Updates from Carcassay

My hideous city-inside-a-Titan-Rat-corpse is crawling toward completion. I have stopped writing, and started moving the text into layout!

This is a different rodent of unusual size

What’s in it?

At the moment, there are over 100 locations in and around the city. Almost every location has at least one well-defined NPC with at least one Quest/Reward to offer, in addition to selling goods and services.

There are dozens of factions to interact with (or start feuds between): knights, cultists, mercenaries, clerics, merchants, innkeepers, barkeepers, wealthy families, gangs, diplomats, vampires, plumbers, farmers, and Corpse Lords…

As written, the setting of Carcassay assumes that most “people” are human. The few non-human folk are taken from Dungeon Age lore, and include:

  • the Vrahoi delvers (stone-folk, fairly similar to dwarves),
  • the Arbaj dryads (tree-folk, barely similar to elves),
  • the Kadav (undead folk who are functional members of society),
  • the Ghiran (mechanical clerics created by an angel),
  • the Brakken (crab folk), and
  • the Vampires (from outer space).

What’s it like?

The overall tone “feels” a bit low-fantasy to me. Meaning, there are no magic trains, and the few people selling potions are charging an arm and a leg (not literally…I think). Most Carcassites are regular people, and they don’t have any magic items or abilities. If you were just walking down the street, it would look like any marketplace in eastern Europe, or the Middle East, or central Asia (depending on which district you are in). But there are magic relics, secret societies, and weird monsters lurking EVERYWHERE. You just have to find them.

The major underlying conflict is between factions of Law and factions of Chaos. There is no central “plot”, just a hundred plot threads that your players can tug on to make the whole city unravel. As the GM, you’ll have the freedom (and the challenge?) to page through this place and pick out the types of activities that appeal to you and your players.

The city is divided into four quarters:

  • Spider – the old quarter, byzantine and shadowy, noted for its spidersilk garments and armor, and the entrance to the dungeons down the Rat’s Tail.
  • Firefly – the new quarter, clean and orderly, wealthy and law-abiding, full of deadly artists and deadlier politicians.
  • Worm – the industrial quarter, grimy and smoky, the streets muddy with the blood of giant worms, the air hazy with fumes from the ironworks.
  • Flea – the dying quarter, dusty and dilapidated, half the buildings empty and boarded up, giant fleas leaping through the streets, desperate people lurking in the shade.

And of course outside the city there are ancient hills and plains, rivers and lakes, a regular forest and a fungal forest.

Any actual dungeons?

The tail of the dead Titan Rat spirals down underground, creating a highway through countless buried civilizations (“dungeons”, if you will). I’ve created three of these dungeons, and the layout lets you just keep adding in more dungeons as deep down as you like, so you can plug-and-play other published dungeons to your heart’s content.

Work, work, work

I have the dungeon maps done, but the city map is going to take some more time. There will be two types of art: full-color classical paintings and black-and-white ink illustrations.

Most pages will display 3 locations. There are a few tiny locations, with a bunch on one page. And there are a few big locations, with just 1 on a page.

What systems?

As per usual, I wrote the actual meat of the content to be system-agnostic. The final product will come in three flavors, with appropriate stat blocks: OSE, 5E, and ItO.

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A few doodles

Inspired by Richard Whitters…

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Wicked Little Delves, vol 3

Now on DriveThruRPG:

These are three one-shot dungeon delves. Each delve features nine rooms or locations full of challenges and interactivity (for a total of 27). Each delve has only one type of monster, but they are complex, and there are lots of them!

This volume of Wicked Little Delves includes three small dungeon adventures:

  1. a tunnel complex full of dragons trying to eat each other,
  2. a desert palace of sorcerous mummies trying to restore life to the wasteland, and 
  3. an ancient cathedral where zealots of Chaos try to summon unspeakable terrors from beyond the stars.

SYSTEM: Each monster has stats for Fifth Edition, Old School Essentials, and Into the Odd.

These adventures are intended for characters at levels 7, 8, and 9.

  • They are mainly focused on exploration and combat, with some minor social encounters.
  • Estimated run time for each: 1 session, or 2-5 hours.
  • Each adventure includes one complex original monster and a variety of unique treasures.

I hope you’ll check out Wicked Little Delves, vol 3.

Here is Volume 1.

And here is Volume 2.

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Now on Kickstarter: Nightmare over Ragged Hollow

A year ago, I was approached by the extremely talented publishing team The Merry Mushmen (Olivier Revenu and Eric Nieudan, of KNOCK! reknown) about creating a prestige remastered edition of one of my adventures. So naturally, I said yes.

And now it’s on Kickstarter!

The original Ragged Hollow Nightmare was a classic starter village for low-level characters. It lets you play all the classic tropes (witches and goblin markets in the forest, bandits in the hills, a dwarf tomb on the mountain, even spiders in the cellar, a mansion full of traps, factions, rivals) with a bit of a twist. And also there is a big scary dungeon in the middle of town.

Well, this new version, Nightmare over Ragged Hollow, is that same adventure re-formatted for Old School Essentials. Plus all-new encounters in the wilderness and new random encounter tables. Plus shiny new maps by the skillful Rob Matthews. Plus amazing illustrations by the dazzling Li-An.

If you like nice things, then I strongly encourage you to check this out!

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Wicked Little Delves, vol 1

Now on DriveThruRPG:

These are three one-shot dungeon delves. Each delve features nine rooms or locations full of challenges and interactivity (for a total of 27). Each delve has only one type of monster, but they are complex, and there are lots of them!

This volume of Wicked Little Delves includes three small dungeon adventures:

  1. a new twist on the classic spiders-in-the-cellar, 
  2. a prison full of attack dogs, and 
  3. an abandoned cult lair full of pirate treasure and killer crabs.

SYSTEM: Each monster has stats for Fifth Edition, Old School Essentials, and Into the Odd.

These adventures are intended for characters at levels 1, 2, and 3.

  • They are mainly focused on exploration and combat, with some minor social encounters.
  • Estimated run time for each: 1 session, or 2-5 hours.
  • Each adventure includes one complex original monster and a variety of unique treasures.

I’m kinda proud of some of the illustrations, like this moth cultist:

And this evil bunny:

I hope you’ll check out Wicked Little Delves, vol 1.

And yes, volumes 2 and 3 are on the way!

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Thinking about drawing fantasy art

Have you checked out Graphite Prime’s RPG work?

I really like their blog, and I really dig their original art. I’ve just ordered print versions of their adventures, Date of Expiration and Praise the Fallen, and I’m looking forward to not just the content but all of the original art inside.

Also, have you been following the development of AI in visual art and text lately? We’re living through a moment in history that might prove to be a major turning point in what “art” and “culture” are in the future. Are these things going to be original creations from humans, or remixed products from machines (and the companies that own the machines)?

And how is that going to affect us all? What art is “real”? What art has “meaning”? Are machines going to take over making “fun stuff” for humans? Will humans be relegated to merely consuming art, the stories, games, films made by machines?

There are going to be big questions and big consequences, and the saddest part of that difficult process may be that a lot of people don’t care. Or don’t think they care. That’s a lot to think about.

Less thinking, more drawing

But while I was thinking about it tonight, I started drawing. I’ve been trying to figure out what my style is for a while now. Over time, I have discovered that I prefer black-and-white over color now, and that I like ink, and dark blacks, and a certain type of line-work… I’ve been experimenting with so many pens (SO MANY!).

And tonight I was looking a this old post from Graphite Prime about clerics. And their art.

So I tried to recreate that art as a warm-up exercise (left, below). And frankly, I did not do a good job… at all! But then I drew it again, a bit different (center, below), and I started to get a feel for it. And then I drew it again, even more different (right, below), and I felt like I got a really good feel for it. Here’s what I did:

Took about 3 hours to do all of them, throughout the evening. And I’m super happy with where I ended up. I hope to do a lot more art like that third character in future Dungeon Age adventures.

(Pens I used: Micron 01 and Tombow N15)

Practice is a good practice

But the thing I’m really sitting here with is… drawing is such an accessible art form! All you need is paper and pencil (pen?), and a little time to practice. Seriously, look at those three characters above. That first one stinks! But I quickly realized what worked and what didn’t, and I got visibly better with practice! In just a few hours!

Exclamation points!

In addition, I had no idea what that third character would look like before I started drawing. I had no goal. I just discovered the outfit, and the hat, and the weapons as I went along. It was a cool little journey of invention and discovery and creation all at once.

And it would be such a loss if, just a generation from now, no one draws anymore and artists just prompt AI to doodle for them. It almost feels absurd and impossible, but I can absolutely imagine a future where kids “doodle” by muttering at their phones to draw things for them. And that feels sad to me. To think that might be coming.

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Dungeon Age: Coming soon…ish

Here’s a quick update on what Dungeon Age materials will definitely be coming out this year.

One-shot dungeons galore!

First up, I have a series of one-shot collections called Wicked Little Delves.

  • Volume 1 – Levels 1, 2, and 3
  • Volume 2 – Levels 4, 5, and 6
  • Volume 3 – Levels 7, 8 and 9


  • A set of (mostly) linear 9-room dungeons designed to make solid one-shots, or to be incorporated into a larger campaign. Why do I keep writing these? Because they make for good one-shots, which I play a lot. Also it’s a good format for hammering on one evocative theme. But I know this is not everyone’s cup of tea.
  • Each delve features just one unique monster. Why? Because encountering one new monster over and over gives the GM time to show off the creature’s complex abilities (a lot more than just “claw” and “bite”!). It also gives the PCs time to learn how best to avoid or defeat the creature. This lets everyone feel more effective while only giving them one thing to deal with (more fun for less mental work!).
  • Every room/area is crammed with interactive objects and/or weird social encounters.
  • Monster stats provided for Fifth Edition, Old School Essentials, and Into the Odd.

Status: All written, with playtesting in progress (and going well!), needs art

A big ‘ole fantasy city!

Next up, for those who are sick of my little linear one-shot dungeons, I have a hideously detailed sprawling fantasy metropolis called Titan Rat City (maybe, we’ll see). This is the city of Carcassay, the setting of Lawless Rogues, mentioned in other Dungeon Age stuff (somewhere). It’s basically my Lankhmar or Zamora, a weird city of thieves and magicians inside the corpse of a giant rat.


  • Over 90 detailed locations in and around the city, spread across 4 districts, each location offering at least one unique quest hook and weird reward, many of which clearly tie into other locations in the city to help the GM make things happen.
  • A ridiculous number of factions: knights, mercenaries, Chaos cults, Lawful temples, guilds, foreign embassies, artist collectives, colonizing monsters… there’s a lot.
  • At least 3 layers of distinct dungeons under the city, the intention being that the GM can continue to place an unlimited number of other dungeon layers down there too.
  • This is the setting I ran last year for a huge cast of rotating players in an attempt at a West Marches -style gaming group. It was hugely fun, and extremely weird.

Status: Converting notes into a proper document, playtesting complete, needs art

Mere twinkles in my eye!

  • There is a direct sequel to Witches of Frostwyck in my files, that was written and played ages ago, about vampires and werewolves. It’s very Castlevania. If I have the energy after TRC, this could happen next year.
  • I have concept notes for a bunch of solo RPGs, but I’m not sure if I’m passionate about any of them right now.
  • I have notes for a bunch of traditional adventures, similar to the early DA stuff like The Obsidian Keep, that I hope to get to … eventually.

Any questions? Suggestions? Cruel insults that you don’t really need to lob at me but feel the need to anyway?

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RPG Confessions: Experience points (XP)

So. I don’t care about XP. Just… at all.

Some folks express concern about getting XP at an appropriate rate. And look, I get it. Whatever system you play, there are probably rules about how to get XP and how to turn that XP into a level-up for new skills or spells or whatever. Because that’s part of the game. And you like that. I hear you. I do. I just don’t share that feeling. It’s a fundamental disconnect for me.

Here is why XP does not interest me as a designer, or as a GM.

How I see it

When I think about fantasy, or sci-fi, or horror, I think about books and movies first, and then games next. I think about Conan and Ripley, Elric and John Carter, Perseus and Bilbo, Han Solo and Indiana Jones… And they don’t ever “level-up”.

Perseus getting his godly gear on

They definitely make all sorts of allies, and get magic swords and rings, flame-throwers and power armor, Wookies and cats… but they don’t suddenly awaken to new skills or powers during their adventures.

(I realize that in some newer media, the characters absolutely do suddenly awaken to new skills and powers in the middle of their stories. But I didn’t grow up on those.)

As a player, I have very little interest in leveling up. I want to find dope weapons and gear that I discovered and earned. I don’t want a skill bump just because I killed 37 goblins. I want the goblin king’s axe! And his crown! And that funky belt he’s wearing. And his pet wolf! And maybe his boots, what size is he?

This difference in expectations is partly cultural (in both time and space), and partly idiosyncratic.

But what about…?

Yes, of course I level-up my players’ PCs in my campaigns. But I use various other systems that don’t require me (or the players) to do any extra bookkeeping. I’ve used different methods in different situations, like:

  1. Level up at the end of every session. (A less serious method to just keep things moving along.)
  2. Level up gradually. (One session at level 1, two sessions at level 2, three sessions at level 3, etc., which tends to be what you get anyway when you actually do all the math.)
  3. Level up by milestones (after completing a significant quest, feels reasonable and appropriate).

Although frankly, I’d be content to play an entire campaign at one level and just have the PCs grow stronger through their gear and achievements. But that’s just me, so…

I don’t care about XP.

Do you?

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RPG Confessions: Too much loot

So. I don’t believe an adventure can have too much treasure in it.

Some folks express concern when an adventure has too many treasures in it. Specifically, too many magic items. Perhaps they see the loot in each dungeon room, or the list at the back of the adventure, and worry that their players are going to become too wealthy or too powerful.

Here is why a ton of loot does not worry me as a designer, or as a GM.

How I see it

There are plenty of reasons why “too much loot” is not a problem at the table.

(1) They never find it. Let’s say your players enter a room and you describe three pieces of furniture. They search two of them, find nothing, get bored, and leave the room. Or they roll badly. Or they get distracted with planning their next move. Or you describe a vicious dog digging in the corner, and they focus on the dog and not what’s buried in the corner. So for any number of reasons, your players may simply not find the loot. This happens all the time.

(2) They never identify it. Let’s say your players find the glowing orb in the hidden drawer. Cool! But none of them have a skill or spell to identify the orb, and they’re not willing to risk experimenting with it. So they put in their backpack and hope to get it identified later. (After the dungeon. Even though it has a cool use that you planned for this dungeon!) And they might just forget they have it entirely. This happens all the time.

(3) They never use it. Let’s say your players find the bone wand, and they identify that it can mind-control any single creature, once a day, for one minute. Cool! But now they can’t decide when to use it. The alert guard? The scheming magician? The angry ghost? And then they make it to the end of the dungeon without using it, and they all shrug and laugh over their indecision about the wand. Oh well! This happens all the time.

(4) They lose it. Let’s say your players find the blessed dagger, and they identify its powers and rules, and they plan to use it when they catch the villain… But then they find a weird stranger, or a magic fountain, or an eldritch altar, and they decide to sacrifice the blessed dagger in exchange for something else of value. This happens all the time.

But what about…?

Even if your players are good about finding, identifying, and using their treasures, it is still well within the GM’s powers to keep things under control. You can remove the item from the dungeon, or you can nerf its powers, or limit its uses, or give the PCs a reason to give up the item, or have someone steal it. The GM has unlimited power, so…

I don’t believe in too much loot.

Do you?

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Reavers and Rogues: New cover art

Check it out now: Reavers and Rogues on DriveThruRPG

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