Sunday, April 30, 2023

Zine Review: Black Pudding Heavy Helping vol. 1

cover to Black Pudding Heavy Helping 
©️J.V. West
: James V. West w/ various contributors
Publisher: Self-published
System: Labyrinth Lord / Doomslakers (OSR compatible)
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG 

 Black Pudding Heavy Helping vol. 1 is a collection of the first four issues of the Black Pudding zine edited and mostly written by James V. West.

Black Pudding is a series of cartoonishly illustrated light-hearted material for B/X Dungeons & Dragons clones, such as Labyrinth Lord, Old School Essentials. It includes lavishly illustrated character sheets for a broad range of OSR games, character classes, monsters, magic spells and spell books, magic items, and dungeon adventures. It even includes West's house rules sets which altogether make an entire OSR clone, Doomslakers.

Collecting the first four volumes of Black Pudding gives you substantial book, it weighs in at 127 pages of nothing but content.

Black Pudding doesn't take Dungeons & Dragons too seriously. Most of the content is lighthearted, silly, or exaggeratedly over the top in Saturday morning cartoons meets heavy metal kind of way. And well the compiled additions give you an entire osr role-playing game, the content is perfectly compatible with Labyrinth Lord and similar B/X clones. It is material that is ideal when you want to play a game no you don't want hard feelings as your characters are crushed by the meat grinder. And where you want a laugh at over the top crazy scenarios.

What I Loved

Character Sheets

One of many awesome Character Sheets
From Black Pudding ©️ J.V. West
I have been using James West's character sheet designs for years now. Ever since I first discovered them by Googling "OSR character sheet." I love the wild cartoony borders, weird layouts, and frenetic energy that they inspire. Whenever my son is playing a game with me, I made sure he has one of those sheets, because they capture the imagination. They are exactly what I wish I could have done with my character sheets when I was a teenager.

The sheets include specific ones for single saving throw games like Swords & Wizardry and the OSR clone in Black Pudding. It also has level zero sheets for Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, and character sheets both with and without spaces for race for use with either AD&D or B/X clones.

Pulpy Classes

I don't like every class in Black Pudding, but the good ones easily outnumber the bad. My favorites of the classes are the ones that really tap into the pulp fiction inspirational materials for Dungeons & Dragons. I would be very happy to run a campaign full of black knights, chainmail chicks, shield maidens, wardens, blind guardians, and sinewy barbarians. They each feel fun and well-designed. They're just a mechanically a little tougher than the base B/X D&D classes to enhance the puply feel, but are far from superheroic.

I also appreciated the classes that pastiche some of my favorite '90s subcultures. There's a witch that is most clearly borrowed from the culture around Wicca in the 90s, and the Raven Heart, and almost perfectly typed black magic wielding goth girl. It is like seeing my high school clique expressed as D&D characters.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Review: The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg

The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg
Cover Art by Ken Fletcher
: Greg Svenny, Griffith Morgan,  & D.H. Boggs
Publisher: The Fellowship of the Thing Ltd.
Game Engine: OSR Compatible 
Marketplace: Limited Kickstarter Release

 Back when he was researching the movie the secrets of Blackmoor, Griffith Morgan was lucky enough to interview a number of the players and DMs who ran the first handful of Dungeon crawling campaigns from the Twin Cities wargaming clubs. During his interview with David Megarry, Megarry Presented him with a mystery dungeon map. While it was clearly not the work of Dave Arneson, it had the signature sharp angles and broad hallways of the early Twin Cities dungeon maps. As the Fellowship of the Thing team did more research on the mystery map, they discovered that it was in fact the map of the dungeon beneath the Castle of Tonisborg by Greg Svenson.

This dungeon had been used during an early play test of Dungeons & Dragons, and may well have been the 2nd dungeon crawl created after Arneson's Blackmoor. The island and city of Tonis were even canonically a part of Arneson's world of Blackmoor. 

The dungeon itself was thought to be lost: its creator, Greg's Svenson, had lost the original dungeon map and notes when a cleaning lady had assumed that they were wastepaper and tossed them out. He had forgotten that he had given a Photocopy to Megarry (who had moved away) months earlier. This was in a box along with some of the original playtest materials for the game that would be later released as Dungeons & Dragons.

When the Secrets of Blackmoor was kickstarted, a limited series of ornately-bound books in ethically sourced paper were offered as one of the higher-tier backer rewards. Only around four hundred of the books were made as a collector's curiosity.

A few months ago I got into a Twitter conversation with Griffith Morgan about the book, and how I wished that there was a commercially available copy. It looks like an amazing text, but collectors were already reselling at $300+.I asked him if it was possible to have a paperback version made, a sentiment that was echoed by a number of other RPG commentators on Twitter.

In the fall, of 2022, the Fellowship of the Thing production company Kickstarted a limited-run paperback version listed as The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg, and as I led the charge of OSR bloggers,  designers, and commentators  in requesting the book be made, I would be a complete asshole if I didn't review it.

And I got a hell of a lot more than I expected.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Why Some Games Need to be Silly


I had a flash of insight last night after my oldest son had a bad night last night. My son, who sits somewhere on the autism spectrum, has a hard time regulating feelings. He has outbursts when confronted with negative emotions, especially when it comes to competition and losing.

In a bid to teach him sportsmanship,  and expose  to competing, winning, and losing until he has effective strategies to handle it, I have been playing Pokémon TCG Online with him a couple of matches per day.

It has been an uphill battle. Her number of reasons. Some of them are very relevant to understanding TTRPGs, and why some styles of play are more suited for particular types of people than others.

See, my son has been on a winning streak. My first round draw of cards in Pokémon TCG has been consistently abysmal.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Diving Back into the Eternal Ocean

I have added another 30 monsters to Dragonette this weekend all the ones listed at the end of this article.) I am feeling far more satisfied with the project.

Last night after my Sunday gaming group, I decided to sit down and work on The Depths of the Eternal Ocean for the first time in awhile. In retrospect, I am amazed at how much I bit off when I started to design this game.

The planet Rusalka has millions of years of history,  hundreds of adventure sites, interdimensional influences,  multiple alien intelligences, and a lot of mysteries... most of which are only hinted at in the Eternal Ocean setting book. Most of the heavy lifting for the game is going to be done in the third Campaign book, The Depths of the Eternal Ocean

Oddly, this is the least important book from the perspective of most GMs. The first book, Wreck, is a self-contained TTRPG for exploring Ocean Planets. It's the only one you'd need to play the game I'm envisioning.

Eternal Ocean sets up a detailed set of worlds that the PCs might hail from, with enough culture to make the setting interesting. Then it sets up Planet Rusalka, a setting for adventure ideal to use with Wreck. It has factions, political tension, mysteries, and natural hazards - all presented purely in fiction, without mechanics. It is, in essence, a book of creative prompts. With this book, players can make their own PCs, and the GM can make their own Planet Rusalka based on the ideas presented in the  book.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Let's Build an RPG (pt. 4)

 Creating a good RPG is a long, ongoing process. What I managed to make when I started Dragonette was playable within 20 minutes. Making it presentable to the world has taken considerably longer.

Still Polishing

What I put out last week was perfectly playable. In fact, I've gotten some good reviews and a lot of great feedback from people on it. But, it is far from something I'm satisfied with. Since it's initial release I've created an alphabetical index and a table of contents.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Let's Build an RPG! (pt.3)

"Tom’s father begs Merlin the magician
to give his wife a child" 
by Leslie Brooke (1922)
 About a month ago, my youngest son asked to play an RPG with him like he sees me do with his brother.  My first inclination,  after years of gaming with my oldest, and trying Kid-oriented Fantasy RPGs such as Hero Kids, First Fable, and No Thank You,  Evil! was not to reach for a system at all, but to break out my diceless FKR-style system, Square Dungeon.  

Rules constrain and distract. They can become a sticking point for new and young players especially.  The whole point of a good TTRPG is to facilitate a game of narrative exploration and creative problem-solving. If you are too caught up on what The dice mechanics cover, and looking for the solution to all of your problems on the character sheet, your game is failing you.

The Best System is a Minimal System

Thus, the best game for a new player is the one that is not much more than a task resolution system and a fail state.

Rules otherwise serve mostly to enforce a consistent set of constraints to make play more complex and challenging,  and to help express the limitations and possibilities of the game world. The rules of Dungeons & Dragons,  for example create a world in which magic works a certain very simple way, in which combat has a certain level of peril, and resources have to be managed in specific ways. This makes the game both more challenging to play, and helps create a  certain kind of Fantasy world more effectively. 

Thus, when working with kids this young you can let the rules slide, and focus purely on the fundamentals of game-play. Then work your way up to D&D,. Then onward to other systems as the player advances and needs more challenges and variety.

Sunday, April 9, 2023


 I will post a proper part 3 to my series about building a TTRPG on the fly. For now, however, I am happy to announce that a draft version of Dragonette is free to download on DriveThruRPG... after a few late nights of furious typing.

Get it Here and See an end result after it went from a Brainstorm to a 58-page TTRPG in a month.

Dragonette on DTRPG