Thursday, February 25, 2021

What Do Zines Cost? How Much Should I Charge?

Let's do a little math.

Say I have a 60 page zine to print. I want high quality - full color interior, heavier paper, heavier card stock for cover with a matte finish. In a quantity of 400, I could print on for $1,144.50 or $2.86 per zine. (BTW, with black and white interior you can print for half that or less.)

Now, I want to send them in a really nice, waterproof, colorful mailer. That's going to cost me anywhere from 6 to 32 cents a unit. (References here and here.) We'll go on the high end for this.

Shipping. In the US I can probably get this anywhere for under a $1. Abroad it will cost more, but still probably under $2. [I've just had someone quote me a much higher price for international shipping. Not sure what method they were using, but I could be wrong here.] I'm going to estimate this at $3. We are probably going to pass this on the customer anyway so that people pay amounts relative to where they are. But let's include it for fun.

[Edit. Did some research. The real determiner here is media mail vs. first class mail. The latter is limited to 16 ounces and your zine should definitely be under that weight. So first class is cheaper and faster, so those are the rates I mentioned above. Media mail is quite a bit more. If you were sending a whole bunch to one place, then media mail would be best. But for single issues to individuals, go first class.]

Most retailers make around 40% (at best), so I am going to set my profit at $4 per unit. I will make more where shipping is ≤ $3, but Kickstarter or Patreon or whatever is going to take a cut. Let's call that 15%, and let's factor in another 10% waste for replacement copies, promo copies, etc. 

To make $4 a zine, given all these factors, I would need to charge roughly $14 - printing, shipping materials, postage, waste, and distributor cuts. 

On 400 zines, my profit would be more than $1600. Let's say that I'm paying myself and any artists, editors, etc. $20 an hour. That is 80 hours of work. If I spend fewer hours, I make more per hour. From personal experience, 80 hours isn't that far off what it would take to do 60 page zine. It might take more. 

As my sales increase over 400, my profit increases, obviously. And it isn't even in scale because once I clear any payments to artists and such, it's all bills destined for my pocket (unless we are going splitzies on profit). 

So there you have it. You can shave these numbers down of course, but I didn't include your gas to the post office or stuffing envelopes. I also forgot the cost of mailing labels (though we can assume just a few cents per) or any business cards you want to toss in. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

My Current ZineQuest Buy List

 Set a budget, they said. Pace yourself, they said. Learn from past experiences, they said.

I never was any good at listening to things "they" said. These are the zine projects I have backed for ZineQuest3, mostly I have backed in physical form (in that respect I have learned from the past, because I am less likely to really read/enjoy a PDF). All italicized text is copied from each games KS page. For the ones you can still back, I've tried to make quick, digestible notes on each and why I backed them.

Still time to back these...

Kriegsmesser - game setting, written for Troika, low-no fantasy. I like Troika, I like Heironymous Bosch paintings. This doesn't have fantasy, but that could be added. Cool time period, nice previews, need old art.

The carriage coach is on fire and there’s no driver at the reins. It is the Long Sixteenth Century, somewhere in Europe, or a place much like it. Plague stalks the land, people are rioting against widespread corruption while a monetary crisis is making the rich richer and the poor poorer. 

Courier - solo game, original rules. I may regret this one. I'm a sucker for Roadside Picnic, the novel on which STALKER was based. Also sounds like Zelazny's Damnation Alley.

Deliver packages across a dangerous landscape while building your reputation and becoming a legend. System: . Inspired by some of my favorite games including Death Stranding, Fallout New Vegas, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and Mad Max; you play as a Courier. The job: transport goods from one location to another while avoiding delays, hazardous traps and anomalies, dangerous weather effects, and those who would steal your precious cargo. Courier is a solo RPG telling the story of your rise from a lowly single-bag-Courier all the way up to a Legendary Wasteland Deliverer. You will create your own company, logo, and style as you complete delivery jobs across the New North American continent. Along the way you will discover new contacts, jobs, charms, equipment and upgrades to your Courier Rig while growing your reputation as a reliable company.

SIEGE: Pocket Warfare - original rules set, macro/add-on game. I'm working on my own macro rules along these lines. Seems cool. Cheap to buy in.

A modular battle-defense system to fuse with your RPGs. SIEGE is my attempt at helping you build a better siege, or really any sort of major battle. I've hacked into the board game Pandemic to draw out a really simple system that exponentially increases the intricacy and tension of your combats while barely moving the needle when it comes to complexity. It's a big amount of bang with almost zero added prep and minimal math or note-taking. 

Crawler - system-agnostic campaign; back from 1 to 4 connected zines. The art! The concept! Also I loved the creator's personal note at the end. 

In a fantasy world where raw magic is extracted from the earth like a fossil fuel— unsustainably, dangerously,  and for the profit of billionaire death cultists—you are a member of the Black Shields: an order of anti-extractionist resistance fighters. The Shields aren't afraid to get their hands dirty. You've blown up a pipeline before, and you'd gladly do it again because you care about the future of your world. It's not a question of if raw magic will spill from pipelines and freighters to transform local wildlife into bloodthirsty abominations—it's a question of when.

The Void of Thrantar - 5e/OSR compatible campaign. I will probably regret this one. The art is not my style, but they had me at "Saturday morning cartoons of the 1980s."

Inspired in part by Saturday morning cartoons of the 1980s and with a nod to the work of artists like Frazetta and Moebius, this setting features twisted metal canyons, dinobirds, slimeords, owlbearian warriors, forgotten technomagic, alien beasts and more!

Before Fire - original rules, beer-and-pretzels rpg. I'm a sucker for prehistoric stupidity. A sucker, I tell you. I will regret buying this. Probably.

Before Fire is a comedy RPG designed for "pick up and play" one-shots. During a session, you and your friends take on the roles of Stone Age hunter-gatherers, sent on a great quest to save your tribe. Using your limited vocabulary and teamwork, you must triumph over such terrifying challenges as sabretooth tigers, stampeding herds of megafauna, and the 100% historically-accurate dinosaur riders.

Fresh from the Forge - OSE toolkit. This looks interesting. I'm a fan of d6 damage with a few tweaks, but most people like variable damage. Curious to see where they take this and I play OSE several times a week.

Combat is where heroes go to die. Whether it's a staple of your game or something you avoid, when it happens you'll need a weapon! Fresh From The Forge presents a collection of rules for weapons and combat that can be dropped into and used in any fantasy adventure game! The book doesn't aim to simulate all the intricacies of how weapons work. Armour has not been reworked to be more realistic. You won't find any intricate striking distance measures or precise weapon dimensions in this zine. The goal has been to prioritise something that meets the expectations of adventure game weaponry, while making all options equally valid. 

The Pamphlet of Pantheons - macro, workbook. I listen to James' podcast. He knows his stuff.

The gods, spirits and religions of a fantasy world should be a vital and exciting part of its culture. But how do you create a pantheon that feels rich and real without having to do a lot of time-consuming prep work? The Pamphlet of Pantheons is the lazy GM's solution to this problem: a workbook zine that helps you create a pantheon for your fantasy RPGs, focusing on the bits of the iceberg above the water -- the bits that your players are going to interact with. 

Microvania - hack of Microscope. I dig Microscope. I dig crawling through kaiju guts. This was probably a knee-jerk back. 

A print run of Microvania, a map-making and story-telling game that is a hack of Microscope. Microvania is a game about these kinds of stories, where individuals or small groups explore a dangerous world that becomes a character of itself. In video games, these are called “Metroidvanias,” after the two most influential series in the genre. A common feature of those games is backtracking, with the world recontextualized after unlocking a new item or ability, or in some cases just learning something new about how the world works. Microvania seeks to create an experience like those games, by prioritizing the structure and flow of the world, while allowing players to fill in as many details as they like, and making backtracking central to the game’s mechanics.

Wizard Funk 3 - OSR miscellany. I know Thaddeus and I've got WF1 and 2. I like the spirit of this zine and it's true DIY aesthetic.

My gaming buddies and I have put together a zine for the sheer enjoyment of it.  We love to play Old School RPGs.  Myself?  I was introduced to D&D back in 1981.  I loved the hobby then and love it even more today.   If you have seen Wizard Funk 1 and 2, then you will have a good idea about what you will get for your hard earned money in Wizard Funk 3.  If you love Old School Rules, then you should take a chance on this KS.  It's not much money and I've been able to deliver a satisfying product in the past.  Fight On brothers and sisters of the OSR!


Desert Moon of Karth - A space western sandbox on a tiny moon for Mothership RPG. Harvest the ossified corpses of coral beings and live forever. This one had a clear Mandalorian/Solo spaghetti western vibe. 

The Lighthouse At The Edge Of The Universe - A solo journalling game about running a lighthouse on the edge of the universe. I'm a sucker this year for solo games, but KS3 may knock that instinct out of me. There are so many! This one had a dream quality that I liked. 

Dethroners - Destroy this zine to battle a divine tyrant for control of the story in a stand-alone tabletop game of adventure and revolution. This one had a My Life with Master vibe that interested me.

Bloodheist - A tabletop RPG zine about desperate thieves and despicable vampires. 

Realms of Peril - A classic fantasy adventure game designed for West Marches campaigns, with a focus on old-school, fiction-focused gameplay. 

Colostle - A solo RPG. Discover a world of mountains, valleys, seas and cities, all within the colossal impossible structure of a castle's rooms and corridors. See Lighthouse comments above.

Harrowings #03: MUSPELHELLA Heavy Metal Dwarven Dungeon Adventure to Steal your Soul! Powered by Old School Essentials! OSE, strong flavor, neat aesthetic, I'm in.

Dodeca RPG - Dodeca is a d12 based old school style role-playing game with narrative character creation and world building. 

The Many Crypts of Lady Ingrade - a series of short, deadly adventures. Crypts created out of her hatred of tomb raiding adventurers. A product from Tim Shorts/Gothridge Manor. I know he will deliver and it will have good stuff in it. Also great art; nice to see Sholtis involved - who also does quality stuff.

Menagerie of the VoidGuide ancient, unreasonable machines to preserve a strange assortment of alien beings. A #ZineQuest single-player game. Another solo game, and I like the theme. 

The Vaults of Torment: Blood is Fuel - A Sick Dungeon for Mörk Borg. Like most MB stuff, this one sells itself on an aesthetic. I may have gotten suckered, but I know there will be some good ideas in here.

The Drain - A level-0 funnel adventure through an occult battlefield for the Mothership Sci-Fi Horror RPG. I have Mothership but haven't played it. This might be a good place to start. 

Lowlife - old-school tunnel warfare zine. Stuff to learn from this one I think about how to flavor up/run dungeon crawls better. 

In the Shadow of Tower Silveraxe - A classic fantasy roleplaying adventure zine for Old School Essentials or other OSR rulesets. OSE based, cool art. 

Planar Compass Issue 2 - Traverse the astral sea discovering bizarre opportunities and dangers in the second issue of this Old-School Essentials zine! Bought this on the strength of issue 1 and on the promised content (ship rules, especially).


Saturday, February 20, 2021

Oe Read Through: Part 6 -- D&D Volume IV: Greyhawk

I both love and hate this book. 

As the first "supplement" to the original D&D it did a lot of things to the game I don't love. It introduced complex multi-classing. (Though the fighter-mu elf was around in vol 1, we now have multiple species/class configurations and even three way splits like fighter/magic-user/cleric.) It brought in the half-elf. It introduced the thief and percentile rolls. It suggested the idea of chaotic player characters and parties prone to back-stabbing each other over treasure. It introduced variable weapon damage and monster damage. (Most people would say this is a good thing, but I've come to love the simplicity of d6 damage.) In general it just added more classes, more options, more spells, more ... and the rules complexity rises dramatically. This is where D&D became AD&D, honestly. 

So what about the stuff I love?

1. This is where some of the most iconic monsters were born. The rust monster, owl bear, displacer beast, beholder, umber hulks, blink dogs, carrion crawlers, gelatinous cubes, etc. 

2. This is also where Gygax introduced the metallic dragons and gave them a king to oppose the chromatic dragons and (also added in this volume) their five-headed queen. No names for these royal dragons are given in Greyhawk, BTW. That comes later.

3. This is where many of the iconic magic items were born, such as the Deck of Many Things. Some fo them were quite broken, but the level of creativity on display is really high!

4. The suggestions for changing up dungeons ... Gygax's inventiveness is really on display here. So many crazy ideas! "Room complexes with are all parts of a monster. The first room being the mouth, The next the stomach, and so forth." "A Troll with a magic spear riding a Purple Worm." "Skeletons who are able to hurl their finger joints as if they were magic arrows." "A seeming Golden Dragon which is actually mobile Yellow mold."

Ha. Great stuff. Lots of inspiration here.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The D&D Arms Race

This is a pretty funny meme, especially the "quote" at the bottom. (Not sure I've ever put air-quotes around the word quote before. Seems very meta.)

Funny as it is, from a more realistic standpoint it is clear that Gary was in an arms race with players from 1974-1980. Given that his players were constantly escalating their game and using (abusing?) magic items, some of the blame for "gotcha" monsters has to go on Gary's players as well. For every rust monster there's a player who loads up a mule with 10 shields and 20 flasks of oil.

You know about the module S1: The Tomb of Horrors, right? We've all seen this beautiful Erol Otus (no relation) image? I have to wonder why this was the back cover instead of the front!

Anyway, this dungeon has the reputation of being a stone cold killer (puns intended). But of course it's not an example of Gary writing a dungeon just to be mean. Or ... well ... it is, but you have to know the context. Gary wrote it specifically to test high level players. He wrote it for convention/tournament play (not to kill off long-lived beloved home-group characters) and he wrote it after his player's boasted they could handle anything AD&D had to throw at them. He did nothing to hide his mindset when planning/writing S1: "I admit to chuckling evilly as I did so." And he designed it specifically to challenge the likes of Rob Kuntz' Robilar and Ernie Gygax's Tenser, characters that had been around, literally, longer than D&D had been in print. 

All of this is to make a point I think we all already knew, but popular, revisionist thinking likes to paint Gygax as a mean-spirited character killer and an autocratic GM. He was some of that, but his players were murder hobos. And it's a chicken-and-egg argument as to which came first or if either cared. I don't hear those players going around crying about Gary being too tough or unfairly wiping out their favorite PCs. Which means all of the reactive games designed around a "non-adversarial" approach to D&D, good as they are, were either solutions in search of a problem and/or set up Gygax and Oe play as a straw make themselves look good. Phah, I say! 

If you go looking for advice from Gary about how to kill PCs or make their lives hell, you will find it. If you go looking for words from Gary about their being only one way to play D&D (his way), you'll find them. But the opposite is also true. I can easily go find places where Gary suggests alternative challenges that are less likely to kill characters and places where he told you to make it up and have fun rather than writing to him for answers. (Both of the ones I'm thinking of right now, by the way, were in volume III of original D&D).

[In case this is starting to sound like a "get off my lawn" rant, please understand that my intended tone is an equal mix of laughing over some of the craziness in early D&D and some of the craziness in modern thinking about early D&D. I don't take this stuff too seriously, but I worry that the jokes and characterization of early play are somewhat misleading. So, I'm also trying to make a point, which is...]

Have your fun, but be careful how you characterize play from the 70s and 80s if you weren't there or haven't done your research. And maybe don't be so hasty to discount adversarial style play if it is conducted in a spirit of fun and fairness. Not all players want to walk trough a heroic story of their own invention or the GM's. Some want to explore, face challenges, and fully experience the outcome of their choices (rather than having them molded back into some predetermined course of events).

Friday, February 12, 2021

Quick Dungeon - The Cellars of Mad Vortigern

I made a quick dungeon (maybe took 30 minutes?) using the method described in this brilliant post: Adrenaline and Spark Tables Dungeon. In short, the method imagines a dungeon as something with a theme, dressing, and rooms - and rooms as having a type with an active and passive element. You make tables for these things. Here are mine, and I will tell you that all of the skill (at least for me) was in making these tables and I could definitely get better at it. These worked, but after making one dungeon I understand better how to make the next tables.

Title: (first thing that came to my head) The Cellars of Mad Vortigern

Theme: Failed Experiments

Dressing: suggestive goo, magic wards/seals, timers (didn't use this, switched it to tiles and light), building materials (I was originally thinking more "Rube Goldberg" machines)

d4 Room Types (set)

  1. Encounter - something is happening in the room
  2. Hazard - a dangerous area, probably a trap
  3. Travel - one way forward is assumed, a travel room adds choices/passages, often hidden
  4. Treasure - not easy, quick, and/or safe to acquire
d6 Active Elements
  1. Mutants
  2. Machines
  3. Seals
  4. Wild Growth
  5. Toxicity
  6. Cage
d8 Passive Elements
  1. Pooled
  2. Charged
  3. Explosive
  4. Feral
  5. Sterile/Dead
  6. Slanted
  7. Interwoven/complex
  8. Sweet
Here is the result - don't bother trying to read my notes, I included a key below. The ideas kind of took on a life of their own as I detailed the rooms. I ABSOLUTELY used the tables, but as a jumping off point. A few new table/dressing words occurred to me as I wrote.

Upstairs - you find the body of Mad Vortigern. He is slumped over his desk, on which is a kind of logbook with watering schedules, measurements, strange arcane formulae, etc. Sketches of strange flowers, and in one instance something that looks more humanoid (but definitely isn't human) make your skin crawl. Vortigern's body is covered in ulcers. If cut open his body is filled with a fibrous material and cysts/pods instead of organs. (It should definitely be burned!)

The overall feel of the dungeon -- er, cellar complex -- is brightly lit (magic), glazed tiles, crumbling.

Room 1 - This room is at the bottom of a set of stairs leading to the house "cellar." Upon touching the bottom step, magic, flickering white light issues from a square in the ceiling. (I'm imagining ever-burning torches in a recess with leaded glass panes below them?) This room is covered in red tendrils like veins or thin plant roots. A sickly sweet smell hangs in the air. If PCs dally or lean against the walls, tendrils will try to attach to them and drink blood. Pulling away makes a terrible "velcro" sound. This isn't a significant threat unless someone passes out here - just a hint of things to come. There is a hidden tunnel behind the thickest mass of tendrils, It is a tunnel leading to room 3, but you would need to burn it out or hack through it to travel the distance.

Room 2 - This is a disinfecting room. Brightly lit, glazed blue tiles, odd pipes/nozzles along either side. The floor tiles contain pressure plates that will spray the characters with acid. The acid degrades nonmagical metal; Amor loses one step of functionality (e.g. Plate to Chain). With care, PCs could move against the wall and not trigger the spray.

Room 3 - As soon as PCs open the door, they will se a giant pitcher plant. They may indeed hear "sucking" noises before opening the door. The giant plant is in the process of devouring something. All that is left is a kind of goo, but it has an eyeball in it and maybe a hand? The red root tendrils clearly come from this thing and they fill half of this room as well. The other half is filled with tables, pots (many broken), sacks of dirt... There's a door at the other end.

Room 4 - This is a room of doors, six of them in fact. Three are closed and sealed with wax as well as arcane marks drawn in grease pencil. There is an ozone smell in the room and a soft humming (the wards are leaking). 

Room 5 - (sealed) This is a green slime breeding vat. It is dark, light only coming from 4. A vat in the center of the room holds spores that have fallen from the ceiling above. It looks like bodies might have been thrown into the pit to feed the slime. Might even be some treasure down there, stuff the bodies were wearing, but one might also presume they were stripped first. Occasionally a soft squelching or a popping sound from the pit.

Room 6 - (sealed) A naked human (?) is chained to the opposite wall. It is nearly starved to death. It's body is small and weak, especially compared to its giant bald head and large eyes. The room is unlit. Dried feces, bad smells, and all the other yucky stuff you might imagine from someone imprisoned without care for a few days. The human is harmless, but he has been altered. His touch negates magic (magic items get a save). 

Room 7 - (sealed) A second 'seal' on this room is a blue, floor to ceiling, interwoven vine. Behind it are treasure chests and barrels. This is Vortigern's vault (might even be inventoried in his logbook). The plant is charged with electricity (like a vegetable version of an electric eel). If touched with skin or metal ... Zzzzzt. 

Room 8 - There is a crazy machine in here. It hums away. A bed of dirt grows wiggling mandrakes. As PCs watch, one pulls itself free of the dirt and wanders around. On one side is a pit, and when the mandrake falls into it there is a sharp clipping sound and a horrible scream. The head rolls into a basket that is half full of heads already. The rest is ground in a chipper shredder thing and sprayed back out onto the growing mandrakes. Something like that. Add details to suit. Do the heads do anything? The fresh one will probably try to bite anyone reaching in. 

Room 9 - This room is full of dead tree-like plants in giant pots. There is a giant stick bug or chameleon in here. It is hungry. Probably came in through room 10. 

Room 10 - This room has a bedroll and chest with some meager personal treasures in it. A crumbling wall leads out to a small cave near a babbling brook, the entrance well hidden behind trees. There's an 80% chance a rogue is here. He wandered in from the outside, looking for a hideout. But the place has twisted him. He is part mushroom man and has grown huge. It's hard for him to go out of the tunnel even, but he stays here, preferring the dark. Is he violent? I dunno. He's moody. Roll reaction, he will either attack, cower, or ask for help. 

General - most things are potentially infectious. A lot of stuff might be valuable to the right buyers. 

Oe Read Through: Part 5 -- D&D Volume III (Continued): The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures


Page numbers reference the Premium editions unless otherwise noted.

What is this?

I am reading my way through original Dungeons & Dragons, having started with the 1972 printing (2nd edition) of Chainmail, and specifically the fantasy chapter therein. I have no agenda or desire to be thorough; I'm literally just commenting on things I find interesting; hopefully you will find them interesting too.

Hex Maps

One of the age old questions is "What is the perfect size for a wilderness hex?" It's right up there with "Pointy-top hex or flat-top hex?" (Aside, I have done several polls on this and a clear majority prefer flat-topped.) Gygax's original preferred scale was "the greatest distance across a hex is about 5 miles." That being said, in 1975 he published an article suggesting a 1-mile hex, so the above comment might have been specific to the Outdoor Survival board (see previous post). 


Gygax goes so far as to include encounter tables for Deserts/Arid Plains that represent Barsoom, with Red/Black/Yellow/White Martians, Tharks, Apts, Banths, Thoats, Calots, White Apes, Orluks, Sith, Darseen. This adds to numerous references to make ERB's Mars series, arguably, the most referenced work in D&D. Even more than Tolkien (despite references to hobbits, balrogs, and such). Clearly Gygax was intentional about this inclusion. Under Other Worlds, Gygax says "Mars is given in these rules, but some other fantastic world or setting could be equally possible" (24).

Mass Battles

Gygax still leans on Chainmail in Oe for resolving mass combat and prefers miniatures on a field of 4' x 4' minimum and ideally 6' x 6' (25). But he notes that one could use paper counters and a hexagon or staggered-square board. I've been thinking a lot about how one might add mass battles on a reasonably sized hex map to Old School Essentials and have been working on some rules for that. Stay tuned? Anyway, Gygax covers command and control, naval battles, etc. All in frustratingly erratic detail, to be sure, but enough to perhaps get people going. 


This is one of the most important paragraphs in the whole series, to my thinking, and it is the final paragraph as its section title indicates. The Afterword. Gary's final thought (emphasis added by me):

"There are unquestionably areas which have been glossed over. While we deeply regret the necessity, space requires that we put in the essentials only, and the trimming will often have to be added by the referee and his players. We have attempted to furnish an ample framework, and building should be both easy and fun. In this light, we urge you to refrain from writing for rule interpretations or the like unless you are absolutely at a loss, for everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way! On the other hand, we are not loath to answer your questions, but why have us do any more of your imagining for you? Write to us and tell about your additions, ideas, and what have you. We could always do with a bit of improvement in our refereeing" (36).

This is pretty clearly a different Gygax than we see a few years later, as he is issuing the AD&D books. After a few years of answering rules questions and commenting (disparagingly) on others' interpretations, he tried to tighten down and codify D&D in a way that some feel killed the spirit of openness in the game. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Oe Read Through: Part 4 -- D&D Volume III: The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures


Page numbers reference the Premium editions unless otherwise noted.

What is this?

I am reading my way through original Dungeons & Dragons, having started with the 1972 printing (2nd edition) of Chainmail, and specifically the fantasy chapter therein. I have no agenda or desire to be thorough; I'm literally just commenting on things I find interesting; hopefully you will find them interesting too.

Prepping Dungeons

EGG crosses himself a bit in the introduction to Vol 3 where he says you should "construct at least three levels" of your dungeon before play. In Vol 1 he says that in preparation for the campaign "the referee must draw out a minimum of half a dozen maps of the levels of his 'underworld.'"

Check out the level of mapper-paranoia in his sample dungeon level. Holy cow. Slanting passages (with no purpose other than to confuse mappers), rotating rooms, one-way and two-way teleporters... 


1. Note stairs down lead through blind passages and return to circular room with wedge-shaped divisions. Unless secret door is located this area will lead nowhere.

2. This is a simple room-labyrinth, generally leading nowhere, but “A” would be a room containing a monster and treasure, i.e. let us say “4 ogres with 2,000 G.P. and 1 magic potion.”

3. This area simply illustrates the use of slanting passages to help prevent players from accurately mapping a level (exact deviation from cardinal points is quite difficult for them to ascertain).

4. No matter which way west players move they will end up turning into the lair of the monster “B,” let us suppose a basilisk. There is a false door in the second passage north. The tunnel to the east contains a trap, “C,” a slide to a lower level which is disguised as a set of up stairs.

5. The combinations here are really vicious, and unless you’re out to get your play- ers it is not suggested for actual use. Passage south “D” is a slanting corridor which will take them at least one level deeper, and if the slope is gentle even dwarves won’t recognize it. Room “E” is a transporter, two ways, to just about anywhere the referee likes, including the center of the earth or the moon. The passage south containing “F” is a one-way transporter, and the poor dupes will never realize it unless a very large party (over 50’ in length) is entering it. (This is sure-fire fits for map makers among participants.)

6. Again, here are a couple of fun items to throw at players. “G” is a shifting sec- tion of wall, with a secret die roll to determine which way it will go: 1 = N., 2 = E., 3 = S., 4 = W., and 5 & 6 it stays put! Such a section will possibly close one of the four corridors, possibly blocking access to/from the trapdoor located in the room 20’ square located in the northwest. Point “H” is a two-way secret door. On an odd die result, let us suppose, it opens on a room to the west. Oth- erwise it opens on a passage south. The same trick can be used with staircases, having them go up or down at random.

7. This is the nexus for a modular section which will revolve at random periods. Although the passages north, south, etc. will always remain the same, the areas 10’ × 20’ beyond will be different at various times. Again, this will frustrate those setting out to map a level. All round rooms must not be nexuses. However, the circular structure in example 1. could, with a bit of alteration, be made into one, as could any room of any shape, providing the modules were properly designed so as to rotate around it.

8. Note the pit (X) at the four-way intersection containing a secret door on its south surface. A small tunnel will lead discoverers to the room containing mon- ster “I” . . . a true troll or two perhaps. The western portion contains the room of some evil man, complete with two secret doors for handy escape. There is also a flight of stairs leading down. Falling into the pit would typically cause damage if a 1 or a 2 were rolled. Otherwise, it would only mean about one turn of time to clamber out, providing the character had spikes or associates to pull him out, and providing the pit wasn’t one with a snap-shut door and the victim was alone. (5)

To be fair, on the next page he describes using tricks like this instead of deadly traps (30' drop, or spiked pit) because they mess with characters but don't kill them. He talks about both a threat of death and survivability being necessary things to balance. 

I don't know about you, but I might rather my character fall into a pit and die than endlessly wander around these passages "to nowhere." 

I do like his emphasis on verticality: chutes, slopes, etc. that take you up or down. I like this thought. Too many modern dungeons are linear because they don't provide enough of these level jump-offs. I suspect it's also because his dungeons were re-used many times, so players needed a way to navigate down quickly.

Also worth noting, I don't think he cared about player knowledge. If your character learned something but died, you probably played your next character with the dead one's knowledge. OTOH, the GM probably changed the location of the stairs. 

Needs More Dogs

FYI. I have noted before the absence of the war hound in the equipment list of OSE. It's also not in Oe. I believe the first time it appears is in AD&D, where you can buy a hunting or guard dog. (You can also buy a cow or a pigeon, among other livestock, if you want.) This comment isn't related to where I'm at in Oe. It just occurred to me to hunt this down for some reason. It's possible an expanded equipment list appears in one of the Oe supplements I haven't read yet.

Soap Poisoning

Check out this paragraph, especially the last sentence. Seriously? I recruit a monster and it loses infravision. Cough ... bullshit ... cough. 

"In the underworld some light source or an infravision spell must be used. Torches, lanterns and magic swords will illuminate the way, but they also allow monsters to “see” the users so that monsters will never be surprised unless coming through a door. Also, torches can be blown out by a strong gust of wind. Monsters are assumed to have permanent infravision as long as they are not serving some character" (9)

Populating Dungeons

"As a general rule there will be far more uninhabited space on a level than there will be space occupied by monsters, human or otherwise. [...] It is a good idea to thoughtfully place several of the most important treasures, with or without monstrous guardians, and then switch to a random determination for the balance of the level. [...] Roll the die for every room or space not already allocated. A roll of a 1 or 2 indicates that there is some monster there. [...] Roll again for every room and space. A roll of 1–3 in those rooms or spaces with monsters in them indicates some form of treasure is present. A roll of 1 in a room or space which is unoccupied indicates that there is some form of treasure there" (6-7).

This placement advice is something I have seen from EGG many times. Also the notion of empty space within a dungeon. More modern modules rarely have more empty space than uninhabited space, let alone "far more." Why? Empty space is boring. And if we are concerned with realism, then why do monsters lose infravision when you recruit them?

Correction. Empty space can be boring. It takes more work to make it interesting. But then, is it really empty? Is a rotating room that is empty the same as an empty room? (Is that a Zen koan?) 

Oe is Combat-Centric? Nah

The Example of Play completely glosses over a combat with the words...

"(Here a check for surprise is made, melee conducted, and so on)" (13). 

The example, about two pages long, is largely about exploration and only the GM rolls - except, we assume, during the not-described combat. Also, he simply tells the party that the boots they found are "Elven-type" (indicating they are magic without the need for research or an Identify spell - which doesn't exist in Oe anyway).

Avalon Hill - Outdoor Survival

I love this bit of appropriation. I mean, could a game publisher use this tactic now? I'm sure AH didn't mind because it sold more copies of Outdoor Survival.

"OUTDOOR SURVIVAL has a playing board perfect for general adventures. Catch basins are castles, buildings are towns, and the balance of the terrain is as indicated."

I didn't really think much of the Outdoor Survival map until I made the substitutions Gary suggested. 

Castles in red, towns in blue. That's a LOT of castles. I would maybe back that off to 50% or less. But it completely changes the scale of the map. Before, the buildings were literally hunting lodges. And the catch-basins are small lakes/ponds. I guess that's Blackmoor off to the left, in the swamp. LOL. Pretty cool idea, actually, to repurpose a nice hex map (15).

To Be Continued