04 December 2023

High-level Adventure Design and Play Considerations

With the No Artpunk 3 contest having just closed submissions, Prince of Nothing outlined his judging principles for some of what distinguishes good high-level adventure designs---and by implication, good high-level play---in his blog post at https://princeofnothingblogs.wordpress.com/2023/11/29/nap-rating-high-level-adventures/ (as well as in the posts clarifying and expanding the NAP3 entrance criteria too).

Gary Gygax's D3 Vault of the Drow - for PCs level 10-14
Gary Gygax's D3 Vault of the Drow -
for PCs level 10-14,
artwork by Erol Otus

In addition to those detailed by Prince, some other criteria rise to the level of "important" in my mind (and Prince never said his list was exhaustive, of course), including:

  • showcasing the strengths of high-level play: where PCs need disintegration to take down a wall of force, need to erase that symbol, and need to research and learn the truename of the demon to be banished (perhaps by any means necessary)

  • non-nerfing environmental challenges high-level modules should not be just the usual trip to the dungeon, cave, or ruin, but should offer distinctive challenges. Examples: aerial/aquatic/undersea environs, active volcanoes, magical/spatial anomalies, demi-planes, and other planes of existence. And while physical challenges are common, social and cultural obstacles can be equally effective:  urban, high-society/courtly, guild/organization based, and religious cultures and faction relationships may not only limit standard combat actions but may also shift the field of combat to influence and politics, and the repercussions of choices made and opportunities lost, rather than simple swordplay

  • knowledge (and perhaps even mastery) of the game system knowing your PCs and the capabilities of their abilities,  spells, and magic (both your own PC and the others in the party), knowing the foes/monsters, knowing the environment and setting, etc. 

  • acting well as a group/team this follows on from knowledge above, but gets into coordinated and effective application of expertise, individually and as a group, at the table and in the moment, as well as looking tactically ahead to medium and long-term goals

What other design principles guide your designs and play in high-level adventures?

I'm curious to hear what criteria drive your sense of high-level design and good play, so please chime in via the comments.  

Some additional discussion and follow-up on reddit at at https://www.reddit.com/r/adnd/s/yPvHskuRje, and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/40230212669/permalink/10160278890287670/, and Dragonsfoot at https://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=91954

In Closing

For the record, I did not submit an adventure for consideration ton NAP again this year:  I didn’t complete the data entry to make my submission electronic and submittable in time (I’m sans PC since September, and have used my son’s while he’s at school, but that wasn’t sufficient time to wrapped it all up by month-end).  It likely needed more time to playtest too, and somewhere along the way I also apparently missed the page count limit, which would have been heartbreaking to have blown had I submitted on time! ;)   

However, I found the contest very inspiring, completed about 90% my adventure design, and I plan to run it (and perhaps my drowic slave market) at GaryCon, the North Texas RPG Con, and Virtual Greyhawk Con next year.

Once I refigured out how to submit files to my web site using the new-to-me admin interface, I will also finally share my expanded tables for Appendix C NPC and PC magic item generation, too.


01 December 2023

Campaign Journal Update - From Hardby to Dyvers and a Few Points In-Between

Kron Hills, Gnarley Forest, and Dyvers environs - map by grodog
Kron Hills, Gnarley Forest, and Dyvers environs -
map by grodog

Since my last Haruspications in Hardby campaign update in July, the PCs have wrapped up their business in Dyvers (selling some poison-smeared gems liberated from a hidden temple to Nerull in Castle Greyhawk to the Executor of the temple of Nerull in Dyvers---and this turned out far better than I expected!), and are working their way back toward Greyhawk.  The characters left Dyvers in the midst of Brewfest, on Waterday, the 5th day of that festival, in the year 576 CY.  

Night Arrant by Gary Gygax

On the Road

On their way to Dyvers from Hardby, they passed through the bucolic Gnarlvergia region, detailed by Gary Gygax in "The House in the Tree" in his Night Arrant collection.   (For those interested, you can listen to Jason Zavoda's readings of much of Night Arrant over on Canonfire! at http://www.canonfire.com/cf/ghnovels.php but unfortunately he did not make it through to record "The House in the Tree" prior to his untimely death in December 2021.  This reminds me that someone in one of the Greyhawk-related discord channels suggested that I might carry on with those recordings, perhaps; I will chase that idea down again!).  There's not an entry for Gnarlvergia in the Greyhawk Wiki, but that's probably less of an oversight since the region is only mentioned three times by name in Night Arrant. But I digress....

On their way to Dyvers from Hardby, the PCs encountered two groups that turned into useful informational meetings.  The first was with the Urûl-Kotár, a group of Flan tribal woodsfolk led by the druidess Cíaran-ap-Tulvea.  After some initial tensions, the two groups broke bread together under the auspices of hospitality, and the PCs warned the Flan of two groups of marauding dragons (one brass, and four blue) rumored to be attacking merchant caravans in and around the Hardby region, and the woodsfolk were very grateful:  Reaction Roll of 100, before adding 40 for the bard's 18 Charisma to make it a 140% total reaction!  This is not nearly as uncommon in this campaign as you might think....

The second encounter of note was with a group of olvenfolk patrolling/hunting for brigands, and they surprised the PCs.  They also noticed that one of the PCs (Henry's character Nohr, a half-olven fighter/magic-user from a future alternate timeline of Oerth) was wielding a drowic tentacle rod as a weapon:  this was "sloat gaacor" (sloat like moat, gaacor like gay soar)--an elvish taboo cognate meaning "forbidden darkness."  The PCs discussed how they acquired the weapon (in their Astral adventure in Zjelwyin Fall), and learned little about the strange nature of the ojbect, save that it gravely concerned the olven captain Sillirifran, of the Moonsilver Pool clan (Ilmkelisil in olven).  Still in  pursuit of the brigands, the elves departed relatively quickly, but urged the PCs to rejoin them later at their home, Silverwell (Celebthiltin Eithimbar:  the "silver shining sparkles homewell"), the source and spring for the Silvern Stream that runs from within the Gnarley to the Nyr Dyv.  

The PCs encountered various other animals---wild horses (some of which they captured and sold/traded to the Silvern-Selintan Ranch, with the well-recognized brand $$) and giant weasels (which they killed and skinned)---and NPCs (a merchant caravan on the eastern side of Selintan, including the Womtham magic-user Eriena Nabestiana, who sold some acid and potions to Nersiv), some en route to and within the city, but the woodsfolk and olves may prove to be the most interesting from the lot.  Time will tell!

In the City

Negotiations with the Temple of Nerull took awhile, but were successfully concluded after the services on Godsday during Brewfest.  The result includes a proposal of alliance with the Greyhawk Assassin's Guild.  While Haj worked the Reaper's clergy, some of the other PCs worked opportunity jobs that arose during the festivities:  

  • Cyn performed with two other bards---Zyfor the Black, hailing from Blackmoor, and Cyndalia Tureine from Rel Astra) at the Inn of the Golden Locks; all three performed well, and earned about 100 gp each over the course of Cyn's stay
  • Nohr and Cyn also acted as translators at Shadows in the Drink (another inn in the western portion of Dyvers) in urgent need of Hobbit and Olven speaking assistance; Cyn made the acquaintance of Lord Gwyndariol from the Vale of Highfolk, as a result of the translations work
  • Nersiv departed from the rest of the party and from Dyvers on the first day of Brewfest in order to speculate on some wares/commodities offered in the markets:  he purchased some essence of will-o-wisp and violet fungi spores at low prices and then chartered an olven hippogriff messenger service carrier to return him to Hardby where he plans to sell them at a substantial profit, in order to then return to Dyvers and purchase an elixir of life available from one of the other merchants before the close of Brewfest
Once the Nerullite business concluded, the PCs left on the 5th day of Brewfest to return to Greyhawk, planning to stop at Silverwell on the way and to take the olves up on their invitation.

Movin' Right Along (the Road, into an Ambush?)

Kermit and Fozzy, on the road again....
Kermit and Fozzy, on the road again....

At midnight that evening, a large group of goblins passed by the PCs' camp (neither group was surprised), and the goblins split into multiple groups, one of which moved toward the camp.  Through a lengthy battle (11 rounds!), the PCs slew approximately 30 goblins in battle.

The session ended with various questions still unanswered:
  • Where were the goblins heading to, and where were they coming from?
  • Will the goblins regroup on the other side of the Silvern Stream and reengage, or flee?
  • Are the PCs in range of the goblins' slingers?  (That answer is almost certainly Yes!).
  • Will the PCs stop to loot fallen goblins, or carry the fight to the remainder of the force, or pursue some other course of action?
As usual, I am looking forward to tomorrow night's game! :D


09 October 2023

virtual Greyhawk Con 4 - grodog's convention report

It has been a quiet summer for From Kuroth's Quill, and with good reason:  for those not already aware, I've been laid off by Amazon Web Services as part of their "return to office" (or RTO) policy, so I've been pretty distracted from Greyhawk and fun in general the past few months.  My last day shifted around a bit, but my time with AWS concluded on Wednesday, 27 September, so I've had a couple of weeks to destress and work some of that angst out of my system.  

And I'm happy to say that virtual Greyhawk Con #4 this past weekend played a good part in that process!

virtual Greyhawk Con logo and dates: 6-8 October 2023
virtual Greyhawk Con logo and dates: 6-8 October 2023

I have not squeezed so much gaming into a three-day weekend since the early days of GaryCon and the North Texas RPG Con!---I played in three games, DM'd three games, and closed out the convention in the "Ask the Experts" roundtable once more, and my brain is very full!:

"My brain is full" image from Gary Larson's _The Far Side_.
Image from Gary Larson's _The Far Side_.

Here's a quick rundown of my events and activities:

Friday - 6 October 2023:  a Great Start

I kicked off the convention DMing my "Halls of the Iron Golems" level from my version of Castle Greyhawk.  Here's the initial draft of the dungeon level map:

"Halls of the Iron Golems" dungeon level by Allan Grohe (grodog)
"Halls of the Iron Golems" dungeon level map,
by Allan Grohe (grodog)

An eight-PCs crew entered the level through the SW corner stairs, where they were soon ambushed by a trio of extortionistic ogre magi, led by a shaman with a giant amphisbaena snake familiar (who said snake charm was never useful, hmmmm?).  They also explored a strange astronomical/astrological chamber filled with many tempting gemstones embedded in the walls (but not so tempting that they got distracted from their mission and began prying them out!).  They also explored several of the adjacent chambers and halls.  Fun was had by all.

In my evening game, I played in Carlos Lising's casl Entertainment adventure, The Amphora Ekphrasis, a sequel to last year's "The 9" (I played a 1/1 female halfling druid/thief named Snow, which was a different PC from my 1st level human cleric last year).  We managed to secure for our down-on-its-luck-sounds-too-good-for-how-down-it-is home base named Bulkwark---a Great Depression-era Keep on the Borderlands.  

We invaded an old ruined site that had been claimed by orcs, seeking a decanter of endless water for our cohorts at Bulwark.  As it turns out, the site (and it's relic decanter) was originally sacred to Lirr, goddess of prose, poetry, literature, and art.  After a few battles and some well-played tactics from the group, we prevailed and accomplished our mission.  The quality and type of liquid produced by the decanter varied by the quality of the prose pages sacrificed by placing them within the decanter; solid workmanlike texts produce clear, clean water, while more esoteric and moving works could produce holy water and potions.  

As always, Carlos ran a great game, and the rest of the players were a joy to play with, as we explored Carlos' post-canon setting Great Kingdom during the early 600s CY.  If you'd like to watch the replay, Carlos has it on Twitch stream at https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1944576093:

Saturday - 7 October 2023:  Long-Haul Fun

I played or ran games from 9am to 11pm on Saturday, with a one-hour break for dinner from 6-7pm.  That's definitely the longest stretch of continuous gaming I've done in quite awhile.  Fortunately my voice didn't give out, and my brain wasn't fried by the time I began DMing in the evening :D

The day kicked off with my 9am to 2pm session DM'd by Mike "Von Molkew" Mossbarger's Mystery in Midmeadow event, during which our high-level party of agents of the Nyrondal King Lynwerd discovered that recent attacked in the area were precipitated by an hitherto-thought-mythical race of evil known as the drow!  Conspiring against the drow were the also unknown rockseer elves, who we were able to secure as allies against the drow.  

Much fun was had by all, and Mike does a great job handling the setting lore (we discovered the underworld source for the Franz River at Crystal Springs, too!), as well as presenting a very engaging game using maps and graphics on Owlbear Rodeo:

Collage of Mystery at Midmeadow maps by Michael Mossbarger
Collage of Mystery at Midmeadow maps,
 by Michael Mossbarger

During my next game, which ran from 2-6pm, Curtis Cable ran "Fell Tidings at Willow Blight Abbey"---a reskinning of the classic module B5 Horror on the Hill by Doug Niles.  We played 4-6th level PCs invading a humanoid-occupied ruined abbey located in the Jotens, to stop the destruction of a holy helm sacred to Heironeous.  

Curtis also ran a fun game steeped in Greyhawk and AD&D lore---the abbey forces were led by a shaman of Maglubiyet, while the site was steeped in the trappings of Incabulos' worship.  

After Curtis' game concluded, I grabbed a quick dinner, and then DM'd my twice-monthly home campaign, where the 4th-5th level PCs are currently engaged in selling some sacred gemstone eyes chiseled out of a hidden temple to Nerull in Castle Greyhawk; they're selling them back to the temple of Nerull in Dyvers, and it seems to be going well so far....

Saturday - 7 October 2023:  Ending on High Notes

Sunday morning I slept in a bit, and jumped back into the saddle at 11am to run my second session of "Halls of the Iron Golems."  This time the PCs started in the lower-right quadrant of the map, and explored north and west and northward to within sight of their goal by the end of the session!  Quick thinking during various encounters (with a glassteel skeleton golem that resonated when struck with melee weapons and thereby damaged its attackers, and a giant slug) and a relentless focus on making progress in the proper direction paid off :D

At the end, the party was foiled by an insidious sliding stair trap which split the party and dumped them into two skeletons-filled chambers:  one submerged in 12 feet of water (alas, three of the four PCs wore magical armor and the one PC who was in normal armor---and therefore sank like a rock---had a ring of swimming! ;) ), while the second was submerged in caustic and poisonous gas!  This particular trap was inspired by Dave S. LaForce's classic DMG illustration:

Skeleton attack! by DSL

The skeletons attempted to hold the PCs in place under the water and within the gas, but were defeated in the end....

The "Ask the Experts" session traditionally concludes the convention, and featured Jay Scott and Anna Meyer as recurring hosts, with Roger Moore joining for the first time this year, and Denis "Maldin" Tetreault, Joe "Greyhawk Grognard" Bloch, and me rounding out the participants.  

Our discussion ranged widely over the course of the 2+ hours, and touched on several interesting topics, including:
  • variant AD&D classes 
  • sites/scenarios that deserve Return To modules
  • modules most-in-need of salvaging
  • Flanaess cities that deserve the boxed set treatment
  • how we can bring more new fans to Greyhawk
  • places/times to consider running a pre-576 CY campaign
  • planar and temporal adventure ideas
  • 50th anniversary D&D ideas and plans
Tune into the discussion to explore these and other topics and ideas!:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTuw04FDdGo

grodog's 2024 Convention Schedule

I'm still currently planning to attend GaryCon XVI (21-24 March), NTX (5-9 June), and vGHC (4-6 October) next year.  

Since I'm currently unfettered by a limited number of vacation days, I may try to extend my GaryCon trip to include the pre-con Founders & Legends events running 16-18 March too, but that's still a long time away from my family, and the additional hotel and meals costs are not trivial, so we'll see....

I am also hoping to align a trip to visit my family in South Jersey with the brand new Philadelphia Area Gaming Expo con, which runs 5-7 January 2024.   

We'll see how all of that works out in practice soon :D 

50th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons

As part of the Q&A around D&D's 50th anniversary next year, I am working to complete the publication of one of my Castle Greyhawk levels.  It probably won't be done in time for GaryCon in March but may be ready for North Texas in June. 

I'm also working on a high-level adventure submission for the No Artpunk III adventure design contest, which remains open through the end of November.  

Thanks Yous!

I'd like to thank Jay Scott, Josh Popp, Anna Meyer, and the rest of the virtual Greyhawk Con crew for putting the vGHC convention together---each fall it's a wonderful way to close out my conventions for the year, and it's always a pleasure to meet new fans of the setting and to game together in their versions of Greyhawk.

And a sincere thank you to the players in my regular campaigns, and for those who participate in my events at vGHC and GaryCon and North Texas each year.  The playtesting that we do together makes my DMing better and my events more fun, and that is always appreciated! =)


07 August 2023

Heroic Legendarium - DriveThruRPG Deal today on 7 August 2023

Good news too hot to wait for a curated update!--- Trent Smith's _The Heroic Legendarium_ is discounted by $10 on the PDF and the hardcover books today (as in Monday, 7 August 2023), since it's the DriveThru Deal of the Day.

The savings are definitely worth it:

  • Hardcover MSRP: $29.99 --> Deal price:  $19.99
  • PDF MSRP: $17.99 --> Deal price: $7.20 
  • Hardcover + PDF MSRP: $47.98 --> Deal price $20.09


Trent Smith's _Heroic Legendarium_ on sale 7 August 2023!
Trent Smith's _Heroic Legendarium_
on sale 7 August 2023!

I've enjoyed using the new classes, spells, and rules in my ongoing AD&D 1e Greyhawk campaigns since before it was published, and think _The Heroic Legendarium_ adds great options to any game.  If you're not already familiar with it, Trent's overview is at https://mystical-trash-heap.blogspot.com/2020/01/heroic-legendarium-by-numbers.html.

Trent announced the deal at https://mystical-trash-heap.blogspot.com/2023/08/heroic-legendarium-deal-of-day.html and the book itself is available at https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/357539/The-Heroic-Legendarium-A-First-Edition-Adventure-Gaming-Companion



27 July 2023

A Quick Campaign Update - Haruspications in Hardby

Today marks Gary Gygax Day,  and what better way to honor Gary and the game he and Dave Arneson, Rob Kuntz, Lenard Lakofka, and so many others created and shaped, than to play AD&D. 

Without further ado, here are events from one of the current Greyhawk campaigns I DM:

The PCs in our online, twice-per-month Castle Greyhawk campaign (AD&D 1e, currently set in the summer of 576 CY) have been delving a bit into the meaning of the Prophecy of the Six and the Twelve, which they recovered last summer (in real life) from the Astral fastness of The Zjelwyin Fall.  

In order to try to mitigate the infernal (divine?) attentions of Nerull and to mitigate a perhaps-baleful curse that might be afflicting one or more of the PCs after they inadvertently invoked divine (infernal?) intervention while looting a hidden temple to The Reaper in Castle Greyhawk, at the recommendations of the local clergy of Celestian, the PCs journeyed south to Hardby, to seek the guidance of Wee Jas.  (After all, she too is a god of death).  

The PCs communed with the Ruby Queen with one of her Hardby cathedral-complex high priestesses acting as medium.  (Yet again, they invoked divine intervention through their fiendishly lucky---and occasionally unlucky---dice rollings:  I regularly roll a 100 on 1d100 reaction rolls every session that we play in this game!---and yes, DI rolls are roll low not high, but I digress....).  

The questions  they posed to Wee Jas were perhaps answered directly by the goddesss herself, the female voice speaking in different tone than those of her high priestess.  The PCs asked four questions:

  1. Q:  Are any of us cursed by the Reaper?  A:  Not exactly.
  2. Q:  Will placating the Reaper appease his anger?  A:  Yes.
  3. Q:  Can the priestesses here provide direction on how to placate the Reaper's anger?  Perhaps.
  4. Q:  Will you give us a sign on how to placate the Reaper?  Yes.

Part of the significance in Wee Jas' responses is based on how the commune spell works in AD&D:  "By use of a commune spell the cleric is able to contact his or her divinity---or agents thereof---and request information in the form of questions which can be answered by a simple "yes" or "no". The cleric is allowed one such question for every level of experience he or she has attained." (Players Handbook, page 49).  The fact that Wee Jas spoke directly and broke the "rules" of the divinatory exchange speaks as much as or more than the answers themselves, perhaps.

After the high priestess recovered a day or two from channelling the goddess directly, she wrote the PCs a letter, which contained the additional sign they sought, along with guidance on how to recognize further signs from the goddess, and some additional advice: 


Starday, 22 Harvester, in the year 576 Common Year

Esteemed Querants---

Enclosed please find the wisdom of Wee Jas, to aid you in your efforts to achieve atonement with The Reaper:

1.    I awoke on this morn having scribed in the night a strange and unsettling verse, which I believe is in response to your queries to the goddess.  Her riddling rede means not much to me as yet, but I shall pray for the guidance and wisdom to understand its depths.  I have enclosed a copy of her words for you.  Do not share them lightly with others, they are for your eyes and ears alone.

2.    The rede mentions “ruby roses” which reminds me of a gift that Zagig is purported to have given the goddess prior to his ascendancy.  Perhaps it is true, perhaps not, but this gift if it existed is one that his priests may be able to provide more detail about, if you can ever find one of them at temple.

3.    Your band’s explorations seem intertwined more-closely with Zagig’s schemes and follies than I would deem wise.  If you wish to pursue further learnings about the man Zagig, he was raised in Hardby, and lived here prior to his move northward to Greyhawk.  What is not as well-known is that prior to the erection of his grand castle, that Zagig crafted a manse for himself, which he later abandoned once the great edifice stood.  Perhaps it may yield some further guidance, although I would assess carefully the relevance of any such rede that you may receive from The Mad Archmage.

4.    Lastly, with respect to additional guidance that the goddess may share with you in the form of omens, portents, and other signs of her divine guidance, know that she is wont to communicate through dreams and visions; to employ as messengers and visitations the familiars of magi, and the lawful dragons and undead, cardinals and the phoenix; that she favors the hues of red, ruby, crimson, cardinal, carmine, vermillion, scarlet, and cerise; seek her in the wisdom of the dead and  the grave, and in the runes and power words that shape the motion of the world’s living magics. 

Go in the light the of the goddess, and may she guide you in this world and the next with clarity and purpose.  

Your obedient servant---

Eora Nulnivik,
High Priestess in Sable
Cathedral of Wee Jas


(The letter is scribed as a handout in the font Blackadder ITC at 13.5 font size, and fits nicely on a single sheet of paper.  I'll post a PDF of the letter in that format once I'm able, preferably using Carlos Lising's very nice parchment background, if I remember to ask him about that at the game this weekend).  

Enclosed with the letter was the "riddling rede"---however the handwriting for the poem did not match Eora Nulnivik's hand from her letter.  Its text follows, but the formatting won't reproduce well in HTML without more work than I have time to put in at the moment, so I'll post it in PDF later as well.  (For reference, the letter's hand was in Edwardian Script ITC 15.5 font size). 


Sword of Roses

There lies a scythe in Quariol
bound by ruby roses whose petals unfold---
and bleed---
when traitor Winter stalks the skies

staining the hard, frozen ground
and exhaling the souls of the soft dead

into bottomless night

Unnamed thing of demons---
forged and sheathed in bitter alchemies
of time and flesh
woe and bone
fang and shadow---

It whispers shrill, cruel secrets
in tongues that echo
and mock the brood stillness
of the woods
the worlds

Secrets rising as breaths---
upon the silence stealing
steeling the worlds for woe

There in Quariol---
beyond the black lodge of Fenris
beyond the roses-shrouded gate

in the vale of madness
of pain
of despair unending---

There lies a scythe in Quariol

(by Allan Grohe, after Eric Kimball and Robert Gould – Two Man Horse).

A day or two later, one of the other PCs invoked Zagyg's direct attention while at a much-smaller chapel dedicated in his name---but that is for another tale....  

Meanwhile the PCs are leaving Hardby to hear north to Dyvers, where they can consult at one of The Reaper's primary temples in the Flanaess.  

What could possibly go wrong?


I based the automatic writing "riddling rede" on a poem written by Eric Kimball and illustrated by Robert Gould that I first encountered in the art and prints shop of Norm Hood off of exit 7A in the mid-1980s, and adapting it to Greyhawk was a pleasure---and I hope a respectful tribute to their original work:


Sword of Roses by Eric Kimball and Robert Gould (Two Man Horse, 1976)
Sword of Roses
by Eric Kimball and Robert Gould
(Two Man Horse, 1976)


23 April 2023

Greyhawk News You Can Use in the Month of Planting!

Black Blade - GaryCon booth review at Black Gate

John O'Neill of Black Gate Magazine visited our Black Blade Publishing booth at GaryCon last month, and rote a very nice piece about the booth and the books at https://www.blackgate.com/2023/03/26/gary-con-report-black-blade-publishing-and-limitless-adventure/.

Allan working BBP's GaryCon booth (photo by John O'Neill)
Allan working BBP's GaryCon booth
(photo by John O'Neill)

The article nicely updates John’s rediscovery of our booth back at GaryCon X at https://www.blackgate.com/2018/03/13/the-1001-treasures-of-black-blade-publishing-and-goodman-games-gary-con-2018-report-part-ii/.

It’s sometimes difficult to appreciate the breadth and depth of excellent content available in the greater old-school, OSR, and Greyhawk gaming communities, and John’s article does a great job summarizing the passion that we bring to this hobby. 

It’s a true pleasure to help introduce gamers to the myriad of wonderful books, adventure modules, fiction, and other fan-created projects at GaryCon and North Texas RPG Con each year.


Tonisborg Review, 2002 Gygax Video, and the Marmoreal Tomb Shambles into Unlife

Two news items via Trent Smith’s always-insightful blog, The Mystical Trash Heap:

  1. Trent’s excellent review of The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg, recently reprinted via Kickstarter by the Secrets of Blackmoor documentary team

  2. A recently-rediscovered 2002 interview by Peter Michael Garcia with Gary Gygax at GameFest 2002 (Richmond, VA) at https://vimeo.com/809850827 (23 minutes):

2002 Peter Michael Garcia interview with Gary Gygax
2002 Peter Michael Garcia interview
with Gary Gygax


The video was shared on Facebook by Ernie Gygax, and Trent reshared it from there.

Ernie’s and Benoist Poire’s Marmoreal Tomb Kickstarter also began to ship product in March, after the long-delayed project was rescued through the assistance of Troll Lord Games, who completed production and fulfillment.  I wasn’t a backer, but the new books do look pretty good, per a picture that Anthony Huso shared recently from his blog:


The Marmoreal Tomb in all of its glory (photo by Anthony Huso)
The Marmoreal Tomb in all of its glory
(photo by Anthony Huso)


What’s Up in the Greyhawk Fan Community

The community has been pretty busy of late---creating, announcing, and delivering several new projects!:

  • Ben Ball’s Peoples of the Flanaess download is at https://www.mediafire.com/file/zbmel607ngy0zfj/Peoples_of_the_Flanaess.pdf, and offers pre-defined lists of names for each of the 61 cultures, nations, and named regions in the World of Greyhawk. Each d30 table includes columns for female and male names, alignment, hair color, hair texture, complexion, and eye color.  Follow-up discussion is available at the Knights & Knaves Alehouse (where Ben also shared some brilliant encounter tables for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, too!).

    Ben’s work aligns nicely with the Greyhawk naming discussion on Canonfire! that Marc-Tizoc Gonzalez began, and which I mentioned in last month’s news update.

  • The new Gulf of Ghayar Gazetteer can be downloaded at https://www.annabmeyer.com/2023/04/19/gulf-of-ghayar-gazetteer/.  Designed by Crag and supported by the Greyhawk fan commuinity, the 96 page PDF details the full scope of the Dramidj Oceanic region, located at the extreme northwest of the Flanaess, beginning at Ekbir and sweeping westar beyond.

  •  Jay “LordGosumba” Scott, Anna Meyer, and I hosted another discussion with Rob Kuntz on Saturday morning, 22 April 2023---Earth Day, so perhaps we should have made it an Oerth Day chat, but we didn’t think of that and instead we discussed the origins, history, and continuing development of Rob’s player character, Lord Robilar (and a few other topics).  You can watch the recording on Twitch at https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1800551316 and on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mH6A85uMC8:

    And if you missed last month’s widely-ranging discussion with Rob, the recording is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmGKXKPS6kA.

  • Jay also recently announced the dates for Virtual Greyhawk Con 4:  this year it’s being held from 6-8 October 2023!:

  • Last, but certainly not least, a new Greyhawk fanzine is in the offing, Visions of Greyhawk:

    Evan “FormerlyKnownasNorker” Cummins announced the new zine on Canonfire! at http://www.canonfire.com/cf/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=9716 with a pointer to this four-page download:  http://www.canonfire.com/visionsofgreyhawk/VisionsofGreyhawkProposal.pdf:

    VISIONS OF GREYHAWK is a new e-zine being made by and for World of Greyhawk enthusiasts. It will be hosted on Canonfire.com. As that website has done for the hobby for over two decades, this e-zine will present mini-modules, lore articles, reviews, new monsters and magic, and more, regardless of the version of the rules employed.

    Zine submissions opened on 15 April 2023, and Gary Holian added some commentary in the above Canonfire! announcement thread: 

    My two cents. The Oerth Journal continues to exist and we should be proud of of it as one of the longest running zines in fandom. But this is more about Canonfire and its new direction.

    I will be relaunching the [Canonfire!] site soon, with updated forums and using a modern Wordpress installation as a base. That should greatly improve the signup process and the search engine, both of which are functionally broken in many ways. We'll work on ways for people to discover and re-discover all the great content on this site.  [snip]

    Why the name Visions of Greyhawk? I suggested we choose a name that leaves no doubt what the content is about, targeted for people far and wide who are not just members of Canonfire, but it will be hosted and promoted on CF.

    The editorial team has been firming up as new community members volunteer to help support the zine, and currently includes (as of 19 April 2023):

    • PROJECT EDITOR: Ewan Cummins
    • CONSULTING EDITOR: Gary Holian
    • LAYOUT AND DESIGN: Lee Schaidle
    • ASSISTANT EDITORS: Gary “hedgeknight” Francisco

Visions of Greyhawk is still accepting volunteers for assistant editorial positions.  To volunteer your help in editing or layout and design, or to submit an article or a piece of artwork, emails visionsofgreyhawk@gmail.com.

Since the new zine is positioned as complimentary to the Oerth Journal rather than competitive with the OJ, I remain cautiously optimisti that the community can support multiple zines.  We’ll see!


And that’s all for the month of Planting!  Happy Oerth Day everyone (yet-again blogger ate my content yesterday afternoon, so this being posted a day late and a post short), and see you next time!


02 April 2023

GaryCon XV Convention Report - 21-27 March 2023

GaryCon XV has come and gone, and---as usual---I had a wonderful time at the convention playing AD&D, celebrating the life and games of Gary Gygax and the rest of the old-school guard, and catch up with friends old and new!

The Ugly, the Bad, and the Great

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Ugly and the Bad won't take up too much space in this post, and The Great far outweighs these two, they remain important to share nonetheless. 

The Ugly: COVID

To get the Ugly out of the way first:  I caught COVID at GaryCon XV.  Because I worked the vendor hall at our Black Blade Publishing booth, I interacted with a LOT of folks at GaryCon, so I've shared this information as widely as I can on Facebook.

This is the message I sent to the players in my GaryCon XV games via TableTop Events messaging:


Hello Fellow GaryCon Gamers!---

As some of you will already be aware from my post on Facebook, I tested positive for COVID on Friday 31 March 2023 after presumably being exposed at the convention.  I had meant to send this out on Friday, but forgot, so if this is the first time you're hearing this news, I apologize.  

If you played in one of my GaryCon games, or visited the Black Blade Publishing booth, you may have been exposed too.  If we interacted, you should consider testing whether you're showing symptoms, or not.  (I was masked while working the booth on Saturday and Sunday of the convention after hearing rumors of COVID cases at GaryCon).  

The CDC guidelines on testing and isolation are at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/if-you-were-exposed.html and https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/isolation.html and have changed since I had last reviewed them.  For what it's worth, I tested negative twice on the evening of Monday 27 March and Wednesday 29 March before I tested positive four days after my return from Lake Geneva on Friday, 31 March.  

I hope that you remain healthy, that you recover quickly if you do get sick, and I look forward to gaming again together in the future!


The Bad: Not Much!

With COVID out of the way, I don't have any significant complaints about the convention.  I was pretty tired after the con, and moreso than in years previously.  I attributed that initially and in particular to working the booth alone (it was about 6 hours to set up, and 4 hours to tear down), but some could have been COVID tiredness too. 

Dave Conant and Travis (a volunteer) did come by the booth while Jeff Talanian and I were chatting, and asked for feedback.  We spoke about noise in the louder events rooms, which is a recurring problem that's hard to solve.  

The only other possible complaint is the new location of the vendors hall in the Forum (this was the second year there), but we haven't crunched the numbers on our sales data yet to see how we did, so complaining would be quite premature ;) 

The Great:  all the rest! :D

Other than COVID, the rest of the of GaryCon was  awesome, as always.  

It's always a treat and a treasure to catch up with old friends, to meet folks for the first time who I've only known online via a username, and to game with both groups at the table. 

Black Blade Publishing booth and New Old-School Games!

Allan at the Black Blade Publishing
booth at GaryCon XV

Our Black Blade Publishing booth was one of mainstays in the hall.  It's always a pleasure to introduce gamers to wonderful works created by our friends and fellow designers.  You can browse through some pictures of the booth in my Facebook profile (they're publicly visible) in my GaryCon XV photo album, and John O'Neill of Black Gate Magazine also shared his walk-through pictures of our booth too---John's are more-current than mine, in fact, and show the booth in its "final form" from Saturday ;)

New products to highlight in the booth this year included:

  • Black Blade's newest 17"x22" hexagonal mapping pads
  • John Eric Holmes' Maze of Peril (his 1986 novella; this was placeholder stock until we reprint Tales of Peril
  • Goodman Games' Original Adventures Reincarnated series, volumes 1-6, including OAR#6 The Temple of Elemental Evil, which also featured in Paul Stormberg's "Legends of Roleplaying" tournament on Friday night
  • Lenard Lakofka's L3 Deep Dwarven Delve (along with a number of other TSR classics reprints)
  • Richard Barton's The Halls of Arden Vul (we sold out of copies by Sunday!) 
  • Alex Bates' Fire-Pearls of Aya-Ghan adventure
  • Handy Haversack's The Hybrid Bone Effigy Crucible of the Urgent Chimera adventure
  • Joe Bloch's Adventures Dark & Deep "Tomes" series:  Swords of Cthulhu, Adventures Great and Glorious, Book of Lost Lore, and Book of Lost Beasts
  • Larry Wickman's Gamewick Games titles:  Pittsburgh 68, Roswell 51, and Innmouth 32

We also promoted new PDF-only products from Rob Kuntz' Three Line Studio (both Gargax's Glorious Gewgaws and Pryce's Price, his 50th anniversary of OD&D tributes to Gary Gygax), and Carlos Lising's Hounds of Oerth, a new casl Entertainment charity supplement supporting the ASPCA.

Other GaryCon XV New Releases and Acquisitions!

Anna Meyer's seminar handout, two new Lenard Lakofka modules, and more!
Anna Meyer's seminar handout,
two new Lenard Lakofka modules,
and more!


The Lenard Lakofka Archive announced the release of two new AD&D adventures, which are free to download from Anna Meyer's web site:  LA1 The Lighthouse and LA2 Devil's Dung. These are newly-published adventures written by Lenard and released to the public for free in PDF form.  I playtested a still-unpublished adventure ("Ravages of the Mind") at Virtual Greyhawk Con 3 last October, so keep an eye out for more new Lakofka materials in the future!  And thank you to the archive team for their hard work---these modules wouldn't exist without time time, talent, and treasure donated by Troy Alleman, Daniel Boggs, Richard Di Iola, Anna Meyer, Josh Popp, Lee Schaidle, Dan Smith, and of course to Lenard Lakofka.

Anna B. Meyer shared her 2023 cartography seminar handout at https://www.annabmeyer.com/2023/03/12/gary-con-xv-handout/ and it's gorgeous!  Anna has many new projects coming this year, including new Greyhawk and Meyerhawk heraldry, and updates to many of her maps including her new Oerth v2 project!  Anna also took the time out of her busy schedule to deliver my copies of Lenard's new modules; thanks Anna! :D

In addition to the above highlights, I also picked up a copy of some old homebrewed character sheets from Shawn and Devon Hibbs at their Die Cast Games booth (the Burntwire Brothers, as they're known among the Acaeum crowd).  I had bought the exact same set from them last year, so I'll be opening the shrink wrap on one of them to see what's on the backs of the sheets.

Zach "Zenopus Archives" Howard also graciously gifted me with a 5e handout that Steve Marsh provided at one of his games at the North Texas RGP Con.  It had caught my eye because it includes a new class that's oriented toward shadow magic (which was first professional gaming publication way back in 1987 in White Wolf Magazine #11).  Thanks Zach! :D

COVID Comforts for grodog

While I've been isolating at home, in addition to reading some of the goodies above, I've also been re-reading Roger Zelazny's second Chronicles of Amber series, which focuses on Corwin's son Merlin.  On my last trip to NJ I had picked up Seven Tales in Amber, which collects Roger's last stories in the series (primarily his short stories from Amberzine).  

The Merlin stories have lately been scrabbling aroud in my backbrain, along with Anthony Huso's Night Wolf Inn (recently given a five-star review from Prince of Nothing at Age of Dusk), so I read through them the past few days while isolating:

COVID comforts for grodog
COVID comforts for grodog

COVID comforts for grodog
"Where there's a whip, there's a way..."

My reading pile also includes a new-to-me puzzle dungeon entitled Aberrant Reflections.  I haven't fully read it yet, but the publisher is directsun Games, and I hope to carry them in our booth in the future.

John Popson of Effincool Miniatures also hand-delievered a box of wonderful Rankin-Bass-inspired goblins above, which I will to paint and mix in gleefully with my Max Carr Dungeon Dwellers goblins from Heritage :D  Thanks John!

The last title I leave you with is a book that was recommended to me by Eli Elder, and it looks like it'll fit in quite nicely in my 1:1 solo aquatic Greyhawk campaign with my son Henry:


I don't have a copy of this in-hand (yet!), but Knight Owl Publishing's Aquatic Adventures looks like a winner based on my flip-through of Eli's copy at the con. 

Until the next time, when I'll provide a run-through of the games I DM'd at GaryCon XV.


26 February 2023

Special Guest Interview with Rob Kuntz livestream on LordGosumba's Gabbin' #236

Jay Scott---with Anna Meyer and me also participating---interviewed Rob Kuntz on Jay's Gabbin' at Lord Peak's Haven #236 livestream show yesterday morning.  The show came together very quickly, so I didn't have time to announce it ahead of time.  If you missed it live, you can watch the recordings on Twitch at https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1748868999 and YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmGKXKPS6kA (video below links to YouTube):



Discussion References

Our widely-ranging discussion delved into various aspects of OD&D and Greyhawk's playtesting and early publishing history, including (among other topics):

1. The original, now alas lost, Greyhawk campaign map drawn by Gary (lost by Chris Schleicher, who printed the Domesday Book newsletters for the Castles & Crusades Society): 

Domesday Book Great Kingdom map by Dave Megarry
Domesday Book Great Kingdom map
by Dave Megarry

Domesday Book Great Kingdom map by Dave Arneson (colored by grodog)
Domesday Book Great Kingdom map
by Dave Arneson (and colored by grodog)


The lost map was 8.5"x11" in portrait orientation (not landscape) featured more text and graphical/artistic detail than the two above, and was in Gary's handwriting. 

That map would have chronologically been developed somewhere between the above two Domesday Great Kingdom maps and the art order sketch maps that Darlene used for the Folio poster maps (and which survive in photocopy form from Lenard Lakofka's archives):


Darlene's published
1980 Greyhawk Folio maps


For some excellent analysis and discussion about the original Castle & Crusade Society Great Kingdom maps, see these additional resources:

2. You can read the full text of Gary Gygax's letter in Alarums & Excursions #15 (15 October 1976) at Jason Zavoda's blog "Gygax's Letter in Alarums and Excursions #15" and Jason had transcribed additional Gygax letters at https://jasonzavoda-hallofthemountainking.blogspot.com/search?q=alarums&max-results=20&by-date=true.


3. Arnold Hendrick's full 1974 review of OD&D from The Courier Volume 6 #6 (1974) appears below:


Gary's rebuttal to the review appears in The Strategic Review #3 (Fall 1975).

For some additional discussion and commentary, see ENWorld at https://www.enworld.org/threads/a-typewritten-d-d-review-from-1974-by-arnold-hendrick.661641/ and Paul's Blog of Holding at https://www.blogofholding.com/?p=5769.


4. "The Gnome Cache" is Gary's incomplete novella published serially (as "Garrison Ernst") in The Dragon #1, #2, #3, #5, #6, and #7 from June 1976 through June 1977:

5. The rules for the "Siege of Bodenburg" were first published by Henry H. Bodenstedt in Strategy & Tactics Volume 1 #6 (July 1967) and were subsequently freely distributed from his Adelphia, New Jersey games and hobby store to help sell the Elastolin Miniatures that he imported. 

The rules used to be freely downloadable at http://www.thortrains.net/armymen/bodebok1.html but that site is now gone, and is not available via the Internet Archive, so I've uploaded the rules to my site at [TBD].

For some additional information about Bodenburg's relationship to Castle Greyhawk, see Zenopus Archives at https://zenopusarchives.blogspot.com/2015/03/visualizing-castle-greyhawk.html and for some historical context about the Siege of Bodenburg game, seehttps://en-academic.com/dic.nsf/enwiki/2650436

I'll try to find the pictures of me playing "Siege of Bodenburg" from my GaryCon photo albums, and add here too.


Online Stores for Rob Kuntz Books

We discussed several of the gaming books that Rob authored and designed over the years, and many are still in-print and available:

  • Rob's most-recent works are spread out across a few different publishing imprints, but are all accessible from:
  • LGCC-1 The Original Bottle City (from Castle Greyhawk), RJK-1 Cairn of the Skeleton King, and RJK-2 Tower of Blood are available from us at Black Blade Publishing, both via mail order or direct from our booths at GaryCon and North Texas RPG Con each year. 

    We also stock all of Rob's in-print titles from Paul at GaryCon and North Texas RPG Con.

Additional References

Rob's most-current biography is on his TLS site at https://www.threelinestudio.com/bio/.

"A Partial, Annotated Bibliography of the Works of Robert J. Kuntz" appears on Canonfire! at  http://www.canonfire.com/cf/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=125 (and is mirrored on my Greyhawk site, but I think my copy is not as current as the Canonfire! one).  Both are likely in need of updating, and also provide some good insight into the contents of Rob's El Raja Key Archive.

Canonfire! also hosts "Rob Kuntz's The Three Artifacts of the Demon Senders," which was first published in Wargaming #2 in 1977. 



Enjoy! :D