Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Mutant Insurrectionist: Talking about zines

Okay, here's an awesome new thing I made for Gathox - it's a zine. I'm gonna post the link first, so you can go get a copy, and then I'm going to talk about this zine and other zines.

If the image link doesn't work for you, click here. 

The Mutant Insurrectionist

I haven't made a zine since the 90's, when I was going to all-ages shows in my old hometown and first figuring out how to use words and pictures. And honestly, I've enjoyed making this so much more than I expected and at least as much as I did when I was a kid. 

First off, the zine has gameable bits from my home campaign. Almost everything has been used at my table by myself or by players, and I know that they work. The Mutant Insurrectionist contains adventure seeds presented in the form of newspaper classifieds. There's also unique items, a fresh spell, a new class, a new adventure location, some hirelings, the dungeon encounter table I included in a previous blog post, and more.

Second off, since this is a zine, I get to play with the content in ways I couldn't for other books. The jokes can be overt and very much on the nose:

While I certainly included a generous portion of humor in both GVS1 and GVS2, there was no room in there for cheeky mock editorials featuring pickled pigs' feet and casual violence. Likewise, there was no room for diegetic hireling advertisements:

These brief, playable experiments get me stoked on the freedom of making things for their own sake, and I think that excitement shows through in the results. One of the key choices I made early on was to treat the authorial voice as if the zine existed in Gathox - it's a publication put together by the pompous and exploitative Turtle Tattlers Union Local 386, who has essentially cobbled together news bits and advertisements from around the city and repackaged them for their own profit. Sure, they've added some of their own content (mostly marks they've unsuccessfully attempted to hit), but by and large they're engaging in that laissez-faire casual theft which defines the attitudes of so many gangs in Gathox. 

Another facet of The Mutant Insurrectionist being a zine is that the pressure is gone of having to make 'the perfect thing.' Not that I've ever made a perfect thing, but the point of the zine is to experiment with the presentation of things I've made for Gathox and share those results with other folks. It's not meant to win any awards, it's meant to entertain readers and give me a chance to test new ideas. I love it, and I intend to make more of them.

Zines are good: go make the thing

Why a zine? Why not just put more content together in a bigger book? Why not atomize what you've got into individual blog posts?

Sure, I could have spent a year or more making tons of this content in the quiet recesses of my spare time, eventually toiling over a big tome of miscellanea. Honestly, that sounds daunting and I'd likely bog down on it. At the other end, I could have turned it into 20 blog posts, but I truly doubt I would have tied those ideas together in a cohesive manner. 

The zine is the right length for keeping things tight, keeping the gears moving, and continuing to make the thing. Should I attempt to write an interview with a wizard who wrote what essentially amounts to a glorified Pong spell? Make the thing. Should I write real estate advertisements for gangland territories? Make the thing. Making the thing is the answer to having ideas - ideas are a dime a dozen, but a thing made is an idea with follow-through.

I want to make the thing.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Underneath the Skin: Random Encounters for Gathoxan Dungeons

I'm generally one to make custom random encounter tables for each individual location - you can see examples of this in both the starter module in chapter 7 of GVS1 as well as in the tournament module GVS2. It makes sense - take only what you need for a customized location, stock it with a sensible array of likely culprits, and determine the frequency and odds of checks. Done and done.

However, I've been running a series of connected dungeons, including a megadungeon, in my home Gathox game for a number of years. I've got a bunch of screwy encounter tables from earlier iterations of these dungeons, and I've decided that enough's enough. No more mish-mash of incoherent and dubious rolls for these locations. I need a consistent master table of random encounters, and anyone who runs Gathox at home ought to have it as well. The master table is linked below along with a brief description of the design process.

The Master Dungeon Encounter Table

First, I categorized and grouped all the monsters in GVS1: Gathox Vertical Slum by their Hit Dice Equivalent (HDE) as determined in Chapter 8 of Swords & Wizardry White Box. Then I laid out the HDE spread for each of 6 dungeon levels like so:

Level 1: 1-4 HDE
Level 2: 1-5 HDE
Level 3: 2-6 HDE
Level 4: 2-7 HDE
Level 5: 3-8 HDE
Level 6: 3-9 HDE

This spread keeps the imbalances and variability of encounters intact without ridiculous results, like having 9 HD creatures roaming level 1 or half-HD creatures roaming levels 4-6. Monsters with HD ranges may be encountered on multiple levels with appropriate shifts in HD, and groups of lower level monsters increase their ranks the deeper they're encountered.

And at last we come to the master encounter table, which streamlines a lot of the mess I had made earlier and hopefully dispels future headaches. Enjoy!

Let me know if you find this useful. If you think it's too underpowered or that you'd like tables that extend deeper than 6 megadungeon levels, let me know. I'll be publishing this table in my upcoming 'zine, The Mutant Insurrectionist, so your feedback is always appreciated!

Saturday, March 9, 2019

From the Mutant Insurrectionist: Interview with a Cosmic Doctor

So I'm starting a Gathox 'zine called The Mutant Insurrectionist, featuring news snippets, gang territories, new items/spells/classes/monsters, playable locations, and absurdist advertisements. Here's a news snippet from the monthly magazine for the rich part of town, which includes a custom 1st level Mentalist spell:

Excerpted from the Vaclavellian Digest for the Month of Morning Fog:

. . . and after bypassing the Riddle of Chitin in Cheery Orchard, our crew finally caught up with renowned Cosmic Doctor, Arimena the Parallelizer. What follows is a distillation of that momentous interview.

VD: My god, I've never even seen a Zhezhn before, let alone pass through an entire grotto of them . . .

AP: I'm sure you haven't!

VD: The thrumming down here is turning the stomachs of my crew, and one just had a seizure from the pulsing lights. Any way you could dismiss those . . . things?

(AP smiles wryly and emits a series of polyphonic grunts - the Zhezhn phase through the floors and our sickness subsides.)

AP: You're a daisy for coming down here. What can I do for you?

VD: We're writing a feature on the Deflector fad. The spell's being used for new toeball game variants, public duels, drinking contests - it's on fire! How did you develop your namesake spell?

AP: And here I was, thinking you wanted a sneak peek at my Doppleganger Invasion manuscript! (chuckles) So anyway, in my travels I noticed a trend - each technologically advanced species eventually develops 'lightbox' technology, and shortly thereafter devises games for lightboxes.

VD: You're talking about face-screens?

AP: That's what the Mokron call them, yeah. The true marker of an advanced civilization is developing a lightbox game wherein two opponents compete by passing a dot back and forth using lit up lines or paddles. If a player sends the dot across the box and their opponent does not return the dot with the paddle, they score a point. Each advanced civilization across this galaxy has developed this game independently. I don't even waste my time trying to communicate with species that haven't developed it somewhere in spacetime.

VD: So this lightbox game inspired the spell?

AP: Yes. The Deflector is a three dimensional representation of one of those paddles, useful for deflecting incoming attacks. It works even better than the game version, because it automatically rotates around the body to intercept strikes or missiles. I wanted to make sure that even the least experienced of Mentalists could access the spell.

VD: There's been a glut in the market recently, so many scrolls of Arimena's Deflector are available on the cheap. There are even variations with custom colors and pyrotechnics! Did you think you'd set off a sea change in the spell market?

AP: Well, if you can cast at all, folks on the surface take notice pretty quickly. If you don't seek the protection of a gang, and sometimes even if you do, as a Mentalist you have to watch your back at all times. The Deflector is a great way to put up real resistance against a team of ruffians trying to steal your wizard brain for their boss. It makes sense that the Deflector is making the rounds, and I'm just chuffed!

VD: You should be! We risked life and limb to get the scoop on the Deflector, because our audience loves the spell so deeply. We'll be offering a briefing on your Deflector alongside this interview in the next issue of the Vaclavellian Digest. I want to thank you so much for your time, Arimena!

AP: Thanks for the house call, Vaclav! Here's a Gate back to the surface . . .
(air ionizes, lights pulse rapidly)

VD: No, wait! Aaaagh!

Arimena's Deflector
Spell Level: M1
Range: 5' radius
Duration: 5 rounds

This spell conjures a rotating quarter-globe paddle of thin, crackling magical energy which can quickly move around the caster to intercept physical attacks. The Deflector can automatically intercept up to 3 +1/lvl attacks per round. The Deflector requires an opponent's attack to first overcome the Deflector's AC of 5 before rerolling a To-Hit caster’s AC. Lasts 5 rounds.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Gathox updates and new player-made optional rules!

Hello, folks! It's been a while sussing out what I'm going to do with the Gathox blog and communities since the announcement that G+ is getting shut down. It's a shame, a lot of my close friends and a large chunk of my career came from G+, and the dust hasn't yet settled on where everyone is going. You can find me a couple of places:

1) Here, at the Gathox blog.

2) Over on MeWe, as D.L. Johnson and with a fresh Gathox gaming group:

3) On Facebook, although I only show up there about once a week, again as D.L. Johnson.

4) Very soon, you can find excellent Gathox gaming content on Patreon. I'm starting a regular Gathox zine called The Mutant Insurrectionist, and it features weekly in-game news from all three neighborhoods, new adventure hooks, new classes and monsters, custom spells, and a new detailed location each issue! I plan to make the zine for at least a year, and release the zines to the general public through DrivethruRPG. I'l post links to that when it starts up!

Next, I'm stoked to announce that GVS1: Gathox Vertical Slum and GVS2: Quake Alley Mayhem! have gone Electrum and Copper bestsellers on accordingly! Thank y'all so much for interest in my gonzo science fantasy game, I cannot thank you guys enough!

Next, I'd like to share with you a player creation for Gathox. Paul Thompson has been a regular Gathox player and playtester since 2015, and he recently dreamed up some optional rules for gang management that I think a lot of Gathox Referees would be interested in seeing. It's so cool to see people create things for Gathox totally independent of what I have planned, and I'm glad to have the opportunity to share his work with you! Paul wanted me to stress that this is a rough draft, and has granted me permission to share them here. Here it is:

"Chief Mastermind”: Gang Business Game


This mini-game will simulate limited contact with a chief mastermind/Brainiac overseeing the entirety of the gang’s businesses. The DM will roll on two tables at the beginning of the week; the News/ Threat Avenue table generates the nature of a news item the chief mastermind will deliver to the PCs at the week’s start, the Actual Value table determines the percentage of the gang’s profits the chief is destined to deliver at week’s end. If disastrous profits are looming, the DM then rolls the chief’s savvy stats to see if he or his staff will take care of the impending problem and avert disaster on their own (report of this triumph becomes that week’s news tidbit). If staff fail to avert disaster, then they’ve failed to uncover it at all. That week’s news item may now be a clue as to the impending disaster, which savvy and intuitive PCs may follow up on diegetically to avert disaster themselves.

Chief’s Savvy Stats (1-10) *currently this is an arbitrary DM assignation:

  • Internal Savvy: The chief excels at training personnel, creating protocols, and is adept at monitoring internal discord and adherence to policy.
  • Larger Market Savvy: The chief keeps a passive eye on larger market trends and larger news items.
  • Local Market Savvy: The chief keeps a watchful eye on neighbors’ competing businesses, especially for nonviolent but cutthroat practices.
  • Security Savvy: The chief orchestrates a lively and ever-ready security apparatus.


At the beginning of the week, roll on both Actual Value and News/ Threat Avenue tables. The News Avenue roll indicates the nature of that week’s news item (and by extension the threat-avenue should the Actual Value come up Trouble or Boom). Then follow the appropriate section below (Steady Business, or Trouble/ Boom):

Actual Value Table: Roll 2d6.

Trouble. (roll Avenue Table and follow Trouble procedure)
50% drain from the company/ party coffers
25% drain from the company/ party coffers
Company/ party is barely in the black; no profit this cycle
Steady Business. (roll Avenue Table for normal news item)
50% Bluebook
75% Bluebook
100% Bluebook
110% Bluebook
120% Bluebook
Boom. (roll Avenue table and follow Boon procedure)
150% Bluebook
200% Bluebook
300% Bluebook

News/ Threat-Avenue Table: Roll 1d5.

Following is a table for determining the avenue by which news, trouble, and boons collide with the party each cycle:
Internal Threats (Embezzling, Loose lips, Employee Theft)
Larger Market Threats (Foreign supply and demand shifts)
Local Market Threats (Direct competitors’ business tactics and operations)
Security Threats (Vulnerability to outright attacks/ hijacks)
*Mysterious Threats or “All Quiet”
*If Mystery is rolled with Steady Business, then that week “no news is good news.” If Mystery is rolled with Trouble or Boom, the avenue is mysterious or supernatural.

Actual Value Results (DM performs one of the following):

Steady Business:

If a Steady Business result is rolled, multiply the total bluebook profits for gang’s businesses by the percentage indicated. These are the real profits for the gang that week. Next roll on the Avenue table for news-item inspiration. It is important to include a news item for most cycles so the presence of news itself does not become a “tell” alerting players they should investigate.

Trouble/ Boom

If Trouble or Boon is rolled, the News Avenue becomes the Threat Avenue for that week’s incident:
  1. Determine auto-defense. DM rolls the threat (1d10) versus the chief’s stat (1-10) in this area.
  • If the roll is equal or beneath the stat, the threat was neutralized by the company without the characters’ intervention. The tale of this near-disaster is that week’s news item.
    • Roll 1d6+3 on the profit table for the new, trouble-free profit if the disaster was Trouble. Skip to step 3: Special Boom for a successfully navigated Boom result.
  • If the roll is above the stat, the event will manifest and take its toll on company profits unless the players intervene. The PCs may, however, receive a clue about its looming presence.
  1. Determine News Clue. The event will manifest unmodified at the end of the week unless the characters intervene. Roll 1d10 again against the chief’s relevant stat. Success on this roll means a news item pops up that includes some peripheral “clue” about the threat looming at the week’s end. Failure means the DM treats the news result as if it were 5/ All Quiet and will surprise the players with the bombshell loss at week’s end.
  2. Special Boom. If the Actual Value result was a Boom, then the danger was a potential loss resulting from a high-risk situation. If staff or the players mitigate the boom, it yields the listed bonanza amount, but failing to do so means rerolling 1d3+1 (a guaranteed loss) on the Actual Value table.

Future Directions:

 Specific Chief Masterminds, complete with Savvy stats, appear in a rogue’s gallery for hire as would any hireling | The week’s news might result in a lead for headhunting/ poaching opportunities | Regular (but slightly more or less valuable) masterminds might appear for hire and contribute a +1 or -1 modifier to the chief’s stats | Players with the right wheelhouse might decide to devote their downtime to add a modifier to the chief’s weekly rolls.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Glaatu: optional alien race class for Gathox

This week I'd like to focus on a new optional class for Gathox - this time, the Glaatu. The Glaatu are a race of foul-mouthed, split-limbed space pirates whose ships habitually and inexplicably tend to crash land on worlds the godling repeatedly visits. Their population remains diffuse in the city, with some living “homefree,” or homeless, in Berchan Favela and others seeking refuge in the shifting stomach-dungeons deep beneath the surface.

Here's their stats as monsters from GVS1:

Armor Class: 7[12]
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 2
Special: Multilimbed
Move: 15
HDE/XP: 3/60

As Big As: A skinnier version of a bear.
Smells Like: Sulphur and pyramid-scheme perfume.
Sounds Like: A drunk speaking in reverse.
Favorite Pastime: Playing poker, drunk speaking in reverse.
Turnoffs: Thick limbs.

These foul-mouthed, polyglot alien pirates occasionally mine for legitimate work. Their ships have an uncanny knack for picking up on Gathox's magnetic signature in the cosmos and accidentally crash landing nearby. They travel in scavenger teams of 2-20 and prefer to dig to safety when on solid ground. Their split limbs allow them to wield two weapons at once without penalty, including two-handed weapons.

The Glaatu as a class

Glaatu make for natural adventurers, swindlers, thieves, and brigands. They advance as Militants (using the S&W White Box Fighter advancement tables) and possess a number of innate racial abilities.

Character Advancement: The Glaatu are considered Militants for all purposes and may typically only advance as high as 5th level unless the Referee rules otherwise.

Weapon and Armor Restrictions: Like any other Militant, the Glaatu can use any weapons and armor without restriction and without the price increases for possessing a strange body shape. As space pirates, the Glaatu adapted to scavenging fitting armor pieces eons ago.

Dual Wielding: Due to their split limbs, the Glaatu can wield two weapons without penalty, including two-handed weapons.

Double Attacks: The Glaatu may make two attacks per round if dual wielding weapons - which means that for each attack, a dual wielding Glaatu may roll damage twice and take the higher damage value.

Saving Throws: The Glaatu are less susceptible to magical attacks, and thus receive a +4 bonus on Saving Throws against magic, even if the Referee only uses single saving throws.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Mi-Chiw: an optional alien race class for Gathox!

Howdy, folks! Some quick housekeeping:

1) Quake Alley Mayhem is available in print now. That means you can go here:

to grab a physical copy! Go get some and murder your PCs, it'll always be worth it!

2) Jesse Goldshear from the Yenemvelt blog wrote a kickass carousing table for Gathox. You should check it out here:

I dig the three-axis generation process for the results, that's super hot - and everything's tied tightly into the functional fiction and geography to boot. Jesse's also been kind enough to assist in organizing a collection of player-made game content for Gathox, which will eventually be a free .pdf! Huzzah!

The Mi-Chiw optional class for Gathox

From GVS1, Chapter 6 Monster Section
The short, violent, and hideous turtle people known as the Mi-Chiw ("MEE-chyoo") grew from a single crate of eggs thoughtlessly brought into the city on a world not visited for hundreds of years. The Mi-Chiw are barely tolerated, but they occasionally find work as death squads for the elite when on the surface. They naturally go to ground in Gathox, establishing wet warrens and complex hatcheries. Mi-Chiw possess a species-wide instinctual desire to build ladders, stacking them on the surface at night in an attempt to ascend to the sun at dawn and touch Dzak-Molu, their god. 

As monsters, they typically travel in bands of 3d4 members and warren with anywhere from 12-60 individuals. Every group of 5 or more Mi-Chiw will be accompanied by a mutated 4+2 HD Shell Priest, who casts as a 3rd level Mentalist.

As PCs, the lives of Mi-Chiw trend toward short and brutal. Their horrific countenances and penchant for violence render them simultaneously unsuited to lives of socialization and talented at adventuring. 

Mi-Chiw Race Abilities

Character Advancement: Mi-Chiw advance as Militants, and may typically advance as far as 6th level. They use Militant Hit Dice, To-Hit scores, and Saving Throws.

Weapon and Armor Restrictions: Because of their strange shape and hard shells, Mi-Chiw may only wear armor on their arms and legs, and can wear up to four pieces of armor. They may carry a small shield as well. They may only use one-handed melee or ranged weapons.

Natural Weapons and Armor: The Mi-Chiw's shell provides natural armor, which continues to harden through age and exposure to the hardships of adventuring. At level 1, a Mi-Chiw has a natural AC of 7[12]; this improves by one point each level, until at level 6, where a Mi-Chiw has a natural AC of 2[17]. Additionally, the Mi-Chiw possesses jagged, devastating claws that function as incredible natural weapons. At level 1, the Mi-Chiw's barehanded attacks do 1d6 damage. At level 3, damage improves to 1d4+2. At level 5, damage improves again, this time to 1d6+3. At level 6, their claw attacks continue to do 1d6+3 damage and are treated as magical weapons in terms of ability to damage enemies resistant to mundane attacks.

Fighting Zhezhn: Gathox's antibodies, the Zhezhn, have a difficult time adapting to the bizarre psychology of the Mi-Chiw, and thus find them difficult to engage in combat; Zhezhn only inflict half the normal damage against Mi-Chiw.

Keen Detection: Mi-Chiw are naturally subterranean and can navigate below ground with ease. On checks for spatial orientation underground, detecting slanting passages, or spotting traps, Mi-Chiw are considered to have a +2 to WIS.

Saving Throws: The Mi-Chiw intellect is so foreign that psychic attacks, whether magical or biological, trend toward failure. The Mi-Chiw has a +4 bonus on Saving Throws against all psychic attacks.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Great Gathoxan Giveaway!

First thing's first - I'm gonna give away some original art! Here's the rules of the Great Gathoxan Giveaway:

1) As a GM, you need to run a full session of GVS2: Quake Alley Mayhem.

2) You need to write up a full session report, including traps solved, treasure gained, and a list of the dead.

3) Share that session report either on your blog, or on G+. Tag me in on your post or let me know that you've posted your session report.

4) The first 5 GMs to run GVS2 will receive an original piece of Gathox art in the mail, and we'll trade contact info to make that happen.

5) I'm down to ship anywhere in the continental US. If you're outside of the lower 48 states, you gotta cover the costs of shipping.

That's it - just run the module for friends, post about it online, and the first five folks to do so get original Gathox art! Go get some!