Wednesday, February 28, 2018


I wanted to give people a preview of Jackie Musto's cover art for Strange Tales of Songling. I think the artwork is incredibly evocative and captures the complete range of the game beautifully. 

I talk about this in the podcast discussion below, but the top portion of the image shows three types of creatures. On the left there is a ghost, in the middle is a monster inspired by the creature from the Pu Songling story "Painted Skin", and in the upper right corner is a fox spirit seducing a scholar. Pu Songling stories include a vast range of supernatural elements. But these three seem to have the strongest resonance and association with them, so I wanted them to be on the cover. Painted Skin for example has been made into films many times. Ghosts and Fox Spirits come up frequently in Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. I explain some of my thoughts about their appearance here in the podcast. 

Below them we also have four characters, who represent the four Paths in the game. These are basically character classes (from left to right): Scholar, Ritual Master, Wandering Sword and Demon Hunter. 

In the podcast I explain those in more depth. 

Strange Tales of Songling isn't just horror. It includes unusual accounts of a wide variety, but I wanted to emphasize the creepier side of things in this cover. Still I think the cover hints at a lot more beyond that. In Strange Tales stories you never know if the monster is going to be a villainous threat or something more benevolent. Again, I get into this in the podcast, but I think the cover conveys better than I can, what I am trying to say here. 

Jackie was kind enough to make a gif showing the cover design process, from sketch to the final stages. Here is what that looks like: 

You can expect to hear more about Strange Tales of Songling in the coming months. Here is a podcast discussion where I talk about the art and how it relates to the mechanics and setting of the Strange Game. 

Monday, February 26, 2018


Recently I decided to return to Return of Condor Heroes, reading it with my friend Kenny. Kenny is in my tuesday game group and is also on our Friday wuxia podcast. He and I both enjoy wuxia stories and wanted to record our thoughts, five chapters at a time. So the format was one-part recap, one-part discussion. It has been interesting and I've had a lot of fun, but also it has had a large impact on my gaming and my reading. 

In my Lady Eighty Seven campaign, it has shown up in a large number of ways, from the way I've handled things like animal companions to family. The latter has become quite important. I generally try to bring family into my campaigns as much as possible. And family drama is always tricky, because you want to be fair to the players, not rely on ties they've handed you as easy adventure hooks or ways to limit their behavior. I try to take an approach that is even-handed. There should be benefits and downsides to every family connection (i.e. an advantage such as wealth or social connection, might be balanced out by obligations or conflict). 
Yang Guo and Xiaolongnu 

In return of Condor Heroes there is a lot of family drama. Taking one of the major examples, Guo Fu (the daughter of Guo Jing and Huang Rong) is a constant source of tension and tragedy for the protagonist Yang Guo. She and Yang Guo seem relentlessly at odds and on multiple occasions she makes decisions that have dire consequences for him and his love interest Xioalongnu. But she is a tie that is difficult to escape from, because his father was sworn brothers with her's and the Guo-Couple are the closest thing he has to real family (his father died before he was born, his mother died when he was very young). There are other important people in his life. He has an interesting relationship with Ouyang Feng (the villain from the first book), and Ouyang Feng's affection is quite paternal. But his relationship with the Guo couple remains significant through the entire story. The ties he has to Guo Fu are not easily severed. So just the relationship with Guo Fu alone produces a lot of interesting conflict and developments. 

This doesn't mean family drama always has to be antagonistic. In fact, I think it is better if it usually isn't. And there can still be conflict without antagonism. I can give three examples (two from my Lady Eighty Seven campaign and one from my Disposable Disciples campaign). In the former, two of the characters are the sons of Qin the apothecary and his wife. Midway through the campaign, they learned that their father had helped smuggle many heroes to safety who were seeking escape from the emperor. Soon after they learned that their mother was one such hero called Saffron Tigress. They gained a lot from this. She was a great hero with knowledge and good Kung Fu. She could teach them techniques and offer guidance. But she was still wanted by the empire, and over time, rumors of their connections to Saffron Tigress spread through a leak in an organization run by their martial uncle. Eventually this led them to a moment where they had a clear choice: protect their mother and abandoned their father's legacy of saving heroes, or fight against the empire and probably die in the process. It is still unclear what they've decided in the end, but they've spent the last session or two mulling over this question. 

This is the kind of family connection the GM needs to be a bit cautious about. I put these sort of situations in the "I am your father" category, where you really can't be doing it all the time because it loses its punch. But it is a type of revelation that comes up often in wuxia, so I think in keeping with the genre. 

I think what is most interesting to me about this is these are characters who would normally not be so selfless. They are not heroes. They are criminals. And they are content to rob, steal, kill and poison. But because this is a family tie, they are behaving differently. And this isn't something you need any deep grasp of wuxia or another historical period to grasp. This is something we can draw from our own lives and apply to our games. Family relationships are significant and they can cause us to behave differently than we do with the rest of the world. 

But not all relationships are happy or pleasant. Like Guo Fu and Huang Rong, another character in the party, has a more challenging relationship with his family. He married into the Eighty Seven Killers, but is a drunk and not particularly nice to people. He and his wife argue and fight, and this would be not very important to the campaign except his wife is the granddaughter of Lady Eighty Seven (the head of the Eighty Seven Killers). 

In many ways this is less dramatic than the Saffron Tigress situation, it is mostly just little spats between Boorish Drunken Sword and his wife, Guan Nuan. However her brother, Yan also occasionally gets involved, and there have been mild poisonings before important missions. But this is a sword that hangs over the whole party, and everyone is aware of it, because the more Boorish Drunken Sword antagonizes his wife, the greater the likelihood that Lady Eighty Seven decides to kill him (and maybe his companions as well). 

At the same time, he's married into the boss's family. So it brings a lot of advantages. Like everything though, this is a double edged sword. He may have easier access to the boss, easier access to resources and connections with various bribed officials, but his household has an enormous target on it. 

In my Disposable Disciples campaign, I have a player who wanted to be a member of Canyon Sect (one of the sects destroyed by Zhe Valley). The leader of Canyon sect became the Green Guardian (a protector of the valley who has no real will of his own anymore). This player wanted to be his son, and have as a goal the restoration of Zhe Valley and his father. I decided to let him try, and in the end he succeeded. And while he achieved what he wanted, there was also now the complexity of the new relationship with his father (who quickly became leader of their restored sect). In fact, this character's siblings have become important as news of the sect's return spread and people came out of hiding. 

I tried to think about each sibling and give them a distinct personality (sometimes with input from the player). One of the brothers arrived, crippled from a great master, but with his daughter and son dutifully at his side. He obviously wanted revenge, so this led to an adventure in itself. But another brother, a former assassin, returned, and was now a monk. He urged his family to relinquish their worldly grudges and let go of their desires for wealth. He rebuked them and left the place becoming a source of concern for their family. 

Here are some of my thoughts on this topic on the podcast:

Here are the podcast recaps and discussions of Return of Condor Heroes (we still have one to go, which will come out this Friday, but this takes you through Chapter 35):

Saturday, February 24, 2018


For those who don't know the background, I recently started making a game inspired by the stories of Pu Songling's Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. It encompasses a little more than that, but for now, that is enough of a description. The setting is simply called World of Songling, and it is a little unusual. I play the world a few different ways. In some cases it is simply a dreamworld, in others it is its own special place. Today, I want to talk about one of the more recent approaches I've been using.

I've been playing around with the afterlife in my Strange Tales adventures. Specifically I've been treating it as Chinese Hell, or Diyu. One of the big reasons for this is because I want to fit Strange Tales into my regular gaming schedule and needed to give it a place where it made sense. This works great because whenever a character dies, it can be an opportunity for a slight change of pace as a kind of weekend-in-hell. 

For example, say a group of characters are fighting a bunch of wicked masters at a temple, and one of them is killed by a poisoned blade during the battle. The dead PC, wakes up in a misty town with strange geography, and human devouring paper lanterns haunting the sky. He finds himself trapped in this world, a shifting landscape that turns out to be the entrance into hell (Diyu). Within this world, he must find some means of escape over the course of several adventures. It could be a simple crawl from the 10 courts of Diyu, or he may simply hop from location to location, villages, temples, manor houses that all resemble real places. The idea is to provide a conceit for a monster-of-the-week. The other players can make new characters who are also recently arrived dead, or perhaps more interestingly, they storm into hell to rescue their fallen friend. 

Again, these are ideas I am still trying out in various forms in playtests. But increasingly this approach of Strange Tales as an escape from hell, is clicking more and more for me. It also frees me up to continue running regular campaigns of Ogre Gate, while occasionally venturing into the World of Songling (which is the ideal place for it to have in my overall campaign schedule). 

Another way I've been using it, is as a test before rebirth. This gets a bit thorny and complex but here the idea is if you have a total party kill, you break out Strange Tales and run 10 adventures for them in the afterlife. Their behavior and performance in these adventures would result in higher or lower rebirth (meaning after those ten sessions I resume Ogre Gate and the players who pleased the Hell Kings get more resources, status, etc; while those who displeased would be born with flaws (importantly this also means more character points at character creation, so it isn't all bad). I still have to work out some of the details here. Ideally it should be simple, so I may just give each character a '+' or '-' for each adventure in terms of how they conduct themselves. Then look at the total amount when it is all done and make a decisions about it. But I am also thinking of making more procedural (however I am striving for Strange Tales to be much simpler than Ogre Gate, so I am more inclined towards the former). 

I should have more to say on this in the coming weeks. Also, while this really isn't a wuxia topic so much as an account of the strange topic, for categorization purposes, I'm filing all these thoughts under 'wuxia inspiration' to connect it to my blog entries on Ogre Gate. 

Here are some of my thoughts on the topic that lead up to this blog entry: 


Every Friday we talk about wuxia movies. The past month or so we've also done a discussion of Return of Condor Heroes as Kenny and I work our way through five chapters at a time. 

Today's movie is A Chinese Ghost Story, an atmospheric and action-packed adaptation of a classic Pu Songling tale directed by Ching Sui-tung, starring Leslie Cheung, Joey Wong and Wu Ma. 

You can also hear me and Kenny talk about Return of Condor Heroes chapters 31-35. Return of Condor Heroes is a widely loved story by Jin Yong and part of a trilogy that includes Legend of Condor Heroes and Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre. ROCH follows the adventures of Yang Guo and Xiaolongnu a heroic couple beset by tragedy and at odds with the norms of the martial world. We just have one more episode to go on ROCH so this is a good time to catch up on our previous discussions. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018


At Wuxia World, you can follow the story of Sunan and Bao in the Legends of Ogre Gate series by Deathblade. The latest chapter is available HERE. If you want to start from the beginning, check out the INDEXI've been posting support to go with the Legend of Ogre Gate story. Here is the latest entry. 

Skill: Meditation against Attack 
Type: Counter 
Qi: 8

You close your eyes and vanish, causing the attack to miss. 

Make a Meditation Roll against the attack roll. You reappear wherever you wish the following round. 

Skill: Meditation TN 6; Arm Strike against Evade
Type: Normal
Qi: 8

Your eyes burn with a maroon Qi energy as you unleash streams of Qi that form into a single column against your foe. 

Make a Meditation TN 6 roll. On a Success, roll Arm Strike against the Evade of a single Target. On a Success you release five beams of energy from each hand which merge together and do 16 Automatic Wounds (no damage roll). 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


At Wuxia World, you can follow the story of Sunan and Bao in the Legends of Ogre Gate series by Deathblade. The latest chapter is available HERE. If you want to start from the beginning, check out the INDEXI've been posting support to go with the Legend of Ogre Gate story. Here is the latest entry. 

These maps were rumored to be used by the scouts and spies of Sunan and Bao. These maps show the easter half of Qi Xien and are quite accurate. It is believed all were destroyed but one, except for one. The only remaining map was swallowed by a scout before she was burned to death by the Demon Emperor. She died, but the map survived and acquired a bit of her spirit. Anyone using such a map, gains a +1d10 to any Survival Roll used to travel from place to place. The map can also gently communicate with the user, giving them good or bad feelings as they move in different directions. 


Legend of the Condor Heroes 1 A Hero Born Book Review
Note: This review first appeared on Drama Panda (HERE). Also you may be interested in listening to the discussion on Deathblade's Channel where he offers a critique of some of the translation's decisions (particularly the way names were translated). You can listen to Deathblade's thoughts HERE

Legend of the Condor Heroes is a wuxia classic by Jin Jong about two sworn brothers who take very different paths in the aftermath of a family tragedy. It is also a story of love and adventure. This is a review of an official translation of the first book in the series, A Hero Born. It is translated by Anna Holmwood and published by MacLehose Press. 

Set in the Song Dynasty during the period of the Great Jin, a Hero Born follows the life of Guo Jing, a descendent of Guo Sheng (a character from the Water Margin). Before birth, his father, Guo Xiaotian, is killed by soldiers sent by a corrupt Song official and his mother finds refuge on the Mongolian Steppe, where Jing is trained by the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan and raised in the court of Genghis Khan (when he is still Temujin). His father's sworn brother, Yang Tiexie, disappears in the attack, and his son, Yang Kang, is raised elsewhere (which I won't get into here to avoid spoilers). 

Monday, February 19, 2018


This is the 81st session of Disposable Disciples. In this session, the players attempt to perform charitable deeds, deal with an overly righteous family member, try to take the Five Ghost Hand Manual, and obtain a branch of the Epoch Tree from the belly of a giant toad in the swamps of Emo Cheng. 


At Wuxia World, you can follow the story of Sunan and Bao in the Legends of Ogre Gate series by Deathblade. The latest chapter is available HERE. If you want to start from the beginning, check out the INDEXI've been posting support to go with the Legend of Ogre Gate story. Here is the latest entry. 

According to legend, when people die they appear before the Eight Magistrates for judgment, to determine how they will be reborn and if they should be punished before rebirth. The truth is most people, even good ones, must suffer some form of penalty. They say that Ruan the Flamingo had many great talents and he forged numerous powerful artifacts. But, some also say, he was a tremendous liar and when he appeared before the Eight Magistrates, this landed him in a good deal of trouble. One of the magistrates took great exception to this and decided to make an example of him. He was sentenced to be roasted for several thousand years over a great flame. This eventually reduced his body to bones, and ultimately a charred skull. Before the skull could be consumed in the flames, a servant of the Ghostly Emperor grabbed the skull and took it to the world of man, where it is believed to remain to this day. 

This skull has no magical ability that it can impart to its user, but it can speak, and has Ruan the Flamingo's memories of his past and his punishment. Memories of his punishment are more immediate and so he tends to encourage everyone to live by the Dehuan virtues, lest they suffer his fate. He can also tell people about the time of Sunan and Bao. But more than that, he is a master craftsmen and can advise anyone trying to create powerful objects. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018


Last night on the podcast we finished up our Brave Archer discussion with Brave Archer 3 (we may continue with Brave Archer and His Mate at a later date). This is the story of Guo Jing and Huang Rong, a classic heroic couple from the outstanding Legend of Condor Heroes novels.

Also, Kenny and I have been going through the Return of Condor Heroes novels, discussing five chapters every episode. This is the sequel to Legend of Condor Heroes.

Friday, February 16, 2018


At Wuxia World, you can follow the story of Sunan and Bao in the Legends of Ogre Gate series by Deathblade. The latest chapter is available HERE. If you want to start from the beginning, check out the INDEX.

This ancient hemp sack and long hemp cord, once belonged to Du Qian. They seem plain and ordinary. However, they can be used by someone with good Karma (+2 or greater) to capture Jiangshi and similar creatures (the full range allowable is up to the GM). When used against Jiangshi, the cord is infused with a powerful violet energy, and the sack enlarges. The cord can be used with the Light Melee Skill to grab a Jiangshi up to 15 feet away. Roll Light Melee against Evade and on a success, the cord gets it in a Restrain. Once restrained, if you place the sack near the creature, it opens wide and pulls the Jiangshi inside. Then if the bag is wrapped tight with the cord, the monster will remain trapped there for ten years (or until the cord is untied). 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


At Wuxia World, you can follow the story of Sunan and Bao in the Legends of Ogre Gate series by Deathblade. The latest chapter is available HERE. If you want to start from the beginning, check out the INDEX.

According to legend this ornate branch of coral was originally from the lowest depths of the oceans where Mount Zhizhu cradles the deep waters. It looks like normal coral but appears to be jade. It was said to have a special resonance with Mount Zhizhu. One of the most powerful artifacts in Qi Xien, it was sealed in a mountain centuries ago (accounts vary but some say the Timeless Master placed trapped it inside Mount Bao). The Coral has a profound ability to make anyone within 2 miles of it, happy. This may not seem like much, but it is enough to quell rebellions in cities or pacify enemies in battle. And the happiness is unusual, as it rises in intensity until it becomes a kind of insanity. Roll 6d10 against the Resolve of anyone in the presence of the coral. On a Success they are happy and content for 1d10 days. The Coral keeps working so long as it remains within 2 miles. However anyone exposed to the coral in this fashion for 1 year or more, automatically gains a Mental Affliction (WHOG, 168). 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


I know it has been a while since we've posted on Disposable Disciples. I've been working on a few things and wasn't able to post logs regularly. Originally I had planned to do a recap log, but instead I decided to start recording and posting sessions. Occasionally I may mix in recaps. This is the 80th session of the Disposable Disciples campaign. This is the most open, free-form sandbox of Ogre Gate.

Monday, February 12, 2018


Here is last week's podcast recording of our Lady Eighty Seven campaign. This is a campaign I am running in Fan Xu province (part of the empire in the Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate Setting). 

This campaign is forming the content of an upcoming book (probably just called Lady Eighty Seven or Sons of Lady Eighty Seven) that will provide the groundwork for people to run their own campaign. 


At Wuxia World, you can follow the story of Sunan and Bao in the Legends of Ogre Gate series by Deathblade. The latest chapter is available HERE. If you want to start from the beginning, check out the INDEX.

This manual contains a technique called Diamond Body Stone Mind Technique. It is believed to have once belonged to Li Buwei but was lost toward the end of the Era of the Demon Emperor. It is not believed Li Buwei himself knew the technique, merely that he had the manual in his possession. 

Discipline: Neigong
Skill: Endurance 
Type: Counter and Special
Qi: 6

You harden your body against attacks but at the expense of your mind. 

Make an Endurance Roll against the Attack Roll of any physical attack. On a Success your body is immune to the blow. 

Taking this Technique raises your Hardiness by 1, but lowers your Wits by 3. 

Cathartic: In addition to being immune to the attack, your body is so hard it does 3d10 Open Damage to the person or object striking you. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018


At Wuxia World, you can follow the story of Sunan and Bao in the Legends of Ogre Gate series by Deathblade. The latest chapter is available HERE. If you want to start from the beginning, check out the INDEX.

The Wind Sabre of Sunan was once much more powerful than it is today. Some believe the blade can be restored to its former state, and this is called The Pure Blade of Sunan. On a Successful Attack the Pure Blade of Sunan does 4 Extra Wounds plus anyone struck must make an Endurance TN 7 or suffer 3d10 additional damage as a frosty energy fills their body. On a Total Success the target is paralyzed for 3 rounds. If anyone blocks an attack from the blade with a melee weapon, limb or object held in their hand, they still suffer 3d10 Damage from cold Qi energy. 

Another feature of the blade in this state is it can unleash a blast of wind. Make a Medium Melee attack roll against the Evade of all in a 100 foot area. On a Success those affected are thrown back 20 feet and take 2d10 Open Damage.

How the blade can be restored is ultimately up to the GM. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018


This is our podcast discussion of Brave Archer 2. We will discuss Brave Archer 3 next Friday. 

Every Friday we talk about a wuxia or kung fu movie (or similar genre). This month we are doing Brave Archer 1-3 and A Chinese Ghost Story. Next month we will kick things off with 14 Amazons. To catch the podcast when it is released, check us out on Podbean or follow me on twitter @Bedrockgames:

Friday, February 9, 2018


This is the podcast recording of our discussion of Brave Archer, Chang Cheh's take on Legend of Condor Heroes. Tonight we will discuss Brave Archer 2. 

Every Friday we talk about wuxia films and movies in similar genres. This month we are doing Brave Archer 1-3 and A Chinese Ghost Story. To catch the podcast when it is released, check us out on Podbean or follow me on twitter @Bedrockgames:

Thursday, February 8, 2018


“The Hidden Halls of Hazakor” is a kickstarter for an upcoming fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure designed with the beginning Gamemaster in mind. It is written by Scott Fitzgerald Gray with illustrations by Jackie Musto. You can find the kickstarter HERE

Scott Fitzgerald Gray is a writer, game designer and editor whose credits include adventures and core books for the last three editions of Dungeons & Dragons. He was co-editor of the fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual, and has written numerous adventures. Jackie Musto is an artist and illustrator, who created the Kay and P Comic series. She also created the Adventures of Lady Skylark and has worked as an illustrator on a variety of projects, including RPGs. 

I was able to speak with both of them about their kickstarter for “The Hidden Halls of Hazakor”. As a matter of full disclosure, I have worked with Jackie as an illustrator for most of our recent Bedrock Games books.

BRENDAN: What is “The Hidden Halls of Hazakor”?

SCOTT:“The Hidden Halls of Hazakor” is a starter adventure for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a straight-up, old-style dungeon crawl (and a bit of a love letter from me to “Keep on the Borderlands” and “In Search of the Unknown”, the original D&D starter adventures in which a lot of old-school gamers first played). But in addition to being written for beginning Dungeon Masters (as most starter adventures are), it’s also written specifically for young Dungeon Masters — players anywhere from 12 years old and up who are just getting into the process of running their own games.

JACKIE: It's absolutely something I would of liked as a kid. I was very lucky to have a group of older, more experienced people to help me play but I know a lot of teens now who want to begin a game with their friends and don't know how.

BRENDAN: What are some of the issues you found beginning Gamemasters grapple with? What were both of your experiences when you first tried your hand at it?

SCOTT: As everyone who does it knows, running a roleplaying game well is more of an art than a science. And for better or worse, that means that a lot of what you need to know to be a good Gamemaster comes from the experience of running games. The tricks and tools are things you often pick up only by trial and error—but when you’re a young player trying to run a game for the first time, there’s only so much trial and error you can take before things get frustrating. I first got into RPGs in high school, and even at sixteen, running my first D&D games was a remarkably stressful experience. You need to be on point with rules decisions, even as you’re trying to be creative and improvisational at the same time. You need to constantly try to reach the “Goldilocks” level for your encounters (not too hard; not too easy). And then you add into that the overarching idea that you’re the person responsible for making sure all the other people around your table are having fun. It raises the stakes of running a game to a whole other level.

JACKIE: My first game was probably not so great to play in, ha ha. I had written out way too much, and thought the players would act a certain way or perform a task just as I imagined it. I couldn't have been more wrong! I always find that as a storyteller or Gamemaster, you have to be ready to roll with all the funny things you'd never expect someone to do. My friends were all such great sports though. I think the most crucial take away I had from my initial experiences was to make it fun - that's the most important aspect.

BRENDAN:  Where did the idea come from?

SCOTT: The concept of doing a starter D&D adventure for young DMs came as a result of running an afternoon RPG club at my daughters’ middle school a number of years ago. We had a great turnout and a good mix of experienced Gamemasters and players wanting to run games for the first time. And for that latter group, I found myself kind of floating around the room answering a lot of the same questions, and giving the same advice, and seeing GMs dealing with the exact same problems I had dealt with running my first games. But they all had the added complication that when you’re eleven or twelve years old, it’s often hard to summon up the confidence to bluff your way through not knowing what you’re doing—as all experienced GMs eventually figure out.

So I created the original version of the adventure that’s morphed into “The Hidden Halls of Hazakor” for the RPG club. It was written specifically for the kids who wanted to try their hand at running an adventure, in a straightforward style with lots of advice, and little notes talking about “If the players do this unexpected and disastrous thing, here’s how you can not panic and think about ways to change the adventure so you can keep going.” I’ve thought off and on about just polishing it up and releasing it as a free text-only piece that gamer parents could print out for their kids. But the more time I spent with it, the more I thought about how much more effective it might be as a fully illustrated piece, with those illustrations doing their own part to tell a young DM, “This is about having fun.”

BRENDAN: How did you approach designing the Halls of Hazakor?

SCOTT: The main issue that came up in the design process was trying to balance the desire to have the adventure be easy to run, and the desire to not have it be simplified to the point where it took the edge off the fun. Though the final version is still written in the same straightforward style as its original RPG club incarnation, at the end of the day, I think this is still a fun little dungeon crawl that any group of players would enjoy. Beyond that, the biggest design paradigm involved embracing a sense of adventure-as-instructional-piece. I was always looking for ways to not just tell the DM what was going on, but to give a sense of how what was going on related to the larger issues of what it means to be a DM.

So for most of the encounters, it’s not just a matter of creating an interesting scenario. There’s a goal of wrapping up some little idea that'll crop up time after time in every adventure the DM will ever run. Little things like: If the characters run, should the monsters chase them? What do you do if those monsters chase the group into a bunch of other monsters and the encounter suddenly gets too hard? Is it fun to terrify the players by asking them to make Wisdom (Perception) checks even when there are no monsters around? (Answer: Yes, it is.) And then on top of the little things, there are the big issues that every first-time GM wrestles with. How do you help the players work through arguments? How do you deal with problem players? And how do you deal with characters dying?

BRENDAN: What was the art process like?

JACKIE: So, a little story time here: roleplaying games are what made me decide I wanted to make my career as an illustrator. The first time I was handed a player's guide and opened to see the art inside, my brain just exploded. It was so cool, and so amazing-all the styles, the characters... that's what I wanted to make. Playing the games gave me the opportunity to begin that when my friends would describe their characters and I would draw them-and the stories and ideas we came up with seemed so alive and creative. It's absolutely why I'm doing what I do now-I want to pay it forward. I want to see more characters in these amazing books that call to who I am, and call to the multitudes of folks who might want to play a game. I hope as many people as possible can look at these characters and see themselves enough to become invested and inspired. So, when Scott initially approached me and stressed how important having a diverse cast of kids as the main characters, I was totally on board.

SCOTT: The only real vision I had for the art was that I wanted a style that would be a good fit for younger players, and that it would be cool to have one illustrator do the whole book (which isn’t the normal process for RPG stuff). And I consider myself extraordinarily lucky that Jackie agreed to come on board. We talked about having a set of young iconic characters kind of anchoring the illustrations, to give young players a sense of connection to them, and the crew that Jackie came up with are absolutely awesome. Out of everyone that's backed the project and all the people that have offered feedback, literally every single person has commented on how much they love the art.

JACKIE: I am so thrilled about the reception it's got. I really love those kids and want to see them tackle the Halls of Hazakor.

BRENDAN: Can you talk about the Eternal Hero! Rewards?

SCOTT: Only in a “Sorry, they’re all gone!” way, unfortunately. Jackie came up with the idea of offering a limited number of player portrait packages, so that backers could have their daughter, son, niece, nephew, et al immortalized in heroic RPG style. And they went amazingly fast.

JACKIE: I can thank younger me for that one. I always wanted to be a character in the books we were using, so I figured other kids might like to see themselves as well! With the Eternal Hero reward, kids will see themselves turned into an actual hero that could be undertaking the Halls of Hazakor. Supplied with some reference, a favorite class and color I'll be drawing an original, custom drawing of the child at this tier. And I can't believe how fast those reward tiers went! I thought ten would be enough-I wish I could do more!

BRENDAN: What are some of the changes and trends you’ve seen in recent years in terms of new Gamemasters coming to the hobby? What impact has technology had?

JACKIE: It's become so much more mainstream, which I adore. I think roleplaying had kind of a strange mystery about it that folks didn't always understand-but there have been a lot of podcasts and YouTubers who have demystified it and brought it to a whole new audience. The internet also makes it easier to connect and play with friends. My current group uses Discord and video chat to get together, share maps and other important details. It takes the difficulty of finding local players and makes it so much easier. There are also so many games that I think there is something the appeals to everyone no matter if you're a history nut, high fantasy person or into the social manipulation type game-there is something out there for you.

SCOTT: I think the single biggest trend I can point to is the popularity of fifth edition D&D. That revised ruleset has introduced the game to a new generation of players who were never exposed to the previous editions of D&D—and at the same time, it’s brought a lot of older players back into the game. People who (like myself) played AD&D in high school or college before getting busy with life in later years have embraced the new game in an amazing way. That’s definitely a testament to the work that the design team put in on fifth edition, and their specific goal of bringing back some of the feel of the older versions of D&D where that had gotten lost over the years. But the practical upshot is that the current D&D player base covers probably a wider range of age and experience than it ever has before, largely because of how accessible the rules are and how easy it is to get into the game.

Technology has had a solid impact on tabletop gaming, at just about every level. Fifth edition D&D is a solid ruleset partly because of the multiyear process of the D&D Next playtest that preceded it, which saw multiple iterations of the rules released online for playtesting by the entire D&D community. Though the Web has obviously been around for a while, that kind of release-the-rules/collate-feedback/revise-and-release-again approach to creating a game of D&D’s scope is something that I don’t think could have been done even ten years ago. And pretty much every RPG these days is making full use of the Web to build and support their own communities of players. Game books that I owned in high school and gave away years ago are all available as PDFs these days. You can try out D&D and a lot of other games using inexpensive (or sometimes even free) basic and fast-start rules published as PDFs. You can go onto YouTube or Twitch and watch people playing D&D, Pathfinder, Fantasy AGE, Shadow of the Demon Lord, and every other game imaginable. You can use virtual tabletop software and video chat to connect with other players online as easily as you can around a table. I, myself, run a weekly game on the virtual tabletop website Roll20 that involves players scattered across three time zones—including two of the friends from high school who I started gaming with. From a players’ perspective, the proliferation of electronic tools and resources for RPGs these days is something that would literally have blown my sixteen-year-old self’s mind.

BRENDAN: What are some of the things you are most excited about for this project? 

JACKIE: The excitement for me is turning more kids onto the creative aspects of making a world, a story and characters. There is something about bonding over a story that you developed with other people that is unlike any other creative endeavor that you can do. It's a magical experience and if we can make it a more welcoming and inclusive experience for any kid, I'll feel like we've done our job.

SCOTT: I’m always generally excited when people play RPGs; and I’m specifically excited when young players get into tabletop games. I do a lot of work in D&D, and I play Pathfinder on the side, and I read as many of the new games coming out as I can, even when I know I’ll never have time to play them. It’s very easy to say that this is the golden age of roleplaying games, and I personally don’t see any sign that that age needs to end anytime soon. And on a more specific note, one of the most positive things about tabletop RPGs becoming ever more popular and widespread is that those games are seeing a much more diverse range of players embracing them—and the games themselves are embracing that diversity in turn.

I was a very small part of the team that created D&D fifth edition, but one of the best things about working on that game was seeing the conscious effort that Wizards of the Coast made to break away from the traditional male-centric, Medieval European fantasy tropes that have been central to so many fantasy games over the years. Virtually all of the most popular RPGs have taken this same approach (and in some cases, predating and inspiring Wizards’ decision to do so). And though “The Hidden Halls of Hazakor” is a pretty small project measured against the breadth and scope of all things D&D right now, one of the things I really wanted it to do with it was reinforce this idea that gaming is for everyone — both in terms of the writing goal of wanting to create something that would help young players get the most out of the game, and in terms of seeing Jackie’s art reflect a version of how I think RPGs should look. The conversation about diversity in games is long overdue, in my opinion, and in whatever small way I can help steer that conversation, I’d like to do so.