Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ladies & Gentleman Mr. Dyson Logos

1.  How did you get your start roleplaying? What system did you use? 

My cousin's friends played D&D in the basement of their home back in the late 70's. It was old school down there, with a sand table from the old war gaming days and everything. 

At 9 years old in 1979, my cousin and I both roll up D&D characters and sit down to play for the first time. The group has a map to an old tomb and are excited to be the first ones to loot it. But some goblins also have managed to acquire a copy in the previous session and we are racing them to the site. 

When we arrive it is obvious that they have beat us there. So we rush into the tomb and in the second antechamber we run into a small squad of goblins setting up camp and stowing supplies while their leaders are up ahead figuring out the traps and tricks of the place.

We don't surprise them, but we do win initiative the first round. My cousin and I rush into the fight (playing twin elven brothers). My cousin misses his attack, but I get a solid blow in, killing a goblin. However, as I was trying to disentangle my sword from the scrawny marauder, another goblin rushed up and hit me for 2 damage.

That was the end of my character. First character, first session, first round of combat.

I was hooked for life.

The game itself was mostly classic OD&D with a binder of house rules. This was before the 1e DMG had come out, so they weren't using the options from the 1e PHB yet, although a few of the players had the PHB already. I played with that group for two years - I didn't run my own first game until 1981 after buying the Moldvay / Cook B/X rules sets.

2.  Tell me about the Dyson Logos Blog? How did it start?

It started something like six years ago when I decided to go through my collection of RPGs and make at least one character for each game (aiming to make one starting and one experienced character for each game - or roughly 500 characters). At the time it was called "A Character For Every Game" and the URL of the site still reflects this (rpgcharacters.wordpress.com).

Somewhere along the way it became a general RPG blog, and from there it became an old school DIY blog with a focus on fantasy RPG maps. It evolves and changes as time goes by. It's basically a non-social version of my google+ stream with two new maps a week these days.

The name changed in 2011 or 2012, I'm not sure exactly when. I was still putting out Dyson's Dodecahedron (my 12-page mini zine) at the time and decided to change the name of the blog to match since I had stopped posting characters to the blog.

3.  When did you start drawing maps? And how long did it take you to get your trademark style?

I started drawing maps sometime early in 81 just before getting the 1981 Moldvay / Cook B/X sets. I remember that spring in grade school drawing a multi-level mega dungeon with twisting slides down from pit traps between the levels, and that summer drawing a castle map based on the map elements from Keep on the Borderlands but that was six pages of graph paper in size and I insisted on mapping each level... so about 36 pages in total.

My trademark style is a lot more recent. I experimented with crosshatching earlier, but I didn't really figure it out until late 2008 when I saw someone else's hatching and map designs and decided to try my hand at it again. 

His maps using a “square cross-hatch pattern” (three horizontal lines, three vertical, three horizontal, and so on). They totally threw me into a time warp, flashing back to the maps from old Chaosium products and other magazines from the 70’s and 80’s before we started using digital and coloured maps. It’s not the same retro look as the classic blue maps from the old TSR adventures, but I was never a fan of those maps to begin with. These remind me at some level of the maps from Elric! And Stormbringer and other fantasy games - but it is specifically the whole Elric vibe that tickles the cockles of my heart because that’s the kind of fantasy games I love to run instead of classic high fantasy.



4.  What was the first adventure you published? 

May 26th, 2009 - The Tomb of Dûrahn Oakenshield

Embarrassingly I hadn't read Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit since 1980, so I THOUGHT I had come up with the Oakenshield name on my own as something that sounded good and dwarven.

I drew up a map and wrote up a nice little adventure for the 2009 One Page Dungeon Contest and got an honourable mention as the "Best Introductory One Shot".


Later, in August of that year, I released the first adventure PDF that wasn't for a contest - Goblin Gully. This adventure remains one of my all-time favourites and I consider it an important piece of reading for anyone getting into one of my campaigns who hasn't actually played through it. Mainly because it is a level 1 adventure with a 10HD Black Pudding as the "boss monster". 




5.  How’s the Patreon going? If I remember correctly you were on their main page for awhile. 

The Patreon Campaign has been pretty steady, if in a little bit of a decline lately. 

The reality is that the Patreon Campaign changed EVERYTHING for me. It paid my rent through all of 2014, and has covered all my bills through 2015 so far. My patrons are the most generous and awesome people ever - they are giving me the opportunity to keep working on my maps and skills while being able to survive in a hostile capitalist environment.

Without the support of my patrons, my skills would not have grown the way they have in the last two years. I owe them all a huge debt of gratitude and love because they are the people who make the current iteration of the Dodecahedron blog possible. Without them I'd be slaving away at a desk somewhere NOT drawing maps, and that would be a sad thing indeed.

I'm a Patreon success story - in 2014 I was one of the 100 top earners on Patreon and one of my maps is hanging on the wall of the new Patreon HQ. For a long time the Patreon front page was static, and the day they started changing up the mix of stuff on the front page I was up there, but not for long.

The campaign itself has sat at around the same level of support for about six months now - and has been slowly declining month-by-month for the past few months and is currently at the lowest level it's been in the last six months. Which is to say it is still incredibly healthy and pays my bills.

6.  What is your favourite OSR clone? 

I'm a purist. What most people call retro-clones I call retro-games because they don't clone. In fact, the only two games that I really feel count as retro-clones are OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord. Every other game includes too many house rules or changes from the core game (S&W's single save, for instance). True, there are some oddities even with Labyrinth Lord (clerics casting spells at level 1), but it's as close as we've come to a clone of B/X D&D so far - which is still my game of choice.

Now if we are talking my favourite retro-game, then I am a little more torn. I really love Dungeon Crawl Classics but I think of it as a modern game with a few old-schoolisms in the mix. Labyrinth Lord combined with the AdvancedEdition Companion brings us close to how I use to run AD&D1e back in the 80's (because I really didn't like a lot of the more complex rules from AD&D like segments, 1 minute combat rounds, weapon vs armour type tables, etc), which makes me happy.

So yeah, it keeps coming back to Labyrinth Lord. Although Lamentationsof the Flame Princess has the most kick-ass selection of additional weird materials out for it.




7.  What are you currently playing? 

I'm running a D&D5e campaign that is currently going through the classic "Dwellers of the Forbidden City" module (the conversion has been dirt-simple, I just replace the monster stats from the module with the same or similar monsters from the 5e Monster Manual). I would name the next module in line for this campaign, but I figure at least one or two of my gamers will read this article.

I'm a player and DM in a rotating DM game of Dungeon Crawl Classics. We take turns as DM running an official DCC module and then when the adventure is over we swap out the job to the next DM who has to figure out a storyline that removes his or her characters from the group and brings back the characters of the last DM. We've got characters in that game spread between levels 1 and 3 now.

I've got a game of Labyrinth Lord going to playtest the Dyson MegaDelve. We'll see how that goes.

I'm a player in a classic 1975 Empire of the Petal Throne campaign being run by James Maliszewski which has been going for 20 sessions so far and has been a lot of fun - my first experience with the Tekumel setting.

And finally I'm playing in a Star Wars: Edge of Empire campaign that's only had a few sessions but has been a lot of fun to play and to learn the system.

I also had the opportunity recently to play in one of Zak Smith's MarvelSuperhero games which was a lot of fun.



8.  I’m a big fan of the two “RPG a Day’s”/ 48 hour, that you did, tell me about the contest and the process? 

Ah, the 24 hour RPG Contest. 

I first discovered the 24 hour RPG Contest through a game called AssassinX - 24 pages of murder and mayhem where you play assassins and hit men. The writing was jarringly rough, the layout aggressive, and half the game was tables for rolling what kind of mission the PCs get given.

1km1kt.net runs an annual 24 hour RPG Contest now (since the original seems to have died off) and more recently RPGGeek also runs one. The goal is to design, write, and produce a full RPG in 24 hours - throw in 6 hours for sleep and it is a pretty tight deadline. It was originally based on the 24 hour comics which had the goal of producing a 24 page comic in 24 hours, but most of the RPG contests drop the 24 page target.

In 2009 I wrote Geodesic Gnomes. That year the contest at 1km1kt had a limited selection of game concepts / titles to work from, and that particular title triggered memories of the high tech low life living in the dome superstructures over the city in Johnny Mnemonic. I used a very simple system (2d8, roll under your stat + skill), and then wrapped it in some of my best writing from years of playing and running Cyberpunk RPGs. It has some faults (a death spiral mechanic where taking damage results in being less able to fight, which means you will likely take more damage), but it works. Heck, it works well enough that Mark Chance of SPES Magna games released a commercial adventure for it that he ran at conventions (Metro Gnomes).

Geodesic Gnomes didn't win. It lost out to a game by Matt Jackson.

I ended up skipping a few more contests before trying my hand again in 2013, with A Flask Full of Gasoline. The rules that year required that the game be formatted in PocketMod format, and that it not use numbers. I pounded out a game inspired by that moment in The Crow where T-bird and his crew are shouting "Burn it up! Burn it up!" while washing down bullets with shots of vodka.

In the end, it turned into three pocket mods (one for the players, one for the GM, and one with an adventure) that I had a LOT of fun doing the layout and design on as well as the writing. It uses bullets, booze and matchsticks as resolution mechanics. It is pretty tongue-in-cheek and violent.

A Flask Full of Gasoline didn't win. It lost out to a game by Fred Bednarski.

The process of the 24 hour contest is a bit rough. For me it involves a one-hour brainstorm to start with and if nothing REALLY jumps out at me in that brainstorm, I drop the whole thing. If something clicks though, I take a few notes on paper about the mechanics and theme, fire up PhotoShop and InDesign and start working on layout and graphical elements right away - then start writing.

There is no time for editing - trust your guts and write to fit the space you've given yourself. It is a hell of a grind trying to get the whole thing together under deadline, which is why I start with the layout instead of finishing with it as you would with a normal published project. You don't eat properly, you don't sleep properly, and you probably ingest too much caffeine (and ephedrine). I would seriously consider finding a source of speed before launching on another 24 hour RPG contest entry.

But of course, I am planning to get involved in another 24 hour contest in the next week or so. Maybe I'll finish this interview first, maybe I'll do the contest first. We'll find out and try to keep you in the loop (and you can have some of my speed too).



9.  What is your favourite published module other than yours? 

A Thousand Dead Babies by Zzarchov Kowolski.


It has knocked my own Goblin Gully off my list of important 1st level adventures for a new group. It is twisted and fun and twisted. And it's investigative without ever getting boring as there are SO many leads in such a small setting that there's no way a party won't want to follow at least three of them at any one time.

I'm not going to spoil it with an in depth review, but if you haven't read it yet, you NEED to. This is gold.

10.  If you could campaign in any world which would it be? 

Something like Transhuman Space, otherwise Cyberpunk 2020. I don't read fantasy books, I am a science fiction junky. When I discovered Transhuman Space I read every rulebook and sourcebook cover to cover, skipping only the game rules stuff (because it's GURPS, so the rules don't matter to me). I was 100% enthralled and in love. 

I like near future science fiction, I love cyberpunk but the genre feels pretty dated most of the time (I would love to play a SHORT Cyberpunk campaign, but an extended campaign these days would probably wear me down and the CP2020 system really needs some modernization).



11.  What are the plans for the future of Dyson Logos? 

I've got too many irons in the fire at once these days, and some projects are thus doomed to never be finished. With how much I suck at following through on things, I think I've figured out how to make this all work for me. 

I'm currently writing up a campaign setting that I ran back in University called Snail Lords of the Salt Flats. In order to avoid being in charge of illustrating, laying out and producing the final game, I've arranged for Paolo Greco of the Lost Pages to take care of all that stuff and for him to publish it.

If that works, I'm seriously considering a series of similar projects - taking material from my older games and hammering it together and passing it on to other publishers to bring to market for me. "Dyson's Basement Files" or something like that. A series of unrelated projects and books published by various different publishers, but all in the same product line.

While I think that the old Dyson's Dodecahedron zine is dead, I have a few adventures that are half-finished that need to be completed - Dyson'sMegaDelve, a revised and expanded version of Challenge of the Frog Idol, and The Cursed Dwarves of Shibole. 

I'm also working on a series of maps to go with Zak Smith's Red andPleasant Land that we're hoping to collaborate on turning into a booklet that could be a companion to that lovely book. And I got tagged recently by Marc Miller of Traveller fame to work on a series of maps for that classic setting.

And of course, 2 maps a week on the blog for the foreseeable future.

12.  When you get a chance to play a character, what type of PC's do you like to play? 

In my youth I was a fighting wizard. Figure out how to make a wizard with a sword, and that was what I wanted. Elves from classic D&D, Melnibonean noble sorcerers, psychic warriors...

Now... now it really depends. I'm usually found playing someone with a fairly high Charisma-type stat - either a rogue-type (in any game) or a cleric-type (if appropriate). In the Empire of the Petal Throne game I'm a wanna-be barbarian warrior (ex-military with a death wish) who isn't too bright. In the Star Wars game I'm running a hovering gun-droid. And in DCC I've got a halfling gentleman and an axe-mage (who runs around basically naked with a black leather hood over his head).

13.  What are you most excited about in the RPG scene currently?

DIY awesomeness. 

I've got a huge pile of zines that keeps growing. I spend $50 a month on books from Lulu because the DIY RPG scene just doesn't stop publishing awesome stuff.

The entry point to have the tools and technology to self-publish is at the lowest point it has ever been. If you have the imagination to put something together, then it can go to print at almost no cost to you.

EDITORS NOTE:  SOMEONE NEEDS TO COME UP WITH A T-SHIRT "DIY awesomeness. '

14.  Donuts or Pizza?

Yes. Although lately the pizza doesn't have tomato sauce anymore - I've had to switch to lower-acid pesto-based pizza... and it has been a DELICIOUS transition for me.



15.  Your such a community minded guy, what draws you to this awesome OSR crowd?

I'll be honest, the OSR turned me off initially. The list of "zen moments of OSR gaming" reminds me every time of some of the worst games I've ever played, and seeing them touted as the keys to the scene turned me off almost as much as grognards actually engaging in edition wars in real life at the gaming store.

It's the DIY thing that has me here, combined with it being a place where I'm not the only person who loves B/X D&D in the crowd. It's the cheering on you get when you put something cool out there, instead of the nit-picking. 

It's also the whole community vibe. I am very community-oriented. I release as much as I can for free while still being able to feed myself and put a bit of gas in the truck. When I have a game on my shelf that I know I won't be using, I give it away to someone who will use it. And people know this - so when I go looking for something, the community opens up and sends me stuff. It's like a giant lending library in that way.

As with any community, I would be happier with a little less drama, but that's something you can't seem to manage anywhere. 



16.  Since you've stopped doing Characters for the blog, have considered doing some new ones? Now with the release of Fifth Edition.  How about an Alice character? 

Yeah, I've even got a few half-completed characters in the drafts folder of my blog, but I never get around to finishing them. 

At some point I would like to make a couple of Alice characters using the Lamentations of the Flame Princess system it was designed for - one level 1, because that's what I do, and one at level 9 to see how it stacks up against the Lamentations version of the thief class. 

Other games I should be posting characters for:

Empire of the Petal Throne
D&D5e
Cyberpunk 2020 (and maybe make a month of Cyberpunk on the blog - characters for all the major Cyber RPGs, maps to go with them, etc... that's an idea I should really get behind)
Into the Odd
A Flask Full of Gasoline
James Bond

etc... 

So many games on my shelves...




17. Senators or Leafs?

I don't really follow basketball. :)

Also, Habs.