Thursday, October 29, 2020

Solo Game: Pacts and Blades II: The Jester's Return Pt.3

The Bandersnatch

I am going to roll the rest of the details for the Bandersnatch now, and test to see if the details they have learned are true:

Body Structure: Organic (⚀ - false), it is actually 1d12: 7: Alien

Size: Large (⚅ - true)

Basic Type: 1d6 - ⚀ Animal

Pact or Blades: Claws and Nature (⚁ - false), it is actually d44: 33 roll three times: 43: a Pact with a fear entity, 11: A Pact with an elemental entity, and 41: Blade: thorny tail

Distinctive Features: Bifurcated Tongue with two heads - one has sentience (⚄ - true)

Motivations: d8: 7: it needs to lay eggs in your dead body

Special Skills: Can bend Time (⚃ - true)

Ye gads, this thing is a horror!

 The Thing

(Rolling BD&D-style Surprise: Bandersnatch , Adventurers ⚃; Monster Reaction⚄⚄ = 10: Neutral; Initiative: Bandernatch 5, Mirdon 6, Shanix 6, Lorenz 6, Walken 9)

Shanix stood on an ancient stone balcony overlooking the lava flows below. All around her was a carpet of luminous blue moss and brightly glowing white flowers. Their perfume overwhelmed the stench of brimstone they'd been breathing for hours. Glowing orange fire bees leaving heat trails behind them moved from bloom to bloom, studiously ignoring the human intruder.

For a moment, her permanently chiseled-on smirk fell into open-mouth wonder. She walked slowly, like a child in a yuletide snowfall, to the edge of the balcony and a broken rail. Below, across a broken stone bridge, was a dome of precious metals surrounded by glowing fungus. There, the orange lights of the fire bees shimmered brightly. Strains of alien music came up from below barely audible under the roar and hiss of geysers.

She shook herself from her trance and forced her face back into a scowl. Walking back to the foot of the rope she called up: 

"Get the lead out of your asses! I think I can see the hive."

The twisted, hunchbacked dwarf Mirdon was next, surprisingly nimble coming down the rope. Then the featherweight Lorenz; too pretty and delicate to be a farm boy to her mind. They too, went to the edge to look at the hive as Walken came down last.

He was halfway down when her mind began to stutter. Colors became too bright and all at once muted and washed out. One moment Walken was coming down too fast, the next he seemed to be going up the rope. Time echoed forward and backward assaulting her ears with echoes, some of them sounds not yet made, or that would never be made.

She forced her head towards the origin of the pain and sound and distortion, and saw a horrendous parody of life slithering from a nearby archway.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Bloody Engines of the Dinosaur Men

I am flattered by how many people have already read and played the adventure that I put together more-or-less in real time on my blog last week in my 6-part plus Building an Adventure Series (1, 2, Rationale, 3, 4, 5, 6). I am glad that it has already hit the table!

Today it is my pleasure to announce the release of The Bloody Engines of the Dinosaur-Men. This is a fine-tuned, edited, refined, version of the game written in 'Zine format.

The Bloody Engines of the Dinosaur-Men

An OSR-compatible adventure for 3-6 characters

Levelled 3-5. Made with Labyrinth Lord.

A Sinister Dungeon Full of Hazardous Environments and Brutal Traps!

Friday, October 23, 2020

Solo Game: Pacts & Blades II: The Jester's Return pt.2

This is part 2 of my solo play through of Pacts & Blades with the Salamandur Household supplement. In part 1, I decided a highly randomized adventure based on the setting and scenario that I rolled up using Salamandur Household. I will divide the play report into two articles. For a more pleasurable reading experience, I will save commentary for a separate article, and game mechanics stuff will be marked in teal or easy skipping.

And So We Begin...

Images Created in Hero Forge & Photoshop
used in accordance with their EULA

"Are you sure about this, Merry man?" Walken looked outside at the Carmine sky. The first of the brimstone shards were beginning to come, carving bright golden streaks in the sky between the grey flakes of ashen snow and shimmering embers.

A partially armoured hand clapped down on his shoulder. "I thought your people were fire-proof, Wak," Shanix chided.

He contemplated her light brown fingers against his mottled red skin. He hated having nicknames. He didn't much care for Shanix' attitude, nor her smirk. If adventuring work were anything like war, he knew that would change... providing her cockiness didn't get her... or him killed.

"We are. But we aren't immune to falling rocks. The storm's just getting started. They will be the size of fists in an hour."

"Merry!" replied the Jester, chuckling as he hitched up the last of his gear, "But sure? Never about anything! Hardly pays to be sure. I will say I am mad enough for this expedition, and Madness is a far finer thing than Certainty! And madness tells me we should make haste afore the rocks are fists, for I have been told I have a punchable face."

"And so you do," Shanix snarled, pulling away from Walken.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Solo Game: Pacts & Blades II: The Jester's Return pt.1

Mirdon Returns! Back in July I played a couple of solo adventures to take Lucas Rolim's Pacts and Blades: Moorcockian Fantasy for a spin. I put the journal of the second one up on the blog. Lucas liked it enough that it will be included in an upcoming Pacts & Blades supplement. It also let me show off the dungeon generating tools on Donjon.

I said when I released it that I would do another one as a follow-up. And right now I finally have the time to start a solo play. And, like last time, I plan on using it to discuss ideas that are relevant to people planning, designing, and running games.

I am also showcasing Lucas Rolim's new sourcebook Salamandur Household with expansion rules for Pacts & Blades.

The Last Adventure

Mirdon and his friend Doraleous were searching the Vault of Gloomy Chaos for clues to the location of the lost Dwarf fortress of Koganusân. They won a solid victory against bugbear and goblin in the frigid tomb, but then blundered into an ogre's lair. The Ogre pounced on Doraleous and beat him to a gory pulp in seconds. Mirdon fled for his life narrowly escaping his friend's fate.

Since Then...

Mirdon has sworn vengeance on the ogre and hopes to give Doraleous a proper burial. He has used the pittance of treasure he found on the bugbear to recruit a team of young, would-be adventurers to help him purge the Vault. A veteran of two adventures, Mirdon hopes to use his wits to get his revenge. However, first he wants to prove them...

The Cast

Building an Adventure (pt. 6): Making it Memorable, and Campaigns

Lorenz is a character made With Hero Forge
& used in Accordance with their EULA

Over the last 6 articles, I have built an adventure in something close to real time. I wanted while I was doing it to explore the decisions you make and the mental processes, as well as the tools I can make the job of adventure planning easier.

I wanted to finish with a few thoughts about making your adventure memorable and making it part of a living campaign.

If you liked this adventure, an updated, cleaned-up and slightly expanded version of it is now available on DrivethruRPG.

Making an Adventure Memorable

Making an adventure memorable is by far the more important to those two ideas. At the end of the day, you have limited time to enjoy this hobby. If you are a Game Master or a creative involved in preparing materials for a tabletop role-playing game, it pays to make sure that time is spent very well. And unremarkable adventure is a lost opportunity.

This isn't to say that every encounter has to be full in technical complications, tactical considerations, or be weird and wonderful. Sometimes a baseline game of kick in the door, fight the monster, steal it's treasure, repeat is very fun and memorable. A lot of it has to do with delivery and play at the table. However, a well designed set of encounters definitely makes it much easier.

Borrow from the Best

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Building an Adventure (pt. 5): Background, Rumours, and Intel

'Woman & T-Rex' by Darksouls1 from Pixabay

Now that we have the meat and bones of an adventure, it's time to give it a skin and the spark of life, in this case the information and background offered to the PCs. It's how we frame the adventure that gets initial buy-in and makes immersion easy.

You can have an almost perfect adventure written, but if you don't frame it effectively then the player characters are not likely to engage with it. Your beautifully-designed dungeon will sit unexplored by players who would rather go off to be pirates.

You frame has three major parts, the hook, rumours, and hard Intel.


In order to make sure your dungeon has enough appeal to get player characters into it, you need a hook. Something that will get them wanting to explore that location. 

Hooks for Plot Heavy Home Games

If you have a game where characters have complex story arcs or intrigue, writing a hook is mostly about tying the adventure into something the characters already care about. Whether that is a loved one, a rival, the power of a certain faction, or the safety of their Homeland. These are going to have to be highly personal to the campaign.

Example: My latest home campaign involves people transplanted from Earth to a bizarre fantasy world. That the dinosaurs are recognizable form of Earth life, and with hints of modern technology, I could easily hook that character into wanting to investigate a possible portal to her own world.

Hooks for Other Rationales 

When you are writing a module, for, for that matter, writing for a "beer-and-pretzels" game where the players don't particularly care to spend time on heavy role play and plot development, you need to have a handful of hooks ready that will all point to your adventure location as worth going to.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Tinkering with Animated Character Portraits

I haven't been able to share this on Twitter of Discord, so I thought I'd put it here: my animated character portrait of Róinsach having a freak-out using Hero Forge, Photoshop, and Ezgif.

Róin is a level-zero character with delusions of grandeur in the World of Weirth campaign run by Stephen Smith over at Stephen's Hobby Workshop.

Hero Forge just added the ability to colour your minis, making creating portraits with them way faster than when I reviewed them last week. Here are a couple of other portraits I've made of the characters I am playing from that campaign.

Lieres, Level-1 Thief (former Alchemist):
Addict, Lush, Charming idiot

Róinseach, Level-0 Mushroom Farmer; Gung-ho,
Desperate to get off the farm, Stupidly lucky.

Shazoruval, Level-0 Barber/Chiruregeon; Pessimist,
Superstitious, Suprising leadership, Talks to Giants.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Building an Adventure (pt. 4): Plugging it into the System

Photo by Robert Coelho on Unsplash
Okay, now I have a solid outline and plans for an encounter. Now I will need to turn this into something usable.

For the purpose of this article, I will use BD&D, so anyone with Old School Essentials, Labyrinth Lord, or Lamentations of the Flame Princess can use it one-to-one., and people with AD&D-based systems like OSRIC or Astounding Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborrea will be able to do so with minimal work.

Also, If you like this adventure, an updated, cleaned-up and slightly expanded version of it is now available on DrivethruRPG.

Plugging In

One of the most useful things that you can remember about adventure writing is that the best plans should be thought up independent of game engine.  Trying to think in terms of challenge ratings, stat blocks, point rewards, etc. can put boundaries on your creativity .

This is the difference between asking "What ideas can I make work in this system?" and "How can I make my ideas work in the system?"

The latter approach may require hacking or modifying the rules, but you will come  up with a much better, more memorable adventure. Often one with more unique content

"Plugging your ideas in to the system" can be a process that takes time and tinkering to do, but is worth it.

For purposes of this article, I will write the encounter in the format I use for my pamphlet Adventures. I have a more optimized method I'm using for writing larger modules, but this should be sufficient for our needs; not to mention fairly familiar to most people who read older Dungeons & Dragons modules.

Consider everything below this point to be part not in a sidebar to be of a module titled "The Bloody Engines of the Dinosaur Men" (working title) done under the OGL.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Building an Adventure (pt.3): Encounter Design

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

This is part three of my detailed rundown of adventure creation. In these articles, I'm focussing on the decision making processes that lead to the creation of an adventure.

UPDATE: If you like this adventure, an updated, cleaned-up and slightly expanded version of it is now available on DrivethruRPG.

A Note on Party-Specific Design

If you're building an adventure for home, then tailoring the adventure to your particular characters can be very valuable. What I'm doing here is developing an adventure that could be published and shared with everyone.

As I pointed out on my article on Rationale, this in and of itself leads to certain assumptions. First, we have to assume that nothing is going to be used as written. You don't need a lot of complex specifics, highly detailed description, for background material that fits into other campaign worlds. In fact, too much of that will Peter waste of time, energy, and money. The real goal for writing a module is to create a jumping-off point for a Game Master, and assume that they are going to customize the hell out of the adventure. Therefore, focus on making it easily customizable.

If you're only writing for your own group, building challenges that will let the various members of your group shine is helpful. This means taking some time to asses what your PCs are capable of, and what class features the players favour.

For example: my playtest group is particularly good at handling high places. They keep a lot of grappling hooks and equipment that makes them better at climbing and moving vertically. The party thief has a set of magic wings that allow her to take flight. The party wizard is quick to use tenser's floating disk as an elevatorfor safety net. The danger of a fall is less frightening for them, and so if I were building this adventure with just my group in mind, I might find an alternative threat to having them fall into the machines. But I might make a thrilling vertical battle.

Likewise, I am recycling the boiler encounter. They have already tested it for me, and gave me a huge thumbs up for the tense design. I will probably replace the boiler with some kind of hostage situation that allows them to employ stealth deception, and magical tricks, as my group excels in those fields. Whatever I choose, it will probably be something I would like to use in a future adventure.

Encounter Design Tools

When I design encounter, I like to refer back to the Three T's that Hankerin Ferinale published in Index Card RPG Core 2E; I also look for an opportunity to create iconic moments where characters get to play at the fantasy archetypes that they built their characters on.

Finally, like the true grognard that I am, I'm not particularly interested in balancing encounters. I am, however, interested in making sure that everyone has a good time. To that end, I trying to make sure that players handling things intelligently will not face a tpk. For that reason, I like to leave an out or a bypass to any encounter.

My game of choice for my playtesting group is Index Card RPG. It is built on a Dungeons & Dragons core, but tightenrd for faster play. ICRPG characters mathematically work out to the equivalent of a second level Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition character, or characters between 3rd and 5th level in older editions of Dungeons & Dragons. You can simply use OSR monster stat blocks without modification with ICRPG as long as you make that your assumed level of play around 4th.

(Typically, I will build an adventure using OSRIC or Basic Dungeons & Dragons and then play it with ICRPG.)

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Building an Adventure: Side Note on Rationale

"Blacksmith" by Clicker-Free-Vector-images
From Pixabay

When planning an adventure, a GM often has a rationale for making it that will strongly inform their design choices.

For example, a Game Master whose goal to write an adventure to show off how clever he is will create a dungeon full of traps and tactically complex encounters. His design will likely reward rules mastery.

On the other hand, an adversarial Game Master who wants to see players struggle to outlet him, will likely build an adventure with several incredibly tough boss monsters, traps and ambushes that provide little warning, and the odd trick that confuses or humiliates.

The Game Master who is there to tell a story well have huge amounts of world building, lots of lore to discover, and very complex NPCs with a lot of behavioral triggers. They will be likely to try to build balanced encounters.

Personally, I prefer to write an adventure with the guiding objective of the players coming out of the session feeling highly entertained. I want to make sure my dungeons are fun, and believe that fun comes from a mix of challenge and high-risk situations with commensurate reward.

I also believe that fun comes from creativity. I tend to present challenges that are open tl multiple creative solutions, but don't give any obvious ones to the players. If you put a problem in front of a player character and let them think about what assets they have for a moment before you demand action, they will usually come up with something you never would have thought of in the first place 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Building an Adventure (pt. 2): Example of Brainstorming & Outlining

Image by Clicker-Free-Vector-Images

This is part 2 of my series on the thought processes and choices made when designing a role-playing game Adventure. While the example here is for Dungeons & Dragons, or a retroclones thereof, most of what I am sharing is true for any role playing game with a traditional GM and PCs setup.

Throughout this article, I will be planning an adventure, first by covering the steps detailed in the previous article, and then turning that into an outline of encounters to use.

Starting at the End

As I mentioned in the previous article, I wanted to recycle an encounter that I created and tried out on my playtest group, but I wanted to place it in a different dungeon. That encounter involves trying to save 18 prisoners scattered across a complex of five or six rooms while on a tight timer. If they fail, a chambers with flood with steam and boiling water, killing the prisoners.

This means I need a dungeon with a massive boiler or a geyser. Better a boiler to explain why they haven't been killed already. I also need someone who have captured them and drag them off to this steam works dungeon. The dungeon itself should be full of steam-powered machines. It will need a fuel source to keep the boiler going. and I need a reason why this team is being used in the first place.

Because I tend to rate for the OSR crowd, by default, I want to make it something I can generally fit into an anachronism-filled 14th century Europe analog. A sinister Victorian factory could be a lot of fun, but isn't quite a fit for a generic OSR product. I want this adventure to be something that a GM can lift, flavors he wants, and drop into their game without too much hassle.

Thanks to the implied post-apocalyptic setting of the average fantasy game, it's easy enough to make the place ancient rather than something new. After all, the ancients before the unspecified cataclysm of the average dungeons & dragons world for clearly more gifted in magic, why not technology as well?

This should be an adequately weird but Sword and Sorcery compatible setting, and give me some cool ideas for visual design. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Building an Adventure: Endgame, Style, & Structure


Image by DariuszSankowski from Pixabay
I got a lot of good response from articles by discuss about of thought processes of going through DMing tasks like using a one page dungeon. So, I'm going to go over my thought processes for planning a short adventure.

NOTE: After writing  this series, I published an an adventure based on the examples, which is now available on DrivethruRPG.

Starting at the end

My adventures are rarely linear. Although, when I set out to write them I try my best to think of at least one scenario at the end of the adventure where the players have a good reason to cheer, and their characters to smile as they bandage their wound because of their great victory.

This isn't always the end of the adventure, but it should be the climactic encounter. Depending on the type of adventure you decide to run, this could be a singular tentpole monster, or the point when the adventure's objective is in the greatest peril of failure, or it could be a big boss monster at the end of the legion of minions. In a game of social encounters and combat, it is likely when arrival gets laughed out of court or taken away in irons.

For the purposes of this adventure, I want to recycle an encounter that I wrote for my playtest party, as a bridge between my modules (the one I planned out loud on Twitter last month.)

The climactic encounter is one in which the player characters have to rescue captives from several different locations as a gigantic boiler begins flooding the entire dungeon with scalding water and steam. The rooms are several rounds of running apart, and each has its own time baffle. A particularly noble character can attempt to vent some of the steam and slow down the flood, but only by taking increasing amounts of damage every round while they work the boiler

When I ran this encounter last time, my players said that it was the most fun and stressful encounter they played in the entire campaign I wasn't happy with the rest of the dungeon, however.

Knowing that this is what I want, means I know about a lot of moving parts: I know that the mission involves rescuing people. I know that it requires several rooms at different elevations. I also know that steam or machinery themed enemies and traps would be ideal. This gives me plenty to work with.

Deciding on Your Adventure Type

There are quite a few different types of adventure. Each one has particular challenges and it's design, and particular foils to look out for. I'm sure that's an exhaustive list of categories is nearly impossible to achieve. I am going to cover a few here in brief.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Literary Archetypes and Encounter Design

Photo by Djedj from Pixabay

When designing adventures, many GM's make it a point to try and give every character a chance to shine. This is a great practice in theory, and givrs players an opportunity to really play their characters to th hilt. In practice, however, it often boils down to making sure that there's some undead to turn for a cleric, a bunch of mooks for the fighters to demolish, and a trap to disarm.

There is a fundamental flaw in the way that this idea is often executed or described to new DMs, The  reflect the mechanics of a character class, but they don't reflect the character. Do that, you have to establish why they're playing the character that they are. 

Hopefully, that is not in the name of "party balance." Player should never have to feel like they must play a character they don't enjoy to fill a checkbox.

Of course, if you are building your characters as Crom intended, and rolling 3d6 down the line, then, the players are playing the characters that the dice gave them, and hopefully enjoying the experience. At which point, the question becomes what is most enjoyable about the character they have.

A good starting point if you are playing with randomly generated characters, are writing to publish, is to look at the literary archetypes on which characters are built. Each class in D&D is built to enable a player to emulate a range of heroes from the body of literature that inspired the game: Appendix N.

The same is true of every other class-based RPG: they are built to emulate either genres of literature (been I include cinema, comics, video games, and television) or specific works. Each genre has its set of archetypes and stock characters. The classes are a way of distilling the abilities of that archetype down into something gamable.

But the trick here is to remember that the map is not the territory. A class lets a character do the sort of actions that the archetypal character often does in the process of their heroics, but that is not the same what those heroics are.