My name is John Bell, and I've been gaming for over 20 years. I've created this blog to share the things I've made for my various settings and campaigns, my opinions on roleplaying games and roleplaying, and hopefully to amuse and delight you.
I've been active on forums under the handle "Pseudoephedrine" for years, so you may have already come across some of my work. When not storming the e-battlements, I spend a lot of my free time thinking about, preparing for, running, and playing in games. I'll play almost anything, but my true loves are percentile-based games in the BRP family, Traveller, and old school D&D. That said, in the past year alone I have played or run games in the new World of Darkness, a homebrewed rebuild of D&D 3.5, WFRP 2e with the guys from Liber Fanatica, Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Openquest, Swords and Wizardry Complete, Mongoose Runequest II, and Diaspora. Thanks to the Liber Fanatica guys, I was asked to be an alpha playtester on WFRP 3e.
My Philosophy on Gaming:
If I had to sum up my philosophy of gaming in one word, that word would be "surprise". I consider the element of surprise, of the unexpected and synergistic arising in play, to be a unique feature of roleplaying games as entertainment. Other media come preformed, already complete by the time their sit in your hand or on your screen. Roleplaying games, with their diachronic development and multiple agents interacting with one another, truly open up the possibility of something that no one planned for but everyone at the table must react to.
There are multiple possible sources of surprise, even at a single table, from the results of procedural generation tables to the imaginations of players and DMs to strange new worlds that confront one with unfamiliar but comprehensible experiences. The games I like the most are the ones that assist or enable this process by empowering the players with consistent, useful information about the world and other characters, and yet which still manage to exceed what one might expect.
In modern gaming, this attitude represented in settings and campaigns is often called "high weirdness", and it's something I strive to create both as a player and DM. Exploration, problem-solving and dynamic character interaction with the other PCs and NPCs are all core to the fun of roleplaying games for me.
Of all the peripheral acts related to gaming, the one I love most is world-building. Whether it's maps, setting-specific house rules, working out the details of some alien culture, I see this process as laying the foundation for meaningful engagement with the world during play. I take great pride in my settings. I prize being able to create a world that is simultaneously rich with verisimilitude and yet not stifling or overwhelming for players to engage with. My focus on creating them is always ultimately playability, and though I may occasionally focus on an obscure or odd subject (wait until I start talking about textiles), the goal is always to enrich the imaginary experience for players by giving them the information they need to more deeply immerse themselves in it.
Emern was originally a D&D 3.5 setting I created in 2007. I ran two short sessions as part of an interstitial campaign meant to fill time between two halves of a larger campaign, before the DM of the larger campaign told us he was ready to start the second half. I dropped Emern at the time, only to pick it up in 2011 when asked by some friends of mine who had never gamed before to run a "D&D" game for them. Since September 2011, I have been running a weekly Swords and Wizardry Complete game in Emern for them.
Emern is a gonzo swords and sorcery setting with an early 16th century feel. The underlying theme is exploring a strange new continent at a critical point of transition, as if the cluster of technologies and social transformations that in our own world kicked off the Renaissance and early modernity included the discovery of arcane magic. There are hobgoblins, elves, dwarves, humans, guns, printing presses, arcane universities filled with scientist-wizards, ancient undead astronauts, pirates, leech men, "Indians", slaves, racism, and a magical volcano religion that is about to undergo its Reformation.
I created Moragne in 2009 shortly after getting Mongoose Runequest II, now called "Legend". I thought MRQII was a tremendous game system, but I wasn't in love with any of the contemporary settings for it, and decided to make my own. In June and July 2011, I ran a short campaign in it, which we ended up abandoning because the PCs decided they didn't want a sandbox after all. I've left Moragne on the backburner since then, but I think that even though that game didn't work out, it's ripe for other stories and other campaigns.
Moragne is a monotheistic, early-medieval setting similar to Britain after the Norman Conquest. It is humans-only (as PCs, at least), and is probably the closest of any of my currently open settings to traditional "high fantasy". One of the themes at play in Moragne is how the ideology of the time (the emerging concept of the divine right of kings, the existence of magic from God, crusades against pagans and apostates), conflicts with the social reality of medieval society. In some ways, it has a lot of inspiration in its feel from the Empire in WFRP, without giving in to a total subversion or demythologisation of the source material. It's the kind of world where an exciseman will fight a werewolf who has been called by local peasants to kill him before he can collect.
The Tellian Sector:
The Tellian Sector is where I have been setting my 40K games since 2009. I have run two 6-month-long campaigns using Rogue Trader and Deathwatch there, as well as one play-by-post game, which collectively form a single mega-campaign, though the PCs varied between all three. I have also played in a 6-month-long Dark Heresy game that a friend of mine set there. If I am asked to run a Black Crusade game there, it will be in the Tellian Sector. The Tellian Sector's sector profile (mediafire link to download the map and .xlsx file) is the heart of the playable world. I used the Stars Without Number generator with a few tweaks to help capture the 40K feel.
The Tellian Sector tries to get away from a Chaos vs. Space Marines approach, and look specifically at lost cultures, schismatics within the Empire, psychic evolution and xeno-human interactions. While there is plenty of Chaos around for those who want to zap it from space, there's also a lot of unexplored hinterland, contested border regions, and hidden pocket empires for PCs to engage with. I personally tend to tell stories focusing on the Dark Mechanicus in it, but the game I was a player in didn't feature them at all.
The Dawnlands began life in early 2008 as a D&D 4e setting before 4e was even released. The original concept was to create a kitchen sink setting that simultaneously rationalised and provided in-world explanations for the mythic powers, new species, etc. that 4e D&D was bringing to the game. I ran a a short 6-session game in 2009 to test and refine it, and I've been waiting for the opportunity to do so again. My group stopped play 4e in early 2010 in the middle of a campaign run by another DM, when he decided that he didn't like the system. After a hiatus in developing it, I picked it up again in 2011 with the goal of transitioning it over to Openquest and running a longer campaign in either 2012 or early 2013.
The Dawnlands is my pride and joy, and the favoured child amongst all my settings. It incorporates many of my historical interests (hybrid and border cultures, Central Asian and North American nomads, the early iron age, de-civilisation, pre-modern material culture, gift economies) and my fantastical ones (high weirdness, nightmares, pre-monotheistic religious practices, extra-dimensional intruders, the stars, magic-as-techne, noble adversaries). My ultimate goal with the Dawnlands is to create another Glorantha, Harn or Tekumel, but without the need to absorb a vast body of knowledge before play in order to portray one's character adequately, and with adventure potential at the forefront.
I welcome criticism, and I also tend to dish it out. My attitude towards criticism is that it encourages vigorous, passionate debate, which in turn impoves games and gaming. Generally, when I criticise a game, I try to refer to situations in which the problems I am discussing have arisen, or are foreseeable based on past experience. My concern is always ultimately "How does this play at the table?" and "Does this game have anything to teach or offer us?" rather than "Do I think playing this game makes you a jerk?" With 20 years of experience, I have seen a lot of gaming go wrong - and a lot of gaming go right.
Welcome to the Retired Adventurer.