Behind The Curtain: Shorter Adventures

Iron Tavern Press LogoThis post is part of a ‘Behind the Curtain’ series for Iron Tavern Press. They are intended to provide some insight to design decisions made for current and future product lines.

Gamer’s time is limited these days. A lot of us have taken on responsibilities of families and careers. These responsibilities cut into our free time and can often lead to playing shorter or more infrequent sessions – if we get to play at all. Even the younger gamers, still new to hobby have a plethora of other interests bidding for their recreational time.

Today’s Gamer

An informal poll of G+ users several months ago indicated the average length of session hovered in the 2 to 3 hour range. This informal poll holds true to my experience as well. My online sessions are 2 hours long and my weekly face-to-face session is only about 3 to 3.5 hours of actual playing time. A far cry from how the sessions of my youth used to be!

Not only are sessions shorter, but for some they are more infrequent. Maybe every other week or once a month. Sometimes that is simply the schedule and other times cancellations make that the more realistic gaming interval.

So What?

What does this shorter and sometimes more infrequent session time mean? It means trying to play through long sprawling adventures can be a chore. Either you can’t get enough accomplished in a single session to feel meaningful or it takes months to close a story arc. Sometimes you just need a short side-trek to fill a session or two where only part of your gaming group can make it.

GMs also tend to have less time to prep for sessions. Or sometimes they need a quick option for a night of gaming. Something that doesn’t take hours of preparation, but rather a brief read through and a small map for an evening of entertainment.

And that is where the Pocket-Sized Encounters line comes in…

Pocket-Sized Encounters

The Pocket-Sized Encounters line from Iron Tavern Press aims to fill this gap. The products are written to be played in sessions that last 2 to 4 hours. This makes is easier to pick one up and finish it in a single session while providing a fun night of play. Something the players and can feel good about accomplishing contributing to the fun of the session.

In addition they purposefully try to keep themselves adaptable. Towns are not explicitly named. Directions to the mountains or hills or plains are kept loose, only that there are some nearby. This helps make it even easier to drop into any campaign world on the spur of the moment. The intent is to drastically reduce the GM’s prep time by not being overly detailed with the backdrop forcing the GM to adapt entire villages or regions he has already taken efforts to detail.

Several adventure seeds are provided in each product so a GM can pick one and integrate with their campaign world. And for a GM that wants to expand the scenario beyond how it is written a ‘Where To From Here’ section is included with suggestions on how to get even more gameplay out of the scenario. So while remaining highly portable from one setting to another, there is information in each PSE to turn it into something bigger.

Each product includes a random table to further help a GM add detail on the fly. Tables from random treasure hordes, to random items found, to rumor tables. All are there to help a GM have the answers to those unpredictable twists and turns a players like to throw at you!

And finally – the maps included with the product are provided in GM’s versions, Player’s versions, gridded, and gridless. More tools to help a GM to be able to pickup a PSE product and be up and running with a limited amount of prep time.


The changing landscape of gaming are some of the driving factors in creating useful adventures for today’s GMs. The Pocket-Sized Encounter line is there for busy GMs, shorter sessions, and the infrequent gamer to provide an evening of entertainment at a moment’s notice.

You can check out one of the products in the PSE line at RPGNow.

Did you like this Behind the Curtain post? Don’t miss Default System Choice or Cover Art – Or Lack Thereof.

Cover Art – Or Lack Thereof

Iron Tavern Press LogoIron Tavern Press has two products out in the world now, with more Pocket-Sized Encounters on their way. One decision that is now obvious to the public is that I chose to go the no cover art route with these products. This was not a decision made lightly and this post looks at what went into this decision for Iron Tavern Press.

The primary factor is of course cost. Artists deserve to be paid for their talents. But with the somewhat steady release cycle I have in mind for the launch of Iron Tavern Press, my up front expenses to put a unique cover on each product was a very real cost that I might not see return on until the venture gets it feet under it.

These funds seemed better spent to me by putting it into editing services, the tools to publish a clean product, and interior art that spruced up the product. With the release schedule I had in mind this is the decision path I leaned towards to get Iron Tavern Press established.

The other factor is the quality of that art. Given a limited budget there is a question of what quality of art would be on the cover if I went that route. I did some mock-ups a few months ago with some images. Frankly, they had a more amateurish look to them than the minimalistic covers I have launched with. Just as great cover art can help a product, bad cover art can hurt a product.

The decision is not without its risks. Who doesn’t love cool cover art? I see it all the time – a cool cover gets posted to a social network, it gets shared around and that is all based on the appearance of the cover. Very little is said about the actual content of the product. Cool cover art definitely can help with exposure and generate some excitement about a product.

My feedback from the mock-ups I sent out was mixed. Some encouraged using cover art and others understood why I would make the decision to launch products with no cover art. Even those that encouraged the use of cover art acknowledged the cover mock-up was very clean and looked well done. It at the very least gave a professional appearance, even if it did lack cover art.

In the end I chose the clean, minimalistic covers for the Pocket-Sized Encounters line. I am happy with the choice and it has allowed me to use quality interior art (some stock art, some commissioned pieces) and hire an RPG editor to make sure the words in the product are the best they can be.

All of Iron Tavern Press’ products are currently on sale as part of the GM’s Day Sales going on at the beginning of March. This is a great opportunity to check them out (cover art or not!) at either or RPGNow.

Behind the Curtain: Default System Choice

PSE1_Kajaks_Kave_Cover_ThumbIn the week following the debut of Iron Tavern Press and our first product, Kajak’s Kave, I suspect some folks are wondering why I chose Swords & Wizardry for the “default” system. There is a plethora of well-written OSR systems available today and to choose one seems a very difficult task.

I wanted to take a little time and explain why that choice was made, specifically for the Pocket-Sized Encounters series I launched Iron Tavern Press with.


I got my start in the role-playing world with D&D Basic, the Moldvay version. Even today the cover of that boxed set is etched into my mind. That set is what launched me on what has proven to be a lifetime hobby. From playing games, to running games, to blogging, to starting Iron Tavern Press. The roots can be traced back to that system.

Of course over the years I drifted away from that initial edition. 1st Edition AD&D, then on to 2nd Edition, and even to D&D 3.x. From there I drifted to Pathfinder and in recent years even more dabbling in various systems. Some just picked up and read through and others taken for more extensive test drives.

Regardless of system I will hold a fondness for the OSR. Especially as my available time diminishes and I need to work the hobby into a fuller and fuller schedule. The light nature of many of the OSR systems allow me to spend more time on the creative and less time on the “crunch”.

System Choice

When I first wrote Kajak’s Kave and the idea of Pocket-Sized Encounters percolated the adventure was written to be systemless. The creatures were simply referenced by name and how many were present with directions to look up the actual creature stats in your rule system of choice. While this led to great versatility it did push work off on the GM.

Around this same time I was doing on the fly conversions of some Dungeon Crawl Classics and Labyrinth Lord adventures to Swords & Wizardry. Converting on the fly was pretty easy, but I was glad I had at least some stats to work off of. Even the inclusion of basic stats for a different system gave me the ballpark of what I would use in Swords & Wizardry.

This experience had me second guessing my choice to go completely systemless for this series. But what system should I use as the default assumption?

It came down to three top contenders for choice of system that I felt were good fits for the series and still adaptable for people to convert to their system of choice. OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, and Swords & Wizardry.

Each of these systems have their strengths, but in the end I chose Swords & Wizardry for the default system for the Pocket-Sized Encounters line. Let’s take a closer look as to why.

Swords & Wizardry

I’ve posted before about why I like Swords & Wizardry as a foundation system. But there are some factors that also influenced my decision from a publisher’s point of view.

Swords & WizardryThe biggest factor? Swords & Wizardry stat blocks include both ascending and descending AC. To me this is huge. Yes – one can convert even AC on the fly, but to some that seems a mystery or at the very least, not something they feel like doing at the table. Swords & Wizardry includes both a number for ascending and descending AC in the same stat block which removes what I consider one of the larger hurdles for at the table conversion. It also lends itself well to conversion to more complex rule systems such as Pathfinder as well.

Another major reason I like Swords & Wizardry is that the ruleset is available online at It is easily searchable and very handy for a rule lookup when you are away from your books. I find online resources such as these invaluable. Having the ruleset online in such a clean format simply lowers the bar to entry that much more. It even makes things easier for me as I write to be able to look things up quickly.

Though the decision was made after I had chosen Swords & Wizardry as the default assumption for Pocket-Sized Encounters, the fact the Swords & Wizardry Complete PDF is now free to the public doesn’t hurt! Yet another step to keep the barrier to S&W low.

In general I find S&W a very solid foundation for people that like OSR gaming. It is easy to build upon by “borrowing” rules from other places or layering your own house rules on.

All of these factors contributed to why I chose Swords & Wizardry as my default system for this line of products.