Clue Crawl Classics

(I’m sure someone has done this before and done it better, I just haven’t seen it. The internet is vast and I am ignorant.)  
“Dungeons are easy to run because they constrain characters choice.”
This isn’t wholly accurate. A character in a corridor has lots of choices (sit down, dig a hole in the wall, climb on a buddy’s back and search the ceiling). What is constrained are productive choices: you can try hundreds of things, but they only two choices that will make a difference are going forward or going backwards.
By correlation, urban adventures don’t need to be difficult to run, as long as a judge pins down which choices produce results. You map these choices with a flowchart, which ends up looking just like a dungeon. It’s not mapping physical space, but – in the case of urban investigations – mapping clues.
For emphasis: PCs in the city can do a thousand things. But they don’t make any progress unless they follow the clues forward or go backwards.
A dungeon is a flowchart.
A flowchart is a dungeon.
As in a dungeon, some clues lead to dead ends. Some are tapped. Some lead to combat. Some are even hidden by “secret doors” that requiring puzzling out.
And, as in a complex dungeon / mystery, deeper levels transform the landscape. Moving to a deeper dungeon level can be a function of time (the bad guys are continuing to murder people) or due to PC actions, analogous to pulling levers, falling down pits, etc.
To really strain the metaphor, ala the old school dungeon, each level is a new onion skin of the conspiracy. You caught the murderer by clearing out the first level of the map. But who hired him? Why? Do you press into the second level of the map, investigating the next, more dangerous level, or do you retreat back to the safety of town / ignorance? And do the monsters come out after you?
Finally, just like in a dungeon, this only really works if the PCs have vested interest in solving the mystery.
World’s Simplest Clue Crawl: Railroad to the House of Red Silks
The overlord’s son goes missing; the PCs find him dead in their inn room. The Watch is hunting for him and the clock is ticking. It’s a matter of time before someone snitches, the PCs are caught and hung from the Gaol walls.
The PCs have a choice: they can quit the city and never return, or solve the mystery and clear their names.

Player Start: The PCs return from a night of post-dungeon debauchery to find the overlord’s son – apparently beaten to death – in their inn room.
(Remember, the PCs take any actions they want, but following these clues are the only ones that produce relevant results.)
  • Bloody tracks (A-1) lead from the chamber to another room .
  • Drunk slavers (B-1) report seeing a woman fleeing the PCs’ chamber just before the PCs returned.  
  • Close investigation (secret door) reveals that the prince was already dead when he was beaten. The real cause of death was a rare opiate that can only be had from Cune the Apothecary (C-1).
Events: The city is not static while the PCs perform their investigations. Use the following timeline to rough out developments, adjusting for PC actions:
Morning: Word leaks back to the Watch that the imperial prince was seen at the PCs’ tavern the night before.
Noon: The Watch raids the PCs’ rooms. Hereafter all encounters with the watch risk the PCs’ apprehension.
Nightfall: A bounty of 100 gp is declared for the apprehension of the PCs. Bounty hunters and thief-takers the city over take notice. By dawn the next day undisguised PCs are readily recognized and assaulted.
A-1 – Bloody Tracks: PCs follow the bloody tracks lead to another inn room. The door is bolted from within. A bloody mace wrapped is wrapped in a cloak and stuffed beneath in the straw bed mat. The mace is stamped with the forge-mark of the Watch’s smithy (A-2).
The window to the chamber is open; bloody tracks on the sill lead onto the stable roof. Further tracks vanish in the mud below.
If queried, the innkeeper can confirm the room was paid for a month in advance by a link-boy the day before. Bribed, the innkeeper identifies the boy as Laraeo, known to run errands for the blackguards drinking at the Sign of the Bloody Boar (B-2).
A-2 – Watch Armourer: The aged Armourer refuses to speak about Watch-business to adventurers and cannot be bribed. Questioning him without raising the alarm will require subterfuge or spells.  
However, he can confirm the mace belongs to the watch; he can also share that at the this morning’s inspection all the Watchmen had their maces. The forgetful old man must be prompted to recall that Captain Tibentius (A-3) was reported sick abed and didn’t attend the inspection.  
A-3 – The Missing Captain: As in A-2, the PCs will need to employ subterfuge or spells in order to search the Captain’s quarters. Alas, Captain Tibentius is nowhere to be found. His armor, weapons and uniform are all missing. His footlocker is trapped: opened, it releases a lesser devil that attacks the PCs for 1d3 rounds before flying out the window, fleeing back to its master. If the PCs manage to track or give chase, the devil leads them to the House of the Red Silks (D-1).    
Questioning soldiers in his company reveals that the commander has been spending his time with a woman, Akiret, at the Sign of the Bloody Boar (B-2).
B-1 – Drunk Slavers: The slavers identify the woman as Akiret – a former prostitute who is now the companion to Captain Tibentius of the Watch (A-3). Akiret is known to keep her quarters in a small room above the Sign of the Bloody Boar (B-2).  
B-2 – The Bloody Boar: The alley-dive known as the Bloody Boar is nearly empty, day or night, making the PCs especially conspicuous. A trio of hired thugs lounge at the back of the tavern and try to frighten the PC away. Once violence erupts, another two thugs descend from upstairs, attempting surprise attacks.
Interrogated, the thugs reveal that they were hired by Akiret, who has been holed up in the second-story room (B-3) since last night.
B-3 – Akiret’s Apartment: The PCs discover the body of Akiret, frozen in state of terror. She has a pipe packed with still smoldering summoner’s gum – a rare opiate that relieves its user of fears … by releasing them into the world as devils. Only one merchant in the entire city deals in the illegal paste: Cune the Apothecary (C-1).
The devil responsible for Akiret’s death still lurks in the corner of the chamber, attacking the PCs if they threaten to extinguish the pipe.
C-1 – Cune the Apothecary: The PCs find the store shuttered. If it is still before dusk on the first day, Cune is inside, hurriedly packing his meager belongings, with the intent to flee during the night. The apothecary has learned of the prince’s death and suspects the real reason behind his demise.
If promised his freedom, he shares that he sold his entire supply of summoner’s gum to Captain Tibentius (A-3) at the House of the Red Silks (D-1).
If the PCs arrive after dusk, Cune has already fled, and is killed trying to flee the city. A search of the shop reveals a bill of sale to the House of the Red Silks (D-1).  
D-1 – House of Red Silks: The ladies of the House refuse to deal with the PCs unless heavily bribed. If the PCs attempt coercion, they are set upon by the towering eunuchs that defend the House. The mistress of the House, Dame Dama, knows that Captain Tibentius is holed up upstairs, awaiting a messenger. (In truth, he is awaiting payment for the death of the prince and for setting up the PCs).
Any violence alerts the Captain, causing him to flee the House. If the PCs manage to catch the Captain, he digs out his pipe even as he fights for his freedom. Taking one last hit of the summoner’s gum grants him the courage to declare his villainy (and summon a monstrous devil in the same breath): he and Akiret were hired to assassinate the prince and set-up the PCs.
If the PCs can keep the Captain alive long enough for him to make a public confession, they clear their names. The PCs have carried the day.
However, in order to discover why they were set-up, the adventures will have to press on to Level 2.


Harley thanks the World

More art at http://dougkovacs.com/ 

Friday night Goodman Games kicked off the Purple Planet Kickstarter. The goal was to raise funds allowing us to release the adventure as a box set, with content by amazing writers like Daniel J. Bishop, Tim Callahan, Edgar Johnson, and Terry Olson. 

At some point Saturday evening, it funded, and then stomped over the first stretch goal. Technically,  it wasn't quite a "One and Done," but it was very close. Props, guys. You made this happen in record time. 

What next? This is the part where a more savvy author would write, "Great job! But our work isn't done! Don't forget to share with your friends! There are $26k more in stretch goals to go!" 

But we have 28 days to tackle that. Rather, it seems more important to take a moment and just offer a heartfelt Thank You: 

To the folks that stepped up and dedicated their finite personal resources to a DCC kickstarter, thank you. I love that PP fires up your imagination. We will do our very best to live up to the promise of Doug's cover art.  Fortunately, I'm in the company of great writers and artists; we won't let you down. 

And for the folks that wanted to give, but weren't able to click that Pay Amazon button: Thank you for even looking at the KS. This post is really about you. 

I'm the guy that still hasn't backed Dyson Logos' Patreon project. Because, damn, if Dyson publishes a map on the wrong day of the month, and that $5 charge hits my account, I am screwed. 

Which is to say, I get it. I'm a janitor, a bus driver, an office monkey and a writer. And I'm thankful for every job I have because together they help me to feed and house the ones I love. I know what it means to hustle and fret every single month. That you took the time to look at the KS means the world to me. Together we'll keep digging at the dream, and someday I'll be able to afford to back all your Kickstarters, and - if they are any good - you can back mine. 

So to all of you - those that backed and those that didn't - I appreciate it. DCC fans are amazing. 

Dungeon Crawl Classics: Peril on the Purple Planet -- Kicktraq Mini


Thoughts on Free RPG Day

Free RPG Day is coming up June 21st, when gamers will drop into their favorite participating FLGS, pick up a free release from a host of participating publishers and hopefully noodle around the store, pick up some weird dice and maybe, just maybe, stave off the doom of the Brick & Mortar gaming store that has been prophesied since days of yore.

As with anything "free" or "rpg", questions come up. Rather than go mano a mano on some g+ thread, I'm internet pre-partying and getting my thoughts down early.

1. Every other publisher releases a PDF of their Free RPG Day release the same day! Where's yours?
I totally agree, it sucks to be a fan isolated from an FLGS, unable to pick up a release. My own FLGS is 4 hours away. 

The intent behind Free RPG Day is to give gamers a reason to visit their Brick & Mortar stores. That's why some publishers don't release the PDFs right away – to drive business to the store. Other publishers do release their PDFs right away, but I can't speak to the reasons behind their decisions.

2. My FLGS doesn't participate because they have to pay.
Yes, the FLGSs pay to participate. The event is free for the gamers, not the stores or the publishers. 
Here's why: 

The publishers produce books for free. But in-between the publisher and the gamer are the folks that coordinate, collect, and distribute all those books. Asking publishers to pay the authors, artists, editors, printer AND front the distribution expenses would sink a lot of folks. 

There's also an argument to be made for motivating game stores to leverage Free RPG Day to the best of their ability. If all the packages were simply sent out to every store that signed up, you could imagine some kits languishing in the storeroom under piles of packaging. But if a store has a material investment in FRPGD, then they have skin in the game, and you know they are going to do their best to promote the event. 

3. I own an FLGS, we participated, and no one showed up. 
The successful Free RPG Day events are the ones that see a lot of promotion in the store. They invite GMs to run games, throw hot dogs on the grill, and make it an event. They know that free stuff – alone – might not be enough of a draw. If you, as a business owner are going to invest finite resources into FRPGD, it makes sense to do your best to ensure the event is a success. The end goal for everyone involved is successful game store, and Free RPG Day is just a tool to be used towards that ends.

Edit courtesy Daniel Cisek:
" ... if you are going to participate as a consumer, please buy something at the store you visit. Don't just take the free stuff and run, stay, play a game and spend at least $5 in the store that cares enough about this hobby to participate."


Social Mapping for Judges-of-Little Brain

Continued thoughts from last night, when I asked the G+ RPG folks for recommendations on games that effectively manage social space / interactions the same way that our D&D-like games map physical "dungeon" spaces. I am not a game designer --- so please, brighter internet minds, point out my missteps and errors. 

A 10' x 10' corridor, running north and south. Contrary to what we've were told in the 3.x DMG this doesn't actually limit player choice:

    Player 1: Screw your railroad. I sit down on the floor.

    Player 2: I stab my friend who is sitting on the floor. Does that count as prone?  

    Player 3: I take out my quill and design a game that doesn't suck.

Creative players could go on forever, getting nowhere, just like in any urban / social adventure.  What dungeons DO make apparent are choices that yield results relevant to the adventure. Sometimes those choices are obvious (north or south) and sometimes they are hidden (the secret door concealed in the ceiling). 

Dungeons don't invest time in null choices. ("The corridor runs north to south? I try walking east.") That's left to the judge to adjudicate with common sense. ("You walk into a wall.") Same too, with PC-introduced relevant choices ("I use pass wall to open a passage to the room just west of us."); the judge is expected to be able generate an in-world response on the fly.

A social adventure could be mapped the same way. Judges don't need to know all the null choices, they just need to see the choices that yield relevant results. PCs can banter all night with the attractive, sexually-ambiguous, masked noble, and that's a legit choice, but --- like sitting down and writing graffiti on the dungeon wall --- it's not a choice that's relevant to the adventure. ("Your patroness, the Seer of Inculii will be assassinated on the full-moon. If you want her continued support do something about it.")

Combined with a timeline that tracks antagonist NPC actions, and I think you might have a technique for creating a dynamic social adventure that a judge could easily grok, while allowing for meaningful players decisions. Per +Zak Smith 's suggestion, a player handout would show images of everyone at the party; the judge's social map would trace lines between the NPCs with relevant information. You might have different maps as the timeline progressed and additional NPCs were sucked into whatever nefarious plot was in the offing, etc. 

Having typed this, it seems obvious, but maybe it can help another judge out there. I need to try running it, to see if it actually helps at the table.



Per +Zak Smith

I'm currently running (at home):

I'm currently running (online):
Aspirations to run episodic, drop-in urban thieves campaign. 

I would especially like to run:
Episodic, drop-in urban thieves campaign.

...but would also try:
Time is too precious right now. But in an alternate universe I'd love playing some 40k run by +Edgar Johnson or +Wayne Snyder .

I live in:
Colorado Rocky Mountains. 

2 or 3 well-known RPG products other people made that I like:
R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk. 

2 or 3 novels I like:
The Book the New Sun, Gene Wolfe. 
Neuromancer, Gibson. 

2 or 3 movies I like:
Ninja Scroll

Best place to find me on-line:

I will read almost anything on tabletop RPGs if it's:

I think dead orc babies are ( circle one: funny / problematic / ....well, ok, it's complicated because....)
Of the same consequence as cops and robbers in cops and robbers. 

Game I'm in are like 

Free RPG Content I made for DCC RPG is collected here.

You can buy RPG stuff I made about 
Call of Cthulhu 
D&D 1e /3e / 3.5 / 4e here

If you know anything about ancient cities it'd help me with a project I'm working on.

I talk about RPGs on G+ (social media site and/or RPG forum name) under the name Harley Stroh.


Harley Wins D&D

It gets lost in the hubbub ever since Gen Con moved to Indianapolis, but each year the folks of TSR get together in a bar in Lake Geneva to decide the year's "Game Wizard," aka the coveted "I Won D&D" award. The last few years I've been slighted (the 2012 award went to +Jon Marr for the video where his giggling daughter was crushed to death beneath the DCC corebook; the year before went to +Erik Jensen for when he DM'd the game where his son turned a town of ghosts into giraffes). 

But this year, I think I'm in the running. 

Submitted on my behalf by a fifth grader in one of my playtest groups: 

You should be able to click to enlarge. Here's the translation from the caption:

"The sad moment when you realize you wasted all your ammunition on the first monster."

So what might the judges infer about my game?  
-D&D is largely interchangeable with DCC. 
-Ammunition is finite. When you get a chance, flaming ammo is better. 
-It looks like orcs have roughly 12 hp.  
-Orcs have weak swords. 
-It's okay to kill PCs with hordes of enemies.

I may accomplish nothing else of note, but I helped a 5th grader get excited about D&D. I win. 


'cause gamers are awesome

I attended GenghisCon this weekend as a special guest of the Denver Gamers Association. The event doubled as the kickoff to the Goodman Games convention season, aka the 2013 World Tour. Huge shout out to +Justin Suzuki , +Andy Collier and the rest of the DGA crew for throwing a seriously awesome event. 

I ran three DCC games (playtests for future releases) Saturday and Sunday. Players got clever, I flipped them off (this is turning into a "thing") and intelligent play trumped devious design nearly every time. But that's par for the course; it wasn't until Sunday game that things got memorable.

Sunday morning games are usually your drop slot – when it is a 3-in-6 chance that no one shows and you get to go back to bed. But this morning's DCC gamers proved more determined than most and we sat 7 at a game intended for 6.

And guided by the light of Brother Leo and the twisted machinations of Manse the Black, the PCs dominated some DCC: 

Wendy kicking ass. She's playing a bar bar bar bar bear eee ann 

Child-demon-witches were slain; a universe egg was accidentally cracked opened; Mary the Barbarian killed the party's own wizard (later resurrected as a nascent god); a wicked army was routed by an incredibly determined barbarian, her lover and a thief; and the world's largest thaumaturgic circle succeeded in suckering away the PCs long enough for the bad guys to kidnap the slain-wizard-turned-godling. 

BUT, just as victory was in the PCs' grasp, fate's fell hand played its trump card: the gaming convention fire alarm ...

Fire trucks showed up, guys with hoses ushered us out. Game over. 

But this is where the smaller local con got to shine. Had we been at GenCon, it would have been lights out, thank you for your $5, please go to the next hotel. But not GenghisCon. No effing way. Instead we all grab our PCs, a fistful of dice and a battlemap and finish the game here:

Wendy's PC has now become a pillar of flame. She died.

... on the frickin' lawn cause gamers are just that awesome. Game on. 

+Doug Keester 's wizard, turned nascent god / blank moral slate takes the opportunity to indulge in the philosophy of "do what thou wilt", and decides that that is the whole of the law.  The Wizard transformes Mary the Barbarian into a screaming pillar of fire, deep freezes Merrick the Gambler, scorches someone else (Brother Leo, maybe?) and was well on his way to becoming Master of the Universe, until he was tackled off the top of the ziggurat by Bob the Unknown Warrior, landing at the bottom with ONE HIT POINT, only to be felled by a well-placed dart, hurled by Brother Leo. 

Cause yeah, we do this shit in our heads. And because gamers are awesome.

#DCCRPG #Genghiscon #DGA


First, let 'em Die

Repost, cause I'm an idiot:

This weekend I ran a DCC RPG game for two fourth graders and one dad. As mentioned on G+, my original thought was to not kill any of the PCs. Instead, at 0 HP they'd fall unconscious. Later, they'd be recovered by their comrades, and continue on.

After all, I wanted them to have "fun" right? I'm trying to create life-long gamers, here. 

Well meaning, but very, VERY ass-backwards. 

Fortunately the players' actions forced my hand:

  • Beset by a veritable tide of bristling black spiders, Zero the Dwarf leaped into their midst. The tide washed over him, the rest of the PCs bolted, and Zero was never seen again. 
  • Parlaying with brigands atop a cliff, Zero Mk II decided to break off negotiations with a magic missile cast at melee range. Zero lost initiative and the brigands charged, pitching Zero to his rocky doom some 50' below.
  • Deep beneath the brigand's ruined tower, Jazee the Slave opted to take a stand against a horde of oncoming brigands, with predictable results. 
Each time, the group took a five minute break and had a slice of pizza while I helped the player roll up a new character. (By the end of the session, he could do it solo.) 

The same player lost three characters during our session. Not once did his interest flag. The deaths weren't arbitrary or due to DM fiat – the player made his own decisions and they went poorly. As a result, he grew more focused and (slowly) more cautious with each new PC.

But what if, per my original plan, he had only blacked out, to be revived by his companions at the end of the scene? 

What a boring, trivial game – utterly devoid of player agency, consequence, or reward – that would have been. 

Instead, death was the great motivator. Remove death and what would we have had? Why even act at all? The results would all be the same. 

So, yeah. Thank you Zero, Zero Mk II, Jazee, and finally, Golgoth*. Lesson learned.

Want to convert kids into lifelong gamers? Kill them (rather, let them die) early and often. 


(*Even his names got better.) 


Rev. Dwayne Love

This weekend I'm leading a ceremony celebrating the union of two human lives. 

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared.

'course everything we've done up to this point has prepared us for this next moment. 

And there will be sweet pretty country acid house music all night long. 


... more thoughts when I get my shit together. 



I'd have to say it was a good day –

Today's schedule:

  • 6:30 Wake up, take Rusty "Demon Dog of Hirot" Jones out for coffee and a walk.
  •  9:00 Hit the skate park before the dark plague of unsupervised children on razor scooters show up. (Parents: Do yourself a favor and teach your children where it is okay to chill at a skatepark. Otherwise, two of us are coming home hurt.)
  • 11:00 Home for breakfast. 
  • Noon - 5pm. Work on development rewrites for the adventure with the giant brain.
  • 5:00 Take Rusty for another walk. 
  • 7:00 Walk downtown and take Ms. Handy out for my birthday dinner. 
All said, not too shabby. In fairness, minus dinner out, most Sundays will look like this. Some people might be bored with the routine, but for myself there is a great deal of contentment that comes when your plans for a "special" day matches up cleanly with what you do on average days.

Figure out what you want to do. Try your best to do it. 

So, my plan for tomorrow? 
  • 6:30 Wake up, take Rusty "Demon Dog of Hirot" Jones out for coffee and a walk.
  •  9:00 Hit the skate park before .......
And I didn't even have to use the AK,