Tuesday, September 6, 2022

[Coming Soon] Skull and Bones: Savage Storm Comic Book Miniseries

Dark Horse Comics has announced the release of SKULL AND BONES: SAVAGE STORM, the first comic book based on Ubisoft's forthcoming pirate game, SKULL AND BONES... and my first comic book writing credit, alongside John Jackson Miller.

I worked with John on Scrye and Comics & Games Retailer magazines back in the day, but this is the first time I have ever collaborated with him on writing a comic book. It was an amazing experience learning under a Master of the craft, and this not-at-all-young Padawan discovered that writing for games and writing for comic books are two very different things.

I was brought in as a "world-wrangler," to bring together a story out of the amazing possibilities and huge world that Ubisoft has built for SKULL AND BONES. Founded upon historical themes, birthed in the myths and legends of the pirate era, the world of SKULL AND BONES is something all its own, fresh and new -- and yet hauntingly familiar.

The SKULL AND BONES game releases on November 8, with the comic book following on November 21. SAVAGE STORM is a three-issue miniseries that gives readers a glimpse into this world, its beauty, its horrors, and its possibilities. You can preorder the first issue from your local comic book shop using Diamond order code SEP220465.

Oh, and I can't forget the art. THE ART! Jodi can attest I shouted with joy at seeing the initial art for the first issue. Christian Rosada's work is AMAZING, and I cannot wait to see the finished product with colors by Roshan Kurichiyanil. And that cover by Pius Bak is just so classic!

Friday, September 2, 2022

A Tale of Three Worlds: Mystara, Mystoerth, and Mystaerth

Over the years I've used campaign material from the Known World and Mystara in various ways, adapting and adopting material here and there.

Twice I've made major adaptations, dropping the Known World and other elements of Mystara into other worlds wholesale, and vice-versa.

One of these efforts was Mystoerth, which combines Mystara and Greyhawk by dropping the Flanaess into the world of Mystara. Here is my Mystoerth map:

It is really great to see that others took and ran with the idea of Mystoerth, such as Tim Brannan on The Other Side Blog and his development of Mystoerth. Chatdemon's version of the map, which you can find at Tim's site, re-centered the map and added the parchment effect.

Another such effort was Mystaerth, which combined Mystara with the world of Aerth, the campaign setting from Gary Gygax's Dangerous Journeys: Mythus setting. Here is the map from that effort:

I really feel the need to return to Mystara soon. Just which Mystara, I'm not quite sure yet...

I should also note, inspired by Trey's post, I went and finally dug up a huge treasure trove of old Mystara files, some of them dating to 1994! Now to go through everything and see what passes the sniff test...

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

[Now Available] Summoning Magical Beasts for Fun & Profit

By James Mishler and Jodi Moran Mishler

Have you ever wanted to go out into the wilds and capture and train Magical Beasts as companions, friends, and your helpful bodyguards/prize fighters?

Have you ever wanted to show up that snarky friend of yours who said you just didn’t have what it takes?

Have you ever wanted to be the Very Best, Like No One Ever Was?

Then hey, do I have a game for you!

Summoning Magical Beasts for Fun & Profit provides you with everything you need to run a Labyrinth Lord campaign in a world of Magical Beasts where you play a Magical Beast Summoner!

Go on a journey to find and bind all the Magical Beasts!

Fight with them in Matches with friends and Melees with Wicked Enemies!

Gather your team of Magic Beasts and go out and be a Hero!

Summoning Magical Beasts for Fun & Profit includes all the following information to run an entire Magical Beast Campaign!

Magical Beast Summoner Class includes the following:
Starting Magical Beasts
Binding Magical Beasts
Healing Magical Beasts
Summoning Magical Beasts
Training Magical Beasts
Companion Magical Beasts
Bonus Special Abilities
Summoner Specialties
Beast Master
Beast Lord
Building a Summoner Organization

Magical Beast Description includes the following:
Magical Beast Ability Scores
14 Energy Types
Magical Beast Experience
Magical Beast Experience Value
Magical Beast Loyalty & Morale
Breeding Magical Beasts

Magical Beast Class includes the following:
Bonus Hit Points
Energy Attacks
Special Abilities

Magical Beast Special Abilities include the following:
25 1st Level+ General Special Abilities
14 1st Level + Physical Attack Adjustment Abilities
14 1st Level+ Special Energy Attack Abilities
22 4th Level + General Special Abilities
10 8th Level + General Special Abilities
5 16th Level + General Special Abilities

Magical Beast Breeds includes 26 Breeds, including:
Birds, Columbidae
Birds, Galliformes
Birds, Passerines
Birds, Raptors
Birds, Waterfowl
Creepy Crawlies
Flora, Carnivorous
Flora, Trees

Magical Beast Campaign Details, including:
Magical Beast Campaign Settings
Magical Beasts in the Wild
Magical Beasts Chapter and Verse
Beast Boosters

Designed for use with Labyrinth Lord, easily adaptable to any other Old School RPG!

64 page Booklet (60 pages of content), $8.00

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

[Pokéverse Makai Campaign] Session 02: Dojo in the Darkness!


Tuesday, April 3, 2001
The trio awaken to the smell of a lovely breakfast being cooked by their host. They freshen up and join Zsuska in the dining room. There they have a large Makai-style breakfast of toast with cheese and butter, spicy eggs, crispy bacon, spicy sausages, tomatoes, and green peppers. 

They chat with Zsuska, who asks them various questions of minor personal sort, first Bobby, then Andrea (who is for once quiet and reserved and a little pink-cheeked). Then she starts discussing things with Ayame, and slowly Ayame realizes that she is not speaking with her mouth, but speaking to her with her mind… and Ayame answers the same way!

[N.B. Ayame has a high degree of Pokémon Psychic Empathy (Reading Emotions) and Pokémon Mind Reading which she has developed to a level of Pokémon Telepathy, such that at this point she can actually telepathically speak with Pokémon. She has worked on developing Human Psychic Empathy and Human Mind Reading, and has had some minor success, but never been able to communicate through Human Telepathy… until now.]

Ayame notices as they “speak” that time seems to have slowed down, such that they “speak” with each other at least 10 times faster than they could through normal verbal speech. Zsuska warns her that something is Not Right up at the Dojo – Donovan has never been this long away from the hamlet, and no one has been seeing going up or coming down from the Dojo. She warns her that “Nothing ever seems quite what it appears to be in Makai – especially not one’s friends.”

Their telepathic rapport is broken by the sound of a tea tray setting down on the table with a thud, brought from the kitchens by a Kadabra who wafted it hither using telekinesis.

“Ah, excellent, the tea is ready,” Zsuska said, as she served the others. They drank quietly. The tea was excellent, a fruity variety with complementary herbs. The trio had not quite had anything like it.

After eating and drinking their fill, the trio and their Pokémon, Zsuska informed them that one of her Abras would guide them up into the mountains to the Dojo. While there were few side trails, she felt it would be safer if Abra went with them to guide them to the Dojo. She left them with a few words.

“And please, it has been too long since… we have seen Donovan. Please give him… our regards, and let him know that he will always be welcome in Monkshood.”

They thanked her, gathered their things, and with a wave farewell to Zsuska, went on their way to the Dojo.

They followed the trail through the northern farms and ranches, where they saw more real cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens than they had ever seen in their lives. Then they it the forested hill line and up, up, up they went. Sometimes the trail followed the river; other times when the river hit a falls or rapids it swerved off, back and forth, winding slowly up into the heights. Abra levitated before them, dancing and giggling as he went, happy to be out and about upon a trail.

The trip was quiet, for Andrea and Bobby. Ayame, however, got to know Abra pretty well, as she continued to hone her Pokémon Telepathy skills. She discovered that Abra had been to the Dojo many times before, to visit friends and for training, so he was very familiar with the trail. He was happy to discuss all the lovely vegetation as they passed through the foothills up to the mountains, where they passed from heavy forest into spotty forest and meadow lands.

There, the trail often veered away from the river, which in many places flowed through deep canyons, and they even passed through several cavern areas, obviously carved out by the river in ages passed. Here and there they spotted a worn stone plaque or statue with a name and date, which Abra explained to Ayame were “Memorials, for those who were lost.”

“You mean, those who fell from the trail and died?”

“Those, too,” Abra said sadly, though he would not elaborate.

They passed through the longest cavern series, which opened a bit high on the mountain wall, and so were able to look down into a broad valley, about five miles across, that then stood in the growing shadow of Wolf Mountain. The valley was covered in grassy, green hills, with small copses of pines and firs. It was definitely cooler here than in the valley below. They could see the glint of late-season snows here and there, and the permanent snowcap on Wolf Mountain.

At the center of the valley stood a tall hill, atop which they could spot a large building, and several smaller buildings along the western edge. “The Dojo,” Abra murmured happily into Ayame’s mind. “Let us go, night falls quickly in the valley, and we do not want to be caught outside at night even here.”

The party quickly continued along the trail, and reached the shadows of the tall, skirted Genji roof of the Dojo – aptly named, if was only the second proper Tokyo Nation style architecture they had seen in Makai since the temple in Monkshood. Night fell as they 

The cottages stood in a crescent around the western verge of the hilltop which stood the Dojo. The Dojo itself was further lifted upon a tall foundation of stones cemented together; upon the southeasternmost corner sat a man, tailor style, playing a flute, it was a strange dirge, and none of them could recognize it.

The man was silhouetted in the lanterns that hung from the skirt of the Dojo. He was obviously a man – tall, broad shouldered, but more, they could not tell, for he was in shadow, as the moon had not yet risen, and the stars seemed dim, though they were high in the mountains.

They continued toward the Dojo, until they stood perhaps 10 feet from the man, who sat 10 feet up upon the foundation wall. He continued to play his dirge.

Ayame looked up toward him, cleared her throat.

“I hope this isn’t going to be a thing with the Makai…” she thought.

The dirge ceased. From the motions the man made, he placed the flute in a pocket, and studied them for a moment.

He then leaped? Floated? Levitated? down from the wall. He was tall, broad, a shadow on the darkness.

He took a step toward Ayame, like a shadow moving upon a wall. Then he smiled, a broad, deep, wolfish smile; his teeth veritably shined in the dark as though lit by their own lights.

He stepped forward… and then in the light of the stars, which seemed to brighten, they could make out his features.

He was a veritable Adonis, by the textbook definition.

He wore monk’s robes, but they were open upon the chest, revealing perfectly carved abs and pecs, like an ancient master sculptor might carve. He stood 6’4”, and though broad of shoulder and already fantastically muscled, they could see that he was yet young… 18, maybe 19 years of age.

His face was oval, his brow strong but not overpowering, his eyes deep, his nose Aquiline like those of emperors, his lips pouted, his jaw was strong. He wore his dark brown hair in a long single braid that curled around his shoulders and down his chest, covering a large chain of prayer beads. His hands and arms were supple yet strong, his legs thickly muscled, his feet broad and unshod.

Andrea let out a long, deep sigh, her eyes twinkled, and her heart… and other bits… fluttered.

Bobby let out a long, deep sigh, his eyes twinkled, and his heart… and other bits… fluttered.

Ayame smiled, held out her hand, and said, “Hello, I am Ayame Himura! Please to meet you!”

The man quickly glanced at the effect his appearance had at the other two, smiled slightly, then turned to Ayame and laughed, a deep, hearty, booming laugh.

“Hello yourself, Ayame Himura! I saw you and your party as you entered the valley. I expect you are the first foreigners come to challenge the Master of the Dojo?”

Ayame smiled and nodded, “That is what.. um… we are here for…”

The man looked down at her [he stands 6’4”, she a mere 4’10”]. “Do you plan to win?”

“Well… yes… hopefully…”

“You will need more confidence than that, Ayame Himura, if you plan to defeat the Master of the Dojo and win a Dhylec Badge!”

Ayame gave him her “fierce” look… kind of like a mouse giving a tiger a “fierce” look, and said, “Then I will win! The Dhylec Badge will be my first badge on my way to win the Makai Regional Pokémon League Championship!”

He threw back his head and laughed again, deep and booming, and for a moment she saw his head outlined with the head of a lion.

“Very well, Ayame Himura, I accept your challenge, for I am Donovan Baine, the Master of the Dojo! However, the day is late, you have traveled long up a mountain, and are certain to be hungry as well as tired. Please enjoy my hospitality tonight, and we can speak at dinner about your challenge.”

He then turned to Abra, stared him in the eye, and some sort of unspoken words passed. Abra’s eyes went wide, he nodded sadly, and quickly floated away to one of the cottages around the side of the Dojo. 

“Come then,” he said, “To the Dojo!”

Art by JAG-Comics - Hobbyist, Traditional Artist | DeviantArt

They followed him up the stairs and through the large wooden gated entrance of the Dojo. They immediately entered the large battle room of the gym itself. The walls were lined with many martial arts weapons. “Here we train not only the mind, but also the body. As weapons are used to extend the body, so too do we train the mind to expand with its own weapons.”

They then passed through a series of doors and corridors, until they came to a door that entered into a large dining room. “Please leave your packs here; they will be taken to your rooms.”

They dropped their packs on the ground and followed him into the dining room. He waved them to a table, then passed through another door into the kitchen. As they sat, they heard him giving orders to several people about preparing dinner.

He then came out of the kitchen and sat with them. He asked them what they thought so far of Makai. They discussed the little they had seen so far and commented mostly about the large number of “normal” animals there were here as compared to elsewhere.

“Well, you see, the Makai have always considered Pokémon to be… well, certainly not people, but also not animals. And here, in Makai, if something is neither a man nor animal, it is lumped in with everything that is considered… Something Else.

“You have heard of the myths, legends, and rumors of the… things… that can be found in Makai, yes?”

The trio looked at each other, then at him, and all nodded affirmative.

“They are not merely myth, legend, and rumor. They are quite real. All too real.”

Their eyes went wide, then they were startled when the kitchen doors were slammed open by a cart. Jolteon flipped backward, Firefly hissed, and Meowth jumped under a table.

A maid entered pushing the cart; she was of the Schreckvolk, tall, gray-skinned, white-haired, scarred and bolted. Donovan smiled when he saw the trio and their Pokémon startled. 

“Bad timing,” Donovan chuckled. “This is one of the servants of the Dojo, Gerda. She helps around here as maid, waitress, and assistant chef.” 

Gerda nodded and murmured a deep, noncommittal “Mmmmm…” 

She then set out plates… and plates… and plates! The main was a chicken schnitzel with spaetzle and mushroom sauce; a salad of beans; potato salad; plates of cheese and sausages; baskets of rolls; and bottles of small beer and sodas.

Our chef is also from Schreckvald, and favors their particular fare. I appreciate it, as I have always felt that a good, solid meal is needed for proper martial training.

As they tucked in, Ayame replied, “I have heard it both ways. Bruno, a Pokémon trainer much like yourself in physical power, believes in hearty meals. Others believe they need to eat frugally and carefully, like Zsuska…

“Oh! I apologize, Zsuska from the temple in Monkshood said to send her regards, and that she and the others of the hamlet miss you, and would very much like for you to return to visit sometime soon!”

Donovan seemed to think for a long moment, his eyes wide and empty. Then they glittered again, and he smiled. “Ah yes, it has been a while since I’ve visited the lowlands. I’ve been sequestered here, training with my Pokémon, in order to make sure that we would be ready to take on all the foreign competition coming this way.”

The trio nodded, understanding all too well the need to train, especially for an event such as this.

At that his attention turned from them to the far corner of the dining room. They followed his gaze, and there saw a young child, a girl, clutching a doll to her chest. She had large, sad eyes, and was staring at them all.

“Hello Anita!” Donovan called to her. “Would you like to join us for dinner?”

She looked at them. 

She looked at Donovan with big, sad eyes, that looked a bit… angry.

She turned to Bobby and Andrea… back to sad, dull, unfeeling.

She turned to Ayame… big, sad eyes. A glint of…

She turned quickly and ran back the way she came.

“I apologize for that. Anita is… my sister. Well, not really, she is my ward. I found her alone, with no family, in the Dreadvald several years ago. Rather than leave her to the vagaries of the orphanages in the cities, I brought her here, to be raised at the Dojo while I went about my adventures. But then I was chosen to lead the Dojo…”

He trailed off… sadness in his voice.

“And regarding the Dojo, Ayame, would you prefer to have our match first thing in the morning? Or would you prefer to have our match in the afternoon? You can use the dojo to have a training session with your Pokémon to ensure that they are more used to the mountain air.”

Ayame nodded, considering. “I think the afternoon would be better, as you have said, to give my Pokémon a chance to limber up and exercise in the mountain air. Thank you kindly for your offer!”

“It is nothing,” Donovan smiled. “I must off to get a few things done before I sleep tonight. Gerda will see you to your rooms when you finish. I shall see you again at breakfast.”

He nodded at them as he stood and left.

Ayame stared at the rest of her meal in thought; Andrea and Bobby watched him walk out, turned to each other, and smiled.

Even as they finished their expansive meal and were wondering if there was a wheelbarrow the maid could carry them in, to their rooms, Gerda reappeared through the kitchen doors.

“Finished?” she asked, simply.

They nodded, “Follow me.”

They followed her through several doors and corridors. Fortunately, everything was well marked, with signs toward all the major public locations.

“Everything will be easy to find!” said Bobby, pointing to the signs.

“Schreckvolk efficiency,” grunted Gerda.

“Makai and Tokyojin order Dojo long ago, Schreckvolk build and maintain always,” she slowly continued.

She showed them to their rooms. It was a horseshoe-shaped wing, with rooms along the outside, and a lounge, complete with big comfy couches, chairs, tables, bookshelves, chess sets, and such accoutrements, all around a large stone fireplace. They had three adjacent rooms, each with its own bathroom.

She pointed to a number of large red hanging ropes, “Pull to ring for service.

“Breakfast at 8 am, I will collect you.”

They thanked her and she left.

They gathered in Ayame’s room to discuss final plans for the night.

Meowth had his “worried” look and was deep in thought.

The trio stopped chatting and looked to Meowth.

“Is something wrong, Meowth?”

Meowth thought for a moment.

“What is it Zsuska said to you, Ayame? That ‘Nuttin ain’t never what it seems in Makai, especially your friends’?”

“Well, more or less, yes…”

He turned to Andrea and Bobby.

“Donovan… he’s poifect, ain’t he?”

Their eyes went wide, their hearts fluttered, their pulses raced, they got goofy smiles…

“Yeah, yeah. Poifect. TOO poifect, if you asks me!”

“What do you mean, Meowth?”

“He’s poifect. Physically poifect. A complete jennleman, too. Back when I was wit Jessie and James, dat’s how we ran a lot of scams – we had to look POIFECT. Ain’t nobody really ever looks THAT poifect. Not real peoples, models maybe, but not real peoples.

“And dat’s how da schemes woik, people is so whammied by you being poifect, then never thinks you is scammin’ dem.”

The trio looked at each other.

Andrea got a thoughtful look, “Yes… too perfect, really.”

Bobby nodded.

“What else, Meowth?”

“Well, did’jya see how Abra reacted to Donovan’s telypat’ic command to go away? He was confused, sad, an sooproised!”

“I did notice that. He mentioned on the trip up there that he and Donovan were good friends, and he was looking forward to seeing him after the two months he’d been up here.”

“Yeah, I remembers dat you said all dat. I wonders what Donovan said to him.”

They looked at each other for a long time. Ayame sighed.

“So much for an easy match.”

“Well,” Bobby chuckled, “based on our history, there is about a 42% chance that SOMETHINMG gets in the way of a match.”

“That much of a chance? Really?”

“Well, official matches, yes, not counting random pick-up matches with other Pokémon Trainers… and not counting Melees, of course.”

“Team Rocket again, maybe?”

“I dunno… too subtle for them. They’d be all like ‘Prepare for Trouble, Make it Double’ by now…” Andrea interjected.

“I concur,” Bobby said, “Plus, by now, they would have tried to grab Meowth.”

“Yeah, my old partners ain’t known for their suttle’tee… well, not after the foist five minutes, that is…”

“Soo… not Team Rocket, something local then,” Ayame turned to Meowth, “What next?”

“Well, I tink I’ll go out for a bit of walkabout, sees what I can sees, hears what I can hears…”

“But what about all the… things? Things that go bump in the night and all that?” Andrea squeaked.

“Nah, I ain’t worried about dat. Rules of da game, wit anybody’s running a scam, is dat dey protects dere own territories. Besides, I ain’t seen no signs of nuttin, sights or smells, since we gots into da valley.” He stretched out his claws and smiled.

“Time to do a bits of snoopins…”

Ayame barely had time to tell him to be careful before he jumped out the window.

They looked out after him, but he had already disappeared into the shadows.

To be continued…

Sunday, August 14, 2022

[Crossing the Streams] Demon Realm of Makai in the Pokéverse

After a long period with a ton of writing, I’ve kind of been taking a break… well, writing for publishing, that is.

Dan Proctor of Goblinoid Games has placed social media for Labyrinth Lord and the Pacesetter Games systems on “hiatus” for now. Apparently, he is figuring out what to do and which way to go with the systems. Though we have worked very closely together for more than a decade now, I am as much in the dark as to what is going to happen as everyone else. So, I’m holding off on any further development of Labyrinth Lord products.

I am working on a Castles & Crusades campaign setting, but that is slow going. After finally pushing through Eldisor after several years of development, another campaign setting is a bit of a slog. But interesting things are developing there, they are just going to take some time.

For now, then, I am concentrating on playing, rather than working on games. Though of course, that involves some work in and of itself. Jodi and I have started up our third one-on-one campaign, and this time we are seriously crossing the streams – first we played Pokémon using 5E D&D rules, then we played Darkstalkers using 5E D&D rules.

This time we are combining the two in the Makai Region of Tokyo Nation in the Pokéverse.

Makai is a region north of Johto and west of Byoga (the region I created for Jodi’s Pokémon D&D adventures). It is surrounded by high mountains, virtually walled in from the rest of the world, and has been closed to outsiders for more than a century.

But now they have opened the gates to their domain for Pokémon Trainers to participate in the First Annual Makai Pokémon League Championship. Jodi’s character, Ayame Himura, gained an invite, due to her winning the championship in Byoga Region three years ago (she has been aged up to 13, and she and her Pokémon have gained a few levels, plus she gained a few Pokémon from as yet untold adventures in Kanto and Hoenn). Her sponsors are Legitimate Businessman Giovanni Razzo and G-Man and Elite Four Member Lance Blackthorn, whom she has gained as allies during her adventures.

She is traveling with her original two companions, Andrea and Bobby, who have also aged up and leveled up to meet the challenge.

Makai is known for being “Tokyo Nation’s Very Own Transylvania,” and is rumored to be home to vampires, werewolves, and worse things. It is known to be home to many rare and unusual Dark, Ghost, and Poison Pokémon, and it is said that there is a special Demonstone that can also transform Pokémon in dreadful ways…

The culture and technology there is ca. 1890s. Slow railroads are the fastest transportation, and there are only three limited lines… otherwise, transport is on foot or by horse and wagon, buggy, or carriage. Clothing, housing, communications, weapons – all are a century or more behind. The only high technology the Makai have adopted is Pokémon related, such as the Pokémon Teleportation Center (PTC) which is used to switch out Pokémon from your home Pokémon Professor. Other than the PTC and some medical devices for the care and healing of Pokémon, the Makai have not adopted new technologies. There are not even any telephones, though certain towns and cities have access to a telegraph system.

The characters have had to hunt up Victorian/Steampunk/Gothic style clothing (difficult, as Bobby and Andrea are clothes-hounds); stock up on paper and ink to send back letters; and surreptitiously prepare specific capsules (a la Dragon Ball, which I borrowed for the Pokéverse) in case a need for high technology arises.

Session 01 (220814)
Today we had our first brief session. The trio rode an antiquated Makai style train from Café Town to Eastgate, crossing the Potato Plains. They fell asleep in their compartment, which was decorated oddly with bats, skulls, and other “Halloween-style” décor. They were awakened by the snack tray server, who struck them as being not unlike a female Frankenstein monster, scars from stitches and bolts in the neck and all. They turned down her offer of sugared eyeballs, jellied bat’s wings, and ladyfingers – and even the bottles of “soda” looked a bit too blood red, ichor black, and glowering green for their tastes.

They arrived in Outer Eastgate in time for dinner. There they met with Giovanni and Lance, who provided them with some more information on Makai. 
  • They were informed, to their chagrin, that the sweets that were offered really were sweets… though in Makai itself, buyer beware!
  • The snack cart servant, it turns out, was of the Schreckvolk – tall, muscular, gray-skinned, angular build, common in Aconite City and Wisteria Village and the Schreckvald region in northeastern Makai. They often serve in menial positions or as laborers. The “bolts” are said to be some sort of cultural piercing jewelry, and the scarification is said to be ritualistic…
  • They were informed of at least two other significant ethnic groups in Makai. 
  • The most numerous are the Makai themselves – usually thin, very pale, with ebon black or purple blue hair, and exotic (violet, pink, or red) eyes and sharp elongated canine teeth. The Makai are found everywhere in Makai.
  • The southeastern lands of the Dreadwood and the Ghoulish Highlands are home to the Dreadvolk, who are tall and thin, with cadaverous gray-green or gray-blue skin, unusual hair colors (blue, green, or purple), large bulging eyes with black orbs and red pupils, and long sharp teeth with no lips.
  • There are said to be other ethnic groups, but they did not know anything about those, not even their names.
After a good night’s sleep, the trio said farewell to Giovanni and Lance. Giovanni said that he was counting on Ayame to do her best. Lance, having grown up in Blackthorn City just south of Makai, and thus too aware of al the myths and legends, handed Ayame a talisman “to ward against Evil,” a cold disc with a silver cross upon it.

They then joined the other invited Pokémon Trainers in the village plaza, where they were welcomed with a speech by the Lord Marshal of the Eastgate. A long boring speech. They were then hustled into horse-drawn carriages for the three-mile journey through the Eastgate. This was only the third time in her life that Ayame had seen real horses, rather than Horse Pokémon.

They passed through the huge tunnel entrance, carved into the shape of a howling demon face, and rode through the tunnel through the mountain. They were accompanied by Litwicks, Lampets, and Chandelures the entire way. The Pokémon were singing a chanting, dirge-like song in their Pokémon tongue the entire way. It was bad enough for the humans, but for the walking Pokémon, such as Ayame’s Meowth and Firefly, and Bobby’s Jolteon, it was torture, as it was essentially the Makai version of “It’s a Small World After All,” (i.e., as though written by the Addams Family). As Ayame has Pokémon Empathy, she could also understand it, and began to wonder what she was getting into…

They exited the other side of Eastgate and essentially travelled a hundred years into the past. The Makai village of Eastgate appears to be straight out of a Hammer Horror film, though only the most important buildings even look as old as 1890s… many appear much like they were built in the 1500s. They were welcomed in the cobblestone village square by the locals and the Lord of Eastgate, who gave another boring speech. At the end of the speech an assistant name Klove handed a packet of information to each of the Pokémon trainers, containing the layout and laws of Makai. Other than the map and the list of Pokémon Gyms (depicted below), they quickly saw the following information at a cursory glance:

Right click and open in another tab for larger size.

  • No hunting Pokémon on private lands without prior written permission of the owner or manager. However, a wild Pokémon that flees onto private property could be followed and captured thereon.
  • Pokémon Centers are indicated on the map with a red dot and white star. Nurse Elvira will provide you with information on what is available at the Pokémon Center. All have a Pokémon Teleportation Center (PTC) with a videophone to speak with your Pokémon Professor. All have a Pokémon Clinic to heal and care for your Pokémon. There is a lounge, tavern, and hostel for Pokémon Trainers – we do have indoor plumbing! Most other modern amenities are not present (no other videophones or telephones, no televisions, etc.)
  • When arriving in a new settlement, report in with Constable Lee to see if there are any local laws that must be obeyed. Otherwise, you might have to deal with Bailiff Cushing and Magistrate Price.
  • Daily newspapers are printed in every City and Town. Newspapers are posted in the major local squares, including nearby villages and most hamlets.
  • You should always seek to hire a guide from a local settlement to take you to a Pokémon Gym. Our gyms are deep in the wilderness, and often the trails there are not straight. Please do not get lost in the wilderness!
  • Always, always, ALWAYS respect local customs and superstitions. They are for your own safety.
  • Always, always, ALWAYS obey the local curfew. It is for your own safety.

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He then invited all the Pokémon Trainers to join in the festivities – food, drink, entertainment – presented in the square by the village and Lord and wished them all best of luck on their Pokémon Journey.

Ayame being Ayame, she quickly pored over the map to determine the closest Pokémon Gym, so she could earn her first badge. She discovered that the closest gym is The Dojo, where Donovan Baine, a Psychic Pokémon Trainer, meets all challengers. She then rushed to the Pokémon Center to find out more about Donovan Baine.

There she discovered that there were already two other Pokémon Trainers ahead of them at the PTC, so she decided to see if she could get any information out of Nurse Elvira. Used to calm kindness of Nurse Joy, she was somewhat surprised to meet Nurse Elvira, a spirited, vibrant, tall, buxom, youngish, pale-skinned, raven-haired, red-eyed Makai wearing a white and black nurse’s uniform with her white hat bearing a black bat with a superimposed golden “E”.

After some banter back and forth, she was able to suss out that Donovan had once upon a time been a Pokémon Hero in Makai, known for his derring-do. He had been raised in a hermitage in the Forbidden Mountains, where he learned martial arts and psychic abilities to best tame Psychic Pokémon. He inherited the Dojo a few years ago from his master, who retired, and lives up there with his young sister, Anita, and a few servants and apprentices. “He’s very cute, but shy… not really my type, though,” she said with a wink and a grin at Andrea.

“Normally he comes down out of the mountains at least once a week and he and his Pokémon help the locals, but he’s not been down from the Dojo in months. He does like his privacy, but some folks are getting worried. They say this invitation of foreign Trainers might have upset him.”

Ayame thanked her for her information and went to the PTC, where she called Professor Yew and switched out three Pokémon – her final roster of three being Firefly (6th level Vulpix), Meowth (13th level Meowth), Max (6th level Houndour), Yojimbo (11th level Honedge), Casper (5th level Phantump), and Swift (5th level Scyther).

As it was already past 3 pm, and it would be an 18-mile walk to Monkshood, they decided to get some dinner and sleep. They secured a room at the Pokémon Center Hostel then went to join the others on the village square. After a repast of peasant fare and small beer, they went to sleep.

The next morning, they headed out bright and early. Their walk down the hilly slopes and across the fields of the lowlands was uneventful. Most small holders waved as they passed, but as they got closer to Monkshood, the locals became less ebullient about the passersby. When they reached Monkshood, they found it to be quiet, almost too quiet. The locals avoided them, turning away and even shuttering their homes and businesses as they passed by. They reached the main roads, one on each side of the river; on the east, the town hall, a tavern/inn, and a few businesses; on the west, across the bridge, a temple, a tavern/inn, and a few other businesses. The road on the east ended with the last building, on the west the road continued to follow the river north, turning into a trail before it turned in the distance.

Ayame decided to try her luck at the temple, as it was at least apparently on the side of the trail leading into the mountains and the Dojo. The temple was odd, as it appeared more like something from Tokyo Nation rather than Makai; it had the gabled roofs, statuary, and so forth of something one might see in Johto. The doors open, they walked in. They found themselves in a large room, at the opposite end a large statue of an Alakazam. The walls were decorated in bas relief with Abras, Kadabras, and Alakazams, along with other Psychic Pokémon. Sitting before the statue was a young woman in a monk’s robe, meditating, with sweet incense burning between her and the statue.

The three stood there. Nothing happened.

They moved in a few feet. Ayame cleared her throat.

“Hello, and welcome to Monkshood,” the monk said in a pleasant voice. She stood… flew? Levitated? up from her meditative position and turned. She was tall, thin, pale-skinned, raven-haired (all in one long braid), and violet-eyed. She spoke from between violet lips.

“I am Zsuska. You wish to go to the Dojo to challenge Donovan Baine, yes?”

“Yes,” Ayame said.

“Very well. It is too late to go up the mountain now, so you will be needing someplace to sleep, I can offer you hospitality here, or you can stay in one of the two local inns.”

“Why, thank you, we would love to stay here!”

“Very well,” she smiled. “Follow me.

“So Ayame, what brings you to Makai?”

“Well, I am always seeking new challenges for myself and my Pokémon.”

“Ah, of course. And you, Bobby?”

“I go where Ayame goes, generally, it sounds like a fun adventure.”

“Fun, perhaps,” she turns and looks Andrea in the eyes, “And you, Andrea?”

“The same, though I am interested mostly in becoming a Pokémon Coordinator, so I wanted to see what the opportunities are here for helping to build a Coordination League.”

“Appreciating the beauty of Pokémon is rare here in Makai,” Zsuska said, sadly.

She waved to a room and a nearby restroom. “You may clean the dust from your travels there, and sleep in this room -- simple mats for a simple temple. If you wish to dine here, I could make some extra rice and fish, or you can try the local cuisine at one of the taverns.”

“Thank you, but you are already hosting us for the night, I do not wish to impose on you further, so we shall dine in a tavern.”

“Very well, I will see you in the morning, and I shall enjoy your company over breakfast. Until then, sleep well Ayame, Bobby, Andrea, Firefly, Meowth, and Jolteon.”

And she departed.

It was not until they were freshening up in the restroom that Ayame realized that they had never introduced themselves!

“She knew who we were, and we never introduced ourselves!” she cried. Ayame and Andrea looked at each other, astonished.

“Well, it is a temple dedicated to Psychic Pokémon; perhaps she is a Psychic Trainer, with Psychic abilities?” Bobby said.

“You… you mean she read our minds?!” Andrea stuttered, worryingly, her cheeks reddening.

Ayame and Bobby fixed the nymph-blood with a knowing glance, “Don’t worry, I’m sure she only read enough to get our names… not any deeper into our thoughts…” Ayame reassured her.

But Andrea remained worried, even through dinner and as they went to sleep…

Thus ended the session…

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

[Now Available] Expanded Talents for the Shadowdark RPG

Designed for use with the Shadowdark RPG 
By James Mishler and Jodi Moran-Mishler 

Expanded Talents contains a new talent system for the Shadowdark RPG. It expands the Class Talent Tables for each class from five talents to 11 talents, with many new talents to roll or choose from! 

New talent tables are included for Clerics, Fighters, Thieves, Wizards, Knights of St. Ydris, Warlocks, and Witches! 

Expanded Talents also offers new Racial Talent Tables. A player may, at the discretion of the Game Master, choose to roll a talent from their character’s race rather than from their class. These tables provide a character with talents that emulate the talents of those races according to myth, legend, and fantasy role-playing gaming tradition.

New talent tables are included for Dwarves, Elves, Goblins, Halflings, Half-Orcs, and Humans!

A new talent system, complete with 13 new talent tables designed for use with Shadowdark!

16 pages (13 pages of content).


The Shadowdark Quick Start PDF is available FREE from The Arcane Library!

Monday, June 20, 2022

[Now Available] Vampire Class

By James Mishler and Jodi Moran-Mishler

This new class booklet presents a 20-level Vampire class for use with Labyrinth Lord, easily adaptable to any other classic style OSR Role-Playing Game.

The Vampire Class booklet includes details and rules on:
  • Becoming a vampire.
  • Vampire hit points and ability scores.
  • Special defenses, resistances, and immunities.
  • Vampire special abilities.
  • Vampire combat, bringing back the blood drain!
  • Vampire weaknesses.
With this class, a player’s character who has been transformed into a vampire no longer need become a non-player character! One can also run an entire campaign with vampire player characters! And of course, it is an excellent source for creating unique vampire enemies.

16-page booklet, 11 pages of content. $2 – CHEAP!

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

[Coming Soon] The Heart of Albion, a Hexcrawl Campaign for Castles & Crusades

The Heart of Albion Hexcrawl Campaign Setting
By James Mishler and Jodi Moran-Mishler

The year is 1400 AUC, as the world has fallen into the cold-hearted grasp of Fimbul Winter.
Summer is as autumn, spring is as winter, and winter? Winter is as some cold slice of the Hells. Glaciers are rolling out of the mountains; new lands rise as waters retreat; and the very earth cracks under the weight of the Wrath of Eldisor.
The Great Northern Isle of Skandza has shattered into a thousand isles under the weight of these glaciers, and the survivors struggle to survive amidst the ruins as the Old Gods fight for their survival. Elsewhere, the remnants of the old Tyrrhenian Empire are being swept away by waves of barbarians and savagery…
The peninsular realm of Albion, far in the northwest and forgotten by Tyrrhenia and Skandza alike, is undergoing similar convulsions.
The native Kymrae and Brigantian tribes, Tyrrhenized and free, are threatened by the invasion of the barbaric Reichlanders from the east and the Caledonians from the north.
The native demi-humans and fairies are caught in between, and also drawn into the internecine battles between the various families of the Old Gods of Albion and the Reichlands, and even those from further afield, in their struggles with one another and with the rise of the new faith, the Holy Temple of Law.
And here and there still stand a few settlements and strongholds of Jordvann and Tyrrhenia, where the Jordvanner seek to rebuild civilization and the Tyrrhenians seek to conquer its remnants amongst those dimming points of light.
Follow the development of this classic Hexcrawl Campaign, The Heart of Albion, and explore the history behind the Continental Realms of the current Isle of Eldisor setting.
The development of this new Castles & Crusades setting will be featured on my blog, Adventures in Gaming v2, to edify those who wish to learn how to develop their own campaign settings in the classic Hexcrawl Sandbox fashion.
For fans of Labyrinth Lord, never fear; Castles & Crusades is readily adaptable to Labyrinth Lord (just as Labyrinth Lord is readily adaptable to Castles & Crusades).
Further Labyrinth Lord development of the Isle of Eldisor in the current era will follow the completion of The Heart of Albion, notably the northern half of Eldisor, The Northlands.

Follow developments on these pages!

Sunday, June 12, 2022

[Now Available] The Demon Tower of Valdig Fel

By James Mishler and Jodi Moran-Mishler
The Demon Tower of Valdig Fel is the first adventure specifically set in the Isle of Eldisor Hexcrawl Campaign Setting. Designed for use with Labyrinth Lord, it is easily adapted to any OSR-Style Role-Playing Game.

The Demon Tower of Valdig Fel is an ancient, much-storied flying citadel in the shape of a demon’s head. Since the death of its creator during the Wars of Succession following the Fall of Eldisor, it has passed through the hands of countless villains, who have used the flying tower to raid, pillage, and enslave the peoples of the Ivory Plains and beyond. Terrible tales of wizards, demons, and dragons follow in its wake.
And now it has drifted into a tree-lined ridge near Wulf’s Ferry… right in your own backyard!
What are the inhabitants up to? Are they here to raid or to trade?
What of the rumors of centuries of treasure hidden within?
Are you brave or foolish enough to find out?
The Demon Tower of Valdig Fel is designed for use with Labyrinth Lord and other OSR-Style Role-Playing Games. Designed for use for a party of 4 to 6 adventurers of 5th to 7th level, its dangers can easily be increased or decreased for more powerful or less experienced parties.
24-page booklet, 19 pages of adventure. $3

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

[Now Available] Shortcuts to Adventure #03: Monstrous Reflections

By James Mishler and Jodi Moran-Mishler

Shortcuts to Adventure is a new series of mini-adventures designed to be fit into any dungeon, sewer, or ruined city. Each consists of five to 10 rooms, no more, and has an adventure theme.

The third Shortcuts to Adventure module is Monstrous Reflections. This one is a doozy. The party finds themselves in an area where they can all too easily get in over their heads. A simple clan of refuge goblins seeks to save their skins by offering up information on their neighbor… a crazy old and very wealthy magic-user. He has a giant crystal, they say, and he stares into it all the time. If taking out the magic-user is so easy, though, why do the goblins have such a look of terror in their eyes?

Designed for a party of 1st to 3rd level adventurers (maybe…), this adventure can easily be adjusted to higher levels by altering the mix and number of monsters present.

Designed for use with Labyrinth Lord, this adventure can easily be used with any Old School RPG.

Eight pages, three pages of adventure. $1 – CHEAP!

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

How to be the Best Dungeon Master for Dungeons & Dragons -- Part 02: Done-in-One Dungeons

This series will explore the various tips and tricks I have learned over the years on how to be the best Dungeon Master you can be for Dungeons & Dragons -- or best Labyrinth Lord for Labyrinth Lord, or best Castle Keeper for Castles & Crusades, or best Judge for Dungeon Crawl Classics – whatever your favorite flavor of game. But before I can really talk about all that, I want to make sure we are all on the same page as to what, exactly, being a Dungeon Master is all about.

The way this is going to work is, essentially, on each article I am going to go through the various stages of gaming as I did, back when I first started, and build up from there with how that relates to the subject at hand. So, we are going to start with how I started – being the Dungeon Master right out of the box. 

I received the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set for Christmas 1981 (the Moldvay set). I’d had no prior experience playing Dungeons & Dragons, let alone running a Dungeons & Dragons game. But that is where I had to start, as I was the first kid in our group to get the game, and to get the other guys to play, I had to run the thing.

Fortunately, Moldvay Basic was designed to be easily accessible to the young player and the novice Dungeon Master. Holmes Basic, the set that had been released in 1977, was an introductory set designed more for the then-current “youth” market of Dungeons & Dragons players – college students. Moldvay trended its design even younger, to the high-school crowd. I was at the time all of 12 years old and midway through 7th grade, though I had a 12th-grade reading level (or so the tests said).

I’m not going to say reading and understanding Moldvay Dungeons & Dragons was a breeze, but it was fairly easy to comprehend, at least, compared to what I much later read in Holmes and the Original Dungeons & Dragons sets. There were only a few minor issues I had with getting started, mostly due to the various, sometimes confusing rules on variable weapon damage and monster hit dice. But as far as the rules went, things were fine.

It was when it came to actually how to combine it all and run the game that I had issues.

Fortunately, the Basic Set had three things that helped with that.

First, Part 8: Dungeon Master Information, was very carefully designed to literally walk the novice Dungeon Master through the process of creating a dungeon environment wherein their players would adventure. To be honest, I took to this section like a drowning man to a life vest and have never really looked back. It was this section that really first got me started on the path to a “Build it as you Go” Dungeon Master, and I’ve mostly really built upon that foundation. 

More on that later, but suffice to say, the systems provided in Part 8 are the building blocks of everything you need to know about building a dungeon, or, as Moldvay refers to it in the book, creating a “Scenario.” Here are the basics:

A. Choose a Scenario
B. Decide on a Setting
C. Decide on Special Monsters to be Used
D. Draw the Map of the Dungeon
E. Stock the Dungeon
F. Filling in Final Details

Second, there followed an example of dungeon design in the book itself, the classic Haunted Keep scenario, which showed the prospective Dungeon Master how to design a dungeon. It gave the example of one tower and left the other tower for the novice Dungeon Master to design, as well as any subsequent dungeon levels beneath the Haunted Keep. It also provided a Sample Dungeon Expedition and finally, a section on Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art

Some months later I would find much of the same material, expressed in much richer phrasing and with much more embellishment, and in a far more disjointed manner, in the words of Gary Gygax in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1E Dungeon Master Guide. And these words, too, I took to heart and further built upon what I learned from Moldvay Basic and Cook Expert. Bult it was that original combination of Moldvay and later Cook that really got things started.

Third and not least, there was the adventure module that was included in the Basic Set – Module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, with the Caves of Chaos

But there’s where things kind of went off the rails for me.

You see, while Moldvay Basic included Keep on the Borderlands, the module was not designed with Moldvay Basic in mind

At all.

It was originally developed whole cloth by Gary Gygax as an introductory adventure to be included in the Holmes Basic set, and Holmes Basic was designed to be used in combination with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

So, with B2, I went from the simple dungeon design system of Moldvay Basic, which revolved around building a small dungeon of perhaps three levels, to this grander (though in retrospect, still very small) miniature “Campaign Setting” that included a home base, a small wilderness, and a “dungeon” that did not at all follow the rules I had just read.

After all, the Caves of Chaos is not a proper dungeon, it is more of an “area with numerous dungeons” – 13 distinct dungeon areas, to be exact. Some of them are connected by secret corridors, but all are still distinct, and there is no “1st Level” of the dungeon, let alone a “2nd Level” or “3rd Level.”

I looked at the module and thought to myself, “OK, what the heck is THIS?”

And so, though I quickly got the Cook Expert Set, I ended up fumbling around with the Caves of Chaos for some time. Then, shortly thereafter, I picked up Module B1: In Search of the Unknown, by Michael Carr. B1, too, had been designed for use with Holmes Basic as an Introductory module, and was replaced in the Holmes run by Module B2, written by Gygax. B1, however, had been written exclusively with dungeon exploration in mind, and not worried about tying it all together with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons style play.

Where B2 provided the novice Dungeon Master with some general advice, B1 was designed to also help the novice Dungeon Master further develop dungeon design skills. Frankly, B1 would have been a better choice for inclusion with the new Moldvay Basic Set, but as the change had been made in the Holmes Set, it continued with the Moldvay Basic Set.

With that all said, I feel that if you want to get some of the best advice on creating dungeon scenarios from the start, you need to pick up the Moldvay Basic Set and module B1: In Search of the Unknown. They are both available in PDF format:
Reading the advice in these two books, primarily in Moldvay Basic, will give you an excellent start on designing the best Done-in-One dungeon adventures you can for Dungeons & Dragons.

To recap, I started out with Moldvay Basic’s “Scenario Design,” plus some advice from In Search of the Unknown, and some confusion from Keep on the Borderlands.

By now you are probably wondering how this all ties in with the idea of the “Done-in-One” or “One-Shot” adventure, right? Well, the above provided the groundwork for my own ability to develop and design dungeons. From there, over the years, I absorbed further advice and accumulated a vast number of resources to use to build these dungeons – from the Dungeon Masters Guide, from the works of Judges Guild, from the works of Midkemia Press, and, as time went on and I accumulated more official TSR modules, used as further samples of dungeon design.

And here now is where the Done-in-One/One-Shot really starts to come into play.

In retrospect, while I never quite grasped the design trends in those adventures, I now understand the design philosophy that stood behind those TSR modules.

Much talked about in more recent years but missed by a generation of players who didn’t get their start in college play in the mid to late 70’s -- but instead in the early 80’s -- was the effect that modules designed for Dungeons & Dragons Convention Tournaments had on the direction of the game, and the play and design philosophy of that whole second generation, not to mention the very game itself.

When TSR first started publishing Dungeons & Dragons, they honestly didn’t quite grasp what they had, or rather, what their market desired. They were almost all old-school wargamers, so had a lot of experience in building their own scenarios or adapting historical scenarios and designing their own war game campaigns. 

This is how the concept of the campaign got started in Dungeons & Dragons – both Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax ran their Dungeons & Dragons games like they had run their war game campaigns previously, as a series of inter-connected battles to fulfill the goals of an overall war. The main differences were that each player played a single character rather than played a side (or portion of a side); the focus was on a “mega-dungeon” and surrounding lands rather than a series of nations; and there was no “end point,” as the game could go on and on and on, with each player bringing in new characters to meet new challenges.

And that was the default assumption, such as it was, that was provided to players in Original Dungeons & Dragons – each Dungeon Master would create a “tentpole” mega-dungeon or series of related dungeons and build out from there.

And many did, as witness the records from campaigns such as the Rythlondar Chronicles, the Arduin Campaign, and similar classic campaigns – and entire alternate versions of Dungeons & Dragons that grew alongside them -- from the early days of Dungeons & Dragons.

But alongside this grew a whole other, different style of Dungeons & Dragons play – the Tournament scene. TSR and local game groups would run Dungeons & Dragons tournaments at local and regional game conventions. Each tournament would consist of one to four rounds; and advancement from round to round required the player and/or party to earn a certain number of points from performing certain specific actions during the adventure. Each game during a round would be run using the exact same adventure for each party of players, to evaluate them all equally.

Most Dungeons & Dragons Tournament rounds ran for 4 hours or thereabouts, and so the party had to, ideally, be able to complete the adventure within that time frame. Thus, each adventure designed for each round had to be a relatively short, self-contained adventure; no open-ended mega-dungeons, no wild and wooly sandbox wildernesses, as were so common in everyday play back in the day.

The Tournament adventures were essentially an entirely new sort of dungeon – the direct ancestor of the concept of the “Done-in-One” or “One-Shot” dungeon design.

Meanwhile, as TSR produced the Little Brown Book expansions, choosing to concentrate on rules, other companies, such as Wee Warriors, Judges Guild, and various others, discovered there was a market for pre-made adventures. Not wanting to lose out in that game space, TSR decided to publish their own modules. As they were already short-handed, they decided to primarily use what they already had at hand – the adventures from the Dungeons & Dragons Tournaments they had run at Gen Con, Origins, and other conventions.

Of the 33 Modules release by TSR from 1978 to 1982, 15 of them were originally Tournament modules, including 4 of the 8 modules released in 1978 and 5 of the 9 modules released in 1979 and 1980 (10 of the 17 modules released in those three years were written by Gary Gygax, and half of those were his Tournament modules).

This also tied into the emphasis of the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons -- Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the creation of which, among other goals, was to properly standardize the game so that every Dungeon Master and every player, wherever they originated from, would all be playing the exact same rules when they went to a convention and played in an Official TSR Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Tournament. Tournaments were going to be a BIG thing for TSR; they even founded the Role-Playing Gamers Association (RPGA) to run their tournament system…

Suffice to say, when new players such as myself went out to find official TSR modules to run or to use as inspirational material, we found mostly Tournament Modules. That, or modules that were, for the most part, designed around the same kind of philosophy, as they had to fit the same format (16 to 32 pages) and, in the case of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons modules, had an even further emphasis on the Tournament style of play.

Thus, rather than emphasize the classic “Tentpole-Mega-Dungeon-Sandbox-Campaign” style of play that was original to the game, these modules reinforced the new style – short, sweet, to the point adventures that could be run in a single evening – or even a 4-hour event slot at a convention tournament.

And this design philosophy became the core design philosophy for many players and designers to this day. The “Daystar Revolution” of “Story Game” design introduced with Tracy and Laura Hickman’s Ravenloft and Desert of Desolation series, followed by the Dragonlance series in 1984, did little to change this emphasis. It merely transformed it from a single Done-in-One to a series of related Done-in-Ones on a “Story Path.” 

Over time, this further mutated to the “Adventure Path” style game, which now dominates in both Dungeons & Dragons 5E and Pathfinder 2E. The core difference here is that each “module” contains a subset of “Done-in-Ones” rather than a single “Done-in-One,” and all those “Done-in-Ones” are tied to the story within the single module, which are tied to a macro-story known as a “Campaign,” which is not really the same thing as a classic “Campaign.”

Suffice to say, the Done-in-One still dominates adventure game design to this day. There are exceptions but Done-in-One is the rule. Often, each Done-in-One today is designed to be done in two hours to better enable play at local game shops as part of “Adventure League” style play and the new timeframe of player availability (thus being a feature, not a bug).

We now have the broad background of who, what, where, and why Done-in-Ones are the core design element of most modern adventure design. Let’s move on to the "how" of Done-in-One design.

Let’s look back at that design outline provided in Moldvay Basic:

A. Choose a Scenario
B. Decide on a Setting
C. Decide on Special Monsters to be Used
D. Draw the Map of the Dungeon
E. Stock the Dungeon
F. Filling in Final Details

Now let’s break that down:

A. Choose a Scenario
The “scenario” is, in this outline, the MacGuffin, the device that serves a as a trigger for the plot – in the case of a dungeon module, the “Why in the Hells are we going into this gods-forsaken place to begin with?” that every character asks themselves before going into the dungeon. Moldvay gives a list of 10 suggestions; I have included some relevant TSR Modules in parenthesis after each:

1. Exploring the Unknown (B1, B2, B4, C1, C2, D1, I1, S1, S2, S3, S4, T1, X1)
2. Investigating a Chaotic Outpost (A1, A2, B2, C1, D1, G1, G2, G3, S2, S3, T1)
3. Recovering Ruins (B1, B3, C2, I1, S1, T1, X2)
4. Destroying an Ancient Evil (A4, B2, B3, C2, D3, I2, N1, S1, S2, S4)
5. Visiting a Lost Shrine (C1, D2, WG4)
6. Fulfilling a Quest (D1, D2, D3, G1, G2, G3, S2)
7. Escaping from Enemies (B4, N1, X3)
8. Rescuing Prisoners (A1, A2, A3, B3, S2, X2)
9. Using a Magic Portal (EX1, EX2, Q1, X2)
10. Finding a Lost Race (B4, D2, D3, X1)

You can see that many of these modules hit two or more of these possible scenarios. From this we can realize Rule #1 of Done-in-Ones:

Rule #1: There should be multiple reasons for the adventurers to be exploring the dungeon, this way every player’s character has a chance to get something out of the adventure.

B. Decide on a Setting
Here you decide where the MacGuffin is set. This will give you a general idea of what your map is going to look like and the kind of monsters, non-monster challenges, and specific kinds of treasures that will be most likely found therein. Again, many official TSR modules riff off of two or more of these setting ideas. 

As an exercise, you should refer to the list of modules at the end of this article and, if you do not own them yourself, refer to the list of classic TSR modules on Wikipedia. Read each module or go to each module description and see if you can find therein which combination of settings each module uses. This will give you a grounding in the classical Done-in-One style settings, which usually evoke a grounded concept of adventure setting common in myth, legend, and literature. 

1. Castle or Tower 
2. Caves or Cavern 
3. Abandoned Mine 
4. Crypt or Tomb
5. Ancient Temple
6. Stronghold or Town

The setting needs to be evocative – it is not just background or flavor text the setting is part of the adventure. If you have any experience with those modules, you will innately sense the importance of those locations and where they were as much as what and who were there. You might not remember the treasures you won in the Tomb of Horrors, but you remember the Green Devil Face! You might not remember exactly what monsters you slew, but you will never forget Castle Ravenloft

The Where is just as important as the Why. That brings us to Rule #2 of Done-in-Ones:

Rule #2: Don’t sell the adventure setting short! The setting of an adventure is as much a part of the adventure as the reason for being there and the monsters and treasure to be found.

C. Decide on Special Monsters to be Used
Now you know the Why of the adventure and the Where of the adventure, you can figure out the Who of the adventure – as in Who the player characters are going to encounter and interact with, for better and for worse. Plus, of course, any Special Treasure they might have with them.

Note that the Why and Where do not have to drive the Who – after all, dungeons do not necessarily need to make sense. But these major, significant monsters are going to be the primary encounters in the dungeon – whether or not they are necessarily the deadliest or more numerous, they must somehow be the most interesting, even if they are just orcs or apes. Here are some samples of the Special Monsters from classic dungeons:

A1: The Aspis insect-men
A2: The weird Boggles
A3: The NPCs
A4: The Myconids
B2: The Minotaur and the Evil Clerics
B3: Loads of new monsters
B4: The Cynidiceans
D1: Lots of strange creatures
D2: Kuo-Toa
D3: Drow
G1: Hill Giants
G2: Frost Giants
G3: Fire Giants
And so forth…

The G-Series especially made Giants SPECIAL. They were no longer just random encounters in an underworld or wilderness; they had entire societies and personalities. A3 and B4 focused on strange and interesting non-player characters, both as enemies and potential allies. B3 and D1 introduced the players to what were probably wholly new and strange monsters to their experience. This all brings us to Rule #3 of Done-in-Ones:

Rule #3: Make the core monsters Special. This does not mean tough or difficult or even numerous; make them unusual and memorable.

D. Draw the Map of the Dungeon
Now that you know the Why, Where, and Who, you can get started on the thing that brings them all together – the dungeon map. Now, this is where things are going to be different depending on which edition and variation you play. 

“Classic” dungeon maps, for OD&D to AD&D 2E and most clones, often have larger dungeons with many empty rooms; even the Done-in-Ones often had empty rooms, or spare rooms, and so forth. 

“Modern” dungeon maps, for 3E through 5E, the number of rooms in a dungeon is often equal to the number of encounters of monsters, traps, specials, treasures, and/or a combination of the four. 

If you are designing a “Modern” dungeon with very few rooms, go to E below first, to determine what other monsters, traps, specials, and treasures you want in the dungeon, then come back here.

Next you must decide on how big you want your dungeon. In a Done-in-One dungeon, you don’t need a large number of rooms, but in a Classic game you still want some red herring rooms and empty rooms to cause concern and for potential random encounters. 

The basic rule of thumb for a Classic style map is to determine how many groups of the Special Monsters you want, then multiply that by three to four to determine the size of the dungeon. Many of those rooms will be stocked, randomly or by design, in the next section with monsters, traps, specials, and treasure.

For a Modern style map, similarly you must first determine how many groups of the Special Monsters you want; you start with that many rooms. Add rooms for the other monsters, traps, specials, and treasures you add from step E. Then you then probably want only one additional room for every three or four rooms you have already accounted for, and likely, you will combine them with other existing rooms for “suites.”

You then combine the Why, Where, and Who to design the dungeon map in a fashion that will be conducive to play. Done-in-Ones need to be relatively tight and focused, but still need some dead-ends, switchbacks, and wide-open spaces, which should be designed based on the Where of the dungeon. Even in a narrow mine, make sure there is plenty of space to get around; if you make the locations too narrow, with any bottlenecks, you can slow down combats, and even in Classic style games, too many combats can take up too much time. But you also don’t want to go Jaquaysing the dungeon so much that the party gets lost or off track. You have to walk that careful balance between a linear railroad and a non-linear Jaquays-style open dungeon.

This is not easy. You will fail often. You have to learn by experience just how much space to use in a Done-in-One. It often varies based on your players game style. Don’t let failures stop you. This is how you will learn. Party didn’t get to the end of the dungeon in five hours? Cut out a few rooms next time or tighten up the encounters. Party breezed through the dungeon in two hours? Add a few rooms, add a few monsters, add a special puzzle or statue. Design, fail, learn, repeat. This leads us to Rule #4 of Done-in-Ones:

Rule #4: The design of a dungeon in a Done-in-One is a fine balance between the Linear and the Non-Linear. You will have to learn to walk that line. Do not be afraid to fail.

E. Stock the Dungeon
This is the heart of dungeon design – the What to add to the dungeon to make it about more than just the MacGuffin and the Special Monsters. This is where you must remember that even a Done-in-One dungeon is more than just a simple linear adventure in more than just physical dungeon design. This is where you fit in the B Story, the C Story, the D story, and so forth. Moldvay provides a series of tables and suggestions for generating the following random items:

Monsters – 2 in 6 rooms should have a Monster, and 4 in 6 of those should have some Treasure.
Traps – 1 in 6 rooms should have a Trap, and 3 in 6 of those should have some Treasure.
Specials – 1 in 6 rooms should have a Special item or location.
Treasures – 2 in 6 rooms should be Empty, and 2 in 6 of those should have some Treasure.

Of course, these are all designed around the Classic style of play. As mentioned in D, above, Modern games require fewer rooms, especially empty rooms, and much less treasure (insert sad whomp-whomp sound here).

You can plan these all out, especially if you have a very strong theme for your dungeon, but I’ve found it is often more fun to let the dice decide. Most editions and systems have random tables appropriate to the levels for monsters and treasures, and at least guidance if not random tables for traps and specials. Make sure not to overload the rooms – just as with keeping a balance in dungeon design between Linear and Non-Linear, you need to maintain a careful balance in numbers of monsters and traps and their danger versus expected party power. 

Unlike “real-world style” “non-balanced” Campaign Adventures (more on that another day), Done-in-Ones really need to be designed around the Monster Points, XPL, HDE, CL, EL, or whatever level of monster-versus-party balance is inherent in the system. Which brings us to Rule #5 of Done-in-Ones:
Rule #5: The additional threats in Monsters, Traps, and Specials in a Done-in-One must be balanced out not only with the reward of Treasure and the completion of the MacGuffin, but they must also be balanced out with the expected number and levels of the player-character party. Like designing the physical dungeon, this is a process that can only be learned through trial and error. Do not be afraid to fail!

F. Filling in Final Details
I’m going to end this with a quote directly from Moldvay:

Once the rooms have been stocked, the DM can fill in details about the corridors (such as traps or regular patrols of monsters). The DM should also "stock" the dungeon with some normal items, smells, sounds, and so forth. Inhabited and empty rooms could be given whatever normal furnishings would be common in the dungeon. The DM should be careful not to use too much nor too little detail; some detail will help the players imagine the areas that they are exploring, but too much detail is often just boring.

-- Tom Moldvay, Basic Dungeons & Dragons, p. B52 

Remember that you are designing a Done-in-One, not a mega-dungeon, not a masterpiece – simply a dungeon adventure that can be played in one session of about two to four hours. Don’t make it all too much, but also, don’t make it all too little.
As a Dungeon Master, you will know you have a well-designed Done-in-One adventure when you have designed enough of them, run enough of them, and re-designed enough of them, such that your players more often have a lot of fun than not. We’ll follow this not with a rule, but with an aphorism…

Aphorism #1: You will be the best Dungeon Master at designing and running Done-in-One Dungeons & Dragons adventures when your players tell you that you are the best Dungeon Master.

Follow these design steps, and you will be well on your way to being the best Dungeon Master you can be when designing and running Done-in-One adventures in Dungeons & Dragons.

For some further great advice on creating Done-in-One adventures and running them at conventions, thus returning full circle to the origins of the Done-in-One, check out this article by Tim Snider on Savage Afterworld.

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Next Monday: Part 3: Sandbox Campaigns Part 1