A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer


The Endless Winter and Upcoming Projects

So I have completed and released The Endless Winter through T. W. Wombat's Winter is Coming Blog Festival, apparently to some rave reviews.

Many have commented on the professional look of what I put together... I joked about "overdoing" my submission, but quite frankly I wouldn't have it any other way. One the one hand, yes, I'm a game designer who likes the process of creating stuff others can use. But I'm also a publisher who tries to reflect his interest in making quality merchandise in everything he does, so I'm not one to just slap content together just to get it published. So it might have taken me ten times longer to format and layout the adventure than it took me to actually design the mechanics of it, but I'm OK with that. If I manage to create a product that people like and can say "wow!" when they look at it, mission accomplished!

Besides, it looks good on my résumé... Don't ya think?

I am giving it away for free for now, and it's currently also available for free on Drive Thru RPG (where it includes the tactical maps and 50 DPI images for use in third party applications!). If you downloaded it before the tactical maps became available, email me at dflor@brainclouds.net and I'll send you direct links so you can get them; I tried emailing everyone who had already downloaded it, but Drive Thru RPG has some... "issues"... with its email system. I have yet to send an email through their site out correctly, so my blast got sent without the link in it.

So here are my planned future projects:

  • The Coming Dark is still sitting there as an enormous, virtually complete PDF. There's a long story behind this, but that's for another day.
  • I've been kicking around a concept that will either be a Fourthcore adventure or a Lair Assault encounter. Or both. I haven't decided yet... But it's a concept I just can't get out of my head, and it involves some elements I had planned to use in my canceled Gammacore adventure Where Worlds Collide.
  • I have several more map packs planned - a dragon's lair, a goblin's lair, a roadside keep, a ziggurat in an evil place, etc... - but that's just a matter of getting around to doing them. Those are actually a considerable amount of work because of how badly Adobe Fireworks CS5 screams in agony every time I throw a big file at it.
  • In the very near future I'm going to write a short series of posts called "Mapmaking for the Non-Artist" which describes how I - a person with almost zero artistic skill that can't draw a decent looking square at gunpoint - manage to create the maps that I do. This will everything from what tools I use to how to add certain special effects to the maps. I will not assume extensive experience in Photoshop (primarily because I don't have that experience myself), so it will center around Fireworks and other low end drawing tools. Stay tuned for that!
  • Because The Endless Winter got such a good response (150+ downloads through Drive Thru RPG alone, and I have no idea how many downloads through Wombat's blog), I'll probably make some more of those, either by making separate adventures or an actual series. Making The Endless Winter was actually really fun to do to be honest, and I enjoyed the experience so much I can't wait to do it again.
  • I am currently experimenting with converting The Endless Winter to Pathfinder. I've never actually played Pathfinder itself, but have played D&D 3.5e so I'm familiar with the mechanic as a player. But it's an interesting challenge to convert an existing 4e product to Pathfinder, and its an exercise I am also considering documenting for the sake of this blog.
  • Tomorrow starts the window for submitting things to Wizards of the Coast for Dragon and Dungeon magazine, and I'm considering submitting a few things. Among all of my ideas, I'm probably going to get myself in trouble again for suggesting they let me make Gamma World (*writes check!*) content (including the concept of a certain doctor and his fortress of evil), but you can't blame me for trying.

Anyway, more to come in the near future!


Winter is Coming

I have decided to participate in T. W. Wombat's Winter is Coming RPG Blog Festival, in which we all create winter-themed content for D&D and other rulesets.

Since I live in Miami, Florida I admit I don't have the level of experience with whatever this "winter" thing everyone keeps talking about is, but I figured I'd give this one a shot since I've had an idea bouncing around in my head since the festival was first mentioned.

And it's gotten a pretty good list of participants, some other folks from the D&D blogsphere that are much more familiar than little ol' me. But I'm surprised to see that, although there are several that are creating an "encounter", I appear to be the only one crazy enough to create a "delve". I could be misreading their plans of course, or it could simply have to do with only having five days to do it (submission deadline is September 26th).

Although I haven't fleshed out all the details, I'm predicting a short adventure/delve of between three and five encounters for characters of low to mid paragon tier (12th-14th level) using the Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition guidelines (I will probably create it using GSL guidelines). This is not set in stone just yet as I haven't written detailed specifics yet, but it's looking to be the case.

Then again, for all I know this might be another one of my 150 page behemoths... I do tend to overdo things sometimes.

I'm also considering creating a winter-themed map, but that is dependent on available time. I'm predicting that, if I do make a full map, it'll probably be a big one and I'll run in to the issues I have before with Fireworks unable to handle big honkin' images. So no guarantees on a usable map, but you never know.

If you're out there and are one of those creative types, I invite you to sign up (sign up deadline is September 23rd) and create something... er... wintery! Doesn't have to be a full blown delve - many are doing themes, feats, items, etc... - but don't let me stop you from creating something awesome!

Stay tuned!

Filed under: 4e, Design, DnD, Encounters, Maps, RPG 1 Comment

Critical Assault

Today was an interesting day... I spent almost the entire day at my FLGS, hoping to either run a game or participate in one. Here is my experience...

Disorganized Play

I was looking forward to the opportunity to DM my first live game in over a decade. I prepared two campaigns: one homegrown and simplistic, the other was Revenge of the Iron Lich.

Last week I offered the idea of RotIL to the players at the store, but I don't think the concept of it really sank in with many of them. Although I think they would have enjoyed it, they didn't seem all that interested in doing something different. Maybe it's because I'm a newcomer and they don't know who I am or what I'm capable of, and I have to accept that if that was the case.

But running what amounts to a "pick up" game at a FLGS is not that simple.

  • The store owner doesn't help at all. In the case of this store, the owner is heavy in to Magic: The Gathering, as can be expected: it's a cash cow and probably the primary source of revenue for his store. So he seemed rather disinterested in anything else, and left it up to the players to arrange WPN events all on their own.
  • Today, half the store was taken up by the Star Trek Fan Club, which consisted of a bunch of guys older than I am taking up a half dozen tables with their various Enterprise models and cardboard stand-ups of ship captains, and sitting around talking Star Trek. I'm not sure why they were there or what they hoped to accomplish, but between them and several tables of card games (MtG and other card games; I don't know which), we were pretty cramped. There was barely enough room to run Lair Assault, and I can't imagine running something like RotIL which has a much larger map.
  • The primary game organizer was not there today.
  • There was no organization or scheduling of games; people just showed up in the hopes of playing. Again, this could seem that way simply because I'm an outsider and don't have the level of communication other players do (who, for all I know, see each other every day). But besides word of mouth there does not seem to be any planning or precise event scheduling, so it's impossible for an outsider to plan their participation.
  • I tried to gauge interest by posting on the store's Facebook page. I got one person interested, and that person canceled this morning. So I cannot recruit players; if there are players out there they aren't on Facebook, or at least don't follow the store's page with activities.
  • I suggested to the owner "...that maybe Encounters could be run on other days?" He looked at me as if I was crazy. Wizards of the Coast "kind of expects this to be run on Wednesdays", and a 7:30pm start time is kind of a hard sell. But if I decide to run it on a different day or at a different time, how would I get people to attend? I can't put those off days on the WotC store locator because, as per their guidelines, Encounters *must* be on Wednesdays.

So because of all that, I was unable to run my own game; at this rate maybe it isn't meant to be, at least at this locatin.

Instead, I participated in...

Lair Assault: Forge of the Dawn Titan (Warning: possible SPOILERS!)

The group, without my knowledge, decided to go for the "everyone is the same race" achievement.

The race they chose? Gnomes. Based on m observation of the game the last year, I had created a tiefling mage designed with two things in mind:

  1. Being a controller: forced movement and dazing effects, with the hope that we can push things aside and run right through it to the boss.
  2. Cold attacks. This one was common sense: if you're in a zone that's filled with lava, cold attacks must be really useful... Right?

So I had to spend a bit converting my tiefling in to a gnome. If I must, I must... Although Fade Away is probably much more useful than Infernal Wrath in a place where everything has fire resistance.

This might have worked well except for one thing: by the third round, I was unconscious. Why? The DM, and I'm not making this up, rolled THREE consecutive critical hits against me within the first two rounds. The only thing I managed to do before going down for the count is activating Wizard's Fury and firing one Magic Missile. Even with using interrupts like Shield and Fade Away, I was at -4 hit points at the end of round 2 due to two critical hits. The healer revived me, only to get hit with the third critical hit that took me down again.

After that, the party left me to die as they continued forward. I failed my first two death saves before the "very bad thing" happens (if you've played the module, you know what I mean) and killed me outright.

All in all it was an entertaining experience, but mostly due to the social aspects of the game. Nobody enjoys getting mercilessly beaten to death by an unforgiving d20, but it was cool all things considered. I did learn a lot: the group has gone through this campaign several times before, so they knew exactly what needed to be done and what special powers would benefit them.

I had to leave before the end of the game - I did die 30 minutes in, after all - so I'm not sure if they made it. They were doing fairly well and had a lot of time left, so perhaps they did.

For what it's worth, thanks to my participation in this game I think I now have my DCI number issues sorted out. I'm officially registered, so now I can really be a WPN event organizer! Woo!


I don't know when I'll ever get to DM a game in person at this rate. Maybe it'll just take time, getting to know the players that are there and convincing them that I can do this, but even then it's going to be hard to get everyone there in an organized manner.

There is another option: online play, using any number of social networking services like Google Hangouts, Skype, etc... It seems that I may have to look in to getting a decent headset and microphone, and then seeing who out there wants to run a game and what kind of game.

Until then, I have a box labeled "Revenge of the Iron Lich"... A modern day Pandora's Box, just waiting to be unleashed on unsuspecting masses.


Lair Assault and Fourthcore

Yesterday I had the opportunity to stop by my FLGS and get to know some of the players and DMs there. I also got the first chance to see the new Lair Assault Forge of the Dawn Titan.

I was not an active participant because I got there too late and there were too many people wanting to play (8 people were in line), but I did manage to sit by and watch, occasionally flipping through my recently acquired Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium (great book BTW, but that's a talk for another day). I must say, it was an interesting experience.

Now I admit I didn't experience the entire adventure, and I resisted from reading the booklet itself (I was asked to DM a late game, but car troubles prevented that from happening. Not to mention I brought zero materials), but what I saw makes it quite an entertaining experience. Many have compared it to Fourthcore, but it's not quite that extreme: damage output is pretty high, but there are no "save or die" situations (at least none that I saw). And since it is effectively one long encounter (no rests at all), resource management became a big issue real quick: a normal party might be OK with one healer, but imagine how well your group would do if that healer can only heal you twice during the entire game.

With a group consisisting of one "passive" cleric, three strikers and one defender (notice: no controller) I was surprised that they made it as far as they did: two players made it to the end chamber only to run out of time (you only have 20 turns, or four minutes of "in game" time, to complete the encounter).

This experience, even if I was only an observer, has inspired me to offer running a game next weekend. And, without knowing what the players at this FLGS want but seeing how well they reacted to Lair Assault, I am considering running a Fourthcore game. Which one is to be determined: it'll either be "Iron Lich" or "Crucible", and which one I choose is really dependent on the level of interest in the players and which of the two they prefer running.

But I have to admit something: I'm kind of afraid.

You see, I haven't run an "in person" game in over a decade, and I don't know if I'm ready just yet. Sure I know the mechanic and the game rules, but DM-ing is sometimes much more than that, especially in a Fourthcore game that tests the abilities of players and the DM alike.

The biggest obstacle right now is that I don't have the materials: all I have is dice. I do not have a DM screen, miniatures, status indicators, etc... And the group is somewhat of a rowdy bunch, so I question whether I'll be able to maintain control over such a crowd of people much younger than I.

So in the next couple of days I have to suit up and be ready, just in case this does in fact become a reality. I don't know if I need a DM screen right out of the gate, and I can do with traditional pen and paper instead of the GameMastery Initiative Tracker (which I would have bought if it weren't for said car issues), but I have less than a week to think about what I'm going to do about miniatures and game markers.

So for the next week, I have to prepare myself mentally and see if I'm up to the challenge. If it goes well, I might start doing some WPN-level DM-ing.

Wish me luck!


In the meantime, two of the map packs that I have created: M1: The Wayside Inn and M2: The Ring of Stones are available on DriveThruRPG!

Just for reading this blog, for a limited time I'm offering a small discount on each of the items: just click on the above links to take advantage of the special pricing for the next two weeks!