By Christopher Helton
I’ve talked before about the gems that can be found for tabletop gaming, the self-published games and supplements that go over the territories that you may not find from the bigger publishers. Just because you don’t find these things in your gaming store doesn’t mean that they aren’t just as good as the material that you will find in your friendly local gaming store. In this Self-Publishing Roundup I talk about three very different things. I have the first two issues of a science fantasy ‘zine, a supplement for social mechanics for your D&D and other old school fantasy games, and a megadungeon.
You may know Tim Callahan from his days writing for Comic Book Resources, or his book about Grant Morrison, or his crawl through the old D&D Appendix N for Tor.com, but currently he is writing some great stuff for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG from Goodman Games through his ‘zine Crawljammer. Crawljammer is an insane (meant in an absolutely complimentary way) science fantasy romp inspired by old movie serials, Flash Gordon comic strips and the old AD&D setting Spelljammer. Do you remember those old Thor comics, the ones set in outer space where you would see the startled space aliens who were horrified to discover that a Viking longship was paddling up to them and the disembarking crew was attacking them with swords and hammers and maces? Yeah, that is Crawljammer.
Why does Callahan self-publish?
Why I self-publish: I’ve always created a crazy amount of content for my own games, and I come from kind of a minicomics background, which most people don’t know. If folks know my work, they know me as the ‘Grant Morrison guy’ or the CBR columnist or that guy who reads D&D books at Tor, but way before all of that I self-published minicomics like ‘Ninjawolf’ and ‘Baby vs. Playstation.’
Yeah, no one has heard of those, I know. But I liked the immediacy of creating something, throwing it on the copier, handing it out, and the just moving on to something else without being too precious about it. I guess I self-publish because I get bored easily and like to throw ideas out into the world and move on to other things. It’s gratifying to create something that people enjoy — and can use in their own games — but it’s also nice to be able to create and create and create and then print, staple, fold, ship. That’s a lot more fun than the cycle of create, edit, revise, submit, revise, submit, playtesting, revise, drink, procrastinate, resubmit, etc. Let’s just get the weird and wild content out there, in a relatively raw form. That’s what I respond to as a reader and as a gamer. That’s what I publish. –Tim Callahan
The two issues of Crawljammer have started outlining the setting, giving you rules for playing a Dungeon Crawl Classics game in space, and giving you new character options and classes for your games. Now, I don’t play Dungeon Crawl Classics but I know that the “Bat-Men of Venus” will end up making an appearance in a Swords & Wizardry game that I run…someday. Even if you don’t play Dungeon Crawl Classics, there is so much in these issues that can be adapted to pretty much any old school fantasy game. And, really, gaming needs more science fantasy, especially material that is as well-written and enthusiastic as Crawljammer.
For more information, errata, support materials and ordering information for Crawljammer, check out the ‘zine’s blog.
Courtney Campbell (whose name, as a Tampa Bay resident will always remind me of causeways) is a blogger and game designer who self-publishes through Lulu.com. His self-publishing “philosophy” is a simple one, as he says, “As far as self publishing, the real reason I decided to go ahead and self-publish is because I was self-publishing things for myself anyway, and I thought ‘Why not share?’” Over at the Hack & Slash blog, he has been blogging about various old school games and gaming methods for a few years now.
Campbell’s booklet, On The Non-Player Character: Solving The Social Trap, talks about using social mechanics in your old school D&D games (although much of his advice would be useful for any edition of the game). Social mechanics are a controversial topic for a lot of old school gamers who say that those things are handled best through “role play,” but as any gamer knows there are always those players in a group who are better at social situations than others. Having a mechanical method to “balance” these different types of players is why social mechanics started popping up in roleplaying games, after all.
Most of Campbell’s mechanics derive from the closest that Original D&D had for social situations: the 2d6 morale check. The nice thing about using 2d6 is that it gives enough of a bell curve to the results to make things interesting, but not so much as to give you a lot of options. Much better than the flat probability of a 1d20 roll, where all of the results have pretty much the same statistical chances. Campbell uses this with a number of social actions (from such choices as Insult, Drink, Gamble, Threaten and Question) and then treats them as if they are any other sort of action in the game. It is a good way to handle these things, without adding more complexity to your games.
There are also a number of helpful random tables that can be used to flesh out non-player characters in your games. I know that my problem, as a GM, can be coming up with decent names on the fly (a certain merchant NPC with a terrible name gets brought up by the players in my weekly game almost every time they meet a new NPC). However, having these tables for random personality traits, motivations and affectations can come in very handy.
Lastly, I have the megadungeon Castle of the Archmage from Joseph Bloch. Basically, for those who may not know, a megadungeon is a very large dungeon, large enough to be a campaign of its own that can take characters from first level to high levels of play. Bloch’s reasons for self-publishing were simple: a publisher who was supposed to originally fell behind on publication. “There was originally a deal with another publisher to put Castle of the Archmage into print, but there were a number of delays on their end. Eventually I made the decision to publish myself just to get the thing into print. We’re still on good terms, though, and they sell the BRW Games version at conventions.” Like most of the people that you will find in these Self-Publishing Roundups, Bloch is also a blogger. His blog is the long-running Greyhawk Grognard.
While the book says that it is “compatible with most old school RPGs,” most of mechanical writing (NPCs, spells, characters, etc) is fairly inline with the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons system. Converting to Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord would take very little work to do.
One of the things that I like about this dungeon (besides the fact that there is so much there) is that it keeps a sense of humor that you found in a lot of the early D&D/AD&D material. There is a “construction company” within the dungeon that is constantly expanding and working on it, and their hijinks would not be out of place in an old Warner Brothers cartoon. A lot of designers making “old school” materials forget that sense of humor, and it is good to see it in use throughout the dungeon. In addition to thirteen levels of a dungeon for player characters to explore there are new monsters, spells and magic items to fill out campaigns with. There are also rumors to hook characters into wanting to explore the dungeons and even NPC adventurer parties that the characters might encounter on their delves.
By the time that your characters have gone through all of this, they will not only have become powerful, experienced adventurers, but they will also have started their explorations of a whole new world. This is one of the things that makes roleplaying such an exceptional hobby, and why it has been a part of most of my life…being able to explore new and dangerous world, all from the safety of your living room, while making your characters a part of that world. For me, there is no other pastime that can be both immersive and creative in the way that tabletop gaming can be.
There are three (four if you count the two issues of Crawljammer) hopefully new to you supplements to your games that you aren’t going to find in a gaming store.
Christopher Helton is a blogger, podcaster and tabletop RPG publisher who talks about games and other forms of geekery at the long-running Dorkland! blog. He is also the co-publisher at the ENnie Award winning Battlefield Press, Inc. You can find him on Twitter at @dorkland and on G+ at https://plus.google.com/+ChristopherHelton/ where he will talk your ear off about gaming and comics.
Christopher has a crowdfunding page to help raise money to defray the costs for going to the Gen Con gaming convention and cover it for his Dorkland! blog and Bleeding Cool. Please click here to go to the page and help out.