Friday, November 1, 2013

POD Review: DriveThruRPG

In the last few months I was lucky enough to get a gift certificate to DriveThruRPG, an excellent resource for RPG materials in PDF format. DTRPG also does print on demand (POD) now, so I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to use their service and review it here. The books I bought for this review are the hard-cover of Delta Green: Countdown, and the soft-cover version of Epoch.

Remember, my POD reviews are not about the quality of the content, but of the printed materials themselves. Also, I am not a photographer so the images seen do not necessarily reflect the quality.

DG: Countdown

First I want to say that DG: Countdown is a HUGE book at 439 pages! Without discounts, at this time it will run you $69.98 (the soft-cover is $39.99 and PDF is $19.99). For comparison, DG: Countdown has been out of print for a while now and original copies go on eBay in upwards of $100.

The cover is made of thick, sturdy card-board and the colors are fabulous. (My crappy photography skills do not do it justice.) The binding appears well glued, and the paper on the inside is good stock (i.e. not flimsy, but not very thick). In all, it appears that the construction of the book is well done, and it will last a long time. I have seen non-POD books that were of less quality than this.

The printing is another story, however. While the darkness of the ink is not too light, there is bleeding on the text and in the images. This causes the images to lose some of their quality.

However, I do not think this issue was caused by DTRPG for two reasons:
  1. The other book I received from DTRPG, Epoch, is in excellent condition.
  2. The description for this book at DTRPG states: "Note: Delta Green has been out-of-print for some time and this is a scanned image product." I suspect that the bleeding is a product of the scanning process, and not the printing process.
The bleeding is not really bad and did not affect my reading of the book. Admittedly, for the price you pay for this I would have expected a better quality inside. However, given the cost of an original, I am happy to live with this defect. Others may not agree.

Oddly, I looked at the PDF I received with I purchased the book. To me, the PDF is clear, the text is selectable, and I could not see any text bleeding. I'm not sure if this means the printed copy uses another version of the PDF or not.

Is this a good buy? That is up to you. If you really want DG: Countdown right now in hard-cover and are willing to accept the bleeding, get it from DTRPG. If you want it in perfect condition on the inside, save up your money and get it on eBay.


I did not know about Epoch until I saw that it had been nominated for some Ennie awards. Unfortunately, it did not win but it was enough to get my interest peaked. When I saw that DTRPG was selling the soft-cover for only $9.99, I purchased it.

The cover and binding of Epoch are very well done. The stock used in the cover is one that I expected to find - not too flimsy but not the same as a hard-cover either. The colors are well done, and no bleeding can be seen. The inside paper is of a good stock, similar (if not the same) to what was in DG: Countdown.

The quality of the inside content is excellent. The images are detailed and easy to see. The text is crisp. Overall, it is easy to see and read.

This is why I suspect the internal issues with DG: Countdown are with it's scanning process and not the DTRPG printing process. Epoch is beautiful inside, and Countdown has some bleeding. Assuming the same printing process was performed, the issue has to lie with the quality of the material being printed.

Is this a good buy? Absolutely. You get a beautiful book at a great price.


Overall, I am very happy with the POD from DTRPG. They have done an excellent job and I would be willing to purchase some of their books again. The quality is up there with professionally printed books. I only wish they offered more POD books, as I would be more than happy to buy them.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Stealing X-Files (Part 3)

Its been a while since I last did anything with this, mostly due to real-life getting in the way. However, I'm back and at it again!

In part 1 and part 2, we fleshed out our stolen X-Files plot into a Call of Cthulhu scenario, complete with mythos monsters. Now lets expand it a little more to add in atmosphere and clues for the PCs. Since this is also an isolated area, it makes perfect sense for this to be a sandbox environment, or an area the PCs can explore freely within the scenario.


Every Call of Cthulhu scenario, or horror scenario in general, needs atmosphere. Atmosphere gets the players in the mood, and helps them relate to the scenario and the genre. While this can be accomplished out of game using lighting and music, this can also be accomplished in game.

In this scenario, we want the PCs to be isolated and have that feeling of despair and helplessness. To emphasize this, the following can be added to the scenario:
  • The woods are thick and dark, even during mid-day. There are places where the canopy is so thick, no light makes it to the ground.
  • It stormed the night before the PCs arrive, and the clouds in the sky threaten more rain. Therefore, everything is wet, cold, and miserable.
  • The camp is deathly silent. The only sound is of the occasional drip of water into a puddle.
Once they enter the camp, the PCs should get a foreboding feeling. To do this, we can add little details which hint at what happened, and what is to come.
  • The mess hall is in shambles. It appears as if the lumberjacks were interrupted in the middle of a meal, as there is food still on the tables. However, dishes, silverware and other food are strewn about.
  • The PCs eventually notice there are a lot of spiderwebs around the camp. It starts off with one or two of the PCs feeling a sticky strand across their face, but the soon begin to notice more webs on the buildings and the ground.
  • There is little light here, so any buildings they enter are dark.
As they explore more, they find the insides of some of the buildings are filled with large spiderwebs. One building, lets say a bunkhouse, is covered in spiderwebs. The webs are everywhere - over the beds, the door, covering the walls, and obscuring the view into the rafters above.


Call of Cthulhu is an investigative game, so the PCs need clues to figure out what is going on. Here are some that come to mind:

  • The PCs come across a journal in an office, detailing the work the lumberjacks have performed. An entry from the previous week details that the camp has begun to move into an older part of the forest that contains larger trees. An entry after that details that after felling one older tree, a cave was revealed underneath. No further entries are present.
  • Spiderwebs are everywhere. Not just outside, but in the buildings. Soon, it becomes difficult to move around without walking through a spiderweb.
  • In the bunkhouse, the PCs should find two bodies wrapped in webs. The first is dead; drained of all blood. The second is barely alive, and becomes conscious long enough to shout out a warning before passing on. And thats when the PCs here movement above their heads.
  • A second option would be for the PCs to find a lumberjack ensconced in webs, but begins to make a recovery. As he relates the story of what happened over a meal, he begins to get sick and convulse. Soon, a number of baby Spiders of Leng burst from his chest. (Yes, I'm stealing the scene from Alien, but damn, its just very effective.)
These are just a few of the clues that could be used. The goal is to progressively reveal more and more of the horror. (I have purposely not put a lot here. In my experience, Keepers get their own ideas and since I plan on running this at some point, I don't want to give away all my hand.)

The Scenario

Overall, this scenario should go from investigative (e.g. figuring out what happened) to survival (e.g. how do the PCs survive the night and escape). There are lots of options beyond what I detailed above, which is partially why I'm stopping here. Keepers will no doubt have their own ideas at this point on how they can expand and use this scenario.

However, as can be seen from the scenario we've created here, there are many places we can steal plots from (in this case The X-Files), and modify for our own use. If you come up with any other good plots to use from anywhere, let me know!

Three quick things to end this on:
  • After I wrote the first two posts, I remembered a scenario called Legs by  Jim of Skype of Cthulhu. The scenario has a plot close to this one, and it was truly a coincidence that I chose the same mythos creatures as that one.
  • One of the best places to get plots is from real life. In doing some research for this scenario, I used the Google News Archive to find any old articles on logging camps in the 20s. Lo and behold, I find a cool article from 1921 on logging lingo!
  • Finally, once I get around to writing this up and running through it, I'll post a copy here. However, if you use the ideas here, I'd love to hear about them!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Stealing X-Files (Part 2)

In my last post, I talked about how X-Files plots can be taken (er, stolen) and used as paranormal investigative scenarios; specifically Lovecraftian horror scenarios. In this post, we'll dig a bit deeper into the episode/scenario we are using, Darkness Falls, and mythos-ify it!

The plot of our scenario is as follows:
  • Contact has been lost with a remote lumberjack camp. The investigators are sent in to figure out why.
  • The camp is miles away from civilization. The PCs transportation breaks down just outside of the camp.
  • When they arrive, the camp is empty and the generators have been destroyed.
  • While exploring, the PCs find a body, or bodies, wrapped in a cocoon webbing and hanging from the trees. (SAN CHECK!)
  • The only way out is to hike.
In order to flesh the scenario out more, there are some questions we need to answer.

What is going on? Who or what is behind it?

In a Call of Cthulhu scenario, these two questions often go hand-in-hand. In our scenario, we need to decide what happened to the loggers, and what mythos creature is behind it.

I'm the first to admit that I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Cthulhu mythos, or every creature/GOO that is related to them. Therefore I often reference two books to help me out: The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia and Malleus Monstrorum. I've used both books many times to find an interesting Great Old One or mythos creature to put as the bad guy in a scenario.

For this scenario, the main horror component so far are the bodies wrapped in cocoon webbing. The first thing that I think of when it comes to webs in the Cthulhu Mythos is Atlach-Nacha.

Atlach-Nacha is a Great Old One in the form of a giant spider, that spins a web across an immense, underground chasm. The end of the world will begin when it finishes its web and bridges the chasm. Many tunnels lead into the chasm, and the tunnels lead out to various parts of the world, and the Dreamlands. Perfect!

However, I don't like using GOO's as the main bad guy when I can avoid it. Lovecraft rarely made a GOO the main opponent in a story, and it doesn't necessarily make sense in this case to do this.

Reading further in the Malleus Monstrorum entry for our GOO, we find that the Spiders of Leng worship Atlach-Nacha. This is perfect! We have a mythos creature that we can use as our main bad guy.

But what is going on? The tunnels leading in and out of Atlach-Nacha's chasm provide this answer and the rest of our plot for us.

While cutting down a section of the woods, the ground under a felled tree revealed a passageway underground. Unbeknownst to the lumberjacks, this was one of the tunnels that leads to Atlach-Nacha. That night, a number of Spiders from Leng emerged from the tunnels and attacked the camp. Some of the lumberjacks were taken to the Great Old One as sacrifices/food, and the rest were cocooned for use as food for later...or worse.

In the next post, we'll finish up the scenario - adding in atmosphere, clues, and everything else the investigators will need.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Stealing X-Files (Part 1)

I recently read Stealing Cthulhu by Graham Walmsley. Stealing Cthulhu is an excellent resource for anyone running Lovecraftian RPGs, and I highly recommend it. The book discusses how we, as Keepers, can steal the original plots and creatures from Lovecraft's stories, change them a bit, and turn them into brand new scenarios. I've already modified one of my own scenarios in this fashion and the play through went amazingly well.

The book got me thinking. There are tons of other places that GMs can steal ideas from (and have). One of these places is The X-Files. Week after week, Mulder and Scully would travel to strange places, and investigate the weird and paranormal. Sounds familiar, huh?

Like Stealing Cthulhu does with Lovecraft's stories, we can steal episodes of The X-Files, modify them to suit our needs, and turn them into a great scenario to play through. As an example, lets take the episode Darkness Falls and turn it into a Call of Cthulhu scenario.


The plot of Darkness Falls finds Mulder and Scully traveling to a remote logging camp, accompanied by a ranger and logging company rep, to investigate the disappearance of the logging crew. At the camp, they find a lone survivor, an eco-terrorist, who tells them that the rest of the camp was killed by strange bugs. A number of cocooned bodies are found, as well as the iridescent green bugs who only attack in the darkness. After spending a night with a sputtering generator, the remaining members try to make it out of the woods, only to be attacked and cocooned by the bugs. In the end, Mulder, Scully, and the ranger are the sole survivors.

We can use most of the plot from this episode directly. Note that some of these things would need researched for a classic CoC scenario. (e.g. did they have generators then?)
  • Contact has been lost with a remote lumberjack camp. The investigators are sent in to figure out why.
  • The camp is miles away from civilization. The PCs transportation breaks down just outside of the camp.
  • When they arrive, the camp is empty and the generators have been destroyed.
  • While exploring, the PCs find a body, or bodies, wrapped in a cocoon webbing and hanging from the trees. (SAN CHECK!)
  • The only way out is to hike.
So far, we have been able to develop a great plot almost directly from the episode. The PCs are isolated with limited resources. Something strange is going on. There are hints of it around the camp, and finding a body is a sure sign something bad is going down.

If we throw in some NPCs, like the company man, ranger and a surviving saboteur, then you also have conflict that the PCs have to deal with. (Plus a few more corpses you can add into the mix.) And we haven't even added in any mythos!

In the next post, I'll add to this scenario and mythos-ify it a bit more!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Midsummer Night's Haunting

In my last post, I discussed the Cthulhu Dark scenario I wrote for the RPGGeek contest.

Turns out, I won!!!

The scenario, entitled A Midsummer Night's Haunting, is about three college girls trying to be witches that end up summoning some bad things. The PCs get pulled into the scenario through any number of ways, and have to protect them through the night.

The scenario can be downloaded from its RPGGeek page, or from my Google Drive Cthulhu Dark folder.

I was really surprised I won - there were a lot of great entries in the contest. I feel very honored to have been chosen by many people who I respect on RPGGeek. Thanks!

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Flexibility of Cthulhu Dark

I just turned in my entry to RPGGeek's 2013 Holiday Adventure Contest, a yearly contest where GMs must write a scenario surrounding a specific holiday. This year's holiday was Midsummer - not an easy thing to write about. Since you should write what you know, I created a horror scenario.

I found out two things from writing this scenario. First, writing a horror scenario that is not Lovecraftian horror was difficult for me. I've been writing Call of Cthulhu scenarios for so long that it was hard to change my mindset, even just slightly. In the end, (I think) I was able to do it.

Cthulhu Dark
The other thing I found out was that the Cthulhu Dark RPG is extremely flexible.
Initially, I wanted the scenario to be generic and without a rules system so GMs could pick it up and run it in any system they desired; Call of Cthulhu, Dread, Chill, FATE, and so on.

However, as I was writing the scenario, there was a nagging feeling I had with one part that I felt needed some type of mechanic; in this scenario it was spirits possessing NPCs. I kept looking at it from the perspective that I was the GM and wanted to run it - this was something missing that needed defined.

I decided I needed a system to put around it. After some soul searching, I chose Cthulhu Dark.

Cthulhu Dark is an RPG system written by Graham Walmsley that simplifies RPG to its essence - storytelling with very minimal mechanics. This fit perfectly into my scenario. I still wanted the players to have the ability to roll to do things, which Cthulhu Dark has. I still wanted some type of sanity system, which Cthulhu Dark has. But I still wanted it to be more story telling and roleplay, which Cthulhu Dark allows.

However, the possession mechanic that I wanted didn't really fit into the Cthulhu Dark rules. Then I found an article written by Graham on how to hack Cthulhu Dark. Following his advice on there, I created a new possession die used in my scenario.

Possession Mechanic
The possession die is a d6 that represents a spirit's attempt to possess an NPC. When this happens, the die is rolled and compared to the group's Possession level. If the die is higher than the current Possession level, the NPC becomes possessed.

The group's Possession level starts at 4 and is decreased to 2 when a second NPC is possessed. In my scenario, this represents the various spirits getting more powerful with each possession.

A PC may help prevent possession of an NPC by risking their insanity to add their Insanity die to the roll. The lower die of the two is used to determine if the NPC becomes possessed, but the insanity rules for rolling the PCs insanity die still apply. Only one PC may help during any possession roll, and that PC must be present when the possession attempt takes place. The PC should role play how they help prevent the possession.

In the end, the addition of the new die fit perfectly into my vision of the scenario and allowed me to do what I wanted. It also showed me the flexibility Cthulhu Dark gives a horror GM. Without something as simple as Cthulhu Dark, I'm not sure I would have been able to create what I wanted to create.

It also allowed me to create a scenario that has rules surrounding it, but can still be easily converted into any other system. Win, win!

Will I use Cthulhu Dark all the time? No. But its another tool in my toolbox that can be pulled out, and modified, to suit whatever needs I have. That is the real power of the system.

Monday, June 3, 2013

POD Review: Monophobia and Kinkos

I hate PDFs. Let me rephrase that - I hate reading PDFs. Maybe its because I use a computer all day for my job, but when I get a book that I want to read, I want the physical thing in front of me. There's nothing like the feel of the paper between your fingers or the smell of the freshly printed ink. This is especially true for RPG books.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that the PDF market has created a huge boom in RPG material - allowing anyone to publish something that in years past might have been difficult. However, when I want to read, or reference, an RPG book I want the physical copy in front of me.

The obvious answer to this is to print out the PDFs. This is possible on my crappy printer at home, but I will be wasting paper and ink, and the quality won't be what I want. Therefore, the only option left is print on demand (POD) services.

Printed Cover
Unfortunately, there are a lot of POD services and not many reviews on them. So, I've decided to review some myself. My goal for reviewing POD services is to give others an impression of the quality of the services and ultimately find one that I can use for all future PDF printing.

For my first review, I had the Call of Cthulhu book Monophobia from Unbound Publishing printed by the FedEx Kinkos online service (now called FedEx Office). I chose this book because its free, its a great supplement, and is a decent size to judge quality and pricing (61 pages including the cover).

The Process

The process for printing out something through FedEx Office online is fairly simple: upload your document, choose how you want it printed, and determine whether you want it delivered or to pick up. Kinkos has hundreds of options to choose from - including the type of paper you want, the type of cover, and if you want color, black & white, or a combination of the two. It costs extra to have the finished product sent to you, but picking it up is free.

For my printing process, I chose 32 lb paper, clear vinyl cover, solid black vinyl back, double-sided pages, spiral bound, and black & white, except for a color front page. In total, the charge was just under $15. Within 4 hours, I received an email that my book had been finished and was ready to be picked up.

It should be noted that the Monophobia PDF size was slightly off from the normal 8.5" x 11" format, but the online site formatted it down to the correct size for me (after asking if it should). I was able to preview online how it looked to ensure that it was what I wanted.

The Finished Product

The vinyl covers of the finished product are very sturdy and do not appear like they will tear easily - either in the main portion or where they are attached to the spiral binding. Within the last week, I've traveled with this in my backpack so it has been subject to wear and tear, and I see no indication on it, or any of the pages, that they are loose or about to tear.

UBB Logo in printed form.
The paper used is of high quality. While this was a choice I made, I'm glad I went with the higher quality paper as it gives the book a better feel and probably led to better printing.

The color cover looks amazing. I don't see any bleeding of ink that I honestly expected coming from a print/copy shop.

Inside, the pages were printed exceptionally well. Lines and corners are sharp, even in the most detailed pictures, such as the logo and the inside handouts. Text is also well-defined and sharp, allowing it to be easily read.


The finished product looks amazing. Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of the book. The book was bound well, and the printing was exceptional and sharp. To put this into perspective, I've seen products from established RPG companies that used other POD services that didn't even come close to this quality.
Closer look at the printed pages and handouts.
Pricing also appears reasonable, especially for larger books. For a test, I uploaded my PDF copy of Perils of the Surface World (120 pages) and set it up with the same options. The cost would have been $22. While this may change for larger sizes, it still appears well in a price range I'd like to keep (plus there are loads of coupons online for the service).

If I had to complain about anything, I would say that I would have liked to see more options to choose from. Kinkos offers laminating for the covers, but I could not find any way to choose the first page of my book to laminate. I would have gladly paid for this. I would have also liked to see an option to have a heavier card stock for the cover with staple-binding.

However, I am nit-picking here. I am very happy with the cost, quality, and speed of the printing service that Kinkos provided. I will gladly use them in the future.

Know of a POD service I should review? Send me a message and let me know!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Why I'm Writing This Blog

I've been playing RPGs for 25 years. In that time I've played in a lot of great games and met a lot of great people. I've always loved creating scenarios, sharing my creations, and have even been published.

But its always been a hobby, as it should be for me. But recently I read a post that inspired me. The post, by Sechin Tower, says that if you want to be published and taken seriously by RPG publishers you need a platform - some place to distribute your work, take feedback, and create name recognition. I agree with this.

This blog will be my platform. I plan on posting my scenarios, ideas, thoughts, games, and experiences here. I don't know if it will ever lead to anything, but even if it doesn't it will be a fun venture. All I ask is that if you do read any of the posts, and like (or don't) what you read, please give me feedback. Like with any hobby, I want to get better...and getting better will only lead to more fun!

Here's to 25+ more years with RPGs, and many more adventures to come!