Fort Grant and the Arizona Territory

The novel starts out with a framing device of John Carter's tomb and ERB himself inheriting his property and manuscript of the strange story. I'm not sure how well that fits into an adventure. Maybe it will be worth it to illustrate Carter's home and tomb and tie it into the adventure. But I'd prefer to start with Arizona.

The first map is the Ft. Grant area of the Arizona territory in the late 1800's. Edgar Rice Burroughs was stationed there (really) for 10 months and had some adventures like hunting the notorious Apache Kid. Billy the Kid was also active in the era a couple decades earlier, so it gives some historical context. This was the time of cattle rustlers, outlaws, Apache raids, and prospectors still mining for gold.

To adapt the novel it seemed a good idea to start the adventure out as a western, like the book does. This could be a good intro for players who know nothing of the ERB Mars books as it can seem like a traditional old west game that escalates into a weird martian adventure.

Players create characters as gunfighters, gamblers, scouts, pony soldiers, etc. All basic Fighting Men. It wouldn't be too hard to lure them to the cave. Stories of gold. Chasing a bounty. Investigating the weird-acting priest of the local missionary, who is actually a Thurn in disguise, who keeps visiting the cave.

I have more thoughts on the cave for the next post.

An interesting detail is that the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope is near that area. This could make for some interesting tie ins with strange technology and the Vatican's awareness of it. Maybe that interests me because I've read some fascinating conspiratorial theories about the telescope there, it also happens to be on a place considered sacred by the natives.

Discuss your thoughts and ideas here:


Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Apache Kid

Map of Fort Grant area

The Adventures of Captain Carter and the Princess of Mars

From time to time the Disney John Carter movie pops up in a conversation and I get to thinking about how it was bungled. Their marketing department said we can't call it a Princess of Mars because boys won't go see a movie with princess in the title, and girls won't go see a movie with Mars in the title.


A Princess of Mars is a perfectly good and catchy title. But, if we're going to play this game let's find a title that can have some legs to it. Something you can really turn into a franchise. Because clearly John Carter is a terrible title.

If I'd been head of marketing my proposal would have been The Adventures of Captain Carter and the Princess of Mars. Hey, it works for Indiana Jones.

Speaking of A Princess of Mars, lets convert the novel into an OSR adventure!

We do have a politically correct problem here though. Because what exactly is he a captain of? Yeah, a confederate officer. Uh, oh. At the time ERB wrote Under the Moons of Mars it was a generation whose parents, or grandparents, had fought in the Civil War. They didn't see the losers of that war as the reprehensible monsters we do today. They were soldiers who fought with honor. And if you listen to any interviews with the actual soldiers it's pretty clear they didn't really understand that they were fighting to protect a wealthy slave-owning class. They thought they were defending their home states. Fortunately you can go to YouTube and search for civil war soldier interview and hear them for yourselves.

This is the start of a design diary for converting A Princess of Mars into a Warriors of the Red Planet adventure.

I started this project years ago as a sort of high level concept back in October of 2017. Since then it has been on the back burner slowly simmering, as many of my projects do. This is a period of research and development where reference and ideas are collected. Then development really heats up when it becomes my current project.

You might notice a little sidebar of projects here in development, and this Princess of Mars adventure is the next up.

The first step was writing a detailed outline of the book. Figuring out all the locations so rough maps can be drawn and areas fleshed out. The biggest question was whether or not Captain Carter is going to be in the adventure. This is a huge decision I may leave up to the GM. The worst thing would be for John Carter to drive the adventure and the players to just tag along. They need to have the starring role. So my solution is to create a timeline of events and situations, then leave it up to the players what to do as these things happen.

There is a bookend device in the book with Captain Carter's 'death' and his tomb, and his adventures gold mining in Arizona and encountering hostile native Americans. This will be in the adventure, just not required. The players may just start on Barsoom as natives, or possibly Jasoomians somehow on Barsoom. I think these details will need to be up to the GM and players, but the information will be provided.

I've been working on this adventure for Warriors of the Red Planet for some time, but now it has moved to the forefront of my OSR projects and design work is heating up.

Would anyone be interested in me posting a regular design diary here?

Here is how I've broken the adventure down:

1. Introduction and Background
2. Adapting this novel to an adventure
3. Chapter by Chapter of the novel with summaries of each
4. Roster of all the major characters
5. Maps of all the locations
6. Appendices
7. Bibliography
8. OGL

The first challenge was making it for a party of adventurers instead of one man. And whether or not John Carter is a character in the adventure, and if he is how to not have him overshadow the party actions.

Also, taking a sandbox approach to each location. Starting with Arizona white mountains region, Fort Grant, Apache camps, and The Cave.

So this is the kick off. Your thoughts are welcome.

Hero Forge

Hero Forge is an online tool for creating your own miniatures to be used in your favorite RPG, boardgame, or war game.

Using this tool I created a classic adventuring party: Dwarf fighter, Elf Sorceress, Halfling Burglar, and a Human Paladin.

The tools comprise of pre-made parts: body types like female elf or dwarf male. Helmet, armor, weapon. And you can use a pre-made pose or adjust the pose yourself. Which is what I chose to do. It has quite a large selection and you can create some really unique characters. The materials are limited you can get plastic, steel, or bronze. They come in a solid color. There are also a good selection of bases to choose from such as a skull, a 6-sided die, a disk, and so on.

I found the tool to be quite user friendly. While I do have quite a bit of experience at 3d modeling, I don't think it required any special knowledge.

While I went for the fantasy set it also has some other genres like sci-fi, though with a much more limited set of options for those.

The figures took a while to arrive, about 6 weeks, part of that may be the disruption in the supply chain with the current situation. Also they are pretty expensive when compared to off-the-shelf figures you can get at your local game store, starting at $19.99US for basic plastic. The scale looks a bit larger than typical 28mm figures. They are nicely detailed and pretty sharp and come with a coat of primer. the sprues have been removed though you might want to do a little extra sanding on rough edges. If you look carefully under a magnifying glass you can see the lines from the 3d printing. The printing is done by Shapeways which is probably the largest consumer supplier of 3d printed objects.

Old School Stat Blocks

One of those (too many) projects that have been simmering on the back burner in the Dungeoneering test kitchen are Encounter Cards. A deck of cards to go with the Beasties books would make it easier for the DM to use during play. One of the challenges is condensing the information into a usable stat block. A perusal of various formats in the early books and modules shows little conformity or standardization. Here are a few gleaned from LBB and others:

Book 2 Monsters & Treasure: (#APP, AC, Move, HD, % in Lair, Treasure Type)

Greyhawk/Blackmoor: (#APP, AC, Move, HD, # Att, Damage, % in Lair, Treasure Type)

Monster & Treasure Assortment Set 1-3: (#APP, HP, #AT, Attack Level, AC, Saving Throw, Special Abilities, Treasure)

Village of Hommlet original cover (HP, AC, HD, Move, #ATT)

Descent into the Depths original cover (AC, Move, HD, #Att, Damage, Size)

Holmes Basic (Move, HD, AC, Treasure Type, Align, Attacks, Damage)

And its not like any of these were actually standardized. Much of the time all they cared about was Hit Points and what Treasure they might have.

Here are some later ones. This is a 2nd edition stat block from Dungeon magazine:

 Not bad, all the important info in a logical order, clearly laid out.

Then there is this dumpster fire of a stat block from 3rd edition from Dungeon magazine:

And this isn't even one of the really bad ones. No wonder players started getting frustrated with 3rd edition and all the clutter that accumulated. I don't think 4th edition made it any better.

With this info, here is a Stat Block boiled down for ease of use and essential information. The front of the card, as you can see, would be a full color illustration of a Beastie, and a description card that would come with the deck.

What do you think? Does this work for you?

Frigid Sietch of Jilanger the Arid Trickster

In the outer reaches of the Arouka desert, Jilanger the notorious outlaw and trickster occupies a hidden sietch with his band of marauders.

A bookmark adventure for 2-5 players of 4th-6th level.


Making of:

Patrons receive a high resolution PDF of this, and an actual bookmark.

Converting the OD&D Alternate Combat system to d20

d20 assumes a simple progression of +1 bonus to hit for each HD. I was wondering how well that lined up with the original D&D TO HIT table. It's not quite that simple.

Looking at the Alternate Combat system (the top chart in gray) in the Original Men & Magic book the table is relatively smooth except in a few spots where it jumps. Between 2-3 and 3-4 hit dice the number needed to hit reduces by two. This also happens from 6-8 to 9-10 hit dice. We can take that as is and directly convert it to an ascending Armor Class combat system with a bonus to hit on d20. This is indicated in blue.

However with some tweaks we can smooth out those jumps a bit by spreading out 5 & 6 and then grouping 7-8 and moving 9 hit dice down to its own column.

I think these adjustments remain very true to the original To Hit chart while smoothly adapting it to an ascending Armor Class system.

The blue chart is useful for converting OD&D to d20 as well. For example a 4HD monster might be better as a 3HD monster in d20/5e.

Here are a couple other To Hit tables from early DnD that ever so slightly smooths out this progression by delineating the overlap a little more clearly, like separating 3 from 3+. From the Holmes "Blue Book" basic:

And this classic from the indispensable, hugely useful, Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets which appears to be identical to that in OD&D, just expanded.

A Wood Grain Box Set

For quite some time I've had these original D&D booklets that had no box. I won them in a lot a while back, and didn't really know what to do with them. It is very hard to find a 6"x9"x2" lidded box like the ones the original game came in. I know, I've been searching for years for the perfect box. There was even a Kickstarter a while back with very similar boxes. Those boxes looked really nice but didn't quite have the exact dimensions I was looking for.

So I made my own.

Since I've been researching the graphics and fonts of the original edition for my OSR games I had much of the layout already designed. The tricky part was creating the perfect wood grain texture, getting a clean scan of the cover illustration, and a good scan of the Gygax/Kaye logo.

With some detective work the pieces came together. For the logo I remembered that the Warriors of Mars cover is white and has that logo, it was the ideal specimen to scan.

The weirdest part is how uneven the kerning (space between letters), leading (space between lines), and the width of the characters were. But that is part of the charm. Amateurs putting together these little boxed sets and igniting a revolution in gaming. I had to hand manipulate almost every line, word, and character to get as close as possible. The end result is pretty dang close. An expert might spot it right away (for example the Book 1 has the newer art), but it looks really nice. Even though it is a faux box it is surprisingly satisfying to have it on the shelf!

With all the research and time it took to make this it may be obvious that I have further plans. For some time now I've wanted to make deluxe boxed sets of my OSR games. This is the first step.

Glacial Rift Arctic Map Pack

In the previous post announcing the release of the first Adventure Bot module: Abandoned Glacial Rift of Blurut of the Crepuscular Claw I mentioned how the scope of the project kept getting bigger and that was part of the nearly year long delay in getting it done. I gathered some of those bits and pieces and put them together into their own fully colored deluxe Paper Figure and Map set.

It is full of arctic themed Map Tiles for use to create dioramas on the tabletop and to visual combat and the adventuring environment.

  • Arctic Dungeon Geomorphs in 8 basic shapes.
  • Three (3) 11"x17" snow and ice covered battlemaps.
  • Full Color paper figurines of northern barbarians, yetis, polar bears, sabertoothed tigers, trees, ruins and more.
  • Keyed and Unkeyed Dungeon and Wilderness maps.

Useful stand alone for an arctic themed setting, or for use with the Abandoned Glacial Rift of Blurut of the Crepuscular Claw adventure.

Abandoned Glacial Rift of Blurut of the Crepuscular Claw FINALLY

I wrote Adventure Bot over a year ago. It is a Twitter bot that randomly generates a name for an adventure and posts it once per hour. It has come up with some colorful and interesting adventure ideas. There are some real gems in there like:

Scourge of the Castle of Rotar the Enchanted Lamia 
Unhallowed Church of Agit and the Timeless Lich 
Sunless Abyss of Zex the Maleficent Prophet 

It is a pretty fun little bot to see the results from. I've made Bookmark Adventures of some of them in the past, and plan to do a lot more in the coming months.

The first adventure I was going to develop had the mouthful of a name: Abandoned Glacial Rift of Blurut of the Crepuscular Claw. This adventure has been in writing and development hell for over a year, slowly being picked on and added to. The scope of it kept blowing up into something huge, it took some discipline to focus on a manageable size so that it could actually get published. Finally, with the help of David Pulver doing some last minute editing work, the adventure is available.

It has a bonus section that includes Paper Figures to be used in the adventure.

If you like it let me know, and I'll make more adventures like this.

Available here on Drive-Thru. Patrons get a free copy.

5th Edition Character Creation Needs Reorganization

Thanks to Stranger Things my daughters want to play D&D. We've tried out classic with B2 Keep on the Borderlands, which went ok.

Then they got the Stranger Things box set which uses 5th edition. I could write a whole review on that product. It's a pretty good introduction to 5th edition, but NOT a good Stranger Things game. Overall disappointing.

So that got us into 5th edition. We've tried a few times to make characters and each time it is a grueling and labor intensive process. The organization and steps are just not smooth at all. Especially confusing to young players. I took to finding some good simplified step-by-step summaries online and found a few, including some pretty good character sheets, but none of them really satisfy the need to quickly and clearly create characters. I mean really you should be able to generate a character in 15 minutes. Instead it seems to take an entire gaming session.

This is one of the better ones I've found:

I'm thinking of writing up my own character creation quick start pamphlet. I'm finding things I like about 5th edition, some of the mechanics like advantage/disadvantage dice, inspiration, proficiency, and saving throws work pretty well. But character creation isn't one of them.

Dungeoneer Deluxe: Upgrading and Updating Dungeoneer

Dungeoneer is over 15 years old, and almost from the time it was published I was already redesigning it. The game was quite well received but always fell into that "cult hit" category. It sold well enough to stay in print, but never quite gangbuster numbers. I always felt it was a pretty strong game with unfortunate production short comings.

The game should have come with dice and tokens. It is really silly that it didn't. I was a naive young designer and was just happy it was published. It deserved so much more. Still, it is a lot of fun to play and any gamer has dice and tokens around they could use to play the game when they got a deck.

There was another thing, the rulebook was never fantastic. It was overly written and hard to understand. They say a designer shouldn't write their own rulebook and that's true! I got a lot of help from Atlas Games who did the best they could with what I gave them. Part of the problem though wasn't the rulebook, it was that there was genuine kludgy-ness to the game. Unnecessary complications, that had a purpose when the game was designed but really could and should have been streamlined.

Dungeoneer Deluxe.
This is my redesign of Dungeoneer from the ground up. Yet, somehow it is exactly the same game with all the kludgyness gone. It is streamlined, fun, competitive, finely balanced and more tactical. The game I was trying to design in the first place. Also, it has all the components needed in the box! I even designed some special dice that makes combat lightning fast and easy to play even for younger gamers.

Also, my art skills have improved (I think) and I've made some great new art for it!

I'm posting this now because I have a prototype that I'm bringing to Protospiels around local game conventions and events. If you are in the San Francisco bay area and go to Dundracon or Kublacon you can check it out, play it, and tell me what you think.

Review of a TSR Classic: Gods Demigods & Heroes

I'm working on a new video series on how Norse Mythology has been handled in tabletop RPG's over the years, starting with the original Gods, Demigods & Heroes by TSR Rules.

John Carter Art by Rafael Kayanan

I learned a lot about the tortured journey of John Carter from the books to film when doing research for the Warriors of the Red Planet roleplaying game.

There were several attempts to bring John Carter to film going all the way back to Bob Clampett's attempts in 1936 with an animated version. I think prior to the advent of CGI it would have been impossible to satisfactorily portray the fantastic imagination of Edgar Rice Burroughs and his wondrous and weird Barsoom, so animation would have been the best option. Disney made a fun little Mars & Beyond show back in the 50's that had a snippet of Barsoom. Then there is this terrific fan made animation that shows more imagination and faithfulness to the book than the recent live action film.

The John Carter live action movie was enjoyable, certainly better than the unfair reviews claimed, but it missed many opportunities. They did have great artists working on the concepts and I love the Art Of book. But in an earlier iteration there was a concept artist who I felt really nailed the energy and exotic flavor of the books. Rafael Kayanan. Here are a sample of some of the concepts he did.

Now some of you might be saying "but he drew John and Dejah with clothes on! The books say they are butt naked!!". Ok, ok, but you know we are never going to get butt naked John and Dejah on film except maybe on PornHub. Still, these are some kick-ass concepts.

You can see more of Rafael Kayanan's Barsoom concepts here.

How Many Barsoomian Mars RPG's Are There?

Fans of Edgar Rice Burrough's classic Mars novels (barely novella length by today's standards) have it good these days with several high quality fan made and official Barsoom inspired RPG's. This wasn't so until somewhat recently.

Before Warriors of the Red Planet the only Burrough's RPG material was few and far between, there was the ill-fated Warriors of Mars by TSR that was quickly squashed by the Burrough's estate. Which wasn't really an RPG, it was a miniatures war game. There were a few other wargames with some RPGish elements like John Carter Warlord of Mars and John Carter Warlord of Mars ... yeah, really and they came out a year apart. But the influence of ERB and his incredible imagination could be felt all across the world of tabletop gaming.

Recently Polyhdral Nonsense compiled a good list of current Barsoomian RPGs with some addendum by commentators here:

Polyhedral Nonsense

btw. While looking up the links for this post I stumbled across my old review of the Disney John Carter movie, which I gave pretty positive marks. I stand by that review, especially when compared to what they've done with Star Wars since then.