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


Coming Soon: The Fortress of Dr. Neb

I may not have a single encounter written down on paper, but I figured I'd try to make the cover art. So here it is!

I've been debating what level to make it, so I figured I'd take it to the next level and start at level 2. That may change, though.

This module will be different than the last:

  • It's longer, spanning at least one level and possibly a bit of the next one.
  • It will have certain areas that don't follow the encounter-after-encounter style. Large areas with multiple wandering monsters that the players could take out selectively or accidentally get everything's attention all at once.
  • Possible use of vehicles. Don't know if I can work it in to the story yet.
  • A single "big evil overlord" - the fiendish and diabolical Dr. Neb - that's scheming, smart and wants you dead!
  • More zaniness than the last campaign!

During the development of the campaign I might be providing some teasers... Flex my advertising experience a bit. 🙂

And while I'm making this module, I've already considered my next encounter: a higher level (level 8-10) encounter centered around where it all started: the LHC. That one will probably be a big undertaking.

Stay tuned everybody!


Cornering the Gamma World Market

I realized something today: I'm a published author! And it wasn't even planned!

For the past several months, I've been working on my own personal Citizen Kane (or Waterworld... Time can only tell): a massive Heroic tier campaign for Dungeons and Dragons 4e called The Coming Dark. And when I say "massive", I kind of mean it: part one of three is about 80% complete and already clocks in at a staggering 116 pages. It's so epic that nobody may ever play it, but it's something I want to do for my own personal gratification.

I've been working on it for months, doing all the maps, designing and redesigning each scene, creating each stat block, laying it all out in Adobe InDesign, playtesting it with at least three different "play by post" groups. It's been quite an undertaking, and the focus of most of my development efforts.

But about a month ago I decided to take a little diversion. Every now and then I get an idea that pops in to my head and I just can't get rid of, and have to actually create it in order to satisfy my subconscious. Usually this has taken many forms, but this was very specific: it was a Gamma World campaign.

NOTE: To avoid spoilers, I have chosen to make no reference to the module's contents.

So one week I decided to take a break from TCD and write a short delve for Gamma World called Fire From the Sky. It honestly didn't take much time to put together - probably no more than a few days for mechanic design, then several more days for map generation and layout - and was somewhat of an entertaining experience.

At the time of its writing, I didn't quite know what to do with it. I had read the 4e GSL but didn't know how it applied to publishing Gamma World content, so I sent a letter to Wizards of the Coast legal department hoping for clarification; I have yet to receive a response. At the same time, I submitted my Gamma World "pitch" to the Wizards of the Coast submission email address, and I got three responses back saying "we don't want Gamma World content." Well OK then.

So be it. One day I decided "what the hell, I've got nothing to lose" and published a free preview of the first two encounters on Drive Thru RPG while I prettied up the module for publication.

The free preview has over 300 downloads so far. Who knew there'd be that many?

At the same time I was preparing to post my module, I noticed something: Drive Thru RPG didn't really have a Gamma World category, so it lumped it together with the 4e/GSL content. Looking through the product list... I was virtually the only person creating Gamma World content!

I wasn't sure if Gamma World even had an audience; I could very well be creating something that nobody will ever use. But the module was done, and there was no reason to hold it back at this point.

When the module went up for sale, I immediately started receiving emails from would-be customers. Since Wizards of the Coast seems to have virtually abandoned Gamma World, fans of GW were excited to see actual content from someone. They began to praise my efforts before even seeing the module. They asked for tactical maps with 1" squares. They offered suggestions on how to continue it. And, today, I saw at least two people on Twitter mention that they were going to use my module with their gaming group. It's kind of a surreal experience. People like it, I think! 🙂

Almost everyone that communicated with me in one way or another had the same question "are you making another one?" A few even said they would buy it "regardless of price", which is flattering.

Making more Gamma World modules hadn't occurred to me until then, but I see now that there are many Gamma World fans out there that are desperate for new adventures and need someone to fill the void. I had found what is apparently an untapped market, a market long forgotten by Wizards of the Coast, a market that is just dying for someone to step up and create more stuff.

Well, if anyone's going to fill the void, might as well be me.

I have officially begun development on my next Gamma World module. I don't have a title for it, but here is a brief synopsis:

The town of Wildwood has taken some time to recover from the recent chaos, but it is finally back to its "normal" self... For one whole day. Then the swarms began: millions of rats, birds and insects poured over the nearby hill and assaulted the town, forcing everyone to seek shelter as they harried anyone and anything left in the open. Granted, one could argue that swarms of creatures were pretty common in Gamma Terra, but when a swarm of monkeys arrived in Wildwood handing out hand written death threats from someone called "Dr. Neb", it wasn't hard to see that this was far from ordinary.

[Name Pending] is a Gamma World campaign for five 2nd level characters, who must brave the swarms and other oddities to find this "Dr. Neb" and stop his nefarious plans!

As you can hopefully tell, this campaign will be a little more "off the wall" than my last one. It will also be longer; I'm debating whether to make it span one or two levels.

Maybe that's my calling in this crazy world: to be the authority on Gamma World. Well, we'll just have to see how things go, won't we?

Stay tuned for more information!


Contest and Upcoming Publications

First off, thanks to everyone who submitted their solo encounters to our Heroes of Shadow contest! As I've stated before, I had chosen to not look at any of the submissions until past the deadline, so now that that's done with I'm going to go through them and try to objectively pick a winner.

Will probably start doing that at some point tonight; hopefully I'll be able to select a winner by end of week.


On another note, a few weeks ago I had sent a pitch of my Gamma World module "Fire From the Sky" to the Wizards of the Coast submissions email. Today I got a pretty straight forward response...


Thanks for the proposal, but we're not looking for any Gamma World material right now.

(Name of person responding redacted)

Simple enough. At least they're listening!

Now I still haven't gotten a response from the Wizards of the Coast legal department regarding compliance with the 4e GSL (see this post for more information on that), but I have decided to go ahead and publish my Gamma World module for a nominal fee through RPG Drive Thru. If they have any objections to it (and lord knows I have tried to clarify things prior to publishing it), I will simply take it down.

I will be going through final review in the coming days (there's one thing that I know I have to change due to it not working well within the Gamma World mechanic), and then will let everyone know when it's up. If you would like to review it in the meantime, let me know and I can provide a free copy.


Finally, Chapter One of my uber-campaign The Coming Dark - a chapter called "Homecoming" - is technically complete and pending review from third parties. I'm kind of hesitant publishing it because it flows in to subsequent chapters that don't exist yet; part of me doesn't want to publish something that people will play only to stop while I work on the next part. So we'll see when that gets out there.

Stay tuned, everyone!

Thanks for the proposal, but we're not looking for any Gamma World material right now.

Gamma World and the Great Legal Unknown

I have recently completed a Gamma World "delve" (5 encounters) tentatively titled Fire From the Sky, and am considering making arrangements as far as distribution.

Part of me wants to send it to Wizards of the Coast for possible publication in Dragon or Dungeon, not because of the money but because it would be a rather cool experience to see something with my name on it appear in a WotC publication (I use the term "publication" loosely). But I'm hesitant in doing this because they kind of demand exclusivity; it will be released once, and only once, and I will get only one paycheck as a result (and, by my calculations, it's not that big of a paycheck either: six cents a word, I believe). They will "own" it from then on, and I will be relegated to simply saying "yeah, I wrote that"... which is rather cool in its own way, but still.

The other option I'm considering is a non-exclusive distribution through DriveThruRPG, throwing it up there for a buck or two in the same fashion as many other people have already done. But before I do this, there's one obstacle to overcome: the 4e GSL.

You see, when you want to publish D&D 4e content, the rules are pretty cut and dry if you follow the Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Game System License. This consists of a few things:

  1. Filling out and sending them the "Statement of Acceptance", agreeing to abide by their publication guidelines.
  2. Include some legal text in the publication, with very specific size and positioning requirements (see sections 5.2 and 5.3 of the Game System License document).
  3. Follow all the rules of the 4e System Reference Document, which details what source material you can and cannot use (for example, I cannot republish a monster stat block from any monster in any core manual; essentially I can only say "see Monster Manual") as well as guidelines for the presentation of new material.
  4. Include the GSL Logo.

But the problem is that all the above relates specifically to the Dungeons and Dragons mechanic. What about Gamma World?

If you look at the above logo, you will see the following text:

Requires the use of the D&D Player’s Handbook,® Monster Manual,® and Dungeon Master’s Guide® Player’s Handbook® 2, Monster Manual® 2, Adventurer’s Vault™ core rulebooks, available from Wizards of the Coast, LLC

Unless players are expected to buy all these books in order to play Gamma World, that obviously doesn't apply.

I asked Wizards of the Coast (through their support site) about the existence of a Gamma World SRD, and this is the first response I got:

Thanks for the question! The Game System License applies to any d20 system. This does include Gamma World. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide any more information on the GSL than what appears on the relevant website here: http://www.wizards.com/d20.

After I tried to explain that the text and logo they are expecting me to include doesn't apparently apply to Gamma World, I got this:

If you are in need of further assistance on this matter you would need to contact our legal team at the below address.

Wizards of the Coast
Attn: Legal
PO Box 707
Renton, WA 98057-0707

Uh... OK then. No email address? As usual, lawyers make us sometimes feel like we're in the Stone Age.

Another reason for this confusion is that the Gamma World Rulebook not only has the "D&D" logo on the front and back covers but, throughout the book, the game is explicitly referred to as "D&D Gamma World". So is it D&D or not? The mechanic stands alone, and one doesn't need any of the D&D core rulebooks in order to run a game (they certainly help in terms of experience, but they're not a requirement).

So, despite it being done, I can't publish the module yet. Putting all the above on the 2nd page of the module just to comply legally doesn't feel right when I know that the content they're asking me to put in simply doesn't apply.

Does this mean that I'm not authorized to publish Gamma World content at all? Am I spinning my wheels here, borderline oblivious to the fact that I'm not supposed to be doing what I do?

The first draft of Fire From the Sky is complete and is in the hands of an "elite few" that are proofreading it and making sure I didn't do something horribly wrong with the Gamma World mechanic. Once they give it their blessing and I can resolve some of the questions posted above, it will be unleashed upon the masses.

If the legal ramifications continue to be unclear, I might end up submitting it to WotC just to avoid any problems. If they accept it, yay! If not, at least some time will go by while I sort all this out.

We'll see how things go. But I promise you'll get it sooner or later.


Robot Zombies and Exploding Mushrooms

No, I'm not talking about a Roger Corman film... This blog is about RPGs, so it has to be none other than Gamma World.

It's been a long, long time since I look at Gamma World, but I have to admit that I've been familiar with it all the way back to the first version. It didn't quite captivate me as much then, and when I did flip through the books that were available I couldn't help but think "I'm not wasted enough to handle this." Let's face it, James Ward must have been on something epic when he came up with the first few versions... Then again, looking through the original Monster Manual and Fiend Folio, maybe that was par for the course...

If you want to get a better understanding of the history of Gamma World, I suggest you read Angry DM's post "Taking the Game Seriously" and an analysis that he links to from there: "Gamma World: Over 30 Years of I Have No Idea What Is Going On". It's a great read!

Recently I picked up the latest version of Gamma World (the 2010 version), and I gotta say it is pretty wild. I look through these pages and can't help but think how much of this is lost on the youth of today. Some of this stuff is straight out of the science fiction/horror/post-apocalyptic movies I would watch religiously on cable at 3am in the morning. They just don't make this kind of cheese any more, do they? These are things that I would present to my son and he'd get a quick chuckle over, then move on; he'd much rather be bashing dragons with swords... that's much more realistic than a machine gun toting chickens and a cockroach the size of a Buick!

The thing is that, although the system is based on the 4e mechanic, it's much more simplified. It's not the content overload of D&D 4e: you don't have twenty different powers to consider, you don't have to worry about healing surges (you auto-heal at every short rest) and second wind is a minor action, there isn't an overly complex equipment system (except for Omega cards, which feels more like Magic: the Gathering than anything else. You even have to "tap" the cards when you use them) and several other things are much more easy to get started on. Strictly from a mechanics sense, I'd consider it a very good introduction to D&D 4e.

One thing I also found interesting is that, due to the nature of the environment and that nobody's supposed to be in control of mutations anyhow, character generation is completely random. If you don't like your character, take it out back, shoot him dead and re-roll another one.

To give you an idea of what this could create, using an online Javascript tool for Gamma World, I wound up with two characters:

  1. An Android Reanimated with a dexterity of 5, making him the clumsiest robot EVER. He carries a pair of binoculars and a canoe... 'cause, hey, in this world you never know when you'll need a canoe.
  2. An Exploding Fungoid that also has a canoe, but instead of the binoculars he was smart enough to bring a beer. Well maybe not *that* smart... hit Intelligence is 7. What can you expect from a sentient mushroom that just can't hold itself together?

Reading through the core manual and one of the add-ons (I have Famine at Far-Go. Still need to get Legion of Gold), it almost reads like the most off-the-wall comic book you can think of. Chickens with artillery, super-sentient badgers, sharks that tunnel through solid rock, little green men, cockroaches the size of RVs, the "yexil" (see below), etc... I may never play a game in my life but it's definitely worth it at least for amusement's sake.

Reading through all this must have affected my subconscious, because a few days ago I had an oddball idea for a short module. Well, it's either going to be a Gamma World module or a late night Cinemax movie, and I don't have the budget to do the latter. So I began to develop the story line in to a series of encounters.

But I realize I have a problem: I think I'm making it too serious. The first two encounters I created were pretty straight up, in the same style as several of my other encounters in the D&D world. But this isn't D&D we're talking about, this is Gamma World: the encounters just didn't feel weird enough. The two encounters could have been ported to D&D and they might actually fit.

I found myself out of my element for a bit, realizing that what I was doing simply wasn't in the style that Gamma World intends. To give you an idea of what that style is, look at what the sample campaign in the core rulebook has:

  • Heavily armored badgers with crossbows.
  • Pigs on motorcycles.
  • A "yexil", which is a giant, orange-colored lion with wings of a bat, mandibles of a spider and shoots laser beams from its eyes.
  • Gypsy moths that fire beams of radiation.
  • Radioactive birds.
  • Killer robots. Lots of killer robots.
  • A giant rabbit with a katana.

I mean, God, what were these people on when they came up with this stuff?

So I decided to try something for my third encounter that didn't already exist but seemed appropriate. No gimmicks or special circumstances to it, just the PCs walking along until they come up with... wait, seriously? Is that what I think it is?

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the module when it's done. It's technically the right length to be a Dragon/Dungeon submission, but I don't know if they're taking that sort of thing. I might resort to alternate means of distribution. I might give it away for free. Who knows? We'll see once I'm done.

In the mean time, let's see what character I get now: A Hawkoid Felinoid. I'm a bird cat... I'm my own worst enemy!