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



Long Overdue Update

Gosh, has it really been over three months since my last post?

Well, suffice to say that things have been somewhat hectic. I started a new job on April 1st and my work schedule has changed radically, so I usually get home extremely tired and not thinking about blogging. But I will hopefully get back to posting stuff soon once I get a little more available time.

Holy s%#@!!! We're nominated!!!

Holy s%#@!!! We're nominated!!!

But there's a big reason to celebrate! Darklight Interactive's A Night In Seyvoth Manor has been nominated in the "Best Free Product" category of the 2013 ENnie Awards!!! I admit I was counting the days 'til the nominations were released and was worried that I was building myself up for disappointment but, alas, there it is. So fingers crossed and let's see if we can win the thing, eh?

As for my development efforts, it's been somewhat of a mixed bag. I'd been working on Return of the Crystal Scion but I've become slightly disillusioned by it. As it stands now it has some areas that I'm rather proud of, but there are some monumental plot holes that I've been having a hard time filling. As a result, I have suspended further development on it. My intention is to take the larger parts of it - the Tomb of Iryk-Tep, the Sarafi tribe and their Caves of Wonder, The Obsidian Tower, etc. - and release those in some sort of side trek format. I also intend to release some parts that are simply too small for publication, such as my Sky Kraken creature for Pathfinder, here on this blog. So stay tuned for all that.

But recently I've been drawn back to my original campaign, The Coming Dark. I had already created it for D&D 4th Edition and it clocked in at close to 200 pages, but I now had issues with its initial design. You see, it was the first thing I'd ever done with D&D 4E - or with high end campaign design, for that matter - and it was somewhat "railroady". In a nutshell, I didn't like it one bit; I had a story in my head, but in my efforts to translate it to the game it just wasn't working.

So I've started a full redesign of it for use in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game system. I'm changing quite a lot of it, using the Pathfinder design style which allows me to be much more flexible in what I can do. I'm not bound by the 4E balance, or the 4E GSL for that matter. It will be distributed in three parts, each part containing three chapters (or acts... haven't decided). And I feel it's a lot, lot better now so we'll see how it goes.

I also have Revenge of the Kobolds still sitting on my hard drive waiting for me to do something with it. It still lacks art so I'm hesitant to publish it as is, but as days pass I'm getting tired of holding it back. One of these days I'll just say "the hell with it" and unleash it on the world... when that day comes, I hope you enjoy it.

Finally, I kinda said I wasn't going to do it but I'm creating another small adventure (5 encounters) for D&D 4th Edition called A Festival of Magic, which is a proposal I pitched to WotC but they apparently didn't like (they never answered me, but still). I'm going to do an experiment with this one: once I complete and release the 4E version my plan is to convert this to as many other systems as possible. Pathfinder... 13th Age... DCC... Dungeon World... AGE... etc... Figure it's worth a shot trying that once.

Anyway, I'm still around so hopefully I'll get back to posting often.


The Kobolds are Coming!

OK, so maybe my cover needs a little work...

OK, so maybe my cover needs a little work...

Today I decided to try and get Revenge of the Kobolds finally out the door. It's been sitting on my drive for some time, and I think it's time it get some air and some feedback on whether the mechanic I put together actually works.

Here is the intro:

     For as long as you can remember, you have been victims. Even after reducing the senseless attacks on nearby villages and trying to lead a peaceful, isolated life they still came. Every few weeks another group of “heroes” would barge in to your lair just because it was there, and they would not hesitate to try and kill everyone in sight and take all the precious things you’ve struggled to collect. Sometimes your clan was able to beat them back, but other times you simply weren’t so lucky. When your clan is going on their ninth chieftain in the last six months, you know you have a problem.

     Most of the time you and your group of warriors were there to try and fight them, and sometimes you managed to kill one or two of them before having to inevitably retreat, but now it’s different. It’s as if they waited for you - the clan’s latest and most highly trained protectors - to leave on a routine scouting trip so they can waltz in and ravage your lair. The ninth chieftain and the remainder of your clan didn’t stand a chance this time.

     Enough is enough! Your clan may have been decimated (again) and your latest leader may be dead, but there is no way you are going to let these paltry “heroes” get away with it this time. It’s time to go in there to take your lair back, and show these gutless intruders what a proud, fearless kobold is truly capable of!


     Revenge of the Kobolds is a Dungeon and Dragons™ 4th Edition “challenge” adventure designed for between four and six 1st level characters. This adventure is designed similar in concept to the Lair Assault series of mini-adventures published by Wizards of the Coast. It is designed to be used within a single game session with characters specifically made for this challenge.

In this adventure the players are all kobolds who return to their lair only to find it occupied by “heroes”. They must reclaim their home by killing every intruder they find.

I would have published it already but it lacks art. Not for the PDF that is... I don't have any art for the listing on Drive thru RPG. So I'm going to spend a day and see what I (or someone else that's willing) can come up with.

As promised here, I intend to also release this product FOR FREE here and on Drive Thru RPG.

Once I get this out of the way, I can focus entirely on Return of the Crystal Scion (for Pathfinder) and an extra-special secret project that I'm hoping to complete for early April.

Stay tuned... The kobolds are coming in a matter of days!


As Seen In Dragon Magazine…

Yesterday the Table of Contents for Dragon Magazine #421 was finally published, and it contains somewhat of a surprise: my co-authored article is finally going to see the light of day!

...and I don't quite know how I feel about that now.

The article was written over a year ago (my source file has the "last updated" date of 1/9/2012, but the approval for the article occured as early as November 2011), and quite honestly I've changed a lot since then. In retrospect, I don't quite know how I feel about the article in question; it's been a long time, and my design style has changed considerably in the past year. There are parts of it I'm not all that thrilled about, but I admit I've felt that way about everything I've ever published so I assume that's just the write in me panicking about the quality of everything I type.

For starters, if it's the bio I think I wrote it's really... and I mean really... weak. To be honest, I had a harder time writing the bio than I did the rest of the article. For those of you that haven't tried it before, it's actually fairly difficult to describe oneself without getting all preachy and while trying to maintain a little bit of humor. When asked to do it for this submission I kind of panicked and didn't know what the hell to say, so I wrote who I was and even mentioned my own company (Darklight Interactive). At this point I'd be surprised if WotC even published a reference to my own company (they did, after all, C&D me at one point).

Secondly, I've never had to fill out an art request before. In the past I always had a certain level of faith in artists in the same way as people have faith in me as a programmer. I never expected to have to go in to vivid detail on exactly what I wanted for art; I figured I'd give them a general idea and let the artist use their own creativity to come up with something that fits. Rather than tell them "draw me XXX", I had to go in to vivid detail of the scene I would have liked to see... Even going as far as capitalizing key words that I thought important ("... ELEMENTAL CHAOS ... MOLTEN LAVA ... THIN WINGS ... SHARP CLAWS ..."). If a client of mine went in to that level of detail when asking for a program I'm supposed to write, and even went as far as capitalizing keywords like that, I'd probably tell him to stuff it.

Finally, and I've said this many a time before, I suck at writing lore. I can create monster stat blocks until I'm blue in the face and can work on crunch text for weeks on end, but I now had to come up with lore background for the article. Luckily I was told up front that the article was going to be co-authored (at the time I didn't know who the other author was), so I prayed that the other author would be much better than I in terms of introducing the article and providing the necessary top level background lore.

But, regardless of that, I still needed to write the lore for the parts of the article I did write. So off I went to do research... After several hours of searching I managed to dig out the original Fiend Folio out of storage and I even spent a stupid amount of money to buy the UK5: Eye of the Serpent adventure module on eBay because that's where some of the creatures were introduced.I even dug out the D&D 3.5E Monster Manual and the Pathfinder Bestiary to ensure I had every bit of information I needed to do this right.

Why go through all this effort? Well, there's a big difference in creating something from scratch and creating something that has thirty years of history; I wasn't about to create something that the die hard D&D historians will immediately identify as being flat out wrong.

I was worried. Part of me created the stat blocks with the absurd amount of detail I normally put in to doing such a thing, but I was still concerned that these new creations of mine would not fit in to the established history of the creatures. In addition to the history across multiple editions, I had another concern: these creatures had already introduced in 4th Edition in an article by Logan Bonner. They were familiars then, but even if they weren't represented in the same style as previous editions they were still considered existing 4th Edition canon - they are in the DDI Compendium - so I technically couldn't create anything that went against that either.

It took me over a month to write the article. Actually, let me be more specific on that: it took me a few weeks to build up the courage to write the article, then spent a few days writing, then spend another few weeks staring at it and thinking "is this really good enough?" It was my first article to be published in Dragon/Dungeon, so I was nervous as hell. I think I even had my wife hit the "Send" button in the end because if not it'd still be sitting in my "Drafts" folder waiting to go out.

But regardless of all that, there it is... my name as an author on the Wizards of the Coast website. It's not a stellar, earth-shattering article I admit, but it is a personal accomplishment. Technically, I can now add "published in Dragon Magazine" on my resume. That's got to count for something, right?

Hopefully now I'll get the chance to fulfill another bucket list item of mine: getting my article errata-ed by WotC!


A Night in Seyvoth Manor

So thanks to some really useful feedback from my editors, I have decided to release A Night in Seyvoth Manor for Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition!

And, like I promised, I'm releasing it ABSOLUTELY FREE!

Here's the intro...
Haunted Mansion

Few people in the village of Ravenshire spoke of the manor atop the hill to the north, and even fewer dared approach it. After the horrific events that happened there so many years ago many believe the mansion and the estate grounds to be cursed, haunted by the restless dead, and some of the village residents could swear they have seen movement and lights coming from the seemingly abandoned mansion.

Throughout the years the village has had its share of disappearances; most of them had been blamed on the harsh environment of the surrounding forest and the natural dangers of the world we live in, but recent evidence leads to the doorstep of the Seyvoth estate. And when two young women – Jessi and Lyssa Hawthorne, daughters of a village elder – go missing,  the village immediately sent out search parties in to the surrounding area. Two separate groups of scouts passed through the iron gate at the entrance to the estate… and have never returned.

Now a local mystic warns of the danger looming in Seyvoth manor, how the daughters will soon be led towards the darkness and turn against the village they once called home. Are you brave enough to step through the gates and seek out the missing scouts and rescue the two women in distress? Are you willing to unravel the mysteries of the Seyvoth estate, even if it means risking your own life?

A Night in Seyvoth Manor is a Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition adventure for a party of 6th level characters. It is intended to be played in a single session, and it is very much inspired by "fourthcore" but with kind of a different tone.

I still need to piece together the tactical maps in to a usable format; for now I'm just including an archive that contains the raw map JPEGs in 100 DPI format. Eventually, time permitting, I'll slice them up nicely in to a PDF.

I never got around to playtesting this the way I would have liked, so if you have any feedback regarding it I'd love to hear about it. Beyond that, I hope you enjoy this.

If this is well received, I will start working on a Pathfinder version almost immediately.

Anyway, here are the links. I really do hope you enjoy this.

A Night in Seyvoth Manor (4E) at Drive Thru RPG


Addendum: For those of you that may have issues with Drive Thru RPG, here is the "complete" download which includes the module itself, supplemental materials and tactical maps. Although I do have to say this: I would much rather you use the link above and get it through Drive Thru RPG because it's easier to track the numbers on it, it'll get you added to my mailing list for future products (if you are so inclined) and it places less of a burden on my poor server.

Thank you for your support.

A Night in Seyvoth Manor (4E), Complete download (37.7Mb)


The Needs of the Many

Sometimes I think I make a really bad business owner.

I admit that I don't do all this adventure design for the money. Heck, I can't imagine anyone doing this sort of thing for the money. Unless you somehow manage to have a multi-million dollar Kickstarter campaign, it's a hard industry to make a profit in.

And sometimes that makes little sense to those outside the industry. Take my wife for instance... "why haven't you created a game and made millions yet?" It just doesn't work that way, dear. I can't just whip up a multi-million dollar game - especially a video game, which both my wife and son seem to think can be whipped up in a weekend by a 25-year programmer such as myself - and expect it to make me stinking rich.

But I think I realize the problem with this industry: we, us happy few that create,  enjoy it too much. We aren't motivated by financial gain or a windfall as our products sell millions. We are motivated by the simple fact of enjoying what we do, sharing our creations with the public. I've said this many a times before: I could spend months, maybe years (I spent two years on The Opera, so I've been there) creating something... If I manage to get *one* person to enjoy it, it's all been worthwhile in my mind. With that mentality, no wonder we can't retire as soon as we'd like.

Another problem is self worth, trying to put a price on something we create. Look at my DriveThruRPG page... Comparatively speaking, my stuff is dirt cheap. Why? Because I haven't a clue how much it would actually be worth. And I have a hard time upping the price because (1) it would deny the product from getting in the hands of people, and (2) it feels like I'm price gouging. Since I don't have an accountant breathing down my neck trying to figure out how to make the next payroll, I can accept selling stuff so cheap.

So here I am, staring at the products on my DriveThryRPG page, troubled but not decimated at the fact that I haven't sold one in a month, wondering what to do with them. I want everyone on the planet to see what I've done, but it makes zero business sense to just give it away, right? Some of this stuff might not sell ever again, only to have it disappear in to obscurity. That to me is more unsettling than anything else... I don't care if I don't make a profit, but it's personally important to me that people know who I am and what I do.

At the end of last year one of the most well known sites in the RPG industry, ENWorld, was hacked and pretty much decimated. It's taken a painstaking amount of effort for those to run the site to get it back to what it once was, and they have decided to turn to the wonder of Kickstarter to fund the re-establishing of the system and creation of new tech to empower the site.

So I figured... If my products serve no purpose sitting idle on DriveThruRPG, maybe they can help someone.

So I'm happy to announce that I am now a stretch goal for the ENWorld Kickstarter. If the listing manages to reach 11K in the next 25 days, everyone who contributed $25 or more will get every single product Darklight Interactive has published so far FOR FREE.

If anyone in the community needs help, it's these guys. They have an awesome site and provide an invaluable service to the community.

In the meantime, I'll keep doing what I do. It might not be a cash cow of a hobby, but I could live with that.