands, and they run the gamut from somewhat ignorant to deeply stupid, from somewhat prejudiced and hiding it to utterly sexist, racist, and unable to accept that there might be another way. I write like this because, from my overeducated, snide, and pessimistic point of view, that’s the way things are. I’m swords and spells all the way, and I write about pseudo-medieval societies that seem to me, given certain unrealisms inherent in the genre, to feel real. Among other unmodernisms, people harbor deep suspicion of anyone different, and patriarchal societies are powerfully vested in keeping women home with the babies.

I could have soft-pedaled all that, but I have always objected to the multi-culturalization of geek art. IRL I’m a liberal and a believer in not only true equal opportunity under the law, but in educating future generations in tolerance. In a fantasy world, though, I want believability. If one of the monks in your book’s magic monastery is black, fine, but I want to know why, and how. If your culture is isolated, because it’s an ancient kingdom without airplanes set in a land plagued with monsters, or it’s a limited population in another dimension, or a planet full of aliens, then you can’t just make it ethnically mixed. I understand the impulse — showing “society” or “kids” that race doesn’t matter. But it’s wrong to fuck up the immersiveness of your art for that sake.

And I think that’s part of what Zak was getting at. As an audience, we have to trust artists to make what they want without striving for correctness. As artists, we have to give our audience credit for knowing the difference between, say, writing about bad behavior and condoning it in reality. Otherwise we get crap art. Let’s be grownups instead.

That’s what I’m always trying to write, whether it’s a whole book about closed-minded people or just some napkin notes about a crawl: DnD for grownups.

heart of glass by mr. joel

13 01 2012

“immortality.” said master, with a sneer. his gesture toward the jar was that reserved for dismissing a shadow dwimmer, or expressing spine-deep loathing for a rival. i assumed he feared it.

“a very unusual spell,” says the book. really zygyg? all the other space-bending and mind-smoking is commonplace? so you’re to blame for all the concern about mechanistic magic.

it’s true however that I can think of few other recipes that allow the caster to damn himself directly, without the cooperation of an outside power. even the lords of the planes have no dominion here.

“the life force can sense and attack any creature within”—what, thirty yards or so?—”but what the creature is, is not determinable.” oh yes mighty Z. and why is that? why because you can’t fucking see, apprentice.

“the life force.” that means me, or what’s left of me. and indeed i can’t see.

it’s not even dark. i can’t even remember what seeing is like. only that it’s gone., and left a bigger space than I’d have guessed. to remember seeing, you don’t need eyeballs, necessarily. but you need a brain. you need a lobe of visualization.

i lack those items. also any lobes of audio condensation, olfactory renderment, or pressuratory refinement. i likewise have none of the lesser lobula and skerritries.

no glands nor juices.

“a large gem or crystal.” a monoclinic crystal, in fact, an isinglass, a symmetrical mica formation of clear and glitering hexagons, well-protected by a lantern-like contraption. the lantern looks deceptively mundane, but a stone fort would crush faster.

little chance it will be destroyed, and “the life force” “snuffed out.” not in any stretch of time susceptible to human thought and memory, at least.

the jar is all but empty. i’m more like a film left on the inside of an alembic after the admixture boils away.

the classics teach that the body is the husk of the soul.

the classics know nothing.

this is the mind. it is the husk, the dry shell, sterile and dead. the body, the living core, is the fruit, the inner core which this thin skeletal carapace was made to protect. the self divides not into body, mind, and soul. the soul is the body and the body is the soul. the mind is trivial.

my memories make no sense now. it takes an extraordinary span of concentration to extract any information from the bright blurs of what my lost brain once saw, the jagged shapes of what I once heard, the hissing of what the body touched.

words remain. I no longer recall what they sounded like, nor the forms of letters. but in those years of absorbing words, they became part of me, pure discreta of thought. and pure thought is all i have now. all i am. thoughts, made mostly of words.

i no longer sleep. did that once sound good to an overworked apprentice: an untiring mind? sleep, a waste of time? what a luxury, to be lost. I can’t recall, I no longer contain, what it felt like, but I remember what it’s for.

it stops thought.

cold as I am I recognize the absolute good of that.

minds still clinging, parasitic, to their lush host bodies, when thought cannot be borne, sometimes break. madness interrupts thought, when bodily needs and worldly distractions fail.

it turns out that even madness is the body’s doing, a way of caring for the mind with the same natural flow-around that stops a man eating when he is full, or directs bile away from a roiling liver. when thinking becomes unbalanced, lobular excesses heat the ducts in that part of the brain, that juicy mass, and the increased flow pressures the release of countervailing humors or, if need be, a complete flush of the vesicles, cooling the active lobe perforce. the wheel of thought breaks.

I cannot break. without a body, my thoughts are perfect, and perfectly obvious. the truth can never be denied or avoided, obscured or even put off, because I am the truth, made of it, it is me. even “thinking” is too active to describe me. i can’t think. a brain can think. i simply am thought, all the ideas and knowledge that remain, frozen in unmoving relation.

no vision or other senses, and no movement.

i can react, but to so little. i react, or would, when a living creature approaches. the thrills of thought along their nerves, the spinning and thrust of their minds, impinge on me as a breeze shakes a spider’s web. and like a spider I prey on what moves.

but nothing has moved in so long.

i reacted when my body left. the rhythm of its nerves, in my absence, ebbed and swelled so slowly, and so familiarly. i could have chosen it from a hundred bodies without an instant’s hesitation.

but then it stopped. did it die? did it move beyond the range of my pathetic single sense? how, if i felt no living thing come to take it away?

nothing moves. no heat. there is a pulse however, of sorts.

the heart of the crystal vibrates.

by this I measure time. so many beats of the crystal, so many cycles of shapeless words repeating the thoughts that make me up.

three times now the pulse has changed. three times a different pulse moved through it, interfering, drawing jangling new spikes and quavers from the crystal, in whose unseen vertices, internal faces, edges, and confining planes I dwell.

my sense of direction, out to thirty yards, is absolute. the wave comes from one direction, passes through the crystal, peaks, fades, is gone away that way. the direction was the same twice, slightly different once. the period varied. I already made, I already am, the calculations of possible formulae that might explain the gap, prove the pattern.

once the harsh amplitudes disturbed my thought so deeply that I forgot who I am. I’d give anything to know when, if it might come again.

other than the temporary change of such vibratory interference, I hope only for something to react to. a “living creature.” a body.

I vaguely recall the lusts that drove me into this jar. i thought to have all the use of my own body, flawed though i considered its ways, and add more bodies to it, doubling, trebling, multiplying the paltry niche to which flesh meant to keep me. domination, deception, dominion.

I believed my mind strong enough to overcome any who strayed in here, tempted, taunted, or marched by force. I feared only slightly that, should the “creature regain control of its mind, the magic-user is trapped until he can take over the mind for control or escape.” trapped in the body of my victim, that is.

but little more than he. we both, fragile ghosts, would ride the bountiful mount and bathe in its beneficent flows and changes. which of us had the will, means nothing. the body is no trap.

only the jar.

Lesserton and Mor revealed!

1 03 2011

In many ways the heart of Eastern Valnwall, the majestic ruins of Mor and the nearby town of Lesserton offer some of the best –and worst– that the region has to offer. No adventurer traveling to these lands would pass up an opportunity to delve the sprawling rubble of Mor, or to enjoy the spoils from his efforts in Lesserton’s gambling halls, fleshpots, and taverns.

Mor teaser art

25 01 2011

A peek at some art from Steve Zieser: