Steven William Gordon Writing Portfolio

Tabletop RPG Writing

Tyrants & Hellions: A Book of Villains

My favorite project. As the lead writer on Tyrants & Hellions I created 15 villains, five of which were in collaboration with community members. Each villain functions as the centerpiece of a dramatic fantasy adventure, with unique minions and devious schemes that draw the players into a web of intrigue and danger until it finishes with a grand finale and dangerous confrontation.

Designing a good villain for a tabletop roleplaying game means finding innovative ways to introduce them, establish them as a credible threat, and planning for eventualities like the players going directly to the big evil castle on the horizon without having first acquired the magic sword. It’s equal parts creative writing and game design, because each villain needs a motivation and goals beyond “I’m going to destroy the world because I’m evil” and they must be a compelling and satisfying boss fight to round out the adventure.

One of my favorite villains to work on was Gorm the Obliterator, a hulking revenant inspired by the Terminator that reincarnates again and again until he has slain every last descendant of the king that wronged him, and the Shard of Madness, an abstract villain that warps reality around it in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Colour out of Space. I also greatly enjoyed the gameplay challenge of designing the unique Heartfire plague that the Ashen King spreads across the land, which simultaneously weakens mortals and empowers his demonic allies.

Tyrants & Hellions was nominated for an ENnie award for Best Villain/Adversary.

Cover art for the book Tyrants & Hellions

The Total Party Kill Handbook

With an eye-catching name, the Total Party Kill series is one of 2CGaming’s core product lines, and it all started with this book. Inspired by the 3rd edition Book of Challenges, the Total Party Kill Handbook is a series of self-contained, brutally challenging encounters that can be dropped into any ongoing Dungeons & Dragons game.

One of the things that makes this book unique is its thorough tactics section, which tells the Dungeon Master exactly what each monster should do and how to make the most of their abilities. In some cases, powerful monsters are inhibited by weak tactics to represent their poor intelligence, while other encounters are made difficult not by the raw power of the monsters involved, but because of their cunning and strategy.

Building on that, the book offers “scaling by tactics”, a section that helps adjust the encounter’s difficulty by tweaking the tactics used by the monsters. In a roleplaying game like Dungeons & Dragons, groups often run the gamut from casual adventurers who care more about the story to battle-hardened veterans who know how to take down a Tarrasque in three rounds or less, and it’s important to set the level of challenge to match the skill of the players.

Cover art for The Total Party Kill Handbook

The Total Party Kill Tournament

While not a book, the Total Party Kill Tournament is an event that I designed for 2CGaming to run at conventions across the country. As the name implies, it’s designed to be an almost insurmountable challenge. Players sign up as a group or as individuals and are grouped into teams of six. In the interest of fairness, players don’t use their own characters for this event. Instead, each party picks from the same pool of premade character options to build an adventuring party, and then enters a dungeon.

They’re given a choice of various encounters, ranked standard, difficult, or deadly. Harder encounters offer greater rewards such as powerful magic items that will assist the party in their battle with the final boss, but they must be careful not to overestimate themselves lest they expend too many of their limited spells and items or take too much damage in these initial battles. It’s all about risk assessment, and what they think will give them the best chance of taking down the villain at the end of the dungeon.

Most of the time we ran this event, the casualty rate was around 75%. Of the 25% of groups that made it to the end, they’d be scored based on how well they did against the final boss, and the best team each day won prizes. From its humble beginnings with me scrambling to run as many games as I could during a day to a massive event with over 100 players, the Total Party Kill Tournament is consistently popular at every convention it has been brought it to.

Full Writing CV

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition:

  • The Total Party Kill Primer Vol. 1 & 2
  • The Total Party Kill Handbook Vol. 1 (DriveThruRPG Silver Best Seller)
  • The Total Party Kill Handbook Vol. 2
  • Trap Compendium (DriveThruRPG Copper Best Seller)
  • Fate of the Forebears Part 2: City of Sands
  • Fate of the Forebears Part 3: Lion’s Vault
  • Tyrants & Hellions (Nominated for an 2019 ENnie award for Best Villain/Adversary)
  • Dead Quiet (One page dungeon winner of Best “Alternative Use” for a Magic Item 2017)
  • Contributed writing to The Total Party Kill Bestiary Vol. 1
  • Editor on The Epic Legacy Core Rulebook

Other TTRPGs:

  • No Man is an Island – Star Trek themed event for Hawaiicon 2017
  • Smash the System – Adventure for Lancer RPG
  • The Problem at Procul IV – Adventure for Stars Without Number inspired by System Shock 2