Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Everything is A Dungeon If You Try Hard Enough

I was thinking the other day of a failed Shadowrun mini campaign I ran eleven years ago. This in turn got me to thinking of Shadowrun, and how the game (and any cyberpunk game) works. It’s all basically a heist, and that is effectively what a dungeon crawl is. Especially a Megadungeon, where it’s repeated heists in the same place. I could easily see a Shadowrun Megadungeon where, instead of the traditional Fantasy “further down is scarier” it’s a cyberpunk “further up is scarier” megabuilding.

I’m sure someone smarter has had this idea before, but I think that like, you can turn anything into a dungeon. 

And yes, I know some of you may think Shadowrun isn’t the best example of cyberpunk, but invariably I end up putting sci-fi stuff into my fantasy worlds, I think it’s fair to do the same in your science fiction. That’s basically how you get 40k. Or ET. Or Star Wars.  Pick your poison. 

And each of those worlds has a Megadungeon. 40k has Space Hulks, ET has a crawling medical tent, and Star Wars has the Death Star. 

I think my problem, and part of the reason why my Shadowrun game failed was because I wanted my office buildings to make sense. Which is the dumbest idea I had about any RPG at that point in time. 

Have you ever been in an office? They suck. I’ve worked in one. Uncomfortable chairs. Nothing of real monetary value. Most aren’t decorated. Not much different than a factory, occasionally it’s even just humans reduced to soulless automata, and maybe some interesting team building and gossip at the best. Administrative. Bureaucratic. Boring.  

Not making sense is ok, being Gonzo and weird is ok. Why are there fire breathing ghost dogs on level 12 of this skyscraper? Because they’re fucking fun and a good challenge, that’s why. The same reason there are goblin steampunk robots in level 6 of a dungeon someplace, because Doctor Goblenstein and his Creation, Amaze-O the Metal Man are a good idea. That’s something my players haven’t seen before and will have an interesting time with.  Any office could drastically be improved with the addition of kobolds designed to keep intruders from the snack room without the right password, or vengeful assassins looking to strangle you with a clip-on tie. 

The best part is, that to the workers of this office, that’s just Eric and Jeff, from Security and Accounting. The kobold and assassin are normal, or close enough, for them. 

I think that being more Gonzo is good for RPGs as a game. While yes, we want to make believable worlds, we still have to ask “is this room/scene important to the world/game?” Nobody is upset that Mario doesn’t take a break from stomping goombas to take a dump, and no one wants to watch Simon Belmont pay his water bill and make a grocery list. That isn’t what those games are about, and similarly I don’t think we should get wrapped up in the details as to like, why dungeons don’t all have toilets. That isn’t what D&D is about. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

The Cult of The No-Eyed God

The No-Eyed God is the god of Insomnia, Undeath, Cannibalism, Torture, and Willful Ignorance. He was a sorcerer-king, and has ruled for eons. So much so that the chiefliest of his servants are buried in their own tombs, and his own corporeal body given way to lichdom. 

He is the wellspring from which the undead flow, and was creator of each in their own perverse design. 

From willing corporeal followers he found new ways to give them strength and let them cheat the reaper’s scythe by convincing them blood was wine and the flesh of their brothers food to sustain themselves. He had to tell no lies to do so, they were able to trick themselves into the consumptive cycle. The thirst and the hunger is all they know now.

And from victims he found new ways to torture them beyond the grave, snatching bits of their soul-stuff and letting them be consumed by their own extremes. He replayed their pains to them over and over before they could cross to the other side. They chose to stay back themselves, untethered from the physical world. The pain and hate is all they know now.

The dead won’t rest if he has his way.

For Undeath is Insomnia, and Insomnia is Undeath. They are the same. You sample the living dead when you do not sleep well, and the reason is the dead envy your ability to dream. They kill you not because you need to die, but because they’re so jealous they must kill. 

His cults subversively spread his teachings by masquerading sinisterly as other faiths. “The Church of the Feast”, “The Blind Faith”, “The Child Looking Away”, “The Order of Eternal Vitality”. All lies, and at their deepest circle of trust they carve the meat from the still screaming victims and lap the blood from the table, thankful for the splinters in their tongues and the pain and rot it will produce. They prey on the needful, the hurting, and the ignorant. Their pilgrimage leads to open graves, and horrifying falsehoods they embrace like lovers. 

His lesser priests willingly undergo ritual torture, so much so they become akin to medical waste cenobites- idiot sadists with scabs and clots of someone they once cared about between their teeth. Some remove their eyelids to prevent sleep. Greater priests have no need of senses, craving to be closer to their god, needles are driven into their eyes, their mouths sewn shut, and hot lead poured into their ears. Still they preach his unholy truths: there is another, Darker world just on the other side. You only have to look the right way.

They wear his holy symbol openly: a skull without eye sockets, fangs instead of teeth, often made of razors or broken glass to cut the user.

Some volunteer for living sainthood, undergoing repeated sleep-fasts, until they are placed in a coma, or repeatedly lobotomized, sometimes by their own hand. Often afterwards they are slowly, slowly eaten by their friends and fellows.

Many times these deeper worship practices create ghouls, the lowliest of undead troops, carrying their disease as a “blessing” to the world. Sometimes though, a much more foul undead mentor will spread its taint in a growing subversive cult, a vampire, a wight, or some fouler thing not yet seen. Like locusts they consume, and like infection they spread. 

Behind all this, is a deeper obsession: to carry out not just his will of a stygian world of undying monsters, but to speed the coming of the will of The Dark to the world, to see this world and all others subsumed into the cold infinite, and bring it insidiously closer to the No-Thing.

Monday, September 11, 2023

The Demons of Infernal Geometry

Chief amongst the servants of the unknowable Outer Dark are the Demons of Infernal Geometry. Sometimes summoned in their lesser form by those who seek to plumb the knowledge the forbidden coldness of beyond the known. Always they take the form of shapes: beautiful, perfect, shapes. Shapes so perfect they are at odds with reality. The imperfection of their very temporary flesh limbs marks it all the worse.

Their flat surfaces are gaping holes to other realities, slabs of cosmos and gateway portals to hells best left unimagined by men, and sweetly dreamed of by the dying gods of cruelties left unspoken. Their curved surfaces the sine wave perfection of vector graphics made for maddening torture by death cult poets. Their greatest incarnations are topographical maps of infernal Bosch paintings spun into psychedelic mandalas of abandoned, sunless worlds- biblical angels inversed.

They see without eyes, and speak your name like a parent. It does not feel good. 

If their eyes do open, they open in fractal time loops, seeing across realities the same way that the eye-tyrants do. Maybe they learned it from them. Maybe they taught each other. Maybe they stole it. They are stealing from you now, now that their gaze is upon you. Their Eye is the  one that Sings the polyrhythmic hymn of the universe’s horrific birth and the blissful pride of its unifying heat death. 

The song is an attack, a disintegration ray on a temporal level. Your parts are being erased from time on a molecular level. There is no physical pain, but the spiritual pain is agony unreal by the world’s standards until you felt it. Your body is a tape deck having its ribbon pulled out between two high-powered magnets, and it knows this. If data is beautiful, then these creatures are the alphanumerical song of your death, your ancestor’s death, and joy of your world’s unmaking. They sing together in a choir. You came from nothing, and the numbers are cleanest if unto nothing you return. It is a soldier of the blackest truth, the calculator of darkest equation. Because in the beginning there was The No-Thing.

And that’s how it liked it.

Lesser Demon of Infernal Geometry

HP: 30, AC as chain, saves on a 13+

Temporal Disintegration: +3 to hit, does 3x the number of party members damage. 

Choir: if 3 or more lesser demons of infernal geometry sing the temporal disintegration together, triple that damage, and apply 10x that number as damage to their XP

Middling Demon of Infernal Geometry

HP: 60, AC as plate, Saves on a 11+

Temporal Disintegration: +6 to hit, does 6x the number of party members in damage. 

Choir: if 6 or more middling demons of infernal geometry sing the temporal disintegration together, deal d6 damage to a random ability score of each party member, and apply 10x that total number as damage to their XP.

Greater Demon Of Infernal Geometry

HP: 80, AC as enchanted plate and shield, saves on a 8+

Choir Master: Greater Demons of Infernal Geometry make Middling and Lesser Demons count as Choirs, and can summon one extra demon of infernal geometry as their action for a turn

Temporal Rearrangement: every time a player goes in combat, roll a d8, on an 8, a Greater Demon of Infernal Geometry may use one of that player’s abilities against another player or monster.

Temporal Disintegration: +8 to hit, does 8x the party’s total level in damage to their XP, in addition roll a d8, on a 1-4 erase notes from your campaign world, on a 5-8 eliminate a magic item in the party at random. 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Weapon Variance in OSE and other Retroclones

One of my big pickles with OSE and D&D as a whole is the consistent optimization of weapon choices. In 5e, it’s obvious that a great sword is better than a great axe, because of the higher average damage and minimum damage of two dice instead of one. Let alone what happens when you begin taking feats and class abilities that let you re-roll those dice. In OSE, a two-handed sword is a d10 where a battle axe is just a d8, despite both being two handed weapons, and the axe having the slow category (if you use weapon speeds).   As a fighter, I can choose a sword (d8) and a shield (+1 ac) and truck along faster in combat with better defense than a battle axe user. 

But battle axes and great axes are fucking cool. Kull uses an axe, and lots of sword and sorcery imagery has our mighty-thewed warrior using a hulking labrys, or a weighty headsman’s axe. 

Warhammers and maces share with the same problem, in my humble opinion. They’re both blunt d6, but nothing separates the two. Players will universally choose the longbow’s longer range over the short bow, despite it being the weapon of choice for mobile archers on horseback (not that historial accuracy or such should be attempted by the game). 

My big problem here is that I want both tactical variance and also diegetic difference between those options for weapons in my own homebrew. The problem here is that, I also don’t want to say x weapon does y effect cause that implies that only x weapon can do y, especially when really I want to use and encourage Mighty Deeds like in DCC. 

An easy cop-out is to return to the “all weapons do d6 damage” but I feel like the barbarian from and with the eponymous Golden Axe should hit harder than a halfling with a cheese knife. 

I think the solution to the problem is likely in the critical hits like in 3rd edition. Having some kind of extra effect that might be diegetic or non-diegetic I think is smart, and adds some tactical variance. I think also limiting it to say, once a combat or an opponent might be a good idea. 

I don’t really know where to go from here, but it gives me an excuse to rewrite and use different weapons in OSE. 

Swords - Vein Opener, once per room on a critical hit, instead of max damage and roll again, roll the creatures total hit dice and subtract that much damage.

Axes - Flesh Splitter, once per room on a critical hit, roll your damage die and add it to twice your max damage

Maces - Skull Cracker, once per room on a critical hit do your weapon’s damage die to an opponent’s intelligence in addition to critical damage.

Hammers - Bone Breaker, once per room on a critical hit, do your weapon’s damage die against an opponent’s constitution in addition to critical damage

Spears - Impaler, once per room on critical hit, in addition to damage, that creature or a part of that creature is pinned to the ground or wall, preventing it from moving or using that part of it’s body.

Knives - Shiv, Thieves my always hide 1 knife per level on their person, and can with sufficient Roleplay always get access to a small knife if they are ever without one.

I don’t think this is a perfect solution, as I think you should be able to stab through a gnoll’s foot into the ground and pin them their with your sword, and smash a gladiator’s teeth out with a shield, but it does give some better tacticool options for choosing one weapon versus the other. 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

The OSR and Dungeon Synth, Part 1

The OSR and Dungeon Synth, Part 1: A Brief History, The Elephant In The Room, and What To Do About It

I see crossover more and more between two of my main interests in life (music and table-top games), so I feel it’s ideal to talk about them together, as the overlap is real, and there’s some education about both I feel is pertinent. 

Heavy Metal and D&D grew up together, both in their formative years from the 70s and 80s and into the modern era. Metal drew heavily from fantasy, and D&D was a game set in a fantastic world. Eventually, the second wave of black metal formed in the mid to late 80s and early 90s, and with it came artists who drew upon the work of electronic musicians such as Tangerine Dream as well as Industrial acts like Throbbing Gristle to form a further sub-genre that would be known as Dungeon Synth. Not that the creation of the genre is or was a straight line, artists now considered foundational, like Jim Kirkwood, didn’t come from that scene. Largely, the genre and scene has seen a revival/boom since 2010 onwards. The music was dark, beautiful, and (in both senses of the word) fantastic.

It was shortly before 2010 when I was first introduced to the OSR. The Old School Renaissance was largely seen as a response to 4th edition and the rules bloat that had accompanied 3e, and was largely driven on blogs and the now defunct G+ social media platform. It was, and still is, grassroots and anti-corporate. This is pertinent: metal, especially underground metal such as death and black metal, was largely influenced by the hardcore and punk scenes. DIY ethos and hearty helping of fuckin’ attitude have always accompanied these spaces. One does not simply walk into Mordor, and one does not wear khakis and a polo to see Glacial Tomb or Spectral Wound. 

This is where things get interesting. Both of these things/places/scenes/genres/arts/whatever are steeped in fantasy and DIY ethos, separated by mediums and time, and seem to be meeting up again. WARPLAND and Mörk Borg both announced Dungeon Synth Soundtracks to go with their games. The dungeon synth label Heimat Der Katastrophe puts the OSR logo on their cassette tapes, which each come with a short adventure. Northeast Dungeon Siege (a live DS music event) had a space where people played Dungeon Crawl Classics a few years back.   It’s like long-lost twins finding each other after so long: one’s grim, frost-bitten mood matching the other’s harsh, torch-lit atmosphere. Paired swords, raised in moon-light. 

Alas, like cursed twins, both scenes aren’t without significant problems, mostly in the creators of some of their content. Early and influential dungeon synth artists like Burzum and Lamentations are literal Nazis, the latter of which makes hate music and the former is a convicted murderer. Prominent OSR creator of the Adventurer, Conqueror, King system worked for alt-reich political puppets and openly supported Gamergate dogshit. The creator of Castle Xintillain made transphobic comments. Old Tower, prominently featured DS artist, has made Nazi music in the past. One of my favorite OSR publishers (the guy behind Lamentations of The Flame Princess) has had photos of himself with alt-reich-darling philosophers. 

The point is: there’s a lot of people in both scenes casually comfortable with hate, or actively trying to poison either scene with it. 

You may be positing to yourself, why I’m bringing this up. A lot of this is old-news, a lot of this revolves around funky D&D nobody gives a fuck about compared to 5e. 

A lot of reasons. Firstly, cross-pollination means you as an OSR reader may go looking for Dungeon Synth music (or vice-versa) , and may get the recommendation to give your money to people who actively wish you were dead, or encourage people to commit violent crimes against you. That’s not fucking cool. I, and now we, have a responsibility to make sure others are informed about that shit. That isn’t to say that all artists within the scene are bigots or scum, but you should definitely do some research on an artist before you buy from them.

Secondly, because I believe that diversity is strength, and that we’re stronger as a species together. No man is an island, and everybody needs somebody. we’re all deserving of equality, equity, and compassion. Those who would see it taken from us are detrimental to humanity as a whole. We have a responsibility to make that space at our table for our brothers and sisters who would be so marginalized.

Thirdly, because hate-group knucklefucking scum actively sees both these scenes as overwhelmingly white, straight, and being willing to entertain their ideals. We have a responsibility to prove them wrong, to uphold and defend our friends and family against those who would try to do us harm from within. 

And lastly, because at some point in time, one of your favorite authors or artists is gonna be outed as scum. It’s happened to me a lot over the years. A lot of metalheads and punks and table-top nerds just shrug their shoulders and say, “well, I separate the art from the artist.” and then vomit forth a stream of thoughts that Lindsay Ellis voiced (and refuted) better in her videos on Death of the Author. I’ve struggled with the love of a piece of art knowing the artist is a shitty person. I’ve read a lot about it. And here is what I have to say about the subject:

When you consume art made by a shitty person, what you say is that the product they make is more valuable than those people they have or would hurt. 

So what do we do when art we love is made by bad people? What do we do with our books and tapes by bad people? Well, as for the physical media, I don’t know. I’m a firm believer that where books burn, bodies follow. So I don’t advocate for the destruction of such items. As for the influence itself, or your love for the piece, allow me to suggest this: we have a responsibility as creators to make better art. If that means making newer, better OSR elf-games and dungeon synth, then so be it.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Adventure Gear Packages for OSE

 So I have recently done three things: made a character for OSE, made three characters for 5e, and held a session zero for my latest group using OSE. I can definitively say this: making a character in 5e is not fun. It’s quite literally an ordeal where you labor over minutiae of choices for feats and application of allotment of small numbers. Old School Essentials, on the other hand, is damn near perfect. You roll and assign, choose a class and you’re off to the races just about. 

That is, until you have to buy your adventuring gear. 

5e’s take on adventuring gear with starter packet options is brilliant, and I love it. It’s damn near the only thing it does right. I watched six newbie players share my one OSE book for three hours at a session zero where they insisted on spending every damn coin they rolled for. It was horrendous, mostly because I hate shopping in books almost as much as I hate shopping in malls. The tedium eats me alive. Nobody should get into a thirty minute convo about whether or not they should choose a mace or a Warhammer: they’re both d6 blunt. 

So, long story short is, I took the average roll of OSE’s starting gold and “bought” a few starter set options for my players to expedite this process in the future.  

Adventuring Packs for OSE

Basic Pack



Water skin

Rations 7

Torches 6

10 foot pole


Total cost ~20 gold

In addition, take the following supplies for your class:






Javelins x5




Two handed sword

Quiver of 20 arrows 


Leather Armor


Quiver of 20 arrows



~75 to 80 gold




Holy symbol




Plate Armor




Stakes and a mallet 


Leather armor

Holy Symbol

Oil Flask x2 




~ 80 gold


Leather Armor

Thieves’ Tools

Grappling Hook

Iron spikes

Small hammer

Steel mirror




Leather Armor

Thieves’ Tools

Short Sword



Oil x2

Large sack

Small sack



Leather armor

Thieves’ Tools


Quiver of 20 arrows

~70 to 80 gold

Magic User

A Spellbook 

A staff

A scroll of Detect Magic

Long, flowy robes 


A small animal possessed by a Familiar Spirit (acts as Spellbook)

A dagger

A potion of Sleep

A tall pointy hat


A Spellbook 

Oil Flask x2

A potion of Fire Breathing

A velvet cloak

~ ?

* * *

Obviously this isn’t perfect nor is it exhaustive, but it will get your level ones into the dungeon faster rather than slower.  I couldn’t calculate the final price on wizard gear, and I realize that part of this is because magic users aren’t as gear intensive as fighter or thieves, but also because there aren’t prices for magical items. Also, yes, I know wizards aren’t proficient with staves, but wizards with staffs look cool and make great airbrush artwork on the side of vans, so there. 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

The Three Questions

Crypt-Thing is Back from the grave!!! A very busy time at school and then crushing work has kept me away, but I’ve resolved not to let my blog become a dead one. Enough about my personal life, let’s get down to brass tacks.

The greatest element I’ve ever added to my D&D game is Feedback. Some of you in the workforce may eschew this, as you feel it reminds you too much of your corporate job, or adds something un-fun into the game. I’d rather like to think that although we have feedback loops within the system of the game to speak to as if we’re having fun or not, somethings things go awry just as much as they go horrifically wrong. You’ll give a player an open plate, and then railroad them. You’ll let a player talk you into adjusting a die-roll. Things will eventually go wrong. You’ll also go into a game weary and unprepared and improv a session so great  you’ll never see again. You’ll invent a rule on the fly that will change your games forever. Things will eventually go very right. 

But how do you know your players enjoyed the game? How do you know they had fun? Some people are bombastic personalities, who shout and laugh and jump up when they score a critical. Some people are much more reserved, and enjoy RPGs but don’t display such open emotion.  Sometimes both of these people aren’t having fun, even when they do those things that keen you in that they are. 

Well, frankly, I’m no expert at reading people (despite it being a skill you need as a referee). So I decided to just flat-out ask my players. 

At the end of every session, I ask The Three Questions: 

What are some things you thought I did well? 

What are some things you thought I did poorly?

Did you have fun?

This may seem a little obvious and is frankly blunt, but I think blunt can be good sometimes. The last question in particular has often gotten me “yes” but occasionally a “no” from people trying the game the first time or if I made a gratuitous error. 

Still, knowing where and how you messed up or areas you need to improve are pertinent. It gives you a goal you can focus in on, especially if you write down the errors and positives if you make notes. And it lets you see those good/bad elements in material you run written by others, which helps to either bolster your confidence or show examples of how to shore up those weak points. It makes you aware of your strengths and your foibles and allows you to see repeated patterns of behavior in your games from you as the game master. 

It’s because of these questions I know that: 

  • I am good at describing things. 
  • I am bad at moving the spotlight around the room.
  • I am good at educating new players 
  • I am bad at including puzzle design during my initial drafts
  • I am good at mediating between players out of game
  • I am bad at mediating at the table
  • My max table size is six players
  • My players should switch seats often
  • I am forgetful
  • I am good at improv
  • I am
  • Bad at writing that improv down for later

So, this is just an example of some of the stuff I’ve learned. Clearly this may not be for everyone. Indeed, people who aren’t the self-reflective types may just toss this out the window. But I find that, for me, this works well.