2018/11/11

OSR: Ministers of Endon

Here's another sneak preview of my pre-apocalyptic Magical Industrial Revolution book. It's a minor and unimportant segment but it's a fun one.

The Parliament of Endon

Being elected to Parliament is the crowning glory for many Endonians. Entering that elite social club and influencing the course of the nation is the exclusive preserve of the rich, powerful, and incredibly dull. Parliament generally lets the affairs of the nation carry on without interference, only passing a law or demanding an inquiry after the crisis has reached a terminal stage.

Getting Elected
Only men can be elected to Parliament. In a fine and well documented tradition, any women who wishes to exercise political power selects a dull, pliable, or unscrupulous person and uses them as a proxy. Everyone knows who actually holds the reigns.


Only people of Rank 3 or above can stand for election. A campaign costs 1,000gp and has a 50% chance of succeeding. Making friends with a Minister increases the chance to 80%. Well-documented public heroism may guarantee election at the GM’s discretion. Campaigning takes place during the Off-Season and requires no particular skills or talents. Giving a speech or two is traditional. Elections are held once every 2 years.


Parliamentary Duties

During the Season (pg. ##), an Member of Parliament is expected to turn up at least once and vote at their party’s command. Actually reading or writing laws, proposing new directives, or debating is viewed as a suspicious novelty. Once elected, a Member of Parliament can keep their seat until death unless a Scandal (pg. ##) intervenes.


The Political Parties

Endon’s two political factions fatuously trace their ancestry to pre-historic chieftains. They each control approximately half of the 100 seats in Parliament.


The Gumperts stand for Endonian Values, Harsh Penalties, and The Good Old Days. Their colour is green. 


The Bogs stand for Lower Taxes, Endonian Prosperity, and More Wars. Their colour is blue.


Control of Parliament, and therefore control of the Ministries, switches between parties every 1d4 elections, usually as the result of a Scandal (pg. ##). Anyone standing for election must choose a party before campaigning. The choice cannot be altered later. Social groups form along party lines.
Honore Daumier

Ministers and Ministries

Merely being elected to Parliament does not bring power or wealth. Becoming a Minister is an easy way to influence the course of the realm. It’s a retirement option, a capstone to a long career, or a potential way to avert a magical apocalypse. Ministerial power is difficult to quantify and will probably need to be adjudicated by the GM. Doing anything efficiently, quickly, or cheaply is next to impossible. 

There are six ministerial roles in Endon. More could be created (with the Monarch’s assent). A Ministry of Magic has been proposed but, for various political reasons, never implemented. 

1. Ministry of Finance 
Sets fiscal policy. Negotiates loans, collects taxes. Complicated and boring but theoretically very powerful.
 
2. Ministry of the Interior 
Manages municipal affairs of the city of Endon. Infrastructure, relief of the poor, new tolls. Generally overworked and understaffed. 

3. Ministry of Trade 
Import and export duties, commercial relations with the Hated Foreigner (pg. ##), classification of new technologies. 

4. Ministry of War 
Defends Endon by fighting the Hated Foreigner whenever possible. Pays the Army (pg. ##), organizes campaigns, tests new military technology. 

5. Ministry of Justice 
Handles complex court cases, implements new laws, manages the Coppers (pg. ##).

6. The Prime Minister 
Sets the general direction of the government. Reports directly to the Monarch. Blamed for everything.
In the actual book, I'm hoping to have these look more like newspaper clippings. The scandals will be literally ripped from the headlines.

2018/10/30

OSR: Tomb of the Serpent Kings v4

Good news! I've created a lightly revised version of Tomb of the Serpent Kings.
https://www.rpgnow.com/product/252934/Tomb-of-the-Serpent-Kings--Deluxe-Print-Edition
With many thanks to Jacob Hurst for insightful comments and David Shugars for extremely patient editing.

PDF Link
Print Link

There's also, for the first time ever, a Print On Demand version available through OBS. It's sold at cost. I don't make a cent off it.

This version doesn't differ significantly from past ones. References have been harmonized. There's a fancy quick reference map.

The entire dungeon is licensed under CC-BY-NC, so feel free to remix, adapt, and translate it. David's made up an Affinity Publisher file. Grab it and get hacking!

2018/10/25

OSR: An Incongruous Soundtrack for a Pre-Apocalyptic World

Another light little post to prove I'm still alive and working.
I like choosing music for my games. For space opera-ish games (of the Star Wars or the Grim Dark variety) I typically pick leitmotifs. Lots of sound and fury.

I've been trying to think of what sort of music fits the pre-apocalyptic setting I'm working on.
Leighton Blair
1. Period Appropriate
I'm spoiled for choice. John Blow, Henry Purcell, John Field, Handel, Haydn, Clementi, Johann Christian Bach, William Boyce, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn... all the way to Gilbert and Sullivan. Restoration to late Victorian; all work, more or less.

But while Creatures of the Prometheus is fitting, but will it strike a chord with my players?
Jacob Huysmans
2. Incongruous Covers
Bioshock Infinite may not have been the greatest video game of all time... but it's one of the rare pre-apocalyptic video games. Hidden in the soundtrack are little anachronistic tunes like this ragtime cover of Tainted Love.
It's a neat technique. It's very off-putting. In the background, sometimes, distantly, you can hear music that's wrong. Was Eye of the Tiger a souped-up cover of a jazz standard... or is it the other way around?

I think I'm going to include a lot of covers. Ideally, ones that sound barely plausible as "original" versions covered by later artists. Style isn't super important, but I'd like to avoid purely electronic or highly produced sounds. The music should feel like it could bleed out of salons, parlors, music halls, gin dens, and other seedy or experimental locales.

Examples:
Keep Me In Your Heart (Strings only version)
Shiny Happy People
Shake Sugaree (excellent for a pawn-rich city).
Girls Just Want To Have Fun
Additional Tigers


The Westworld covers are nice but a little too strongly western-themed. Player pianos are distinct instruments.
William Hogarth
3. Michael Nyman
I should rant about Michael Nyman more often. He's to Peter Greenaway what Danny Elfman is to Tim Burton. And if you've never heard of Peter Greenaway, start here.

Anyway, I love his work. It breaks all of the rules listed above. It's not diegetic. It's unnatural, layered, produced. But I think that's why it works for a pre-apocalyptic setting. It'll glue the covers and classical pieces together, providing some much-needed high-tempo nonsense.

Plus, he pairs particularly well with Purcell.

In Conclusion
I hope that this was a useful insight into how I choose music, or that you at least found something strange to listen to. If you think of any tracks that might fit my (admittedly bizarre) criteria, post 'em in the comments.

2018/10/21

Horror Games, Nervous Laughter, and Ridiculous Farce

There's a very thin line between horror and farce.

Have you ever watched a horror film in theaters and laughed along with the rest of the audience after a tense moment? Or have you ever tried to run a horror game and had it turn into Abbot and Costello meet the Lich?
www.ostagram.me

Pressure Relief Valve

Under stress, people tend to laugh. It's a sensible reaction. We're trying to convince ourselves that the thing we're seeing isn't real, isn't harmful, isn't actually going to kill us. We're fighting one system (adrenaline, heart rate, muscle tension) with another (laughter, muscle relaxation, comfort).

If you're running a horror RPG you need to anticipate this reaction and decide how you're going to deal with it.

Because your players will laugh and crack jokes. Even experienced players who are really "into it", who didn't set out to make farcical character or behave in silly ways, will need some form of tension release. In fact, the more "into it" a person is, the more likely they are to need some way to release the tension.

Very few horror tutorials online talk about this problem. There's plenty of excellent advice for setting the tone, planning a scenario, describing a room, hinting at monsters, etc, but very little on what to do when someone gets the giggles.

1. Plan Ahead

You can't keep the tension ratcheted up all the time. Plan for moments of release.
Examples:
  •  When exploring a creepy old house, the players find a strange red substance dripping from a cupboard. They open it to find... a cracked jar of strawberry jam.
  • The players meet Sheriff Dimbulb. He's well-meaning but he's never heard of a goddamn "where-wolf" in the goddamn woods, no sir. Interacting with him is fun and non-threatening (in the supernatural sense) and allows your players to release some tension.
  • There's a puzzle; a clear and obvious puzzle. Something to think about that isn't maggots with the faces of babies.

2. Keep Everyone Focused
Your players will take their tone from the GM. If you're all over the place tonally, they'll follow. So don't crack Monty Python jokes or make puns, even if you really want to. You don't have to be a statue, but you do want to keep the game on an even keel.

Let your players crack OOC jokes from time to time, but don't riff off them and don't let them get out of hand. Just let the tension release, then get the game going again.

3. Embrace It

Alternatively, just accept that sometimes a horror film from the '50s is a comedy film from the 2000s. Times change, tones changes, what's scary becomes farcical. The main goal of showing up to Pretend Elfgame Night is to have a good time. If everyone's enjoying themselves, it doesn't really matter if you're running a horror game or a farce. Just make sure you've decided what you're going to do beforehand.
Source unknown (worryingly)

Basic Horror Tips

There are three main feelings horror media tries to evoke:
  • Terror: feeling of dread and anticipation. The tell-tale heart, the looming presence, the slow walk up the stairs. Your heart pounds.
  • Horror: feeling of shock and fright. The jump scare, the crash of lightning, the scream. Adrenaline surges.
  • Revulsion: visceral feeling of being grossed out. The "squick" factor. Your stomach churns.
"I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud."
-Stephen King
Generally, if you're working on a horror game, try to build tension and suspense first. Use jumps scares or chases or fights if you need to. And sure, add a few bits of squicky horror - descriptions carry a lot more weight in RPGs than in films or novels because they're ephemeral, temporary things. They live in the memories of your players. Done right, they can fester deliciously.

Here are some other tips:


1. Build a strong atmosphere. Run games at night in dimly lit rooms. Use music - music is really important. 


2. Pick a system with minimal mechanical intrusiveness. Looking up the grappling rules doesn't help.


3. Run one-shots send the PCs to a different location than the usual campaign. If you're changing the tone, change the setting too, even temporarily. A haunted house, a mysterious island, a strange castle.

4. Limit tools. It's hard to keep a horror game scary if the PCs have flamethrowers, teleporters, the ability to see in the dark, devour ghosts for sustenance, and fly. Taking away their hard-earned stuff is rarely successful or fun. Just run a one-shot instead.


5. Let your players do the work. Sketch, don't elaborate. Let their imaginations fill in the details. Let them speculate (and don't punish them for speculating).

6. Break the rules. Most good horror does. Aliens bleed acid and grow from chestbursting maggots to hideous beasts in hours. Werewolves change from people to beasts and are immune to regular bullets. The dead rise, the moon disappears, the sea belches forth sharks on legs. Saturn reigns. Etc.

Happy Halloween!

2018/10/20

OSR: Pre-Apocalyptic Minor Magical Items

Just a little update post.

Not all magical innovations are potentially world-changing. The full book will contain 1d100 minor magic items split into 5 categories of 20 (to allow multiple rollning  Here's a sample of 10.

Item cost and availability varies based on the Tempo (the general pace of life and scope of magical advancement).


[  ] 30gp, and are available only from the original inventors, specialist stores, or public displays. They are novel and exciting.
[  ] [  ] 10gp, and are available at specialized stores and from roving street vendors. 
[  ] [  ] [  ] 5gp, and are widely available. Used versions of some items may be available for 2gp (25% chance of not working).

The items are designed to promote item-based problem solving. You might have a sword, but I have a sword and an air compressor.

When I was about 16 I joined in partnership with a man who used to make phosphorus boxes. I sold them for him. A piece of phosphorus was stuck in a tin tube, the match was dipped into the phosphorus, and it would ignite by friction. I was hawking these boxes in Norwich, when the constable considered they were dreadful affairs, and calculated to encourage and assist thieves and burglars. He took me before the magistrate, at the beak’s own private house, and he being equally horrified, I was sent to prison for a month. I have often thought since that the proceeding was illegal. What would be said now if a man was to be sent to jail for selling lucifer matches? 
-Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1
Travis Louie

1d10 Example Minor Magic Items
1 Liquified Light. Sold in mirrored flasks stoppered with lead. Crack open and pour out 1 hr of glowing yellow-white liquid. All the colours of sunset available.  
2 Fireman’s Gloves. Thick black leather. Put them both on and faintly glowing red hands appear exactly 10’ in front of you. They move as your hands move, same size and strength. 
3 Air Compressor. Iron cart, spinning stone wheel, hose. Can provide 1hr of reasonably high-pressure air per day. 1-in-100 chance of exploding noisily. 
4 Thumbspark Jelly. Thimble-sized flask. Glows orange. Rub it on your thumb and finger, then snap. Little burst of flame, like a match. Works 10 times on any high-friction joint. 
5 Portable Orchestra. Simple wood keyboard with multiple add-in slots. Can play one instrument per slot. Tinny, distorted. Generally considered a nuisance. 
6 Self-Cleaning Pot. Just add soap and water, tap the brass plate on the front, and it scrubs itself clean. Just don’t tap the plate while food is inside (or your hand). It scrubs vigorously.  
7 Wake-Me-Up. Glass vial containing green fog. Inhale to instantly banish fatigue for 1d6 hours. Pleasant mania for a few minutes. Not addictive. Usually taken in the morning.
8 Ultragrease. Very small pot. Could coat an bowling ball or a coffee table. Lasts 1d20hrs. Object is temporarily nearly frictionless. Too expensive/unstable for widespread industrial use.
9 Sealing Bubble. Blue rubbery sphere. Failed magic raincoat. Throw it hard and it coats a single room (up to 50’x50’x50’) in a thin rubber layer. Seals furniture to walls, covers windows.
10 Bottled Fog. Glass bottle wrapped in wire. Highly compressed. Can fill an entire house or street with dense yellow-grey mist. 10’ visibility. Mist dissipates in 10 minutes. 

2018/10/12

OSR: One Page Dungeon: Sutter Cane's Perilous Peninsula

Here's a quick little trope-filled adventure location. Happy Halloween!

Sutter Cane's Perilous Peninsula


I think this adventure works best as a funnel or as a place the PCs collide with on a cold fall night. There's no overarching plot. Just listen to the wild speculations of your players, nod, and make notes. 

Isaac Williams turned up to save the day with some excellent art. The old version is still available. Go check out his website. It has flash games.

Fonts are Creepy Crawlers and Insomnia.

2018/10/10

OSR: The Angelic Amelia Bedelia

Gee, I  haven't done a clickbait title in a while...

Amelia Bedelia is a character from a children's book series. She's a maid. A very literal maid. Ask her to get the spots out of your dress and she'll grab the scissors. Ask her to take a seat and she'll pick up the chair. Ask her to dust the furniture and she'll carefully sprinkle dust over everything. Etc.

She's not malicious or deliberately obtuse. She's just... very straightforward, like a simple computer program. She's always confused as to why people want her to do these strange things, but it's her job, so she does whatever she's asked.

Amelia Bedelia is the opposite of a classic Faustian devil.


A devil wants to barter. Amelia Bedelia just listens and acts.
A devil wants whatever is precious to  you (up to and including your soul). Amelia Bedelia wants something completely free; your admiration and praise.
A devil is cunning and twists your words to suit its purpose. Amelia Bedelia is, bless her heart, a simple creature.
A devil will never help you unless it has to. It's sometimes difficult to prevent Amelia Bedelia from helping you.
Desperate people sometimes call up devils for assistance. People are usually desperate to get Amelia Bedelia to leave.

The conclusion is clear. Amelia Bedelia is a sort of angel. 


As such, it's only right and proper to inflict her on your PCs.

Angelica Carmelia

HD: 2
Appearance: a young woman with disordered brown hair, wearing locally appropriate but out-of-fashion servant's livery.
Voice: deliberately unaccented.

Wants: to help.
Morality: imperviously pious.
Intelligence: a sort of warped brilliance.
Armour: none.
Move: normal.
Morale: 12. Will only panic if people around her panic, just because it seems like the helpful thing to do.
Damage: none deliberately.

Angelica Carmelia is a prototype guardian angel. It didn't work. She's been sent to earth to help. She cannot deliberately be targeted by attacks, due to her angelic nature. Landslides will miss her (and only her).

She wants to help. She doesn't have any angelic powers (beyond sheer bloody-minded determination and supernatural good luck). Any domestic command will be obeyed. She'll strip sheets (tearing them into nice neat strips), chop firewood (into match sticks), and generally ruin everything. Any deliberately vulgar command will be met with a shocked look, a solid slap, and a great deal of trouble in the afterlife.

The only way to make her go away is to find someone who needs her help more than you do.

Example instructions:

"Check for traps": Angelica will put a check mark on four, but only four, traps. The fifth trap will be conveniently ignored.

"Attack that goblin." (not really a valid task but someone will ask). Angelica will throw a tack at the goblin.

"Hold this item." Angelica will hold the item like a small child or particularly passive cat until another command requires her to use her hands. She'll then put down the item and immediately forget about it.

"Tie this rope to that thing." Angelica will tie a knot: windsor, half windsor, or bow. None of the knots are particularly strong or suitable for adventuring purposes.

Do not trust the soup mimic.
Side Note: Wishes and Contracts
Any sensible genre-aware player, upon getting access to a Wish-type spell, is going to start drafting a fuckery-proof contract. No moneky's paw bullshit here, thank you very much.

And sometimes, that's fine, especially if the PC is both genre-aware and literate. But if they aren't... just mention to the player that their character might not be thinking things through with such care and deliberation.

In my experience the player usually runs with it. Sure, they could phrase every instruction to their new friend Angelica in perfectly clear and untwistable terms... but they could also not do that. And sometimes, it's deliciously fun to have a PC do things that the player knows full well are unwise.


Side Note 2: Angelica Carmelia is probably in the same divine order of beings as the Wyrms of Service, Mineral Wights, Restraining Ogres, etc.



Gygaxian Democracy: Amelia Bedelia spells.

This game is older than the internet. Pick a spell. Make it literal. Post it in the comments.

E.g. Find Familiar: target experiences a brief moment of déjà vu.
Fire Bolt: two objects are joined together by a large fastener made of flame.

Etc.

2018/10/06

OSR: More Magical Industrial Revolution Tidbits

The book I'm working on, Magical Industrial Revolution, will contain a number of Innovations. You can see the draft of one in this post.

Each Innovation has 6 Stages:

1. Initial Innovation
2. Public Introduction
3. Widespread Adoption
4. Scope Alteration
5. Height of Ambition
6. Terminal Events

Before each session*, the GM will roll 1d6 for each Innovation they wish to include in the campaign (which could be all of them). If the number rolled is equal to or higher than the current Stage, the Innovation advances to the next Stage.


E.g. The Innovation is at Stage 2. The DM rolls a 6; the Innovation advances to Stage 3. 

*or possibly at the start of The Season. I'm still working on downtime rules.

The Age of Power and Wonder

Tempo

The sum of all the Stages in the game is equal to the Tempo. 
0-10: Tempo 1
11-24: Tempo 2

25+: Tempo 3

Numbers subject to adjustment during testing, of course. There will be a one-page printable tracking sheet.


Tempo is the general pace of life in the city of Endon, the general low-level magical chaos. It's not  tied to any one Innovation, but to all the minor, not-directly-apocalyptic changes to the city that take place as magical industry advances. It will affect the Random Encounter tables, locations, the price of goods and services, etc.

Example Location

1. The River Burl  
[   ] Brown, broad. Raw sewage reek. 3d10 muck-picking Urchins (pg. ##) in any given section. 
[   ] [   ] Slicks of glittering octarine dust. Urchins wear stilts or have leprous, mutated legs. 
[   ] [   ] [   ] All the reeds are dead. Thaumovoric Eels (pg. ##) glide at night, seeking concentrated magic.
Montgomery Thackeray, eel-seller and smuggler, phlemy voice, has a small boat. 
Grey Alice, fortune-teller and muck-raker fence. Sells dredged goods. Knows every recent corpse in the river by description, if not by name.

The [ ] are check boxes for the Tempo. I really want people to write all over this book. Check things off, draw lines, scrawl marginalia. Hopefully copies will be cheap enough, or I'll put on multiple editions, so that collectors can keep a pristine copy for reading and a "working" copy for games.


There will be 50 locations in this format; a convenient number for rolling at random.

Travis Chapman

Example Creature

There will also be a bestiary. Stats will use the same format as my other modules (most recently, The Mysterious Menagerie).

Thaumovoric Eel
In: the River Burl (pg. ##) [Tempo 3], the Curiosity Garden (pg. ##) [Tempo 2]. 

HD: 0 (3 HP)
Appearance: an iridescent slimy eel floating through air like water. Glass teeth.
Wants: to bite magical items and drain their power.
Armour: as leather.
Move: normal (flying)
Morale: 6
Damage: 1d4 bite
The eels will target magic items first, small children and pets second. On a hit, there's a 50% chance the eel drains a magic item of all magical properties and devour the spell inside. Roll a d6. On a 5, the spell is cast on the eel (adjust effects appropriately). On a 6, the eel simply explodes. Their flesh heals 1d6 HP.
Vladimir Malakhovskiy

So... isn't this just Eberron?

From a first glance, it might look like I'm reinventing the wheel. Magitech has been done, sure, but I'm not so sure it's been done like this.

Most settings are fixed, stable things. Institutions are sturdy. Technology is stagnant or predictable. Cities don’t change. A book lists the members of the council, the chief of police, the crime lords; a fixed portrait gallery.

This book isn’t about a setting’s end-point. It’s about a process. It’s the transition between two eras; a late renaissance world of castles, fields, and farmers, and an industrialized world of factories, cities, and power. Progress from one era to another will not be smooth, easy, or linear. The whole thing might explode, collapse, or veer towards madness. I'm trying to make every element of the book play into that sense of change, of turmoil, of things moving towards a tipping point.

So the book is about neither the start or the end of the process. It's about the chaotic change in the middle. It's not a setting. It's a... settling. Or maybe an unsettling.

(That might be a bit too trite, even for me.)

2018/10/02

OSR: Pre-Apocalyptic Settings

More theorycrafting for my (possible) new book: Magical Industrial Revolution.
Isaac Yeram Kim
Post-apocalyptic settings - and by that, I mean settings where an apocalypse recently occurred, not ones that just carry an apocalypse or two in their histories - typically have:


Limited Scope

A typical post-apocalyptic story is intensely personal, focusing on just a handful of people, their interactions, and their struggles. Time progresses at a steady, slow, hour-by-hour pace; no jumps of years or decades.


Limited Resources

Ever scrap of food, every can of water, every bullet, bandage, and bottle cap is important. Or at least, some of them are; the world might be filled with  heaps of mostly useless garbage, but someone's still digging through them looking for tinned Spam. Commerce is rudimentary, mostly barter or straight-up theft. Banking is non-existent. Almost nothing new is being produced.


Limited Long-Term Planning

People with schemes are usually the bad guys. Anyone with a plan for the future, a grand vision, a dream for a new society, is more than likely the sort of person who also chews scenery and has a henchman named "Morg the Skullcrusha". Sure, sometimes, the good guys have a dream for a better world, but it's usually vague: overthrow the tyrant, liberate the camp, find a new land, etc. Plans with flowcharts and clear objectives are for villains.


Pragmatic Views

Everyone is practical; impractical people tend to die quickly. You might still get the odd poet, but almost everyone is too busy surviving to dream. The world is disillusioned; old ideas, old religions, old codes and morals have faded away, replaced by echoes or simply abandoned to time. Nobody really understands how things worked and nobody's trying to find out. Everyone is fairly sure they saw the apocalypse coming, or at least have a vague idea of what happened.


The Aesthetics of Ruin

Over and over again, these writers cast the PCs as tiny figures wandering a world of dead and dying titans, stumbling amidst the wreckage of mighty forces they do not understand.... But this is almost never because they're going up against a superior force operating at its full potential; instead, they're usually picking their way through the ruins of something so vast and powerful that even the random flailings of its last malfunctioning machines (or the dwarfish and degenerate descendants of its guard beasts, or the fragmentary and corrupted remnants of its arcane lore) are quite capable of smashing them to bits.
-Joseph Manola

Side Note: Apocalyptic literature - specifically, the prophetic biblical books - were, ironically, written for effectively post-apocalyptic people. They were written for people living under oppression, at the low point of power, growth, and ability. "Things will be better", the books say (through many layers of allusions). "This too shall pass. Evil will be cast down and good will triumph, and here's how."

So, in a pre-apocalyptic setting, the prophets aren't standing on street corners  holdings "The End Is Nigh" placards. The prophets are out in the wilderness, in the slums, in the colonies, in the world disrupted and trampled by the pre-apocalyptic culture. "It'll pass," they say to people the pre-apocalyptic culture barely cares about, "and here's how."

So, inverting the aspects above, a pre-apocalyptic setting could be said to have:


Wide Scope

The story deals with masses of people: cities, nations, civilizations. At a bare minimum, mobs and fashions should be involved somehow. The world should feel connected, large, confusing; things happen over the horizon.


Abundant Resources

Luxuries and innovations. Decadence. Maybe not for everyone, but compared to a post-apocalyptic world people have it pretty good. Large-scale food production, transportation, and distribution. Infra-structure, like infra-red, is too big to be seen with the naked eye. New technologies and new variations spring up like weeds.

Rampant Long-Term Planning

Everyone has a political stance, a plan for the future, a dream for how the world will work in a few years or decades or centuries. Abolish property. Abolish the French. Freedom, Justice, Liberty, Bread, and other Capital Letter Things are on everyone's lips. Society's heroes have grand plans, and people are generally excited to see how they turn out... or violently opposed, because they have plans of their own.

Impractical Views

People are much more willing to spend time, blood, and treasure on things that can't possibly work, are self-defeating, or are purely ornamental. In the pre-apocalyptic world, the frontiers of knowledge are constantly being explored. New theories and new systems constantly enter the public consciousness, possibly in a distorted form, but everyone can still blather on about them if they need to feel superior. Nobody can see the apocalypse coming; the very idea is unthinkable.

The Aesthetics of Triumph

Stand those pillars back up. Un-bury those ancient machines. Wind the clock back to a civilization at its height, at the peak of its powers. There might be ruinous bits - slums, chemical waste dumps, wilderness areas - but the core is bright, shining, and new.

This is a bit of a problem for old-school D&D-type games. The tools given to a player are mostly suitable for getting loot from ruined areas, fighting monsters, and generally exploring an uncivilized and wild region. They're great post-apocalyptic tools but, as Joseph says, they aren't useful for fighting a civilization head-on and winning.

So don't fight it head-on. Don't fight it all. In a pre-apocalyptic game, the goal is to move with the current, keep your boat off the rocks, and, if possible, push your competitors into the rapids.

Instead of dungeons, you're raiding the laboratories and warehouses of inventors, or the vaults of banks, or the records of an enemy political faction.

Instead of monsters squatting in the ruins, you're fighting guards, side-effects, specially created tools, and fruits of new and terrible sciences.

Instead of arcane lore and ancient tomes, you're studying periodicals and newspapers and attending lectures.

Instead of preventing the apocalyptic schemes of mad cultists or evil villains, you're preventing the apocalyptic consequences of well-meaning but short-sighted allies, usually by crashing another apocalypse into the first to cancel them out.

And instead of spending your hard-earned money on wine, pleasurable company, powerful drugs, and fancy hats, you're spending it on... well, wine, pleasurable company, powerful drugs, and fancy hats.

Not everything has to be inverted, I guess.

Anthony Devine

The Pace of Life

Ok, ignore all of that. The difference between a pre-apocalyptic setting and a post-apocalpytic one is how people experience fear.

In a post-apocalyptic world, the pace of fear is slow. It's horror, the long game. Running out of food. A noise in the dark signaling invasion and death. Becoming a different person. Bleak caution.

In a pre-apocalyptic game, the pace of fear is fast. It's terror, the short jump scare, except it's a never-ending stream of new sudden shocks. The world is constantly changing and you're being drawn along with it. There are no stable points, no centre, no immutable law or ancient tradition. Excited colourful turbulence and folly. 


The pre-apocalypse is the wild night before the post-apocalyptic hangover.


Gamifying the Whirlwind

So how do you do any of that in an RPG? The human brain can only hold three or four things in focus at once. Just the basic processes of running a game takes up two of those slots. How can I make tools that require minimum brainpower, page-flipping, cross-referencing, and prep, while still providing a wonderful chaotic pre-apocalyptic result?

1. Tools for describing chaos.

Really good encounter tables. High quality, immediately evocative, immediately applicable to the players.

2. Tracking Change

The various inventions and innovations in the book will progress through several stages, from dreams to prototypes to ubiquitous to very dangerous. The book will provide GMs with tools to manage a city changing from horse-drawn carriages to leaping magi-cars, and/or from ineffective police work to constant universal scrying.

3. Pre-Session Checklists
A tool to orient the GM. Where are things at? What's going on in the background? What new innovation is sweeping the city? Basically, while everyone's showing up and taking off their coats, go through a list really quickly.

2018/09/30

OSR: Veinscrawl Session 11 & 12

Last session, the party fought a whale and a vampire, lost the goblins, and went slightly mad.

The party consists of:
Cazael the spiderling fighter. Fears magic, prefers a good sword and a simple plan.
Bill the wormling Orthodox Wizard. Has antlers, telekinesis, permanent wizard vision, inability to sleep, magic not-dying amulet, etc. Generally considered a liability.
Swainson the Garden Wizard. Formerly a hawkling, currently a dryad.
Christen Bell the weasel-ling Bell Exorcist. Starting to think this whole underground thing was a bad idea.
Tuck the Flealing Summoner. Suspicious but loyal.


The map has grown so complex that the map-making player has split it into 2 files. Here's the original map (up to Session 8).
 And here's session 9, 10, 11, and 12.
Starting with "The Ambassagater"...

1. The party, recovering from their hallucinations, found themselves on the edge of a great underground chemical lake. They negotiated passage across on slate skiff-boats piloted by myconids.

2. At a fungal village / trading port, the PCs finally encountered something like a civilization. Protected by the myconids, traders from many underground states could meet in relative safety in the centre of the fungid valley. The village contained the semi-permanent embassy of a fungal ambassodile, a two-minded creature full of secrets and schemes. It also contained a Drow silk-merchant.

3. Bill negotiated with the mysterious elf to learn new spells. Tuck, offended by the Drow's aloof and insulting nature, hurled insults of his own. The Drow made most of Tuck's organs fall out. Tuck, annoyed by this, gathered up his still-functional innards and asked the Drow to "fix it". The Drow did. Tuck now loved the Drow. He literally couldn't think badly of them.

4. Meanwhile, Cazael and the rest of the party met with the fungal ambassodile. The strangely charming creature asked them, as independent operatives, to go and sort out a minor problem with a giant magical creature in a lake. If they could kill the creature, they'd earn vast rewards, including a map to the surface.

5. The party also recruited a young woman, Alice, and a mysterious goat, Tom.

6. Their route to the lake passed through the Slime Vortex, a funnel-shaped cave full of spinning slimes. Water flowing into the channel was filtered by the rotating mass of slimes. It was a miracle of nature and a massive obstacle to travel. It was also an excellent source of gold; all the inedible metals sunk to the bottom of the funnel.

7. The gold was far too tempting for Tom the Goat and Bill the Wormling. Together, they descended into the funnel, dodging slimes the whole way. Unfortunately for them, the pool at the bottom of the cave wasn't water at all, but another transparent slime. They were both badly bludgeoned and partially digested.


8. Klaus used his sorcerous powers to part the slimes, altering the funnel's geometry temporarily and allowing for the rescue of Bill, the goat, and a small amount of gold.

9. Tom the goat, who was "really weird", everyone agreed, was in a semi-permanent coma. Alice, his keeper and apprentice witch, decided to take matters into her own hands.


10. After several more adventures, the party finally found the gigantic underground lake at the heart of the fungid valley. They decided to lure the "magic beast" in the lake to shore using a magic battery - stolen from a dEr0 earthquake machine - as bait. 

11. The plan worked, and a horrible insect, with a shell made entirely of magic weapons, lurched from the lake to savage the group. The party's plan hadn't extended beyond luring the beast closer. They immediately panicked.

12. Christen Bell and Swainson were crushed by the beast's magic shell. Mangled beyond recognition, they were left to die on the rocky shore as Cazael and Bill tried to fight the creature. Alice turned into a strange rubbery bird and flew away, shouting "Fuck this, I'm out!". She stopped just long enough to drop the magic battery onto the back of the giant beast.


13. Cazael set the magic battery on fire and, briefly, drove the caddis-fly-thing into the lake. Bill, meanwhile, attempted a radical healing procedure for his two "mostly dead" friends. Sure, Swainson and Christen Bell were dead in the medical sense, but possibly not in the wizardly sense. He stabbed them both with his dagger of roiling polymorph.

14. Christen Bell turned into an octopus and stayed there. Unable to live out of the water, she sadly lurched into the lake.

15. Swainson, on the other hand, polymorphed into a ravenous shadow, then a cave giant. Still disoriented by lurching from splintery death into gigantic life, she spotted the caddis-fly monster charging towards shore. She struck the creature with a mighty blow, tore it apart, and scattered magical implements and gold all over the shore.

16. The dagger was, unfortunately, roiling polymorph. Swainson polymorphed from a giant to a panther, a rhino, a mummy, a brass dragon, a cockatrice, a giant (again!), a squid, a gorilla, and finally, after over an hour of screaming and flopping from form to form, stabilized as a lamassu. While not ideal, a lamassu was hardly the worst thing to be. At least Swainson could speak and move and even cast spells; her new cow-sphinx-lion form would do.

17. With her mind fading fast, octopus-Christen Bell decided to end her life by magic sword. She chopped herself into neat cubes and faded away.

18. Encumbered with thousands of gold pieces and dozens of magic swords, the surviving members of the party lurched away from the magically contaminated lake, leaving entire drifts of swords and gold behind.

Would their hasty actions result in underground warfare? What was the ambassodile's plan? Could they use Swainson's new lamassu powers to escape to the surface or was her mind too badly scrambled by her many transformations?

Find out next time.