2016 One page dungeon contest winners announced!

And I’m literally one of them!

Well, literally in the popular usage that means not literally at all but almost, figuratively, maybe metaphorically.

What I’m saying is that I am not winner winner, but I did place in the “Penultimate Winners Circle,” and that’s pretty damn flattering, considering the caliber of the other entries.

Congratulations to the real winners, and to the penultimate winners, and a big thank you to everyone who entered and provided more free resources for game masters everywhere.

My entry, Bridge of Dread, is downloadable at the OPD site (“Submission archive”) and directly from my site here.

Published in: on June 5, 2016 at 9:51 am  Comments (2)  

One page dungeon 2016

I very rarely get a jump on the One Page Dungeon contest and finish an entry more than a couple of days before the deadline, but this year I have so many other things I ought to be focusing on that I found a nice relief taking a few hours over the weekend to pull an entry together. I am, as my previous OPDs demonstrate, pretty bad at drawing decent maps, so this year I found a public domain image to annotate. Writing it up went surprisingly fast. I am not expecting to win anything with this one, since the level of competition has really gotten steep in the OPD contest (maybe it’s time to introduce a master’s class or something so people who’ve won in the past aren’t competing with newbies?). Still, I enjoy the challenge of creating a usable adventure that fits on one page, and I think my “dungeon” is  something that hasn’t been done before. So apart from the execution, I think I have pretty good entry. 🙂

The principal inspirations for the design are two things: one, the concept of the “Bridge of dread” mentioned in Lyke Wake Dirge, and two, the surprisingly developed and fortified bridges of the middle ages (old London Bridge, a sketch of which I used for my “map,” being an extreme example). Bridges had defenses like gate houses and towers, and being high-traffic spots attracted peddlers and shopkeepers. Because upkeep for them was expensive and not provided by the crown, some collected tolls (or tribute or bribes, if occupied by bandits) and some even had attractions like shrines and chapels, the offerings gathered at them helping pay for upkeep as well. The folks who earned a living via bridge traffic, officials who were responsible for it, and merchants even built their homes on the bridges, creating miniature cities. It’s not such a wonder that old London Bridge eventually fell down.

Below is the original sketch (after a 1616 engraving by Claes Van Visscher) I used for my OPD, taken from a nineteenth century book scanned by the New York Public library for the Internet Archive.

bridge-ill-onlyI also cribbed an image from Wikimedia Commons, for a close up of one spot.

I’ll post the finished PDF in my files area once the contest is closed.


Bonus: viewing the text of this book at Project Gutenberg, I saw a transcription of the “advertisement” page for other books in the series, and one that jumped out at me was “Famous frosts and frost friars”. I was intrigued by the idea of a “Frost Friar” (which evokes Bellairs’ “The face in the frost”) but sadly it was just a typo, and the book is about frost FAIRS — festivals held when a river ices over.

Frost Friar

HD: 4; AC: leather; MV: 12” walking, 24” on ice; attacks: by weapon or special; SV: Cleric 4

Frost friars are evil spirits that emerge from the depths of the earth in or around winter. They look like mendicant friars, except that their skin is pallid white and their clothes are dusted with ice. They gather at rivers (the number appearing will depend on the river, generally d6 per 20’ breadth) and freeze it over, interrupting commerce and travel, and often inspiring the local populace to hold “frost fairs,” taking advantage of the unusual conditions. However their goal is to lure unsuspecting mortals onto thin ice, for those who die of exposure or drowning in icy waters become their slaves of the frost friars in the underworld. Frost friars can cast cold and ice-related spells (or reversed fire-related spells) as if they were 5th level magic users. They often hoard the valuables of their victims in caches buried in river banks.

Published in: on March 1, 2016 at 8:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

One Page Dungeon Contest 2015 is over: check out the entries!

Congratulations to the winners! There were a lot of great entries, and the damn your eyes, Simon Forster, for doing such a better drawing of a sunken tower than I did.

You can see them all here. There are too many for me to have even looked at them all, but I really liked “Dead dwarf dome,” “The shambling throne of the death cult king,” and “The teeny tiny dungeon.”

Published in: on May 30, 2015 at 12:43 am  Comments (1)  

The year of the sunken OPD

I thought I was being all clever submitting a sunken tower for this year’s One Page Dungeon contest, and now that the full list of entries is up I see FOUR other “sunken” entries — another tower, a pyramid, spires, and a ship. Though the ship is only semi-sunken. Great minds think alike, right? Or is it sick minds run it the same gutters? Something like that. Though really the idea of a structure that has sunk or been buried is not exactly something new under the sun.

There is also a “panopticon” entry this year. I’ll be watching that one with interest, since I entered a panopticon a couple of years ago and I’d like to see another take on one.

Published in: on May 1, 2015 at 6:19 pm  Comments (3)  

One page dungeon contest 2015

Once again, there is a one page dungeon contest, and what the hell, I’m in.

(If you don’t know, the One Page Dungeon contest is a thing where you create an RPG adventure that fits on a single side of a piece of paper, and share it for free with the world, and possibly get some recognition. It’s also a major boon for busy DMs. As the contest has been running for several years, there are now hundreds of free, one-page dungeons available for download.)

Once again I’m revisiting a dungeon I used in a past campaign, although in this case my notes were extremely spare (less than five lines, with some cryptic floorplans) so it is more an impression of what that dungeon was like than an accurate recreation.

As usual the biggest hurdle was making a decent map, and this time I tried a simple cutaway drawing. The dungeon is a tower that has sunk into the ground, and small enough that a party might be able to explore the whole thing in a single session, depending on their numbers and resources, and ability to leave some doors unopened. 🙂

Here is the first draft (and possibly the final draft, unless I find time to work on it again!) as a pdf:


Published in: on March 27, 2015 at 1:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dyson’s delves

Some time ago I got a pdf copy of Dyson’s Delves. I didn’t have to pay for it — it was a consolation prize to replace something else he’d tried to send to me and which was apparently lost or stolen in the mail — and he didn’t ask for a review, but it’s only fair to post one now because I have had some time to look it over and have even used one of the scenarios. <Edit: There is also a Dyson’s Delves II? I didn’t know about that until just now when I went looking for links. So this review is just about the first one.>

Anyway idea behind Dyson’s Delves is to provide both a set of usable dungeon adventures and a set of maps, ready to be keyed and stocked (with sheets of blanks provided on facing pages for those who want to keep a permanent record in their copy). Some of the maps and adventures have already been published on Dyson’s blog. They are all pretty good. There is a “mini-mega-dungeon” that was originally published on the blog as “Dyson’s Delve,” and which consists of eleven smallish levels (with room for expansion). This mini-mega-dungeon has multiple entrances, so higher level adventurers could bypass the goblins-infested uppers, and there are multiple paths through the dungeon — the party may need to go “up one, down two” to find everything. This dungeon could easily serve as the centerpiece to a dungeoneering campaign, and yes there is dragon in there somewhere. The dungeon is designed to take a party from first to sixth level. (I have a copy of the “deluxe edition” printed out that I keep on hand just in case I ever need to run something with no preparation… though I’d probably swap out the goblins for almost anything else.)

There are several other keyed dungeons, ranging from single-level adventures to multiple-level dungeons. The dungeons have a variety of difficulties, which is very nice for DMs looking for a quick side-adventure in a campaign, as I am often am because I did not have time to prepare or because the players go so far afield of what I expected. There is a surfeit of first-level one-page-dungeons, so it’s nice to find delves here for mid-level parties. My favorite is probably The charmed grotto (for level 5-8 characters), which I ran  in my home campaign and provided a decent challenge to a mid-level party, but you’ll also find adventures for 3rd-6th level parties, ranging from the award-winning one-page The worm’s gullet  to another multi-level crawl, Erdea Manor.

The blank maps are generally very good.  Anyone who has visited Dyson’s blog will have seen his work, so there is not much for me to add about that.

It’s available in PDF, softcover, and hardback. No-one asked me, but if he did I’d tell him to see about offering in a spiral bound edition, as my experience with perfect-bound print-on-demand has been that they do not hold up well to use at table, especially if you’re writing in them. As it is I guess you could get the pdf and print yourself a copy and have it spiral bound at an office supply store. Or just three-hole punch your printout.

In any case Dyson’s Delves is great idea, well-executed and worth a look.

Published in: on September 15, 2014 at 12:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Off the rails in the Undertavern

This weekend I had the rarest of game-related things, now that I’m older: a Saturday night game!  I’m happy with the mid-week campaigns I’ve been playing and running but there is a nice bit of nostalgia when you play on a weekend like a student.  More or less out of the blue, one of my old friends from back in high school suggested getting together for some gaming, so four of us used to be in a gaming circle gathered to reminisce, catch up on our respective stories, and do a little gaming.

I ran a one-page dungeon when I realized, at the last minute, that we hadn’t really talked about who GM or what we’d play.  I ran it in ACKS, my regular group’s current flavor of D&D, and used Telecanter’s “The undertavern”.   (Go ahead and check it out.)  I loved the central idea of a monster chained to a track that limits his mobility, but I had never read it through and unfortunately I realized there is a lot that DM needs to fill in … all the reasons for the bizarre scenery and NPCs.  Why all the blind baby mice? Why the straw dummies and model tavern?  What the hell happened with the beached behemoth?  What the hell is the undersky? (The Word version, also at the link above, is more detailed with NPCs etc. but never answers my questions either.)

If this had been more than a one-shot adventure for us — if I were going to run a campaign with this as an early side-adventure, I might have liked this more.  For one thing, the undersky area would be a neat entrance to a mythic underworld type dungeon.

However, I thought the whole thing was a little unsatisfying as a one-off, and really failed to work as a one-page dungeon, at least for me, since I expect OPDs to save me some time as DM.

The session was fun, despite a number of complications.  Since this was a one-shot, I unabashedly railroaded the party into taking the bait and going under the tavern.  I hate railroading but in the circumstances it was ok.  Another complication was the early PvP conflict, which changed the nature of the adventure considerably, though in a fun direction.  Also, the party was badly mauled by the main monster but managed to defeat it early on, so that the tension of having Gulo chase them did not work out.  In hindsight Twitch might have been a good ersatz pursuer (I should have just made him wear a straw cloak and drag the chain along the tracks to scare the PCs away).  In the event though I used a lot of the victims/prisoners as sources of replacement PCs, and good thing I did — two of the starting PCs had to be replaced early on, and a third replacement was needed a little later.

We certainly had fun, and I’d run the Undertavern again, but only with some careful planning to provide some veneer of explanation as to what all the rat references were about!

Published in: on August 11, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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One Page Dungeon Contest 2014

The One Page Dungeon contest is, unbelievably, entering its sixth year.  It began with a discussion about how minimal an adventure module could be, and the blogger ChgoWiz created a one-page template. The idea is construct an adventure that could be used on the spur of the moment by a competent DM and which fits — map, key, and anything else — on one side of a sheet of paper.

Honestly I sometimes wonder if the arbitrary limit of one page is really better than, say, a one sheet dungeon, or five pages, etc.  I do appreciate the fact that imposing a form or limit actually fuels creativity, though, and most importantly as a DM I find OPDs to be an incredibly important resource!  Whether I just steal a map, an idea, or use the whole thing, I have often found that a one-page summary of an adventure is a great tool to have on hand for those all-too-common days when you have 30 minutes or less to prepare for the gaming session because of work, family, and other obligations.  They are also great to have on hand for when the players change course unexpectedly, or want to see what’s just off the edge of what you’ve mapped out, and so on.

In 2011 I began “giving back” and I have entered an OPD each year since.  My first entry (“The Belly of the Beast”) actually won a prize, which was nice, as I’d specially created the adventure for the contest, but I was able to use it in play before the contest, and since then I have resisted the temptation to create dungeons especially for the contest. (Honestly, the bar has been set so high for artwork that I am not in the running anyway.) Instead I have been adapting adventure I’ve actually used to the OPD format.  The “Misty Pond” and the “Panopticon of Peril” were both pivotal adventures in my “Telengard” Campaign, and this year’s  entry — “The Pit” — is a site that has seen some use in two campaigns.  So unlike many entries, mine have always been play-tested in some format before the contest.

Though I greatly prefer the traditional “dungeon crawl” OPDs to the more, ahem, clever entries that push the boundaries of what a dungeon is, this year I am trying something a little more ambitious.  The Pit has a very simple map, and almost no pre-established encounters.  Instead, it is more of procedure or framework upon which you could build an extended campaign.  And like my campaign, The Pit is designed to easily accommodate OPDs, improvised dungeons, or entire modules.  Each circle of the open pit mine is themed, like a dungeon level, and the DM can stock it with encounters from the included chart, but it will really come to life if you add on other OPDs.  I’ve selected one OPD from prior years for each circuit of the Pit’s winding path down.   In effect, the “big idea” of my OPD this year is to create an explicit format for what a lot of DMs might already be doing — constructing a megadungeon out of OPDs and other small adventures designed by other people.

Anyway, if I can put together something scanning a markers drawing and using Google Drive to create a PDF document, ANYONE can.  And if you use MS Office or OpenOffice you can use Chgowiz’s templates!  Get on it, there is still time to enter the contest.

<Update — just looked at some of the entries and I am pretty impressed to see a lot of new names as well as some really talented people who have entered before.  FWIW my OPD can be downloaded over on the sidebar under downloads.

I decided to stick with my original, crude drawing which I’d made one night with markers on some funky grid + diagonals graph paper. After messing with Google Drive’s drawing tool for way too long, all managed was this:pitdrawingWhich was basically a trace of the original spiral and a bunch of Telecanter’s awesome, public domain silhouettes replacing my icons.  Pasting them in and shrinking them down in Drive was laborious and slow, so I gave up.>

Published in: on April 17, 2014 at 10:01 pm  Comments (2)  
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The 2013 One Page Dungeon Contest is here

…and you are almost out of time to make a submission.   <update> OK times up but now you can see all the submissions! Check it out HERE.

Last night I couldn’t sleep and spent a few hours revising, redrawing, and scanning a dungeon I made for my first D&D campaign (Telengard).  It was level 2a — a sublevel accessible from level 2 of  the Telengard mini-megadungeon, although it was also accessible from an outdoor feature (“The Salt Fens”).  It is now posted my “downloads page” (see the sidebar on the right) and you can also just click here for the pdf: The-Misty-Pond

The main change I made to the dungeon was removing a trick/puzzle that would take too much space on an OPD to explain.  In th OPD it is just a trapped chest, but in my campaign there was a “room” with a sign that said:

One casket holds a treasure. The other two are empty or hold evil spirits. All the inscriptions on the caskets are either true or false. The riting on this sign is all true.  You have one minute to open a casket, or all will open.

There are three caskets: one brass, one tin, and one copper.  They each have an inscription.

Brass: The treasure is in here.

Tin: The treasure is in the copper casket.

Copper: At least two inscriptions are false.

I handed a player two index cards — one with the inscription on the signs, one with the three caskets drawn and labeled on it, and started a one minute timer.   (In my campaign he opened a casket with treasure inside and kept th other two caskets in his pack for many sessions, just in case he found a use for them.)  The evil spirits were wraiths.  You will no doubt figure this puzzle out, as the player did.  He also snarfed the two unopened caskets, “just in case” he might need them later.  I can think of a lot of uses for a box that might have a wraith in it.  Sadly that PC did not ever get a chance to use the caskets.  The PC ‘went bad’ and became a villain for a while but I can’t remember if the villain ever got to use the caskets either.

Anyway the OPD version of this dungeon has some treasure, some monsters, and some tricks or traps, but the main thing that I liked about it is that the “dungeon” is totally open, strictly speaking; however line of sight and movement are blocked by the fact that the “wall” areas are waters infested with monsters and covered with mists that reduce visibility to 10′.   Falling into the water is very dangerous, but a capable swimmer might bypass some dangerous “rooms”.  I also like that it is a fairly surreal location, with giant lily pads, a flail snail (which I was using LONG before the OSR got that flail snail meme, dammit!), and its own logic.

You still have time to create your own submission.  I used Google Drive to upload a scan of the crude drawing and the “Drawing” editor to add a key, text, etc.  It looks kind of crude but is usable!  You could scan your own small map and add the key etc. in a few hours if you want to enter the contest.

Published in: on April 24, 2013 at 11:34 pm  Comments (4)  
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Session 19: In like Commandos, out like Thelma & Louise

Session 19 looks like it will be the last session for a while, and boy was it a cliffhanger.

The party, regrouping after the previous sessions’ forays into the dwarven ruins, found several huge potholes in Skara Brae.  Actually, not potholes so much as purple worm tunnels. (Recall they left a purple worm in a holding cell beneath the Scriptorium, and also that a mindflayer escaped the same area through a dimensional door … and Grundel’s vision of a purple worm-riding mind flayer.)

The tunnels even undermined a small tower the party had claimed in town, and by talking with the locals, the party learned that the same statues they were seeking seemed to form a barrier against chaotic monsters if properly assembled.  After a fairly long debate about chasing down the purple worm versus finding the last statue, the party settled on going for the statue.

They knew it was in the ruins of the Citadel of Law, so off they went. They met a beggar who, after being rebuffed by the paladin, was given some coin and who then warned the party about the archer bushes in the courtyard of the citadel.  The party used oil and fire to clear a path, and found the citadel in ruins.  When the paladin tried to detect evil, he realized that nothing was ‘happening’ and in fact his paladin powers had been revoked.  Perhaps his cruelty to the beggar was the final straw…

At this point the party began explore the tower.  Well, some of the party — the paladin immediately began praying in hopes of recovering his powers; the wizard stayed outside in the courtyard, observing, and the cleric dithered between hearing the paladin’s confession and going inside the citadel.  The others all wnet in, and found it in nearly complete ruins.  Only the central, spiral staircase stood; all the floors had fallen and piles of rubble covered the floor.  Once they were inside, the hydra revealed itself and crept toward them (they move pretty slowly in C&C).

Combat with the hydra went pretty well for the party, but DMing it presented a problem I think I have encountered before.  The hydra (at least in C&C, I didn’t check the AD&D MM) can be killed only by killing all its heads.  The body takes damage, in theory, but the heads have to be taken out in detail.  I totally get the idea here, but it is kind of a bad mechanic for a D&D type game which normally has no called shots.  I ended up asking the players, after a while, where they were attacking it (a head or the body?) and they almost always chose the body, until it had taken many times it’s total HP (the rogue got off a massive back stab at the beginning of the fight which took 3/4 of its hits in one shot, due to d30 madness).  Come to think of it, it was my own monster — the maggot farmers — that had this same problem.  In D&D, you generally don’t make called shots.  So when a monster’s weakness lies in some specific part, I find myself either giving it away (“Where do you attack it?”) or else it feels like ‘pixel-bitching’ (“You didn’t say you attacked for the neck…”).  I am not sure what would be the best way to solicit called shots.  Maybe I am too quick to jump in and should let the players figure it out.

The citadel also happened to house some gargoyles, and these were much more of a threat than the 5-headed hydra turned out to be, because although you can hurt them with nonmagical weapons in C&C, they have a truly devastating attack, because C&C’s falling damage is on the ‘realistic’ side: 1d6 for the first 10′, then 2d6 for the next 10′, 3d6 , etc.  With a flying speed of 75′, a gargoyle can grab a PC one round, and fly him up 75′ the next, to drop him for 28d6 damage (36d6 if you round that last 5′ up).  We discovered this when the cleric was dropped to his death.  Almost any other player would have been OK — the assassin has a ring of feather falling, the dwarf has boots of levitation, the paladin has some oil of levitation, and the wizard can cast feather fall.  I wasn’t really cognizant of this, and I think it’s fair — the gargoyles don’t know who is or isn’t vulnerable, and they did in fact try to drop the assassin as well.

Anyway they party managed to defeat the monsters and bring the cleric back to the temple in a bucket for a Raising.

Having assembled the statues, the party then discovered that one of the statues didn’t really count as a “hero” and they still needed one more, which they deduced would be in the halfling village of Puddington.

The party was quite worried about running into a purple worm, and/or the mind flayer (especially if they are together) so they planned several ways to make the short journey and settled on riding upon horses.  They found Puddington heavily fortified and sealed, and were told that they could have the statue of Quinnly if they could free the area of the oppressive cyclopes who were enslaving their people.  The party set out for the cyclops’ lair, which I  based on my OPD, The Panopticon of Peril.  Only I didn’t have a print copy handy, and the computer was not hooked up to a printer just then, so I just went by memory, which was good enough.

The party scouted out the perimeter, and noticed a number of towers along the curtain wall that are not in the OPD (oops).  They sent the rogue and assassin to scout on the walls and kill the sentries in the towers, Commando style, and it was nice to see the sneaks really get a chance to shine after almost twenty sessions of being mocked and criticized for their real and imagined failures.  I used the Jenga method of tracking the attention they attracted, as outlined in the OPD and originally suggested by Telecanter.  (BTW the Jenga blocks did a good job of keeping everyone’s attention and making the session more fun…especially since a couple of the players fancy themselves ‘Jenga experts’!)

The rest of the party climbed up to a tower that had been cleared by the scouts, and used a silence spell by the cleric to remain undetected.  The rogues then got the attention of one of the halfling inmates, who warned them about a great evil in the central observation tower, and that if it were destroyed, the guards would be leaderless and probably flee. (The scouts had already killed almost 20 cyclopskin in detail, but the party could see that fighting the remaining 40 or 50 guards, with their flying eyeball support, would be too dangerous.

So, the two scouts ascended the central tower, and found the top floor occupied by a beholder, which hadn’t noticed them.  The assassin studied the beast, preparing his death strike.  He crept along, slowly, noiselessly, as he’d been trained to do. He readied his blade, aimed for a vital spot, and … MISSED!

Uh oh.

The scouts thought they had one ace up their sleeves, however.  The assassin has that ring of feather falling, so they leapt, Thelma & Louise style, out of the tower.  So they will have an 130′ fall* to figure a way out of this mess. The ring will help them avoid dying from falling damage, but there is the issue of the beholder, the eyebats, and whatever horrible critter or critters haunt the well.

We are suspending the game for the summer, and I don’t have the heart to tell them that beholders can dispel magic…although honestly they might be better off splattering on the ground than being disintegrated, etc. by the eye rays.  And who knows, maybe the rest of the party will spot the two figures of Dell and Mazrim, holding hands and drifting down from the tower, and figure out a way to rescue them?

Those poor dead bastards.

In the meantime, we are planning to playtest 5e for a couple of sessions, and then my brother Tom will start a campaign, possibly high-level, possibly using lots of old TSR modules.  THEN we’ll return to the Telengard campaign, because whatever happens, short of a TPK, there is a lot of cool stuff the party can begin to think about doing once they have secured the last statue, like adventuring more outside the city, wreaking havoc on Delos, hexcrawl exploration and even the long-sought-after endgame of strongholds, domains, etc.


*80′ of tower, 50′ of annular well.

Published in: on June 12, 2012 at 3:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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