or, “I AND MANY OTHERS WROTE THINGS AND YOU CAN BUY THEM”
(I am one of the numerous writers and artists)
I’m a little late trumpeting this because a lot has gone on for me lately, but here I am. Let’s talk about Beneath the Canals, and my tiny slice of it, Cadavers in the Catacombs. If you want the whole story, read along. If you wanna know the details of what I made and where to get it, skip to parts two and three!
PART THE FIRST: History Lesson
So, last year the absolutely terrific Michael T Lombardi – @TrebuchetOps on Twitter, formerly @barbariankb – got together some of our hobby’s best and brightest creators (and me) to make some micro-zines, aka zinis, for the inaugural ZineQuest of February 2019. It was a wild ride and the cast of creators was and is utterly stunning. There were OSR/DIY darlings. There were storygamer-not-as-a-pejorative superstars. There were people doing huge, huge things for representation in gaming with $100,000+ campaigns of their own! There was even a terrified, younger version of yours truly, wildly out of his depth and undeserving of the opportunity! I can’t fathom how I got tapped to be included in that campaign, but it was (by my measure, at least) a runaway success on Kickstarter, and I was a part of it.
Once the campaign ended, everyone went to work producing their projects set in the world of Pentola, a hypermagical, very lethal bronze age setting where the world is teeming with life and activity built atop the literal bones of what came before. It’s extremely cool and I highly encourage you to explore it, play it, contact Mike and bug him about it, and proselytize further on your own channels. It really does kick a lot of butt.
Everyone had their own project in mind. Mine was to be a neat generator for the corpses and corpse-related encounters deep in the endless, twisting, labyrinthine, probably-malevolent magical catacombs beneath the canal city of Pentola. Get it? Beneath the Canals?
I had mine mostly done writing in the first week or two of the campaign, honestly. My vision was clear, and Mike was kind enough to let me reference the OSR D&D statistics I am most familiar with for the bestiary included in my tiny little zini. Oh, yeah, my project also planned to have a bestiary full of monsters inhabiting Mike’s world that he mostly let me make up whole cloth (or, in one obvious case, borrow whole cloth from D&D) without question. Seems dangerous to trust me like that.
I had art done a few weeks later. Skulls, an off-putting autopsy or burial rite, and the one I’m most proud of, a dude stabbed right through his dome with a spear, bleeding out onto his robes. Honestly, looking at my work next to the work of Jay Labelle and Spaghetti Quester and Tumo Mere, it’s just the worst, but it was what I pictured in my mind and I think most of us feel inadequate next to the work of truly skilled, hard-working professionals like them. In retrospect I should have let Mike pay a real artist but I went into the project with the mind of taking one more collaboration off his plate and making it one tiny bit simpler for him to wrangle.
I went into layout with a clear picture in my mind of what needed to happen and the will to figure out Affinity Publisher, which was then in beta and very new, sometime in March of 2019, I think. And I got it mostly done! And then I stopped.
I just stopped, and withdrew, and I didn’t finish it until January of this year despite it being 90% of the way there. In the intervening months I started and stopped and rewrote and picked at and redrew and edited and messed with the layout about a thousand times, but it was all really just anxious, perfectionist nonsense.
When I came back this year I sat down at Affinity – now out of beta and on a ten-day free trial – and I finished the project.
Truthfully, I screwed up. I had it almost all done and then a combination of factors (including fear and anxiety at putting my work out there for money and having its worth judged as wanting) caused me to just retreat from it. There were many more factors, particularly diagnosis with a serious real life anxiety disorder from a job I ended up leaving and time constraints created by diving in with both feet at the new job that replaced it, but really at the end of the day I hid away and was among the very last to deliver obscenely overdue projects to Mike.
But it’s done now. And I’m proud of it. And technically my name is on a project alongside so many people I admire beyond description, which is more than I would ever have aspired to otherwise, so I am ecstatic.
PART THE SECOND: It Lives!
My project is called Cadavers in the Catacombs. My goal was to generate atmospheric story hooks, event frameworks, and combat encounters with few rolls. I wanted to experiment with information density. In it, you will find:
1. 1d20 dead people, tied to:
- A drop table telling you more details about their circumstances
- 1d8 objects
- 1d8 minor treasures
- 1d8 notes and warnings
- 1d8 letters and missives
2. Sixteen monsters in a dense OSR-compatible bestiary, tied to:
- A drop table telling you how many appear
All of this is wrapped up in one PDF file, fully laid out and laden with art, which can be printed on one piece of paper (both sides) to produce a zini booklet you can use right at the table.
You will also receive a second PDF – a blank version of the booklet with lines where you can put your own corpses, your own objects or notes or whatever, and your own monsters. You can use this to make your own version populated with things suited directly to your setting.
You will also receive a third PDF – a low-ink version of the booklet with all the wordy bits but none of the art or heavier formatting, so you can print it at home and scribble on it and not give Canon or Brother or HP a small fortune for gallons of ink. This is for when your work has already caught you printing personal-use copies of the entirety of the AD&D line on their laser printer and banned you from printing without the office narc standing next to you to enter their code and supervise.
My booklet is suitable for use in Pentola – much of the window dressing of roll table results is directly inspired by the beautiful imagery of a luxuriant magical bronze age teetering on the ashes of their ruined ancestors and beset by dangerous magic. Use it as-is. Mike hates canon, but he validated all of this as being extremely within Pentolan aesthetics and conceits.
My booklet is also specifically suitable for use with pretty much any other fantasy setting, because I believe in cutting everything up from everywhere and stitching it back together like an idea thief. That’s how my games are. Nothing in this is inextricable from Pentola. You can put it in your game and read from it like boxed text and it’ll still be applicable. Worst case, you move a word here or there.
My booklet has complete monster stats and descriptions, a key telling you what does what and where and how, and some truly amateur art. I am pretty proud of the monsters, to be honest. They’re pretty cool and will probably wreck your players badly.
My booklet lets you interact with all of these toys in the toybox with a minimalist number of rolls and types of dice common to D&D polyhedral sets. Roll 1d20 onto the page itself and you get both a body littered with details and possible story hooks, and the circumstances of that corpse in the room you’ve entered; and you also get directed to an object, document, or encounter attached to it. Roll the appropriate die on the appropriate page again and you get results creating more questions than answers for your players, prompting them to explore further and adding depth to your world – or you get a band of monsters custom-made for catacombs, Pentolan or otherwise, in varying numbers that will suck to fight. In a good way.
My booklet was designed to be used at the table. Live, in person. And I really mean used. You roll directly on it. You reference things directly with it, self-contained. The monster stats are right there for you. Each monster includes sounds, sights, or smells that will accompany their approach or appearance, to help you bring them to life at the table easily, like a cheat sheet. Everything is meant to be used, and when you’ve used it up you can print the blank one and fill it out on a slow afternoon at work and use that one up again. It’s a tool I hope finds a place underneath your dice at the table, gets stained by coffee or wine, and brings back fond memories of your players just completely fucking hating that time they went too deep into the catacombs.
Lastly, my booklet is CC-BY so as long as you’re not a nazi dickhead you can feel free to use it and do whatever to it, I don’t care.
PART THE THIRD: DO YOU WANT TO BUY IT?
It’s part of the Beneath the Canals Collection on LeanPub, hosted by Michael T Lombardi. You can pick your own price between $16USD and $62.50USD, and I will get a cut of that. Technically, I get two cuts of that. I have made like $3.58USD so far. I’m basically rich.
You get the work of Michael T Lombardi, Jay Labelle, Cassidy Webb, Abigail LaLonde, Patrick Eyler, Michelle Smallwood, Zedeck Siew, Jose Kercado, Spaghetti Quester, Fiona Geist, Lauren Bryce, Donn Stroud, Matthew Cartwright, Takuma Okada, Kai Grecco, Mabel Harper, Skylar-James Wall, Myca Labelle, Tumo Mere, and Zachary Cox. And me. In one project. All together.
TECHNICALLY I’ve worked with these people now. Officially.
To you backers of the original campaign, thank you for supporting this Kickstarter last year. Because of you (and Mike), I am a published author. It’s so insanely weird to think of that. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for believing in us!
To you buyers of this collection now, thank you so much for supporting all of us. Thank you for putting your money up toward the work of indie developers and for playing around with the toolkits and adventures we’ve designed and inviting us to your tables with your families and friends.
To you contributors to this project, thank you so much for including me and considering me a teammate of sorts. Thank you for making space for me to publish something alongside so many of you whose work I buy and enjoy reverently. Thank you for giving me the chance to be part of something with you all.
To you readers who braved this ridiculous long-form article about nothing which ended in an advertisement, thank you for coming to my blog for the last year or two and for encouraging me to and letting me fill your precious time with my ramblings and jokes.
Thank you all so very much.