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Sunday, April 11, 2021

My Brief Run-In with Dave Arneson


Just another hot & sweaty munchkin
Although I've been a big volunteer for a game company squaring-away the "big" convention tournaments, I've only attended GenCon two or three times. I've always been much more a Origins fan.....far more "bang for my buck" and GenCon is just too much, well for me......"too much".

Regardless, I have attended a few times and most importantly for the purposes of today's post, I attended in 2008. I managed to be able to stay after the con closed and helped KenzerCo tear down their booth, something I was able to do quite a few times at Origins. The lead-in pic is from the Steve Jackson Games guys letting me try on the Munchkin head.....despite several extremely poignant warnings and attempts to dissuade me from doing so. It was as hot, sweaty, and post-con nasty as you'd expect a big mascot head to be.....but also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.

That wasn't the only once-in-a-lifetime opportunity during that convention.

Now I'm not sure how many Tavern patrons are aware, but last week (April 7th) was the anniversary of the passing of Dave Arneson. We all seem to remember Gary Gygax's passing, but we have his children running a memorial game convention every year that helps all of us remember.....

Dave Arneson Dice

Anyway, GenCon 2008 was Dave Arneson's last GenCon with us and I briefly got to meet him at the KenzerCo booth. He was being pushed around in a wheelchair and it just seemed he knew it was his last big con. That seems sad, it did in the moment, but at the same time I have to give the man credit 'cause he was (literally) rolling with it. He was going around giving other game designers/artists these little baggies with d20's and a note in them. I was gifted one of these and they were two Gamescience d20's and the note was on a Westin Hotel sticky notepad:
Rubbed in the hair of a live game designer

"Rubbed in the hair of a live game designer
-Dave Arneson"

I've never rolled the dice and being a KoDT/HackMaster fan, the whole "fame rub" on a game designer (there is a long story arc about this in the comic) makes this a special memento in a couple of ways.

Now while I have seen The Secrets of Blackmoor, but I personally don't think I quite "get" Arneson's full contribution to this hobby we all share. I know there are some books I probably should pick up someday that might help, but I already have a few "history" books on the early days of this hobby I haven't gotten around to reading yet as it is.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Review of The Vast in the Dark – a Zine About Exploring Dark and Alien Megastructures of an Infinite Realm (Guest Post)

I'd like to thank Doug for submitting this review. As I've stated many times, but I can never state often enough, The Tavern is yours and it is significantly better when members of the community participate in its content - Tenkar

Review of The Vast in the Dark – a Zine About Exploring Dark and Alien Megastructures of an Infinite Realm by Doug Kilmer

I’ll start this review with a thank you to Tenkar’s Tavern for showcasing the Kickstarter ZineQuest (note - The Tavern's YouTube series of Fireside Chats for ZineQuest 2021 can be viewed here) I would never have been aware of this movement, or the great products that were offered this year, without the heads up. I purchased way too many products for my wallet and so far don’t regret one.  

Charlie Ferguson-Avery’s The Vast in the Dark is one of the best.  Published by Feral Indie Studio, it is not only an incredibly useful toolbox, it drips with an original atmosphere and dark character, which is hard to achieve in this now mature industry literally full of thousands of settings.  

From the back cover:

The sky is black as night. A tectonic rumbling can be heard overhead: the ruins sprawl out with a fractal madness. And a vast sea of colorless sand stretches out into the darkness.

That writing alone gets my attention.

The electronic version of The Vast in the Dark is available here for a minimum contribution of $5USD. As identified above, the product is the result of a successful Kickstarter project in early 2021 that has already delivered in full. The electronic product is 28 pages long, including front and back cover, insides of covers, table of contents, and two pages that are predominantly art. The remainder is a toolbox for the creation of this alien environment. The writing is fairly tight and concise, and it is simple and clear to read.  The booklet makes great use of evocative art that reinforces the brooding atmosphere, and the layout is functional and minimizes wasted space.

While technically system neutral, the author recommended systems include DCC, OSE, Pathfinder, Knave, White Hack, and Black Hack.  So obviously, this is going to have an old-school vibe. As a backer of the Kickstarter, I also have a saddle-stitch print version, which is a handy 5” x 8” and fits well with my Old School Essentials books.

What it has…

As I mentioned, this is a toolbox to adventure in a “crumbling alien wasteland.” At its heart, it is a sandbox for hex crawling.  Definitely OSR-ish, hence the system recommendations. Within the limited page count is everything you need to randomly generate an ancient wasteland of some past empire. The ruins of megalithic structures littering a sandy waste, dotted by conclaves of other travelers caught in the dark clinging to existence.

The Vast in the Dark is not meant to be a full setting, but rather what I will call a “side setting.” This product can pretty much be bolted on with any setting. I think it is best used as a diversion from your main campaign, possibly a jaunt on the other side of the veil or being caught up in the planes. Three to four games sessions ought to do it; enough to frustrate your players, make them appreciate escaping this place, and definitely memorable fodder for your players to talk about in years to come. 
Yes, the Vast has that level of potential to turn ugly and hopeless for the party. Walking out of here without some form of permanent mark probably won’t happen. And it shouldn’t in my opinion.

There is no wasted space in this zine. A brief explanation of the setting, rules on exploration in the Vast (e.g., navigation, becoming lost, and quirks that your character can take on due to being too long in the wastes), and an inventory system. The zine also provides a modicum of the mundane necessities of life (e.g., food), a lodestone-based (one of the few setting resources) currency system, and some discussion of the Vast’s society. There are even three representative factions that can be found while wandering the wastes.

The zine also provides a quick and simple exhaustion system.  This is key to playing in this environment, as it reflects the slow wear and tear of struggling to survive in an alien environment.  Characters gain levels of exhaustion when they miss a night’s sleep, are severely wounded, push themselves beyond the norm, and go without food. These build up and can result in an illness or injury, which puts tasks using the associated ability at a disadvantage until rested or healed. Truly reflective of the dark and gritty of the Vast, and definitely will be a challenge to even veteran players of old school systems.

Cool, but not the real treasure.  

The Good…

The random Vast generation tools are the true value. The method starts on the macroscopic level developing regional terrain maps, and then works inward to local scale hexes, and lastly ruins.  The regional and local mapping uses a die drop method to generate the locations of ruins, pillars, and empty wastes. Pillars are enormous constructs made of lodestone that seem to be holding up whatever is above beyond the sight of the ground. Like the ruins, they can also be inhabited.

For ruins, a simple room-by-room grid-based mapping method is provided that can be used on the fly. Example types of rooms, features, treasures, and encounters are all in the booklet. It comes with an associated time tracking guide for room exploration. All very old school.

The Not so good…

I only have two minor criticisms, both of which are admittedly not valid given the limited page goals of zines: not enough original monsters; and, just not enough content.  That’s it. This product definitely leaves you wanting more. I look forward to a companion in the future. Maybe something that fills in what is on top of the pillars.
The lack of unique creatures to encounter is really the only gap in this booklet.  The uniqueness of how the Vast is presented justifies the need for original creatures. There are certainly a plethora of monster manuals that can be pilfered for non-standard creatures, but I want the author’s vision on this as well.


On the old five-star system, have to give this a near-perfect 4.5 out of 5.  At $5 for the pdf, this is one of the best values I have come across in years.  Personally, I can’t wait until my players cross the veil and realize they are not in Kansas anymore.

The Tavern is supported by readers like you. The easiest way to support The Tavern is to shop via our affiliate links. DTRPGAmazon, and Humble Bundle are affiliate programs that support The Tavern.  You can catch the daily Tavern Chat podcast on AnchorYouTube or wherever you listen to your podcast collection.  

Friday, April 9, 2021

Deal of the Day - Aryxymaraki's Almanac of Unusual Magic (ACKS / OSR)

I really enjoy the Adventurer Conqueror King System as more than just a ruleset but as a resource. The way ACKS defines classes makes for a great template that can be ported over to almost every other OSR system. Today's Deal of the Day is Aryxymaraki's Almanac of Unusual Magic for the ACKS system. Normally 10 bucks in PDF, until tomorrow morning, Aryxymaraki's Almanac of Unusual Magic is on sale for a mere 5 bucks in PDF.

Within the pages of Aryxymaraki’s Almanac of Unusual Magic, you will find four new kinds of magic-user, each of which uses magic in new and exciting ways:

  • Dwarven earthforgers inherit an ancient tradition allowing them to draw on the spark of the divine found in all creation to power their magic.
  • Gnomish alchemists are experimenters whose concoctions range from ‘helpful and safe’ to ‘incredibly poisonous’.
  • Terran engineers are scientists and builders from another time, whose inventions and tinkering certainly appear magical to most non-technological societies.
  • Warlords draw on the chaotic energy of battle, taming it with their practiced tactics and leadership to ensure that their side wins.

These new classes are built for use with Autarch’s Heroic Fantasy Handbook, which provides rules for ceremonial and eldritch magic. Because they use eldritch magic, the new spells (and tactics) described for the gnomish alchemist, the Terran engineer, and the warlord constitute more than one hundred new eldritch spells usable in any campaign that includes eldritch magic, even one that doesn’t include any of these new classes. Of course, it wouldn’t be an ACKS supplement without full builds for all of the classes and spells, and the source factors for gnostic magic, allowing you to build your own content to expand what’s in the Almanac.  

Magic is all around you. Are you a forger of creation, an engineer of wonder, an alchemist of the unknown, or a lord of war? Discover what kind of unusual magic speaks to you, with the help of this Almanac!

The Tavern is supported by readers like you. The easiest way to support The Tavern is to shop via our affiliate links. DTRPGAmazon, and Humble Bundle are affiliate programs that support The Tavern.  You can catch the daily Tavern Chat podcast on AnchorYouTube or wherever you listen to your podcast collection.  


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