Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Regarding Robert Bledsaw I and Bob's Legacy

Robert Bledsaw I (herein “Bob,” the only one worthy of the name) would not have put up with any of the filth his son and grandson cleave to, and would be ashamed and heartbroken to know what they have become.

In the 10 years of my friendship with Bob we spoke not only of games and gaming, but also of life, death, philosophy, politics… the full spectrum of human life. And I know he had no truck with any of his son and grandson’s beliefs. He was a gentle, kind soul, wishing harm to none and good toward all.

And so, I have chosen not to allow the gross moral and ethical failings of his son and grandson to taint Bob and his legacy.

After all, Judges Guild is not Bob’s Legacy.

Bob’s Legacy lives in every fantasy role-playing game campaign; is reflected in the glint in the eye of every player-character who sought fame and riches in strange cities and fantastic lands.

True, Blackmoor was the First Fantasy Campaign, and Greyhawk the second. But it was the City State of the Invincible Overlord and the Wilderlands of High Fantasy that spawned or most greatly influenced the development of Dungeons & Dragons campaigns at thousands of tables over the last five decades.

Far more campaigns, I’d wager, than even Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms.

And most folks never even know it.

In the early days, Blackmoor and Greyhawk were merely mysterious, legendary names – the Temple of the Frog all but a myth. Far more player characters in those days explored the streets and alleys, palaces and dives of the City State than ever even saw the walls of Greyhawk; far more adventurers earned fame (or infamy) and won riches (or death) in the wilds of the Wilderlands than ever explored the forests and swamps of Blackmoor.

From the judges who ran those games to the players whose characters experienced the City State and the Wilderlands, Bob’s creative “DNA” spread out to become the grandfather of far more campaigns and the ancestor of more adventurers than anyone can ever count.

No two damn fools can ever destroy that Legacy!

The Wilderlands has survived worse; the Invincible Overlord is, after all, invincible for a reason.

And so, while I will not have anything to do with Judges Guild so long as it is owned, operated, or benefits unrepentant Nazi- and Confederate- sympathizing, Holocaust-denying, Anti-Semitic Racist Misogynistic Dominionists, I will not let that stop me from enjoying Bob’s Legacy.

And that includes the City State, the Wilderlands, and everything in between.

Fortunately, my collection of classic Judges Guild materials is one of the few series of lines I own that remains essentially intact; and of course, I have almost 40 years of my own developments to fall back on, when I encounter lacunae in the canon (such as one can say there is “canon” for the City State and the Wilderlands).

Others may not be so fortunate. To you, I say, seek out those who run a City State and/or Wilderlands campaign; join in a campaign exploring Tegel Manor or the Glory Hole Dwarven Mine.

Take a sheet of blank hex paper and build a world; create a new region of the Wilderlands or generate something entirely new!

Judges, let your dreams run riot, build empires of imagination; players, seek out the rich kingdoms of your judge’s world, shining jewels each and every one, and crush them under your sandaled feet!

Take Bob’s Legacy and run with it; expand and build upon it; share your creations and discoveries; but above all, take what you find, and make Bob’s Legacy your own.

Have fun.

That’s what Bob always wanted you to do.

Regarding Judges Guild

Henceforth I shall not be associated with, nor work with, nor in any way support Bob Bledsaw Jr., the Bledsaw family, or the works of Judges Guild.

My former AGP products are, by the terms of the contract I had with Bob Bledsaw Sr., owned by Judges Guild, and it is no longer my right to determine their fate.

I have however requested that they be removed from publication. I have further requested that if that is not possible, that Judges Guild replace all references in the products to "Adventure Games Publishing" with references to "Judges Guild," and all references to my name to references to "Alan Smithee."

I have also requested that in any case I be removed from the royalty streams of these products.

Should these last simple requests not be met, there is little I can do about the situation, as there were no clauses that would require these requests be honored.

Should for some reason Bob Jr. not see fit to remove me from the royalty stream of the products, any royalties earned from those products will be donated evenly to the ADL and the NAACP.

I have removed my old Adventures in Gaming and Adventure Games Publishing blogs, as well as my Hanging Out in the City State blog.

For those who have somehow missed developments (as I did working all day and then gaming tonight), you can find out more at Bat in the Attic and Tenkar's Tavern.

And that is the last I will ever have to say about Judges Guild, barring new ownership.

Monday, February 10, 2020

[Campaigns] 5E Dominaria and ALL Castle Xyntillan

I am currently running two campaigns, D&D 5E and Advanced Labyrinth Lord.

The Dungeons & Dragons 5E campaign is ostensibly set in the Magic world of Dominaria (though its never really made any serious difference and ended up being little more than window dressing).

Started out as a classic “go to the dungeon and back by end of session game” but devolved from there. Was running once a week, now every other week.

Current stock of regular players includes a Human Scout, Shadar-Kai Assassin, Human Paladin of Vengeance, Kobold Wizard, Dwarf Cleric of Arcana, and an Elf Monk; formerly included a Halfling Champion, Warforged Druid, Half-Elf Cleric of Life, and a Human Cleric of War. Average level is around high 3rd to low 4th level, ranging from 2nd to 6th. No one has died yet.

Started out as part of effort to re-conquer Lost Oneah, a realm generally Hindu in style and culture; the greater political game was quickly abandoned for quicker cash rewards, and efforts have included rescuing colonists (went well enough), rescuing a princess (went very poorly), capturing pirates (wildly successful), and now tooling around the ocean hunting more pirates (but instead encountering lost temples filled with Sahuagin and a ruined school  of magic).

So far the game is still usually fun; we shall see how it goes once the party starts to hit those mid-levels, where in my experience the game really begins the break down.

The Advanced Labyrinth Lord campaign has had rotating Labyrinth Lords and even various campaign settings (this is the campaign that was, for a while, set in the Modron area, but now is far off somewhere else, the setting has always been sort of nebulous).

The characters include Elf #1, Dwarf Fighter, Human Monk, Human Cleric of Mitra, Elf #2, and a Half-Orc Fighter. The Elf #1 and the Dwarf each have war-dogs (which are positively lethal and totally worth the XP cost). Levels range from 2nd to 4th.

I’m back in the rotation as LL, and this time up I decided to run Castle Xyntillan (read my review here).

The first session was last Wednesday; we play every other week.


Here’s the general rundown of the session:

Session starts with the characters in Tours-en-Savoy. They are en route to the warmer southern lands to enjoy the loot they gained on their last adventure (a substantial treasure, such that they could retire should they so choose). However, a few of the poorer members of the group heard rumors about Castle Xyntillan and the wealth to be found there and convinced some of the others to join them in searching for the wealth said to be hidden within. [My characters, a Halfling Thief and a Human Cleric of Mitra, remained behind to guard the banked wealth of the group and look out for their interests in the event of disaster].

En route from Tours-en-Savoy to Castle Xyntillan they encountered their first Malevol – Gilbert Malevol the Fox and his pack of bandits. After some negotiation (and realizing they had left too much of their treasure back in the town), they finally got him to accept 10 gp in “tax” per person. He wished them well and invited them to visit again on the way back, “should they survive that stinking ruined pile” they were determined to explore.

This is the group that decided, when exploring the Caves of Chaos, to forgo exploring the first caves and shot right for the last; they remained true to their style in this adventure, as well… and after scouting out the castle and consulting the map they had found (I printed out the player’s map available from the website), they decided to approach the castle from the rear!

They walked along the rocks at the base of the castle along the lake shore, until they came to a point beneath the chapel where there were no more rocks… and only a cavern tunnel that went deep under the castle. The monk swam to the boat tied at the quay, and brought it back, and so everyone rowed to the quay and thence up the stairs to the garden.

There, while investigating the statue of the Lady, they were attacked by three goatrices (goat-headed cockatrices) – the first time this crew had been truly frightened since their encounter with the medusa in the Chapel of Evil Chaos in the Caves of Chaos. However, they handily defeated two of the creatures, and the third fled into the brush, to bleat at them angrily.

They found that the statue could be moved side to reveal a pit with a ladder going down. Down they went, of course, carefully with lots of rope, which was good, because below the pit was bottomless (if covered by a rusting grate).

They attained the room of the pit, then went exploring the tunnels down the single corridor. They found a long corridor filled with doors. The first one they opened revealed a room with a coffin on a bier, gargoyles in the four corners, and bats coating the ceiling.

“Oh, hell no!” they cried, not at all interested in battling what was obviously a vampire; they quickly closed the door and decided to head back up the ladder to investigate the chapel, which had given the cleric of Mitra a “good feeling.”

They remained unmolested in the garden (bleating from the surviving goatrice from the brush notwithstanding), and quickly made their way to and into the chapel, which I described as magically lit in a bright, cheery light. They noted a font of holy water for later use and saw the pure white shroud on the altar (“A trap?” they ask; “I shall pray on it,” said the cleric).

While he prayed on the matter, the others went up the stairs to investigate the second level.

There they found first a room once used as a sleeping chamber for the priest and acolytes (the “otherwise un-described “mass of rats,” which I forwent in favor of a more dangerous study). Finding only 17 cp in an old wardrobe, they tried the other room, which unlike the chapel and the dormitory was not magically lit…

With the lantern light, they saw a desk with chair, some old shelve with moldy books, a lectern with a black book, and a pentagram circle made with silver shavings. Fortunately for them, the potential occupant was not to be found…

In quick order…

Elf #2 found nothing of any value on the table, save perhaps to astrologers or madmen;

The dwarf nearly got eaten by the rot grub in the rotting books on the shelves;

The monk determined the black book was seriously bad juju;

They discovered that there was something still in the pentagram circle when the monk passed his glaive over it.

The monk went down to get the cleric’s silver-shod staff to test out a theory; Elf #2 took the opportunity to grab the black book, of which he had been warned, and threw it in his loot sack.

The monk returned, noticed the book was missing, and briefly confronted the Elf, but decided it wasn’t worth the trouble.

He then passed the silver-shod staff over the pentagram circle area, which resulted in a horrible demonic howl, the appearance of a ghostly figure of a great horned and winged demon in the circle, and the brief dimming of the magical light below.

The party was still stunned and contemplating what it all meant when the cleric appeared from below and shouted, “What in the Nine Hells is going on up here?”

They told him everything, and when he heard of the book, had Elf #2 show it to him.

It was revealed to be a Libram of Heinous Damnation, which upon hearing that, the Elf dropped it on the ground, and the cleric started considering what to do with the terrible artifact of Evil and Chaos.

This is when Elf #1, remembering the efficacy of holy water in previous encounters with Evil and Chaos, decided to splash a whole vial on the book, just to see what happened.

All Hell broke loose, literally.

The book disappeared in an explosion of fire and sulfur, and a hideous glowing crack appeared in the space on the floor where it had been. A large, long, black, scaled, clawed arm reached out and grabbed at Elf #2, who had been the only one to touch the book.

A general melee ensued, as everyone tried to save Elf #2 from being dragged to Hell!

After a few scares, the cleric finally touched the arm with his holy symbol, there was another horrific demonic scream, the arm withdrew, and the crack in space shut with a snap.

The cleric then filled the group in on what the item was, and when he revealed that it could have been worth upwards of 15,000 gp "for the inset gems alone," Elf #2 fell to his feet and let out the loudest scream of all…

And that was where we ended the session.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

[James Mishler Games] See you at Gary Con XII!

I will be at Gary Con XII in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, March 26th to 29th, Booth #139. I will be selling special, limited-edition printings of several of my otherwise PDF-only products. So far we should have:

These are all essentially the PDF products, reformatted for print, B&W softcover, with a glossy color cover. Minimal edits have been made as they were found; no interior art has been added. I'll be printing up a limited number of each (30 to 50, tops) for sale at the show.

I hope to have two other books ready in time: Hercynian Grimoire #1 and Myrkridder, Ogres, and Vampires -- Oh My! But we shall see if I have the time to make that work.

I also hope to have a preview of the new campaign setting I have been working on now for some time. We shall see how that goes...

JMG is sharing the booth with Dan Proctor and Goblinoid Games, publishers of Labyrinth Lord and the Pacesetter System game lines. Dan will have a variety of LL and Pacesetter games available for purchase.

We hope to see some of you there!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Games I Wish I had Written...

OK, so this year I'm going to try to beat last year's record 32 posts, which is the most I had done since 2015. I'm going to have stuff to say, and it ain't going to be any of the navel-gazing so popular today. 

"What is the OSR?" "Why is the OSR?" "Who is the OSR?"


Frodo Lives. Tinkerbell Lives. The OSR Lives. 

Live it, love it, play it. Or some hippy-dippy saying like that...

Anyway, I'm gonna start this year off talking about the awesome loot that I got at the end of 2019.

Every one of these things is something I wish I had written

They are all awesome. Go out and give these guys your money.

Here's the skinny from Geoffrey himself:

I took my DeLorean time machine back to 1983. I saw there four middle-school boys playing Dungeons & Dragons, and Mike was the name of the DM. I managed to steal Mike's dungeons and bring them back to 2020. I stole them fair and square, and now you can buy them. Mike did all the work, so we can be lazy.

This is a massive dungeon of 78 hand-drawn levels, for character levels 1st through 10th. It was made with Moldvay/Cook's 1981 Dungeons & Dragons rules, but it can be used with other versions of the game.

These dungeons are not for collecting, not for reading, not for gazing at, and not for displaying on your coffee table. It has no art, no stylish formatting, no production values at all. If you aren't going to use and abuse this in a game, there's no reason to buy it.

The word for this is FUN. These are the dungeons you could have made when you were 12 years old, but were too lazy. It is a no-nonsense dungeon for playing D&D. You don't even need to study it beforehand. You can run it on-the-fly.

You read that right. You can freely preview every single page of this book. It's like you're flipping through this in a bookstore before you make your decision to buy.

The price comes to a nickel per level for the PDF, and a quarter per level for the print+PDF option.

Fight on!

Everything you read there is true. This is an awesome Oldest-School dungeon that you can pick up and go with. Its got monsters and traps and weird stuff and no pretensions. Adventurers are there to kill stuff and take their treasure or die horribly trying to do so.

I bought the original version here: 78-Level Dungeon for Sale on Dragonsfoot Forums. The special edition is totally a throwback to the days of Middle-School gaming yore. The only way it could have been more authentic is if it was sold in a Trapper-Keeper.

I love this module not only for the nostalgia, but for the amazing utility of the whole set-up. Need a quick one-shot for the night? Grab a page and go! Want to do an epic dungeon crawl in the old school way? This is it! Need something in-between? You are covered! The PDF is dirt cheap, you can put it on your phone and run it anywhere. The print module is a nice, solid brick for smashing characters. 

Endless ways to use it, and it ties in nicely with classic module B2: Keep on the Borderlands. Designed for use with B/X, Labyrinth Lord, and other similar editions.

Oh, how I wish I had written this! I cannot give Mike's Dungeons a higher recommendation.

BUY THIS IF: You want to relive the way you played B/X Dungeons & Dragons in Middle School in the mid-1980's, or if you want to experience what we did back then (and what the kids on Stranger Things are playing).

Original on Dragonsfoot Forums = $30.91 plus $6 shipping = $36.91
PDF on DriveThruRPG = $3.90 *DIRT CHEAP!*
POD on DriveThruRPG = $19.50 plus shipping
PDF and POD on DriveThruRPG = $19.50 plus shipping

Go buy this NOW!

After picking up Mike's Dungeons, I thought I'd check out what else Geoffrey had been up to the last couple of years (I am so far behind in buying stuff). I found out that he had seven products up on Lulu:

Carcosa Modules
There are four of these, but these are NOT for the original Carcosa setting; this is a different Carcosa. These are a totally different thing; still all dark and Lovecraftian with big helpings of Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard. Much stronger Swords & Sorcery feel. These are unapologetically designed for use with 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which can of course be used with Advanced Labyrinth Lord and similar editions.

This Carcosa still has the different human races, dinosaurs, strange aliens, weird sorcery, weirder super-science, and Lovecraftian entities, but none of the unpleasantness that went with the earlier Carcosa. Good old fashion murder-the-other-guys-and-take-their-treasures kind of adventures.

One reason I really like these modules is how much they are inspired by the old Wilderlands  of High Fantasy campaign setting and its design theories. Each module has on the back a full-color map, 26 hexes by 17 hexes with 5-mile hexes (so one-quarter of a Wilderlands map). The locales are noted based on their hex map grid (so you find the description of the "Castle of the Dino-Lizard Men" in numerical order of the hexes, Hex 1509). Descriptions are basic but rich, giving you all sorts of jumping off points.

Each module has a brief introduction (less than one page) dealing with the nature of humans and civilization on Carcosa. Then there is a brief one-page or so section as a gazetteer, giving details on the larger forest, swamps, mountains, hills, and so forth, to guide random encounters. Then the book contains page after page of descriptions of villages, hamlets, forts, castles, lairs, and ruins as well as their inhabitants, monsters, weird magic or technological devices -- each module is stuffed with 16 to 32 pages filled with adventure. The only art is on the cover -- and in each case, it shows an illustration of an encounter in each book. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but with RPGs, give me the words instead.

Carcosa Module 5: The Yuthlugathap Swamp (32 pages, $12.99) details a large swamp region, replete with lizard-men and strange ruins. Carcosa Module 6: Barrens of Carcosa (32 pages, $12.99) ( details a wide swath of plains, jungle, and desert. Carcosa Module 7: Jungles of K'naanothoa (16 pages, $9.99) details a region of deep jungles and unholy seas. Carcosa Module 8: The Mountains of Dream (20 pages, $10.99) details a region of savage mountains -- including the plateau of Leng.

The entries are somewhere between the bare-bones descriptions of Ravaged Ruins in the original Wilderlands and the more detailed entries in the Necromancer Wilderlands -- so you get more than enough, but not too much, nor too little. As with the Wilderlands, if you want the regions to be anything more than howling wilderness with a few rivalries set up here and there, you will need to do some work. 

BUY THESE IF: If you want a good old fashion Hexcrawl in a Lovecraftian Sandbox, these are for you! So if you ever intently pored over the Cthulhu Mythos in the old Deities & Demigods book and loved the "Den" scene of Heavy Metal, these modules are for you!

Wilderness Modules
While the Carcosa Modules are a very Lovecraftian Wilderlands-style setting, the Wilderness Modules are a direct homage to the Wilderlands of High Fantasy and J._._. T______n's M____e-e___h (names redacted to protect the innocent). The Wilderness Modules are much more classic High Fantasy (with a touch of the Weird) as opposed to the Lovecraftian Sword & Sorcery of the Carcosa Modules. These are your go-to modules if you are seeking more standard adventure fare, with doughty dwarves, haughty elves, and strange wizards going about distributing quests.

So far there are only two Wilderness Modules, and one related Dungeon Module. Like the Carcosa Modules, they are designed directly for use with 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and so easily used with Advanced Labyrinth Lord and similar systems. Each module includes several competing or allied settlements and a number of ruins, lairs, and strange locales for adventure. The two currently available include Wilderness Module 1: Worm Wars of the Dwarven Ice Kings (16 pages, $9.99) which focuses on the northern M___y Mountains region and Wilderness Module 2: Desolation of the Black Terror (16 pages, $9.99) which focuses on the G__y Mountains and northern M______d, east of the M___y Mountains. The first Dungeon Module, Dungeon Module 1: Crypt of the Lilac High Priest (16 pages, $9.99) is a module for a party of 1st level adventurers (and the first part in the 16-part Quest for the Teeth of Dahlver-Nar).

Finally, I should note that the covers of the CarcosaWilderness, and Dungeon Modules are all the work of Luigi Castellani; they are old school and workman-like, and fit the flavor of the modules. The cartography is quite nice, and all maps were done by Dion Williams (aka Burning ~ Torso).

Oh, how I wish I had written these!  I cannot give these modules a higher recommendation.

BUY THESE IF: Buy these if you like classic, old school High Fantasy campaign settings with a touch of the weird. These are for you if you loved the Wilderlands of High Fantasy.

Note: The Carcosa, Wilderness, and Dungeon Modules are only available in print; they are not available in PDF format. That said, Lulu is always having a sale; I grabbed these at 25% off during the holiday season. So sign up for Lulu if you have not already and I am sure a coupon code will come along to fit your pocketbook.

One of the things that most disturbed me in December was how I had two AMAZING adventure modules fall into my lap. First, Mike's Dungeons, and then later Castle Xyntillan by Gabor Lux. They are both excellent in their own way; Mike's Dungeon for the nostalgic play, and Castle Xyntillan for, well, the nostalgic play, but in a different vein. Mike's Dungeon is a classic dungeon crawl in the kill-the-monsters-take-their-treasure sort of fashion, while Castle Xyntillan is an homage to Bob Bledsaw's Tegel Manor, the classic and very first "Fun-house Dungeon" from Judges Guild

Castle Xyntillan goes a step beyond mere homage, and creates a new pinnacle from which to measure "Fun-house Dungeons." It is the Ultimate Gothic Fun-house Dungeon; it is an instant classic. It is the kind of game book that you can lose yourself in for hours, as you trace all the interconnected characters and situations presented in the adventure. It is so thorough -- and yet, still so eminently and easily playable -- that one must assume that Gabor Lux discovered some lost classic of Gothic horror and cribbed off of it to create this huge, ruined pile of awesomeness.

In fact, this is Gabor Lux's love-note to Tegel Manor. Back in the Necromancer Wilderlands days, Gabor worked on a revised version of Tegel Manor that, for various reasons, never was produced (Frog God Games went on to do one, which I also received in December (oh, want a month it was!) but I will review that one in another post). Gabor then went on to build upon that original work to create the magnificence that is Castle Xyntillan, literally by killing more than a dozen player characters and scores of henchmen and hirelings in the extended play-testing.

Castle Xyntillan is the classic ancestral castle, filled with the detritus of generations of heroes and villains, most of whom, in the end, never left the castle -- and yet, never went anywhere else. It is filled with ghosts, zombies, skeletons, animated statues, living paintings, haunted objects, and piles and piles of treasure -- if you live long enough to collect it. Castle Xyntillan presents the judge with a fully fleshed out framework on which to build the emergent stories of their player's characters -- many of them, as many of them will die seeking to conquer this castle.

The writing is excellent, and yet, it has a texture that is, to an American, different. Perhaps it is a different way of thought built into the Hungarian language? A different perspective of Hungarian culture? However it came about, happy circumstance it is, as it adds to the depth and mystique of the place. Sort of like having Dracula himself (portrayed by the inimitable Bela Lugosi) describe his castle and its occupants. The organization is top-notch, a format of cross-referencing and referencing within a room that I thoroughly intend to borrow for use in my future projects. It magnifies the joy from the perspective of the game master, reading such a fine work maximized for game play and yet still worthy of being called literature.

I must also mention the excellent maps of the castle -- main floors, several upper-floor wings and tower, dungeon level, and interior wilderness (zounds!), all done by the worthy hand of Robert Conley of Bat in the Attic Games. Now normally, I am not one for art, as I mentioned above, but every piece in this work was carefully designed to maximize the vision of the author and enhance the reader's experience (and with care, provide examples for the players). The cover art is by Peter Mullen, with interior illustrations by Denis McCarthy, Stefan Poag, Peter Mullen, and The Dead Victorians.

Compatible with Swords & Wizardry rules, but easily adapted to Labyrinth Lord or Advanced Labyrinth Lord.

Oh, how I wish I had written this! I cannot give Castle Xyntillan a higher recommendation.

BUY THIS IF: Buy this if you want to take your players on one of the most amazing fun-house dungeon adventures ever written.

Note: I paid for every product reviewed herein, and have not received any form of compensation for these reviews. I'm not even using affiliate links. This is all about my love for these books.