Jan 3, 2017

Live Settings

I like to do a review and update of the various settings I'm running, planning, designing, etc. This is partially for my benefit, partially for the sake of those interested in them.


Moragne (Mongoose Runequest 2)- Dead (since 2009!) and cannibalised for the Old Lands. I took a few of the story-ideas and setting elements from this, but left the Anglo-Norman trappings behind. I ran one single-shot adventure and one campaign in this, and felt I'd done the bulk of what I wanted. The was the final campaign of the group I ran this for (my old university group) and it disintegrated as we moved onto other phases of life (only one other guy and I still play RPGs).

Emern (Swords and Wizardry) - Dead since 2012, when I ran the last campaign in it. The group I ran this for has basically dispersed as well. There are elements of this that have made it into most other D&D campaigns I've run or planned since, but I don't think I'm coming back to it any time soon.

The Wolf Sea (Openquest)- Dead and cannibalised for the Old Lands. This was basically a map and some notes, so I mostly reused names and a few setting elements. The work I did on this was as much about learning how to use Hexographer to create child maps properly as anything else.

The Dawnlands (Openquest / Mythras) - Still alive, but I haven't run a campaign in it since 2013! I'm converting it over from Openquest to Mythras and revamping the setting extensively to remove some of the D&D 4th edition-isms from it and replace them with other weird fantasy and Central Asian elements. I'm working on turning this into a setting book, in fact, which is why a lot of what I'm writing for it isn't turning up on my blog right now. I think I'm going to aim to run another campaign towards the back half of 2017, when a rough draft of the new and revised material will require some playtesting.

Necrocarcerus (Swords and Wizardry / Into the Depths) - Still kicking. I was running a campaign of this as recently as the end of 2015 / start of 2016, and ran an adventure - Ribshack of the Demon Prince - in summer 2016 using Into the Odd. I took a break from running to free up the time slot to play in Courtney Campbell's Perdition game. In hindsight, what was slowing me down was writing a huge house-rules document that quickly spiraled out of control without adding a ton of fun to the game. I wrote Into the Depths as a chassis to run Necrocarcerus and the Old Lands, and killed the giant house-rules document. Over the holidays, I also read the Doomed City by the Strugatskys, which is surprisingly Necrocarceran, though I'd never heard of it prior to seeing it in the book store. Reading it got me a bit fired up to work on the setting again in a public-facing way. I'm going to go back to writing fun, fluffy content for it. Expect more Necrocarcerus content for the blog, but I don't think I'll start working on a book for it until 2018.

The Old Lands (Into the Depths) - Living and currently under development. Basically a garbage-can setting in the good sense. Necrocarcerus is a high-concept setting in a lot of ways, and running an adventure that assumes you're dealing with a medieval village full of living people doesn't quite sit well within it. So I created the Old Lands to let me run modules, pre-written adventures, megadungeons, etc., and to recycle the best ideas from Moragne, Emern and the Wolf Sea into one setting. It's an early-modern setting with weird and dark fantasy elements. Expect to see it pop up from time to time, but probably as actual play reports. I'm hoping to start a campaign set in it sometime in February and run it for at least the first half of 2017 (hopefully longer).

Science Fiction:

The Tellian Sector (Stars Without Number) - My 40K / Stars Without Number mash-up is effectively dead. I haven't worked on it in years (though I still get a few hits a day of people looking it up). I worked on it originally because I really disliked the original Dark Heresy rules, and when I looked at 2nd edition, I liked them even less. I think I've also had my fill of fantasy translated to space settings, and want to run some (slightly) harder science fiction. If anyone wants to finish this, the only things it really needs to be a complete conversion are a weapon and gear write-up, and a consistent way of converting Spike Phases and their effects into Void Shields (plus, I guess, Space Marine rules if one must).

Unnamed Transhumanist Post-Apocalyptic Star Trek Thing (Openquest - River of Heaven? / Stars Without Number?) - I've been reading Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space books, Peter Watts' Blindsight stuff, Transhumanity's Fate (the FATE conversion for Eclipse Phase), Feersum Endjinn and a bunch of other semi-hard transhuman sci-fi stuff of that ilk. I've been having an itch to run a science fiction game for some time that would focus on a small group of post-human post-scarcity explorers sent out to recover and enrich the beliefs and ideas of the devastated star systems around them. That sounds boring, but the idea would be to delve into ancient space hulks to recover encrypted data libraries with the cultural production of entire clusters, to encourage and assist the masses of crapsack worlds to overthrow their feudal masters by smuggling them cornucopia machines through cyberpunk hijinks, and beat back interstellar imperialism through cool space battles. I'm still thinking this one through, and it'll probably be 2018 before it's ready to go.

Dec 26, 2016

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

+C Huth of The Elder Skull blog and Pelgrane Press, as well as a friend in real life, has very kindly created a one-page version of Into the Depths for your enjoyment using his layout wizardry. I like it a lot. I've also edited the numbering issues on the original 3-page pdf version, if only to prove to myself that yes, I can count.

Next up, I'm going to work on two supplements, one for Necrocarcerus, and one for the Old Lands. The latter is basically my "I want to run a module" low-concept campaign setting. These will have the much-anticipated "mystery cults", more gear, languages, that sort of thing. I don't know when I'll get them done, but hopefully soon, I've got a lot of stuff scheduled for the new year to work on.

Dec 24, 2016

Merry Christmas

I decided that rather than struggle doing conversions of various retroclones / neoclones, I might as well just write another one (the first one was Microlite Iron Heartbreakers). Here it is: Into the Depths. It's free for download and you're welcome to modify it however you please.

It's a chassis that I'll be building off of and using for Necrocarcerus and other fantasy campaigns, loosely inspired by the size and rules minimalism of Searchers of the Unknown and Into the Odd, with bits and pieces of my favourite house rules in it, and based off my experience using various versions of Swords and Wizardry. It's meant to be easy to plug material from other games into - my become-a-wizard rules for it will be some mixture of Wonder and Wickedness with the spell research rules from Crimson Pandect. It's classless, with minimal stats to keep track of, and is almost entirely the player-facing elements of the rules. I stuck in an upgraded version of my leveling rubric for the Black Hack, since that seemed popular with folks.

Anyhow, merry Christmas and enjoy!

Dec 11, 2016

Swords and Wizardry Core: A Short Reappraisal

After running somewhere just shy of a hundred sessions using Swords and Wizardry Complete, I find that I'm kind of hankering to go back to Swords and Wizardry Core. It's odd, but compared to the sheer amount of material I see for Complete and for Swords and Wizardry White Box, I'm surprised that Core doesn't get more love.

Swords and Wizardry White Box is actually kind of fiddly, especially in how it departs from how an increase in level also means an increase in hit die, but also in the unequal level distribution between classes, and in the various perks each class gets. There's also a loyalty mechanic unique to it, and several other instances where little variations make their way in (Haste and Slow become the single spell Alter Time, etc.). Perhaps counter-intuitively, Core is actually simpler in these respects, while the only real increases in complexity compared to White Box are that it lacks a universal attribute modifier chart and has variable weapon damage. To head off any "edition warring" at the pass, White Box is a perfectly fine game that many people seem to greatly enjoy for many reasons, and I don't have a problem with that, it's simply not the game for me, for the reasons above.

From what I can tell, the fondness for White Box and Complete over Core appears to be mainly an effect of support. White Box and Complete both have companies that seem more or less (at any given time) invested in supporting them - putting out new printings, supplements, translations in other languages, adventures, etc. Core has no such company (Mythmere Games is just Matt Finch in trade dress, from what I can tell, and hasn't put out new stuff in years, and the Swordsandwizardry.com site has been down for about a year now). That's a shame, since it's such a simple, lovely little retro-clone.

Nov 27, 2016

A Proposal for Cover in Openquest

Cover in Openquest is your main defense against ranged attacks, since you can't dodge them (unless they're thrown weapons). I think with some judicious planning, you can load on enough cover modifiers to make it fairly hard to hit you most of the time (e.g. using a giant shield for a -50% penalty to attackers, combined with standing behind decent cover for another -50%, which will neutralise all but extremely skilled mundane attackers and the magically enhanced). NB: For anyone trying to find the shield cover rules in OQ2, they're not a table and they're not where the text says to find the table, they're on pg. 60 under "Defensive Reactions" subheading "Parries".

Where things start to break down a bit is that many of the ranged attack spells don't have attack rolls. This is the case for several spells where you do get a chance to dodge them, implying to me at least that there is some sort of physical projectile sent on a specific trajectory (several of the spell descriptions also confirm this). So if someone shoots a lightning bolt at you, standing behind a castle wall is useless, because they don't have an attack roll to be penalised.

My proposal is simply that in these situations, cover penalties to attackers' rolls should become bonuses to defenders' dodge rolls. This isn't spelled out in the rules anywhere I could find, but I think it makes sense, and is mechanically simple to resolve. It does mean that huge shields automatically provide a 50% bonus to dodge against spells of this sort, but I'm fine with this, since it makes combat-focused characters (who are more likely to be carrying a shield) more resilient against sorcerers and priests.

Nov 3, 2016

[Review] Into the Odd

Into the Odd is a rules-light OSR adventure game put out by Chris McDowell of Sooga Games. The most notable parts are the surreal 19th century default setting, the lack of attack rolls, the fast character creation and task resolution rules (which require you to roll under one of three stats) and the changes to how your character levels and accrues more power. There are no classes, and no spell-casting system.

There are a bunch of different versions of this game going around. There's a free one-page quickstart, a free one-page summary of the rules, there's a free eight-page versionthere's a free 14-page versionthere's the full 48-page version that costs $14.99, and then a bunch of versions that are basically the one or eight page version of the rules with a bunch of house rules added (plus one full-colour 35-page rewrite set in the early medieval period).

Broadly speaking, what you get with a higher page count in each version is more pregenerated content and more generators (i.e. random tables to roll on), with a few new bolt-on pieces (e.g. detachments, enterprises, monsters, traps, etc.). Because the game is so mechanically simple, it relies a lot on its style and ability to produce evocative and interesting results using the generators, rather than adding more mechanics. These generators tend to be fairly good at driving play, though it's useful to read through the Sooga Games blog for advice on playing style and some interesting mechanical ideas that haven't yet made their way into any published version of the rules (Unionsorders and oddities [1], in particular). Most of the generators produce plain language results rather than mechanical ones, and it's up to the referee to determine what trumps what when they conflict. It's fairly easy to plug in generators and tables from other games as a result, or to make up your own (check out this very well-done arcana generator)

Like a lot of games that rely on style but don't back it up very strongly mechanically, this is going to be the kind of game where you either "get" the style immediately, or where you don't and you flounder around looking for a mechanic to give you a hook into it (which doesn't really exist). Similarly, the best players for this are going to be the ones who typically run up against the rules, rather than ones who work best when the rules clearly explain the modes of interaction they can undertake with objects in game.

I used Into the Odd to run "Rib Shack of the Demon Prince", a Necrocarcerus module, at LozCon 2016, and it was a hit. But based on playing it, I'd mention a few changes that I'd suggest you consider:

1) Impairing an enemy's attacks is too weak as it currently stands. Try allowing impairment to reduce damage to a single point of HP / STR damage instead of 1d4. When most characters have 1d6 HP (i.e. the average starting HP is 3.5), impairment is almost always the worst option to take in combat unless you're dealing with multiple foes (even running away is better).

2) Put in lots of one-use arcana or oddities, and very few repeatable ones. Especially true if the arcana in question are portable. I found PCs leaned on their reusable arcana because the mechanical effect was laid out and predictable, which made them stand out as options compared to anything else they could do.

3) This is buried somewhere in either the G+ community, or else on the Sooga Games blog (or both), but a tough adventurer accumulates some combination of experience, prestige, and tricks / stuff, and you should have some rewards prepared that hit along all three of these kinds of incentives, instead of just one. There's not a ton of predeveloped content around managing these, so it's worth thinking through your own.

For the right crew, this game is a dream, and for the wrong one it's dull and boring without enough clearly defined options. Your best bet is to check out the free versions (either the 8 or 14 page version), give it a read through, and see whether it immediately grabs you.

Sep 9, 2016

On Working Together in the Afterlife

In the past when running Necrocarcerus, I've used some variation of Skills: The Middle Road. As I've mentioned before, I dislike skill systems that don't have rules for teamwork (which most systems lack) and I often create them for systems that don't have them. I think rules for teamwork are important because the basic unit of action in most cases outside of combat is the party, not the individual, except insofar as the mechanics force things to be resolved on an individual basis. I decided to create some rules that would encourage teamwork amongst party members by modifying how the Middle Road works.

All skills in Necrocarcerus will be binary - you either have them or you don't. Being unskilled means rolling a d6 and trying to get a 5+ (on a roll of average difficulty). Being skilled allows you to roll a d8,

For each other PC in the party who has the same skill and who cooperates with you (sacrificing their actions in the meantime), you may increase the die size you roll for the test by one type or you may make one reroll (the character contributing their action chooses before you roll, obviously). The die progression is 1d8->1d10->1d12->1d20. After a d20, you have to take rerolls.

I'm debating whether unskilled PCs should be allowed to contribute to these tests at all, but if so, they could add a +1 bonus per unskilled PC helping, provided they also sacrifice their actions.

I'm thinking of combining this with a "fact" type background like in 13th Age or Godbound that would provide further bonuses, but haven't thought that part through yet.