Thursday, September 28, 2017

Tools of the Trade: Things I use to write, draw, and play Gathox

I thought I'd take a slightly different tack and walk folks through all of the various tools I use to do Gathox things. I'll break it down into writing tools, art tools, and gaming tools, but keep in mind that all those things feed into one another. I'd also love to hear about what you use to make your game world, run your game, or participate in another's game. Hit me up in the comments or on G+!

Writing for Gathox

I use a few different tools for writing. I've met many die-hards who proclaim that one word processing program is all you need, and futzing around with anything else is just a distraction. Honestly, if you believe that, then that's great! You've found what works for you! Generally, I like to switch things up depending on what phase I'm working through in terms of process.

The Master Notebook

That's right, a ton of my initial bits of writing happen in my master game book, which is basically just a classic composition notebook filled with square-gridded paper. Dungeon designs feed into writing which feeds into tables and so forth, and the graph paper makes this process just seamless. I tape little flaps onto sections of the book to separate my ideas and maps, and also happens to be an organic way to organize stuff after it's created. I really believe no GM should run a game without it.

The Distraction-Free Text Editor

You know how the Game of Thrones guy is famous for writing his books in old school DOS? He does that to keep distractions down to a minimum and focus on content generation. DOS is whatever, I have fond memories of it from my youth (writing Basic-A programs to generate characters and monsters, etc.), but I don't touch Microsoft stuff unless I have no other options. I use Linux exclusively, but these options are cross-platform to the best of my knowledge.

Focuswriter is a distraction-free text editor which hides it's interface unless you mouse over it, drops in a pretty background across your entire screen, and lets you just write. You can do word count, spellcheck, export to a decent selection of formats, and customize how it looks. A lot of folks swear by it, and I've clocked plenty of productive hours in it.

PyRoom is another distraction-free text editor that I've spent hours writing in. It looks like a Matrix terminal, can shoot typewriter sounds at you if you're into that sort of thing, and basically does everything Focuswriter does - namely, block out the nonsense and let you just simply write.

My favorite distraction-free text editor, though, is the blindingly fast, tiny overhead, amazing terminal word processor called Wordgrinder. This thing has all the features you'd expect and it runs straight in a terminal, which means you could use it on a computer from the 80's and it would still be Johnny On The Spot. There's just something sexy about doing creative work in the terminal, and honestly I don't see myself ever giving up on this tool. You can use it on OSX's terminal, and in Windows you can use it in Putty or whatever sort of terminal with bash implementation they have in Win 10 (I heard they have something new there, but that's none of my concern).

The Big Office Program for Edits and Formatting

I use LibreOffice, which is a fork of OpenOffice. Unless you're dropping cash to Microsoft on a regular basis to use Microsoft Word, you've likely used one of these two programs. LibreOffice is a bit newer, with a larger group of folks working on the codebase, and it does every single thing you need an office suite to do. Edits and suggestions carry over nicely from Google Docs and from MS Word edits, and document versioning is easy to control. It can handle hordes of different document types and extensions. It isn't exactly a small program though, and if you needed a lighter substitute for an aging machine or you just don't want to waste the RAM overhead because of heavy multitasking, I would suggest AbiWord. AbiWord also looks pretty, so there's that.

The Big Layout Program

Hey, if you're sold and set on the Adobe office suite, I'm not here to dissuade you. But, having worked with Pagemaker, In-Design, Corel Ventura, and Quark Express over the years on various platforms, I have to say that Scribus has all the tools I personally need to get layout done. Now, I really don't like doing layout and when possible I will offer someone else money to do it, but sometimes you gotta layout a bunch of pages on your own and get the job done. Scribus handles all the things you would expect it to and even handles postscript stuff pretty solidly (with ghostscript).Also, if you're publishing through any of the OBS sites, they've got tutorials for doing it with Scribus.

Art-making for Gathox


The Basics

There's nothing that beats a pencil and some blank paper - if you're not starting there with your art career, you're selling yourself short. And quite frankly, there are a number of illustrations in Gathox Vertical Slum that are nothing more than fully-rendered pencil drawings that I scanned in and cleaned up. I suggest using some 0.9mm mechanical pencils with #2 lead and some typing paper. Computer paper? Whatever. For finished pieces I use cold press watercolor paper or bristol board, but basic reams of white paper will get the job done. Use a soft white eraser or a gummy eraser - the pink ones are paper-tearing garbage and should be treated as such.

I'll ink pencil work, usually with a crow quill and/or a thin rigger brush for more expressive lines and fills. Once in a while I'll switch to a set of Microns if I'm going deep in on hatching or contour lines, or if I need to draw a lot of architectural stuff - the Microns excel at not bleeding everything to shit when drawing hard lines with a ruler.

I often mix up a wash with my permanent ink and some water if I want some tonal fills or more natural looking shadows. Many people are better at this than I am, but I keep at it and am steadily making progress.

For color painting, I'll use either gouache (for quick color studies or brief finished pieces) or acrylic. With acrylics, I often use open acrylics to keep my canvas able to do lots of wet-on-wet technique. I personally do not mess with oils; if I need that oil painted look, I'll either get my acrylics close to that look through a combination of wet-on-wet and glazes, or I'll do it digitally. I know that someone reading this is screaming inside, but I just don't need the literal and figurative headache of oils right now. Maybe someday . . . 

Photo Clean-up

Hands down I choose the GIMP as my raster graphics program to clean up my scans, beef up my black line work, and stitch together a large piece from multiple smaller scans. Unless you're already dropping hundreds or thousands on Adobe products, there's no reason to live without this tool. A lot of people make great art in it as well, but for digital drawing I have other, more specific tools.

Digital Drawing and Painting

Krita. Krita Krita Krita . . . Krita. This thing is a powerhouse! Krita has 13 brush engines which can be combined into multibrushes and do multi-layer multibrush painting. It can emulate natural media or do weird, digital-specific kinds of rendering. It handles all the layer effects you'd expect from PS or anything else, it can handle animation, some vector stuff, and has tons of perspective and layout tools. Also, it's got a subsystem for setting up comic books, which is pretty cool. I cannot suggest this enough, it has literally made me tens of thousands of dollars over the last 5 + years. Also, it can share files with GIMP and Mypaint through a special filetype called .ora (open raster archive).


If you want an infinite canvas, a nice selection of easily-accessible brushes, or you just really want to do some digital artwork but don't have a beefy computer to handle Krita, I would suggest Mypaint. You can get really nice, layered illustrations done without a lot of RAM overhead. You may need to trim your pieces in another editor like GIMP, but Mypaint really is a useful tool. I have it installed on my 900mhz, 1 GB RAM, 8.9" wide Asus eeepc netbook, and manage to get sketches done on that piece of super-underpowered hardware with Mypaint and a little $80 Wacom tablet.

Vector Graphics

Inkscape is my go-to for vector editing, whether it's putting together a poster for a con event, tracing a bitmap to vectorize a drawing for a logo, or building dungeon maps that look nice. If you don't know what vector art is, it's basically art that maintains resolution at any size because it is rendered with points and calculus instead of colored pixels. Not great for everything, but indispensable for design problems.

Running Gathox

In putting together a campaign setting and actually running countless hours of Gathox, I've come to rely pretty heavily on some traditional tools. Others are just things that help with GMing in general.

The Master Notebook

I had to mention it twice - if I lost my master notebook, the one with the graph paper and dungeon notation taped to it and my homemade tabs, I would be lost. Most sessions I can just flip this thing open and run a dungeon or ten. Given that GMs pretty quickly establish their own shorthand and notational conceits, information becomes super densely packed in the master notebook. Something that looks like a simple dungeon level and some brief numbered lines might actually constitute dozens of hours of gaming and just as many pages when fully-written. If you don't have a master notebook (preferably filled with graph paper), you might just try it.

The Big Burly Binder

This is sort of a slush pile of things, from extra character sheets, hireling cards, maps, and player aids to an archive of dead characters, rules revisions, design notes, sketches, and player feedback. Every so often I go through and flush it out, moving things out of the binder and into long term files, but I keep adding new bits. And really, I can't think of a GM who couldn't or doesn't find use in a Big Burly Binder, or something very much like it.

The Session Tracker

I keep many copies of this sheet handy, because this is really where the rubber hits the road. It gives me a handy Death and Dismemberment table, allows me to track all of the ailments of the PCs, do marching order, keep track of time, and make notes on player needs and campaign changes. I've come to rely on it so much that the last time I had to run game without it, I manually rewrote the entire thing on paper beforehand. I hope you find it useful!

The Whiteboard/ Really Big Paper

Having a giant pad of paper for the entire table to see is amazing in helping to quickly visualize battles, spatial relationships, allow for player planning, and to track marching order or anything else. Also, sometimes you have to draw large genitalia at game to keep the . . . juices flowing. Also, you can use it to do the math to figure out who's buying beer this time.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

People are making gaming goodies for Gathox!!!

Gathox has been out for just over two weeks now, and I couldn't be happier! We've already made copper bestseller on and the print version isn't even out yet. People are posting reviews and talking about the setting. And most importantly, which seems to indicate to me that I've made something worth playing and using, is that people are making things for Gathox already. I wanted to take the opportunity to show off a few things that folks have made thus far and brought to my attention.

First up, Karl Stjernberg has posted some things on G+, including a character he rolled up and illustrated:

"Name: Dukk
STR: 11
DEX: 13
CON: 11
INT: 11
WIS: 7
CHA: 12 (Diseased skin)

Mutations: Fur & Scaled skin (+1 AC), Nible Tail (3rd limb), Tentacle Arm, Diseased Skin (-1 CHA)
Psychic Power: Bleeding Heart
Wheelhouses: The Underworld, Slum Acrobat

Armed with: Polearm, Morningstar, 2 x Throwing Hammers
Armor: Shin guards, shoulder pads, elbow and kneepads

I picture it dressed in rags, some kind of hoodie and wrapped in bandages to cover its disease ridden skin."

Karl has also recently posted some very Gathoxan die drop tables - one for random NPCs:

. . . and another for random post-apocalyptic gear:

 These just tickle me shitless - they look great, they're in the spirit of Gathox as Karl sees it, and he's making awesome, usable stuff.

Another individual who has taken off running with Gathox is Dan D. He runs a gaming blog called Throne of Salt. He's a world builder in his own right, and runs a wonderful blog. The most recent thing I've seen is his OSR module map - which is basically a hex map where he's placed a bunch of his favorite OSR modules together on a continent (Gathox is bottom left near Hubris).

You can find an expandable version of the map as well as a more detailed discussion of it here on his blog.

Another person making stuff for Gathox, and quite a bit at that, is Michael Fraker.

One thing Michael made was a set of house rules for Gathox, which are particularly useful if you're adapting it to B/X or other OD&D-like systems with a bit a statistical inflation. For those who don't know, Gathox uses the "All d6's" and single Saving Throw from Swords & Wizardry White Box Edition, so if you like a bit more variation, crunch, and statistical inflation then this document, entitled Apocrypha Gathoxian, has got you covered. He's even compiled the Cleric and Magic User spells into a single master list for Mentalists, and provided sample characters and drop-in gangs.

Oh, and holy shit, Michael added an instant random Gathox Gang Generator to Abulafia! Fuck me running!

If you need some plot hooks, ones that possibly intertwine, to start off your new Gathox campaign, here's some hooks that Michael designed:

"Plot/Adventure Idea:

The Warriors: a very zoomed in point crawl across The Kettle.

Hook 1: The PC gang crashed a party of west side gang conglomerate coming together. The organizer was killed and the PCs got blamed. The PCs must get out of the area and back to the east side where the west side gangs will back off. They don't want to look like they are an army invading. PCs get RP points for the reputation of having killed the organizer and also enemies!

Hook 2:
The Great Gang Race is happening. Alleycat gangs are competing for money/sponsorship from a large settled gang (and RP for the PCs). It's a deadly flight across the Kettle and the first gang to reach the 3rd floor in Tanner Tower on the east side wins.

- There is a time element. For Hook 1, each time they delay there is a chance that gang members from their chief nemesis (or the whole gang!) shows up. For Hook 2, each time the party rests or delays, increment how far along their chief competitor is. Also, when delaying, there is a chance another competing gang encounters them.

- Each point is about 10 minutes apart

- Other gangs/organizations do what they can to stop the PC gang either because of the assassination or because its part of the trial by fire for the competing gangs.

- Plot out 3 or 4 "lateral" lines to cross the City from west to east. The lateral lines have 6 points in them and several locations let players connect between the lines.

- Need random chart for what happens when the players go off the grid (could use one given in Mudlings Mansion adventure)."

Here's Michael's possible tie-ins between Gathox and the City of Bastion from Chris Mcdowall's wonderful Into The Odd game and setting.

*"And on the 7th day, Gathox rested."*

"I keep trying to imagine that Bastion from Into the Odd is the same city as Gathox, but for some reason it stopped walking and sat down never to get up again. It didn't stop growing and feeding off of the psyches of its inhabitants though.

d6 Rumors and half-truths on the relationship between Gathox and Bastion:

1. It transported to (the now named) Bastionland ages ago and discovered the Underground. Gathox is able to create or open micro-cosminsions in the Underground and feed off of them. Perhaps it is possible to get to the essence of Gathox through the Underground.

2. Gathox is still alive, but just barely. Somehow it has been trapped or bound to the ground and no longer possesses the material strength to move. Most construction now a days is from conventional imported materials, but the occasional mysteriously generated structure or disappeared burrough is all Gathox. Who will be Gathox's savior?

3. Originally Bastion was actually Gathox's other half cleaved from it at the separation of High from Low at the beginning of the Time of Halves. Gathox's travels were in search of its half. Now they are joined and travelling is not necessay. Who will speak with the Restored Sojourner and learn its oddesy?

4. Gathox is sleeping and dreaming after millenia of walking and travelling. Some of what we think is real may not be. Who can tell what will happen when Gathox wakes from it's slumber (with strange eons and all) and who can rouse it?

5. Bastion is a spawn or spore from Gathox. Gathox moved on centuries ago. Soon, when enough psychic energy has been fed to the spores by the psche-antibodies, they will sprout their own multitudes of legs and Bastion will be ripped apart as the clutch of little Gathi take off or transport away. Who can find the Gothax spore pods and destroy them before this apacolypse, and what would their destruction mean for Bastion?

6. It's actually the other way around: Bastion spawned Gathox. It escaped from the Underground below the city during a team of explorer's expedition and is possessed of the Underground's sentient quirkiness."

I provided my own 6a) subheading, because I just had to join in on the fun:

"6a) Gathox and Bastion can both be controlled like giant mecha. Which is the parent, which is the child? Only a battle to the death will sort this out!!!"

As more people make stuff, I'll continue to post it here and boost the signal. Speaking of which, have you made something for Gathox? Wanna share it with as many folks as possible? I'd be happy to write about your creations here. Just hit me up in the comments or on G+. RADNESS.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The City That Walks And Is A God Has Arrived!

It has finally landed!

The first Gathox book (GVS1) is done, and I am completely pumped. This is a complete setting for Swords & Wizardry White Box, with tons of monsters, NPCs, new classes, rules for domain-level play starting at level 1, a starter adventure, maps galore, and more. This is muh baby, and it exists now, in the real world!

You can buy it here or you can click the link in the sidebar to the right.

I first dreamed up Gathox shortly after I released Grandpappy Cromdar's Whizbang Zoo!, while I was living with my friend and comics illustrator Tony Gregori in a crappy apartment in Missoula, MT. We had a big whiteboard where we'd draw dicks, tape up notes, track jobs, and so forth - it was like a real studio, ya see? Anyhow, I started writing ideas on the board every few days about a setting that I'd like to run. Slowly but surely, I started writing house rules for the game and putting out feelers for local friends who might want to play, and eventually it led to this book.

I'd like to say thank you to a lot of folks! My partner Ally Guldborg has spent countless hours playing, reading, editing, and encouraging this whole Gathox thing, and she's the best person ever. Her fingerprints are all over Gathox. I'd like to thank Mike Evans for putting in the elbow grease to help get this book across the finish line and for believing in the project. I'd like to thank Josh Wagner for letting Gathox be his first and for writing all of the amazing, intertwined chapter fiction in the book. I'd like to thank Robert Parker and Trey Causey for their intitial, crucial, game-changing edits on Gathox, and I'd like to thank Humza Kazmi, Chris Kutalik, Jason Sholtis, and all the dudes at Hydra for their initial interest and encouragement to pursue the book to it's end. I'd like to thank all the players from the home game and from one-off Gathox tournaments I've run.


Number of Seasons: 1 season of 50 sessions, 1 current season of 20+ sessions; various one-shots

Rounds of Rules Revisions: 6

Number of Dead PCs: 19 that I can find in my files

Number of Dead Hirelings: 42 that I can find in my files

Number of Hours Played: 290 +

The home game folks: Ally Guldborg, Tony Gregori, Spencer Bryant, William Saylor, Josh Wagner, Alexsa Prince, Paul Stephens, Greg Ransons, Erika Fredrickson, Evan Guldborg, Jenn Johnson, David Melvin, and Alyssa Calabrese.