Mar 8, 2023

What Have I Been Up to?

It's been a while since I've updated this blog, so here's a brief apology and explanation of what I've been up to instead:

I've been playing a bunch of 5e. Broad strokes, I'm in one weekly campaign, and one campaign that is going from biweekly to three-times a month. The former is Al-Qadim meets Dark Sun, the latter Dark Ages Arthuriana. I don't really love 5e as a system, and I'm skeptical of D&DOne as an improvement on it, but good groups can make even a mediocre system serve as the basis for a great campaign.

I was running a Pathfinder 2e campaign, but a leak in my upstairs neighbours' apartment damaged the computer I had everything written out on, so it's on hold until I can get it fixed. Unfortunately, the money that I would normally have to do so went to paying out of pocket for veterinary care for two of my cats, one of whom has cancer. The other one is fine, but was stressed out - possibly by her lifelong friend having cancer. It cost me CAD 1,200 per cat to sort this out. This all came right before Christmas and the time of year I have to renew everything from my license to car insurance to my healthcard, which meant I'm tapped out until April.

Pathfinder 2e is great, and very fun to run as a referee, but just complicated enough that when you lose all of your notes for it, it's a non-trivial cost to replace them. I have them backed up in the cloud, but a key encounter planning tool has a computer-specific cookie it uses in place of a login, and until I can get the computer fixed, it's inaccessible. 

I will be running a game shortly. For the Arthuriana 5e campaign, we are doing character preludes where PCs take turns running sessions for the other players covering off one another's backstories. It's quite fun, basically a one-shot interlude. If you've never done it, it has the interesting side-effect of making PCs invest in one another' since you've got to plan an adventure based around someone else's backstory and then run it. I'm running a hunt for a white stag set in Scotland's Cheviot Hills where an aristocrat's bastard son will save the life of his older brother, the legitimate heir, and begin his journey to becoming a hero.

I also got a third cat, a now-eight-month-old kitten, a female ginger tabby (somewhat uncommon), the only survivor of her litter, who is a perfect blend of mischevious and good-natured. Her favoured class is definitely rogue, as her great delight is to run off with chopsticks, bits of paper, pieces of my wife's house plants (all cat-safe), stuffed mice, and other detritus making a sort of cackling trilling noise. She recently acquired fleas, despite being an indoor cat, and is undergoing her first course of flea killer. Here's a photo of the little trouble baby as she carouses in her pursuit of enough XP to get to level 2:

Ancestry: Goblin; Class: Rogue; Alignment: Chaotic Neutral

My upstairs neighbours (of the aforementioned leak) are also interested in playing "Dungeons and Dragons" at some point. I gave one of them my copy of Blades in the Dark to read over because I think it might be their speed, after my initial proposal to play Quantum Starfarer (an ultra-light version of Cepheus) was turned down. They're more interested in fantasy than in science fiction. They've never tried RPGs before, so I'm going to run an introductory game for them and their friends at some point this year. More on that when it happens.

Lastly, I'm changing jobs. I've been extremely busy with work over the past year, which is one of the major reasons I haven't been blogging. I'm hoping the new job comes with an improved work-life balance which will allow me to blog more this year.

Jun 5, 2022

Types of Terrain on Hex Maps

Someone on the OSR Discord server asked me to write this up in a blog post, so I thought I would talk a little bit about terrain for hex maps.

When I am creating hex maps for overland travel, I typically use 6-8 types of terrain so that I can assign them to a randomizer and have the PCs roll whenever I'm not sure what a given terrain type will be if I don't already know. The eight main types of terrain I use are:

1) Blight 
2) Desert
3) Forest
4) Hills
5) Mountains
6) Plains
7) Water
8) Wetland

I sort the terrain into three categories based on ease of traversing it:

Easy: Blight, Desert, Plains, Water (with watercraft)
Difficult: Forest, Hills, Wetland
Impassable: Mountains, Water (without watercraft)

Easy terrain allows PCs to move through it at their normal movement (10km per 4 hrs of travel per the Procedure for Exploring the Wilderness Redux). While following a path in easy terrain, you cannot get lost.

Difficult terrain has PCs move through at 1/2 the normal rate (two travel actions must be taken to cross it). Paths across difficult terrain double your movement: It costs one travel action to move across the hex).

Impassable terrain cannot be traversed unless the PCs find a path across it, and they can only traverse it in the direction the path does. Paths across water can represent significant shallows or fords or small island chains close enough to swim from island to island.

Within these terrain types, I aim for a certain level of variation based on what makes sense for a given area. In a setting based on Scandinavia (all the rage right now), a desert will be an alvar pavement, a forest will be mostly coniferous, and wetlands will be bogs. In a setting based on Nigeria, wetlands will be flood forests, a forest will be an acacia / peacock flower / long grass mosaic, and hills will be a classic West African highland rise. I don't bother to mechanise this fine a set of details.

I find this tends to incentivise looking for paths, especially when PCs want to cross formidable natural barriers like mountains or lakes.

Feb 20, 2022

Some Gnoll Opponents for PF 2e

The island of Ursino (not-Corsica) on Verra has a bunch of gnolls. The gnolls are cursed mercenaries who were brought in as exiles from the Temmeno Empire (the not-Ethiopian Empire) over a generation ago by the Banco di Asmodeo to exert the banks control over the island and beat back swarms of the undead. A few missed payments, broken promises, and angry contractual negotiations later, and they're now organised into roving bands threatening the inhabitants of Ursino and are looking for a way off the island to go back home. 

These gnolls are sort of based off of the buda spirit from Ethiopia, tho' only very loosely, and with any anti-semitic elements totally scrubbed. Buda accusations IRL can be used for anti-semitic purposes, but are used more widely to handle breakdowns in social relations. For more see Hagar Solomon's book The Hyena People: Ethiopian Jews in Christian Ethiopia, Tom Boylston's "From sickness to history: evil spirits, memory and responsibility in an Ethiopian market village", and this book chapter about a recent contemporary buda crisis. The part that particularly interests me about budas is their use to express the anxieties of subsistence farmers about integration into the market economy, which is very on-theme with Verra's focus on the 17th century emergence of global capitalism in a fantasy context.

So these gnolls are bad people who have practiced cannibalism and been cursed by the Hidden God to take hyena features for it, one of a larger class of beast peoples originating in this way. They reproduce by spreading the curse - making other people eat dead bodies so that they in turn become gnolls. Ultimately, their goal is not to wipe out the inhabitants of the island or whatever, but to get a few ships and either the crews to operate them or knowledge of how to sail them themselves, and then to go home (where, truthfully, they will be no more welcome; the Temmeno don't want cursed cannibal mercenaries they've already exiled coming back)

There are three gnolls in Pathfinder 2e as it exists: one level 2, one level 3, and one level 4. I wanted PCs to be able to fight gnolls right from the start of the game, so I created a bunch of -1, 0, and 1 level gnolls, which will be especially helpful once the PCs hit levels 2-4 and I can send big hordes of the low level ones after them. I created these gnolls using the PF Tools Monster Builder, and I think there are a few typos where I forgot to change gear or names on powers, but the numbers should all be right.

So with that long introduction, here are some low level gnoll opponents for you to use.

Anyhow, enjoy!

Jan 18, 2022

Openquest 3 SRD Released for Free

 There is now a system reference document (SRD) available for Openquest 3rd edition. The SRD is free to download from this link, and will eventually be hosted as a HTML document on the d101 Games website here.

I haven't had time to write an in-depth review of Openquest 3rd edition, but the changes are substantive and wide-ranging from the first two editions, and overall they are positive cointributions to the system. Openquest's 3rd edition keeps its place as one of my two favourite implementations of the Basic Roleplaying system (BRP) alongside Mythras. 

Mythras appeals to the lover of crunch in me, but Openquest is an excellent, rules-light version of BRP that keeps many of the details that appeal to fans of BRP while simplifying and economising many of the rules that newcomers find fiddly. I think it's one of the best introductions to BRP that one can get. If you want a system that does not have levels, classes, or inflating HP, that makes combat feel deadly and exciting, and that sharply distinguishes between how different kinds of magic work, you might find the BRP family, and in particular Openquest, a product that appeals to you.

Along with the SRD, there is a free quickstart scenario and rulebook that contains most of the rules (it leaves out some of the magic systems available in the main rulebook).

Dec 27, 2021

Placing Locations in Hexes

Here's a simple and fast system for placing locations of interest in a single hex on a grid. I am assuming a four hour watch as the basic unit of travel movement. Hexes can be divided into six equilateral triangles, for anyone who didn't know that.

1) Number the six triangles of the hex in clockwise order starting from the top

2) Roll a d6 and a d4

3) The d6 determines which sub-triangle of the hex the location is in. The d4 determines how many hours of travel into that triangle the location is (4 is the centre).

Variant: You could use d4-1 if you prefer fewer things in the centre and more things by the edge.

That's it, that's the whole system. I find it very fast in practice, and you can use a simple notation in your key to track this that looks like:

AA:17 Haunted Castle (1:3) 

where "AA:17" is the hex coordinates and "1:3" is sub-triangle and hours of travel in.

When the PCs search a hex randomly, they either pick one of the six sub-triangles, or the referee can roll a d6 for which sub-triangle they search if they have no preference. I make each search take a single watch.

The speed really helps here with populating a lot of content into hexes.

Sep 1, 2021

Blogs on Tape Does the Six Cultures Essay

Blogs on Tape recorded my Six Cultures of Play article for anyone who finds reading giant walls of text difficult.

I've been featured three times previously on Blogs on Tape, all in 2018.

Tests of Skill and Tests of Chance [Original article]
Considerations on Restocking the Dungeon [Original article]
Layers of the Sandbox [Original article]

Thanks Nick!

(Disclosure: Nick of Blogs on Tape and I are friends and have played games together off and on since 2012)

The summer has continued to be busy, especially as COVID-19 spreads rapidly through the poorest parts of the world, combining with natural disasters and political instability to create a great deal of work. I am delayed on both a response to questions and an article I hope to write at some point following up on the six cultures piece about Vampire: the Masquerade's influence on roleplaying. My apologies for the continuing delay.

At the same time, Blogger has decided it will not let me add more blogs to my sidebar (thus adding to a growing list of incapacities including my inability to comment on my own blog or anyone else's)? The backend of this blog seems to grow less and less functional over time. There are a number of interesting responses people have written to the original article on their own blogs, and I am thankful to everyone who shared it, commented, link to it, and so on, but there are two I'd like to point to in particular.

Chiquitafajita wrote an excellent three-part series using Lacanian psychoanalysis about the structure of desire in roleplaying games: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 It's a great use of existing academic tools for the analysis of literature (while critical of Lacan's version of psychoanalysis, I think CF is judicious in its use and doesn't rely on the most questionable propositions of the system).

Gus of All Dead Generations has also written the first three parts of a series outlining his beliefs about classic play, and how he wants to rejuvenate it. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. I am looking forward to more.

Aug 4, 2021

30 years

I picked up my first roleplaying game book in 1991, when I was eight years old. It was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness, which as an eight year-old, I thought was some sort of complicated Ninja Turtle comic / choose your own adventure (CYOA) novel crossover. My family was on what I think was March break in South Carolina, and I convinced my father to buy it for me (the main indulgence my parents gave me as a child was books). I was very surprised, upon reading it in detail, that it was in fact a game book, not a comic or CYOA novel. 

In August 1991, I went to a flea market at the school across the street from my childhood home, and found my first set of polyhedral dice (now long lost), a clear orange set someone was selling off with the rest of their AD&D stuff. I bought them for $5, the entirety of my allowance at the time. Shortly after acquiring dice, I began running my first "campaign" with my friends, a mostly incoherent collection of combat scenes involving various characters we had all created battling the Foot ninja clan. I like to think I've improved slightly in the intervening decades.

Overall, it's been a good thirty years of gaming. Here's hoping for at least another thirty.