Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Thoughts on the Ghoul Prince (published DIY RPG)

I now have one published adventure written for the DCC ruleset.

Its got snazzy art from the ever talented Alex Mayo and maps from fellow Canuck Dyson Logos.  But other than have DCC stats and features,  whats its deal?

Its got a psychotic slasher villain as the main antagonist, straight from the eighties.   Slasher villains don't normally work in an RPG about well armed lunatics with supernatural powers and a penchant for fighting wraiths and dragons.  I don't think a machete and an inside out mask of a sci-fi celebrity would really be enough of a threat to stop an adventuring party of non-camp counselors.

The feel of the slasher is there though, with diegetic abilities which strongly encourage using different tactics for the party to defeat (or avoid) this antagonist. If nothing else it will be a breath of fresh air as the party tries new things.

The larger change with this adventure is how it is written.  With most things that I write, you may have noticed I am usually experimenting with some concept or element of the adventure.  This adventure sprang out of my adventure convert-o-tronica concept of making ready to use location based adventure that can easily fit into any campaign.  The Ghoul Prince follows that relentlessly.   I show the core elements of the adventure, the moving pieces that set the stage for potential climactic battles, gruesome deaths, or fabulous schemes while everything else is a skeletal frame.   I then also give three different "skins" that smoothly fit over that frame and instructions on how to make your own.

I don't want to imply that the skeletal frame is somehow bare or requires the GM to write half the adventure themselves, they don't.  The skins really do cleanly fit over top,  I could have just taken one of the skins, applied it and published it that way and it would be perfectly cromulent.   But I did want to show a little bit of whats under the hood of an adventure when you structure it as a game component first and then make sure the 'fiction' lines up with it. A big pet peeve of mine with adventures is when they are incredibly imaginative and full of great ideas,  but that they aren't actually fun to interact with at the actual game table where 4-6 people will be spending several blocks of time, each multiple hours in length.

The Ghoul Prince is available HERE

Reviews, good or bad, help creators both spread awareness and improve their future work so don't hesitate to do so.

Monday, April 23, 2018

What does Neoclassical Geek Revival do better than other games

I get asked this question often and its a fair question. First the waffling bit of this post. I have generally grown to dislike the term "better" as better requires an end goal.  To be better requires a specific set of goals and not everyone likes the same thing in an RPG.  Is a flat d6 for damage better than varied dice of different types?  It depends on what you want the game to do.  But I do have specific goals in mind so lets dump that valid and reasonable chain of logic.

The second bit of waffling is that NGR is a very different game than OSR games in very subtle ways. It has a bit of uncanny valley going on with retro-clones where it is similar but also just slightly different so that things pan out very differently as each of the small differences compounds.  That is also a boring if reasonable line of discussion that doesn't suit the elevator pitch style answer people are looking for.

There are two major ones which I will say I like unequivocally better:  Stealth mechanics and Priest magic (miracles).

In OSR games stealth is binary.  You are hiding or you are found.  It also tends to be something one or two party members do while the others twiddle their thumbs and wait for the "Stealth bit" to end.   I have found that over the last decade and change (jeez this is getting to be an old system) explaining stealth has gotten easier.  Stealth has an accrual of "stealth damage" (called suspicion) that builds up until people are caught.  Being a rogue makes you better at stealth in the way a warrior is better at fighting, but everyone can be stealthy in the same way everyone can fight.  The reason this has gotten easier is this is vaguely an analogue to the way Bethseda games handle stealth so its become easier for people to intuitively grasp.  Accruing suspicion is the little eyeball icon getting bigger.  There are a myriad of other small changes that make this even better, since it ties into other factors.  For example this is also how random encounters are triggered.  As dungeons are much more dangerous this also makes stealth just as important (and often more so) than combat.  "Hitpoints" in NGR as "Luck points", and the same pool that you use to keep from being skewered in combat is the same pool you use to keep from being spotted or triggering random encounters. Bringing a lot of light with you will reduce penalties in combat, but also cause more suspicion every time you go into a hallway (meaning potentially more combats if you aren't careful).  You will often have tense resource draining conflicts through a dungeon without ever getting into a fight.  Because you are desperately trying not to.   NGR naturally ends up with way more heists than OSR games in my experience.

The second thing I believe NGR does better than OSR games is priestly magic.  Priests do not use Vancian magic.   They have their full assortment of spells available to them at any time and as often as they would like.  They do not have any spells for free.

To use these spells priests have to expend a resource called "piety", its basically a reward system from your god.  How much do they want to help you out.  You don't have any sort of daily pool to allocate, it isn't a renewable resource in that way.  Every point of piety you have to spend on miracles (priest magic) you have to earn.

Kill an abomination? take some piety. 
Bury the dead? take some piety. 
Destroy an enemy temple? take some piety.
Make a bargain with a demon? lose some piety.
Etc etc.

But priests never use spells frivolously. You don't waste spells because its the end of the day and you'll re-memorize them tomorrow.  Using that heal today means that is one less heal you can use in the future. It also forces players of priests to really act the part.  It takes player lead action to acquire the favour of your god if you want their help in the future.

Going back to the concept of uncanny valley for a moment.  NGR is not a retro-clone, not even remotely.  It does not have the same DNA as TSR D&D,  but it works towards a similar purpose of low fantasy adventure.  Of grappling hooks, crowbars, and battle axes being brought to bear on crumbling ruins and untamed wilds populated by monsters and men, explored on the scale of normal people without super powers.  To that end most adventures written for one will work for the other, what changes is how they pan out. NGR features a lot of schemes, stealth, and shenanigans with combat being avoided unless the fight is either an overwhelming ambush or desperate bid for survival since fighting is dangerous.

City of Tears is a desert themed NGR dungeon crawl,  coming soon!

Friday, April 13, 2018

An Ominous Portent: The release of the "Scenario from Ontario" this Friday the 13th

The Biggest Write-Off of 2017

Late in 2017 Kiel Chenier and I had a 24 hour adventure writing contest.  We were each tasked with writing a small (~7000 word) adventure about maple syrup for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  Our resulting works were compiled together into this handy-dandy volume with redone maps (by Dyson Logos) and with professional art and layout (by Chris Huth).

This is 100% uncut Canadiana and is available to you now in PDF form.   We will hopefully have a PoD version in the future.

It is available here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Seed Table: The Great Northern Desert

Now that my Xan Than Du game has been done for awhile, I thought I might post one of the seed tables used to generate wilderness encounters.

The Great Northern Desert Seed Table
  In ancient times the area was a wealthy agricultural hub with many small city states. Thousands of years ago a cataclysmic drought struck, followed by winds carrying great clouds of fine red dust.  Only the stone age hill tribes stayed and continue to live on the hostile land.  Caravans cross from the great coastal cities to the jungles beyond and where they go the nomad king of the horse bandits follows.  The ancient ruins still crawl with undead, and roaming packs of ghouls have slunk into the area to consume them (as well as any fresher dead they can find or create).

Roll 1d8, 1d6, and 1d4 before consulting the table before. Only roll the dice once.

Where (D8)
1: Plain of cracked earth with the odd scraggly bush
2: Dust coated (d4 inches) packed earth, odd tree, some agave
3: Dust coated long dead forest (stumps, some greyed wood)
4: Abandoned farm or manor area, many building foundations, dust drifts
5: Slightly rolling hills, scrub
6: Slightly rolling hills, giant cactii
7: Scrubland, odd tree,  obelisk (even) or statue (odd)
8: Great dust drifts covering scrubland and dead/dying trees.  Obelisk on 15+.

What (D6)
1-  Desert Demon (night only)
2-    Beasts
         1 = Jackals (d8+d4) night only
         2 =  Buzzards (on 13+ they bestow curse of Carrion God if attacked), circling a corpse on even
         3 = Red Kangaroo (d8) day only
         4 =  Step near a rattlesnake ( on 12+ they bestow curse of Yig if attacked)
3- Boon (less than 9) or Bane (12+). * Use the next entry on the list.

4-  Monster
         1-2: Giant Camel Spider (size d4) (night only)
         3-4: Giant snake (size d4+1)
         5-6: Terror Birds (d4) (day only)
         7-8: Giant Scorpion  (size d4-1) (night only)
5-  Nothing
6-    People: (d8 x 3)
           1=  Caravan on camels (day only)
           2 = Bandits on horses
           3 = Orange Tribesmen (1/3rd have dingo sleds)
           4 = Ghouls (night only)  (1/3rd guns, +4  hyenas)

Weird (D4)
1=  Dried out watering hole
2= Tumbleweeds
3=  Windy (rain on run of 3)
4=  Rubble, with a tomb on 13+ or a road segment on 9<

Special Results
1  - The watering hole is actually an oasis
2 -  Lost caravan (dead or dying)
3 - An air elemental in bird form haunts the area
4 - Amidst the ruble is a secret Temple of Yig with 13 cultists worshiping the snake
5 - A sudden Dust Devil tears through the immediate area
6 - Quadruple amount of people, cave temple is present for Orange Tribesmen, Dice Total/4 undead are present if Ghouls.

Max (18): Besieged Ziggurat (Ghouls vs mummies).  A special location (dungeon**) has been found. Ghouls besiege the ancient tomb, hoping to eat the undead inside and plunder their wealth.

Runs (based on start):
1 - An unattended camel with bags full of quinoa and jug of water is wandering lost.
2 -  d4 is used as an extra d6
3 - A wise Dervish (level d4) is nearby, offering blessings and cryptic wisdom.
4 - Undead forces lair in the tomb (20 and level d6-1 Undead noble)

* I had a separate page of unique minor positive and negative events. Every time this came up I'd cross the top one off the matching list and use it. At the end of the game I'd randomly make something up and add it to the bottom.  Things like "You find a supply cache marker, buried are two jugs of water and some flour in a sealed pot" or "The biting flies here may spread a disease, make a health save".

** I had a number of dungeons pre-setup that would appear in whatever hex they were first rolled in and then remain there from then on.

As an additional update,  here is a sneak peek of the upcoming Zzarchov/Kiel joint for use with LotFP "The Scenario from Ontario".

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The importance of a "Leader" in a player lead game

The last couple campaigns I've run have been specifically set-up to handle the realities of mid-life and busy schedules.  Players drop in an out week to week due to a hundred competing priorities.  This means that I've avoided setting the games to pick-up seconds after the last one ended, instead they are based on excursions from a home base (or bases) with assumed down-time in between.

In a game without this structure, it wasn't essential to have a designated leader since there were usually immediate priorities that needed to be dealt with.  If a game ended on a cliff hanger then you could easily jump back into the mindset needed to keep going. Sometimes you would run into a dysfunctional moment where "Analysis Paralysis" would set in and the group would become stuck, and sometimes you'd run into someone becoming a "self-appointed" boss, but assuming your players are all well adjusted adults those are pretty rare.

When you move to an excursion based game the math changes.  Each week is a fresh start and you can easily burn 25% of your game time in a brainstorming session of what to do and what the risks and benefits are.  One of the changes I implemented is to randomly assign one player as leader each game after the first 10-15 minutes if no plan of action is decided.  The game follows that player character's actions for the rest of the session.  If a player doesn't feel like making the calls they can pass the baton to another player (sometimes you just aren't 100%).

I find this has a couple of effects:
1.) The game both gets moving faster and handles puzzles and other choices faster. Things keep moving.

2.) You get a much larger variance in what people do week to week.   Instead of 10 weeks in a row of the forbidden temple because 3 of 5 are most interested in that, you'll get mostly forbidden temple but interspersed with some jaunts to a haunted castle and one to an ancient tomb.

Unrelated, here is a sneak peak at the title of one of the upcoming releases:

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Development History of Neoclassical Geek Revival

Decades ago, I started playing Dungeons and Dragons and was hooked (Advanced of course, I would accept nothing less).

Right away though there was this one little thing that was off and didn't flow well in the way I wanted to game..

And then this one little other thing I noticed the game after that...

First it was that shields did not seem appropriately useful to how important they should be.  Then armour seemed off because it didn't help you against traps. I wouldn't read Vance for over a decade so magic seemed wrong to me.  Having a mish-mash of 1st and 2nd edition books the XP system was bonkers since the 2e books didn't mention gold giving XP but 1e Monsters gave pitiful XP as they assumed treasure based XP. I questioned what exactly a hitpoint was.

Soon there was a very lengthy set of house rules whenever I ran a game. As I grew older the usual breaks for life came to be and gaming got put aside for awhile.

In the early 2000's I decided to try and return to gaming.  After a few games of 2e I felt the need for a change in how I ran the campaign and cranked out what would be the first version of NGR which I just called "Piecemeal" since it was a horrid Frankenstein of patched together rulings and subsystems.  There wasn't any AD&D in it.  Things flowed how I wanted them too, but it was too finnicky,  too many things to remember. Good enough to game with though.

So iterative pruning happened.  Any time something was ignored at the table, or slowed things down,  I took a note.  I also took mental notes of things that went smoothly. Using those notes I made changes to the rules and announced them at the start of the game. Initially weekly, then slowing down to monthly, then yearly. Anyone who works in technology probably intuitively understands this as iterative and incremental development.

When I still called it Piecemeal this was frequent with many big changes.  When I put out physical books and released it as "Neoclassical Geek Revival" I tended to hold them off to be small changes or tweaks with maybe one major (but still reverse compatible) change per year as changes needed heavy testing at that point and the game was hitting 99% of the notes I wanted it to.

As an example of how big changes came to be,  the first release of NGR proper had types of attacks.  You had wild attacks, knock downs, power attacks, grapples.  It was fine, it did the job of dynamic combat when it came up.   But in playing with Kyrinn it came to a single point in a game where she wanted to cut at someones legs with her sword, to hopefully hurt them but also knock them over.

The attack types didn't really allow that (those were two different options).  You could cut them (dealing damage, or double damage on a critical),  or knock them down (a check, or two checks on a critical). I could have kicked it old school and just made a one time ruling and moved on. But this was an opportunity to improve without adding complexity.

So I changed the way things like attacks work.  You roll the die,  if you beat the target you choose a success from a list of options (deal damage, try to knock someone down, etc)  and if you got a critical you could choose two things (such as double damage, or two knock downs, or a knock down and damage).  It solved the immediate problem and lowered complexity without taking away from the game.  You could do everything you could before with the same roles, it was just more flexible and easier to explain.

And for almost 10 years of Neoclassical Geek Revival and another decade of Piecemeal before that, there has been constant iterative development like that based on actual play from a number of different campaigns.   Most GM's house rule it heavily to suit their own tastes and that is something I encourage, but it always interesting to hear feedback from how the little tweaks and changes impact player behaviour. I also like to see how adventure design leads to changes.

In the current version of NGR (which will have only minor changes in the upcoming kickstarter) a curse is cast upon a person or item.  Through running my Xanthandu game I had many situations of tomb robbing legitimate archaeology where some hideous curse was foretold upon those who dare open a sacred chamber.  This lead to a small change to the curse spell description where you can make it a trap if you write the curse out.  Now there is an easy way to quickly make an adventure to use them as traps. It is minor, but it changes the way you think about designing the small side quest locations that only get about 20 minutes of writing as a GM.  The larger locations already have enough deep planning and custom content that these sorts of changes probably aren't front and center in a GM's brain.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Upcoming Trilogy Release

This year I plan to release a trio of works in one (likely) crowdfunded campaign.  It will have the following three works,

1.) A version of NGR that has "Hark! a Wizard" and "Rampaging Monsters" included as appendices and new art.

2.) A compendium of all of my NGR/OSR adventures until the end of 2017:
- A Thousand Dead Babies
- The Gnomes of Levnec
- Scourge of the Tikbalang
- Under the Waterless Sea
- Trail of Stone and Sorrow
- The Gem Prison of Zardax
- The Price of Evil
- Temple of Lies
- The Roots of Bitterness
- Down in Yon Forest

3.) City of Tears,  which is an NGR dungeon adventure, set in the ruins under a plague ravaged desert city.  It features art by Jez Gordon, layout by Jensen Toperzer, and maps by Dyson Logos.

These will be physical books, and not all of them will have electronic copies available.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

What is in the pipeline?

So I recently put out a blog post detailing what is done (or at least done my portion) and will be coming out in the current year.   But I am always tinkering on the next thing.

For those who follow at all I am running an early iron age game, so you can expect some small adventures to emerge from that particular forge.  The game is based on a mythic underworld so the good adventures that bubble to the surface will be in that vein.

I am also still working on my Four-Dimensional Hyperdungeon, which has been done for several years but has constantly vexed me for how to effectively present that information for use at a table. With any luck I'll have that done and in the queue by end of year.

My underground adventure "Hall of the Mountain King" is still half transcribed from notes, as I wonder where I should snip its tendrils to fit into one release. The problem being that all of my work stems from things tested through gameplay, and I run campaigns. Finding where I can make a clean break is sometimes hard to do without losing the charm from the adventure threads.

I have also begun tinkering on another boardgame, but it is still really early in its infancy.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Murder at Devil Pines, an upcoming board game

I have a real soft spot for co-operative board games,  no doubt tightly linked to my love of Roleplaying Games  (which are co-operative by nature).

I am very careful about who I try to play a co-operative game with to the point where I'll usually just be playing NGR with someone before I'd bother trying to run Arkham Horror most of the time. I often play board games in a more casual setting where I don't know the fellow gamers as well as I do when I play an RPG.

The reason is a common occurrence in any co-operative gaming situation with relative strangers.  There is a high likelihood that someone tries to micromanage the entire table as a one person game.  In an RPG the GM often gets involved. In a board game the whole table gets involved.  Still, its solvable if an annoyance.

But its so common because its kind of required.  To be hard, most co-op games require a high degree of teamwork and group planning or you suffer crushing defeat.  This requires players to get together and plan.  This can start to convert each turn into an office place meeting.  This is compounded by how long these games take to set up which means there is a higher cost of losing.  It takes 30 minutes to reset the board.   And of course games that take 30 minutes to set up tend to take 4+ hours to play.  This is probably your one chance with this game for weeks or months (I have some I enjoy but play once every other year due to time constraints, as I am no longer in college with free time to spare).

This is the "problem" I wanted to solve by making "Murder at Devil Pines",  its a usually co-operative game where it isn't natural for one player to take over, where set-up time is under five minutes and a four player game is about an hour.  It still has the usual proto-RPG elements that make it a good gateway game if that is your thing as well.

If you are wondering why I said its usually co-operative its because it has a special traitor mechanic where anyone could be a traitor and won't know (even themselves) until the game is at least halfway done but statistically more than half of games have no traitor at all. Some may even have a table full of traitors (very rarely).

This game features art by the talented Alex Mayo and is set in Small City 1991 America. It will be hitting Kickstarter later this year.

Friday, March 9, 2018

"Shadows of Forgotten Kings" or "Why I decided to write a 5e adventure"

One of the upcoming releases of mine (through ZERO/Barrier) is a little number called "Shadows of Forgotten Kings" for fifth edition.  You may notice that I don't normally make adventures for 5e despite it being out for many years and being quite successful.  I've played in a routine 5e game for a couple years,  as well as a few mini-campaigns as either player or DM.   It is not my natural groove though.

This is why I felt the need to go out of my way to not only write a 5e adventure, but a good 5e adventure that still followed my style to anyone who pays attention to such things. To excel at any activity, you have to spend some time working on your weak areas.  This is why most coaches will tell basketball players to develop their off hand.  By forcing yourself to do things differently and approach from different angles it forces a bit of self awareness on your ruts and your crutches.

To this end you'll probably see a few more works in what are (for me) non-standard systems.  The Ghoul Prince for instance is written for DCC.

As for the Shadows of Forgotten Kings, I am quite happy with how it turned out. If you are the type of person who likes my work and has ever tried to convert it to your 5e campaign this is right up your alley.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What is Neoclassical Geek Revival

I am going to try (and probably fail) to avoid my usual conversational styles of both self-depreciation and/or irreverence and give some straight answers to what Neoclassical Geek Revival (NGR) is and why you might want to run it as a GM or play it as a player. I will try to do this without devolving into information free cliche statements and assume you already know basic things like its a roleplaying game and it has things like classes (or class components) and levels and the like.

Neoclassical Geek Revival is above all else a "Shenanigan Generator", which to avoid being seen as a buzzword I will explain.  It is set up to encourage players to take unneeded risks in their pursuit of self-selected goals and thus create their own obstacles. This is not done through story mechanics but through reward  mechanisms. There are intentionally several different axis of reward but I will give an example of one that is common in many games of this sort:  XP.

If you kill an enemy character you gain 10% of their XP total, but if you capture them for imprisonment (or later trial, sacrifice, etc) you gain 25% of their XP total.  This encourages the adoption of recurring villains without railroading it.

Experience points for a dungeon are granted based on how many rooms you had previously explored for the first time in this delve.  The first new room might be worth 0xp, the second 10xp, the third an additional 30, the fourth an additional 60.   This leads characters to constantly risk defeat by wanting one more room since leaving the dungeon to rest will reset the XP clock as it were. Trying to make it through that 13th room (which may be empty) is worth 780xp now or 0 if they return to the surface to rest. 

Shenanigans ensue.

This added to the fact that role protections are strongly weakened in NGR.   A warrior is better at fighting, but everyone can fight.  Likewise a rogue may be better at stealth, but every can take part in a stealth mission.   The warrior will just be worse in much the same way the rogue is worse in a stand-up fight.

The goal is to encourage the possibility of the entire party doing things together, even though some of them suck at it.  The stealth system for example, is set up so that one bad roll doesn't spoil the covert operation the players have found themselves in.  It merely drains resources from the less stealthy individuals (in the way a fight drains from those terrible at combat).

Even the way d20's are rolled (or not) is based upon the escalation.   When players roll what is called a dX  (which generates a number from 1-20, different than a d20 as you'll see) they all start off being calm and simply scoring a 10 plus modifiers.  If this won't cut it they can become on-edge and start rolling 3d6 plus modifiers.  If that still doesn't cut it they can become reckless and roll a d20 plus modifiers.    As their start having more swing to their rolls they cannot go back to having less swing for the adventure.  Once you start escalating to solve a problem you start to risk failing.  While once your barbarian couldn't fail a strength check to knock down a door (having 15 Strength),  after you became on-edge to avoid being caught sneaking past an orc you developed a 1/ 72 chance of failing. Two rooms later you have to become reckless to avoid the mind control of a vampire and now you have a 1/4 chance on that big ole swingy d20.  Careful planning begins to give way to chaos.

And shenanigans are generated.

A Thousand Dead Babies will be part of the upcoming Adventure Anthology hardcover

Monday, March 5, 2018

Whats upcoming

So I don't often talk about I am puttering with and working on,  but for those who care here is a fairly complete list of things that are expected out this year (and are either complete or at least my portions are).

The Ghoul Prince

What is it?:  This is a DCC adventure where I experiment with with horror movie mechanics as well as a system to enable easy switching of settings.

Who publishes it: DIY RPG (Hubris, Demon City, etc)

Shadows of Forgotten Kings

What is it?: Shadows of Forgotten Kings is a fifth edition adventure involving a trek into the jungle in search of a ruined city.

Who publishes it: Zero/Barrier Productions (Dyson's Delves, Etc)

Murder at Devil Pines

What is it?: A board game set in 1991 America, as federal agents deal with a supernatural conspiracy.
Who publishes it: Neoclassical Games (Pioneers of Mars)

City of Tears

What is it?: A dungeon adventure for Neoclassical Geek Revival set in a quarantined desert city
Who publishes it:  Me as part of a trilogy kickstarter

Stuff without covers yet

The Adventure Anthology

What is it?: A physical copy of all of my previous NGR/OSR adventures in one book
Who publishes it:Me as part of a trilogy kickstarter

NGR art edition

What is it?:  An updated copy of NGR with actual professional art rather than being public domain
Who publishes it: Me as part of a trilogy kickstarter

The Scenario from Ontario

What is it?: On Boxing Day 2017 Kiel Chenier and I had a 24 hour writing contest to write a small LotFP adventure about maple syrup. This would be those two adventures for your comparison with professional art and layout (which were outside the scope of our initial competition).

Who publishes it: Me, or maybe Kiel, we'll see.

The Punchline

What is it?:  An adventure about missing children, Satan, and clowns.
Who publishes it: Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A sense of wonder and putting Orcs in a custom setting

So I am running another two group campaign  (Similar to how in Xan Than Du I had two competing play groups racing through a Victorian setting) and that means building something new and trying to keep the info-dump as small as possible.

One thing that is hard to replicate from your own personal early days of gaming is the sense of wonder and the unknown.  The first time players ever encounter any particular monster or trap is a very different feel than a similar encounter twenty years of gaming later.  The character's may never have encountered a beholder before but the players know what it is.

When people see this as a bug rather than a feature, in that they want to recapture that feeling rather than use its replacement "familiarity" as a tool for enjoyment, one of the more common bits of advice I see is to create novelty.   Don't use goblins, orcs, elves, and dwarves but have whole new paradigms of reptoids, sentient insect swarms, and robots (or whatever fits the flavour of the campaign setting). That works for people, but I see a few problems for my own style. 

First, as the years of play grow longer the game has to get more and more bizarre and removed to keep that feeling of novelty which removes much of the "real world" grounding where you can fathom how the world works outside of the adventure (and yes, with skill and effort that can be minimized). 

Secondly it makes it harder to have rumours and background assumptions without providing an info dump.  You don't have any real idea before running into them that sentient insect swarms are a thing nor any idea what they might be about if they do exist. You could give players some rumours and have some of them be false, but that always feels off.  In the real world you aren't sat down and told "Here are four facts, some of them are false",  and if you don't flat out state "these are rumours and may be false" it can be interpreted as if it were information that is known first hand. If I say "Goblins are Blue Skinned" as an info dump fact,  it could be interpreted as if that is known because the character had seen them directly before.  If I say "You have heard Goblins are Blue Skinned",  then its an immediate red flag when the words "you have heard" are spoken.  This isn't to say this doesn't work (and it is better than nothing), its just not as smooth and organic as I'd like. 

So,  instead I say flat out  "People say there are Orcs over there",  its obvious its a rumour.  Players will ask "What are orcs like?", and I will state that they have competing rumours,  pretty much in line with what you as a player envision orcs to be like.  There are a scatter-shot of rumours, all second hand but probably have core truths.    World of Warcraft Orcs,  Warhammer Orks, Lord of the Rings Orcs (and Uruk-hai), and AD&D Pigman Orcs are all possibilities and they know the truth of what Orcs are belong somewhere in the Venn diagram of those examples.

I also never name monsters until the players do.  I will never say "You have encountered an Orc raiding party",  I will describe exactly what they see and let the players declare them to be Orcs or not without ever being sure if those are the legendary Orcs they heard of.

In my current game,  the two parties have between them encountered three different groups that might fit into that Venn diagram that they suggested could be orcs, and, delightfully, both of the groups are leaning towards different choices of what they declare to be Orcs.

A common example of where this technique is used in games are "Vampires".   Vampires have so many variations of their powers and weaknesses (right up there with Golden Age Superman) that groups often have a sense of wonder when they first encounter them in a custom setting as to what EXACTLY they are..

They definitely drink blood... but may also drink other things or just drink blood as a medium to steal life force.

They probably are affected by sunlight and are usually killed by it (but maybe not, Dracula didn't die)

They probably suffer from holy symbols

They may be able to turn into a bat, or a wolf or two tailed cat

They may die from a stake to the heart

They could have problems crossing running water

They might need to count things, like spilled rice

Hypnosis is a possibility, as is turning into mist.

The blood of dead people may poison them

And so with all of those in mind, there is a palpable sense of exploration when first encountering a vampire.   If you never actually call it a vampire before the players do, that adds to the sense of exploration.  What if this ISN'T a vampire, but some sort of ghoul or revenant and the REAL vampire is somewhere else?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Age of Myth: An Iron Age Campaign

This is largely a placeholder to serve as a reference for campaign information in my new Iron Age campaign, set in the mythic land of Cromspoint.

 The game is set at the dawn of the iron age among "The People".

Both the home group and the online group are all be members of the elite class of one of the clans (each group is a different clan), out to forge a proper kingdom out of scattered tribes. KoDP is a big influence.

The most prominent god of the region is Crom, and as such no priestly magic is granted. Lesser gods often try to interfere in the affairs of mortals but that is frowned upon and considered dishonourable, unlike sorcery which is a craft one must hone and thus is a source of pride.

The main unit of currency that you would deal with is the reindeer, as domesticated reindeer herds are the primary source of wealth.  Longhaired goats are also kept,  but there are no dogs in the region only domesticated foxes.   Chariots exist, but riding an animal directly is considered unclean and perverse. Wars are mostly duels and ceremony, consequently you will have an entourage of freedmen who in theory will fight with you but mostly just jeer your opponents and maybe throw things at extreme range.

Some clans have iron,  most still use bronze.   Each group secretly picks their clan specialty.

Clan specialties:

Iron Working (Access to Iron weapons)
Wainwrights  (Access to Chariots)
Bowyers (Access to Longbows)
Runes (Better access to spells, and other literacy advantages)
Animals (Access to a domesticated guard animal, similar role to dogs)
Fisherman (Access to simple sailboats)
Traders (Access to canoes and currency)
Raiders (Bonus thralls to your entourage)
Armourer (Bronze Armour is available).
Masons (Stone fort, which will prevent loss of wealth to raids while you adventure)

Allying with other clans with other specialties will then let you gain more options as you try to form a cohesive nation.

For equipment,  only valuable items are kept between sessions (treasured items).  Simple items can simply be picked up at will at the start of a game session (which represents a season). They are simply taken from peasants as needed.

Valuable Equipment

1 D - Bronze Knife/ Javelin/ 6 Arrows
2 D - Bronze Spear/ Hatchet
4 D - Bronze Battle Axe
2 D - Longbow
8 D - Bronze Seax / Great Axe

4 D - Bronze Helmet
5 D - Antler Splint Armour
8 D - Bronze Great Helmet
12 D - Bronze Shield
16 D - Bronze Scale

1 D - Currach
2 D - Birch Bark Canoe
4 D - Catamaran
4 D - Chariot

1 D - Bronze Leatherworking tools
1 D - Large Skin of Maple Wine
4 D - Bronze Pot
12 D - Velvet Cape

Iron is 1/4 the price of bronze and items under 1D are not treasure.

Simple Equipment

Sling (Short or Long)
Large Wicker Shield
Leatherbound Medium Shield
Solid Wood Buckler
Stone Hand Axe
Stone Spear
Stone Arrows
Bone Javelin
Bone Knife
Hunting Bow (medium, ineffective)
Leather Armour
Leather Cap
Wooden Splint Armour (Medium Crude Mail)
Quivers, Backpacks, Pouches, and the like
Dark Cloak
Raiding Sash
Peace Sash
Pouch of Corn Flour
Wicker Backpack
Leather Pouch or Sack
Clay Pot

The Gods

Crom - The Smith, the high god who cares not for mortal concerns
Glaa - The Crone, goddess of caves, necromancy, and unwanted children
Moff - The Arbiter, god of reason, punishment, and salt
Vix - The Maiden-Mother,  goddess of royalty, fertility, and bears
Zer - The Eternal Child, godling of fire, raiding, and briars
Zuul - The Gatekeeper, goddess of the veil between worlds, revenge, and disease
Vel - The Singer, goddess of storms, trade, and reindeer
Bal - The Stalker, god of forests, hunting, and shields
Ancestor Spirits - Some clans also know how to appeal to the ghosts of their dead relatives to inconspicuously tilt the odds in their favour.

Key insults to provoke a fight:

Moss Farmer -  You are of unimportant social status
Beggar Friend - You are a recipient of charity
Beast Rider - You are a pervert
Lichen Eater - You are poor

Living Expenses and Downtime Activities between seasons

Working alongside your clan
Cost: No charge
Effect: Nothing

Training a new skill
Cost: 1D of food
Effect: You may attempt to learn a new skill

Cost: 1D of food
Effect: Ask questions or make offers to other clans

Cost: 1D of food
Effect: You heal 2d6 stress and gain +2 on any backlogged healing checks.

Warrior Training
Cost: 1D of food and 1D of goods as gifts
Effect: Learn all the basic combat tricks of a clan's warriors

Conspicuous Generosity
Cost: 2D of goods
Effect: Gain Charisma die of Piety/Honour

Deer Raid
Cost: No charge
Effect: Possibly gain 1 deer, plus 1 deer per pie piece of rogue from a target. Take !d6-2 damage.
Deer are gained on a d8 roll of 6+ .

Demean Yourself
Cost: 5 honour, 1D of food
Effect: You may take an action as if you were a Thrall in your own service.

Thralls take 1D of food each season to live but can also work to provide value.

Entourage: Follow the party around
Planting: Spring only, plant one field (10 fields per clan meadow)
Harvest: Fall only,  harvest one field for 1d6D of Food.
Hunter/Gatherer:  Feeds self in spring, summer, or fall. Max 3 per clan forest hex.
Worker:  Produce 1D worth of goods
Fisher: As H/G. Requires boat, max 5 per water hex.

You may construct the following structures for each character.

Pasture:  Free (starting),  holds 10 Deer. (limit 1 per player)
Barn: 8D (1D of goods yearly), holds 20 deer
Stockade: 10D (1D of goods yearly), reduces deer raid losses (-1)
Watchtower: 4D (1D of goods, 1D of food yearly), reduces deer raid losses (-1)
Boar Pit: 4D (1D of food yearly), produces 1d4-1 D of food each spring.
Granary: 12D (2D of goods yearly) can store 20D of food
Shed: 1D (1D of goods yearly) can store up to 5D of goods.
Loom: 4D. A thrall worker produces 2D of goods with a loom (1 per thrall. 10 max in clan).
Shrine: 8D (1D of goods yearly). 1 Honour each winter. (limit 1 per understood god).


*note that rivers are not straight lines, those are how the locals would represent them in terms of point to point transportation.