Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rendezvous with Ruinator—Download!

Thanks to a question from RavenFeast, I finally got off my duff and decided to make one of my NTRPGCon adventures available here. I have several more of these that I intend to put up for sale somewhere, someday, but for now at least, you can grab a free copy of the post-apocalyptic "adventure" Rendezvous with Ruinator.

I put adventure in quotes up there because this is an adventure in only the loosest sense. It's really a set of notes that I used to run the adventure from. There are no stats, no numbers, no charts. Unique monsters, NPCs, and hazards are mentioned without any guidance on what they look like or what their abilities are. The whole thing is only 8 pages, including a cover and two-page map, and the map is only a schematic; it shows where places are in relation to other places but doesn't include doors or hallways.

That's how I enjoy running adventures at NTRPGCon—I rough out a general plan and then have the greatest fun riffing off the players' ideas and interactions. That goes double for Gamma World—I have a core group of terrific players who make it to my GW game every year, and they never fail to amaze me with their inventiveness and humor. With a group like that, the adventure practically writes itself.

I use 1st-edition Gamma World rules for these sessions in Dallas, but any post-apocalyptic game will work for Rendezvous with Ruinator. Mutant Future from Goblinoid Games and Broken Urthe from Wizardawn Entertainment are both fine, free, OSR alternatives, if you don't have a copy of Gamma World lurking on your shelves anymore.

A bit of background might help GMs get into this. My Dallas GW adventures are all based around the framing story of Professor Monkey, a super-intelligent chimp who roams Gamma Terra at the helm of the lumbering "Radium Powered Lab." Think a CDC emergency-response laboratory on legs, built in the wacked-out 23rd century. Prof. Monkey is part altruistic world-saver and part megolamaniacal empire-builder. He's assembled a crack team of lab assistants (who are always busy doing science at the Radium Powered Lab) and go-fers (the "#1 Fetch-It Squad"), who do the dangerous work of venturing out into the irradiated wilderness to investigate enigmas and bring artifacts back to the lab. Those are the PCs. With Prof. Monkey as a patron, the characters can start these adventures well-equipped and with a definite mission—which usually is, "find out what this funny blip on the Scan-o-Tron 360 is and bring me back something I can use from it."

Ruinator is a gigantic war machine a third of a mile long with a complex, thoroughly dysfunctional society living inside it. You could be forgiven for thinking that an adventure set inside an ancient war machine might lean heavily on the combat lever, but this is actually one of the most diplomacy-rich settings I've ever concocted. There's plenty of opportunity for whipping guns out of holsters and slicing off arms with vibroblades, but in the end, talking is what's going to win the day inside Ruinator.

And that's enough talking from me. Download Ruinator and have fun!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Expect Things to Go Wrong

Now at Kobold Press. (This is the fifth installment in a series of articles for players hoping to get the best possible experience from their time around the RPG table.)

“Adventures, in retrospect, are pieces of extremely bad luck that missed a fatal ending.”
―Lawrence Griswold, Tombs, Travel and Trouble

It’s a shame that Lawrence Griswold isn’t better known these days. He was a real-life Indiana Jones, a Harvard-educated anthropologist and archaeologist who spent most of the 1920s and ‘30s carving trails through Guatemalan jungles in search of Mayan ruins and exploring the then-”lost world” island of Komodo, south of Borneo, where his expedition was the first to capture a live, adult Komodo dragon. A memoir of his adventures, Tombs, Travel and Trouble, was published in 1937, wherein he offered the humorously cynical view of adventure quoted above.

However much Griswold objects that “while (adventures) were happening to me, I cannot ever remember having been particularly pleased at the occasion,” or that he was generally “scared to death, too busy to think about it at all, or just damned annoyed” while his adventures were taking place, it’s obvious that in hindsight he loved every moment of it and wouldn’t trade his experiences for anything.

It would be foolish to expect adventures in roleplaying games to go any smoother than they do in real life. In fact, since our tabletop escapades never result in anyone really getting killed, injured, maimed, scarred, trapped in a labyrinthine tomb, or cast adrift in a rudderless boat for five days without water, they can afford to be even more thrill-filled than the real thing, the way a roller-coaster ride is more thrilling than a drive on the freeway.

Read the rest at Kobold Press ...

Friday, May 8, 2015

Dive Into the Unknown

Over at Kobold Press:

“… Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive―it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it?”

― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

In what I consider to be the very best types of roleplaying adventures and campaigns, both characters and players face situations where they don’t understand what’s happening and they’re being pushed to make decisions without crucial information. Sometimes they’re faced with a mystery, and filling in the missing information is the point of the adventure. Your opinion on that type of play might be different from mine; certainly there are players who like to feel as if they’re in control of the situation all the time. I don’t begrudge them their preference, but I do believe that they’re missing out on a huge quotient of enjoyment.

Most RPG settings are worlds of wonder. Whether you’re playing a fantasy game with magic and mythical beasts, a science fiction game with starships and aliens, a steampunk game with super-science and dinosaurs, or a post-modern game with vampires and murderous cults, the setting is rife with amazing things that don’t exist in real life. Experiencing the “wonders of the world” and uncovering its hidden truths can be a major thrust of the campaign, or it might be a sidelight. Either way, if players understand everything there is to know about the setting and the story they’re involved in, then I’d argue that the GM has made the world too small and too familiar.

Read the rest at Kobold Press ...


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Need for Speed

This week's Howling Tower blog specifically for players is posted over at Kobold Press. The topic is playing fast. I support it.

"Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action comes, stop thinking and go in.”

―NapolĂ©on Bonaparte

A combat turn in most RPGs represents 5 to 10 seconds. If you spend much more time than that deciding what to do on your turn, you’re wasting time.

That doesn’t mean your turn can’t take more than 10 seconds. It means you should answer the basic question, “what am I going to do this turn?,” in 10 seconds or less. Figuring out specifically how your character performs the chosen action within the allowances and restrictions of the rules can take substantially longer than that, especially if a fancy maneuver, an unusual weapon, or a complex magic spell is involved. But the basic question—”What am I going to do this turn?”—should be made quickly.

Read the rest at


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

It's All About Teamwork

I've been so busy, I almost missed the latest posting of the second installment of my blogs for players over at But you shouldn't!

A group of RPG characters is like a U. S. Army Green Beret team or a Navy SEAL team. Every member of the squad has a specialty, and for the group to succeed, everyone needs to be on the job. That means cooperating with teammates and sticking to the plan when the world, in the guise of the GM, throws its full weight against the heroes and tries to cast them down in defeat.

The story (the adventure) has a villain, and he wants to win. His goal is not to provide the heroes with a heady challenge that fills their lives with excitement before they inevitably triumph over the villain’s ambition. That outcome is the exact opposite of the villain’s goal (unless your GM adheres to the idea that villains should have fatal personality flaws like those outlined in this i09 article on the 12 biggest blunders evil wizards make. A worthy villain will do everything in his power to prevent that outcome.

This doesn’t mean the GM is out to screw the players, but it does mean the challenges characters face won’t be easy. No one should expect to be allowed to skate through “for the sake of fun.” Before it’s all done, you should expect to be in a no-holds-barred fight to the death—meaning that if you lose, you die. In a situation like that, what could possibly be your motivation for working at cross-purposes to the team?

Read the rest at


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fifth Edition Foes: Monster List

In response to Calvin's request, here's the list of monsters in Fifth Edition Foes. Alternatively, you can grab this two-page PDF of Appendix A, which lists all the monsters by type and CR.
  1. Aaztar-Ghola
  2. Adherer
  3. Aerial Servant
  4. Algoid
  5. Amphoron of Yothri: Worker
  6. Amphoron of Yothri: Warrior
  7. Amphoron of Yothri: Juggernaut
  8. Ant Lion
  9. Ape, Flying
  10. Aranea
  11. Arcanoplasm
  12. Artificer of Yothri
  13. Ascomoid
  14. Assassin Bug
  15. Astral Moth
  16. Astral Shark
  17. Aurumvorax
  18. Basilisk, Crimson
  19. Basilisk, Greater
  20. Bat: Doombat
  21. Beetle, Giant Rhinoceros
  22. Beetle, Giant Slicer
  23. Beetle, Giant Water
  24. Biclops
  25. Blood Hawk
  26. Blood Orchid
  27. Blood Orchid Savant
  28. Blood Orchid Grand Savant
  29. Bloodsuckle
  30. Bloody Bones
  31. Boalisk
  32. Bone Cobbler
  33. Boneneedle, Greater
  34. Boneneedle, Lesser
  35. Bonesucker
  36. Borsin
  37. Brass Man
  38. Brume
  39. Burning Dervish
  40. Cadaver
  41. Cadaver Lord
  42. Carbuncle
  43. Caryatid Column
  44. Cat, Feral Undead
  45. Caterprism
  46. Catfish, Giant Electric
  47. Catoblepas
  48. Cave Cricket
  49. Cave Eel
  50. Cave Fisher
  51. Cave Leech
  52. Centipede Nest
  53. Cerebral Stalker
  54. Chain Worm
  55. Chaos Knight
  56. Chupacabra
  57. Church Grim
  58. Churr
  59. Cimota
  60. Cimota Guardian
  61. Cimota, High
  62. Clam, Giant
  63. Clamor
  64. Cobra Flower
  65. Coffer Corpse
  66. Cooshee
  67. Corpse Rook
  68. Corpsespinner
  69. Corpsespun
  70. Crabman
  71. Crayfish, Monstrous
  72. Crimson Death
  73. Crypt Thing
  74. Dagon
  75. Dark Creeper
  76. Dark Stalker
  77. Darnoc
  78. Death Dog
  79. Death Worm
  80. Decapus
  81. Demon Prince: Teratashia
  82. Demon Prince: Thalasskpotis
  83. Demonic Knight
  84. Denizen of Leng
  85. Dire Corby
  86. Dracolisk
  87. Drake, Fire
  88. Drake, Ice
  89. Dust Digger
  90. Eblis
  91. Ectoplasm
  92. Eel, Giant Moray
  93. Eel, Gulper
  94. Elusa Hound
  95. Encephalon Gorger
  96. Exoskeleton: Giant Ant
  97. Exoskeleton: Giant Beetle
  98. Exoskeleton: Giant Crab
  99. Fear Guard
  100. Fen Witch
  101. Fetch
  102. Fire Crab, Greater
  103. Fire Crab, Lesser
  104. Fire Snake
  105. Flail Snail
  106. Flowershroud
  107. Foo Dog
  108. Forester's Bane
  109. Froghemoth
  110. Fungoid
  111. Fungus Bat
  112. Fyr
  113. Gallows Tree
  114. Gallows Tree Zombie
  115. Gargoyle: Four-Armed
  116. Gargoyle, Fungus
  117. Gargoyle, Green Guardian
  118. Gargoyle: Margoyle
  119. Genie: Hawanar
  120. Ghost-Ammonite
  121. Giant Slug of P'nakh
  122. Giant, Jack-in-Irons
  123. Gillmonkey
  124. Gloom Crawler
  125. Gnarlwood
  126. Gohl (Hydra Cloud)
  127. Golden Cat
  128. Golem, Flagstone
  129. Golem, Furnace
  130. Golem, Stone Guardian
  131. Golem, Wooden
  132. Gorbel
  133. Gorgimera
  134. Gorilla Bear
  135. Green Brain
  136. Gray Nisp
  137. Grimm
  138. Gripple
  139. Grue, Type 1
  140. Grue, Type 2
  141. Hanged Man
  142. Hangman Tree
  143. Hawktoad
  144. Helix Moth
  145. Hieroglyphicroc
  146. Hippocampus
  147. Hoar Fox
  148. Horsefly, Giant
  149. Huggermugger
  150. Igniguana
  151. Jackal of Darkness
  152. Jaculi
  153. Jelly, Mustard
  154. Jupiter Bloodsucker
  155. Kamadan
  156. Kampfult
  157. Kech
  158. Kelp Devil
  159. Kelpie
  160. Khargra
  161. Korred
  162. Kurok-spirit
  163. Land Lamprey
  164. Lava Child
  165. Leng Spider
  166. Leopard, Snow
  167. Leucrotta, Adult
  168. Leucrotta, Young
  169. Lithonnite
  170. Magmoid
  171. Mandragora
  172. Mandrill
  173. Mantari
  174. Midnight Peddler
  175. Mite
  176. Mite, Pestie
  177. Mummy of the Deep
  178. Murder Crow
  179. Naga: Hanu-naga
  180. Olive Slime
  181. Olive Slime Zombie
  182. Ooze, Glacial
  183. Ooze, Magma
  184. Origami Warrior
  185. Pech
  186. Phycomid
  187. Pleistocene Animals: Brontotherium
  188. Pleistocene Animals: Hyaenodon
  189. Pleistocene Animals: Mastodon
  190. Pleistocene Animals: Woolly Rhinoceros
  191. Pudding, Blood
  192. Pyrolisk
  193. Quadricorn
  194. Quickwood
  195. Rat, Shadow
  196. Red Jester
  197. Ronus
  198. Russet Mold
  199. Ryven
  200. Sandling
  201. Screaming Devilkin
  202. Scythe Tree
  203. Sea Serpent, Brine
  204. Sea Serpent, Deep Hunter
  205. Sea Serpent, Fanged
  206. Sea Serpent, Shipbreaker
  207. Sea Serpent, Spitting
  208. Seahorse, Giant
  209. Sepulchral Guardian
  210. Shadow Mastiff
  211. Shadow, Lesser
  212. Shroom
  213. Skeleton Warrior
  214. Skeleton, Stygian
  215. Skelzi
  216. Skulk
  217. Slithering Tracker
  218. Soul Reaper
  219. Stegocentipede
  220. Strangle Weed
  221. Tabaxi
  222. Taer
  223. Tangtal
  224. Tazelwurm
  225. Temporal Crawler
  226. Tendriculos
  227. Tentacled Horror
  228. Therianthrope: Foxwere
  229. Therianthrope: Lionwere
  230. Therianthrope: Owlwere
  231. Therianthrope: Wolfwere
  232. Treant, Lightning
  233. Tri-flower Frond
  234. Triton, Dark
  235. Troll, Spectral
  236. Troll, Two-headed
  237. Tunnel Prawn
  238. Tunnel Worm
  239. Vampire Rose
  240. Vegepygmy Commoner, Worker
  241. Vegepygmy Guard
  242. Vegepygmy Chief
  243. Volt
  244. Vorin
  245. Vulchling
  246. Lava Weird
  247. Were-mist
  248. Weredactyl
  249. Widow Creeper
  250. Witch Grass
  251. Witherstench
  252. Yellow Musk Creeper
  253. Yellow Musk Zombie
  254. Zombie Raven

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fifth Edition Foes: The Bone Cobbler

Now that PDFs of the Necromancer Games 5E books are rolling out, I finally have time to write some of the previews that should have been done, oh, four months ago while the Kickstarter was still running. Reviews of Fifth Edition Foes have been very positive, and let me tell you, it's great to hear strong reviews after so many months of work.

Offered here is one monster from 5EF that illustrates some of our approach. I won't say the bone cobbler typifies the book, because no single entry can be "typical" of a book containing 252 monsters. It's an example of how we went for monsters with strong story implications and with the potential to become far more dangerous than their raw numbers imply, in the hands of a GM who respects those story angles.

The bone cobbler doesn't belong on anyone's random encounters table. This is a creature that deserves to have an entire short adventure, or at least a detailed lair encounter, devised around it. Animate Bones is a great cinematic ability, and Bonestripping should put fear in the heart of every low-level adeventurer. If this thing gets you alone for four minutes, you aren't just dead; you're gone beyond hope of recovery by much of anything short of divine intervention. A GM who uses a bone cobbler needs to construct its lair like the set of a black-and-white gothic horror film, with plenty of secret doors that victims can be pulled through after all their companions have marched past, or trap doors that open silently under the last person in line and drop them into the bone cobbler's lair, where they're finished off by horrific skeletal abominations. The victim's friends have three minutes to recover the body, which is a tall order considering they probably don't know where it is and might not even know that the person is missing, if the GM did things correctly!

In other words, the bone cobbler is a ready-made Jeepers Creepers horror-movie villain waiting to be sprung on characters.

Just as important, however, is the fact that Fifth Edition Foes doesn't explain all of that for you. You might think that's because of space restrictions in the book, or is just laziness on our part, but in fact, we prefer to leave things like that unstated. Why? Because it's more fun for GMs to figure out for themselves. We believe GMs enjoy thinking about these sorts of things; why else would they be GMs? A book that does all the readers' thinking for them robs them of all those delicious "aha!" moments. Possibly worse, it assumes that our creativity is better than yours, and that's beyond deflating, it's an insult.

So that's a brief introduction to some of the philosophy underpinning Fifth Edition Foes. If you didn't get in on the Kickstarter, you can still buy the book in hardcover + PDF or just PDF through the Frog God Games website. The book has quite a few reviews at ENWorld and also has an extensive discussion thread there, and Sobran ran a multipart look at the book and some of our CR assignments on his Fantastic Frontier blog.

In coming days, I'll look at more of the monsters I found most interesting in 5EF, plus Quests of Doom and Lost Spells, of course!


Friday, February 20, 2015

Howling Tower Returns to Kobold Press

Hey, I'm back at Kobold Press. Today's post was the first of six aimed at players.

Welcome to the end of the Howling Tower hiatus—thanks for coming! The Tower has been silent for too long. During the past year, I’ve been so occupied with huge writing projects that no time or energy was left over for small ones. Lots of good things came out of the past year — Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat for Kobold Press, and a trio of Fifth Edition books published by Necromancer Games: Fifth Edition Foes, Lost Spells, and Quests of Doom. But now that those massive projects are wrapped up, the light is flickering again atop the creepy tower at the dismal end of the valley, and eerie wailing can be heard wafting through the pre-dawn mist again.

This six-part series of columns will be aimed squarely at RPG players instead of GMs. Gamemasters have reams of material to peruse when they want advice on how to do their jobs better, but the pickings can be slim where players are concerned. The goal is to help readers develop better roleplaying habits and attitudes so they can get the most enjoyment from their time around the game table.

Just because the advice is aimed at the players’ side of the screen doesn’t mean GMs should look away. They’re sure to find some useful tidbits here, too. You can’t be a good GM without understanding where your players are coming from.

Most of what we’ll cover can be summed up succinctly in two words: embrace immersion. The more you suspend disbelief and think like a character instead of like a player, the richer your experience becomes. That little gem of an idea has many facets to explore.

Read the rest at

Friday, January 23, 2015

Fifth Edition Foes is Available (in PDF)

It took longer than we wanted, but the first of the Necromancer Games books for Fifth Edition is ready -- Fifth Edition Foes, with 250 more monsters to challenge adventurers.

If you didn't get in on the Kickstarter action, you can still order the book directly through the Frog God Games website. If you want a printed copy, I highly recommend pre-ordering, because the print run will be very close to the pre-order number. If you don't pre-order, there's a strong chance the printed copies will sell out before you get one.