Friday, March 11, 2016

Comes Chaos

OKAY. I spent a bit of time at lunch today getting a little stinky-drinky and writing more bad JuJu about Paraguayan ignorance (and drawing parallels with certain presidential campaigns in the home country)...but I'm almost 100% certain that no one wants to read more of that kind of nonsense.

So let's talk about B/X-related nonsense. And, no, not superheroes.

Waaaaaay back in January, I mentioned I was going to get in on this whole B/X Campaign Challenge thing, set up by Mr. James V. West. I also said I figured I could knock-out a 64 page supplement in about 64 days, giving myself (approximately) till the end of March to get it done. Seeing as how it's been seven days since the last time I worked on the thing (just checked...March 4th) people may be wondering how is the project progressing?

Pretty good. I'm at 53 pages (formatted)...a bit more than 36,000 words without counting headers and page numbers. Since I'm aiming for about 58-60 (to make room for illustrations, a cover leaf, and table of contents), I'm pretty close to completion.

It's always that last bit that's the bitch, ain't it?

Actually, that's NOT why I've stalled. For a "campaign book," I started to find there was surprisingly little campaign to the thing...mainly a collection of rules and notes about how to inject a little crazy into one's standard B/X game. I started to think maybe I needed a bit more setting, a bit less system. And then, of course, I got distracted with other brainstorms...

But I'm digressing. As I wrote back on the 22nd (when I was first considering the challenge), the idea I had was an incredibly derivative one, and it still is....specifically, I am adapting the old Warhammer Realm of Chaos books (Slaves to Darkness and The Lost and the Damned) to the B/X game system, an idea that I once thought was pretty ridiculous. Also, not a terribly original idea, considering folks like Steven A. Cook have already done similar work (his Hordes of Chaos is a nice little "monster manual" designed for use with Labyrinth Lord).

But's only a 64 page book. It's specifically designed for use with B/X (which everyone loves and now has access to, thanks to the release of the PDFs). It files all the serial numbers off anything that might be considered IP by other game companies. And it's written for a B/X system...for a game of exploration and treasure hunting...not a war-game.

And it does have a that could easily be expanded with additional books, if I was so inclined.

Slaves to Darkness.
So good, I own two copies.
The fact of the matter is Slaves to Darkness and The Lost and the Damned are damn masterworks. They have terrible, disgusting, magnificent, tragic themes. They are well-designed (for their time and their purpose) and are filled with beautiful, terrible, horrible, awesome artwork. They are classics that most buffs of dark fantasy (and dark fantasy games) should have on their shelves. I own physical copies of both, having paid an exorbitant price for one after many years of searching.

They are also fairly unplayable as they are. While the fluff from the books have penetrated the Warhammer universe for nearly three decades (Slaves was written in 1988 and last time I checked a 40K Chaos Codex they were STILL recycling quotes from its most excellent pages), the Warhammer game long ago dropped the systems found within their pages, keeping only the themes. Mordheim's chaos war band was a pretty poor substitute for a champion-led retinue of miscreants and mutants.

SO, because I love these books...their themes (which simply emphasize the dark spaces in the human heart to terrible extremes) and their mutants and their monsters and their madness...because I do love them, I've adapted them to a system that I love (B/X) so that they can see play at the table. They deserve to see play at the table.

And I find the setting I've designed (that I'm thinking I might want to detail in greater depth) so intriguing that I'd really like to run a campaign set in it, despite having voiced (only a few months ago) a longing to try a Holmes-style campaign. B/X...sucking me back in! Seducing me to the darkest of dark sides!

Anyhoo, it's almost done and my intention is to do my own artwork for it (not sure how that's going to go...) and sell it for a pittance in electronic form. That's my intention; we'll see what happens. But regardless, I've got to finish the writing first.

Hopefully by the end of the month.
; )


  1. I'll give you advice on doing your own art...own it...even if its crappy. Get a ream of printer paper and fine point ink pens and draw. Screenshot real people and draw them. Draw piece after piece and build a folio. Photo it and adjust in photo gallery app. Brighten. Contrast. And whatever to give them the right b/x feel.


  2. Dumb question, only barely tangentially related to this post.

    You say you have "a longing to try a Holmes-style campaign," but that B/X is your flavor of choice. What I want to know is, what's the difference?

    I ask this honestly. I first cut my teeth playing Red Box BECMI D&D back in '91. More recently I've played LL. As far as I can tell the two are basically indistinguishable -- perhaps there are some subtle differences, but to my eyes they're the same game with what amount to a few house rules' difference between them.

    So how different can B/X, BECMI, Holmes, Moldvay, LL, ACKS, LotFP, et al really be? To me they all seem to be really rules-light, dissociative-mechanical, hard-class, level-limited systems, so it's hard for me to conceptualize the play experience being that much different between the various flavors. Could you shed some insight on why playing Holmes instead of B/X would be a different enough experience to warrant commentary?

    1. @ Jack:

      Well, without having actually PLAYED Holmes, I can't say for certain. I can only go based on the design.

      The BE portion of BECMI is fairly indistinguishable from B/X in terms of rules; mainly flavor/tone is different, with the exception of how XP is awarded (XP for treasure is apportioned based on the actual division of spoils in BECMI, rather than an even division of the entire "take"). LL and LotFP is based directly on B/X; there are extremely few differences (with the obvious exception of the specialist class in LotFB, the reduction of combat tables, and setting based changes to monsters and treasure...LotFP is very much like a specific campaign setting for B/X).

      I haven't played or read ACKS. My understanding is that it is based on B/X, but it uses a tier-system of play that's quite different from the set-ups of most basic style systems.

      Holmes is D&D, not a retroclone, but has radical differences from other early editions. The ability score bonuses found in B/X, for example, are almost entirely absent. Scroll creation is exceptionally easy and accessible allowing low level mages extra power. Initiative is based on a character's dexterity score, sans die roll, making DEX far more important. Classes are limited (within the text) to the first three levels despite a full cornucopia of monsters, including trolls, giants, and purple worms. There are strange combat systems in the game, and Holmes makes many suggestions for play (like the inclusion of monsters as PCs) that are outside the concepts presented in B/X and BECMI.

      The tone of Holmes is very bridges a gap between B/X and OD&D, providing organization sorely lacking in the original rules while still leaving a lot of things un-codified and open to ruling by referee. It feels grittier and grimmer...power level is down substantially from AD&D (which it is billed as an "intro" to) but the risks and potentials are the same as the "advanced" version of the game. It's just a different beast. It's only 40 pages long...the shortest of ANY edition.

      I don't's just got a different vibe to it. A vibe I dig. I've played most every edition of D&D, but not Holmes. Call it a "bucket list" item.
      : )

  3. In my current campaign, I've melded both "Realm of Chaos" books into "Keep on the Borderlands." I've subbed classic D&D Demon Princes in as the powers of chaos. All of the Humanoids worship a different prince (prompting the infighting) which cause each humanoid race in the Caves of Chaos to take on a different mutation. No normal gobs & orcs here.

    1. @ R.J.:

      Huh, that's actually pretty interesting. Though I'd think the denizens of the Caves would then end up wiping each other out (leaving nothing for the adventurers to do but wait for one faction to emerge victorious).

      I'd be curious to see what specific mutations you use for each demon prince. Tentacles for Demogorgon? Ram's horns for Orcus?

  4. Have you heard of Small But Vicious Dog? It's a hack of B/X to make it like old school Warhammer. Probably not what you're looking for, but it's an entertaining read...

    1. @ Jim:

      Just finished reading SBVD 0.3...excellent, excellent stuff. Thanks for the recommendation.

      [no, it's not what I'm looking for, but in some ways, it's EXACTLY what I'm looking for]

      ; )

  5. Oh good, glad you liked it. Haven't read it in a while but it seemed a very good distillation of the 'essence of early (proper!;)) Warhammer'.