Tuesday, October 24, 2017

For the season: A free horror template for your rpg session

With Halloween fast approaching and folks gearing up for their horror themed rpg game nights,
I present to you this short template (generic) for a modern setting horror session.


Setting:  suburban area, anywhere USA

RPG:  Any with a modern context or close approximation,  western, steampunk, etc.

What is going on:

Antagonist is preying upon people in suburbia.  This can be a demented lunatic, serial killer, alien being, or supernatural monster depending upon your campaign dynamics. 

Small, subtle clues gradually reveal the horror lying unseen to the rest of the world.

Beneath an abandoned house (this works well for the modern era of foreclosed and abandoned houses) the antagonist has been dwelling in secret.  Here the "bad guy" drags his/her/it's victims where is torments/kills/eats them. 

How the player characters get involved:

In a modern setting, the group may see something on social media where a scream was heard in the area. 

In a super hero campaign, someone may have noticed something and now be living in dread of the place (somewhere near their home in this case) and called/emailed/texted the heroes.

In a western or steampunk campaign, small children dare a small boy to go into the spooky house.  The boy is missing the next day and his parents accuse strangers or are pleading with anyone they can find to help them find their child

Any of these hooks are easily integrated in other rpg types as well.

How the story advances and the horror grows:

After learning of something peculiar going on:
1) if group takes no action to investigate... fine, no big deal, move on to next day
2) if group investigates then clues should be scant (I was on Baker court and heard a scream from over there.....), or (my dog ran off and I heard him barking.. then he yelped and cried for a moment... now I can't find him)... things like this... little bits of oddity that could mean nothing, and may seem like nothing

3)  Another incident occurs:  maybe the children who dared the small boy break into the abandoned house (and are missed by their parents the next day),  maybe wacky Mr. Peabody swears he overhears alien transmissions on his shortwave radio, maybe Dr. Waller's car is found running in front of his home (door open, keys in ignition, he is just gone) and the police are investigating it as a kidnapping.  You get the idea:  something a little more significant that may on the surface seem completely unrelated.

4) Lead to the location of the house:  Looking around in the area the player characters may notice that buzzard's perch on the house, or that a handful of dead birds lay in the yellowed grass, or that the neighborhood children always stick to the opposite side of the street when passing in front of the house... things like this.  Again, little oddities that make the place seem somehow alien or unusual.

5) Investigating the scene:  Leave a clue

Here the key is something that implies something frightening and conveys something of urgency.
So finding a child's Halloween bag of candy laying in the grass, a shoe with wet blood on it, or a flickering flashlight laying on the step or behind the bushes.  These clues hint at humanity but also illustrate an absence of life.  Give these descriptions the weight they deserve but keep your descriptions simple and to the point. (candy has spilled from the bag into the grass, the small white shoe is marred with a splatter of blood, the flashlight lies flickering behind the hedge then dims and dies)

6) Into the house:  Make it different
A house without people is an odd empty place.  Mar the walls with tears or painted gang signs, filth and debris from squatters, or otherwise make the place weird (to your players).  Old furniture from decades past works too.  The key is the place should be alien to your group. 

7)  Searching:
Small clues are best here.  Small bloody footprints in worn carpet, a torn toupee, a dead cell phone, these things your group can find and indicate an associating with people... just absent the people.

8)  Hazard:
Here something happens that should alert the antagonist.  A floor board creaks or old dishes fall from a cabinet the player character's search. Following that moment, everything should be still and quiet.  Stress that tension.  Its like the house holds it's breath, or some ancient evil perks up it's ears to listen.  All is quiet, not a single sound to be heard.

9)  ICK:
Here you place something that should produce a bit of alarm.  A wallet that is wet and sticky with drying blood is a good item for a missing doctor.  A small pocket knife is a good item for a small boy or girl who came to explore the house on a dare (with a supernatural monster or alien antagonist, a sign of that being on the blade is a good idea.. i.e. covered in an oily blue substance that clings to the blade).  This should be some THING that fits into the image of one of the missing people.  For a missing pet, a collar with the pet's name on it fits the bill nicely.

10)  Things start to go wrong:
This is where the evil that lives below the house reaches out somehow and does harm upon your player characters.  This should NOT be direct combat unless the group splits up into lone actors (if they do that then they get what they deserve).  Perhaps someone staying outside waiting for the police to arrive to help is attacked/incapacitated/killed.  The key here is that whatever happens, there should be very little sign of hit occurring. Act swiftly and without mercy as that is what your horror villain is going to do.  As for signs of this occurring, leaving a favorite weapon, a cellphone, or the hat the PC was wearing is a great way to hint at this.  Any encounter should be resolved separately and apart from the rest of the group.  Don't give the rest of your players any indication of the depth of opposition they are encountering.

11)  Cut them off:
Cell phones make this difficult but not impossible.  Make reception in the area bad anyway, and as the group investigates the house make signal unavailable.  This will really peeve characters who are trying to live stream their "adventure". 

As for other avenues, cue up the rain.  Bring in a storm if need be, but you want something that cuts off the sound of the outside world and makes it unlikely that anyone will hear the player characters cry for help. 

12) Pick them off:
Repeat of number 10, its time to get rid of someone else.

13)  Evidence! 
Let the player characters see the depth of the horror they are in.  Maybe they find the missing doctor dying with some terrible evidence of what he has been through.  Let him whisper out a frightening warning before he succumbs and dies.  Use your darkest imaginations here.

14) Confrontation:
In any group you should work to pick off at least one third of the characters before any final conflict.  This remaining two thirds of the party should be the benchmark against which you measure the antagonist's abilities.  In this confrontation the survivors face the horror of the house in the form of your antagonist.  Survivors may be scarred for life.

15) Survivor moment: 
For any survivor of something terrifying the "normal" world can seem a strange place.  Set up your survivor moment so that safety is seemingly at hand, but the world itself now seems more strange and frightening.  Halloween is a good theme for this as you can innocently or not-so-innocently narrate a zombie carrying a crying child into a house (is it a "real" zombie or is it just a parent... you decide)

Recommended antagonists by genre: 

Super hero campaigns -- demented super villain (Kevin the super-cannibal), alien invader (Lovecraft, the Colour out of Space can be adapted here), serial killer, or supernatural entity (don't say ****walker).

Modern/mundane campaigns -- alien invader, serial killer/lunatic, or supernatural entity

western/ steampunk -- Lunatic (brilliant steampunk scientist like Frankenstein) or supernatural entity

Remember, have fun with your horror but know your players.  While having spiders described may be tolerable for your friend who is terrified of spiders, depicting abused people may be intolerable to your friend who survived an abusive relationship.  Keep this in mind.  Role-playing is for fun, horror is cathartic, so keep your subject matter descriptions in those frightening areas that aren't personal.

Thank you for once again joining me on my journey into writing and publishing.

Remember that my first comic book, 47 Furious Tails is live on KickStarter so please do check that out and support the project.

Until next time, have a great game!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

An open discourse on writing role-playing adventures for publications (a few words)

Cover Art by: Brian Lee
Cover for: Tarot Adventures, Book Two: Comet over Echo Rock

Creating adventures for publication has been a real pleasure for me so far.  I enjoy the writing, I look forward to seeing the art I have commissioned, and even enjoy reviewing notes from the play test groups.

When writing an adventure for publication, it is important to remember that you are creating a script of sorts.  Unlike the script for a movie or play, the adventure's conclusion is uncertain.  One group may have an easy time with the encounters laid before them while another group may struggle, suffer, and die.  As the author you need to construct the adventure to be adaptable while keeping it interesting.  Remember that the quality of the story is always more important than the rules of the game.

You will want to incorporate a wide array of challenges in your adventure.  I would recommend that you do NOT make any one test, challenge, or skill a requirement to complete the adventure.  Example: If the enchanted door only opens when someone solves a riddle written in an ancient elven dialect, then if no one can read the riddle the adventure ceases to progress (imagine if Gandolf hadn't been there!?!?!).  Don't do that.  Make certain the players have a way to win while making things challenging.  Problem solving is fun.  Overcoming adversity, defeating terrible foes, rescuing those in distress, and becoming a hero are some of the most fun parts of role-playing.  Balance your challenge and rewards.

Cover Art by:  Rebecca Elisbet Coulthart
Cover for: Tarot Adventures, Book One: The Draw of Glenfallow

Art for your adventure should, ideally, be created for the scene it is enhancing.  While this can be done with stock art, an illustration for the scene you are depicting may not exist.  It is important to make connections and establish a working relationship with a pool of artists you can commission as may be needed.

Regarding art:  I enjoy a wide range of art styles in my books.  I cannot in good conscious recommend that you do the same.  Most publishers adopt a style for their product lines for good reasons (your audience recognizes books you release more easily).  I may one day adopt the same policy myself.

For information about professionalism with regard to how you treat your artists, the value of art, and some ideas on how to retain their services; see my previous blog entry HERE

When integrating art into your adventure you should ask yourself, "am I going to have this book illustrated in black and white or do I want full color"?   You need to decide as it will directly impact your budge.  Do you have the budget for color?  How many books will have have to sell to earn a profit either way?  Ask yourself these questions and answer honestly.  Make smart business decisions here, as losing money because you spent too much on art is a bad position to be in.

Cover art by: Phoenix O'Faery
Variant cover for coming release on Amazon
Cover Art for:  Tale of the Wizard's Eye

Full disclosure here:  I've had one release so far with my second adventure releasing in a couple of days.  I haven't lost any money but I have only made very little to date (I need to work on my marketing).

My business model is predicated on spending little to none of my own money in development.  I've used KickStarter campaigns to fund my first two adventure modules and will be doing so again for my third.    I would like to recommend that you do the same.  There are a number of things to mention about KickStarter, how to do it, how to promote it, etc.  I'll address crowdfunding in greater detail another time.  The point you need to understand is that you don't need to take out a loan, or sell your comic book collection to fund your adventure module.  You can fund your adventure, and produce a high quality book through crowdfunding.  The one thing I will say today, is that I recommend that all revenue you earn from your crowdfunding go into creating the best book you can make, and releasing it on the platforms you want it seen on.

Paying the bills:
Pay your bills on time.  Pay your artists, your llc tax, your amazon store costs, etc.  It will look very bad for you, and shake your audience's confidence in you, if you have a web store shut down because you forgot to pay the bill.  Remember this.  Put the due dates on your desktop calendar and a reminder on your mobile device. 

Talk to an accountant, find out what you can deduct and what records you must keep.  Then keep every receipt you can use.  You will accrue expense such as postage/shipping, costs for proof copies, promotional costs, etc.  You will want to account for each expense so you know just how much money you have going out and how profitable (hopefully) your business is.  You'll need this information for your taxes (in the U.S. anyway).

I'll be writing on producing source material in a comping post.  Until then I want to thank you for coming with me on this journey.  I do hope you'll join me next time.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


I used a lot of online image searches to find references for 47 Furious Tails

Images from the Edo period and beyond were particularly important to provide for Alexia's use in illustrating the comic book.

Thankfully those images were readily available.

There were also a number of old photographs from the 19th century that were just amazing to see as well as being great for determining the look of certain armor's and clothing.

This was just part of the "homework" that went into creating 47 Furious Tails. 

With images such as the ones above (as well as several others I found and sent to her) Alexia was able to invoke elegance and beauty in the art for the comic.  Creating the poster (top below) and the cover (bottom below) as gorgeous works of art.

There is plenty more to come in 47 Furious Tails.  But to get there we need your support.
By pledging your support on KickStarter  HERE and by sharing the link on your social media, you can help us reach our funding goal to bring this comic to print.

Check it out, and see the more work by Alexia Veldhuisen (we included examples of other work she has done independently as well as work she has done Sinopa Publishing LLC).

Thank you for coming on this adventure with me.

I hope to see you next time.

Monday, October 9, 2017

My new comic book!

reference image used for art development
The story of the Ako Incident is one of historic and cultural significance.

The historical record tells us that Asano Naganori committed seppeku after failing to kill Kira, who had insulted him terribly.  Literary accounts of the incident claim Kira was abusively rude to Asano with alarming regularity.  Those same accounts indicate that Kira was corrupt and that Asano had not been willing to bribe him.

reference image used for art development

47 Furious Tails is my re-telling of the Ako Incident.   Using anthropomorphic animal characters, this comic series begins before Asano Naganori's fateful final trip to Edo.   This comic book explores the lives of these historic figures before the events occur that transforms them into legends.

reference image used for literary research

In this telling we've used the phenomenal art of Alexia Veldhuisen, to create a beautiful comic book to immerse you in the tale.  You will see modern illustrations of ancient scenes, thrill at furious samurai action, and bask in the subtle beauty of the era.

Cover by Alexia Veldhuisen
Experience the events that inspired samurai for hundreds of years. 

Support 47 Furious Tails on KickStarter and help us bring this comic to the world.

Thank you for joining me on my adventure today.
I hope you'll join me next time.