Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Game Review: Isles of the Purple-Haunted Putresence

Game Review: Islands of the Purple-Haunted Putresence 

Cover to "Islands of the Purple-Haunted
© 2014 Kort'thalis
: Venger As'nas Satanis
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
Marketplace: Amazon, DrivethruRPG
Engine: OSR with VSd6
Note: This is the second of four Kort'thalis products I will be reviewing in rapid succession, as I went on a bit of a shopping spree.

The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putresence is part RPG, part setting book, and part hex-crawl adventure and all 'Metal. Written by Venger Satanis of Kort'thalis Publishing, it spans a colossal 108 pages of dense, weird, wild material.

Exploring "Purple" is like wandering across the pages of Heavy Metal Magazine in its heydey: campy, strange, violent, sexy in a sleazy kind of way, and open to almost any off-beat pulpy experiment.  In fact, references to "Heavy Metal" are pretty fast and furious in its pages. You can even find the Loc-Nar from the Heavy Metal movie circa. 1981 at one point or trade in Zuleks.

Purple is the most straightforwardly OSR-Compatible of the books I have read by Venger Satanis.  It uses stripped-down stat blocks for an older edition of Dungeons and Dragons using ascending Armour Classes and Attack Bonuses. It could easily be run with OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, OSE, Lamentations of the Flame Princess or any other Retroclone of your choice with little to no modification. 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Game Review: Alpha Blue

"Alpha Blue Cover" by Faustie,
© 2016 Kort'thalis
Game Review: Alpha Blue

Author: Venger As'nas Satanis
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG
Engine: VSd6
Note: This is another review for grown-ups. Racy art, racy topics.
Note: This is one of four Kort'thalis products I will be reviewing in rapid succession. Mostly because I went on a shopping spree.

I am going to start this review by flying my Gen-X Lefty Libertarian colours with a slogan from a favourite old cause: "A book worth banning is a book worth reading!"

Alpha Blue, and its author, Venger Satanis has faced censorship and censure. This has included public smear campaigns, false flagging, doxxing attempts, petitions to ban his work and see him black-balled, and being - briefly - removed from DrivethruRPG without proper cause.

When I see stuff like that going down, I want to read the book on principle. I don't care if it is the religious right doing it, like it was back when I was participating in Banned Book Week, or whether it is being done by intersectional cultural critics now. Banning things and silencing voices is morally wrong. I don't care if it is Captain Underpants or Journey to the End of the Night, The Naked Lunch or Catcher in the Rye, Harry Potter or Alpha Blue. And that is what first put it on my radar.

Promo material for Lexx
What kept my interest was the genre. Alpha Blue is a role-playing game that lets you play out the sleazy, sexy science fiction of films like Demon Seed, Breeders, Barbarella and Species, TV series like Lexx, and comics like "Druuna." In other words, some of my favourite brain candy. As an unreformed lover of Exploitation Sci-fi, Alpha Blue was an easy sell.

Beyond my own prurient interests, I actually found Alpha Blue pretty useful. You see, my campaigns include a lot of sex. How explicit it gets depends on the comfort levels and/or drunkenness of the room. Often, I prefer to fade to black, but sometimes I want to give a little more than that... and sometimes my players want me to go a little further, too. Mostly to the point of the humorous screwball-film cut-off point. Actually doing sex well in a role-playing game is difficult to do. Having a game that does a good job at sleaziness without being deliberately vile (like F.A.T.A.L. or Maid) is valuable for figuring out how to make it work.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Game Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG

Game Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG

"Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG 'Door' Cover"
by Doug Kovacs, © 2012 Goodman Games
: Joseph Goodmn
Publisher: Goodman Games
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG, Amazon, Goodman Games, or your FLGS
Engine: d20

Hands down, Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG (DCC) is the most successful OSR game currently on the market, and for good reason. As much a cult phenomenon as a TTRPG, DCC RPG is one of the most enjoyable games it has been my pleasure to play, and one of the most enjoyable RPG communities it has been my pleasure to get involved with.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

"What is Role-Playing?" A Different Approach

I wanted to offer a perspective on the idea of what role-playing is that goes against the Zeitgeist in the TTRPG community. In fact, it goes against the grain of a lot of the dialogue around role-playing games since the late 80s at least.

There is an idea that "Role-playing" means play-acting. It means speaking in character, offering elaborate backstories, maybe making up voices. And, for the Dungeon Master, it means creating complex and narrative heavy stories.

This is a conflation... or, rather, it is a narrow picture of a very broad concept.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Adventure: Love Nest of the Barbarix

Stonetooth Outpost, Brocken Hill
Map by Brian C. Rideout
Made with Dungeon Scrawl & GIMP
Its a classic story:

Boy meets girl. Boy sings love songs to girl. Girl gets the wrong idea. Girl kidnaps boy and takes him home to her Demon-haunted fortress made of a petrified giant's skull. Boy breaks Girl's heart. Girl locks boy in a cage.

Love-Nest of the Barbarix is my latest Old-School adventure. It is written for OSRIC but and work with any OSR compatible role-playing game. 

It is a light-hearted rescue adventure for a party of 3-5 characters levelled 3-5.
  • Uses a Five Room Dungeon format.
  • Printable on A4 paper in pamphlet format. 
  • Includes 2 original monsters and 1 new magic item.
  • I have noted both ascending and descending AC on stat blocks.
  • I also include both ThAC0 and d20-style base attack.

Download it from DrivethruRPG.

Rend Soul and Melt: Black Magic for DCC RPG

 When I wrote my article on using One-Page Dungeons, I statted out a villain named Stoya,  minion of the demon prince Obitu-que. In Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG,  Obitu-que is only partially fleshed-out. He has no signature patron spells and only a short write-up... which was perfect for my purposes. I needed a master of an evil cult who could melt people into Gelatinous Humanoids and steal souls. 

Making those abilities  Patron Spells that Obitu-que could grant gave me a patron for the cult that was suitably demonic, and a pat way to note those powers without a lot of writing: they could just be spell names in Stoya's grimoire. If the players wanted more, I could always write them later.

Well, the campaign is on hiatus, but a reader, Voivode K., has asked for the spells so that he could run my version of ItDI. So here they are in full DCC RPG format. I might submit them to the zines, like The Gongfarmer's Almanac:

Sunday, July 19, 2020

You Can't Play PARANOIA with Cypher System: Why Mechanics Matter

Cover: "Expanded Psionics Handbook"
(C) 2004 Wizards of the Coast
In 2015, a few days before my oldest son was born I decided that I wanted to grab something to read in the hospital to help distract me from the constant swirl of worries going on in my head. And to help me pass what I knew were going to be sleepless nights. I find game rules and really take up a lot of cognitive load when you are learning them, so I scanned Humble Bundle and saw the name of Bruce Cordell attached to a role playing game entitled The Strange.

I knew Cordell's name from one of my favourite books for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, the Expanded Psionics Handbook. The bundle had a half-dozen books in it, and, while the website was absolutely useless, the art for The Strange looked fantastic. I grabbed the bundle, and started skimming the introductory text as my wife and I played the waiting game for her to go to into labour

As you can imagine, I got very little actual reading done. At least, not until my son was almost ready to come home from the hospital.

I fell in love instantly with The Cypher System that served as the backbone for The Strange. It was smart, light, and easy to run. It focussed a great deal on DM Fiat and building trust between players and Dungeon Master. It also included a few of the story game innovations that I actually like, like on-the-fly character building. 

"The City of Juvanom,"  
TM and © 2019 Monte Cook Games, LLC.
I actually found The Strange was, in practice, hard to run. Its so broad in scope and it can be hard to figure out how you are going to have your Estate agents get into the trouble that will take you to the reality of your choice. When the generic Cypher System Role-Playing Game came out a few months later, I bought it within an hour of it going live on DrivethruRPG.

(I have also since become addicted to setting books for Numénera.) 

Cypher System is by far one of the cooler role-playing games I have looked at in the last few years. Very early on, I did a number of game adaptations  using the Cypher System. For example, I had players who had never played the original Fallout game, so I played it as a Cypher System scenario for them. I also created a "Cypherrun" document that adapts Shadowrun for play in Cypher system because I love the 6th World, but hate the game engine it runs on. I have also done janky adaptations of Deadlands, the video game Bastion, and Rifts using the Cypher System. I'm put a lot of effort into trying to adapt classic role-playing games to it over the last few years.

Around the same time that the setting-neutral Cypher System came out, Humble Bundle did a PARANOIA bundle that included most of the manuals from 1st and 2nd edition versions of PARANOIA. Paranoia was a game I had heard about frequently, and have wanted to try for years. Now that I had acopy, I was disappointed by the clunky confusing mechanics, even as I absolutely adored the setting and the tone.

Naturally, I tried using my go-to engine to build a better PARANOIA: I started tinkering with building a Cypher System adaptation. And I failed miserably.

Here's the thing: PARANOIA is a game about being completely out of your depth. You are incompetent, under-equipped, uninformed, surrounded by back-biters, and answerable to a deranged computer that will kill you for incompetence, excessive competence, grievous stupidity, or being too clever. Much of the fun of the game is that PCs are reduced to smouldering ash with insane regularity, only to be replaced by a near-perfect clone. Racing to see who can get whom disintegrated by passing blame is a core part of PARANOIA's entertainment value.

As absurdly designed as PARANOIA's game engine is, it does what it does very well. Shootouts are wacky and incredibly lethal, PCs are bungling, the violence rapidly becomes cartoonish, fumbles are frequent and funny, characters fail forward, and death is a good mix of silly fun and a deterrent from being a total fool.

Cypher System cannot readily replicate that. Characters in Cypher System are assumed - and structured - to be confident. Players are in control of the narrative through XP expenditure. The XP-sharing system takes away the incentives for treachery. Moreover, the way damage is handled makes disintegrating a Cypher System character in stray laser fire pretty difficult. By the time you separate the resource pools from damage, strip out the Intrusion system, write a collection of character descriptors that allow for bungling, add in a fumble mechanic, and change the way weapons work, you don't have much of Cypher System left. You are better off just using PARANOIA.

My playtests of "Cypher-noia" tended to turn into gruelling PvP death matches that dragged on too long. And you found yourself asking why you didn't just gun down your superior officers. The lies and deceit practiced at a PARANOIA table became resource bidding wars about who was willing to spend the most Intellect points to be believed.

This was a revelation for me at the time. The engine of the game wasn't just a tool for resolving uncertain outcomes to the game: it subtly sets the tone of the game. It facilitates the style of play.  The wrong combination of engine and setting strips the fun and functionality out of the game.

As I have moved into OSR gaming and began looking for ways to balance gaming and the demands of parenting, I have also noticed that the right mechanics vastly improves play. The newer 2017 edition of PARANOIA, for example, uses bluffing card games, character generation that is designed to encourage a mildly adversarial climate, and a character advancement system that rewards conniving. The mechanics complement the game play, and make the game play experience more immersive.

This might be the next imperative in RPG development: focusing not just on which engine or rules we want to use, but which mechanics best create the game play and experience that we want to offer our players.

I think that is some of the genius of both the OSR and PbtA (and, for that matter, Tunnel Goons) developer crowds: they are taking familiar games and figuring out which rules and hacks help them create a streamlined experience appropriate to the genre and experience they are aiming for.

So the big question worth exploring becomes: How do we know which rules promote our ideal game experience?

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Solo Game Journal: Pacts & Blades

The Vaults of Gloomy Chaos
This is a journal of my second solo game using Pacts & Blades: Moorcockian Fantasy (see my review here). I wanted to showcase it as a  way to discuss some of the cognitive processes that occur as you are engaging with TTRPG material.

For managing movement and initiative, I will be using OSRIC as supplemental rules.

First, the characters. I am running the game with just two characters,  because I want to focus on the two things Pacts & Blades does best: combat and magic. I built them (if they can be said to be built,) to each specialize in one or the other. They are named after characters from the Dungeons and Dragons-themed indie cartoon "Doraleous and Associates."

Monday, July 13, 2020

Adventure: Into the Wizard's Hookah

Map for "Into the Wizard's Hookah"
made with Dungeon Scrawl and GIMP
with images from Pixabay
I have had some wonderful interactions on twitter with Guilherme Gontijo, the mind behind Lantern's Faun games. He is an absolutely brilliant designer, focused on pamphlet and statement-sized role-playing game books. He is also behind the gorgeous layout of Pacts & Blades.

While I was perusing his work I came across this absolute jewel of a resource he created: "How to Make Cool TTRPG Pamphlets", which made the process of creating 5-Room Dungeons in pamphlet format look fun and easy. So I decided to try it out,

I created a psychedelic funhouse dungeon entitled Into the Wizard's Hookah which is available for download

I took a lot of inspiration from the song "Mycelia" by Glitter Wizard.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Mini Adventure: The Face of the Temptress

I have written a short OSR adventure free for download entitled The Face of the Temptress. You can get it here.

Including one new monster, one new spell, and one new magic item, The Face of the Temptress explores the ideas of curses, possession, manipulation, and temptation in a new way. It is designed to occur as a series of short events and encounters around other adventures, creating a character-centred sub-plot in your campaign.

Below is the introduction and Overview for the adventure:

Friday, July 10, 2020

Game Review: Pacts and Blades

Game Review: Pacts and Blades

: Lucas Rolim
Publisher: Self-published
Engine: Custom 2d6 roll-over

Pacts and Blades: Moorcockian Fantasy is a simple, straightforward game system created by Lucas Rolim to offer fast, cinematic combat and magic systems.

Pacts & Blades makes no bones about what it is: it overtly states that it leaves skills, initiative, economics, tactical movement, etc. to the GM to handle. It is only interested in handling action. The resolution mechanic is robust enough to use for most dangerous situations, especially with a few hacks, but it offers little guidance.

I tested Pacts & Blades as a solo play system using an automatically generated dungeon through Donjon. I found that it moved pretty quickly, and was up to handling a dungeon crawl adventure with minimal conversion work or improvisation.

In play, the GM sets a difficulty rating between 1 (almost a guaranteed success) and 5 (impossible). A resolutuon table sets a range of numbers for failure, qualified success, and total success. There are eleven collumns on the table: one for each difficulty, and a number of intermediate collumns in between. Character training and narrative advantages can shift your roll to easier collumns on the table, giving a higher chance of success. On a roll of Total Success, if the character has specialized advancements for the roll, they roll on an additional "feat" table for special effects and advantages, like higher damage, extra attacks, or an extra use of a spell.

I would suggest that Pacts & Blades works best as a hack to plug into other OSR games. It can easily take over combat and magic while the GM handles movement, travel, encounter design, etc. using a Dungeons and Dragons retroclone. It might be best thought as an alternative rules system, rather than a standalone role-playing game.

If we treat it as a set of alternate game systems, the question becomes does Pacts & Blades offer something new and interesting to play?

Monday, July 6, 2020

One Page Dungeon! Gastropodia: A Morel Dilemma

I made a one page dungeon for the the 2020 One Page Dungeon Contest.

I call it Gastropodia: A Morel Dilemma. It is about tiny mushroom people who are not evil, but they are real jerks when it comes to treating other cultures' dead respectfully. They ride around in a mostly-dead giant snail, and don't make themselves too much of a nuisance... until they get stuck.

Here it is in .BMP

Or you can get in in glorious 150dpi .PDF format here.

The setting of Gastropodia is one I have a ton of ideas for. I have notes on at least 8 adventures based around this snail dungeon and its environs. Most centering around the idea of adventurers being shrunk to 1" tall. I have no idea how many people would be interested in such a thing, but if I hear enough interest, I might stat out this adventure for OSR gaming, or write and compend multiple one page dungeons together around it.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Developer Interviews: Venger Satanis

Wicked Mentations of the Crimson Ink-Stained Warlock

(An Interview with Venger Satanis)

This is the first in what I hope will be a long series of Q&A jams with notable (or notorious) people in the Indie and OSR game communities about their work, ideas, and inspirations. I intend to write carefully researched, thought-provoking questions with each developer so tgey can give us their most complex, boldest takes on Gaming, Fantasy, and the future of our hobby. Not to mention a chance to plug their creations.

The anwers are unedited, their ideas are their own. Hopefully each one will find a way to blow your mind. This is going to be a wild ride.

Venger Satanis
: Venger As'Nas Satanis is the author of some of the wildest, weirdest, and occasionally most controversial material for the OSR. From his weird horror-fantasy hex crawl Islands of the Purple Putrescence, to his long-running exploitation Sci-Fi inspired Alpha Blue, his work is strange, subversive, and experimental. His latest book, Cha'alt is a gonzo science fantasy story that includes everything from space amazons to Lovecraftian horrors to high-stakes alien game shows. He is also a co-host of the podcast Inappropriate Characters alongside Kasimir Urbanski and Jobe Bittman (and previously, James Desborough), and writes the blog Venger's Old Time Gaming Blog. Thanks for letting me pick your brains, Venger!

VAS: Happy to do it. I think being asked interesting, probing, and possibly awkward questions gets us to open up and think about our process a little more. That's always a good thing, if occasionally uncomfortable. The sleeper must awaken! 

Let's start with the obvious questions: How long have you been playing RPGs? How did you start? When did you decide to take it that big step beyond being a DM to being a developer?

I was gifted the magenta box of Basic D&D way back in 1984 or thereabouts when I was about 9 or 10. Didn't come naturally, but eventually I figured out what was going on and played D&D with friends, their older brothers, cousins, babysitters, etc.

As soon as I started DMing, I injected my own original material into the game. Periodically, I would create my own games based on familiar properties, like G.I. Joe and Transformers. Just me writing a couple pages out with pencil on loose-leaf paper. It wasn't until around 2012 that I discovered the Old School Renaissance and really wanted to write a proper dungeon module that was clear enough for others to run. That first adventure was Liberation of the Demon Slayer. 

Friday, July 3, 2020

Resource Spotlight: Donjon

Example of random dungeon map
generated by the scripts in Donjon
Donjon is a collection of Perl-based CGI scripts and LAMP apps created by the developer "Drow" and were originally hosted on his website Demonweb.

These scripts offer a wide range of random generation tools for TTRPGs. Some of which offer incredible complexity.

Random Dungeon Generator

My favourite of these is the random dungeon generator. There are variations for generic fantasy, AD&D, d20 Fantasy, Microlite 20, Pathfinder, and the 4th and 5th editions of Dungeons & Dragons.

You set a name (although a randomly generated one is provided), set the level and size of the party, and choose a motif, which flavours the environment and types of encounters. You can also change the style of the map: determining the size of the map, number of entrances, general layout, etc.

The end result is a map, along with a by-room description of the rooms and corridors, with traps, mysterious effects, evocative detsils, notes on entrances, etc. Even better, the msp is hyperlinked so that clicking on a room automatically takes you to its description in the text below.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Tools for learning new RPG systems

"Game" by Katrina_5 from Pixabay
While surfing my Twitter feed today I ran across a post by a user called @artplebe. They were experiencing a lot of stress and frustration because they were having trouble learning new role playing systems. They felt that if they can't learn a new system, they likely won't have the confidence or the understanding to create a podcast on RPGs.

They also worried that if they couldn't learn new rules that it might make them a bad DM, and then it may be an indication that they aren't ready to create content for role-playing games.

In another life I was a life coach. I helped men build new careers, get out in the dating scene, and get healthier. It was a great career, and had it not been for a series of tragedies in my life, I would still be doing it today. As it is, I still cannot stand to see another person struggling and feeling so frustrated without wanting to help them out.

So, with that in mind, I want to offer some pointers on learning new role playing game systems that might be helpful to @artplebe, and pretty much anyone else who is struggling to learn a new role playing game.