2019/11/14

OSR: Gargoyle and Grue Stats

Here's another draft page from the Monster Overhaul.
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1nfTllhSqbmV61Br7mKCQmo4eUv20IRAf

PDF


In AD&D, Gargoyles are living creatures, the fleshy inspiration for their stone depictions I suppose. I like my version better. Drain-faced, cruel, and darkly inspired.

I'm debating downgrading their immunity to mundane weapons to an immunity to slashing and piercing damage. This would make them slightly less deadly, but perhaps less useful as mid-level dungeon guards. Thoughts?

The Grue is based on the Grue from Zork, of course, but with some inspiration from Arnold K's sublimely weird version. It's a living trap and an entertaining problem.

The AD&D Monster Manual II has four grues, one from each of the main elemental planes. They've all got lavishly and horrible descriptions, but in the Monster Overhaul, they'll be merged into the rest of the elementals.

This is also the first public test of a two monster page (compared to a one monster page here or here). Any complaints? Far easier to fix them now.

Also, Patrons at the $5 level and above get access to all the draft content, in case you want more monsters as quickly as I can write and test them.

2019/11/13

OSR: Review: Troika! vs. Electric Bastionland

Two systems, both alike in dignity,
In fair Discourse, where we lay our scene,
From ancient sludge break to new heresy,
Where drunken blood makes drunken hands unclean.
This review is sponsored by Dubonnet and gin. You've been warned.

Because I'm fussy, peevish, and peculiar, these review also has an enormous negative bias. I usually review books by listing problems or issues and then saying "but it's still very good." This review is no different. You've been warned again.

Also, I intermittently stop by both Chris McDowall's Discord and the Melsonia Arts Council Discord. Does one need to declare these things in a review? Well it can't hurt. That's three warnings. You're out. Go, get, shoo!


Troika!

Troika! is a Fighting Fantasy hack by Daniel Sell. The original version vaguely assumed you knew what Fighting Fantasy is and are possibly in the grip of The Nostalgia. If you don't and aren't, it's a choose-your-own-adventure book with a dice mechanic. The new version (Numinous Edition) doesn't assume much, which is good.

Choose-your-own-adventure books are weird from an RPG perspective. Half the fun of RPGs is not flipping to one of 3 options, but instead writing your own pages and sticking them in. Should we 1) Fight 2) Flee or 3) Bargain with the Orc guarding the pie? Neither, for you see, I've concealed a pie-summoning wand in my hat just for this occasion. Flicking it, I...

You see what I mean?

Anyway, Troika! uses the 3 core stats of FF (Skill, Stamina, and Luck).

The Book
The first two pages are convenient reference tables. Handy, but I'm leery of unexplained tables before explanations. Or even explained tables. You're basically announcing "Prepare For The Dreaded Mathematics, Ye Who Enter Here". The moment I see text like "Weapon that ignores 1 point of Armour", before anyone's told me what Armour is, the crash-zoom effect from Death Rides A Horse plays in my head. This is a personal peeve. Inside cover tables are a best practice.

The license is broad and sensible, and seems to inspire people.

There's a big backgrounds table (d66). You start with basic adventuring gear.

Side Note: Starting With Basic Gear
Call me old fashioned, but I don't really like gear packages or adventurers kits. They're convenient as heck, and for games where inventory and resource management are less of a concern it's perfect, but for more dying-in-a-hole-for-gold game I prefer to pass around the price sheet and rely on player skill.

Because it is a skill to check if someone's remembered to buy a latern. It is a skill to make do with scavenged gear. An adventuring kit implies that there's a correct way to adventure. This is the optimal package. But it might not be.
Troika! Backgrounds
My god, there are a lot of them. And people keep making more!

Right from page 2, the core book tells you to write your own. More importantly it tells you how. Brilliant.

In the old edition (art free? I'm not sure how I got this PDF.), the backgrounds had no art. In the Numinous Edition, they've each got a piece of art. The art is nice and tasteful, but it isn't particularly useful, in that it doesn't really add much to the text. Each background now takes up 1 page and each page will only maybe be used once at character generation. So every time I reference the rules, I've got to flap over a stack of paper.

Additionally, there's no divider page between rules and backgrounds.

Side Note: Divider Pages
Magical Industrial Revolution
doesn't have many pages without table-ready text, but I insisted that each chapter have its own chapter title page. In the physical version, they're always on the right hand side of a spread, in the same format, spaced more-or-less equally through the book. They're navigational markers. Weenies.

Pages like that might seem like wasted space, but they're kind of important. They are the signposts that let a reader navigate a heterogeneous text. Images stick in the mind.
Rules are numbered. Why? The rules insist the only type of dice is a d6, then proceed to list 15 numbered rules or section. I can't roll a d15 on d6s without doing the Dreaded Mathematics. For shame, Daniel Sell. For shame. Who the heck is going to reference Rule 8.2 instead of giving a) a page # or b) the generalized description of the rule?

EDIT (for clarity): The rules text on pp. 40-70 also feels homogeneous . Skimming, the rules blend together. Heading after heading, page after page. A few pieces of art aid recognition, but there are relatively few text-based markers aside from the rules numbers, and numbers are poor signposts.

How do the rules work in play? You're asking the wrong blogger. I haven't tested Troika! at all. I rolled a d666 and I wasn't struck by lightning, but that's about it. I am not a systems person. I've watched a number of games and talked to people who have run it though.

Reading them, the text usually answers questions as they are presented. A dying character must be healed? Next paragraph, rules for healing.

The armour rules are slightly clunky to my eye. For anything frequently referenced with more than 2 options, either tabulate or bullet point. I doubt it's an issue once you're familiar with the system. Rules are explained (i.e. there are "Why" sections). That's cool.

Spells

Spells are listed in alphabetical order, but aren't numbered.
Why are rules numbered but not spells? Rolling for a random spells (on a scroll, a wizard, a dark brain-engine) is actually useful.

EDIT: There's a spell table on the inside cover that I didn't see. Shame on me.

Bestiary

It's short, but a quick table of contents with page numbers would still help. If I'm looking for a Zombie, I don't want to flip all the way to Z to find out it's not listed. I want to look at one page and see that there's no Zombie, but Living Dead is listed. The descriptions are great and the stats are elegant. There's a useful table of monster moods with each monster, but a few are bit dull; some of the entries for some monsters seem repetitive. It's hard to spread 4 decent ideas into 6 decent ideas.

Art Quality
Highly consistent, vibrant, and neat.
Look, last time I did a review I said the art was good and people ended with weird impressions. So yes, the art is good, but I Cannot Into Art. I was not blown away or underwhelmed. I was moderately whelmed.

PDF Optimization
It might be the Dubonnet talking, but some sections have different background colours that can't be disabled via layers, making home printing difficult. Optimize your PDFs, humans! The PDF also loads very slowly while scrolling for some reason.

Viability of Long Term Play

To repeat, I haven't run Troika! or even tested it in a one-shot. 35/133 pages (31%) are devoted purely to character backgrounds. There are lots of one-shot play reports out there. Multisession reports are sparse, but they do exist. Some math-based humans have pointed out Troika!'s core d6 system might suffer under repeated rolls. The leveling system is less about motivation and more about reinforcement. As with any system, players with strong and complex goals will help drive longer games.

Backgrounds are loaded with flavour. They immediately grab people.Their vibrant, irreverent, and intriguing nature dominates most reviews. This has its pros and cons. Flavour fades fast. Rolling up a Troika! character is like biting into a new and delicious pastry; eating that pastry week after week, month after month doesn't seem to appeal to many people. .

That's not nessesarily an issue, but it's something to be aware of when you're picking a system. Do you front-load on superb character generation and backgrounds, or spread the goodness out over a longer play period? What's right for your group and style? How often do you expect to roll to find out?

How Likely Is It That This Book Will Be Burned As A Satanic Object

Moderately likely. Intermittent dick-wizards.

Is This Book OSR?

Fucked if I know. Fighting Fantasy has pedigree. The backgrounds seem to reward item-based problem solving. Compatibility seems to vary.

Price
$12 for a PDF of the Numinous Edition, though it's probably on sale. There's a bundle that contains... things? Not sober enough to examine. EDIT: More bundles. Physical copies here.

Final Notes
Troika! is a fun, hackable, fairly rules-light game. A setting is vaguely implied but never stated. The ideal use-case seems to be a one- or two-shot systemless dungeon or adventure; heavier than Kobolds Ate My Baby but lighter than B/X. People say it also pairs well with fun dungeons like The Mysterious Menagerie of Doctor Orville Boros.


Electric Bastionland

Electric Bastionland is Chris McDowall's updated version of Into the Odd. Since it's currently being Kickstarted, this review is based on a mix of Into the Odd and previews. You've been warned four times. Shoo!

The original Into the Odd assumed you knew... pretty much everything about D&D-type RPGs. Maybe even a bit more. Full terms from page 1, no intro, no context, just rules and guidance.

The system uses 3 condensed stats (Strength, Dexterity and Willpower) instead of the traditional D&D 6. This makes cross-compatibility with other OSR products slightly harder, but still easier than Troika!.

Backgrounds
Backgrounds have a gimmick. They're HP derived. High HP, worse items. Low HP, better items. It's neat and symmetrical, but it also shows where the system is focused. Electric Bastionland has 100 backgrounds. Each background is a 2-page spread. The book is ~300 pages long. You do the math.

The backgrounds are cool and evocative, and that's clearly what the Kickstarter is focusing on. All the ones I've read immediately make me want to roll up a character, which is the point... but it's also a concern. Much like Troika!, if the bulk of the book is devoted to material you'll only use once, at character generation, how suitable is the material for long-term play?

HP correlated to starting items. In most 5+ session games, how critical is the starting item to everyday play? Compare that to one-shots.

I totally get why Chris wants each background to be a 2-page spread. The art is lovely. It helps build the implied setting. It's consistent. It's natural. It's smooth. But it's still ~120 words for 2 pages. That's a huge cost. It's reflected in the book's price tag and shipping. You're paying for an awful lot of ink that's sitting dead on the page instead of springing to life.

Side Note: Page Weighting
In a novel, all pages have the same weight. In nonfiction books, footnote, endnote, map, or illustration pages might be referenced more than a text page.

But in an RPG, density is all over the place. A background gets referenced once, at character generation. The rules page might get referenced every session. Optimizing layout to avoid flipping through dead pages is critical, the ease of PDFs often makes authors forget this step.Two crucial elements might be separated by 20+ pages of bulk.

There's another level. If your system has 1 page on dungeon exploration and 1 page on goat farming, casual readers might be tempted to think your game places equal weight on both, when in reality most sessions will be spent on the minutiae of hoof-rot and wet feed, with dungeons as an intermittent distraction available to one fringe class.

It's an issue that's hard to avoid, but it's worth considering when you're laying out a book. In play, pages have different weight. On a first readthrough, they all weigh the same.
Physical weight is important too, as mentioned in the Troika! section. I believe Chris is working on a method to avoid having to flap over 200+ background pages to get between everday rules sections, so that should be fine, but it's still a concern.
Side Note: Highly Amorphous Settings
I don't like 'em.

RPGs have a shared conceit. A number of otherwise fairly sensible humans get together and pretend that a world that exists only in their heads is real, or at least sort-of real.
This is hard when the rules that govern the imaginary world are explicitly ambiguous. I don't mean rules as in game rules, like how hard it is to hit an orc. I mean rules as distance, time, space, theme, and tone.

And stakes. Why is Age of Sigmar so watery compared to Warhammer Fantasy? Because the world of Age of Sigmar isn't real. It's an amorphous collection of abstracts. Floating cities and chaotic realms. Exploding continents instead of forests. Rivers of blood instead of rivers of river. For all its faults, Warhammer Fantasy was a mirror of real-world history, in all its richness and relatability. 

There’s no timeline, no history, no reading comprehension exercise to undertake before you get started with play. Instead, the setting of Bastion is communicated through Spark Tables: lists of random events, characters, locations, and items all written around the central themes of the game. These Sparks keep the city in a constant state of flux, and no two excursions into the mad streets (or the treacherous underground) will be the same.
-Electric Bastionland Kickstarter
Bastionland, as far as I can tell from the previews and blogposts, is a chaotic ur-city, a protoplasmic urban 'scape. Its broadness tries and, in my opinion, fails to evoke much of anything. While trying to be general, it becomes watered down; a city where the stakes don't matter because the stakes are explicitly pointed out as fatuous constructs. The book can't help but lean against the cardboard scenery. Troika! has bumble-logic; Bastionland lacks even that folk-tale stopgap.


By rights, I should like Bastionland. It compliments Magical Industrial Revolution like chocolate and orange; games run using both should be spectacular. But the implied setting just feels like a collection Capitalized Nouns instead of a real place. Not sure if this is really an issue or if it's intentional design.
Rules
All the rules fit on 2 pages. These two pages, in fact. Fitting your rules onto 2 pages is great.

Compared to traditional D&D, the rules are a little bit weird. The combined pick-the-highest-result damage and attack rolls are probably the single highest barrier to compatibly with other products.

They also feel... very gamey. Does that make sense at all? Somehow, rolling a bunch of dice and picking the highest number shown feels less diegetic than rolling once dice and relaying the result to the GM. Could be personal. Not sure.

Maze Rats is a rapidly mutating strain of Into the Odd that's mostly tables. Good tables.


Spells

Haven't been previewed yet, but are probably similar to ItO's Oddities. Item-based problem solving writ large.

Bestiary

ItO's bestiary fit on one page and was, in my opinion, pretty mediocre. Some new ideas, some basic ideas expanded at length, no guidance, and no indexing. Some were more like traps or environmental effects than beasts. No idea what Electric Bastionland's will look like, or even if it will have one.

Art Quality

Electric Bastionland seems to be wholly illustrated by one artist (Alec Sorensen). I like it. It's consistent, tidy, and well done. Heavy use of black ink to define space is not ideal for a product people might want to print at home, but so it goes.

PDF Optimization
Still in progress, I'd imagine. ItO was optimized by 2015's standards. Let's hope Electric Bastionland does better.

Viability of Long Term Play

The advancement system is based around Scars. If I'm reading the draft rules correctly (no guarantees! You should've been warned!), Scars are accumulated by dropping to exactly 0 HP. Not the most OSR advancement system. Why reward failure? Staying at comfortably high HP requires skill. ItO was even more basic; as you level up, only your reputation changes.

It seems, vaguely, like ItO and Bastionland characters start off good and slowly get whittled away. Perfect for short term play or West Marches games; less viable for long-term games.

Compared to Troika!, I've also seen fewer ItO / Bastionland hacks out there in the blogosphere. Could just be a perception issue. Could also be that the background system is slightly less modular. Who knows. I am not an expert.
EDIT: turns out they're just trickier to find. Here's a link to a collection of adjacent material.
Side Note: Write More Play Reports
A small percentage of people who run games write about them online. It's valuable data. If you've got a blog, even the most intermittent summary or play report helps.
How Likely Is It That This Book Will Be Burned As A Satanic Object?
Less likely. Probably rated PG, even.

Is Electric Bastionland OSR?
Again, fucked if I know. Probably? While I'm not sure the core gameplay loop promotes clever play, it does seem to fit the Ten Commandments.


Final Notes
Electric Bastionland is (going to be) a fun, focused, relatively rules-light game. An amorphous mixed-up tech-based urban setting is implied. The ideal use-case of the new book is up in the air, but I suspect shorter games or open table / West Marches games (where the adventuring company / job board exists but players drop in or out) will suit the system nicely. Shane Liebling's playtest sessions of Magical Murder Mansion were run in a playtest version of Electric Bastionland and they seemed to work pretty well.

Final Final Notes

Should You Buy These Games?
For the third time, fucked if I know. If you can afford it, sure. If not, no. Both seem to be great for one shots, convention games, OSR intros, or games where rapidly generating a new and evocative character is the goal. Both books are pretty. Both are written by what seem to be fairly decent human beings. Both are well worth examining from a design standpoint, and have plenty of good tools that can be used in many games.

But for long term, month-after-month play, I'm deeply skeptical about both systems. The downside of background-loaded is that the characters can grow stale. Having tasted one delicious and perfect background, players desire another. Like soft sugary fruit candies they melt away after a few moments of exquisite flavour. Both games weight backgrounds heavily. I like foregrounds.This isn't a flaw in the systems. It's a choice.

Post complaints below. This review was mostly an excuse to write the side notes.

Also, note to self, don't write while drunk and edit while sober. It never seems to work.

2019/11/12

OSR: 1d1000 Mutations

I've created a PDF of my 1d500 Biological and 1d500 Supernatural mutations. About a quarter of them were significantly edited, rewritten, or replaced. Most purely mental mutations are gone. Others were revised based on playtesting. Some are minor, some are major, and a rare few are deadly. All, I hope, are interesting.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1BpQaWQvf6ZSRom24-8CRs5ZgIhrsfa36/view?usp=drive_open

PDF


The PDF also a condensed mutation table, guidance on applying mutations, and a few other useful tips. It's the biggest mutation table... in the world. Not really.
With thanks to:

Elf Maids & Octopi (indexed here).
Scrap Princess (Monster Manual Sewn From Pants) (table 1 and 2)
Joeskythedungeonbrawler

Arnold Kemp (Goblin Punch)


Arnold's post covers why mutations are great. This list is also suitable for creating degenerate quarter-lings for Ultraviolet Grasslands or the effects of thaumic fallout from Magical Industrial Revolution.If you like this sort of thing, try Red Box Vancouver's The Metamorphica. More mutations!

2019/11/08

OSR: Unofficial Ultraviolet Grasslands Filmographic Appendix N

What a title! Probably worth a fair few points in Scrabble.

The Ultraviolet Grasslands are neat, but the book isn't player-facing. Sure, players can flip through and see the pretty pictures, but some of those pictures contain spoilers for content. Not a huge deal, but a sense of discovery is important.

I'm working on a 40k-style intro blurb for my players. Something that explains who they are, what they're doing, the tools they have available, and the general tone and language of the setting. Finding adjacent films is part of that. Adjacent music is available.

I sent Luka a list of films, he sent one back, they've been mashed together. Nothing is official. Some films Luka sent back haven't been included because they felt slightly general (e.g. Alien is a great film, but is it a UVG film? Who knows.) Your mileage may vary.

Core Anticanon

A.k.a the two films Luka picked as most useful when I asked him.
-Heavy Metal (1981) 

Heavy Metal, taken in sections, has very little to do with the Ultraviolet Grasslands, but as a whole, and for being a snapshot of Heavy Metal magazine, it's a decent introduction to the genre. There's probably a little nostalgia here too. From a modern perspective, where D&D isn't just for white men from Wisconsin, it's also got a few faults.

Plot Summary: An evil orb called Loc-Nar shows six short films: a dystopian New York crime drama (see: Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, etc.), a teenage fantasy where all problems are solved by sex and/or violence, a sci-fi escape any Rogue Trader would be proud of, WWII with zombies, a sci-fi alien invasion that becomes a robot sitcom, and Taarna of Gor and/or Red Taarna (basically).


 -Zardoz (1974)
Ultraviolet Grasslands makes Zardoz a better film. Not exactly a good film by any means, but it places it in a larger and more interesting context. If your players have (heaven help them) watched Zardoz, it'll save them a lot of time. If not, organize a double feature with Mad Max: Fury Road and they'll be completely ready.

Plot Summary: bored telepathic post-humans in a force-field enclave mess with the primitive outsiders via a giant floating stone head, a hokey religion, and regular deliveries of guns. In a long-term plan to end their tortured existence, the mutant Zed (Sean Connery in very small red pants) is educated, captured, manipulated, and set loose to smash both the all-powerful crystal Tabernacle and the society's decadent structure. Much like Heavy Metal, Zardoz isn't exactly a bastion of feminist ideals (Note: UVG is significantly better about this than its film antecedents). It also feels three hours long. You've been warned.
 

High-Octane Brain Fuel

Films that, to me, cover the experience of what a game set in the Ultraviolet Grasslands could involve. Wandering around, running into strange situations, glimpsing cultures from a distance, cutting deals, and running away.
-Fellini's Satyricon (1969)
-Easy Rider (1969)
-The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)
-Mad Max Fury Road (2015)

-
Prospect (2018)
 

The Grasslands (a.k.a. What In The Fuck Is Going On Here?)

Films that capture a sense of the environment, the strange inhabitants, or the eerie ruins of the Ultraviolet Grasslands.
-The Wizard of Oz (1939) + Return To Oz (1985)

-Кин-дза-дза! /  Kin-dza-dza! (1986)
Special mention because you probably haven't heard of this film. It's great. It's probably the best sci-fi film I've seen in the past decade. The characters are wonderful and, crucially, very different than what you'd expect. Nobody panics. Nobody holds the idiot ball longer than necessary. Much like Prospect, a small budget goes a very long way when paired with a great story and a solid cast.

The whole film, in gloriously restored colour, is available for free on youtube. I strongly suggest going in blind. No plot summary, no spoilers.
 

-Lessons of Darkness (1992)
 

Technobarbarians of the Ruined Earth

Everything that can happen has happened three times already, including world unity.

-The Time Machine (1960)
-Beneath The Planet of the Apes (1970)
-The Omega Man (1971)
-Logan's Run (1976)
-Wizards (1977)
-Stalker (1979)
-Thundarr the Barbarian (1980–1981) (TV series)
-Mad Max 2 (1981)
-Conan the Barbarian (1982)
-Yor, Hunter from the Future (1983)
-Posetitel Muzeya / Visitor to a Museum (1989)
-Bunker Palace Hotel (1989)
-Hardware / Mark 13 (1990)
-The Postman (1997)
-Six String Samurai (1998)
 

Drugs, Bright Colours, and Exceedingly Weird Shit

-El Topo (1970)
-The Holy Mountain (1973)
-Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
-Beyond the Black Rainbow (2011)
-Annihilation (2018)
 

Jean Giraud / Moebius -esque

-Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
-The Fifth Element (1997)
-Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets (2017)
-The Zero Theorem (2013)
 

General Science Fiction

-Forbidden Planet (1956)
-Barbarella (1968)
-2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
-Dark Star (1974)
-Pilot Pirx's Inquest (1978)
-Dune (1984)
-Red Dwarf (1988–) (TV series)


Any other suggestions? Working on your own intro? Post a link in the comments.

2019/11/07

OSR: Medieval Mercenary GLOG Campaign Recap

I fell so far behind on my session writeups that the whole campaign came and went without even one report. Here's the hasty remedy.

On a cold morning in early spring, a titanic black vault burst into existence in the middle of a dismal swamp. A faint octarine glow was visible for miles around. Scrying mirrors cracked. Spellbooks flung themselves from lecterns. Owls fell dead from trees; ponds boiled and cast up fishes.

Luckily, the region was sparsely inhabited. Dawn's light found the servants of the Baron Almaric de Lusignan peering down at the swamp.


They found only one survivor. Jericho, a pale and emaciated wizard in filthy rags and a tattered cap, hid under a sickly tree, weeping inconsolably. On his left, tied with rope, lay a mysterious door in a doorframe. On his right, the corpse of a deerling.

"We should take this, err, wizard back to the Baron," Ebin the Envious said, "and bury his friend in the swamp."
He paused, then whispered to his friend Linnaea. "Don't bury her too deeply. The Baron may want a meal. And chop off her head and bring it to me. You never know..."

For this unwholesome group clustered around the poor sun-baffled Jericho was not a congregation of saints. Indeed, they - and the baron they served - were a collection of ambitious rogues and outcasts.

-Ebin the Envious, human "apothecary" to the Baron, was an amateur necromancer. With his pet raven, sinister black cloak, and crooked staff, he doled out dubious cures and took payment in both gold and flesh.

-Vulwin Sarphine, elf wizard, was an exiled diplomat seeking refuge in a region unlikely to be visited by her cousins.
-Wardablorg, frogling summoner and cultist, gave spiritual advice to the Baron while dabbling in all manner of schemes.
-Linnaea, batling thief and general dogsbody to the plots of her lord.
-Sash, fishling thief and failed wizard apprentice. Dogsbody number two.

Their patron, Baron Almaric de Lusignan, owlling ghoul and noble, was rarely seen outside his crumbling manor. The few villagers who owed him homage avoided the shadowed keep wherever possible.

After briefly interrogating Jericho regarding his mysterious origins, vast wealth (carefully hidden but inadvertently referenced), and potent wizard powers, the Baron decided on a course of action. His followers would travel to Bosola, that turbulent but wealthy peninsula, and claim territory for their lord. He would migrate to richer and more populous lands when the time was right.

Branca branca branca!
Their journey through the mountains was fraught with peril.

They were ambushed by roving penniless knights. Jericho impressed all with his potent wizard powers, collapsing the earth and burying several attackers. Sash climbed a tree and threw flaming pinecones at his attackers while shouting "fireball! Ok, this next one really will be a fireball!" Ebin the Envious learned to cast mundane missile; a rock thrown at someone's head. "Mundane missile sometimes misses," he'd cry.

The group decided they needed a knight of their own and elected Wardablorg. The summoner was dressed in badly fitting and very dented scraps of plate armour, placed on a horse, draped in colourful fabric, and appointed group figurehead.

They paused briefly in St. Menthon to buy supplies. On the road, they found a necromancer's tower and cult. Burning and looting commenced, followed by a trip to Bovem. In that partially ruined town, they found work visiting a village in the mountains. A travelling trader hadn't heard from the village since the snows melted.

Jericho and Linnaea remained in town to on business, leaving just four adventurers (and a few hirelings) to travel for three days into the wilderness.

The adventure ended poorly for Sash, who was killed by a goblin ambush on a rocky hillside. The rest of the party, wounded and tired, found a gnome barbarian guide named Big Hamish MacFeegle and hired him... very briefly. The next day, another goblin ambush (and rather obvious pit trap) killed the gnome and Wardablorg's horse (borrowed from Jericho).

The village turned out to have the plague. The PCs looted the church's meagre hoard of gold and fled into the night. A third goblin ambush, on the return journey, killed a hireling but finally resulted in the extermination of the goblin tribe, partially thanks to Wardablorg's fighting prowess, but mostly due to Vulwin's bow. The goblin warlord's helmet of +2 Intelligence and obedient chain whip were looted.
The next day, the party hired Crazy Harry, his cannon, and his crew. They set off on a new mission. A foreign diplomat had been kidnapped by bandits. They were holding him in an isolated castle near Ardeno. The Company of the Red Banner wanted the diplomat back, but didn't want to pay the ransom. The PCs took on the job.

They had a cunning plan to reduce the bandit's strength. They purchased a large barrel of wine, poisoned it, then allowed the bandits to capture it. They then attacked the tower by night, surprising the guards, killing some of the inhabitants, shooting people with their new cannon, and generally wreaking havoc. Linnaea the batling lost a leg and elected to retire.

After interrogating their captives via vague and implausible threats, the party discovered the diplomat had vanished from his cell in the small dungeon below the castle. The bandits were baffled; the cell had only one entrance and it was still locked. Though they did insist the dungeon was cursed somehow.

The "curse" took the form of a bell. Anyone who rang it summoned a secret stone button that followed them around, appearing on any finished stone wall and migrating as they moved. Pressing the button temporarily opened a passage to a secret, magically concealed crypt.

Alex Brock
Note: I thought the idea of a cursed secret door was intriguing. How do you get rid of a door that follows you around, constantly tempting you to open it?

The dungeon itself, not the secret crypt, contained a system for lowering prisoners into a subterranean lake of ghost-infused water. Prisoners would be raised up, possessed and angry, and interrogated by pious monks hoping to drive the lost pagan souls to one afterlife or another. As a side effect, living creatures possessed by the ghosts turned blue and began to float. Even chickens. This becomes important later.

Exploring further, the party discovered the source of the ghost water; a reality-warping whale-sized slug-creature with tree-like hands, clusters of ruby eyes, and dozens of blubber-lipped mouths. They decided to leave it alone, and instead looted the rest of the tomb. A battle with some skeleton guardians very nearly went wrong, but Crazy Harry's cannon saved the day at the cost of the party's collective hearing and equilibrium. Wardablorg was revived with a dubious discount healing potion, which inflicted avianthropy on the poor knight. The light of the full moon would turn into a... seagull. Ebin the Envious used untested necromancy on Vulwin the elf, more or less tethering her soul to her body by the equivalent of a few scraps of magic thread. The necromancer only survived by using a cursed amulet acquired from Jericho; the same flesh-stealing amulet that had caused so much trouble in the underground wizard's previous adventures. While it healed one person, it stole life and chunks of flesh from anyone nearby.

Having retrieved the brain-damaged and memory-drained ambassador from the digestion pool near the whale-creature, the party elected to leave immediately and spend their ill-gotten wealth in a proper city. They traveled to Charron, entered the mercenary camp of the Company of the Red Banner, dropped off the diplomat, and relaxed. Wardablorg spent all their money on chickens, carts, chicken-handlers, chicken-cages, and canvas. If ghost-possessed chickens floated, the knight reasoned, they could be used to make a flying machine. Soaring through the air on a cloud of ghosts didn't appeal to the rest of the party, but the knight was insistent.

After a week-long binge, the group acquired a new knight. This one had actual title. Sir Reko Pizelle, a preening hawkling, decided to assist the group on a new mission for the Company of the Red Banner. A wizard's tower on the company's line of march occasionally vaporized passing scouts. They wanted the tower cleared.

Robert Litja
Unfortunately, the group never made it to the tower. On the road, they were ambushed by four minotaurs. Though they triumphed in combat, Vulwin lost an arm and their new knight was severely bruised. A hearty meal of minotaur hearts soon improved their strength and vitality, though Crazy Harry's two cannon-hauling hirelings sprouted horns.

At Sir Pizelle's suggestion, the party decided to explore the minotaur's labyrinth-lair. They avoided a an idol trapped by green slime, but, a few moments later, in a 10' wide corridor, ran into a stegocentipede.

Cackling with glee, Crazy Harry fired his cannon past Sir Pizelle at the front of the group, badly wounding the monstrous chitin-plated beast. From the back of the party, Vulwin the elf decided to test her looted spell orb.


Obtained in the mysterious dungeon where they'd rescued the ambassador, the spell orb contained 2 spells and 4 charges. The first spell was, testing showed, magic missile. The wizards had never bothered testing or identifying the second.

It was cone of flame.

Vulwin could only watch in horror as the roaring torrent of fire rebounded from the walls of the corridor, engulfing the entire party. Jericho tried to deflect the fire using magic; he botched it, acquired his first Doom, dropped to 0 HP, and was badly burned.

And then the Cannoneer's gunpowder charges went off. All seven of them, plus two bombs.

The resulting explosion demolished the party, the stegocentipede, and some of the walls.

Ebin's flesh-healing cursed amulet tried to stitch his body back together, but his soul had departed for its appointed afterlife. The resulting flesh amalgam (elf, human, hawkling, stegocentipede, looted skeleton parts, etc.) shambles the corridors of the labyrinth to this day. Embedded in its back is Jericho's door of holding, and inside the door is a king's ransom: 4,700gp in gold the wizard never got to spend.


And thus ends the tragic tale of the servants of Baron Almaric de Lusignan. Wardablorg, self-styled "Sir Gucci de Lusignan", survived by being elsewhere. Perhaps in some future tale, a chicken-ghost airship will drift overhead. Perhaps not.

In any case, what a way to go.

2019/11/03

OSR: Pirates of the Merabaha, Interlude

Charles Derwent, natural philosopher, sat cross-legged on the sand. Leather-bound notebooks surrounded him, their waterlogged pages slowly drying in the merciless heat.

"It was then," he said in Wexlish to no one in particular, "that I began to suspect that the crew of the Magnificent were pirates."

"We sailed to the east coast of Chult. The Captain - that was, Captain Margarita Duerte - obtained a Letter of Marque from the governor. There was a terrible battle with some pirates, but we prevailed. Well, I say, 'we', I had very little to do with it. I was busy you see. Looking after the tortoises."

Charles' small audience nodded appreciatively.

"The crew of the Venture - that was, a sister-vessel to the Magnificent, a Ranstead cargo transport, were all slaughtered, but somehow we made it back to Port Nyanzaru. And then we sailed north, far north, to the Merebaha Islands." Charles paused to flip the pages of his notebooks, exposing freshly blurred notes to the sky.
The Things We Do for XP - Oorlof
"There was something about... Handsome John. Yes. He was a pirate, or a lord of pirates, I'm not entirely sure. The captain of the vessel that attacked us had once sailed with him and," he said, then paused as if trying to remember an exact phrase. "And before he died, he said that none but Handsome John could claim his life, and that anyone else who tried would be cursed. That was it. Superstitious nonsense, but the crew took it very seriously. The Captain too. She spent most of the voyage in her cabin. Oh yes, she did kill that man. And... well, it must have been coincidence."

"But first there were sirens," he said again, after another very long pause. "The Captain tried to sail south of Shipkiller Rock, past Siren Point. There was... fog. And screaming. The Captain, the Quartermaster, that is, Thorfina, and some of the other crew went ashore."

"He... found us in the fog. Handsome John. Took the ships without a shot fired. I don't know what happened on shore, but only the Captain returned. I had to let Lemmy, Dexter, and Charlie out of their cages. They flew away. I hope they're safe." Charles' audience nodded again, waiting for the strange little man to continue his tale.

"He hung some of the men. Drove the women ashore and left them at Siren Point. I couldn't say why. Then, when we reached open sea, he offered to maroon me - as a gentleman - and the Captain - as a Captain - on this little island. I went for the boat, but... I'm afraid the Captain went for his throat. You see, he kept a noose around it, the same one that hung him on the gallows."

Another set of pages. Another pause. "I don't know how the fight ended. But I fear the Captain did not survive."

"That's... where ye'd be wrong," a voice rasped from the shore. Every head swiveled. By the white-hot light of the noon sun, a mangled corpse slowly dragged itself out of the water. Her torso was shredded. Ribs and organs protruded, mixed with sand and seaweed. Half her face was gone. But the voice was unmistakable.

"Captain... Margarita Duerte..." the corpse rasped, barely audible below the screams of the island's inhabitants, "at yer service. Listen close... for I have not much time. I know the means to slay Handsome John and reclaim my stolen treasure. The... noose around his neck..."

"Kill it!" someone shouted. A sword flashed, but simply rebounded off the corpse's flesh, as if struck against an anvil. "God's wounds! We'll build a fire."

"This mortal fire," the corpse groaned, "is as nothing compared to the... fire that awaits me."

"Not listening. Logs logs logs."
Lada Da
And as the crackling flames rose higher, consuming the laughing corpse within, the strangers on the island gathered together again at a safe distance.

"We should leave," one said. "Charles brought us a boat. If we could make a sail, we could probably make the mainland in 2 or 3 days."

"I think there are enough palm leaves for a sail," another said.

"How many times do I have to say it, I don't speak your stupid languages!", the third replied. "Does anyone here speak Valoch? What was that little man saying? Who is he? Why was that corpse talking? Anyone?"

2019/11/01

OSR: Mercenary Stats & Tables

Here's part of the Monster Overhaul project. These handy stats and tables overlap nicely with my GLOG Mercenaries posts.
https://drive.google.com/open?id=18ntoQUInXVL2igbtXRoDDG58PFxyGxeJ

PDF


Providing tools to make "mundane" encounters interesting is tricky. It'd be easy to expand the tables, but would that really help a GM running a game? What tools are immediately useful, and what could be folded into other sections of the book?

Basically, if I'm going to take up 3 pages on Mercenaries, are the ideas present worth the page space?

I think so. Full-page statblocks aren't usually my thing, but I'd like to provide useful tools that most other Monster Manuals ignore or stick in an appendix, without filling a page with excruciating and difficult to parse details.

2019/10/29

OSR: Ultraviolet GLOGlands

With a core GLOG hack complete, making an Ultraviolet Grasslands-based hack was fairly easy.
PDF Link. This document includes:
  • Fighter, Barbarian, Thief, and Hunter from Many Rats on Sticks.
  • 5 Wizard Types. Some spells based on existing ones, but a sprinkling of new ones too.
  • Entirely new Polybody, Vome, and Warlock classes, with associated useful tables.
    A UVG price list (including pets).
  • A handy condensed character sheet, time tracking sheet, and hireling sheet.
  • And much more!
The GM-facing UVG maps are here.

Even if you don't use the GLOG bits, there's a decent chance some tables in this document will help your UVG games.



XP System

Choosing how to award experience points changes your game experience.
-Ultraviolet Grasslands
My preferences (for most games) are:
  1. Acquisition of XP should require some player skill.
  2. Acquisition of XP should not occur by default. It should require positive action, overcoming obstacles, or making critical choices.
Gold for XP is the gold standard. Elephants for XP is great (elephants aren't caught by default; catching them takes skill). 5E's XP for story milestones is not good (the story progresses by default in 5E; failing takes effort.)
How well do different methods in Ultraviolet Grasslands meet these requirements? 

New Location: XP for Traveling to Discovery Sites
In UVG, the PCs travel from location to location. When they reach a new location, a hero tests to locate Discoveries: side-sites, dungeons, or points of interests. If they choose to visit a Discovery, they gain some XP (ranging from 30 to a few hundred); not insubstantial when 300xp gets you a level.

Technically, discoveries are not available by default, but there's no player skill involved in uncovering them. It's just luck of the dice. Visiting them is not really risky. Travel in the UVG is assumed to succeed; failure is possible but (unless everyone I've seen running it has missed something) has very little to do with player skill.
Rating: Maybe Suitable

New Organism: XP for Describing a Creature or Survey Site: XP for Describing a Location or Investigate Anomaly: XP for Describing an Anomaly
This isn't really a player skill. It's a fun idea, but is this why people turned up to D&D night? Who's doing the describing. The players, who in most D&D-type games have less than total control over some aspects of the fiction, or the GM, who has enough to do without describing the life cycle of the boa-rat? XP for the player inventing purple prose or XP for listening to the GM's purple prose?
Rating: Not Suitable

New Anomaly: XP for Encountering a New Thing
Difficult to adjudicate; trickier still if wizards can conjure solid light or stuckforce. Hard to remember too. Requires no skill; the PCs just need to show up and go "oooh".
Rating: Not Suitable

XP for Combat
In UVG, XP is awarded based on surviving conflicts. Again, that's the default state. Victory or dealing the final blow gets you some bonus XP. That does require some player skill, and isn't the default state... but there's a problem. XP for kills leads to violence being the default answer. It can also lead players to try to win fights when they know they should retreat, and can lead to frustration when fights go wrong or enemies turn out to be very tough. "We're trying to do the thing that you set as a victory condition, GM. Why are we being punished for it?"
Rating: Maybe Suitable

XP for Carousing

I like this idea, even if it doesn't fit player skill paradigm. PCs often end up with far too much cash. Converting some into XP via irresponsible decisions is a good plan. It's gold for XP with an extra step. But XP for carousing can only support an existing core XP mechanic; it can't replace it.
Rating: Suitable (but supplemental).

Quest XP
There are 14 "big" quests on UVG pg. 147. Complete one and you get a chunk of XP. It's a good idea - none of the quests can be completed by default, and all require some degree of player skill. Some will warp the playstyle of the game (like the XP for Elephants method above). Others only deliver XP once in a huge lump. It's a mixed bag. Having a big quest isn't the worst idea if players have trouble self-directing.
Rating: Maybe Suitable


Conclusion

What the heck am I going to use in Ultraviolet GLOGlands?

Gold for XP is good, but it doesn't encourage exploration. If anything, it encourages finding a rich site and "mining" it for gold for several sessions. As much as I like it, I don't think it's the right core XP system for this game.

XP for Discoveries is mediocre because discoveries require minimal player skill. I'm going to augment it as follows:
-XP for reaching a Discovery.
-XP for fully exploring or mapping a discovery or figuring out what's going on.

So just turning up gets you 1x XP, but spending time exploring gets you 2x XP. How the PCs explore or figure out what's going on is left ambiguous. Smart play is encouraged.

On top of that, XP for Carousing will help deplete some of that excess gold and encourage irresponsible decisions.

EDIT
If this system is too complicated and you'd like an alternative to SEACAT, try Victor Carity's ultra-basic BASICAT. Or if you want a completely different style, try
Mike Ferdinando's UltravioletWorld Apocalypse World hack.

2019/10/28

OSR: GLOG-based Homebrew v.2: Many Rats on Sticks Edition

I've finally finished updated the original Rat on a Stick GLOG hack. Feedback and notes from playtesting was incorporated. Notable changes:
  • an all new Hunter class
  • significant revisions to the Exorcist and Monk classes
  • clear procedures for dungeon and wilderness adventures
  •  an expanded and updated table of races
  • 2 new wizards: the Geometer and the Curse-Eater
  • lots of little tweaks and changes.
In general, the document is cleaner, more organized, and easier to use. Enjoy!
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1wOAkBOCUSjnthMEnIsPVT1LSOCQzd88j

PDF

Since most classes fit on one sheet of paper, I've created a Character Sheet File. Print a character sheet on one side and the rules on the other. No background info is included, just stuff the player is likely to use every session.

Thanks to my patrons for their support and keen eye for spelling errors.

Everything in the book is licensed under CC-BY-SA, so hack away!

2019/10/24

OSR: Magical Industrial Revolution Megapost

Magical Industrial Revolution is now on sale via Exalted Funeral and DriveThruRPG.

Print copies will be available from Exalted Funeral once all Kickstarter backers have received their copies. Stay tuned for announcements closer to the release date (November-ish).

Art by Jonathan Newell, Logan Stahl, & Luka Rejec. Editing, layout, and incalculably valuable assistance by David Shugars. Additional editing by Fiona Geist.

Introduction

This book is about Atlantis before the tide turned. It’s about Hyperborea before it vanished between dimensions. It’s about Nu Yark Citee before the Mushroom Bombs hit.

It’s a setting guide to the greatest and most ambitious city in the world: Endon. It’s about a world slowly tipping onto its side, and all the interesting things that begin to slide at the start of a revolution. It’s about people with grand dreams pushing the boundaries of the possible, and the strange machines and devices they create along the way.

But mostly, it’s about magic. 


Magical Industrial Revolution: A Pre-Apocalyptic Setting Guide contains a wealth of information to supplement Role Playing Games, including:

• Maps, People, Buildings, Dungeons, Factions, and Villains of Endon
• Eight Pre-Apocalyptic Innovations
• Hundreds of Magic Items and Spells
• Rules for Magical Industry
• Useful Tools for Urban Campaigns
• Horrible Monsters and Nightmarish Creatures
• And much, much more.

Three very useful pamphlets featuring magical industrial tips, hanging ballads, and local attractions are provided along with the 156 page book. The PDF is fully optimized and bookmarked.

Reviews

Here, I think Skerples hits the nail on the head for one of the most exciting core narratives for an RPG campaign can be: Revolution. Change.

Change, not so much in the way History has traditionally viewed it: with the rise and fall of Big People, with grand wars and grand empires, with technology emerging from the minds of great men like Athena from Zeus's skull and then suddenly just, like... being everywhere... But with how it alters and affects every day people, how they view and interact with the world. How it gradually and subtly worms its ways into our collective perceptions of Life.

How, for instance, the railroad revolutionized our notions of space and time, or how A.I. revolutionizes are notions of personhood.
-Goodberry Monthly

Just wanted to say that the setting of this book didn't really interest me. I backed because Skerples always does great work. Upon receiving the pdf, I was surprised at how much stuff I was able to pull from it for my own setting, which hews closer to traditional sword & sorcery. Thanks so much for an amazing product.


Why?

Cities and technology in RPGs often feel static. I wanted to write a book about a setting that changed as the game progressed in ways that the players could influence or manipulate. No fixed metaplot, no locked-in NPCs, just a big pile of useful tools, all designed to work in harmony. City tools, good magic items, fun encounters, and excellent ways to spend hard-earned cash.

I wanted to write a pre-apocalyptic setting. Most D&D-type settings assume there's a layer of magical ruin and decay below the current world; I wanted to write the explosion that could bury that layer. Gleeful, mad optimism instead of sullen and pragmatic pessimism. High magic, high ambition, disastrous lack of hard lessons.

I also wanted to include methods for scaling up magic, meddling with the fundamental forces of nature, and trying to change the world via the logical - or illogical - application of weird science and dubious engineering.

You can a look at MIR's development history here.


Playtesting

MIR, like all my paid products, was tested with a number of systems, including AD&D, B/X, the GLOG, and (I think), Into the Odd and The Black Hack. Some sections were tested against 5th Edition and seemed to work fairly well.

It's designed for broad compatibility. Assumptions are stated. Wherever possible, conversion tools are provided. You could probably use it with Apocalypse World or Fate by ignoring some of the numbers.

Session Reports

None yet!

Thank You

I'd like to thank David Shugars again for his hard work spinning gold from the pile of straw I provided. I'd also like to thank my Patrons, blog readers, and friends for supporting this project. MIR wouldn't exist without you.