Writing Conall’s Quest

I published my first Dungeons & Dragons adventure this week. I had a lot of fun muddling around to put it together and put it out there, so I figured I’d capture a few reflections on the things I (probably should but inevitably have not) learned:

Converting Fairy Tales
The adventure is inspired by the version of the folk tale Conall Yellowclaw that Joseph Jacobs recorded in his 1892 volume, Celtic Fairy Tales. I love Jacobs’ fairy tale collections, they’re not super childish but not pretentiously academic either. This particular story involves Conall Yellowclaw setting off to steal a horse, getting caught, and earning pardon from execution (!!) for each of his sons and himself by telling increasingly wild stories from his adventuring days. “This should be pretty easy to copy & paste directly into an encounter-heavy adventure format,” I thought to myself. It might surprise precisely no one to hear that I thought wrong.

In the original story, Conall is off to steal this horse on the behest of the King of Erin because the Yellowclaw sons have killed the king’s son in a fight. Fine. Pretty common occurrence in Celtic and British folklore, as it turns out. But my aim was to write a light-hearted, rollicking, folksy adventure – opening with a death didn’t really seem to support that vibe.

The small analytical accountant inside me that still refuses to be silenced was also Not Dealing Well with the idea that the King of Erin would quite happily forgive someone kidnapping (née murdering) his son just because they brought him a nice racehorse. So I added a backstory, and that necessitated adding some faerie lore, and then there was need for a big bad, and then… It was about this time that the adventure became “inspired by” rather than “based on” the story of Conall Yellowclaw.

Lesson. To properly capture the vibe of the source material, sometimes you need to be less faithful to the letter of it.

The Quest For Perfect Art
I’m not an artist. I like scribbling and can waste a whole weekend playing around in photoshop, but the very idea of Creating An Art is quite anxiety inducing. On the other hand, this is my first published adventure and I don’t have an audience to speak of, so I couldn’t justify an art budget for something bespoke. Public domain images to the rescue! Unsurprisingly, it turns out there are a lot of fairy tale illustrations in the public domain – and some of them are simply amazing. However they are, for the most part, black and white illustrations and I felt that was going to fall flat; I wanted some colour and vibrancy. Several hours of scrolling through oldbookillustrations.com and one obsessive weekend of digital colouring later, I’ve got some pieces I’m quite pleased with. It took me far longer to get output of lower quality than it would for a skilled artist, of course, but I’m still chuffed with myself.

Lesson. Take what’s available and add something of yourself to it. It doesn’t need to be perfect to be a perfect fit for the thing it’s meant to be.

Publishing And Small Print
I originally created two versions of the adventure: a 5e version to publish on the Dungeon Masters Guild (DMG) and a system agnostic, WotC IP free, version to publish on itch.io (because thank god there are systems that aren’t D&D). Someone on twitter very kindly pointed out that this was potentially contravening the DMG Community Content Agreement (CCA) and while surely I, as a responsible adult, had read the CCA before accepting it perhaps I should review again just in case…

I have no defence for not reading the CCA properly – I live in the world and therefore know it’s a stupidity to not read the small print before signing anything that relates to money – but the fact is that I just hadn’t. I was relying on the DMG licencing FAQs that heavily emphasise the IP you create is your own, which I feel contradicts the (initially unread) CCA clause: Except for short promotional excerpts used to promote your Work, you may not display, recreate, publish, distribute or sell your Work (or derivatives thereof) outside of the Program administered on OBS websites or through other platforms or channels authorized or offered by Owner. [emphasis added].

It’s been a long time since first-year business law, and I’ve not the motivation to investigate or challenge the enforceable limits of the CCA, so I’ve taken the system agnostic version down. Now I just need to review my ‘games to write’ list and target the most appropriate publishing platform for each.

Lesson. Read the T&Cs. Just do it. You know you’re supposed to.

Style Guide Freestyling
When it comes to editing other people’s work, I am firmly Lawful Good (or possibly – if you ask my editing clients – Lawful Evil). Problem is, WotC’s D&D style guide calls for American English and it turns out that while I can deal with this 95% of the time, I can’t bring myself to spell it “armor” (though did I flip back and forth about five times during layout, so I’d be surprised if there aren’t a few rogue typos still in there). Not something, I’m sure, that anyone else cares about at all, I just find it funny the tiny hills my brain will surprise decide to die on.

Lesson. Rebel! Be unique! Break free of grammar’s tyrannical rule!

There’s much more I’d happily blather on about, but I’ve got to save something for twitter and pub blather…

By the way, if you want to check out the adventure, you can find it at: https://www.dmsguild.com/product/396225/Conall-Yellowclaws-Quest

Super Elite Dino Force

Super excited to say I’ve just released an update of my silly tabletop roleplaying game, Super Elite Dino Force. Haven’t you always wanted a game where you can play ass-kicking dinosaurs on a mission to save the world? There will be explosions, chaos, and dismally unrealistic physics!

Super Elite Dino Force is a loose, narrative, one-shot RPG system that firmly supports the notion that what few rules do exist are absolutely meant to be broken.

Download your copy free at itch.io, have some fun, and drop me a “briefing” to let me know what chaos you get up to in your adventure.

Just Another Dawn in Surveillance City

The night’s embers are still glowing faintly in the cooking stove as Paris creeps carefully out of the dilapidated bedsit.


Xe startles at a voice from the bunks, crouching – as if that would somehow prove a cloak of invisibility. But it’s a false alarm. Just Sofie arguing with monsters in her sleep.

Having successfully navigated the treacherously squeaky front door without disturbing xir roommates, Paris finally allows xemself to breathe and pauses a minute under the awning of the sad, poorly fabricated building. Time enough to sneak a furtive look along the laneway. All clear. Xe smiles broadly and straightens up – I was right – a lesser tactician would have thought to run this caper in the middle of the night, but no, dawn was much smarter.

The light is only just starting to rise, and the normally watchful eyes of the businesses lining West Lane are still firmly shuttered against nighttime dangers. Even the baker, Rhodes, hasn’t yet flung open his triple bolted door to send forth this morning’s pastry breeze.

And the laneway’s other residents, all purveyors and pundits of vice and violence, have inevitably – like the cooking stove embers – burned themselves almost completely out by now. Most will be tucked up behind their own shabby front doors, Paris knows, or passed out on some barstool in a pool of their own hedonism. Only Earl is still visibly awake and outside. But he’s way uphill, almost at the cross of North Road, and absorbed in a discourse with the pigeons. From here it looks like the pigeons are winning the debate – they usually do.

With confidence then, Paris sets off down the hill, finally making xir way to the forbidden secrets waiting in the South. Xe steps almost automatically from shadow to shadow to blind alleyway to veiled siding to shadow and on. No-one survives this city if they can’t navigate their own laneway unseen.


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