Friday, December 23, 2022

Taking Stock – Going on Sabbatical

I figure I’d start taking stock at the beginning of my gaming career. I started working in the industry full time on January 1st, 1995; my last full-time day in the industry was September 28, 2012. 17 years total, with a few minor interruptions in-between, and since January 2013 I have been self-publishing part time through James Mishler Games

In that time I have designed, written, edited, and published games; written magazines and books about games; bought, sold, marketed, and advertised games in manufacturing, distribution, and retail; and run conventions and other gaming events. The only thing I’ve not done is anything artistic, other than cartography, but that’s due to lack of talent rather than any lack of desire or need.

This January will be James Mishler Games’ 10th anniversary, with the release of the first (and only) issue of Hercynian Grimoire on January 9, 2013. In that time my wife and I have published 57 products, ranging from simple maps and character sheets to Hexcrawl gazetteers and monstrous sourcebooks, and everything in between. Of these, six are Silver Best-Sellers (sold 100+) and 13 are Copper Best-Sellers (sold 50+). 

I’ve sold 2,680 units at an average of $1.57 each (net) and given away 3,321 units. This will be the first year I get a 1099 from DriveThruRPG, which tells you how piddly some… well, most year’s sales have been… 

Here are the Top 5s based on units sold and dollars earned:

Top 5 Sellers by Numbers
1. Vampires of the Olden Lands 
2. Barbarian Class 
3. Necromancer Class 
4. Chronicles of Mhoriedh Map 00 Olden Lands Continent 
5. Ogres of the Olden Lands 

Top 5 Sellers by Dollars
1. Isle of Eldisor Hexcrawl Campaign Cyclopedia & Gazetteer 
2. Hercynian Grimoire #1 
3. Ghosts -- The Incorporeal Undead 
4. Vampires of the Olden Lands 
5. Ogres of the Olden Lands 

2022 was a banner year in many ways. We published 20 of the 57 products on our list this year, including the Isle of Eldisor, which was the culmination of three years of attempts to realize a specific vision of a campaign setting. 

One third of all published items, more than a third of all sold items, and almost half of all JMG income were realized in 2022, mostly in early 2022.

For most, that would be a reason to push through and move on to the next level of publishing. 

But no, not for me. 

After the Adventure Games Publishing Debacle, I decided I would only make my game writing a sideline at best – something for fun and for money to buy more games. Self-publishing games for anything more than that, well, I found out it is not for me.

And on top of everything, right now is a very, very slow time for sales. Between Labyrinth Lord moving to a 2nd Edition next year and the Shadowdark RPG not even yet being released, sales have been slow the last couple of months. Very, very slow since September when the new edition of Labyrinth Lord was announced.

So, between the big push to publish earlier this year, and the big slowdown while waiting for the new edition of Labyrinth Lord and the release of the Shadowdark RPG, I think it is time to take a break. 

We’ll call this one a sabbatical.

The sabbatical will last at least until the release of the new edition of Labyrinth Lord and the release of the Shadowdark RPG, both of which I expect will occur sometime in early to mid-Summer (fingers crossed!)

In the meantime, I am going to recharge my batteries by spending time with my wife; gaming with some friends; and cataloging and rebuilding my once-extensive game collection. I have one other neato Secret Project I need to work on for some friends, but other than that, all my gaming will be purely for fun until I see some cool new books in hand.

I do not plan to do any blogging during the sabbatical. Blogging… isn’t what it once was. There was the Golden Age of early Blogger & Forums; then the Silver Age of Blogger/WordPress and Google+; and finally, the Bronze Age of, well, whatever was left. And then there’s now, the Iron Age, with the Wastelands of Discord and the Fall of Twitter. So… meh.

Check back here around July 1st, 2023, to see what comes next; by then I hope the new edition of Labyrinth Lord and the new Shadowdark RPG will either be on my shelves or on the way.

Until then, good gaming!

Friday, December 9, 2022

[Now Available] The Witch, the Shepherd, His Goats, and Their Daughter Shadowdark RPG Adventure

An Adventure Designed for use with for Shadowdark
By James Mishler and Jodi Moran-Mishler
Challenge Level: GBX

The Witch, the Shepherd, His Goats, and Their Daughter
is a fairy tale adventure designed for use with the Shadowdark RPG. Help the Shepherd find his Goats and Daughter who have been kidnapped by the Witch of the Woods. The woods are home to all manner of strange, fearsome, and fey monsters… not to mention the witch!

Featuring 12 encounter sites, each with various dangers and rewards, The Witch, the Shepherd, His Goats, and Their Daughter provides action and adventure for one to three sessions.

The Witch, the Shepherd, His Goats, and Their Daughter is a forest point-crawl based on the art of Evlyn Moreau. It presents three Challenge Levels and can thus be used for three different kind of adventuring parties.

This adventure is designed for three separate Challenge Levels of play – Gauntlet (G), for parties of 0th level characters; Beginner (B), for parties of 1st or 2nd level characters; and Expert (X), for parties of 3rd and 4th level characters. Note that G level adventures are more difficult than B level and slightly less difficult than X level, as they are designed for four or five players each with four 0-level characters, rather than four or five players each with one character of 1st or 2nd levels or 3rd or 4th levels. Most, though not all monster and danger difficulties and treasures vary depending on the level of play – the greater the danger, the greater the reward! Choose the level of play based on the characters at hand – of course, you could also go with a lesser or greater level of danger, depending on the desires and fears of your players and their characters to seek danger and reward regardless of level! Higher levels of play in subsequent adventures include Champion (C) 5th to 6th, Master (M) 7th to 8th, and Legend (L) 9th to 10th.

JMGSD04, 20 pages (17 pages of content), $3.00.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Power of RuneQuest: Shaking the Pillars of Heaven

Back in the day, I dipped my toe into RuneQuest 2 a few times before I went whole hog into RuneQuest 3, the Avalon Hill Edition.

I was introduced to RuneQuest by a gaming acquaintance ca. 1982 or 1983; we played a few times, and I thought it was neat, but it did not dislodge Dungeons & Dragons from being my go-to game. Nor did the Avalon Hill edition do that, though it was close for a brief time in 1984 to 1986, and the reason RQ3 did not take over my gaming time was mostly that I could not get enough friends to play it. 

I think the main reason was that it was very lethal for the kind of gameplay that we were all used to, being the hack and slash dungeon delvers that we were. Of course, everyone loaded up on weapon-enhancing spells and disruption and eschewed wasting magic points on healing. And so, everyone would die quickly, even moreso than in our D&D games. Thus, we would return to D&D

These days I’m getting into replacing my old game collection that has been lost, bit by bit, over the years. Some items I’m just going to have to get in PDF, as the collector’s prices on many of them are just ridiculous. One game that I never really collected, however, was RuneQuest 2nd Edition. A situation I’ve chosen to rectify, so I can do some deep dives into the origin of the game. And as far as official Chaosium publications, I have more or less finished that collection in PDF format.

And what a fascinating lot the corpus of the official publications makes. RuneQuest 2nd Edition, the game that challenged the primacy of D&D in many places at the time, the game that further inspired new levels of “realism” in game play across the nation, consisted, in its entirety, of:

  • 1 Rulebook (available in hardcover, softcover, and a boxed set)
  • 3 Scenario Pamphlets (Balastor’s Barracks, Apple Lane, and Snake Pipe Hollow)
  • 3 Source Pamphlets (Trolls and Trollkin, Creatures of Chaos, and Militia & Mercenaries)
  • 6 Sourcebooks (Cults of Prax, Foes, Gateway Bestiary, Plunder, Runemasters, and Cults of Terror)
  • 1 Hexcrawl Adventure Book (Griffin Mountain)
  • 4 Adventure/Source Boxed Sets (Borderlands, Troll Pak, Pavis, and Big Rubble)
  • 3 Solo Adventures (SoloQuest, Scorpion Hall, and Snow King’s Bride)
  • 1 Companion Sourcebook (RuneQuest Companion)
  • 14 issues of Wyrms Footnotes (the official RuneQuest magazine)
22 products, plus 14 issues of Wyrms Footnotes.

Twenty-two official products were published between 1978 and 1983. That’s it.

By that time TSR had released more than 40 adventure modules alone, not including the various editions of Dungeons & Dragons and a slew of Dragon Magazine issues and a cartoon series and… and everything else. 

Now, some of these are considered among the greatest adventures ever written – Griffin Mountain and Pavis/Big Rubble especially come to mind. And too, RuneQuest was also compatible with Stormbringer, Call of Cthulhu, Questworld, Superworld, and the other various products published by Chaosium.

And then in 1984 Avalon Hill, at the time one of the largest and most influential boardgame companies in the game industry (not including the big consumer publishers), decided to break into the RPG business and felt that licensing RuneQuest was the way to go. That publishing RuneQuest would give them the leg up they needed to give TSR and Dungeons & Dragons a run for their money.

I know in the end it didn’t work for them. There were many problems with the launch. They eschewed Glorantha for a generic Fantasy Europe, which upset a lot of the existing fan base. They changed the system in ways that upset a lot of the existing fan base. They also launched three completely different RPGS at about the same time – RuneQuest, Tom Moldvay’s Lords of Creation, and Richard Snider’s Powers & Perils.

Now that was a fascinating trifecta right there. Perrin, Moldvay, and Snider. The combination of stars being in the right place to bring together so much talent all at the same time, to release three amazing games from three amazing talents at the same time, and to essentially fail with all three games at the same time… that was something.

But sadly, fail they did. But RQ3 still brought out some memorable products. Glorantha: Genertela, Crucible of the Hero Wars is still the definitive, easy-to access source for running a Glorantha campaign in Genertela. Dorastor: Land of Doom provides a proper realm of evil campaign setting in a way no one has really yet matched. And RuneQuest Cities is the ultimate edition of the classic Midkemia Press Cities sourcebook, a must-have for anyone running city-based campaigns.

Altogether, from 1984 to 1994, Avalon Hill released 29 books and boxed sets for RuneQuest (I really, really miss boxed set RPGs). They also had Heroes Magazine, a 10-issue run supporting all three RPGs plus their various board games.

From 1979 to 1994 there were, as official products, 51 booklets, books, or boxed sets, plus 24 magazines, dedicated (or partially dedicated to) RuneQuest.

I can’t even conjecture how many products TSR published in that time frame.

And yet, RuneQuest somehow managed to shake those pillars of D&D heaven.

One factor that I have not touched on yet is the fanzine factor.

RuneQuest fans apparently had a very strong fanzine tradition. Foremost among those was none other than Gregg Stafford, the creator of Glorantha. Whereas TSR sought to crush such works like they were playing corporate whack-a-mole, Chaosium apparently allowed them to flourish.

It is this aspect of RuneQuest I need to start looking into next… after delving into all the official works, of course...

Sunday, November 20, 2022

[Now Available] Expanded Races: Thanians - A Shadowdark Supplement

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

Expanded Races: Thanians includes 41 new races for use with the Shadowdark Role-playing Game.

Thanians, also known as Beastfolk, are anthropomorphic animals, including insect, amphibian, reptile, avian, and mammals, and including the following races:


Each has a brief description of common physical characteristics and typical societal systems, along with one or more special abilities.

16 pages (13 pages of content). 

$1.99 -- A steal!


Sunday, October 16, 2022

General Blog Update

It has been quiet here recently.

After a series of fast releases – 13 products in four months, from April through July, followed by the release of Magical Beast Adventures in August, I decided to take some time off to collect my thoughts. Almost two months later I’m still trying; collecting thoughts is kind of like herding cats.

In that time, several things have happened that will impact my writing going forward.

First, Dan Proctor of Goblinoid Games has announced that he is going to release Labyrinth Lord 2nd Edition. That will be sometime in early 2023, so I am likely going to wait until then to start writing new LL products. The differences will be minor, I am sure, but most folks prefer new products to be for the most recent edition. In this, discretion is the better part of valor.

Second, I got a full-time job. This will cut significantly into my writing time going forward.

Third, shortly after I got the job, I tore my left meniscus, and have been hobbling around on crutches ever since. Fortunately, my job is such that I can work from home, so that’s good. Unfortunately, for various reasons, I cannot get the surgery to fix it for a couple of months. So that sucks. But things could be worse, and we are taking it day by day.

So, no Labyrinth Lord products for maybe six months, and limited production going forward.

What’s on the schedule, then, such as I’ve ever had a schedule?

Well, I had some ideas for further materials, including a full campaign setting, for Magical Beast Adventures. But the sales on that have been underwhelming, so that’s been shelved.

Work on the Castles & Crusades project has also been shelved. The response to that made the sales of Magical Beast Adventures seem spectacular by comparison.

I was working on a new module when I got the job, but between the job, my leg, and the new upcoming edition of Labyrinth Lord, that too went on the back burner.

Isle of Eldisor: The Northlands is still on the list, somewhere. While sales for Eldisor were better than anything else in years, it just has not yet made enough sales to carry a full-sized expansion. But that is a possibility in the future.

I have some vague ideas for a city product. I LOVE city adventures. But for various reasons, it is difficult to get started on those now.

That’s about it. 

I think for the next while I’ll be focusing on actual gaming, rather than writing for publishing. 

I am currently in two online games, my Old School Buddies Monday Night Game and my Merlin’s Keep Crew Friday Night Game. So far between the two groups we’ve played Blades in the Dark, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition, Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Advanced Labyrinth Lord, and Shadowdark. They are great groups.

I’ve had a lot more chances to actually play rather than run with these groups. I’m getting the hankering to run again.

I’m thinking of running the Monday Night Group through some Dungeons & Dragons, using the classic Cyclopedia Edition and setting the campaign in Mystara. We’re also talking about playing some Twilight 2000

I’m still debating what to run for the Friday Night Group. I’m thinking I might try to fill my desire for city adventures and develop a city for them to play in using Shadowdark. If you haven’t checked out Shadowdark, you really should. That link takes you to the Arcane Library page where you can download a free Quick Start PDF set.

I’m sure I’ll be posting about their adventures here.

Oh, and the release of the Skull and Bones: Savage Storm comic book has been moved back to March 2023, to track with the release of the game. Keep an eye out for that, too.

That’s about it for now.

Good gaming!

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.

Right click and open in another tab for larger size.

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…