Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A Small, Quiet Plea

There has been a great deal of discussing political agendas, social grievances, and personal attacks within the little corner of gaming that is my hobby. Make no mistake, I have very deep seated opinions and beliefs that I hold dear - but I have no desire to mix them with my silly little ‘elf games’. We’ve all seen where this has gone, as a society, when folks don’t respect decorum and ‘a time and place for all things’. 

When we start crossing the line, start labelling the ‘who is’ and ‘who isn’t’ worthy of our purchasing dollars or attention - we risk shortchanging ourselves in the wealth of diversity that the current golden age of the OSR provides us. If you want to discuss things like this on your own personal social media, hopefully separated from gaming concerns - please, by all means, rant and rave. 

If we were to dissect the authors, entertainers, artists and individuals in our cultural history - you can be certain that we’d find no shortage of bluster, repugnant ideology, and misplaced words. At our core, I suppose, we want our heroes to be fine upstanding citizens concerned with the same ideals and rose colored idealism we would choose to espouse - whichever side of that proverbial coin we rest upon. It’s just not that simple. 

There are folks within the OSR, like everywhere, who just don’t understand the toxicity that mixing 'business' and pleasure creates in a community devoted to what is, at its core, just a hobby that seeks to create a communal fictional mythology removed from daily struggles. I understand that elements of this can creep into actual business for ‘professionals’, but all too often these issues arise because someone feels personally slighted, belittled, ignored, discriminated against or just plain ‘butthurt’. It is too easy to feed these dumpster fires, to attempt to be the hero of ‘the righteous’, or to use it as a means to gain attention or followers. 

Let it die, let it rest when you are in spaces where the proper topic is gaming. There are places to take your fights, spats, ideological differences, and beliefs that are not in public forums devoted to rolling dice and playing make believe around a table. I can accept that art reflects life, and there is a certain amount of this that will creep into our collective works of RPG writing - but, for the sake of not being an opinionated ass - try to actually make that part of the story, backdrop, or characters - and not some ridiculously obvious paean to your pet cause or peeve.

Heartfelt gospel and forced morality are not idols best served in interactive games, it seems cheap and pushy. Its unbecoming to talk about your personal gripes where everybody, not involved, can see. It’s prose based exhibitionism and, all to often, self aggrandizing egotism, which in it’s dedicated places or echo chambers is fine. Despite claims that it is relevant to the hobby - too much of it isn’t. 

Assholes exist everywhere, and the approach of constantly ‘calling them out’ is just shitting all over the floor. Separate the art from the person - and do what YOU think is right - or take it elsewhere and save us having to read your libel/slander, prejudices, and recriminations.  

Push boundaries, by all means - but do it in a way that serves decorum and civil discourse - and can be selectively embraced or ignored by that ‘Other’ that you are so convinced is trying to impede your path. It is important to create art that speaks to you, to an audience - perhaps one that even screams and cries, bleeds or withers under the black heeled boots within your fiction. Please, please, please do this without being some holier than thou street preacher. Even when the issues are all too real, all too suffocating - it lacks etiquette, and dare I say, common sense, to take them into an arena where pint sized refugees from our fantasies battle fake monstrosities born out of nightmares.

It’s getting to the point where those of us who don’t want to bring the arena of real world trials into gaming are starting to feel cornered. We are not complicit with the devils you wish to out and punish, on either side of the chasm - we are trying, earnestly, to support the continuation of a pursuit that is getting lost in the human desire to always ‘be right about how life is lived’. 

There isn’t some harebrained conspiracy to undermine the core of gaming, and yes, social norms are changing and evolving (as are the reactions to such) - if you can’t deal with this in a constructive manner, preferably politely - then by all means create a space where the rest of us can ignore you. 

I have been guilty myself of being a soap box prophet, someone who certainly had their share of misguided pontification. I thought that gaming could, or perhaps should, address social issues, and, I’m fallible, sometimes I still do - but - the prevalent normalcy of picking fights with somewhat anonymous people on social media hasn’t done anyone, anywhere or anytime, any favors. You either preach to the choir or become the self imagined martyr of your cause. It’s tacky, poorly thought out and lacks restraint. 

If you find yourself a bit ruffled by this, I apologize but I’m standing ground for neutrality in a place where it shouldn’t even be an issue. Perhaps there is a need for us all to look in the damned mirror of society, all around us, and wonder just what we did wrong to get here. 

If you really want to get along as a community, to keep the OSR from exploding into fragments of ‘he said, she said’ - maybe that change should begin with you, and a simple little thought in the back of your head before you spout off about real world troubles in a place about magical boots, goblins, and infested holes in the ground…  


Monday, April 23, 2018

Yodeling For Yokels or The Further Misa(d&)dventures

This is the one of those posts that points out the lack of current posts. 

Over the last week or three, there has been postponed Labyrinth Lord (twice, one game inbetween) and some additional adventure into the randomization of our ADDventures of Mel(kor) and Ali - generating the origins of the yet unposted ‘Scourge of the Witch House’ created through using Kent Kelly’s Adventure Generator. As a note, trying to use an erasable battle mat with a random dungeon can quickly limit the size. We did this deliberately but the initial room was the generated as ‘spider’ which dominated the space. It was infested with battle ready brigands ready to lay waste to those distracted ‘heroes’. I'll come back to that in a few more days.

I've poked at the map of the Arborean West several times, but I haven't really quite accepted it yet - hence it looks something like...

Inis Shae and Ulvslund - More Forested and Mountainous, Still Unfinished

I will be doing at least three more maps this style to flesh out the world, but since the campaign focuses on that eastern island in the map above - I'm not feeling any heavy pressure to complete it. I'm using 24 miles to each hex here - so it's quite a chunk of land. I've been revising this a lot as I try to incorporate Kent's advice about continental divides and centralized obstructions to mobility. Overall I'm pretty happy with Hex Kit's ability to make artistic maps in an easy point & click style. Layering really, really helps. My one complaint is that I feel I need to adjust the intensity of the colors somewhat, so it still will get a spin in a different program. And, again, we'll come back to this.

In anticipation of working with NPCs, I doodled out a medium index card sized sheet in Comic Life (with digitally fill-able areas). After chatting with Kent a bit about the design, he suggested adding a line for relationships between my 'numbered' PCs (the upper right hand corner was designed to assign a unique number to each NPC for easy card filing and referencing). However I got distracted, and it still looks like... 

I've been writing a little bit here and there too... Like...

There are certain bits of campaign creation that I don’t believe ever be left up to random chance, where the authorial voice of the gamemaster needs to shine. As I’ve repeatedly admitted, Arborea is incredibly indebted to Jack Shear, Greg Gorgonmilk and Gavin Norman. What I have not entirely taken from any of those authors is my intended usage of demihumans. 

Jack Shear took a severe look at these icons in Gothic Elf Games (Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque, Volume 1), and felt that relocating them into NPC oriented status with few exceptions produced his desired atmosphere. Whereas this certainly allows mystery and a sense of ‘The Other’ to our hobbit hole of Tolkien diversity - I know that this is a hard sell to many who populate tabletop gaming tables.

What I did take away from Shear’s approach is the need to move away from garden variety gnomes and furry footed scamps. 

A Dark World Forest Needs Shadows

I’ve also mentioned that I’m struggling with not house ruling any particular game system - I’m trying to accomplish my blend of historical herbs and psychedelic spices through a bit of fluff and creative spark. The harder I push into this, the closer everything begins to drift towards the earlier incarnations of D&D - and, most notably, the original and first edition. This never surprises me, because it seems no matter which heartbreaker is on the table - the original Dungeon Master’s Guide sits to it’s side.

Experience points? Monster reference charts? Random magic? Random inspiration? Age, height, weight, backgrounds? Just what the heck is that potion anyways… 

The truth of why anyone would embrace the OSR as hard as we do lies somewhere within this - there is simply too much material to ignore, and I’m never disappointed with the constant influx of new directions. As much as it seems ridiculous to say, the earliest incarnations of D&D have never seen so much published material - under so many imprints and camouflaged mechanics. The charm is that it is all capable of working together, creating different manifestations of Old School quirk and charm. 

So Much Stuff, So Little GP
At it’s core, that’s why I feel the need to create Arborea as part of a greater puzzle. Every turn in those corridors of thought keep leading me to the High Gygaxian expressions of early D&D. I often joke that the book on the table may say “Labyrinth Lord” or “Hackmaster” but everything behind the screen is AD&D.

That’s why I’m talking about Elves specifically today. 

When I wandered into the concept of Elves being the deceased from our mortal coil,  material ghosts of the moment they died, that was the moment that I think the clutter overwhelmed me.
There is certainly some aspect of ancestor worship and ethereal apparition surrounding the Celtic continuum that has been one of my armchair historical interests for nearly a lifetime. The whole transcendence of the mythic west and the timeless Otherworld easily wormed it’s way into the forest of neverending dreams. The execution of this in any meaningful form has plagued me for the last decade - it just gets convoluted and difficult the further I pondered those murky waters.

Bernie Wrightson Captures the Feel I'm Looking For, Again and Again

Essentially, this made the Elves into humanity and the mortals of Arborea into the Otherworldly; a bit more substantial than the dust of dreams, independent but without the ties binding them to a native soil left behind. This would start as a mirror of the life they lead, with some elements distorted and memories slowly disintegrating into the new ‘reality’. Slowly, whatever other people were manifested in this afterlife would age - but the one who died would not age in their appearance, at least not appreciably. Often this would result in the progenitor of the afterlife surroundings being labelled as a changeling or a possessed creature. The rate that this entropy of relationships would occur at could be as varied as the deceased were, essentially unique situations. 

The link between the now Elven was the alienation of being essentially immortal in a world of shadows, created from the fevered dreams of dying. Where these hallucinatory visions overlap would cross pollinate the consciousness of the mortal - creating a continuous plane of related experiences drawn from our own history. 

Concept Art(?) From Trine 2, A Video Game I Have Never Played

Image result for white goddess
Whereas I Don't Necessarily Recommend This As Historical Fact
It Makes Perfect Fiction Fodder
Often there was an element of nightmare or dread within these pockets of individual reflection, and with the seemingly condensed continuity of time, these often have broader implications. 

Through a vague ratio, where approximately three years is equal to a single Arborea one, cultural remnants persisted.

Add to this the inherent lethality of non-settled areas limiting migration and the world significantly retains pseudo historical leanings without a need for a complete pastiche of any literal mimicry.

Polytheism has informed the dominant monotheism of the White Goddess. The tenets of real world Judeo-Christian ethics heavily effects the dogma of this faith. 

As the slumbering death moved throughout the world, drawing elements of even the earliest civilizations, it would often miss changes that were happening elsewhere. The exact nature of this particular afterlife is not understood, but if one were able to observe this process from the outside certain hallmarks can be observed. The presence of large death tolls, such as the aftermath of war and the fatigued communities struck by plague. Suffering begets...


On the next installment of the blog author decides to drink and not actual write anything online:

I'll talk about my attempts to move away from the binder pile I've been making into a laptop with a database program... and probably ramble on about some random nonsense.

Until next time, save or die... 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Hexes and the Curse of Indecision

Araminta "Cheeseburger" Denies Others Access to the Map
So, you know those blog posts with maps in the last few months, let’s make some changes.

But, wait, I was going to do NPC generation and using random generation as a challenge in plot line development.


I was already distracted from a hex map that I started shortly after reading several books about world building practices (including Kent Kelly's Game World Generator). Those four hex sheets were laid aside in frustration. as I started finding appropriate maps in my ‘publisher resources’ binge phase. The posterboard mounted map currently serves as a comfortable cat bed when it’s out.

Greg Christopher’s island maps were especially appropriate to the setting that I was envisioning - densely forested, fairly rocky islands. The problem that lingered with me is that the maps were very, very modern looking when compared to the generally pseudo historical art menagerie that I worked with. 

The hex overlay that converted into an easy transparency made sense, and I was pleased with the work. It was good enough for my table, but… 

I didn’t make it. Nor am I making the initial setting, but I am twisting it. And there was this program, that I absolutely grew to love. Hex Kit, by Cone of Negative Energy, is a map generation program that works with images of the author’s own inked hexagonal creations. It has a very different vibe, being hand drawn and digitally rendered. Very beautiful output. It also layers hexes, to some very unique effect. I haven’t liked a map making program this much since Dundjinni passed away.

Admittedly, I love Hex Kit for it's complete different reasons, but largely the same design aesthetic - it felt natural, intuitive. 

I haven’t had as much time away from the kitchen lately (day 11 today), but I did manage to start the first step in Kent Kelly’s Game World Generator - creating coastlines. Consider this a temporary zoom outward from the microcosmic Midenbrook into the greater picture of the Shae Isles and Ulvslund.

Shae and Ulvslund, Western Arborea

This was a couple of hours of poking and rotating hexes, but this is more accurate to how I’m working ‘The World Between’ into Arborea. I’ve begun to lean away from considering LotFP my choice in anticipation of the eventual release of Advanced Labyrinth Lord - essentially giving seamless access to AD&D 1e with the added bonuses of mixing race/class (B/X style) with classed demihumans as multi class options. Picture a ‘Basic’ dwarf with thief skills for instance, or you could just play as per the Advanced rules and not have the experience baggage tagging along. 

There is plenty of space in there for house rules that actually develop something, and with the more straightforward Labyrinth Lord/Holmes style combat and monsters, the engine is trim and sleek, delightfully abstract. 

Whether or not I’ll totally break and follow Raggi, putting the Specialist in… or using the ‘oh my Gods, the players actually have to keep track’ Encumbrance system… or change to the Fighter only advance in combat (and the subsequent revisioning of the armor class system to ascending)… All remains to be seen. 
Upcoming Advanced Labyrinth Lord Cover

Honestly, I’m trying to run more ‘by the book’ these days, but some rules are just made to be broken. I typically run LL with my AD&D books nearby, but it’s nice to tell the players that they’re playing a book that they don’t need an online auction to get. They make nice OSR gifts that support the authors keeping the Renaissance from becoming just a starting point in our past.

I'm probably going to continue bouncing between the top down and bottom up philosophies of world building - especially as I am working with Jack Shear's collected blog posts about his original OSR work with a Gothic overtone. The fact that it is collective commons doesn't hurt either.

Until the next time that you're whistling past the graveyard, keep on creepin' on.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Your Days (and Nights) Are Numbered...

Rather than attempting to immediately start filling my version of Jack Shear's Midenbrook with street names, businesses, and backstory - I chose to start with City State Encounters. Kent himself recommends that you utilize the book to populate tables of your own rather than attempting to use this large collection of tables (270 pages) during game. This sound advice is echoed throughout his works.

I had acquired a 'lab notebook' from a school that I used to work for from a free box of abandoned school supplies. I decided this was a good time to put it to use, and I will likely continue filling it with drafts and worksheets for this ongoing Oldskull project. For those unfamiliar, this type of notebook has a fairly faint grid, numbered pages, carbon paper duplicates, and a header that allows you to write pertinent information.

As you can (almost) see from the blurry photo collage, I spent quite a lot of time writing numbers yesterday. The goal was to produce a "Dawn to Dusk" and a "Dusk to Dawn" d100 table for random encounters in the town. In order to fill those results in - you roll on a table specifically for each half of the day, which in turn sends you to a specific table of details for each result.  I numbered two sheets (1-100) and then rolled the percentile dice until each had a result of 'event', 'person', 'beast', 'nothing' or 'mixed' (with rarity and person/beast noted where pertinent). At it's completion, this gives a rough view of what your personalized table will consist of. Kent recommends utilizing these tables at a rate of one roll per each half hour spent in the city.

The daytime list generated 51 encounter/event entries and 49 'no encounter' spots. The nighttime encounters were significantly more active with 31% of the results being empty or just your imagination breeding paranoia ("just shadows, footsteps" - nice reminder that atmosphere can be used in tables as well). The remaining 69 results came up fairly heavy with NPC encounters. Neither table, being generated for citified encounters, had a great deal of monster/beast results. The percentages within the root table do a good job of keeping the spread of results consistent. Shorter tables might not hold these results as well, but, as the author points out, less results in a table gives a shorter lifespan at the table before it gets repetitive or used up.

Once these results were tallied, I carried the results forward (carbon paper to the rescue). I highly recommend doing this in stages, doing one type of encounter at a time, rather than jumping all around the PDF for each result. I carried the 'no encounter' results over first, followed by the monster, person, mixed, and event results (in that order). There is still some jumping around, but with the index and a little familiarity with the contents - it gets subsequently easier.

The tables are very expansive - and sometimes you get a result that just doesn't work for you. I tried to minimize the amount I tossed - and, honestly, there were maybe six results out of 200 encounters that I just didn't see working. A number of these were rolls on 'reason for monster in urban environment' table - though I kept a few interestingly odd ones like the ethereal bull and the ill omen of insect swarms. Part of my goal with this randomization was to add new flavors that I hadn't conceived for my campaign - and the tables didn't disappoint.

As an example, here is a chunk of  results from the 'Dusk 'til Dawn' list:

%# Description of Encounter

20  Commoner (1d12 appearing, result: 5)
21  Street Urchin
22  Pipe Burst, Acidic Water
23  Paladin, High Level, Noble Born
24  Bandit/Brigand (1d12 appearing, result: 6)
25  Hook and Line Fisherman
26  Drink Merchant: Ostler
27  Secret Society Meeting
28  Mudlark and Magic Item Seller
29  Giant Centipede Engendered by Magic Potion
30  No Encounter

I have yet to finalize my results with encounter descriptions fine tuned to my particular campaign - but the results are quite pleasing to me. What I was surprised by was the number of paladins, barbarians, and monks wandering about (some of high or epic level). This immediately made my wheels spin - and when I detail these encounters, I'll share those with you.

All in all, this took the better part of an afternoon (probably 6 hours) and roughly 600 d100 or d1000 dice rolls to generate the bones of the table. I could easily utilize the results as is at my table - leaving just some hit points, equipment, and necessary statistics to be generated. My goal, however, is to present the summation of this project as a free adventure demonstrating what the Oldskull series is capable of doing with a helping hand. I'm attempting to create a sandbox campaign setting throughout this series of posts, give it a little polish and shine, and release it as a PDF with personalized campaign details and layout.

The next step is fleshing out these results, and making NPCs to fill the necessary important spots (as well as key members of the Midenbrook society). We will turn to the Dungeon Delver Enhancer to create this depth (including an illusionist/alchemist with a love of centipedes, and some of those paladins in the service of the White Goddess).

Until next time, stay ghoul...

Product(ive) Inspiration: Random Musings

One of my greatest frustrations as a writer, and subsequently as a gamemaster, is that I have certain tropes that I tend to repeat given enough time. I like convoluted plots, twisted double-crosses, and evil that is unwittingly being manipulated by something further up the food chain. I punctuate with Weird. It’s probably a childhood of Lovecraft, Gygax, and psychedelic rock - but, nonetheless, it has influenced my prose and gaming. 

My wife and I came to Kabuki Kaiser’s Ruins of the Undercity as a two player, GM-less, randomized game to entertain us for an evening. Those two characters we made were exceedingly lucky - they ended up with a maximum level encounter in the first room. That Measel rolled maximum treasure in its sewer crypt. Enough to level up with Labyrinth Lord rules in play. So, our intrepid adventurers Melkor and Ali decided to go on a drinking binge, being the sort of red blooded adventurers that stereotypes are crafted from.

Seven days were to be spent in town, spending that shiny gold, and making nuisances of ourselves whilst there is no gamemaster to interfere. However, we were ambushed by shades amidst the trash filled alleyway on that first night during a ‘town event’. They had a treasure map, apparently leading to a treasure worth 16,500 gold pieces, as well as several bits of magic and copious coins. “Trash magic,” we exclaimed as we gathered up all the goodies that had almost cost us our lives.

Mel and Ali came to a conclusion, “Hey, this is pretty lame, crawling in sewers. Where is this treasure?” We had, after all, just gained another level from that encounter. And, honestly, neither of us were all that impressed with our current random delve. 

How did we answer such a question without a referee? That’s the topic of this review, erm, inspirational tutorial introduction.

Admittedly, amidst the Renaissance of the Old School, there hasn’t been a shortage of random ‘this-or-that’ tables filling publications - in fact, it’s part and parcel of that approach of yesteryear, the Heinz 57 methodology of wondering and rolling what will come next.

 Kent Kelly writes more than the average bear (heya, Boo Boo), especially random tables for the OSR crowd. He sells a fair number of these books in PDF, but there is very little talk about them in the wilds of Google+, Facebook RPG groups, and the Blog-O-Sphere. 

It was to Kent we turned to for answers, starting with his Adventure Generator. The results really impressed us. We had a fairly decent adventure concept after a couple hours of rolling. Strong enough that I felt there was serious potential for the upcoming campaign I was working on. Over the next several weeks I grabbed the rest of the line and read them. 

I was pretty intrigued by what might happen if I threw caution to the wind and started rolling the first steps of the Arborea campaign. Rather than start with the outline of that adventure, I decided that detailing the city of Midenbrook would be the best place to begin. We'll come back to "Scourge of the Witch House" in a later installment.

Over the next several posts, I’ll be showing how I’m putting these pieces together - because these books don’t write your campaign. There is still quite a lot to be done behind the screen, but they provide a spark to ignite new fires of inspiration.
My first step was generating d100 tables for random encounters using City State Encounters. As I have a rough idea about the nature of Midenbrook, this would fill in some details - which I will share in the next blog post. 

Until then, keep rolling those dice!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Proof, Pudding, and Paying Homage

As I'm doing all this nonsense for a non-publication standard, I'm giving myself the whimsy of having my choice of artists - in this particular case, Bernie Wrightson. My cartography, as of now, is either my own or Greg Christopher's. I'm morphing Jack Shear's prose into something a bit more regressive than Ulverland, which I'm shortening to Ulvsland or Ulvslund. Here's the Chubby Funster Island Map with an added hex-grid, manipulated off of ACKS to work as an overlay... 

I need to narrow in, this is a 24 mile per small hex scale, so I'm working with this form from New Big Dragon with, again digital manipulation...

For Midenbrook, I'm adapting this particularly appropriate royalty free town... 

I've started to lightly revise Shear's prose in Ulverland 1666, rounding off some of the modern corners and warping etymological naming conventions. Not certain if any of this will stick, but here it is:

I also sketched a few half sheet graph paper maps and have been cherry picking tables and goodies from the whole "Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque" pick-a-nic basket (extra points for reading that like Yogi).

More to come, ghoulies...

Monday, February 5, 2018

Something Wicked This Way...

So what comes next? 

Sometimes it takes a swift kick to my backside to make projects actually happen.

Where I live, in semi-rural Vermont, the OSR isn’t exactly a prime mover in gaming circles. A lot of folks came to RPGs during the 1990s, and, so it seems, a whole slew came into gaming after (or very recently). There isn’t a great deal of remembrance for 1e AD&D and, dare I say, absolutely nothing for the 1974 rules or Holmes’ original basic revisioning. The one other gamer that I know who gamed during the 80s is a transplant, like myself. It just isn’t part of the collective RPG consciousness. 

Through the peril fraught lands of social media, I have committed myself to exposing other gamers to at least one of the torchbearers of the old school, Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Just naming the system that I would pursue has made a number of obstacles easier, as I’ve wavered on just what direction I would take.

I’ve poked at finishing a home-brew setting that initially started due to my armchair historian interests. What began as a mytho-historical setting loosely based on concepts of Celtic afterlife and otherworld, slowly became a bit more horror oriented and post-Medieval in its thematics. At various points, it touched a bit too closely on territory that Ravenloft had tread. At other times, this world threatened to implode into a convoluted essay on topics that probably interested me and no one else. I put the wagon before the horse and piled burdens that had little bearing on what the adventures would contain.

In world building, there are two dominant philosophies - top down and bottom up development. I had tenuously held onto the broad strokes of developing a world with grand schemes, myriad cultures, and extensive maps. It successfully spooked me again and again - it was just too much information to tackle in a meaningful way, at least for me. The concepts I had developed required consistency - so every time I tried to approach where to start, it rippled outward into the same swamp of navel gazing and obscure details. 

Like any well read gamer, I have influences that resonate with creations of my own doing. I had resisted tying any of these together, as I was completely focused on doing something original. After 30 years of gaming, I think I can safely say that this wasn’t an approach that yielded me much.

All the successful campaigns I have run have not been entirely my own - including a decade of working within Kenzer’s Tellene (Kingdoms of Kalamar). The adventures through those ten years were a pastiche of classic adventures, re-purposed and rewritten with a darker focus. I began calling those projects ‘retrohacks’, and they dominated my table whilst I swore I was finishing “The World of Many Names” (how many times do gamers change their setting names?). 

In gaming it turns out, much to my chagrin, I am a thief. I love to borrow maps, settings, ideas - my table has been filled with stuff I corrupted. I felt a lot of this was just me being lazy, which it probably is, but I also love to pay homage to those things that inspire me. 

In the spirit of this, I began to wander away from actually finishing what I started. Over the last few moons, I started to consider taking what I had actually sketched and melding it to someone else’s setting(s). When the dust had settled from reading reams of OSR material, I was looking straight at three creations that resonated with me much deeper than the others.

Jack Shear (Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque) authored what many consider to be a setting that corrects much of Ravenloft’s muddled beauty. The Domains of Dread were pretty much the entire reason that I followed 2e much at all during the 1990s - but I found myself often disappointed in its flawed execution, repeatedly. It wasn’t until Arthaus/White Wolf took over the property that I think it hit its stride as was proper - graduating “Weekend in Hell” into a proper campaign setting. However, it still wasn’t what I really wanted - and I found my own slow developments on my terminally unfinished world drifting closer. Shear, with the World Between, gave me a setting that overlapped with a lot of my notes - and I fought this for years, with the blog moving on towards 5e and related, but separate, notes on his own campaign. In January, I broke and started uniting the work - starting with Ulverland. I’m changing as much as I’m keeping, but I doubt I’ll cease being in debt to the professor of the Gothic. 

Gavin Norman and Greg Gorgonmilk crafted something truly beautiful and haunting in the setting of Dolmenwood, encapsulated in the delightfully fungal Wormskin OSR zine. When I set out to design the last few incarnations of Arborea (the current name of the setting), I envisioned pockets of civilization surrounded by vast wilderness, creating an isolated world of humankind trapped by superstitions and well warranted fear. Dolmenwood will surely find itself nestled into my revisioning of Ulverland, which gives the whole fractured Pagan and Church feeling a bit more depth. 

Last, but certainly not least, is the immense work of jim pinto's campaign setting, King For A Day. System neutral and sprawling, drawing upon the bleakness of medieval existence away from the increasingly urban centers of trade. Put into the far north of Ulverland, these pockets inspired by Anglo-Saxon culture (and the immense Harn setting) give me a place to explore the bleaker side of low dark fantasy. It may seem at odds, but it allows me to provide a contrasting element to the previous two. 

Together with my world of scattered forested islands, this makes the goal I was reaching for much closer. Sure, I’ll still probably disrespect myself for not taking the whole project on without the shoulders of giants - but it will be on the table, being played. Bit by bit, I’m writing the ties between, creating something larger than any of its parts. Two islands will become a dozen, and three stolen campaigns will be undoubtedly joined by others.