Secrets of the Serpent Moon — my DCC RPG adventure

I’ve been running a regular Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG game for the past several months. But a different group where I’m a player recently asked if I would occasionally be a “judge” for that game, too. I was flattered and said yes.

DCC has a strong zine community, and one of those zines is called “Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad“. There have only been three issues so far. I’m waiting for the third in the mail, but the first two are hilarious and inspirational. The zine, from what I understand, is mostly just stuff from this one particular campaign that these guys somewhere in the midwest (???) play. In issue #2, there was an article called “Secrets of the Serpent Moon.” It’s not a fully-fleshed adventure, but is more of an “adventure kit” — a template and some various ideas that you can put together to build your own adventure.

Well, one group of PCs in the gaming group I was asked to help judge had just finished play testing a funnel that one of the other two judges had written. And that funnel adventure had a heavy serpent-man theme. So what better thing to chain onto the end than an adventure about serpent-men on the moon? I got to work writing my own adventure based on the adventure kit from the magazine.

One feeling I’ve been getting from the other DCC game I run is that when I create custom-made adventures, I spend too much time writing down every little detail into a nice word processing document. I think I’ve been trying too hard to imitate the really good 3rd party adventures on the market for DCC RPG. But more detail isn’t really making the game better.

So I decided to swing the other way. I wanted to run a game that was 100% true old-school, with no electronic technology whatsoever. No smart phone, no iPad (despite the fact I love Purple Sorcerer’s Crawler’s Companion app), no laptop, no pretty module created on a desktop publishing system. I wanted to write an adventure that would all be presented from a stack of 3×5 note cards, printed (or hand-drawn) maps, the zine, and regular old dice. “Party like it’s 1974” is one of the slogans of Dungeon Crawl Classics.

My Judge Kit

The rest of this blog post is about how I did it. Other people will take the “Secrets of the Serpent Moon” template and go a totally different direction, of course.

The Plot

The article from the zine talks about how to put together a basic plot for what the PCs need to accomplish on the moon. They start as recently-thawed-out mammals that the reptile-men captured some time in the past (57 years ago, in my case, I decided — some of you sci-fi fans will know the significance of “57 years“). There’s a problem at the serpent-men’s moonbase, you see, and only the PCs can solve it.

I broke my story up into four sections, a Prologue and three Chapters. The Prologue section was just meant to update the characters in a couple ways. You see, the serpent-men have been experimenting on the party, and they’ve all had modifications that take them far from the norm. For instance, some have extra limbs, or a parasitic twin, or a new locomotive system instead of legs. Then with the Prologue out of the way, there are three Chapters. I’m thinking each chapter will be roughly one game session. But as I write this, we’ve only finished Chapter 1. The key points of each chapter went onto a 3×5 card.


Then I needed a master map. The zine article provides tables to randomly Moon Base Mapgenerate the different areas of the serpent-man base. I decided it needed to be bigger and more structured, so I broke the base up into different “sectors”. Some of the sectors have the randomly-generated rooms from the zine, and others have other stuff. Rather than making some kind of detailed map, I just took one 3×5 card and drew a very basic flow chart on it, to show which sectors connect to which other sectors. The PCs would start in Sector F, where they were thawed from the cryotubes (“F” stands for “frozen”), and continue through the base to Sector X. Sector X is where the threat/challenge/danger is (“X” for “unknown, of course, and it sounds cool). The zine article has a table to randomly generate how each sector is connected to the next, so I rolled and wrote those in on my 3×5 map: “matter trans.” and “living door” and “monorail” and “space whale”.

In my case, I decided that Sector X is where a base expansion project was undertaken, but the serpent-men doing the excavation ran into some unknown creatures that killed them all. Let’s call those creatures “Selenites” for the sake of argument (and because they’re actually the same Selenites as in the H.G. Wells story). So Sector X leads to the Selenite caverns, which is a sprawling complex of caves containing moon calves, Selenites, a stoner wizard stranded on the moon, and a few other things.

Example Dungeon Geomorph

So for the caverns, I printed out the pages from the PDF of “Dungeon Crawl Classics #9: Dungeon Geomorphs” that a bought a few months back. Then I chose the geomorphs that looked most like what I wanted, cut them up, and arranged them how I liked. I used a black Sharpie to color over the caves that I didn’t want, since the caverns would continue literally forever otherwise.

After I got the entire cavern complex set up, with improper exits removed, I numbered each printed geomorph on the back with its grid number. I called them A1 through D5. Here’s what the whole thing looked like when assembled:

Caverns of the Selenites

Other Cards

Lastly, I wrote up 3×5 cards for a few other things relevant to the game, like these:

  • Several cards explaining what’s in each of the areas of the cavern complex
  • Descriptions of NPCs the party meets along the way
  • Wandering monsters
  • Key points of ether ships the group may encounter or use
  • Details on treasure items
  • House rules

And that’s pretty much it. That’s how I turned the “adventure kit” for “Secrets of the Serpent Moon” into a runnable adventure with all low tech pen-and-paper components.

My main inspirations:

  • “Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad” zine
  • Paranoia, the role-playing game
  • “Jason of Star Command” on Amazon Instant Video
  • “Land of the Lost” reruns
  • “Aliens” by James Cameron
  • “Message from Space” the Japanese Star Wars ripoff from the 70’s
  • “The First Men in the Moon” by H.G. Wells

have you heard the phrase “the body is open”?

I thought this phrase was a common idiom, but judging from the Google results, now I’m not so sure. I had a boss years ago who taught it to me. The phrase comes from surgery, as I heard the story. If you’re a surgeon and you’ve already gone to the trouble of sedating a patient, sterilizing the room, and cutting open the patient’s body to repair one thing, if you see another thing that needs fixing right next to it, you might as well fix the second thing, too. Otherwise, you’ll have to sew the body back up and let the patient recover from this surgery, only to come back and do another surgery to fix the second problem in the future.

This idiom applies really well to software maintenance, in my experience. Suppose you’ve done the work to analyze and understand a piece of existing source code well enough that you can find and fix a bug that’s been reported. If you see there’s a related bug in the same section of code, it’s cheaper to just go ahead and fix it while “the body is open”.

Have you ever heard this idiom before? Does it apply to your field of work?


back in the hood

Beth and I moved from south Boulder to central Denver about a month ago, but I think it didn’t fully sink in until just today how wonderful it is being in a real neighborhood of a real city. I’d seen some small signs over the past month, like the fact that I calculated there are seven coffee shops within a half mile. And, of course, the fact that it takes 30 minutes to drive to an actual suburb. And the fact we can easily walk to the Fillmore Auditorium, the state capitol, Voodoo Doughnut, Cherry Creek, the Denver Art Museum, and four different supermarkets.

Today's WalkBut today’s experience was special in how mundanely urban it was. I needed to go to King Soopers pharmacy to pick up a prescription refill, but Beth took the car today. So I set out on foot, Audiobook in my earpods. I wanted some lunch, so I decided to stop in at a pho restaurant that I hadn’t visited before. After lunch I walked up to the pharmacy and got my prescription. But then I realized I was next door to one of the coffee shops on my checklist, so I stopped in for espresso and a scone. Refortified against the spring snowstorm, I set out for home.

But then I passed by a little neighborhood Ace Hardware I didn’t even know existed. It’s the exact opposite of Home Depot, more employees than customers, a small shop where you can buy everything you need in 5 minutes, and no parking. I remembered we needed a few things for the new apartment, so I stopped in and picked them up. Then I set out again. Oh, but wait, Beth mentioned the other day we’re out of tonic water, and there’s a liquor store right next store. Another stop. After that I passed by a cleaners (the fourth one I passed on this walk), an antique store, the mysterious walled-off premises of an international religious cult’s mansion, and some other mansions, before finally getting back to our apartment.

I’m glad to be here, in a real neighborhood in a real city.


punk, not punk


Not Punk

Close to Punk

Even Closer to Punk

That is all.


photos for future posts to Unexpected News for US

atlantatraffic arab-businessman obama3 obama2 obama1MTH_08_0520_061-X2 CNCS_08_0922_MH_024-X2 the view outside my window

Drivel Travel

goodbye location independent lifestyle, at least for now

Yesterday, Beth and I made some big life decisions for our medium-term future. I’m going to take a regular position with a software company again, and we’ll settle down wherever that company is. We’ve tried a few different lifestyles over the past 18 months, but none of them are really working for us for one reason or another.

Moving to a new city each month, as we did during the “12 Cities, 1 Year” project, was a great way to experience new places.  But I wasn’t in any one place long enough to develop new networks or clientele for my videography business.

Splitting my time  between software contracting and videography, as I did while I was in Denver from January through August, gave me the flexibility to help care for Beth much better than would have been possible if I was working a full-time regular job.  But that won’t cover the increased costs for health insurance that we’re going to have starting January 1, 2013. And I need to have major ear surgery on the left side, which is going to cost a lot of money out of pocket.

Obviously, traveling around the country staying mainly with family and friends, as we’ve done during our current three-month Fall 2012 tour of the East Coast, isn’t sustainable. We never thought it would be. This has been a nice way to see some people and places we wouldn’t otherwise see, but it’s only bought us some time to figure out what’s really next.

One possible “what’s next” was going to be long term housesitting as a way to keep expenses low while we build up some cash reserves again.  But the housesitting opportunities that we’re finding are in places we really don’t want to live. Almost all of the long-term housesits are rural or semi-rural, and we don’t want to live in a place where we’re 30 minutes from town, especially with only one car. We really want to live in places where services are close-by. I want to be able to walk to the grocery story, the doctor’s office, a rec center, a park.

So starting this week, I’m updating my resume and starting the search for a regular full-time salaried position in the software test engineering field again. We are very flexible about location, though we’d prefer to live in Seattle, Albuquerque, Austin, or some other “real city” that interests us. I have a good network in this industry in the Denver area, and we’ll consider Denver again, but we prefer to see someplace new. Work environment is very important to me, and I want to find a job with an organization that’s small enough that I can make a difference, different enough that I can learn new things, and yet similar enough to things I’ve done in the past that I can leverage some of the many hard lessons I’ve learned over the past 24 years. Hopefully I can find a fun job like that somewhere in the US in the next couple months.

My videography business will, very sadly, have to go mostly onto the back burner.  I will continue to develop it into something I can somehow take overseas with us when we move abroad in the future. But it has to go back to being a “nights and weekends” kind of thing for now.  I’ve spent a lot of effort over the past two – almost three – years to build it into something to support us financially.  But that hasn’t worked, for several reasons.  And with our finances depleted from Beth’s cancer treatment and travel, we can’t afford for me to continue to lose money on it.

All this is a bit depressing, and it’s hard not to feel like we are taking several steps backward to the way our life was three or five or even ten years ago. We worked so hard and wanted so badly to make the digital nomad lifestyle work for us, but it hasn’t. At least not yet. We plan to try again in a few years, with a few of the variables tweaked – location, income sources, etc.  Meanwhile, got any good job leads to send my way?  🙂

Drivel Politics

my own reflections on 9/11

Earlier this month was the 10-year anniversary of the “9/11” jumbo jet terrorist attacks, and lots of us here in the US are reflecting on the events, how things have changed since then, and what it all means. I don’t know what it says about me, but my own feelings about 9/11 are different than those I most often read about.

The Chickens

On 9/11/01, I was essentially unemployed. I’d been laid off my job at a dot-com startup company a couple months earlier, and was doing my best to establish a consulting business. But due to the post-dot-com economy, I was having a hard time of it. I first heard about the airliner crashing into the World Trade Center by email from an acquaintance of mine. Initially, I didn’t have any sense of the scale of the issue, so I didn’t turn on the news. Then, later there was another email about the second crash, and that’s when I tuned into the television coverage, which was all over every channel.

I was astonished by the immensity of the disaster. I don’t think anyone expected the buildings to come tumbling down; I sure didn’t. To this day, I doubt even the planners of the attack expected their mission to be so “successful” (I should note that although I love conspiracy theories, I’ve never bought into the “9/11 was an inside job” theory). I remember feeling numb at the time, but also immediately thinking this must be the doing of Osama bin Laden. Anyone who had paid any attention to international news over the previous decade knew that his attacks were getting bigger and bigger. And so the attacks didn’t really surprise me as I think they did some people.

In the following days and weeks, I kept reading about how the American people were so “shocked” by the attacks. But as soon as it happened, the phrase that popped into my mind was “chickens coming home to roost.” If you’re not familiar with the idiom, it means that if you do enough bad things to someone, eventually they’ll do bad things back to you. From the perspective of many of the downtrodden in the Middle East, the USA had done a lot of bad things to them. And eventually, I felt, all the bad karma of how we’ve treated the locals created an environment where bin Laden could easily get recruits and funding for terrorism.

This idea that we – America – had done wrong to any of the locals in the Middle East never did get much attention in the press. It certainly wasn’t politically correct to discuss in the hyper-jingoistic days that followed the attacks. Most Americans portrayed in the media had an attitude more like, “We never did anything to them, so how could they do this to us?” Well, unfortunately, we had a long history of doing bad things to “them” – at least from their perspective. As of 2001, Americans had…

  • historically supported Israel over Palestine, which essentially means supporting Judaism over Islam
  • exploited local resources (oil in particular) without any compensation reaching the common people of the lands
  • put into power dictators (like the Saudi royal family, the Shah of Iran, and Saddam Hussein) who were friendly to our extraction interests, and then turned a blind eye when they brutally suppressed factions of their own people

In short, even though we usually don’t think of America as an empire, we acted pretty imperialistic in the 20th century in the Middle East. It shouldn’t have surprised us, the American people, so much when the local commoners in those empires we created rose up. We have our own history of rebellion against imperialism. And yet, we did act surprised.

Leadership and Divisiveness

Another case of my feelings about 9/11 being way different from my friends is regarding the response of our elected officials. It was terrible right from the beginning and never really got any better. Think back to the week following 9/11/2001. This big national shock and tragedy just happened. The talking heads are calling it the Pearl Harbor of our generation. Gas prices spike wildly, based on speculation that OPEC is going to cut off our lifeline. People rush to the grocery stores to stock up on supplies. The airlines are shut down for the first time anyone can remember. Here is the perfect opportunity for our President to bring America together for a unified goal.

Some great possible goals might have gone like this:

  • Our dependence on oil from the Middle East comes at too high of a cost. We as a nation must dedicate ourselves immediately to cutting back.  In the short term, conservation. In the long term, develop local energy sources.
  • Too long have we ignored the ordinary citizens of the Middle East, and allowed a culture of fear and hatred to develop. America will re-dedicate itself to fostering education, health care, and prosperity to being the people of the region into the modern world, where democracy and free speech are treasured.

But instead we got “America is open for business” and repeated messages that it is patriotic to go out and spend, spend, spend. President Bush could have used this opportunity to kick off a program for Americans to achieve any of a number of great things, but he fumbled the ball. All we got was the message to get back to work, and there’s no need to make personal sacrifices. So we launched these wars in Afghanistan and Iraq without any belt-tightening whatsoever.

In World War II, that belt-tightening was part of what brought Americans together. Everyone gave up a little for the war effort – gasoline, rubber, cigarettes, whatever. But after 9/11 nobody had to give up anything. Instead, we were encouraged to go buy an SUV and a bigger TV. That’ll show those Muslim extremists!

As the months rolled on, it became more and more clear that Bush’s strings were being pulled by the Vice President, Dick “conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy” Cheney.

An acquaintance of mine (an accomplished part-time sports journalist named Tom George) posted a note to Facebook:

If there is one happy memory about 10 years ago today, it’s how we all came together as a nation. Yeah…we argue and fight amongst each other about all sorts of different things. But when someone takes a swipe at us, nobody circles the wagons like the USA can. As somber as this anniversary is every year, this one happy memory probably fills me with more patriotic pride than the 4th of July or any other national holiday does.

Sadly, I don’t see it that way. My impression of the past 10 years it that my country’s response to the attacks has divided the country more than united us. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote:

The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

And a Facebook note from another acquaintance (Jenny Nunemacher) sums up my feelings better than I think I can:

[…]What is most troublesome to me is that the Patriot Act and all those other militaristic actions in the years since have proven that the terrorists got what they wanted. They assaulted our freedom and WE LET IT CONTINUE TO HAPPEN. We may be incrementally more safe, but we are less free.

Our Legacy

I’m very proud to be a US citizen. I’m patriotic and would rather be in America than anywhere else. I know it probably sounds corny to some of you, but I tear up sometimes when they sing the national anthem at a baseball game (or a roller derby bout). So I think I lot about America’s legacy. What will my generation be remembered for? Are we going to leave this world better than it was before?

It’s because I care so much about these things that I feel so negative about 9/11 and our response to it.

We could have set a great example to the rest of the world of how understanding and compassionate Americans can be. But instead we went on a witch hunt, rounded up anyone who looked like they might be a terrorist, tortured some of them, and held the rest as permanent prisoners, breaking our own laws and international law in the process. We definitely didn’t take the moral high road.

We could have set a great example to the rest of the world of how wise the one remaining superpower can be. But instead we treated the attacks not as a criminal matter, but as an international “war”.

We could have used this as an opportunity to demonstrate fiscal responsibility. But instead we deployed our military and thousands of mercenaries without regard to budgets or funding.

We could have thumbed our noses at terrorism. But instead we played right into the terrorists’ plans. Why did the terrorists hate us? They hate us for our freedom, we were told. And then we turned around and gave up some of our freedom in the interests of “security”.

Why are they called terrorists? Because they accomplish their political goals by causing terror in their enemies. So to fight terrorism, we should do things to make ourselves less afraid, right? But instead we made ourselves more afraid. Don’t believe me? Go to any airport, and stand in the security line. Ask people as they pass through the inspection process, “Do you feel more afraid or less afraid to travel today than you would have in 1980?”

I really hope that this is all just a pendulum, and that it’ll swing back, especially in my lifetime. In the decade that has passed since 9/11 I haven’t seen any signs of it, but I still hold out hope.

Drivel Travel

everything has changed

I just realized I haven’t written anything on my Todd Bradley’s Galaxy blog since May 22.  Wow!  Just in case you’ve been living on Planet-X and haven’t heard the news, the “12 Cities, 1 Year” project is now underway.  Since May 22, I quit my job at Polycom, sold our house, sold my motorcycle, sold our Dodge pickup, sold or gave away nearly everything we own, and set out on a year-long adventure in our Toyota Prius with Beth.

I’m writing this from Missoula, Montana, which is the 1st of the 12 cities.  And most of my writing lately has been related to our travels, adapting to major life changes, etc.  Go check that out at the 12 Cities, 1 Year blog site.


“Live to Tell” – my Cyberpunk 2020 adventure from 1991

I got an email out of the blue earlier this week from a guy asking if I was the author of a Cyberpunk 2020 adventure called “Live to Tell.”  The person found a copy online and wanted to include it in an archive he was building.  I wrote back that my name is indeed Todd Bradley and that I did indeed play a RPG by that name about 20 years ago.  And maybe I even wrote the adventure he’s talking about, though I couldn’t remember.  Well, he wrote back to me and sent me the adventure in PDF format.  That was enough to jog my memory.

Reading the adventure gave me a good chuckle.  It was like pulling out a 20-year-old version of me out of a time machine.  My writing style is still pretty much the same as it was then.  But the tools were pretty archaic.  I wrote the adventure in Microsoft Write (.wri) format, and drew some hokey graphics for visual aids.  The storyline sounds hilarious to the modern-day me.  I definitely wrote it keeping in mind the players in the gaming group I had at the time: hack-and-slashers with short attention spans.

So if you’re curious, here it is:

Drivel Travel

Memories of Wild West Showdown 2011

The first weekend of March 2011, I went to my first major roller derby tournament.  It was Wild West Showdown, in Bremerton, Washington.  There, several of the top teams in the western USA met for two and a half days of roller derby on three tracks.  Teams traveled to the Kitsap County Fairgrounds from Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas, Santa Cruz, Denver, Colorado Springs, and even Philadelphia (as well as a lot of smaller cities in the northwest).

I had an awesome opportunity to work the event as a member of the live video production crew, Blaze Streaming Media.  And though the pay wasn’t great (there aren’t big bucks to be made anywhere in roller derby yet), it paid for about half my travel expenses.  Best of all, for every two bouts we worked, we got one off.  And so I made sure to get all the Mile High Club’s bouts off so I could be a regular spectator (in case you don’t know, the Mile High Club is the Denver Roller Dolls’ all-star team).  It was an experience I think I’ll never forget, and I want to share some of the highlights with you now.

  • Best thing about the venue: Unlike places like the 1STBANK Center in Denver, the seats were very close to the action.  I think I never sat more than about 15 feet from the track.
  • Worst thing about the venue: They only let people drink beer upstairs in the “beer garden” where the view is terrible.  That’s right, no beer in the stands.  I don’t know why, but that’s how they do it at the Kitsap Sun Pavilion.
  • Favorite fanboy memory: Learning strategy and rules from other Denver Roller Dolls while watching the Denver Roller Dolls.  Oh, and cheering DRD to a perfect three wins out of three bouts.
  • Favorite bout: While I loved all three of the Mile High Club’s bouts, the most silly fun was a test bout with Vagine Regime vs. Vagine Regime.  Half of them wore orange and the other half wore white, and it was hilarious good times.  There was also a closed door bout after the end of the tournament, where the debauchery level went way up; but I had to work during most of it.
  • Favorite memory of the after party: I drank too much at the after party.  At one point, I must have started hallucinating because I thought the Mile High Club dance squad were on the ground, making it shake around like an earthquake.  But then, out of the haze, came a statuesque blonde in a beautiful evening gown.  She was carrying a silver platter and offered me wine, cheese, and crackers.  It was as if she had stepped through a portal from a Hollywood gala. It was Denise “Fawn Stalking” Dambrackas. I laughed and laughed with her, and ate her crackers.
  • Least favorite memory of the after party: Waking up about 4 hours later to catch the shuttle bus to the airport.  It’s been a long time since I had a drunken breakfast or a two-day hangover.
  • Biggest lost opportunities: I realized after I got back that I didn’t get a single photo with the Denver Roller Dolls.  I also didn’t get in the crew photo for the video production team.  And I didn’t get a chance to meet Sara Problem, who has the best derby name I’ve heard yet.
  • Second biggest lasting impression: In addition to being awesome competitors, the members of the Mile High Club are just downright nice people to be around.
  • Biggest lasting impression: Unlike the monthly home bouts, which have a lot of spectacle, lights, music, half-time shows, etc. the tournament bouts were just focused on the sport.  The spectacle is great fun, but I really appreciated seeing roller derby done in its more pure form, played at a very high competitive level.  I can’t wait to have an opportunity to see it like this again.