068 & 68b Non-Musical Bards, Fantasy Works Follow Up, Murder Hobo & Shadow Fist, On Vacation!

068 Non-Musical Bards

(Links on names typically go to that person's podcast!)
068b NM Bards, Murder Hobo, Vacation!
  • Sword Breaker's Bard episode!
  • Willy the Wizard on the Thought Eater podcast
  • JE Shields says "Accapellists!"
  • Darren "RFED" Green suggests Ventriloquists
  • Larry does an episode of Follow Me and Die! on Whistlers
  • Spikepit suggests a very different kind of Bard, the GM
  • Mark Hunt's micro-game Murder Hobo (below)
  • My take, Shadow & Fist (below)
  • On Vacation until May 28!


067 10 Foundational Works of Fantasy

10 foundational fantasy novels

... that I think everyone who plays adventure games should read in their lifetime

The Rules -- 

  • 10 books only
  • Single, self-contained books only (not recommending series, but books might be part of a series)
  • Not concerned with restrictive genre definitions (some will have sf/horror elements)
  • Written before the 80s (books that influenced early game designers)
  • Only things I've read and can speak for personally
  • Ignoring Mythic Fantasies, Epic Poems, Fairy Tales, & Folklore: Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, Beowulf, The Inferno, Le Morte de Arthur, A Thousand and One Nights, The Fairy Queene, Grimm's Fairy Tales...
  • No anthologies by multiple authors (e.g. Swords Against Darkness 1977), and only one work by an one author
  • Presented in chronological publishing order (sort of - earliest published story, not necessarily book date) and numbered for convenience, but without any intended "rank"

1. A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1912

  • Last one picked!
  • First of the Barsoom series featuring John Carter of Mars
  • Human transplanted into another world
  • Heroic adventure, long on imagination, short on intelligent plotting
  • Super cool creatures

2. Zothique by Clark Ashton Smith, 1970 (1932)

  • CAS did almost all of his serious fiction writing in a single decade, the 30s
  • Empire of the Necromancers, 1932
  • Like Howard, he was a pen pal of Lovecraft
  • Largest cycle of stories written by CAS, dying earth genre
  • Filled with colorful, often archaic language and incredible, unparalleled fantastic imagery
  • Recommended for its richness of language and imagery - pure inventiveness

3. The Coming of Conan the Cimmerean by Robert E. Howard, 2002 (1932)

  • What is the best introduction to Conan?
  • Original works, unedited and unexpanded by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter
  • Patrice Louinet (editor), three volume series for Del Rey
  • The Phoenix on the Sword, The Tower of the Elephant, Queen of the Black Coast, and Black Colossus
  • A more intelligent Conan than the big lummox portrayed by Arnold Schwarzeneger
  • The Hyborian Age
  • Recommended for raw, original sword & sorcery fantasy

4. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1937

  • A children's book, but not a children's book
  • His tightest construction, focused chapters, descriptive & pastoral without overdoing it
  • Fairy tale creatures brought to life and woven into a realistic world. 
  • Read aloud. You need voices for Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin, Balin, Smaug, and Gollum. 
  • Recommended for good fun, a more moralistic, "homely" fantasy, intro into the world-building wonder that is LotR. If you want something that is more pure world building and adult in tone, perhaps try The Silmarillion. (LotR is the sweet spot between?)

5. The Sword in the Stone (book 1 of The Once and Future King) by T.H. White, 1938

  • One of the first and best fantasies based on Arthurian legend
  • Deals with Arthur as a young man (not found in Mallory's Le Morte de Arthur)
  • Arthur is tutored by Merlin, who lives backwards through time
  • Part of his training is to be turned into various animals to learn important lessons
  • Historical details (about things like falconry) but without historical accuracy and with anachronisms
  • " deliberately anachronistic humor, affectionate mockery of the source text, and a commentary on totalitarianism"
  • Recommended for fantasy as commentary, Arthurian content

6. The Dying Earth by Jack Vance, 1950

  • Dying sun, sky of pink to deep blue, strange plants and animals
  • Decadent, shrinking human populations
  • Powerful wizards with a small, but potent catalog of "scientific" spells
  • Artificial humans grown by arcane means
  • Ancient technologies of obscure origin and dangerous functions
  • Recommended for ground-breaking setting material, cool ideas

7. Two Sought Adventure by Fritz Leiber, 1957 (1939)

  • Jewels in the Forest, 1939
  • Excellent characters, whimsical adventures, dark and eerie incidents (Lovecraftian influence)
  • Revised in 1970 as Swords Against Death - added references to Vlana and Ivrain
  • Lankhmar!
  • Lyrical language
  • Recommended for classic Sword & Sorcery fare, humor, witty language, horror elements

8. The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson, 1954

  • Revised in 1971 (recommended)
  • Two protagonists...
  • The son of a king stolen by the elves and replaced with a changeling, Valgard, made from a troll (anger issues)
  • The true, human son and heir, Skafloc, raised by elves
  • War between dark, fey elves and angry, ugly trolls
  • Norse themes, encroachment of Christianity
  • Recommended for a dark fantasy rooted in Norse Mythology with a more grey morality than most fantasy. 

9. Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock, 1972 (1961)

  • The Dreaming City, 1961; Stealer of Souls, 1963
  • Elric the 8th, 428th emperor of Melnibone, the last island fortress of the elves, surrounded by a sea maze and protected by dragons
  • Elric is an albino, physically weak and sustained by drugs and treatments, but mentally strong. 
  • He sees that his hedonistic, decadent kinsmen are caught up in the past - in the glory days of their imperialism - and recognizes the strength of the new kingdoms
  • Allies himself with a chaos lord out of necessity
  • Recommended for GREAT imagery, world building, and (building on Anderson's Broken Sword perhaps) cool dark, amoral elves.

10. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin, 1968

  • Short, coming of age story about a young man who lives on a backwater island but has great innate magical potential
  • LeGuin is an amazing wordsmith
  • Non-white protagonists
  • Interesting and coherent magic system based on discovering and memorizing the true names of things. A wizard spends his life uncovering the hidden, true names of people, creatures, and even natural forces like the wind and waves, in order to evoke them in spells. But there is a catch, every action has a reaction; filling your sails with a helpful wind might cause a terrible storm elsewhere in the world.
  • Nod to The Tombs of Atuan as an amazing second book in the series.
  • Recommended for powerful, focused writing, cool dragons, and a neat magic system.


066 Urban Druids II, 92 Tables, Mutants of Ixx

More thoughts on urban druids from Jim Jones, RFED talks miniatures wargames and scale (as do I), and I review 92 Tables and Mutants of Ixx. Cody and Aaron respond to last week's homework.


059 - 064 Podcast Note Roundup

064 Necromunda, Blades in the Dark, Undead Armies, Xeno Dead Zone

063 City Dreaming

062 Colin Was Right & Nuggets 2

061 Take That Colin — 5e Cast

060 Plugs, Imposters, Symptoms and Causes

059 Monster Twists & Troika

  • Something old, new, borrowed, blue challenge follow-up. 
  • Why aren't monsters fatigued/injured/distracted when you find them? Why are they fighting?
  • I plan to run Troika, here's an NPC
  • Tech upgrade to CR-V studios


058 Some Things Old, New, Borrowed, and Out of the Blue


Top Row: Front, Back, Side
Bottom Row: Unpacked, Packed

057 Call-In Roundup

Call-ins from:


056 Projects!!

On the Workbench

  • Star Dreams - a game about sentient starships
  • Unnamed game about US Marines vs. Dinosaurs in WWII Pacific theater, possibly using The Front by Mark Hunt
  • Tri-fold zines from Nate Treme and Diogo Nogueira and the idea of Plundergrounds Micros

Rusty Swords

  • Project pitch (again, for those who haven't heard it)
  • Talking "scars"

Quarter 1 into Q2



Plundergrounds 7: In One Bite


Plundergrounds is a series of theme-forward zines devoted to Dungeon World adventures. Each 24-32 page issue features a new and different setting with enough content to keep a group of players happy for 1-5 sessions.

This one is a special double-issue, an adventure and an actual play account, both 32 pages.

In One Bite features a super hard opening frame (everyone is on a sinking ship) but then flows (pun intended, as they are washed down the gullet of a Leviathan) into a modular bio-dungeon. The focus is on puzzle-like rooms, some body horror, and general strangeness.

I did all the art for this one, as I did for Beyond the Black Gate, but I used a different style this time. I hope that's a good thing. I'm pleased with the results at any rate.

I also included lots of GM advice. (Way more than I usually would.) It was initially written to run as a one shot at cons to introduce new players to Dungeon World, and I have tested it as such. My largest group during the testing phase was 7 and I finished in 3 hours, including character generation and teaching the game. (Only one person at the table had played Dungeon World before and that was in the previous con session that morning.) I recommend 4 hours, though; 3 is pushing it. At the same time, In One Bite, could easily be played as 3-5 sessions. You should find it to be really flexible.

To purchase this issue, join my Patreon. (Or later, you will be able to get it from the Plundergrounds Back Issues page.)

You can get the Actual Play for free


053 Magic the What Now?

I ramble about using Magic the Gathering cards as inspiration for role-playing. Ideas stolen from the Dragon+ app (free app/subscription).

The online pack generator mentioned can be found at http://mtgen.net/.

[Edit. I was reminded that it was Ben Milton of Questing Beast who came up with tokens idea!)

M19 (Core 2019) Pack - Scenario

  • Foul Orchard - black green land, fertile and fetid*
  • Open the Graves - the swamp has expanded and taken over a cemetery, animating the corpses. Plants versus Zombies? Why not Plant Zombies I say.*
  • Two-Headed Zombie (leader)*
  • Dwarven Priest - bearer or righteous cleansing light*
  • Greenwood Sentinel - elf eco warrior*
  • Salvager of Secrets - merfolk wizard with the book-knowledge to end the cycle*
* Read the italicized flavor text on the cards. (Click to see larger image.)

UMA (Ultimate Masters) Pack - Scroll

  • Double Cleave - flaming blade laughs at your armor, does double damage
  • Desperate Ritual - bring on the lavalanche, but find some decent footing first!
  • Defy Gravity - fly there on a cloud, and return when you feel like it “flashback” 
  • Skyspear Cavalry - summon battle-trained gryphon mount, but only when there’s a fight on. It attacks with you.*
  • Offalsnout - summon grotesque centipede-pig-slug-thing that eats undead?
  • Spider Umbra - clothe yourself in a phantasmal spider suit, for a time you can climb walls, shoot phantasmal webs, move quickly, and get a sting attack. It dissolves when you take damage, hope you aren’t on the ceiling!
* Read the italicized flavor text on the cards. (Click to see larger image.)

The Bonus Pack Scenario 

  • Stampeding Horncrest - working dino that drags big stones to the pyramids, breaks loose and goes on a rampage (event)
  • Silerclad Ferocidons - matched teams of three pull chariots, work best when from the same clutch, one is always dominant
  • Dinosaur Hunter - badass ... uh ... dino hunter. What else is there to say. Probably some kind of ranger.
  • Pitiless Plunderer - cunning but trecherous sea captain who lost his ship, the Trident.
  • Shatter - the aforementioned ship
  • Aquatic Incursion - merfolk planning an invasion of the city. Did they sink the Trident?

The Bonus Pack Scroll

  • Scroll is something a merfolk wizard made and wants back! It is needed for the invasion.
  • Tilonalli's Crown - step 1, a spell to make the dinos in the city run wild/rampage.
  • Crashing Tide - step 2, a spell to cause a tidal wave and swamp the city
  • Shatter - a bomb spell to wreck a city or palace gate, topple a structure, etc.
  • Gruesome Fate - a spell to cage the city's vampire magistrate?



052 Axebane's Deck of Many Dungeons

I review a deck for randomly generating dungeons, Axebane's Deck of Many Dungeons, which you can buy (along with the expansion) for about $20 at Game Crafters.

Short story; I'd buy it again!

Long story; I actually try to use the deck to do a solo thing, which isn't what it was designed for. It is designed as a quick dungeon generator for GM's. It's absolutely bog-standard fantasy stuff in some ways, but it also includes ideas for quests and a way to reach your goals within the cards. Overall, it could really be used as intended.

I personally intend to keep working on a small rules set for using it as a lunchtime-funtime solo play game, and I will keep y'all updated!


051 Revolt on Antares

The one where I talk about the 1981 TSR micrograme, Revolt on Antares. Designed by Tom Moldvay, art by Erol Otus, Bill Willingham, Jeff Dee, David LaForce (Diesel/DSL), Jim Roslof.


041-50 Plundergrounds Show Notes Catch-Up!

041 Roadside Picnic and Into the Odd
Talking about Roadside Picnic, Stalker, Into the Odd, Annihilation.

042 Crossing Lines, Kaiju, Goblintown, WWI
I talk about GMs and players crossing boundaries in play, kaiju movies, the Goblintown design challenge, and Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old.

043 Call-In Extravaganza
Topics include: time spent on the toilet, self-doubt, the book Annihilation, relating the old to the new/mundane to exotic, Valentine's Day, history books on Audible, Gobekli Tepe, crocodile erections, Melee/Wizard/Fantasy Trip, Delving Deeper, Quintessential and Essential BX...

044 Creative Distractions & Guilt
I talk about doing creative things as a way of avoiding doing other creative things. Squirrel! Guilt and creativity.

045 Gary Con XI Day 1
I talk with Angus of Kirby's Kids about our upcoming day and drop con guest names. Then I joust with Cody M of No Save for You. The day ends with a tired ramble about the day's games.

046 Gary Con XI Day 2
Angus recaps his day, we talk about B/X Essentials, sourcing the table, play culture at Gary Con, and I debrief on my two events (Goblintown and Dungeon World).

047 Gary Con XI Day 3
Angus and I talk Bob Meyer's Blackmoor game and the experience of "Arneson's D&D," Traveller character generation seminar with Marc Miller and his Traveller novels, Steve Jackson's vintage Kickstarters, Elric the AH board game, and the day ahead. Later I cast with Cody M of No Save for You and Larry Hamilton of Follow Me and Die! Then I recap my day gaming with Brett of Gaming and BS and playing at Gary Gygax's house.

048 Gary Con XI Day 4
Angus and I wrap up the week, even though we then hung around for another 4+ hours talking to people, buying stuff, and generally basking in the gamer glow. Topics include world building at TSR, Zeb Cook, Planescape, writing for yourself vs. for the mob, making jump from TTRPGs to computer games, Interplanar Melee, and gaming at Gary Gygax's house.

    049 Encounter Tables, Do Better
    A quick rant about encounter tables that are too repetitive/thin.

    Bonus: Larry Elmore on Fantasy Art: Gary Con XI, March 7th, 2019

    050 Call-In Roundup 
    Random topics including encounter tables, timers, avoiding rust monsters, Dune, Barsoom, bronze age gaming, OGRE, illusions, Revolt on Antares, Tetsuo, the Tripod Trilogy, and establishing questions.


    Plundergrounds 7.5: In One Bite - Actual Play

    No you didn't miss #7! It will come out next month. Issue 7 will be a con scenario, a bio-dungeon, a teaching zine that helps Dungeon World GM's run the game, and more!

    Issue 7.5 is an actual play record of the first time I ran the material that will appear in issue 7.

    Tell your friends about it, because it's free.

    Download: Screen - Booklet*

    * As always, the booklet is ready to print. Settings should be US Letter, landscape, double-sided, short edge binding.

    040 Braces Off! Rando Rambling

    I celebrate getting my braces off with a long ramble!


    039 Design Meandering Call-Ins

    Call ins from Matt, JJ, and Emanuel. We talk spell throwing, saves, prime requisites, and Lovecraftian hacks.


    038 Let's Make a Zine Part 2

    I field some call-ins from people who are reporting progress and talk about writing in or out of "the shell," choosing fonts, and more.


    Books & Bullets v1.0

    [Rules update log below downloads. Last update 2/6/2019 11:01 am GMT-8.]

    Books & Bullets is a Cthulhu adventure game that shoots the line of complexity between Trail of Cthulhu and Cthulhu Dark, and which avoids the Insanity death spiral without taking the sting out of the Lovecraftian horror.

    The game includes three single-sided play sheets.

    Players – introduction, story hook, character sheet, character generation rules, dice mechanics, and rules for insight, mythos checks, and helping/hindering.

    Mythos Master – your agenda, insanity & death, scaling mythos checks, running adventures, and an introductory mystery

    Resources – (for everyone) tech by era, word lists, name lists, equipment list, sources of inspiration

    This game is FREE to everyone and released under the CC-BY-NC-SA license. You are encouraged to link others here to get the game.


    Rules Updates:
    2/6/2019 - Ver 1.0 public release (removed A4 and RTF formats, avail. to patrons only)
    1/24/2019 - Ver 1.0 patreon release

    037 Retro Design Meandering

    The one in which I ramble about fixing problems that aren't problems for a product I will probably never make! I talk about how returning to old school roots and then trying to smooth out the rough spots is good thing but can lead to bringing back the complexity many of us were trying to escape in the first place. Then I go on to discuss a different way to do spell access and experience w/aging.

    Systems mentioned:

    • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Dungeon Crawl Classics
    • Melee/Wizard/The Fantasy Trip
    • The Black Hack
    • Into the Odd
    • Troika!
    • Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells
    • Beyond the Wall
    • Adventurer Conquerer King
    • Maze Rats


    036 Let's Make a Zine!

    A caller asks for advice on making a zine and I try to deliver. There's homework for those of you similarly inclined!


    035 Call-ins, InSpectres, Books & Bullets!

    Today I jabbered on about resurrection with callers, InSpectres, mouthing off, and my new game Books & Bullets.


    034 Call-Ins, Death & Resurrection, Patreon

    In this episode I field some call-ins and talk further about character death, character growth, and resurrection. Also, I announce a change to my Patreon


    033 Back to Basix, ToAD, Ghost Star, Death and Growth

    In this episode...


    032 Training “Schools” & Cleric Disfavor

    I talk about elements from 70s Wuxia films that could be ported into your fantasy adventure game. All movies mentioned are currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Then I discuss porting Dungeon Crawl Classics “disfavor” for clerics into Dungeon World and B/X.



    030 Solo Gaming Hangout

    Solo Gaming Hangout w/Sophia Brandt, Slade Stolar, Michael Barford. Recorded April 14, 2017.
    Watch the YouTube Video

    • The big list of solo RPG resources from my blog http://dieheart.net/solorpg
    • Getting started with solo role-playing primer: http://dieheart.net/getting-started-solo/
    • Actual play reports solo http://dieheart.net/category/actual-play/
    • Dungeon World solo plays: http://dieheart.net/ap-dungeon-world-one/ and http://dieheart.net/ap-dungeon-world-two/
    • The Mythic Game Master Emulator: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/20798/Mythic-Game-Master-Emulator?it=1
    • The 9 Questions: (download) http://dieheart.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/The-9Qs.zip
    • The 5 Room Dungeon: https://1d4chan.org/wiki/Five_Room_Dungeon
    • Lone Wolf G+ Community: https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/116965157741523529510
    • Products from the former soloroleplaying.com: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/6632/Cabbage-Games
    • Rory’s Story Cubes: https://www.storycubes.com/
    • Adventuresmith (Android): https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.steavesea.adventuresmith&hl=en
    • Itras By: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/107617/Itras-By-English
    • Itras By (Just the cards): https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/111501/Itras-By-Card-Set-English
    • Ray’s Random Dungeon World Move Generator: http://www.jellysaw.com/
    • John Yorio’s Excellent “Solo Role-Playing Series” of blog posts: https://tabletopdiversions.blogspot.com/2015/01/solo-role-playing-series-part-1.html
    • Marshall Miller’s Dungeon Starters: http://www.finemessgames.com/DWsupplements/dungeonstarters
    • Logan Howard’s Sword Breaker zine: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/207706/Sword-Breaker-Issue-No-2--The-Hollow-Fingers
    • Joe Banner’s Adventures: https://www.patreon.com/jbinc
    • The Armitage Files: https://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/15/15383.phtml
    • Todd vs. The Black Hack (online solo play): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUVmgndvBVU&t=1985s
    • H is for Hex Mapping (with Rory’s Story Cubes): http://theironpact.com/h-is-for-hex-mapping/