On Cauldron & Tower

Cauldron & Tower is the brand that A.R. Rye and myself are developing. We have a product in the DMs Guild and plan to have many more over the years. This post is about what Cauldron & Tower is, what went into our first adventure, and what is going into our next adventure and much more.


For a while now, I have been wanting to publish on the DMs Guild. While I have done my Further Legions and been accepted to a pair of community anthologies, I just do not follow through with them. Either I find the project lacking, my laziness gets in the way, or I have some issues with how it is being handled, I just bail. A lot of this stems from working in isolation, namely that the support that is offered is minimal or just not conducive to my needs as a creator. Something needed to change for me…

I needed a writing partner.

The value of a writing partner is one I have witnessed first hand over several years. One of my best friends is J.H. Williams III, the writer and comic book artist. I witnessed him, first hand, work on his stellar run on Batwoman (and upcoming Echo Lands) along side Haden Blackman. The dynamic helped Jim (Williams) and there was this accountability that I admired.

Having worked in Philosophy programs, especially such a small one at CSU Stanislaus, I was fairly isolated compared to my peers. It led me to believe that if I could not do it on my own, it could not be done. Took me a while, but I realized that was bullshit. So despite my consistent quitting of projects, I wanted one to succeed and follow through.

Now I ran my last D&D campaign for two and a half years. I could write, build, and play that without issue, but why? What was keeping me from self-publishing? Accountability to my players. They depended on me and I on them. I needed a way to find that but with someone that wanted to write and create. It was at this point I wracked my brain to think of whom to work with.

Working in a writing program at UC Merced, I work with a ton of writers, but no one that is really in line with my genre let alone game writing. I also knew I needed someone that enjoys and understands fandom from the inside. My friend, Amanda, I knew was writing a novel among other things. I also knew she was a huge Marvel Cinematic Universe fan (ask her about Cap and Bucky some time). I figured I would ask her if she wanted to come play a few games of Dungeons & Dragons with my crew, have a good time, then see if she was interested in branching into publishing on the DMs Guild.

She said yes.


I caught lunch with Amanda both on the way to and back from some trips to Los Angeles. The first round was going over my own vision of a DMs Guild imprint. I wanted to bring heavy metal, eldritch magic and witchcraft, and horror while working with artists that express those things well. She dug that and then added more. Stories about emerging identities, queer representation, and taking to task major fantasy tropes. I was on board with all of that and knew her perspective and insight would be crucial for handling all those things well. Leaving that first meeting I asked for her to bring a few ideas to pitch for our following lunch session in three days. She did not disappoint.

The premise for “Children of the Hills” was the first idea that came out of Amanda’s mouth when I saw her that Sunday. This was almost too easy. So I put an expectation on us: two months from that day, “Children of the Hills” would be released with no budget, rain or shine, on the DMs Guild. We shined.

Our first adventure, “Children of the Hills,” available now on the DMs Guild. Cover by Amy Bultena

We agreed upon our tools: OneNote for collaboration, Homebrewery on NaturalCrit, free DMs Guild art, the variety of cartography applications I have, and a cover done in marker by me. No budget, just work, grind, and get the thing done. The philosophy behind this is simple: if we can work together under that level of constraint, with non-optimal tools, we can do it much better when we actually put resources in to it. This also made sure that when it did go up for sale that making money off it was not a priority and would allow us to experiment with pricing structures and other sale related elements.

Shortly after, the name Cauldron & Tower came to me. Both are objects used in the arcane arts, but serve different functions. The cauldron is where you brew, experiment, and manifest magic. The tower is where magic is stored, studied, and learned. This is reflective of the relationship that was emerging as a writing team.

Thus far this is all fairly standard for a creative team, but about two thirds the way through “Children of the Hills” I had an idea. I presented it to Amanda and it bring us to where we are about to go in the coming months.

Cauldron & Tower: John Bultena (@OnlyPlayWizards) & A.R. Rye (@arye927)


Anyone that follows me on social media or even reads this blog (yeah right) knows that I love two other things besides D&D: music and t-shirts. When Death Saves was announced last year during Stream of Many Eyes by Joe Manganiello, I was stoked. I dug the aesthetic, the attitude, this sort of brutal savage look that emulated black and death metal styles, bringing that towards these classic D&D villains. They delved into the mythology I grew up with and were doing so quite well. I managed to win one of the 12 original red Deathknight shirts that were given away. Ordered a few shirts for my friends too. I dug it, still do. Death Saves is one of the many great companies out there making killer wear and fun stuff for the D&D fandom. I am thoroughly glad I have access to it all, the flourishing of the fandom is amazing.

So now I am going to write something that I have thought long and hard about before putting out. It forms a core element of what we are announcing and intending to do.

We seek to foster the hobby and the fandom in tandem.

It took me a while to articulate that. I want to be clear, if you are a enjoy reading D&D books, watch streams, hang out on Twitter, but do not play YOU ARE A D&D FAN! No questions asked. I will actually thank you for that, because it is nice to see people supporting the very idea of D&D. Honestly, even that sort of acknowledgment is something I never imagined when I was playing in middle school as a bit of an outcast.

But I did not want to preclude the hobby from my endeavor, as that is my primary means of participating in the overall phenomenon that is Dungeons & Dragons. I consistently integrate and bring in things outside it into my games. That could be fashion, music, culture, whatever. It was here that our idea has taken shape.

The adventures we create can be manifested as clothing, accessories, and even music. Essentially our creativity and vision is not limited to just the writing we manifest as a document. My own personal creative process frequently involves listening to music, viewing art, then converting my experience of those things into an adventure for my fellow Dungeons & Dragons players. So why couldn’t we reverse that process? Take our visions and manifest them into art, clothes, accessories, and even music to support our venture into writing adventures; effectively integrating the fandom into the hobby.

Well first, we needed a logo. We wanted to work with amazing artist. We wanted that merging of magic and heavy metal. This is the origins of our logo. Trading a few very rough sketches from us to Maldo of Branca Studio, yielded what you see above. It is designed in a way that it prints easy, is recognizable, and can be put onto a t-shirt.

Cauldron & Tower logo by Maldo of Branca Studio

Beginning in mid May, we will be selling shirts with the Cauldron & Tower logo on it, in varying editions. Till then, be on the look out for those wearing our exclusive and limited “Dark Coven” edition raglans, that will never be sold. We may even have a way for some of you to receive a write from us and get a hold of this garment that marks you as one of the “Dark Coven.”

But in June, oh the reveal we have for “Wolf Lord of Yol” is something that we are not aware of any other creators doing. If what we have shared is any hint, well know your raglan shirt size.

“Wolf Lord of Yol” working cover. Art by David Paul Seymour

And to be clear, this it the first of many offerings. In the future you will see the merging of adventure, fashion, and music from us. To keep up on what is going on with Cauldron & Tower, be sure to follow it on Twitter and Instagram.