Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Alternate Magic Systems

Image by Kentos78 from Pixabay

In my campaigns, Magic is usually pretty rare; while I like running the odd high magic setting, I generally default to one where magicians are either initiated members of secret societies of wealthy elites or they are isolated mystics that hand their secrets from Master to Apprentice or in small cults. They may be familiar with one another, but usually only by reputation or correspondence.

In such campaigns, spell craft is an exceptional talent. Magicians make up less than 1% of the population, and 70% of those are hedge magicians, alchemists, and cultists who might only cause magical effects through the creation of objects, brewing of potions, or lengthy rituals. Only a gifted few can cast spells, and they are unique and strange. 

To keep magic feeling magical, I like having a few alternative systems on hand to allow a PC or important NPC to have strange surprises. In a world where no two Magic-Users are guaranteed to use the same list of spells - or even spells at all, no one really knows what to expect from a magician.

Right now, I keep a few options to use with my fantasy games. 

The first is the Pact Magic system that I lifted from Pacts & Blades and twisted to be a little more compatible with vanilla B/X-based systems.

I also have jacked an Alchemy system from Pathfinder 1e and toned it way down for B/X-derived systems to serve as an alternative healer to the Cleric. 

More recently I have borrowed an ultra-free-form Sorcery system from The Dozen Dooms and adapted it for Low Fantasy Gaming

(You can see that in PDF here.) 

Yesterday, I read a fantastic article from Ian Slater at Dweller of the Forbidden City on a specialized class he designed called the Gyre. Like both the Pact Magic system above and the Sorcery system it does not use spells, and is fairly free-form, but each Gyre is bound to one conceptual magical focus. Read it Here

This last one is perfect for creating a broad range of hedge-magicians, sorcerous priests, and psychics, each unpredictable and different. And none of them are bound by the typical Vancian structure. 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Book Review(s): Hot Springs Island

Book Review(s): Hot Springs Island

The Dark of Hot Springs Island 
Cover by Gabriel Hernandez
©2017 Swordfish Islands
: Jacon Hurst, Evan Peterson, & Donnie Garcia
Marketplace: Swordfish Islands
Engine: System Agnostic

Hot springs island is a set of two books from Swordfish Islands and is written by a team that includes Jacob Hurst, Evan Peterson and Donnie Garcia. The first book, A Field Guide to Hot springs Island is a purely fiction book detailing the eponymous Hot Springs Island, one of a handful of islands in a chain called the Swordfish Islands. The second, The Dark of Hot springs Island, is a hex crawl module containing seventy-five locations, and twenty-six mapped dventure sites to be discovered. It also details seven factions with a network of alliances, rivalries, outright hostilities, and conflicting interests.

Some of the locations and factions in this book have been republished in smaller modules: The Lapis Observatory and Toxic Elvish Smut.

The total content in the book would easily make up an entire campaign, although, given the lethality of the setting and the power level of many of the enemies, it is probably a scenario that you would want to hold off on until your characters were mid-level (assuming a D&D-Based System.) 

The Tomb of Black Sand
Cover by Gabriel Hernandez 
©2019 Swordfish Islands 
One of the simplest hooks offered by the campaign setting to bring the player characters to  Hot Springs Island is that they work for the Martell Company, an Enlightenment era-style trading company that operates off of a nearby island, and is very interested in exploring and pillaging the ruins on Hot Springs. There is a another adventure for Dungeons & Dragons 5e published by Swordfish Islands that also involves working for the Martell Company entitled the Tomb of Black Sand, which could serve as an excellent lead-in to help build up some of their abilities to be ready for Hot Springs Island.

The setting of the module is in a ruined jungle island covered in volcanic fissures, geysers, and, of course, hot springs. It is scattered with the ruins of a lost elvish civilization that has mastered a level of magic and attained wealth unknown anywhere else in the campaign world. The location is so lavish in gold and jewels, that they become effectively meaningless to the player characters after a time, unless of course, they live return to the mainland alive. In fact, the theme of the entire setting, if it were expressed in two words, they would be excess and decadence.

Everything about the setting is lavish, strange, and mysterious. While there are a few familiar Dungeons & Dragons style monsters, it has a bestiary of unique creatures to the island. And where it does use ogres, salamanders, imps, and dire animals, it significantly rethinks them and their role in the campaign setting. Nothing can be taken for granted, and players running on the expectations they might have from a Forgotten Realm or Greyhawk-styke setting will find themselves making deadly mistakes.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Cover: Winds of Fire (WIP)

 I wanted to share a an art commission I have been working on for a friend here:

This is created with Adobe Photoshop Elements 14 using Public Domain Images downloaded from a mix of Pixabay and Koliektsiya.ru (as archived on Archive.org)

Art ©2020, Brian Rideout.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Fostering Creativity

 One of the things I most want to do in any given role playing game is to be able to appreciate other people's creativity. Maybe it's my childhood spent around talented artists and craftspeople, or my hedonistic life philosophy, but nothing impresses me and fills me with joy so much as seeing someone else come up with a beautiful way to bring more themselves into the world... or creative way to solve a problem.

"The Pinnacle of Virtue" by Scrap
Princess from the Planescrap
Primer ©2020 byScrap Princess. 
This is the reason why I have come to love the OSR community so much. Creativity is King. It doesn't matter whether you have the slick production values of some of the a-rated products, or if your style is technically perfect. If you have a new and clever idea, people want to hear from you. Artwork like the incredible creativity of Scrap Princess might not be as technically sophisticated as Wayne Reynolds, but it has such vibrancy that I would take it anytime.

And, that is also why I love the older style of role-playing games. With fewer rules and a faster flow, the GM can offer the players more information about their environment and their equipment, and then let them come up with their own solutions to problems. That is what D&D and most OSR games are specifically designed to do just that. Combat is a fail state. Player characters die so easily in Basic- & Advanced Dungeons and Dragons that if you pick a fight without having some kind of advantage and intelligence, you are playing your characters like they have a death wish. Creative problem solving trumps mastery of the rules in any game with a GM who has a strong sense of fairness, an open system, and faith in the Rule of Cool.

This has been at the heart of most of my module designs. I don't give easy and immediate solutions, instead I give a lot of possibility. Although, l sure that there are at least a couple of non-violent ways to solve the problem. When you present a problem with no obvious solution but lots of options, players really shine.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Book Review: The Dozen Dooms

The Dozen Dooms cover: "Swamp
Dragon"by Bob Greyvenstein. C 2020
Bob Greyvenstein, Grim Publishing
Book Review: The Dozen Dooms 

Author: Baldrage 
Publisher: self-published
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG
Engine: OSR Compatible (B/X) 

First off, I want to say two things: Curse you, Baldradge, for beating me to such an awesome book idea! And curse you, Professor Dungeon Master, for being so damn good! 

The Dozens Dooms is a book rule hacks and modifications to apply to B/X Dungeons & Dragons or its clones to create a faster, more flexible, and in some cases, more granular TTRPG experience.

While it is not a retroclone unto itself, it is designed so that if you applied all of the rules in The Dozen Dooms at once to something like OSE or Labyrinth Lord, you'd have a unique and cohesive play experience that would definitely it's own role playing game. 

However, all but one section of The Dozen Dooms is presented modularly and always in such a way that it can be applied to an OSR game without relying on any of the other rules in the book. Where he rules do work well together, The Dozen Dooms has notes on how to use them in tandem.

The Dozen Dooms as a set of rules most of their inspiration from Dan "Professor Dungeon Master" DeFazio and his channel Dungeoncraft, which is one of my favourite YouTube channels. Is dedicated to a mix of designing minis and terrain, and modifying Dungeons & Dragons, both 5th edition and earlier editions to play much more smoothly, and have a more gothic, grimdark feel.

I will not be able to go into every alternate rule or hack here. there's simply too much in this book to give that specific a review. Instead, I will pick out the standouts, and make some honourable mentions aside.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

A Tale of Two Stories

This one is for Aaron the Pedantic. It has been bouncing around in my head since watching this livestream awhile back:

Dungeons & Dragons aspires to be a Virtual Reality experience. Rather than use keyboards and monitors and goggles, it does so using narration and the human imagination, which are more convenient hardware and software to work with. I do not believe that our technology is yet even remotely close enough to provide the same level of VR immersion that D&D can to a vivid daydreamer.

Because of the way our brains engage with narrative, we treat the DM's narration as "truth," at least temporarily; so long as it maintains a certain level of verisimilitude. And, that suspension of disbelief serves to help us let the VR experience unfold. in D&D, Narrative doesn't exist to tell a story per se, it exists to help you see what happens; it delivers the experience. The dice and crunchy mechanics dictate the shape of the Narrative to some degree, both to ensure that the Narrative remains interesting and does not hit dead ends. And they serve to make sure that the narrator, the Dungeon Master, remains an impartial observer and interpreter of the rules, rather than a biased one.

There is a lot of muddled discussion over whether Dungeons & Dragons "tells a story" at all. That confusion comes from the fact that the word "story" has two different connotatively similar denotative meanings. On the one hand anytime we narrate events, we can be said to be telling a "story." On the other we have a structured art of creating a satisfying narrative with a beginning middle and end, deeper moral meaning, symbolism, and a message which we call a "story".

Telling someone about the funny thing that happened while you were waiting in line at Starbucks is not the same as performing Macbeth. They are both called "stories" even though they are radically different things. This is a major source of the confusion.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Campaign Fronts + Depletion Dice = Devastation Dice

Last night, while working on campaign notes I came up with a brainstorm, and I wanted to share it here. It is a way to create a sense that your world is a living thing, with its own complications going on in the background.

Next to the 20  Quick Questions About your Campaign Setting entry on Jeffs Gameblog, one of my favourite tools for planning D&D campaigns is the fronts Dungeon World. I'd always used something similar, but it was really helpful to find a formalized way of making use of that planning mechanism.

Monday, March 8, 2021

What I am Working on Right Now

This month I'm trying to do lighter weight work for my blog so I can focus more on writing Adventure modules and other content. Since the second lockdown, life got really busy at home and I haven't been able to put out a new module since The Bloody Engines of the Dinosaur Men back in October. 

So in the name of making myself more accountable, I wanted to tell you all what I was working on at the moment, so people can ask me how it's going or give me feedback on my ideas. The rest of the month will be dedicated to discussing the learning curve on turning your ideas into modules, and why you might choose to do it.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Sometimes, You Need a Plot

"Mary Pickford" Image by Eric Perlin from Pixabay 
I have had a frustrating couple of months of TTRPG play. I want to tell you about what I have been running into, and how I fixed it, in case you might be colliding with the same issues. Namely, of multiple campaigns fizzling ou it a row. 

I am currently involved in five games:

  • My playtest game with a cousin and some old Highschool friends, which is a blend of B/X Dungeons & Dragons, Index Card RPG Core 2e, and the odd break for Dungeons Crawl Classics RPG.
  • Stephen Smith's World of Weirth game, which is a heavily house-ruled game of Low Fantasy Gaming that is rapidly becoming its own game.
  • A game of B/X D&D taking my wife and oldest son through several classic adventures (the Mentzer tutorials, The Ruins beneath the Tower of Zenopus, Castle Mistamere, Keep on the Borderlands).
  • Sporadic tests of my ultra-light kid-oriented TTRPG Square Dungeon. Usually while walking my son home from school. 
  • A home campaign played with my wife and a rotating cast of friends and family. Usually ICRPG, DCC, or Low Fantasy Gaming. Often with strong accents of Blades in the Dark

All told, I play about 12-15 hours a week.

A Case of the Fizzles

With my playtest group, some of my frustration arises from daily life, flus, sick kids, wildfires, work emergencies, etc. California's power grid has been a particular menace to my group. Fair enough. 

Gaming with a five-year-old is its own challenge.

The big issue, however, has been a that my home and playtest games have suffered issues with player engagement. I have had several fizzles... At home I ran several campaigns that started well and ran 4-6 sessions, then, once the initial adventure and its aftershocks were over and the game opened up to a sandbox with a few rumors of looming threats and dangers, my players' excitement would wane.

I faced the same issue with my Test Group to a lesser extent. Once they reached Baddenach and had some down time, the intense, high-energy engagement they had been giving me waned. It took me a couple of weeks to get the game rolling again.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Rules Cyclopedia Update 1

I have updated the Deathtrap Games Rules Cyclopedia with some adjustments for ease of reading, and nine new rules, making a dozen additions since last week:

These rules are taken from my favorite gritty, dirty, and naughty resources out there to focus on survival, breaking gear, and showing off your character's specialties.

Happy Hacking! 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

I Have a Guest Post on Grumpy Wizard

In case you missed it, I have a guest post up on Grumpy Wizard.  It bears the provocative title "There is no Dungeons & Dragons" and it is about a critical shift in mindset worth trying on.

I have also had a couple of my articles featured on the truly awesome OSR roundup podcast Thought Eater. Listen here. 

The first was in Episode 185, an episode that made me run out and buy Mothership.

Then Episode 187, where Froth kindly drew some attention to my Rules Cyclopedia project. 

Monday, March 1, 2021

Guest Post: Just Play

This guest post is graciously provided by Travis Miller over at Grumpy Wizard. A favourite spot of mine on the TTRPG / OSR blogosphere.

Just Play 

“Are we going to stand around admiring the problem or are we going to fix it?” - My wife on a video conference with her colleagues

Gamers, as a tribe, are thinkers and readers. We are readers of the humanities; literature, philosophy and history in particular. Many gamers are academics and have injected the tools of their trade into the hobby. The academy has powerful tools of inquiry. Great insights into the world have been made by trained academics. Gamers have adopted those tools in our own conversations about games. Talking/writing about games has become its own hobby. I’m certainly a game theory hobbyist if I’m honest with myself. This hobby of game theorizing and modelling doesn’t necessarily lead to making better games. 

Academics, particularly in the humanities, have a bad habit of being so far up their own asses that they A) Don’t realize their tools are domain specific and B) Humans are too complex for theories and models to tell the whole story C) They don’t actually test what they’ve learned. That’s for other people.