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!


The Death of Gamma World Content

I finally got a response from Wizards of the Coast's legal representation, and it's not the response I or anyone else wanted to hear.

The important information is provided below:

Dear Mr. Flor,

Thank you for your patience and persistence in this matter. Our letter of July 13, 2011 clearly lays out Wizards' position regarding your unauthorized and infringing "Fire from the Sky: A Gamma World 4e Adventure" module.  Your follow up questions appear to stem from your misreading of Wizards' D&D 4E Game System License ("GSL"), System Reference Document ("SRD") and other supporting documents, and also some incorrect information that you received from customer service, for which Wizards apologizes. 

The above apology is in response to my initial inquiries through the Wizards of the Coast customer service site, because at the time there was no other means of asking the questions in the first place. The customer service representative answered "Gamma World is covered by the 4e GSL", but now it's clear that he was mistaken. I accept that... A customer service representative is no place to go to for legal advice.

As you know, the GSL documents are available at http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=d20/welcome. In a nutshell, the GSL permits you to use the game system (rules) underlying the D&D game to create your own original content, provided that you first file a Statement of Acceptance (www.wizards.com/d20/files/SOA.pdf) that Wizards accepts before you publish your work.  The GSL does not permit you, however, to copy or use the D&D content, such as any Gamma World trademark, copyrighted artwork, themes, settings or characters.  Under the GSL, only materials listed in the SRD (rules, tables, terms, and templates) are available for you to use after the Statement of Acceptance is accepted.  Gamma World is not included in the materials offered in the SRD. 

We hope this clarifies the situation for you.  Once you have submitted a Statement of Acceptance that is accepted by Wizards, you may use the game system rules under the GSL to create and publish your own original content.  Under no circumstances, however, may you use Gamma World, or other D&D content, as part of your module.  If you have any further questions, you should consult the comprehensive SRD  (http://www.wizards.com/d20/files/4E_SRD.pdf) and/or your own attorney and proceed on her or his advice. 

For the record, I have filed the Statement of Acceptance. I'm tempted to file it again, to be honest...

What is not clear is how WotC "accepts" the Statement of Acceptance. Has anyone out there who's filed an SOA received written confirmation that WotC accepts your submission?

While Wizards' appreciates your enthusiasm for the game, it cannot expend any further time or resources on your queries and will not respond to any further communications by you whether they are made to sales personnel, r&d, PR, legal, brand or anyone else at Wizards.  You are on notice by Wizards and its attorneys that what you are doing and propose to do violates the terms of the limited GSL license and infringes Wizards' copyrights and trademarks.  To proceed further in the face of this makes your infringement willful.  We strongly encourage you to consult your own attorney for advice before proceeding further.

OK, so they say "leave us alone" in a nice way. Maybe they didn't like the GenCon cover I made... No matter. I get the message.

So here is my response...

For the record, I have filed a statement of acceptance as far back as March of this year. I am considering re-filing it just in case the original did not get through.

As per your request, I will discontinue any further use of Gamma World material, and will abide by the guidelines set forth in the 4e GSL and the SRD for my future products.

On a related note, I really do wish your client would consider amending the SRD; the last time it was updated was February 2009, and there has been a significant amount of content since then.

I appreciate your attention on this matter.

...and let's call that the end of the conversation.

Note that none of the above makes reference to my actually selling the module. Whether I tried to make a profit is irrelevant; based on their statements, I'm not allowed to create it at all in the first place. Using Gamma World in any way, shape or form is right out.

So based on the above, at least until Wizards of the Coast decides to amend the 4e SRD to include Gamma World and newer content, I am not going to create any further content for Gamma World 4e. I'm sure there are ways around the above restrictions, but I am now in a situation ("on notice", as they call it) where I cannot honestly risk doing anything inappropriate or risky.

So my Gamma World development ends here and now, at least until something dramatic happens. I might create stuff privately, or continue to submit Gamma World content to Dragon/Dungeon in the hope that a miracle might happen and they accept it, but don't be expecting Gamma World modules on Drive Thru RPG from me or anyone else.

Furthermore, I hope I've been a good enough example for any of you out there who are considering making Gamma World content. Put simply... Don't.

I'm hoping that the Warriors Warlords of the Apocalypse (thank you for correcting me, Jeff K.!) supplemental for Pathfinder comes out soon; that may be a viable alternative, and Paizo seems to be a lot more forgiving than Wizards of the Coast is.

Filed under: 4e, DnD, Gamma World, RPG No Comments

The Future of Gamma World

In addition to seeing what it's all about and enjoying the activities, I went to GenCon Indianapolis with one objective: to find out what the deal is with Wizards of the Coast and Gamma World.

After four days, I wish I had a answer. I mean, I wasn't expecting a resolution of this whole thing, but it would have been nice to have any information.

You would think that a gaming convention would be the sort of place to get business-like, mingling with the representatives of all the companies there in the hopes of making your own business successful. I have no doubt that many accomplished that, but if they did I don't imagine it was done easily with Wizards of the Coast.

Even though they were a major sponsor of the whole event, besides the Atari folks showing off the video games there weren't any "branding" people at the WotC booth in the dealer hall. I imagine they were all, for the most part, at the Indiana Ballroom instead, which is somewhat inconvenient in that it's distant from the convention itself; if I were to hang around the Indiana room all the time and try to speak to someone there I would pretty much miss the entire convention.

And I didn't want to be "that guy" that stalked WotC employees, insisting on talking about Gamma World at extremely inappropriate times. I wasn't going to bring up the topic when I saw staff at Steak & Shake, or jump in to a group of a dozen WotC employees standing around in the Westin lobby, 'cause that would be kind of rude.

The only thing I was able to accomplish on this front is speaking out at the R&D session on Thursday, where I brought up the issue of the recent Rule of Three article stating that there was no planned Gamma World content for digital release. Their response, put simply, was that saying "we don't have any Gamma World content planned" isn't the same thing as "Gamma World is dead." They suggested that Gamma World is not dead.

In the product preview seminar on Saturday, the topic of Gamma World never came up at all.

Beyond those venues, Wizards of the Coast seems to pretend that Gamma World didn't exist, but there were signs of life. First off, one of the tables at the "Drunken D&D" event on Wednesday night was Gamma World themed and manned by WotC staff (such as Michael Robles). Secondly, they seem to be giving out Gamma World boxes like candy: there was a pile of boxes shoulder high for the judges to take in the Sagamore room, and each winner of the D&D Open took a Gamma World box as a prize. In afterthought, there is the possibility that they are giving these boxes away so eagerly just to get rid of their inventory, but I'd rather not think of it that way.

I understand that, as a company, Wizards of the Coast has to follow the path that makes the most sense from a business standpoint, so all the products that will make them more money get top billing. And I understand that since Gamma World isn't one of their moneymakers it gets pushed aside. What does bother me is that there are those of us out here that want to pick up the reins and do with it what Wizards of the Coast doesn't have the time or inclination to do, but we are restricted from doing that by their legal department. They're not actively trying to kill Gamma World; it will wither away and die on its own due to lack of attention.

So I'm not giving up. As soon as I was back home and able to clear most of the cobwebs from my mind, I fired off another volley of messages to Wizards of the Coast legal. Also, in response to a Twitter post by Steve Winter commenting on PDFs from the "small press market", I got his contact information and sent him links to Fire From the Sky and The Coming Dark, Chapter One: Into the Light. Hopefully, sooner or later, I'll have a clearer picture of what I can and cannot do.

Until then, I will continue to develop my three modules - The Fortress of Dr. Neb will get done, even if I'm the only person who will ever see it - and otherwise be known as "the guy that got hit with the C&D". I can live with that, I guess.

Soon I'll write up a separate post regarding the GenCon experience, but there are still a few lingering cobwebs in my skull so I'm not quite ready to do that.


Game Preparation With Limited Resources

About three days ago I decided that I was going to run Fire From the Sky at GenCon, but during these three days I have a boatload of work and other preparations I have to go through before I travel. And, quite frankly, I'm broke. I needed to get ready quickly and at little personal expense. So for those of you that are looking for quick game setups, here's everything I have done so far.

I admit I do have one benefit: access to an industrial grade color printer at work. I don't know how many of you have access to that, so doing the high level of printing I've done may not end up being economical at all if you have to resort to a printing company. So your mileage may vary, I guess.

The Documentation

I printed several copies of the module and used Fedex Office's velo binding to make them look professional, but when I'm running the campaign myself I couldn't care less if it's "professional" or not... I want it to be easy to work with physically. So I printed the PDF with all the pages one sided, holding it together with no more than a single staple in the top left corner. So as I progress through the module, I can tear away and toss pages at my discretion.

As for the Gamma World manual, I didn't really feel like dragging the whole box to the convention. So, using the printer's scanning capabilities, I made a PDF of only the character creation pages in the Gamma World Core Rulebook, and then re-printed it so that the players can use it for character creation.

Time permitting, I will see if I can create some pre-generated characters in order to speed things up.

The Maps

All my maps were created in Adobe Fireworks CS5, on a grid where each square is exactly 50 x 50 pixels. Luckily all my maps are approximately the same size - each map is about 16 squares wide on each axis - but at 50 DPI (to ensure each square is exactly 1" x 1") that would be larger than the traditional page.

When the module was distributed through Drive Thru RPG it included a supplemental with all the tactical maps cut in to sections that fit on a letter-sized page, but this time I took advantage of the printing resources. I took each page and divided it down the horizontal center, printing each part of the map on a tabloid (11" x 17") page. Cut to fit and taped together, it should do fine.

Maps appear a little pixellated - had I known this was going to be the plan, I probably would have created the maps at a resolution higher than 50 DPI - but I don't expect anyone to be looking at the map with a magnifying glass and complaining that the trees look to pixellated.

The Markers

Shuma Gorath will have to do, I guess.

I had a bit of a problem here. Although I could print anything I want, I cannot print it in heavy stock paper. Without access to anything available at the store, what do I do for creature markers?

Instead of creating markers that lie flat, I decided to create stand-up markers that can be folded in to triangles.

Using the same resolution as the map, I created four part strips that could be cut and folded into free standing triangles like what you see on the right. Each strip is 45 pixels wide (just shy of the 1" square size) and 230 pixels long (45 pixels for each base, 70 pixels for each side). The Large creature strips are 95 x 430, effectively adding 50 pixels (1") to each face's dimensions.

Here is what the image for the first encounter looks like:

After they are cut and folded, since it was the only thing I had lying around I used a penny to give it some weight, and the result is the above image. Afterwards, I realized that nickels are slightly heavier and still fit, while the Large markers will use quarters or something bigger like dice.

The hardest part has been looking for appropriate images. I scanned the image of the zombie and some other creatures from the Gamma World Core Rulebook (which isn't as appropriate as you'd think, but whatever), but there are some creatures that just don't appear anywhere in the core manuals. So, thanks to Google Image Search, I found a picture of Shuma Gorath and some other appropriate images for some unique creatures I have. I still have one more to find, which I hope to get ready by end of day today.

I also forgot markers for the players. Oops... I'll take care of that today as well.

The Details

For actual encounter management, I got myself a stack of 3" x 5" index cards. On each card I wrote:

  • Each creature's details: defenses, base hit points, hit modifiers (vs AC and non-AC defense) whether it's an Elite or a Solo and their initiative and Perception modifiers.
  • I pre-rolled initiative for every creature. When it comes time to play, I will determine whether I'll keep those values or re-roll them (I like to space out monster actions in and around the players just to keep things more dynamic).
  • Each individual creature's current hit points, with lots of horizontal space so I can add conditions and manually rewrite hit points as they take damage.

Five encounters, five cards. And each card has the above monster markers (unfolded) paper clipped to it.

Other Supplies

I will have lots of blank index cards, several pens, and all the dice I have. Need to get tape somewhere.

Right now, I can't think of much else I would need... Am I missing something?


The nice benefit to all of the above is that, because I don't have a DM screen, I do not have to be concerned all that much about hiding everything. Index cards are low profile, and I can keep those on my lap or even in full view of the players (maintaining a certain level of discretion and trusting my players not to peek, mind you). As for the module itself, I've been up and down this module so many times that I like to think I don't have to look at it much, so it's not like I'll have to keep it open all the time and in full view.

Now I admit I'm still not sure if this game will happen; there's a lot going on at GenCon, I don't know when I'll actually do it, and I've never been there myself so I don't quite know how things work as far as pick up games. But the above preparations actually took little effort, so I don't feel that it's all a waste. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. Life goes on.

Odds are it will be at some point on Saturday. If you are interested and attending, send me a message to @BrainClouds and let's see what we can arrange.

Hope to see some players there!


Exclusive GenCon cover!

Fire From the Sky: Contraband Edition

For those of you that managed to download Fire From the Sky before it became contraband, I have a special offer!

Due to several people asking for it, here is the PDF of ONLY THE COVER to the Fire From the Sky: Contraband Edition printed specially for my running of it at GenCon.

NOTE: This is ONLY THE COVER - I can't repeat that enough - and has been modified to remove the official Gamma World logo (which was one of the requirements in the cease and desist order from Wizards of the Coast). It will be available here for a limited time, and then it will disappear forever (at least until WotC legal says otherwise).

So here ya go!

Fire From the Sky: Contraband Edition (COVER ONLY!!!)


Recently, as part of the Rule of Three series, Wizards of the Coast had something to say about future Gamma World content...

Since Legion of Gold, there does not seem to have been any official content for Gamma World besides novels. Do you have any plans for continued support and future content for use in D&D Gamma World4e?

This September, we have a Gamma World-themed Deck of Many Things planned for Dungeon. Beyond that, we have no plans to release more content for Gamma World.

I'm wary about the term "no plans to release"... I don't know if that means that they simply haven't considered any further content or if they're not going to make any more content ever. I'm staying optimistic that it's the former, but considering their latest reactions I can't really say.

And, in light of all the demand for Gamma World content, the only thing they come up with is a converted Deck of Many Things? Really?!?

I'm continuing my lobbying in the hopes that I can get clarification on the future of Gamma World, specifically as it relates to third party content. I'm not expecting them to radically change their stance or do something surprising like... you know... update the 4e GSL and the 4e SRD (it's been over two years since that's happened).

In any event, I will be at GenCon with a few copies of Fire From the Sky: Contraband Edition and my new module - The Coming Dark, Chapter One: Into the Light - in the hopes that I can corner someone from Wizards of the Coast and get some more information. Again, I'm not getting my hopes up, but someone has to try.

Anyway, see y'all there!

Filed under: 4e, Design, DnD, Gamma World, RPG No Comments