Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Oyster Pirates, Tanith Lee's Weird Fiction, Deterring Witches

The Notorious Oyster Pirates of Chesapeake Bay (Kerry Wolfe, Atlas Obscura)

Weird Beauty: The Weird Fiction of Tanith Lee (Craig Laurance Gidney, The Weird Fiction Review)

The DIY Carvings Designed to Deter 17th Century-Witches (Kristen Amor, Atlas Obscura)

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Monday, February 19, 2018

The Krevborna-Ravenloft Express

It's pretty cool to see people already getting excited and doing stuff with Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera. Over at The Gnomish Embassy, B. W. Mathers has a post about ways to import some of Ravenloft's setting material to Krevborna. All of his suggestions feel right-on to me, and there is precedent for importing Ravenloft stuff to Krevborna. For example, in this game I used the "Death House" adventure from Curse of Strahd to kick off a new campaign and eventually had Strahd come to Krevborna as a potentially usurping vampire lord out to annex this strange new land.

Meanwhile, over on 4chan:

Let's take the above quoted question seriously for a second.

Second part first: I think that all self-published projects have to involve a bit of ego. If you didn't think your game thing was worthwhile you wouldn't lavish time, money, and effort on it, nor would you place it before the public. If putting something you made out into the world is too audacious for you, I don't know what to tell you. I'm obviously too biased to judge whether the project is over-hyped, but so far the response has been very positive, it's turned a profit in under a week, and is the best-selling game book I've made. My ego is satisfied with that.

First part second: I've never been shy about admitting that Ravenloft is my favorite Dungeons & Dragons setting and I specifically mention Ravenloft as an inspiration in the Krevborna book because it shaped my ideas about the possibilities of mixing the Gothic with fantasy at a very formative period of my life. Nevertheless, as much of an inspiration Ravenloft has been, parts of Krevborna are a reaction against the setting rather than a retread of what's come before. 

I think there's a basic difference in outlook and purpose that's worth discussing. The original Realm of Terror boxed set from 1990 presented Ravenloft as a crazy-quilt setting designed for "weekend in hell" adventures; the assumption was that Ravenloft would be a place that characters from another campaign settings would be drawn into, encounter and defeat something horrible, and then be returned to their home world. Because it was designed for side treks rather than expanded campaigns, the setting itself feels cobbled-together, thin, and disjointed. Later revisions of the setting attempted to shift the default style of play to characters born and bred in Ravenloft engaging in more expansive, connected adventures, but even those additions were still burdened with some of the choices made in the setting's original execution.

Krevborna, on the other hand, is meant to be a stand-alone setting; the expectation is that the adventuring party is made up of characters from Krevborna who are fighting against the evils in the land because the country is their home--they have vested interests, personal ties, and emotional connections that make the land worth fighting for. 

Also, Ravenloft presents a very broad swath of horror and Gothic tropes, whereas Krevborna is more limited and focused. Ravenloft has domains analogous to just about any European nation you could care to name, but beyond that it also has its own versions of haunted Louisiana bayous, mummy-infested ancient Egypt, spooky-scary India, etc. Krevborna, on the other hand, centers around Eastern European influences instead of presenting a wide variety of cultural pastiche. If you're after the full salad bar, Krevborna will probably disappoint in that regard. So, yes, there is some Ravenloft influence at work in Krevborna, but the point was never to make a Ravenloft clone. 

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera Now For Sale at DriveThruRPG

Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera is now available for purchase in full-color print and pdf on DriveThruRPG!

Of course, the book was a group effort. The book would not be as fine as it without the art of Becky Munich and Michael Gibbons, nor would it be as polished without the editing assistance of Heather Cromarty or the additional design work of Katie Albitz.

I also owe a debt of gratitude to all the people who played in my Krevborna games, inspired me with their games, or just plain gave me suggestions along the way that made the book stronger. All of these people are listed on the book's dedication page for a reason:

What the book is about:
The blood moon rises above the haunted lands of Krevborna! Once a country of picturesque villages, deep forests, and sublime mountain ranges, Krevborna is now a land of Gothic ruins preyed upon by fiends, ravening beasts, and the unquiet dead. Shadows triumphantly lengthen across Krevborna; the great powers of darkness work to usher in the dread dominion of an everlasting empire of night.

What you get in the book:
Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera is a system-neutral campaign setting for Gothic Fantasy adventures inspired by Bloodborne, Castlevania, and Penny Dreadful. The book includes:

  • Art by Becky Munich and Michael Gibbons. Setting map by Michael Gibbons.
  • Details on nine locations in the setting: the corrupt city of Chancel, the Lovecraftian town of Creedhall, the witch-town of Hemlock, vampire haunted Lamashtu, the seaside horrors of Piskaro, the underworld of the Grail Tombs, the foreboding Nachtmahr Mountains, the eerie Silent Forest, and the forbidden town of Veil.
  • Information on the people of Krevborna and their folklore.
  • Thirty-four otherworldly entities to use as patrons for the faithful and the pact-bound.
  • Eight factions and twelve NPCs to involve your players in intrigue.
  • Advice and tools for running a fantasy RPG influenced by Gothic literature.
  • Tools for use in game, such as copious adventure seeds, a bestiary of foes, random tables, and a comprehensive adventure generator that gives you the basis of a scenario with little prep.
  • A full index and a separate index of the book's random tables.
  • The book was designed for ease of use and speed of play. All "lore" entries are easy to scan, and make use of bullet points to draw your attention to the important bits so you can get on with your game.
Art from the book:

Setting map by Michael Gibbons

 Black & white interior illustrations by Michael Gibbons

Color chapter art by Becky Munich

Page layout example:

So far, the response has already exceeded my expectations. B. W. Mathers did a review of the book here and Trey Causey did a review of it here, and somehow the book found its way to RPGNow and DriveThru's bestseller list alongside some august company:

And featured in their newsletter:

Available here in print, pdf, or print + pdf combo (print + pdf is the same price as a print copy, so this is the best bargain if you want to hold a book in your hands).

Monday, February 12, 2018

We Kidnapped Your Son, Sell Us Dragon Blood

Campaign: The Excruciata

Characters: Raymondo Cortiz (Human assassin rogue, former entertainer);  Grumli Fellhammer (Mountain dwarf path of the ancestors barbarian, former tribesman); Zanna Cobblestop (Forest gnome wild magic sorcerer, former urchin); Nina Kessler (Air genasi way of the frozen fist monk, former spy); Hiroshi (human samurai fighter, former knight).

Events: Having made a tidy profit selling gunpowder that had been magically enriched with sea dragon ichor, the Excruciata were keen to capitalize on their economic momentum and corner the illicit trade in enchanted black powder. Unfortunately, since no new source of already prepared arcane gunpowder was in view, they decided that it might be best to procure their own method of creating it. A little research in the criminal underworld turned up a new ally: a man named Hiroshi, a disgraced bodyguard to an aristocratic family living in a country far, far away.

Hiroshi had previously taken a few jobs providing muscle for Antoine Saulk, a wealthy man who owned a prosperous sea dragon ichor refining plant in Umberwell Docks. The Excruciata made a legitimate appointment with Saulk in hopes that he would be willing to sell them ichor they could use to enrich gunpowder, but during the meeting it quickly became apparent that he viewed the gang members with obvious distaste. As a man of rising fortunes, he had no wish to do business with a pack of obvious ne'er-do-wells.

Artby flaviobolla
Plan B was to escalate the situation. Since Saulk was unwilling to deal with them due to their obvious criminal enterprises, they decided to show him exactly how villainous they could be. Hiroshi knew that Saulk's mansion was situated at the edge of Umberwell Docks and Sartorial Square; Nina was able to adopt the guise of one of Saulk's lovers to get access to his social calendar through his secretary. Picking a night that they knew Saulk would be at the opera, they put there plan into action: break into Saulk's mansion, and kidnap his son.

The Excruciata entered the house by breaking into a storm cellar that led into a storage area of the basement. They made as much use of stealth as they could, but when that failed they brought violence into the house of Saulk. They tried to keep casualties to a minimum, particularly among Saulk's innocent servants, but a few guards within the house had to be sniped and killed from a distance. The gang managed to find the boy's room and steal away with him from the mansion. A letter was sent to Saulk the next morning, informing him of his son's abduction, and the Excruciata's willingness to return him for a favorable rate on sea dragon ichor.

It only took enclosing one of his son's fingers with the letter to provide proof that they were serious.

A source of sea dragon ichor now secured, now all the Excruciata had to do was find someone mad enough to use it to enrich a store of gunpowder...

Friday, February 9, 2018

Bad Books Short Story Swap

Bad Books For Bad PeopleMini Episode 7: Short Story Swap

In an effort to atone for the damage done during the Book Battle episode, Jack and Kate trade short story selections designed to delight one another. Do their efforts succeed?

Kate assigns Jack "The Adventure of 'The Brain,'" a 1910 comedy tale by Bertram Atkey that finds a bumbling pickpocket tied up with a cult of phrenology-obsessed suffragettes. Read the story in Otto Penzler's anthology The Big Book of Rogues and Villains. Jack introduces Kate to the work of Vernon Lee with the story "Dionea," a decadent gothic tale of an orphan, a doctor, a sculptor, and the old gods. Read the story in Vernon Lee's short story collection Hauntings, first published in 1890.

Find us at, on Twitter @badbooksbadppl, Instagram @badbooksbadpeople and on Facebook. You can discover where to get all the books featured on Bad Books for Bad People on our About Page.

BBfBP theme song by True Creature

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

What If I Told You the Flavor Text Was a Lie

As far as I can tell, this is the secret to reskinning stuff in 5e D&D: as long as you keep the math the same, nothing else you change around the math will break the game.

Keep the numbers, change the flavor.

Some examples:

Art by Conceptopolis
Path of the Frozen Fist
The Path of the Sun Soul is a pretty fun D&D approximation of Street Fighter-style martial arts, but if you take it you're pretty much stuck with radiant and fire damage for your special abilities--which seems like a silly limitation when you look at the wide variety of special moves in fighting games. For example, if you're playing a monk who trained at a monastery in a frozen northern land, it might be fun to have that reflected in your character's powers.

Reskin: Instead of doing radiant or fire damage, your special abilities do cold damage instead. Nothing breaks, nothing is out of balance.

Gaira from Samurai Shodown
Strong Monk
You know how in a lot of martial arts movies there's always that one hulking monster of a man whose martial arts seem to stem from his brute strength rather than his agility? As written, the D&D monk doesn't really support that because some of the monk's abilities (Unarmored Defense, Deflect Missile) are keyed to Dexterity--so it just makes sense to focus on Dexterity as the way you deliver your martial arts attacks too, which isn't going to leave you room to make Strength a priority.

Reskin: Use Strength in place of Dexterity for the monk's abilities tied to the latter for a "strong monk." For example, you would calculate your Unarmored Defense as 10 + Str mod + Wis mod. And, of course, you'd opt to use Strength as the modifier for your unarmed attacks. This is also a sound way to use the monk class to make "pugilists" rather that kung-fu hustlers.Nothing breaks, nothing is out of balance.

Art by WanderInPixels
Okay, so we can make a Dexterity-focused class into a Strength-focused class, can we take a Strength-focused class and end up with a non-broken Dexterity-focused class? Let's play with the archetype of the dervish--a character who enters into an ecstatic state that turns them into a whirling, stabbing storm of blades. This sounds like a barbarian, so what if we...

Reskin: It turns out to make this concept work all you have to do is revise one line in the description of the barbarian's Rage ability: "When you make a melee weapon attack using Strength Dexterity, you gain a bonus to the damage roll that increases as you gain levels as a barbarian, as shown in the Rage Damage column of the Barbarian table." Nothing breaks, nothing is out of balance.

Art by GoldenDaniel
General Weapon Tomfoolery
I want something like a rapier that does slashing damage! I want something like a greatsword that does piercing damage! I want to use a spear or a pike with the Polearm Master feat!

Reskin: You can take any melee weapon, keep its properties and damage dice, and change its damage type without causing any problems. The above examples could easily be "sabers" and "greatspears," respectively. Since pikes and spears do the same amount of damage as glaives and quarterstaffs, adding them to the weapons that work with Polearm Master doesn't rock the boat either. Psst...this also works with spells! Change the damage type, but keep the damage dice the same. Nothing breaks, nothing is out of balance.

Art by DireCatepillar
The Well-Read Warlock
Perhaps your warlock bargains with otherworldly entities through the intricacies of contract law, citing arcane loopholes and navigating the labyrinthine convolutions of pacts sealed in blood...rather than nice-guying some fiend, archfey, or Great Old One out of a slice of their power.

Reskin: Swap Intelligence for Charisma in all applicable warlock abilities and invocations. Oh, and that "muscle mage" you guys all joke about? Wizard who uses Strength for Spell DCs and Spell Attack Bonus. Nothing breaks, nothing is out of balance.

Art from War Machine
Admittedly, the idea of a gunmage may not come up in your games--especially since a lot of gamers seem to get sweaty as soon as someone floats the idea of firearms in a fantasy rpg--but it comes up in mine.

Reskin: There are a lot of options here. Arcane Archer fighter, but their abilities apply to bullets fired from guns instead of arrows fired from bows. Blade warlock with the Improved Pact Weapon invocation--except you can summon a gun as your pact weapon. Paladin, but your smites apply to ranged weapons. Etc. Nothing breaks, nothing is out of balance.