Crypts and Things 1st Edition (D101-018)

This release was a D101 Games game changer…

Crypts and Things 1st Edition Cover by Jon Hodgson

I was already aware of the Old School Renaissance, which was in full swing in the 2010s,  due to its fans in the OSR blog-sphere taking a liking to OpenQuest.

I was very impressed with Swords and Wizardry’s tight presentation. So I basically took this OGL Systems Resource Document and mixed it with a bevvy of Swords and Sorcery inspirations from my 80s British Gaming History.

Inspirations:

  • Old White Dwarf.  A whole slew of adventures (The Lichway, and The Hall of Tizun Thane for example) and rules ideas (The Barbarian for example, Using CON as physical hit points , while HP become quickly recharged energy) was lifted from the early days of this classic British TTRPG publication. The mid-80s was the cut off date.
  • Early Fighting Fantasy, we are talking about the first six books, where the authors were obviously riffing off their D&D games, not the expectations of what a FF book was.
  • Early Slaine from 2000 AD, when it was black and white and short and punchy. None of the epic Simon Bisley era stuff.
  • Savage Swords of Kull. I got the first of the two graphic novel compilations put out of the Marvel comics from the 70s/80s and was instantly in love with the slightly acid-tinged brooding proto-Conan.
  • Michael Moorcock’s Elric books and the resulting Stormbringer RPG put out by Chaosium, specifically the hardcover licensed version put out by Games Workshop in the 80s, which I’ve raved about on my Sorcerer Under Mountain blog.

Art fell into place nicely with a fantastic cover by Jon Hodgson and the rest of the artists of illodeli.com, which was a small art collective run by Jon, that was selling fantastic stock art.  This was a resource I liberally plundered, with my mate John Ossoway filling in the gaps with a piece here and there.

It was playtested at great speed and enthusiasm, which bemused my regular circle of RPG buddies, who were more into modern RPGs like FATE and HeroQuest at the time.

First time I used crowdfunding, indiegogo.com, which was successful although modest at indiegogo.com

The resulting book that was released in 20??? was 150 pages of old school O&D goodness, with a distinct flavour, in a nice slim hardcover from Lulu.com. For some strange reason, I never got around to putting the POD version on drivethrurpg.com.

And by thunder, it sold well. After seeing OpenQuest’s sales crawl along, and Monkey fails at Drivethrurpg.com (but strangely sell out when I was selling in person at Conventions) it was lovely to see it outsell both titles. Partly because it’s a version of D&D, but also because it struck a chord with older gamers who fondly remembered its British Fantasy 80s roots.

 

Book of Glorious Joy (D101-017)

This was a fun one to do. Jamie “Trotsky” Revell did about three supplements worth of Gloranthan setting books about the West for Issaries INC. When Moon Designs took over Gloranthan publishing, for various reasons the chief of which those books represented a “Medieval West” rather than a “Bronze Age Ancients West”, they declined to publish them. So they offered me the chance to put it out as a fan publication and I lept at it.

I called it the Book of Glorious Joy, like it was an in-game sorcerer’s Grimoire, to dispel the negativity around the book, that had arisen because it was rejected manuscript. And it worked! Peter Town did some fantastic character pieces, much of which now adorns the pages of OpenQuest 3rd edition, and it turned out to be a nice chunky supplement.

The book had decent sales as well which makes my inner-publisher glow, so it wasn’t just fan service.

Eventually, after five or so years of being available and sales dwindling to nought, I called time on it which gave it a nice flurry of end-of-life sales (again inner-publisher happy).

A fun book, that while not being 100% Glorantha was a high point of my publishing up in 2011 when it came out. Also, you might see the cover, modified, as the cover of a big setting/adventure book for OpenQuest 3, that expands and details the Empire of Gatan called “Dark Corners of the Empire” at some point next year. So as a source of inspiration, it will live on 🙂

Adventures in Wordplay issue 1 The Drowned Lands (D101-016)

A very brief post for this one.

The Drowned Lands was a very short sandbox for Wordplay the Big Five (D101-09), written by Paul Mitchener. It was a post-apocalyptic setting based in a near-future where the sea level had raised by fourteen metres, and the weather was constant rain. It was a nice little British Post-Apoc setting, set around Paul’s home city of Southampton, where you discovered the setting and plot through play. Oh, and it had intelligent sentient bipedal Bears 🙂

I pulled it after two months because I wasn’t happy with the art I had thrown together for it. A selection of images from Wikimedia commons which I put through a “Rainy” filter. See the cover below for an example. I got a fuller release when I redid the Big Five as the Worlds of Wordplay.

Currently, it’s passed back to Paul, so it may see the light of day again.

Gloranthan Adventures #1 New Beginings (D101-014)

During the 90s, in my formative years of running RuneQuest, one of my favourite fanzines, when I could get it was RuneQuest Adventures.  Every issue took you on a guided tour of Glorantha, in the form of a series of linked adventures. Issue 3 for example The Block, was based around the Block in Prax and the adventure locations around it. As well as notes on the Stormbull cult, it had a fantastic adventure where the dungeon was the hollowed-out skeleton buried under a hill. So this was my primary inspiration for the Gloranthan Adventures fanzine, of which this is the first of two issues 1.

My records show this one too along with Hearts in Glorantha #4 (D101-010) was released in time for the bi-annual gathering of Glorantha fans at Continuum 2010.

First, for the record, of the covers Jon Hodgson has done for me over the years this is one of my favourites ever, depicting an Orlanthi Stormlord flying menacingly as farmsteads in the burn-in valley below. As well as being a cracking illustration it sets the scene for the content within its covers.

The four adventures in the book rise from my early days as a HeroQuest evangelist at my local conventions 2. I took the Sartar setting, that every Gloranthaphile has at least a passing familiarity with and is dead easy to explain to newcomers. Then I threw every chaos foe against a small “peace” clan, called the Silverwinds, who was woefully ill-prepared for such an assault on their way of life. Although there is a bit of clan politics in it, one of my aims was to provide a working example of a clan that the players could be members of, its fairly and squarely leveraging the HeroQuest system to provide an epic crusade against chaos. Think 13th Warrior mixed with Jason and the Argonauts and you’ve got the measure of it. 3

Notes:

1. GA 2 Red Sun Rising appears four years later, and I’ve still got a cover and a good 30-40 pages for a series of Troll adventures, which is the unreleased GA 3.

2. When I was leading the Ring of HeroQuest Narrators which mutated into the semi-official Masters of Luck and Death and then imploded!

3. The set-up for the adventures, divorced from the Sartar Timeline, and general approach do a bit of roleplaying then fight a chaos thing, actually make it more like 13th Age Glorantha mini-campaign well before that book was put out.

Wordplay Basics (D101-013)

This was a blink and you miss it, in the bumper year of releases in 2010. Basically, a promotional book for Wordplay the Big 5 (D101-09), that had a good chunk of the system. These days I would have done a Quickstart set of rules with an adventure. After a couple of months, I realised it wasn’t driving sales to the Big 5 as I had hoped, so it was quietly pulled. Did however form the template for OpenQuest Basics further down the line in 2014.

Ye Little Book of HeroQuest Fantasy (D101-011 + D101-012= D101-023)

Ok, this is a composite entry that covers three releases.

Ye Little Book of HeroQuest 1 Dungeoneering (D101-011), released Sept 2010.

Ye Little Book of HeroQuest Fantasy, Dungeoneering, cover by John Ossoway

Ye Little Book of HeroQuest Monsters (D101-012), released Nov 2010.

HeroQuest Monsters, cover by Simon Bray

Both of which were only available in pdf.

Ye Little Book of HeroQuest Fantasy (D101-023) which appeared years later in 2015 and is the combined pdf/print version of the above.

HeroQuest Fantasy cover by Jon Hodgson

In 2009 if memory serves me rightly Moon Design offered the HeroQuest Gateway license 2 to potential third-party publishers. I had already done some generic gaming with HeroQuest, so thought let’s give it a go.

The “Ye Little Books of HeroQuest Fantasy” was meant to have been a series of cheap and cheerful short releases, a sort of counterpoint to all the D20 and even Savage Worlds pamphlets that were flooding drivethrurpg.com in those days. Looking at my folder on my hard drive, I also had plans to do “Adventures”, “Heroes”, and “World Building” as part of the series.

So I quickly brought the project together. HQ was easy to write for and I think each release only took a couple of evening writing sessions to write because I had a laser-sharp focus on what I was doing 3.

Dungeoneering was well-received. In its lifetime it was a Silver Medal seller on Drivethrurpg.com. Monsters did less well but still got a Bronze medal over its lifetime. I’m not surprised since it was basically a generic listing of typical fantasy critters, using the descriptions and art from OpenQuest at the time, and we’ve all got far too many books of that sort of nonsense 😀

I decided when I was putting the project together the whole series would then only get a full release as a printed version when all parts had been out. This is why there’s a huge delay between the pdf releases and the combined version. I kept putting it off because I kept thinking that I would do the other parts, which for one reason or another never happened.  Truth be told by the time I put out YLBoHQ Fantasy, I was quite jaded with the whole idea because being a HQ Gateway publisher had not been the road to instant fame and fortune that I had expected it to be 4. I’d not had that crucial moment of self-realisation that the pdfs had actually sold quite well and had been well received by fans, who quietly emailed me politely asking when they were going to see the other parts. In short, I should have put my head down and got on with it 😀

Notes:

1. The game is currently being rebranded as QuestWorlds and is due a new edition from Chaosium (current owners of the game) soon(ish). The actual rules have been released for free.

For the purposes of this article, I’ve kept with the old brand name, which has been sold back to Hasbro so they can bring back the board game of the same name, for historical reasons. Plus referring to it as “the-game-formally-known-as-heroquest” is a bit longwinded 😀

2. The HQ Gateway license was actually quite elegant. It nicely explained what you could do with the HeroQuest ruleset, basically do supplements/adventures without going too risque (or edgelord as we call it now) in a way that would damage the brand and reputation of Moon Design, and no Glorantha (but I had a separate license for that). And that was it. No approval process, apart from Moon Design giving you a license in the first place.

3. One of the successes of this project, was that I really got the whole idea of writing a scope, refining it, and then delivering it without scope creep. Well for the first two releases any way 🙂  This success helped me in other D101 Games releases further down the road.  If nothing else it made me the master of putting out short pdf to print fanzine sized books, which are now actually good sellers and quite popular.

4. This was quite a depressing internal battle that I fought with myself over the next five years or so. 2010 was a great push to get as many books out, in the effort to become a “name” publisher. Something I’ve realised further down the road, due to my personality, I’m not all that interested in. For me, it’s the creation of the work. I’ve seen some RPG creators go to great lengths to publicise their works, and it just strikes me as vulgar. It coincided with a slump in my energy levels. Work and having two kids were to blame here 😀

Hearts in Glorantha #4 (D101-010)

Hearts in Glorantha issue four emerged in Summer 2010, just in time for Continuum 2010, which despite its general all games appeal, was still a major Glorathaphile gathering due to its roots.

This was the last of John Ossoway’s covers, and personal high-point with it featuring virtually no-Dragon Pass material (aka “those hairy barbarians” as one reader succinctly put it). Instead, it had part of Jamie “Trotsky” Revell’s Western Glorantha supplement in the form of the Kingdom of Joruna. D101 would go onto publish a full book worth of his work as the Book of Glorious Joy (D101-011) a year later. I did a mini-setting, the town of Vastar in the Lunar Heartlands, which would be the first trip I would make to this region before 2015’s Red Sun Rising (aka D101-035 Gloranthan Adventures #2).

Wordplay the Big Five (D101-009)

This one was one of our big game releases and quite a significant milestone for D101 Games.

Wordplay the Big Five, cover art by Jon Hodgson

Wordplay was Graham Spearing’s D6 Dicepool narrative game that he wrote under a creative common’s license. My original publication plan was to do a standalone Fantasy game using rules and the Empire of Gatan setting from OpenQuest for D101. As well as contributing a setting or Theme, called Infinite War, to Graham’s big release of Wordplay, alongside three other themes. Mark Galeotti’s Cold Crusade (mythological superheroes), Charles Green’s Keep Portland Weird (Urban Fantasy) and Graham’s Epic Fantasy theme. For various reasons, Graham’s release of the core rulebook fell through, and Wordplay, the Big Five, was my release of the core rules + the themes as they were in 2010.

Here’s the content’s page

Everything was pulled together at breakneck speed, as was typical of D101 early releases, still keeping to a fast and furious Punk Rock ethic of Do it! The artists of Hearts in Glorantha came through big time. Peter Town and Ilkka Leskelä stand out especially as heroes who opened up extensive portfolios of illustrations that nicely illustrated a narrative game. Ilkka also, some fantastic full pagers, which he allowed me to use again in the recent OpenQuest 3rd Edition.  This one especially stands out for me.

Fantasia by Ilkka Leskelä

The book sold moderately well, making its costs and a little bit of profit, and was critically well accepted.  It was also the first big book RPG that I wasn’t the primary author of but instead focused on being a publisher. Which was a good experience in itself and made me more confident later on.

Monkey, The Storytelling Game of the Journey to the West (D101-08)

Monkey started as an idea back in the mid-90s. I was stuck for what to read in Fantasy and asked my mate Keary Birch for a suggestion. He pointed me in the direction of the Journey to the West or “remember that TV series on BBC2 during the 80s”, as he put it.

My next port of call was Monkey – the James Whaley translation and the abridged version published via Penguin Classics.  The full version of the book, which I got to just after 1st edition was finalised, is a four-volume series of 100 chapters, with each volume clocking in at 1000 pages. James Whaley’s version is only 40 chapters, missing out much of the repetitive monster-of-the-week type chapters that make up the bulk of the Journey itself and heavily abbreviating the start and end of the Journey. This version is very accessible to English audiences but at the cost of some detail and narrative logic.

I was immediately struck by the fact that this could be a Roleplaying game. There was a party of Adventurers, the Pilgrims: Tripitaka the Monk and his immortal guardians, Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy.  They have the main goal, go to India to pick up the missing scrolls of Buddhist teaching and return them to China, and be admitted into Chinese Heaven as Immortals. Along the road, a mythic version of the real-life Silk Road,  the pilgrims have to battle and drive off villainous demons who are keen to eat the Monk because doing so will gain whoever does so great power. So there’s a goal and conflict right there.

As well as the Whaley translation, I drew from two other sources of inspiration.

  • My shakey remembrance of watching the Japanese TV series Monkey, or Monkey Magic, from the early 80s every Thursday Night on BBC 2 as kids.

My young son was also a Monkey fan 🙂

  • What I’d learned about Taoism and Buddhism from my own life experiences at the time. For example, the central Yin / Yang card drawing mechanism was drawn from the importance of that concept is not only the martial arts that I had been studying at the time, which were forms of Taoist Internal Alchemy, but also I Ching divination system.  The necessity of the characters to be nice and protect mortal characters came from the book’s reflection of Buddhist teachings and the fact that the characters, all through powerful immortals, were being coached by Buddhist gods to mend their wayward ways so they could be readmitted into Chinese Heaven.

I had spent a good fifteen years putting Monkey together when I finally go the first edition out in 2010. Internals were done on the cheap via clip-art.com where I raided their ancient Chinese category. Also of note on this front, the 15th Century woodcuts that illustrate Monkey Subdues the White Bone Demon, which is based on one of the chapters from the full novel. Because they were in the public domain, I could use these fantastic pictures of Monkey and the rest of the pilgrims to do full-page illustrations.

The cover was technically the first of the Jon Hodgson covers I commissioned. I consciously put Monkey to one side while I got more publishing experience putting out Hearts In Glorantha (see D101-03 to 06), OpenQuest (D101-06) and the Savage North (D101-07). It had to wait until July 2010.

Another D101 Games first, was that Paul “The Tweadmeister” Mitchener did proofing/editorial for the game. Neil Gow (publisher/author of Duty and Honour/Beat to the Quarters) was officially the games’ Monkey’s Uncle due to the excellent advice and encouragement that he gave over its rather wobbly development.

The book’s release coincided with Continuum 2010, a sell-out on a small (50 copies) but significant scale.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was immediately aware of its shortcomings and planned a 2nd edition ( D101-045) which was finally released in 2018. It is available from the D101 Games web store.

Also, it has a blog that has more about the game and its inspirations.

The Savage North (D101-07)

Aha, this one is definitely one of my favourites.

I realised quickly once OpenQuest 1st Edition came out that it needed an adventure/scenario pack which quite frankly showed how awesome it was. Life and Death was planned to do that, but I had descended into a pessimistic revise/rewrite loop which meant it wasn’t getting done any time soon. My friend John Ossoway had a series of old RQ3 Conan scenarios, which featured monsters from the  HP Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos, which he casually mentioned over a lunchtime meetup. Excited by the idea, I convinced John to let me release it as an OpenQuest adventure.

So the plan was.

For me to create a new setting. Which was faithful to the essence of Pseudo Vikings and a frozen North, fighting eldritch horrors in the wilderness, but didn’t include Howards or Lovecraft’s IP.  This led to the creation of the Savage North, which is made up of three kingdoms. The two kingdoms, the Drakkar, Nortland and Sonderland*** and the misty hill land of Bogdan.

To do editorial on John’s adventures, strip out the Conan + HP Lovecraft IP and convert it all to OpenQuest.  This led to many bloodthirsty demons replacing Lovecraft’s creations since I’m a bit of an 80s body-horror fan (Clive Barker, Chronenburg etc.). The adventures formed a mini-campaign, which took the characters up a glacier and through the underground dungeons that riddled it to face waking evil Serpentmen Priests. Then south for a spot of monster hunting while safely escort a Druid who was turned into a pig to a sacred grove to be turned back into a human. Finally, the campaign ended with a dungeon lair of a demi-lich on a remote island and a race against time to prevent the master from resurrecting as a full member of the undead nobility.   The whole thing was very Old School with dungeons and set-piece encounters along wilderness journies. John wrote one section of the first scenario to provide an excuse to replenish the party after it suffered a Total Party Kill.

John did all the internal art, including this map of the Savage North.

The Savage North map by John Ossoway

It was one of the most fun collaborations that I have been involved in, and that playful sense of fun translated into sales, with it meeting my expectations. One of D101 Games’ best sellers, it was a no-brainer when I did the OpenQuest 3rd edition that there should be a new version of the book entitled Saga of the Savage North.

I threw together this web comix from John’s art, and I think it sums up the sense of mischievous fun we had 😀

Notes:

*Drakar was a land of pseudo-Vikings, with a touch of the North East of England where I’d lived as a teen. There’s an Angel of the North, a massive statue that comes to life and crushes its enemies, a city called Newcastle, the twin river gods Way-Ai and Kan-Ai and Howay the Hunter God.