Friday, March 29, 2013

Building Your Own Mythology

Every game exists in a world, however well defined. When I was younger, I took great care and spent far too much time meticulously mapping the entirety of These realms. Most of the locales were never explored beyond this initial world-building process. Now that I'm older, I have far less time and patience for this kind of work. I also don't need to know most of these details.

But every game has to have a world in which it exists. Over the years I've slowly cobbled together my own mythology. The same major guilds, religions, kingdoms, exist all the time, but the permutations which I've arranged them in change from campaign to campaign. There is, of course, always room for expansion. If the kind of story I tell necessitates some kind of entity that doesn't exist, the mythology changes. It grows.

Perhaps someday I'll write a lot of this stuff down to set the record straight but For now I enjoy the way the story of my world changes every time I tell it, like a folk tale or a comic book.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Freebie Alert: Old School Hack

A table-top roleplaying system that's a hack of a hack of the original Red Box version of a certain popular hack-and-slash fantasy game. That's a lot of hacking.

Check out the full game here.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Thwarted by Technology

I recorded the first session of the Burning Wheel campaign I launched on Saturday. It appears that track has disappeared from my phone, so, unfortunately, a detailed record from which to build a transcript does not exist. That was going to be today's post, but you get this instead. It's almost as good.

Actually, it's not. Instead, I will write a summary to act in place of it, unless I can somehow recover the recording.

Edit: Apparently there is a limit to the number of hours you can have up on SoundCloud. Since I didn't plan on using the raw audio, I could have just listened to it in the editor and taken notes. I could upgrade to paid plan for $3/month, but that only allows me to have up to four hours of audio maximum.

I will be exploring other options before deciding how to proceed.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Cover Art for Transylvanian Adventures Unveiled

Doug Kovacs, the talent responsible for the iconography of DCC RPG, is confirmed for the cover of Transylvanian Adventures, a gothic supplement for the most talked about game on this blog. This is one book of three and the rumor is that Kovacs may do the cover work for all three. I look forward to seeing it with a splash of color.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Freebie Alert: Everyone is John

A competitive roleplaying game for three or more people.

Everyone is John is a humorous, competitive roleplaying game about playing the various personalities of John, an insane man from Minneapolis. One participant is the GM, or, in Everyone is John lingo, "Everyone Else." All of the other players are Voices in John's head.

Everyone is John uses six-sided dice (you really only need one, but it might be easiest if every participant carries one) for play.

This is a good one to break out as a break from a serious campaign or at parties. Check out the full scenario here!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Wizard School, or Harry Potter and the Burner's Wheel

This is an idea I've had for a long time now, exploring the story of how a Wizard happens. On a whim last week, I began thumbing through my Burning Wheel books. I don't know why I didn't look to this system for this kind of story sooner, but it's a perfect fit.

A week later, and we have three freshly burned characters ready to begin their journey down the path of arcane mastery.

I plan on posting something from our sessions, either audio files or transcripts. I still haven't decided. I will likely collect material for a few sessions before taking this anywhere, but I haven't been this excited for a game in years.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What Are We Gonna Do With All This Gold?

The smell of sulfur is heavy in the air and a loud, deep snore rumbles through the walls of the cavern. The Thief scouts ahead, silent as the breeze. Atop piles of gleaming coins sleeps a dragon, its onyx scales reflecting the swamp water. Several chests dot the room, each overflowing with gold, jewels, wealth unimaginable. . .

Assuming these adventurers don't become dragon chow, what would they do with all of this gold? If your games are anything like mine, you can't just roll down to the corner store and pick up a Wand of Magic Missile, a belt of Healing Potions, and that Vorpal Longsword your Warrior has been eyeing. That kind of availability disrupts the balance of the game and, more importantly, it contradicts the nature of magicrare, feared, misunderstood, inspiringSo what value does gold have as a player reward? 

While most adventurers begin the game poor, by the time they gain their first level they have already made more money than the average fantasy day laborer makes in their entire life. Not long after they should be able to afford the top tier of craftsmanship for their gear. And after that? I don't know, but gold is by far the most common reward and all of those loot stacks the party drags back to their hideout seem pretty redundant. 

To answer my own question: material wealth as a player reward stops being rewarding once a character's basic needs are met. While all games should be trading in the currency of what we'll call "story rewards", this should be the most common payout your adventurers receive once their basic needs are met. Give them influence, power, the opportunity to accomplish their personal goals. 

Of course, this is a generalization. Some people are perfectly content to plumb the depths of an endless underground maze, slaying rooms full of monsters for no other reason than they stand between the adventurers and their next pile of gold. Even in that type of game, which I do enjoy, the loot handed out can be more interesting by tying it to the narrative. It doesn't solve the essential problem of what to do with the accumulated wealth, but it does at least make feel more purposeful, which I suppose is what any reward aspires to, story or otherwise. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Freebie Alert (Kind of): The Quiet Year

The Quiet Year is a map game. You define the struggles of a post-apocalyptic community, and attempt to build something good within their quiet year. Every decision and every action is set against a backdrop of dwindling time and rising concern.
The game is played using a deck of cards – each of the 52 cards corresponds to a week during the quiet year. Each card triggers certain events – bringing bad news, good omens, project delays and sudden changes in luck. At the end of the quiet year, the Frost Shepherds will come, ending the game.
Check out the site here! You will notice that the game is not actually free. Buried Without Ceremony, the publisher, has a program called "Paying With Good Deeds". Basically, they will send you a PDF of any of their games for a number of good deeds. The Quiet Year PDF can be yours for about an hour of volunteer work, donating food or clothing, or cleaning up a local park. More publishers should offer programs like this. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Crawl! #6 Review

The latest issue of Crawl has been out for several weeks. I've had it for several weeks, too. I was also sick right around the time I got it. Thankfully, I've kicked whatever was making feel like death and had the chance to go through this a few more times.

Crawl #6 is the end product of a contest Reverend Dak ran on the Goodman Game forums. Forumers were asked which classes they wanted to see most, then the community submitted their versions for consideration. The best Bard, Gnome, Ranger, and Paladin are featured in this issue.

One of things I really enjoy about the DCC RPG is how many archetypes fit into the four base classes. Clerics can easily fill their iconic role or play more like a Druid depending upon your alignment. Give a Warrior a pet and you're not too far away from having a Ranger. You can see where I'm going with this.

Let me start with the good. The Bard class is very well done and is one of the few classes I feel isn't covered in the four base classes. Bards can use their performances to affect their audiences. These effects might grant bonuses to will saves or act like Charm Person spell. It feels very balanced, and I will definitely be including this in my future campaigns.

I was particularly impressed by the Gnome. They are essentially slightly more Hardy Wizards with a restricted spell list to reflect their nature. Gnomes are typically the least favorite of all standard fantasy races, but I like them quite a bit. My only complaint is that this is only a five level class. The creator explains this as they usually lack the penchant for long term adventuring, but I feel this is a bad decision. Most members of the other races do not become adventurers. That's what makes them special. I will be expanding this to a full ten level class before including it in my campaign.

I have mixed feelings about the Paladin. I would best describe it as a cross between the Warrior and Cleric class. It gets a Smite Die, which functions like a Deeds die but only against unholy enemies. It casts spells and suffers disapproval as the Cleric. It also has a secondary disapproval-like table. I'm not sure I see the need for a full Paladin class. Simply rolling a Warrior with a belief in god and adding a few unique uses of the Mighty Deeds to reflect this devotion would cover it, in my opinion. I think the inclusion of more disapproval is not particularly exciting because the normal disapproval is already so punishing. Still, I think this is useful to take bits and pieces of and adapt as you see necessary.

I feel similarly about the Ranger class. It has a deeds die. It gets favored enemies. I just don't feel the need for a full class when the Warrior covers this so well. Unlike the Paladin, I don't see much in the way that there is to take and adapt.

Despite my hesitation about some of these classes, I'm never disappointed when the envelope from Stray Couches Press arrives in my mailbox. As with all community-generated content, your mileage is going to vary. If you haven't ordered it yet, you need to add this to your collection. Don't forget, Crawl! is now available in PDF form, too!

Friday, March 8, 2013

GM Burnout

One thing I haven't written about is GM burnout. Everyone who ever helms the mantle of game master eventually goes through this. I am currently experiencing this. Hard.

I've been running games pretty consistently for about three years now. I don't know if it's because I've almost exclusively been playing fantasy games or it's more of a general burnout, but it is has sapped all motivation to work on some of the longer term projects I had going (patrons, megadungeon, new classes,).

Which is unfortunate, because it's my turn in this rotating GM campaign a friend and I are running. I have an adventure in mind, too, but there is no gas in the tank to draw maps, create monsters, and draft a compelling narrative. I would much rather just play complicated board games or paint the various miniatures I have acquired.

But I can't, so I've been thinking about ways to break this. The short term is module dependency. I have greedily snatched up every single DCC adventure that Goodman Games has put out and only played a handful of them. I also backed the Appendix N Adventures Kickstarter, and those should ship by the end of the month giving me more crutches on this road to recovery.

I have, as of yet, not come up with a more long term option.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Freebie Alert: Lady Blackbird

Lady Blackbird is on the run from an arranged marriage to Count Carlowe. She hired a smuggler skyship, The Owl, to take her from her palace on the Imperial world of Ilysium to the far reaches of the Remnants, so she could be with her once secret lover: the pirate king Uriah Flint.

HOWEVER, just before reaching the halfway point of Haven, The Owl was pursued and captured by the Imperial cruiser Hand of Sorrow, under charges of flying a false flag.

EVEN NOW, Lady Blackbird, her bodyguard, and the crew of The Owl are detained in the brig, while the Imperial commander runs the smuggler ship’s registry over the wireless. It’s only a matter of time before they discover the outstanding warrants and learn that The Owl is owned by none other than the infamous outcast, Cyrus Vance.

How will Lady Blackbird and the others escape the Hand of Sorrow?

What dangers lie in their path?

Will they be able to find the secret lair of the pirate king? if they do, will Uriah Flint accept Lady Blackbird as his bride? By the time they get there, will she want him to?

Go. Play. And find out.

Lady Blackbird is an adventure module for 2-6 people. It contains a starting situation, setting, pregen characters, and quick-play rules perfect for a no-prep game of 1-3 sessions or more.

Check it out here!

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Dungeon Alphabet Review

This was released during my hiatus from posting and I've been meaning to get to it for a few weeks now. The Dungeon Alphabet is an A-Z resource that explores the major fantasy tropes most gamers encounter in the dark places of the world. This book has actually been out for a few years now; this is an expanded third edition with about 30% more content.

Players and GMs will be familiar with most of the topics covered in this book. Altars, dragons, gold, traps, undead, pretty standard dungeon-defining elements. Each entry provides a summary, why players fear them, and the role role they play in a dungeon. The meat of each entry is the random table. If your eyes go wide at the sight of random tables, this is the book for you. This slim book is packed full tables to spruce up these well-worn dungeon elements. Essentially, this is a "how-to" manual for making your encounters interesting.

While some of the entries are going to be more useful than others, this book is really indispensable for game masters. Entries like the "100 Random Book Titles" are a great way to add detail on the fly to the otherwise nondescript musty brown tomes crowding the Wizard's bookshelf (they can't all be full of spells!). The entry on Kobolds, for example, is just one of many that add flavor to an enemy that is often encountered but seldom interesting.

Even if you don't end up using the tables as presented, just flipping through the pages of this book will have your head swimming with ideas. This is due, in part, to the absurd amount of old-school fantasy art. As with the DCC RPG rulebook, this book is a lot of fun to just aimlessly flip through due to the variety of pieces presented.

I went for the limited edition cover. The production quality of this book is similar the limited edition DCC RPG, which is to say, worth it. I tend to shy away from such purposes, but these are reference materials built to last and will look great on your bookshelf. Also, I find the original cover a little too crowded for my taste. At this point, the limited edition is probably long gone from your FLGS' shelves but I would definitely snatch it up if you happen upon this gem.