Words by David C. Obenour
Rumor around town is that you and your intrepid group of adventurers are headed down to the shore. What adventure awaits you there? Playing video games, buying Def Leppard and Motley Crüe T-shirts and maybe even checking out the Sand Bar, a place said to let sixteen year-old kids drink!
Ripped right from the liner notes of decades of punk rock fantasies, the Lost Tomb of the Bitchin’ Chimera is an official Dead Milkmen themed RPG module by author and friend of the band, Andrew Ervin.
Originally designed as a homecooked one-off scenario played in advance of the Dead Milkmen’s Laurel Hill Cemetery performance, this world has been flushed out into a full campaign with thoughtful game-play and references behind every corner. We talked to the designer and Dead Milkmen drummer, Dean Sabatino about the recently successfully funded game – now available for preorder.
Off Shelf: What is your background with gaming and RPGs? Both how you started and where you’re at now?
Andrew Ervin: I began playing Dungeons & Dragons with the Basic box set. That came out in 1977, and I probably got my copy a few years after that. The fact that there’s a box set of “Lost Tomb of the Bitchin’ Chimera” is a particular joy for me. Over the years, I’ve played a number of different RPG systems and even invented one with a few friends during middle school. At some point, life and work got in the way of my gaming time, but, fortunately, about six years ago I called a few friends and they called a few friends and we put together a D&D campaign that runs to these day. Playing online during this pandemic isn’t the same, but it’s a nice diversion. I think of it as an exercise in collaborative storytelling.
Dean Sabatino: Very little! I bought my son some figures and dice when he was younger but he and his friends didn’t really play much. I watched with interest when Andrew played the prototype adventure with his friends at our cemetery concert last year. It looked like fun, there was beer involved.
OS: Andrew, can you talk about what first got you interested in the Dead Milkmen?
AE: I grew up in the Philly suburbs—in the infamous Delco—and spent a lot of time listening to all the great college radio stations in the area. I’m not finding a similar musical ecosystem anywhere today, not even online. It’s likely that I first heard the Dead Milkmen on WDNR at Widener University or maybe WSRN at Swarthmore. My first copy of Big Lizard was a cassette I bought at the Granite Run Mall.
OS: What did the rest of the band think about Lost Tomb of the Bitchin Chimera? Both at first and did they get involved or more interested throughout the process?
DS: I thought it was a cool idea and the others wanted to wait and see how it developed. Andrew provided some info and samples up front and as it took off we’re amused and think it has been great. Rodney is the one band member who plays and he seems really excited by it.
OS: You’ve easily blown by your initial $1500 Kickstarter goal – did you expect there to be such crossover between punks and gamers? Did the response surprise you at all?
AE: All of this is a surprise. The adventure started as a private joke for three friends, and we played it in the Philly semester before a concert in 2019. I never intended to or expected to publish it. Now that it’s taken off, I found myself rewriting and editing and rewriting and editing to make it as polished as possible. It still has a bit of a DIY vibe, which feels appropriate. I’ve crammed in as many references to the band as I could, and there are a ton of utterly awful jokes, but it’s also true that I took the RPG elements seriously if little else.
DS: I wasn’t too surprised. We have a very intelligent/nerdy/wonderful fan base.
OS: The module is system-neutral, but mentions 5th edition – what made you decide to on that as a general framework? Did you ever consider any other backing ruleset or was it 5th all the way?
AE: As a lifelong D&D player, and someone who’s written about games, I think the 5E system is excellent. It’s thorough and detailed and also leaves a ton of room for open-ended creativity. My current game began before these rules, so we have the occasional square peg/round hole situation, but those always end up being fun challenges. I understand too that some new 5E rules currently in development are going to address some of areas that I thought could use some tinkering, which is exciting.
OS: The Kickstarter preview video hinted at quite a few Dead Milkmen easter eggs – Burrow of the Owlbear, Life-is-Shit Boneyard, even in just over a minute way too many to mention – from throughout the discography. Can you talk about a few of your favorites that made their way in?
DS: Honestly, this is Andrew’s department. I’m looking forward to the game and seeing what he has sneaked in there!
AE: I’d hate to spoil anything for people who are going to play this adventure, but one thing I set out to do what create unique rewards that players could only get here—and which their characters could carry on into other games. The hint I’ll give you is that one of my very favorite Dead Milkmen songs is “The Woman Who Was Also a Mongoose” and my most recent novel, Burning Down George Orwell’s House, included a lycanthrope.
OS: Justin Sirois did a great job of incorporating classic dungeon crawl art with the Dead Milkmen’s world. Can you talk about bringing him in? How much guidance did you give for what he did?
AE: Justin is such a pro. His knowledge of the indie RPG world (which reminds me a little bit of what the punk scene used to be like) is second to none. Collaborating with him has been an education.
DS: I love the artwork I’ve seen so far! I let Andrew call the shots as he knows what works in the D and D gaming world. Justin’s drawings of us look great.
OS: Both punk rock and gaming can sometimes be thought of as adolescent joys – things you did in your teen years. What has kept you interested all of these years and how do you think what you appreciate about each has changed?
DS: The DIY nature of the music scene we came up in has always appealed to me. We were free to play the music as we were able and were accepted first locally and then nationally. The music industry is now very different from when we got started – in some ways better – bands can put out their own releases online much easier and Interact with fans via social media. In some ways worse – to break through to a wider audience is much harder now because of the reliance on hefty marking and promotion budgets.
OS: Do you think there are more fantasy fueled adventures in the Dead Milkmen world?
AE: Never say never, right? But I don’t see it happening. The way this has come together just feels so right and so perfect, I can’t imagine how we would make it any cooler.
DS: Maybe! The popularity of the Kickstarter is amazing – once the game is out and people have a chance to play it.
OS: Andrew, are there any other bands you have or would like to create fantasy worlds and adventures for?
AE: Not really. The Dead Milkmen are such great storytellers that their songs and their worlds lend themselves perfectly to this kind of RPG adventure. I’d love it, though, if this inspired someone out there to homebrew new ideas for this or write something for another band. All that said, if the RZA decides he wants to create a Shaolin RPG adventure “Escape from the 36 Chambers” he should call me. My current character is a monk and I promise not to reveal the Wu-Tang Secret.