Why Did You Do This
In 2015 or so, Josh Trujillo reached out after the success of his Death Saves comics anthology kickstarter to invite me to help write for a stretch goal: the Total Party Kill Guide. I contributed to an adventure called the Tomb of Horrible Death, working backwards from a map drawn by Keith McLean describing a strange, fun-house style dungeon housing an insane lich with a love of owlbears. I also had the opportunity to write some GMing advice and a beastiary, both of which took the form of a diatribe about how the best approach to running your game was to make up monster and puzzles and traps on the fly and focus less on how well the players were rolling and more on whether or not their solutions made sense and if you were getting bored waiting for them to move forward.
It was a joke at the time but there was a nugget of truth at the core of it. I like adventuresome dungeon crawls and abhor planning them. The weird meta-dance that a D&D game sometimes engages in where players don't want to leave the boundaries of what their GM has prepped drives me up the wall, and the process of compiling a list of monster stat screencaps feels dreadful. I just, apparently, needed a pseudo-diegetic DM's guide for a nonexistent game and to be given the chance to write bad advice on how to kill your players.
High Magic Lowlives came about because I started listening to The Gauntlet's podcast Fear of a Black Dragon after it won its Ennie in 2018. I'd been ignoring most OSR content at the time because the only exposure I had was through the lens of certain bad actors whose work came highly regarded and which I found completely impenetrable, useless in play, and needlessly preoccupied with sexual violence. I was reminded of why I had enjoyed Warhammer Fantasy RPG so much back in college, and shown how much weird fun stuff there was out there.
This game was intended to be a zine, which I started because the scope of the Forged in the Dark game that Kali and I were working on had gotten wildly out of hand. It has, clearly, grown from there thanks to the dauntless encouragement of the southern California tabletop RPG design community and the sudden appearance of the SWORD DREAM movement within the OSR. The final ingredient was the DREAMJAM which made for a perfect excuse to buckle down, write the second half of this game, and rewrite the first half.
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