Pyromaniac Press 2018 Review

Big Year For Pyromaniac Press

2018 was the biggest year yet for Pyromaniac Press.

In addition to continuing our What Lies Beyond Reason adventure Path, we advanced the Rex Draconis venture, stepped up our game on DMsGuild (with both personal and collaborative projects), partnered with Objective Secured for the SHO convention and produced an Adventurer’s League CCC, which then went on to feature at PAX Australia.

On a personal level, I feel I have advanced my skills as an author/designer, and I have cultivated improved relationships with my fellow creators, the latter having an enormous impact on the former.

 

TL:DR – 2018 in summary

January – woke up on January 1 with a partnership (with Phil Beckwith) license to produce the TTRPG for Rex Draconis a Richard Knaak world.

AprilTemple of the Opal Goddess selected by Travis Legge and MT Black for the Dungeon Tales 1 compilation (Electrum Bestseller).

May – released the 4th adventure – Sanitarium – for my epic fantasy/horror adventure path “What Lies Beyond Reason” on DrivethruRPG in both 5e and Pathfinder rules.

June – Released Faiths of the Forgotten Realms with Scott Bean and Alex Clippinger (Gold Bestseller and close to Platinum).

July – Contributed a dungeon for Storm King’s Barrows collaboration headed by Christian Eichhorn (Silver Bestseller).

September – Wrote and premiered an Adventurers League CCC Trouble Under Winton (later released for sale) for a Perth Convention called SHO. I also ran the RPG floor for the Con with the assistance of some amazing DMs (kudos all!).

SeptemberRex Draconis RPG for 5e and Pathfinder successfully funds on Kickstarter. Scheduled for April 2019 release (June for hardcopy).

October – Contributed a couple of archetypes to The Faithful of Eberron collaboration headed by Alex Clippinger (Electrum Bestseller)

October – took my CCC to PAX Australia where I was honoured that a number of DMs ran it over the weekend. Just before the convention I released it for sale on DMsGuild (Copper Bestseller).

November – curated Undermountain: The Lost Chambers collaboration with just an amazing group of people (Electrum Bestseller).

December – released Undermountain: The Lost Lore with my original partner in crime Dante Cifaldi (Copper Bestseller).

December 31 – released the 5th adventure – Seeking Silver – for my epic fantasy/horror adventure path “What Lies Beyond Reason” on DrivethruRPG in both 5e and Pathfinder rules.

 

Hitting the Highlights

Taking the Next Step

It’s a little self serving – bordering on arrogant – to comment on my own achievements as I see them, particularly when we talk about displaying or internalising traits, but this year I gathered my courage and took a big step – the largest one since actually starting Pyromaniac Press.

It is a risky proposition to double down and reach further when you already have paid work commitments and deadlines to achieve. It’s risky for 2 reasons. First, you OWE supporters/clients already, and taking on more jeopardises your reputation if you fail to meet those obligations, and secondly, taking on more work means, well, more work, and the pressure and possibility of burnout mounts. You either have to know your capacity or take a leap of faith. I’m too new at this for the former, so it had to be the latter. It is a dangerous gamble. So why did I do it?

At a certain point if you want to grow, both as a creator and as a brand, you need to start taking those risks, produce content (that succeeds or fails) and push out of your comfort zone. You need to network, and you need to promote yourself. And you need to be able to recognise rare opportunities and take them before they vanish.

The first of those opportunities was Faiths of the Forgotten Realms, which I technically signed on to in late 2017. It was at the initial wave of mass collaborations of the guild. Prior to this a few authors had teamed up in small groups, and the massive Monsters of the Guild project (an opportunity I foolishly passed on) brought more than 50 authors together to produce a huge bestiary book. Fresh off the back of that Scott Bean suggested another mass project of Paladin Oaths – one for each of the 48 primary gods of the Forgotten Realms setting. A dozen or more authors signed on and we got to talking. The project grew, as we decided it really should include Cleric Domains too. The project got too big. Authors began to drop out quickly, and soon it was just Scott, Alex Clippinger and myself, staring at a mammoth project that by rights we probably just should have dropped. I only wanted to be a small contributor. I did NOT want to be on the hook for a full third of a book that we needed to produce over 100 archetypes for! But I’d signed on and it was important to me to keep my word. Plus by this stage I was really invested. Scott and Alex were equally invested (or crazy) so we set to work. 9 months later we produced Faiths of the Forgotten Realms. It was widely praised, resulted in several podcast features and interviews and was my first major success as a single product. To date it’s just a few sales shy of 1000, and the coveted Platinum bestseller badge. More important than the success of the final product was the opportunity and lessons learned from a long term, genuine collaboration with two outstanding creators. The three of us helped, critiqued, edited, pushed, supported and inspired each other throughout the process. No single archetype went untouched by all three of us in some measure. I learned a hell of a lot, including when to compromise, when to stand my ground, and when to trash a concept that simply isn’t going to work no matter how invested in it you are. This process was invaluable to my growth as a content creator.

The second of these – also technically conceived of in 2017 – was the opportunity to work on the Rex Draconis RPG. Phil Beckwith, a very accomplished creator already, had reached out to an author he admired – Richard A Knaak – to contribute to an adventure he had created that was inspired by some of Richard’s works. Resulting from this was the idea to turn Richard’s new novel setting into a TTRPG. The setting was in its infancy, barely more than a shell, it’s details coming out in Richard’s current and future planned writing. Phil contacted me and asked if I’d like to be involved. Again a pivotal moment had arrived. I was already overcommitted, but the chance to work with a legendary author (seriously, look up Richard’s back catalogue – his influence on fantasy – particularly Dragonlance, World of Warcraft, Diablo – is undeniable) to not only write in his world, but actually contribute to the creation of a living, breathing setting was a once-in-a-life-time gift. Ideally this setting would develop as we go, and the RPG material would parallel and reflect the evolution of the novels. Regardless of the commercial success of failure of the TTRPG experiment, I knew it would be a unique experience I’ll likely not be fortunate enough to relive. And so, the licence coming into effect on January 1 2018, Phil and I set to work. A year in we are still at it, so I can’t comment on the outcomes, but again the collaborative process has taught me a great deal. Unsurprisingly different from the Faiths team, and yet in many ways similar, it has been an eye opening process receiving world updates from Richard, sneak peaks at upcoming novel material, and the painstaking process of trying to make a novel world match two sets of RPG rules that it was never narratively intended to adhere to. The Kickstarter successfully funded in September 2018, and the first products are due in April 2019. Things are currently on schedule (famous last words).

The third and final ‘next step’ requires me to jump ahead a little to mid 2018, where after being involved in several successful collaborations (more on that below) I decided that I would produce one instead of just contributing to one. The next step from self-publishing solo material and collaborating in other’s projects was to manage a collaborative project of my own. By this stage I had acquainted myself with numerous creatives from the guild and beyond, and had a veritable cornucopia of talent to pitch the idea to. I gathered in a group of very diverse authors who wanted to be involved and got to it. A couple were forced by circumstance to drop out, but their replacements were just as impressive and desirable. In truth my biggest issue was that I simply couldn’t approach and include everyone I wanted to and keep the project manageable. Managing and producing a collaboration is a lot of work. Its time consuming and stressful, even with creatives (writers, cartographers and editors) that are easy to work with, meet their deadlines, produce high quality work and take direction and feedback. I can’t imagine what it’s like with a dysfunctional team. Once again though, the risk paid off, with the journey improving my experience and skills, as well as my connection to my colleagues, and the final product being something I was proud of. Sales wise it was not as successful as Faiths, but I rate it just as highly for my own personal development.

 

Community Engagement

In 2018 I was determined to become more involved with the RPG community in my city of Perth, and – at least for a short time – in Melbourne where Australia’s largest RPG related convention (PAX) is held.

Again, with my time limited as it was, and commitments already, it’s a risk to spread your personal resources (time and energy) so thin. However, community engagement is an incredibly important element in creating RPGs. Why? Because ultimately it’s a social game. Writing can be a very isolating experience. Long hours alone at a computer with your thoughts, conceiving, refining, discarding ideas. It’s a very personal and singular pursuit, but in the end you are producing content that’s meant to be shared by a group in a social setting. It’s an oddly surreal concept really. Of course that’s just my experience. Your mileage may vary. Regardless, I found myself very alone in 2017, and writing a predominantly grim adventure path full of harsh content can lead you into some dark places. I really needed to get perspective.

I began to spend far more time at my local games store, organising and running games and events, along with a strong contingent of local DMs who are as varied as they come in terms of outlook, presentation and styles. I played in and ran groups with just some fantastic people, and this not only helped get me out of my shell (and my own head) but broadened my perception on what players want from their games. The impact on my writing was (and is) noticeable, and part of the evolution of who I am as a creator. I owe a lot to the people around me on a continuing weekly basis.

Engaging with the community opened new opportunities too. I’d attended a local convention in 2017 called SHO – Southern Hemisphere Open – which was advertised as mostly tabletop wargaming but had an RPG component. It was in its inaugural year and I wanted to support them despite not really following miniature wargames. It was a small but well run tournament style Con over three days (I later found out that the owners/organisers specialise in such tournaments). The wargames were impressive, but the RPG section was more of an afterthought. The handful of game masters were each running their own games superbly, but there was little organisation, coordination or direction. There was no signage either, and the play area could have been (and was several times, I saw) mistaken for private games. This set a fire in my mind. I wanted to see this grow, and – ambitious as the notion was –  I thought I could be the one to do it. It is at this point I tell you I have zero convention experience. None at all. This was literally the second Con I ever attended, and I had never contributed to one, let alone taken on a role of responsibility. But by this stage my ambition was running wild and I was embracing opportunity at every turn. I approached the Con owners – Mike and Emma – with my proposal. They were amenable and I dove into yet another new world. Now this wasn’t all out of the goodness of my heart of course. I’m just not that altruistic. For my time and efforts, I negotiated having a Pyromaniac Press stall and it allowed me the opportunity to produce an Adventurers League CCC adventure, which had been a dream of mine for over a year at this point.

I have another blog entry on SHO 2018, so I won’t cover that ground here, but I will say that the relative success and growth of the RPG element of SHO is very heartening, and the commitment shown by the DMs and presenters was incredibly gratifying and humbling.

The next step in my meteoric rise (yes self-deprecating sarcasm is a defence mechanism) was to take my CCC to the ‘big stage’ of PAX Australia. After my attendance at SHO in 2017, I followed it up with a trip to PAX in Melbourne. The master plan was already set in my mind. Meet and ingratiate myself with Merric Blackman, the PAX AL coordinator and get my CCC to PAX. It wasn’t overly hard. As it turns out we have a lot in common (no surprises there) and Merric is truly one of the nicest and most genuine people I’ve met to date (this isn’t flattery, it’s very apparent to anyone who knows or meets him). Not only did he agree and show an interest, he edited my CCC to get it to an acceptable standard (for free I might add). At PAX 2018 my CCC was run all day, each day, by multiple DMs, alongside the official AL content supplied by the league. Again, the support and feedback from DMs and players alike was phenomenal. I’ve been playing D&D and other TTRPGs for more than 25 years and I’m STILL constantly impressed by our community.

Going into 2019 I have committed to SHO and PAX again, and expanded into running at another small convention (Genghis con). RPGs are, first and foremost, about people.

 

Networking with Contemporaries

Like it or not, authors and creatives in the same field are competitors. There is a finite amount of disposable income in a marketplace for luxuries, and this includes games. However, given that RPGs are collaborative social experiences (for the most part) it’s hardly surprising that the creators in this space are also predisposed to being social and collaborative. I’d entered the market through DrivethruRPG, the progenitor and sister site of the DMsGuild, where all systems are published and you are a speck in an endless sea. The DMsGuild is a beast of a different stripe – at least for now. When I entered it in 2017 I was pleasantly surprised to see a strong social media community, and even more surprised to see how cordial, helpful and supportive it was. Creators would share their ideas rather than horde them, and their contemporaries would help refine them. In hindsight, I really shouldn’t have been surprised.

Toward the end of 2017 collaborations were becoming more prevalent. I’d passed on Monsters of the Guild, and after that blunder had committed myself to being more involved in 2018. Faiths was my first collab, but it wouldn’t be my last. I jumped into Storm King’s Barrows – curated by Christian Eichhorn – a collection of dungeons ostensibly designed to slot into the open world parts of the official Storm Kings Thunder adventure. It was a smooth experience. Christian handled the group masterfully, and the authors were enthusiastic and accommodating (at least form what I saw). I clashed with one of the editors – Ken Carcas – over some feedback language I didn’t like. This was really my first experience with a professional editor that wasn’t a friend. In retrospect I wish I’d handled it differently. Regardless of the perceived right or wrong of the tonal choices, he was just doing his job and my work was MUCH better for it. This too contributed to my development as a creator, and gave me a better appreciation of editing. The final product was beautifully finished and went on to be a Silver Bestseller, though it deserved more I feel.

I followed this up with contributions to Alex Clippinger’s The Faithful of Eberron, an uncredited contribution to Jeff Steven’s Villains & Lairs, and culminating in managing the Undermountain: Lost Chambers collaboration.

I cannot endorse this highly enough. Collaborations allow you to learn from other great writers and creators; network for better support, promotion and resources; helps you make friends; and generally have better commercial success (more on that in my sales post).

 

The Bad

While I espouse the benefits of this course, I do need to mention the lows and the failures. I have NOT met all my What Lies Beyond Reason Kickstarter commitments this year (though I did meet some). Taking the “Next Step” was at least a partial failure as it has proven to rob Peter (my initial responsibilities) to pay Paul (my new ventures). I’m extremely fortunate that my KS supporters have been amazingly patient and supportive, or at least not vocally demonstrative (I honestly expected some unhappy correspondence by this point). While I firmly believe that all the learning and growth over the last year has enabled me to produce much better content for those same supporters, it is still on me that these obligations have not yet been met. I hope I can repay that faith.

The other major downside of reaching beyond your comfort zone and taking on much more is that it is difficult to sustain without consequences. 2018 has been a year of great successes and amazing highs, but it’s also brought me my share of difficulties and lows. I have been more stressed and more regularly sick this year than in the years prior. I’ve endured bouts of burnout and depression (though to be fair this is an ongoing issue). I’ve wrestled with imposter syndrome and feelings of inadequacy more times than I can count. These are not things limited to taking on more, but the load is heaviest when you are at your weakest.

What I will say though is that my writing dichotomously helps lift the burdens it creates. I draw immense satisfaction from a completed project, and despite the odd bout of imposter syndrome each success bolsters my confidence and belief. My family brings me the most joy, but writing and creating lifts a uniquely personal sense of mental oppression I’ve felt my entire life. I look back on the year gone – and the 3000 words above – and am satisfied that it was absolutely worth it.

 

Lessons Learned

So if there’s a point to the epic above, short of basking in my own self-important magnificence, I think that 2018 has taught me – or at least reinforced – a few lessons worth taking away.

It’s been said many times, by many people, but my favourite quote is by Ken Jenkins (Dr Kelso) from Scrubs

“Nothing in this world that’s worth having comes easy” 

Now don’t get me wrong. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had some fortune fall my way, a ready introduction to Richard A Knaak among the best of it. However if I hadn’t made the effort to cultivate a relationship with my fellow authors – Phil Beckwith in this case – that opportunity would not have presented itself. If you look a little deeper I think most “good fortune” (beyond perhaps the most unlikely of random events) can be traced to decisions made and opportunities taken. When it’s all said and done, the work you put in will almost always improve your standing, situation and options.

My lessons learned this year are the same I’d pass on as advice to any aspiring writers or creators (as I still am);

  • Take Risks – you never move forward if you aren’t willing to take the leap
  • Engage the Community – TTRPGs are a social activity, books are read by people. Spend time with people. It’s good for you personally and it will help you develop your skills.
  • Network and Collaborate – Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has something of value to offer. Meet, discuss, debate, agree, disagree, compromise (or don’t). Learn from the people around you. Make friends. Celebrate their successes and understand that their achievements don’t devalue yours, but instead add to your opportunities.

 

Bring on 2019…

SHO 2018 – Highlights

I had planned to update this blog every night of SHO, which as it turns out was very naive.

12 hours on my feet at the Con, organising games, greeting and directing patrons, curating the board game library, networking and discussing my products, and all the little 1% things that you dont really consider (Do the DMs have water? Who owns this character sheet/dice/bag/water bottle?) made for a very long day. Combine that with travel time and its a 15 hour day. No time to blog. Barely enough time to sleep.

So, a day after the Con finished and after a good night’s rest, I now give you the highlights.

The RPG floor consisted of one greeter desk/Pyromaniac press booth, 11 RPG tables, a workshop area, a panel area, 6 tabletop wargame clubs and around a dozen tabletop wargame demo layouts.

I spent my days engaging with the public, directing traffic and answering queries, scheduling games, rescheduling games when – inevitably – things didnt go to plan, and occasionally promoting myself and my work. It was actually a lot of fun. I do enjoy talking to people, and knowing that you are facillitating RPG fun for hundreds of people is pretty gratifying.

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Each day was a mix of various games, from the ubiquitous D&D Adventurer’s League (including some early released season 8 content, and my CCC), a Kids D&D table (very popular), a Pathfinder 2.0 playtest, some cool D&D homebrew (Lair Assaults and an ‘Escape the Volcano’ scenario), Legend of  the Five Rings, Shadowrun, Numanera, Honey Heist and more.

We also ran new player workshops, DM workshops, a panel on self publishing RPGS, a panel on Professional DMing, and closed the Con with an amazingly entertaining Improv D&D session, where our two DMs (Rhys & Michael) took turns more or less inciting the audience to assault the other with foam weapons to the thin veil of a story.

It was exhausting, and absolutely one of the most fun and rewarding roles I’ve undertaken in some time.

How Does it Stack Up?

A year ago, before heading to PAX, I posted here that the inaugural SHO had potential, but the treatment of RPGs as an afterthought really didnt do the games or the Con any justice. It was my intent to change that.

So how does this year compare? We had 24 volunteers this year to the 5 last year. We had over 150 hours worth of games running. We had a greeter engaging the public as they entered, and helping direct them to games and activities. By comparison it was a roaring success.

Still, there are improvements to be made. There were 17 banners and signs to improve the professional and integrated look of the RPGs at the predominantly TTWG Con. These, unfortunately failed to clear customs in time and we were forced to go without. The timing also hampered the attendance. Many competing activities across the weekend in the city drew focus from the event, including a major sports event finals series being played locally. Finally, given the poor showing last year, I feel that we were building the audience from the ground up.

Despite these barriers, the feedback from the congoers was overwhelmingly positive. I had numerous requests concerning where to find games – or specific DMs – outside of the Con, and many first time players indicated they would be seeking to continue their experiance in RPGs.

Post Mortem Analysis

There were some lessons learned that we can improve on for next year;

  1. Kids games are in high demand. Our one DM dedicated to kids games was unable to satisfy all  the interest in his table. On the second day we pushed him to the limit, adding extra games into the schedule and still couldnt keep up with demand.
  2. Only the really dedicated Con goers arrive at 8am. The peak period ran from 10am to around 4pm. Games scheduled before or after this time struggled for numbers.
  3. Some games are more Con accessible than others. D&D is fast, easy to pick up, and fun to play. Its one of the best Con games. Legend of the 5 Rings is a game with great depth, but requires more investment. Its a tough sell to the general Con goer who wants to roll some dice. Indie games – such as Lady Blackbird – may not garner any interest at all (unfortunately) if it is too obscure.
  4. DMs need playtime too. We were able to get every DM at least a game or two (even I found time for a short one), but ideally I’d like to try for a ratio of 50/50 DM/Play for the volunteers in future years.

There’s no way to describe this as anything other than a complete success. There is still room to improve and grow, but the turnout and clear enjoyment of the patrons speaks for itself. I’ll definately be putting my hand up to run the floor again next year.

SHO 2018

humanitix banner

This is a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for some time – almost 12 months in fact.

About this time last year I attended a local convention in its inaugural year. Primarily tabletop wargaming in nature, it still featured a small RPG floor wth a few organised games and workshops. The idea was there, but the RPGs were a bit of an afterthought. I saw potential, and approached the Con owners with a few suggestions for the next year. I also attended PAX Aus the month after, and returned with an even more refined concept.

After another conversation with Mike and Emma I was committed to writing a D&D Adventurer’s League CCC for the Con, with the ambition to run it there. Soon I was assisting to co-ordinate the RPGs. Not long after I was committed to running the RPG floor. This is very new territory for me, but thankfully Mike and Emma are now hardened veterans.

Flash forward, and the last month has seen a flurry of activity. My CCC will premiere the Con, and headlines an exciting line up of great games. We now have 24 DMs, panelists and volunteers with more than 170 hours of RPG games and events scheduled across the three days. I’m excited, elated and terrified.

Over the next three days I’ll bring you all the action, ups and downs of SHO 2018. Stay Tuned!

Review – The Midnight Revelry

INSERT COVER ART HERE! (Normally I would, but this adventure doesn’t have one. More on that later).

The Midnight Revelry by Chris Walz is a 17 page adventure for 1st – 3rd level characters. The adventure has been created with an adventure maker (Homebrewery/DMBinder type) and has the clean, standardized look provided by these. What it lacks in unique signature it makes up for in ease of use. It has a couple of inset stock colour artworks and the colour finish you get from the above, as well as two hand drawn b&w maps. It also comes with a (mostly) b&w print friendly version.

SPOILERS

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The characters run across a village that seems to be in the grips of an unnatural desire to party – so much so the place is suffering for the excess.

Following clues or advice from a few disgruntled locals they can determine that there is a local fey presence enchanting the folk from a temple in the woods.

A visit to the ‘party house’ – The House of the Winsome Rose – requires a trek through forests steeped in fey influence, and a selection of similarly styled encounters the DM may select from.

Delving further the characters cross into the Plane of Faerie and sees the characters embroiled in a mild form of fey politics and plots. It seems the “villain” is a satyr being blackmailed into acting in a greater fey’s stead, and would willingly band together with the PCs to slay his tormentor if they are willing, leading to a climactic fight against a powerful creature of cold.

END SPOILERS

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There’s a lot to like about Midnight Revelry, but there’s also some rough edges.

Let’s start with the critiques;

Chris makes an interesting (and deliberate) choice to not include a cover on the adventure PDF. It has a cover, and that cover is used on the DM’s Guild site as a placeholder and advertisement, but does not appear on the PDF. It seems like an odd choice to me, as the cover is one of the few artworks in the product, and it is quite atmospheric. To my mind if gives the product an incomplete feel.

Chris writes like a veteran DM that knows what he wants but is not quite used to writing for others. There is a kind of ‘shorthand’ at work here. Some of the hooks, leads, NPCs and encounters need fleshing out just a little. The Portal Guards encounter is a great example of the shorthand Chris uses throughout the adventure. There is a reward for going unseen, though it doesn’t list the mechanics for passing unseen (no mention of the guards Perception for example). It, like a few other encounters, rely on the DMs experience and/or interpretation to make it work. Similarly, the read aloud text provided is mostly good, but in places it is perhaps a little stilted, and absent in other places where it might be useful. At one point he offers advice on describing the Feywild without providing a description. While this is not an issue for experienced DMs, and some will genuinely appreciate the brevity, it does make it tougher for newer DMs to run this module.

Farleigh’s Well map needs a key in order to determine the location of various detailed locations (the inn, merchant house etc). If a clean player’s map was desired, a second unkeyed version could be provided. Of course you could simply place the key locations to your liking, but it seems like an unfinished detail to me.

There are lots of interesting encounters, but one encounter in particular bothers me as it removes agency pretty thoroughly. The travel portion of the adventure desires limiting resource replenishment, and does not allow Long Rests in the woods. Any attempt to do so sees the characters confronted by elves who wish to eject them from the woods. This is fine in theory, but the text indicates reluctant characters are ‘knocked unconscious’ and left in the outskirts of town. This seems unnecessarily forceful and immediate. If the elves simply harass the characters they will be unable to sleep mechanically, and it lacks the heavy handed and disempowering DM fiat suggested. It may be Chris was trying to be brief, but it seems unnecessarily overbearing.

The final boss is cool (pun intended) but has an ability that, while thematically appropriate, I really don’t think was well thought out. In addition to her own standard abilities she has a legendary action aura that can potentially kill anyone within 10 feet in 6 rounds, each round adding stacking debuffs that will make the fight almost impossible within 3-4 rounds with a melee heavy party. You win fast, or you die.

Lastly, this adventure concerning Fey doesn’t break or even elaborate on the tropes associated with such things – it is a stock tale of the capricious fey acting on their whims, which have consequences for nearby mortals in predicable ways. Most veteran players – or even new players that might have has some introduction to (Greek) mythology – will see the plot coming a mile away. However, even though I place this in the critique section, this is not necessarily a bad thing…

…because…

Despite not breaking the mold, this is one hell of an adventure, especially for newer players, or even jaded veterans. If you are going to create a fey themed adventure and want to hit the tropes, this is the way to do it. Midnight Revelry delivers with style and fun. There are some ‘combat only’ encounters, but almost all the creatures here can be treated with or challenged on a social level. Most of the combats have a plausible non-lethal conclusion if failed. The story flows well and keeps moving. There’s lots of options here to really add flavour and build atmosphere. The Fey Crossing is an inspired mechanic that plays on this adherence to the trope. Finally, and possibly most importantly, the final encounter feels EPIC. It gives low level characters a chance to feel powerful and part of something profound, and can have lasting impact on the setting of the adventure.

 

Regardless of a few imperfections, I highly recommend this if you want a low level fey adventure.

I rate this 3.5 stars for presentation (while clean, it is not groundbreaking from an art or visual layout perspective), and 4.5 stars for content (shaved only because of the few mechanical issues), for a final rating of 4 STARS. An upgrade of cover, art and a Fey theme to the backgrounds and layout would really propel this, but content alone suggests this is a worthwhile pick up.

You can buy this immersive module singularly here on DM’s Guild. It is a pay-what-you-want product, but as always I encourage actually paying the author. A lot of time and effort goes into crafting these.

It is also featured in this collection with a number of other fantastic authors (I also somehow made it in – don’t ask me how).

Review – Minotaur’s Betrayal

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The second in a minotaur themed trilogy, Minotaur’s Betrayal leaves off where Minotaur’s Bargain ended. There is an assumption of satisfactory completion of the first part, which makes sense for a part 2. The module does offer a hook in if Part 1 was not completed, but it works better as a continuation of the story.

The PCs are offered Minotaur assistance and return to their town to face the impending orc threat.

Spoilers

Along the way they are attacked, though the Minotaur captain is the target. Reaching the town they find it under assault by an orcish band lead by a troll. The force seems a little light on for a full assault, however and once the invasion is repelled the PCs discover it was a diversion for a traitorous rebellion within the Minotaur ranks. Returning to the Minotaur camp they find the honourable leader slain and a usurper in her place. The usurper has given the orcs a powerful item (Banner of Gruumsh) for their support. The PCs must manage the volatile minotaur in order to be best placed to reclaim the tribe.

Following on from this the PCs are directed to infiltrate the fairly extensive orc stronghold and retrieve the lost banner, potentially hampered again by the social values of the minotaur. The stronghold has a number of interesting features, including amusing orc graffiti, eclectic prisoners to free, and a theoretically overwhelming contingent of Orcs if the players aren’t careful. The alternate route provided through the encampment is possibly just as dangerous.

The Chieftain’s quarters holds the stolen Banner of Gruumsh, and ostensibly the focus of PCs incursion, though there is nothing stopping them from slaying the chief and the priestesses, which would also end the threat from the orc tribe.

End Spoilers

Minotaur’s Betrayal is a very different beast from its predecessor. Players might want to wear neck braces, such is the sharpness of the turn. It might catch some players by surprise if they were expecting another deathtrap dungeon style outing, and instead find themselves in a story driven tale of plot and logic that the first instalment lacked.

Truthfully the adventure is all the better for it. As I indicated in my last review I don’t generally enjoy ‘just because’ trap dungeons, and prefer my adventures to have a plot, NPCs that have depth and motivation and logical details such as “where do they get rid of their waste?”. Not only does Minotaur’s Betrayal cover all of these, it manages to be both concise in language and thorough in minutiae, which is a difficult trick to pull off. The Orcs Stronghold – where the main action takes place – genuinely feels like a tribal home, complete with the kinds of details you’d expect.

On a technical level there are a few minor spelling errors, but nothing egregious, and one of the numerous maps didn’t scan well, but retains enough detail to play from (just probably not hand out).

On a design level I did find it odd that the orc stronghold has 2 separate waste areas that apparently aren’t connected, but again this is more a matter of preference than any real issue. Yes I’m nit picking here. There’s not a whole lot to criticise about this adventure.

The layout is easy to follow, and well defined in terms of information presentation and flow. It is easy to read and run from a DM perspective, and offers adjustment advice for more or less powerful or numerous parties.

Final Verdict

I have to say that I love this type of plot driven adventure, and Minotaur’s Betrayal is a great example of it. Along with the core crunch and action, there’s enough incidental detail to bring the locations and cultures alive without overpowering the goal of a smooth running, fast paced adventure. JVC Parry and Phil Beckwith have created an excellent and evocative module here that strikes a good balance between monster bash and roleplaying opportunities.

I rate it 5 stars for presentation and 5 starts for content, for a total of 5 stars. You can pick up a copy of this adventure here

I definitely recommend this one, and – assuming you can reconcile the differing styles – it should be played as part of the trilogy as intended.

I am really looking forward to the third part.

Review – Archetypes by Travis Legge

A Trio of Archetypes

Anyone who has spent any time browsing the DMs Guild over the last 6 months has probably noted the work of Travis Legge – he seems to be putting out mini products at an amazing rate, along with his videos on his Eberron campaign and interviews with DMs Guild creators.

He has also embarked on a crusade to review as many products as humanly possible, which is laudable.

Today I look at three of his recent mini-products – all PWYW Class Archetypes. All three are short, mostly plain text PDFs, though each has a splash of appropriate to semi-appropriate art to give some visual stimulation. Nothing groundbreaking in design here, but aesthetically pleasing enough and better than many PWYW offerings.

 

Order of the Scarred (A Blood Hunter archetype)  

This is an archetype for the Blood Hunter class developed by Matt Mercer (of Critical Role). While not an official class this shouldn’t put off DMs as it is arguably balanced in comparison to the official classes and not overpowered (though I’d gauge it to be on the upper end). It is basically the Witcher, if you are a fan of such things. It is a reasonably complex class however, requiring a level of resource management, and probably not recommended for beginners.

Travis’ take on the class is intriguingly morbid Continue reading

December Goals – Back in Balance

Its been over a month since my last post – that’s an eternity in blog years.

November was a big month, but despite that – or perhaps because of it – I haven’t found the time to chronicle any of the events of the last moon here on the site.

PAX was a huge eye opener, as I suspected it would be. Not only was it a great experience, but I learned a lot about how these conventions are run, how RPG sessions work (and when they don’t work) in this setting, and about how I can transport some of these lessons into my personal pathway going forward. More on PAX in it’s own post chain.

November became the month I once again overloaded myself on RPG project work – despite my assertion to pace myself and not get in over my head like before. Sigh. Apparently I didn’t fully learn that lesson. I expect come the end of February (my Kickstarter deadline) I will rue my choices. That being said, in RPG development the goal posts are always shifting, and some changes can’t be anticipated or helped.

The first of my problems was not unexpected – print issues again! What a surprise. This seems to be a common theme with me. I updated me 5th edition Campaign Guide for WLBR, and lo and behold, what was once whole became broken. In making internal changes I must have missed a step in PDF conversion, and ended up with an unprintable book (the digital version is fine). Chris Tang from DrivethruRPG (a man with endless patience) has helped me rectify the issue. There are some inexplicable delays between DTRPG and the printer at the moment, but delays are to be expected (always). Hopefully it’ll be resolved shortly and the print version will once again be available.

The second issue was a scheduling problem. What started as a ‘slow and steady’ background group project for DM’s Guild (with Alex Clippinger and Scott Bean) was suddenly moved up the priority list as hints began that other guild producers were working on similar projects. Second to the table will hurt the project, so it’s now become a high priority that WILL interfere with my Kickstarter material production in ways it was never intended too. Hopefully we can clear this out before it really begins to hurt the kickstarter schedule.

Finally, and most excitingly, I was presented with an opportunity I simply could not pass up. The author Richard A Knaak – of Dragonlance fame – wants to turn his new novella line setting – Rex Deraconis – into an RPG line for D&D and Pathfinder. Despite my already overflowing workload, I HAD to jump on board with this. The chance to work with one of my favourite authors could not be passed on. I’m lucky enough to be partnered with Phil Beckwith of PB Publishing (another Perth local) on this. Exciting times set for 2018.

But this rollercoaster is not without cost. Between my day job, various project commitments and gaming responsibilities (DMing is an obligation not easily set aside), family and friends I’m spread very thin right now. Too thin in fact. Continuing in this way is more pressure than I need heading into the holidays. With that in mind, my December goal is to bring everything back into balance. I need to make a better plan than lurching from job to job, crisis to crisis, and most importantly, I need to make time to do a little bit of everything.

And so with that in mind, I plan to put my feet up with a cold one and watch the cricket (that’s the rest of the world’s equivalent of baseball to any US readers). I mean, I’ll still have my laptop and I’ll be working as well, but I’ll be recreating at the same time. That’s a thing right?