Sunday, May 30, 2021

Review: Saving Cha'alt

Adventure Review: Saving Cha'alt

Cover to "Saving Cha'alt" by Monstark;
©2021 Kort'thalis
: Venger Satanis
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
Marketplace : DrivethruRPG
System : Crimson Dragon Slayer d20
NOTE:  Saving Cha'alt and ChaAfter Dark are now part of the book Cha'alt: Chartreuse Shadows.

Saving Cha'alt is the latest addition to Venger Satanis' Cha'alt setting. It is meant to be an appetizer to keep the audience interested as he works of the third book of the Canon trilogy, Cha'alt: Chartreuse Shadows (w.t.).  While the book offers a little bit of GM advice and a few random tables, it is primarily a collection of seven short adventures.

The book is designed to be played with the Crimson Dragon Slayer d20 system, which can be downloaded at DriveThruRPG, but is also included in a slightly updated format in the backs of Cha'alt and Cha'alt: Fuscia Malaise.

Crimson Dragon Slayer d20 is designed to be a fast, light OSR-style game that is completely compatible with Dungeons & Dragons 5e. In essence, you could bring a group of PCs from D&D5e into a Cha'alt module and have no difficulty playing, as the numbers are completely compatible, and the math for Crimson Dragon Slayer d20 works out to be about the same. And you could toss a Crimson Dragon Slayer d20 party into a 5e adventure and have a pretty compatible challenge.

Venger places Cha'alt solidly in the O5R camp: games and settings designed to play Dungeons & Dragons 5e  in the style of TSR-era D&D.

I have had the privilege of playing Cha'alt with Venger Satanis last month (play report here, I was the one who jacked the starship), and I can say that in actual practice, the engine is incredibly fast and flexible. More than I thought on reading and running home solo simulations.

I suppose that should serve as disclosure: I have a fairly amicable relationship with Venger. But I don't think that will affect the quality of this review, as I have plenty to say, both positive and negative about this particular product.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Cha'alt: Rated G?!

Last summer when I was developing Square Dungeon with my oldest son, he became absolutely insatiable for more adventure. Once I had exhausted the plot of Sproggiwood, the video game he had initially asked me to turn into a role-playing scenario, and completely exhausted a home-brewed sequel with a plot twice the length of the original, and run several randomized dungeons created with DonJon just to keep him going, I found myself, for the first time since I started playing while playing Dungeons & Dragons 36 years ago, running out of ideas.

At the time, however, I was doing the first few reviews for this blog. I had just finished reading The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence, and was really taken with it s crazy fusion of Science fiction and fantasy. Not mention it s concept of certain places being a Nexus for things to wash up once get lost in time space.

So, I decided to steal elements of "Purple" to open up the idea of a transplanter adventure for my son.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Kid GM

Engraving by W. A. Cranston 
My oldest son is an exceptionally creative soul. And a sensitive one. I might describe him as the epitome of the Artistic Temperament t. When something catches his attention, he learns about it voraciously, represents it in his art, and wants to ask questions about it, tell stories about it, and share facts about it with everyone he sees.

Currently, the colossal squid is his major obsession. I seriously doubt there is a relative, classmate, or educator that gets in front of my boy who doesn't know everything there is to know about the colossal squid. Before that it was volcanoes. And before that butterflies. And before that Final Fantasy games. 

One of the ways that he started expressing his interest was to ask me to tell him a "Dungeons & Dragons story" about the topic of the month.

Because I have to walk him to school everyday, which is a 2 km hike there and back (8km walk g a day for me!) , we have lots of time to have these little scenarios so long as we have a rules light game in front of us. To that end, I created a simple diceless system we could play almost anywhere: Square Dungeon. And games using it were, before the second lockdown, a daily practice. 

Square Dungeon is a diceless, rules-light 
Adventure Game
I designed so that I could 
play with my little guy any time. PWYW on DTRPG 

The Kid GMs Square Dungeon 

Around early December an interesting shift occurred. Rather than asking me to tell him a scenario, he instead asked if he could tell me a story in our game. He wanted to see how someone might deal with a volcanic eruption, and so decided to put me in a TTRPG scenario in which I am a person having to deal with one.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Introducing Square Dungeon

When my oldest son was just toddler,  I developed an interest in roguelike video games. I didn't have the time to put in for a sprawling epic A-RPG game like Fallout 4 anymore. I needed something I could take in small doses. When Humble Bundle offered a bundle with nearly a dozen rogue like games for an Android tablet, I jumped on it.. most of them I only played for a few hours, but the one that had real staying power for me is a game called Sproggiwood.

Promotional banner: Sproggiwood; ©2015 Freehold Games 

This game is elegantly simple. Each round you can make one move, be it step one square on their game board like environment, make one attack, or use one special ability. Then every monster moves or takes one action  in response.  Different monsters move and act in different ways. The game has a hit point economy rather like an OSR D&D game: a character can't take too many hits. You have to choose your place and timing very carefully, or you will end up dead. It's a game about stacking advantages and using your abilities strategically to defeat enemies who can kill you in one or two shots.

Warrior from Sproggiwood 
©2015 Freehold Games
As your character survives and counters, they open up new abilities that don't just let you handle weaker enemies more efficiently, but are absolutely necessary to survive the boss monsters of the dungeon. I suspect anyone who enjoys both playing chess and playing old school Dungeons & Dragons based games will find sproggy would appealing.

I have put dozens of hours into this game, and have yet to get tired of it after 3 years of periodic play.

When my son began watching me play it over my shoulder a little over a year ago, he instantly became obsessed with it. I let him try it a few times, but it is a little too difficult for him, despite its cutesy visual design and deceptive simplicity.

Eventually, he started asking me to instead tell him "Sproggiwood stories like my D&D stories." Meaning, in translation, he wanted me to take its setting and something akin to its gameplay and translate them into a role-playing scenario for him so that he could vicariously enjoy the story.

Screenshot of Sproggiwood 

At the time that we were doing this, we were also on the road, and adapting it to a tabletop role playing game that I already had would be tricky for lack of time. And, difficult to do when we were in the car, as would be dice rolling .

So, instead of doing that, I created a new, ultralight, diceless game that I could play with him. I called it "Square Dungeon." 

Square Dungeon is too simple for my usual style of play, but for entertaining my kid when we have no dice to play with? It is perfect. In fact it has become part of a daily ritual for me. When we aren't locked down, I have a 40 minute walk to get my son to school. During that time, if we aren't talking about some important historical event, answering some wonder he has about the wildlife we occasionally see, or I'm not repeating a favorite fable or fairy tale to him, we will play a short TTRPG scenario.

The simplicity of the system has allowed him to quickly create his own TTRPG scenarios that range from deep sea exploration, to search and rescue missions, to classic fantasy.

When I created it, I didn't expect a campaign to come out of it but, we played through the entire plot of Sproggiwood reduced to a series of five room dungeons.

Cover: "Islands of the Purple-
Haunted Putrescence" ;
©2014 Kort'thalis Publishing
And when that was done, he was still hungry for more. And so I wrote a sequel plot. And then, when that wasn't enough, I created a story of interdimensional invasion inspired by Venger Satanis' Islands of the Purple-Haunted Putrescence, which I had just finished reviewing.

By the time he completed that scenario, he was still asking for more, and so I used elements from Cha'alt sanitized for kids gaming. Then finally, as we were heavily mixing fantasy and science fiction anyway, I stole the plot for Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time, and tied it back into both a wizard character I had introduced in some of the sequel adventures, and the time God Raako from the original Sproggiwood plot.

And even did a redux early this spring involving an alien invasion where I based the villains on the fix-it-force from the cartoon Chico Bon-Bon: Monkey with a Toolbelt but they had driven me nuts with by watching 20 times through.

I suspect, all told, I have put something to the tune of 200 hours of play into this system.

I have decided to share it with you, as a part of my series on playing with children. Here it is, finally on paper as a pamphlet game inspired by some of my friends in the Brazilian OSR scene:

Grab it on DrivethruRPG

Cover page, Square Dungeon;
©2021 Brian C. Rideout;
Released under a CC-BY 3.0 License 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Kids and Four Against Darkness

For Christmas last year, my mother-in-law sent me the fantasy solo RPG Four Against Darkness. You can see my review of it here.

Four Against Darkness simulates a four character party exploring a dungeon on a quest to slay one particularly nasty boss monster. On each turn, you randomly generate a dungeon room that gets added to your existing map. We then randomly generate what your characters discover in it, and if it is monsters, you have a chance of negotiating (and losing the initiative if the monster is hostile,) or taking the first strike. A system of discovered clues and friendly NPCs allows additional goals to emerge during play, and possibly add a campaign element to the way the game is played.

At the end of the day, it's not a game with a great deal of depth: You explore the dungeon, you slay the monsters, you loot the room. Sometimes the monsters ask you to kill a different monster. Sometimes you find a weird puzzle, or a clue that will eventually allow your characters to score an artifact. Its a simulation of  5th edition beer and pretzels game. And sometimes, that's all you want.

Not to mention the fact that it is awfully handy for testing the mechanics of other games.

Shortly after I received it as a gift I started playing it on my laptop using Keir's Dungeon Scrawl. A favorite program of mine that I've used for dozens of projects, personal and professional.

At one point, my son climbed up onto the couch next to me while I was playing a round, and instantly figured out that this was some kind of role playing adventure game - he knows a dungeon map when he sees one - and asked if he could play, too.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Playing BD&D with Kids

Cover to "Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules
Set", "Dungeon Master Rulebook"(1985 vers.)
Art by Larry Elmore; ©1985, TSR, Inc. 
. I started with Dungeons & Dragons when I was six and a half years old. The boy who lived next door to me, Gregory, was a year older, and we were fast friends. He had become fascinated with D&D, and his father had bought him the Mentzer Red Box .

We only played one adventure together, but I was immediately hooked. I put it on my wish list, and fair pestered my parents for it for months, before receiving it at last that Christmas. My parents never really bought into the labels that said "for age X" on toys and games. They believed, as I do now, that you should gauge the maturity and development of the individual child

And you should not be afraid to challenge them by handing them something slightly "older" than what toy makers think they can handle. If it frustrates them, you can simply take it away and give it back to them when they're a little older. However, they can often surprise you by rising to the challenge.

As my son has played more of games like Tiny Dungeon 2e, and less of the kiddish games like No Thank You, Evil!, it has become apparent to me that this is a hobby that is going to stay with him for the rest of his life. And I wanted to make sure he had a good grounding in the original games. I wanted him to be able to make up his own mind about how Dungeons & Dragons has evolved and whether he would rather play a modern game or an old school one.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Tiny Dungeon 2e with Kids: When Kid Games Aren't Enough

Tiny Dungeon 2e cover art 
by Michael Leavenworth,
©2018, Gallant Knight Games

 When I started playing role-playing games with my oldest son, I started with No Thank You, Evil! by Monte Cook games. NYTE has hey wonderful and whimsical setting, and very simple mechanics.

While it is certainly possible to tell more sophisticated stories in No Thank You Evil! , the fact of the matter is that the game is a pretty limited scope. It's system of fun points, for example make it very difficult to tell a story that doesn't involve the characters being able to stop and have a snack whenever they want to. It lacks tension. More importantly, it lacks any serious sense of a moral frame: while it is called No Thank You Evil!, there is no struggle of good versus evil built into the game. I would argue that it's so long as you're using the setting for which the game is designed, there cannot be. It just isn't supported by the game's structure. All villains are misunderstood but basically good at worst. 

In my household, I believe in teaching my children about the ideas of Good and Evil and how they look both in Myth, and in real life. Accordingly, I have raised them on Norse mythology, The Chronicles of Narnia the actually good Star Wars movies, old superhero cartoons, and even older children's books from an earlier era where there were always clear good guys and bad guys.

My son noticed pretty early on as we played through the pre-designed No Thank You Evil! scenarios was that the thrilling heroics, and struggles of Good versus Evil simply weren't there. And that disappointed him. He wanted more from his role-playing game than NYTE could offer. 

He had, in effect matured beyond what NYTE is structurally capable of offering

Obviously, the easy solution to this would be to move to a role-playing game more in line with the Mythic. And that is why I quickly turned to Tiny Dungeon 2e.

I have already reviewed Alan Bahr's  Tiny Dungeon . It's a game, I've liked enough to buy twice, and I don't feel like I need to repeat any but the most basic points about that review here. I do, however, want to say why I chose it as his next step... 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Lonnie Goes to Heaven: How it Went

"Yes? " by Errold, CC-ND-SA
So, for those interested, I'm going to go over last night's game, because it was hilarious!

I played this game in an extremely low-tech style l: I told my players to grab their physical dice and stuck with Discord voice. Character sheets were just static images I photoshopped from the original character sheet. 

Thanks to random generation, we ended up with PCs that were well suited to the story, and true to form, they took them in wild directions.the player running Dr. Tom Mangle, the surgeon, played him as the Medic from Team Fortress 2, and constantly offered creative surgical upgrades. The Jazz artist, Dr. Momboozo way played like Doc Holiday from "Tombstone", both done to the hilt.

Once the premise was pitched, as this was a one-shot, both players decided that it was their intention to steal the Indulgence for themselves.

I run a high-trust group. We can play a game where PCs stab each other in the back and still laugh and have good feelings about it. Partially because we all understand that this is a team game, and we need to set a goal. In a campaign, the goal is to triumph together, so PvP is not on.

For a one-shot, the goal is to have a lark.

Monday, May 17, 2021

One Shot: Lonnie Goes to Heaven, Down & Out in Dredgeburg

Cover to Down and Out in Dredgeburg,
by Skullfungus; ©2020 Skullfungus
Tonight I am planning an adventure in Down and Out in Dredgeburg - a one shot done with relatively low prep. I am looking for scruffy Noir-feeling action with heavy influence from "The Goon". I thought I would share my thought process here. Tomorrow I will start the day with a follow-up before doing my article on playing Tiny Dungeon with my son.

In Media Res

The game starts with a running gunfight through a hazy, stinking night in the Dusk Market against the city guard. The PCs are surrounded and need to shoot their way out. Start with one of three red shirts in the cast, Harley, getting hus (horned) head blown off.

The PCs have to pick a clump of guards to rush. Myron, another red shirt suggests going left. Karl argues that going right will get them closer to the Greenblight. Going right will get Karl shot twice. 

After 1d4 rounds of shooting out, a marsh horror joins the fray to sped things up. Myron may insist on using a skull. Once enough guards are wounded, we flash back... 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Game Review: No Thank You, Evil

The Strange Banner Art
By Cathy Wilkins and Michael Startzma
©2016 Monte Cook Games
Game Review: No Thank you, Evil

Author: Shanna Germain
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
Marketplace: Monte Cook Games
Engine: Cypher System

No Thank You, Evil! is a kid-friendly game designed by Shanna Germain to introduce children to Fantasy Role-Playing. It is written  with a pretty young audience in mind, but runs on a simplified version of the Cypher System, which is also the engine driving The Strange and Numenéra, MCG's flagship games.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Genre, Role-playing, and Children

Image by Aruns 232 from Pixabay
I was fortune enough to take a class on the topic of Genre in Art back in 1999. You wouldn't know it from the discourse in culture, but at the time it was a relatively new field of study, and easier to pin down because pop-culture was still produced in a one-to-many, top-down fashion that is much easier to parse.

When you are gaming with kinds one of the great disconnects that is going to occur comes from their ability to understand and engage with the genre of a given game, even more than the medium of TTRPG itself. 

A Quick Background in Genre

Genre as we understand it is a product of the late 19th century. Writers had discovered, as novels were first being mass-produced and consumed that repeated use of certain themes and tropes could build a dedicated and predictable audience. The writer that focused on one type of character and story could more successful Than the generalist.

And the audience was usually much broader than those who were interested in consuming Literature as High Art and expected writers to experiment constantly. 

Art Defining Genre

Specialized magazines dedicated to particular kinds of audiences could get more eyes on stories. "Pulp" started as a term for the cheap magazines that sold specialized stories to working- and middle-class readers.

It is worth noting, however, that the idea of a genre as we understand it is a by-product have this process. Magazines like Weird Tales and Abraham Merritt's Fantasy would not have asked for a "Fantasy" or "Science Fiction" tale. And Robert E. Howard might have written for a magazine of Wild West stories, but he would not have set out to write a "Western"... Only to write a story that would have appealed to the audience of the magazine he was submitting to.

It wasn't until the 1950s that we started to clearly delineate categories of art, literature, and music beyond lit that was "Literature", "Pulp", and "Gothic" or music as being something more specific than "Classical". "Popular" and "Folk".  At first, this mostly served as a tool for marketing and crtitics:

Once everyone knew what "Science Fiction" was you could sell a movie as "Science Fiction" criticize it as compared to other "Science Fiction" and reach a "Science Fiction" audience.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Deathtrap Lite, Preview 1: The Devouring Wilds

"Coffin" by Vera Petruk; ©Vera Petruk,
Licensed through Shutterstock
As my regular readers might know, I have been working non-stop for two weeks now on my own TTRPG, which I am calling Deathtrap Lite. It started out with me trying to help my Low-Fantasy Gaming GM, Stephen Smith, revamp the alternative skill system he is using for our campaign... and I ended up writing something radically different out of it.

I have been trying to cram everything I like in both OSR and Minimalist rules systems into something a little different. It is crunchier than most modern minimalist games. At the same time, where it borrows from older OSR games, it streamlines, simplifies, and unifies everything that really worked about B/X and AD&D.

I would characterize it as light, but with more crunch than some of the indie OSR games I enjoy.

Where I am most proud of it, however, is in the places where I am making sure my own ideas are showing through, like the Wilderness Survival chapter, which has a system for managing overland travel that makes sure that no matter how tough your PCs are, trying to survive in the wilderness is potentially lethal.

I am so proud of this section, that I intend to make an advanced version of it as a sourcebook if this game is popular enough to warrant one.

So, to show you what I have been working on, I am setting down at least parts of eight chapters of my book so that you have enough to make a character, handle non-combat and non-magic tasks, and explore the wilderness using version 0.30 of the Deathtrap Lite engine. (I will confess: I am already making tweaks) You will probably find that it is not at all difficult to make it work with an OSR system. I wanted to make sure that before I shared it with you, I could give you something PLAYABLE.

You are, of course, missing out on Magic, combat, alchemy, madness, addiction, grisly wounds and healing, monsters, traps, and treasures... and three of the four PC classes here.

Grab it for free on DrivethruRPG

(I made it PWYW just in case you want to keep me caffeinated and get the game out faster.)

The Structure of the Role-playing Games

Image by Stux from Pixabay
As I have been building my own system, I find I've been thinking a lot about what goes into a role-playing game. This weekend has been exceptionally good time for helping me organize my thoughts. I was able to enjoy a one-shot game of Cha'alt run by Venger Satanis himself. I also spent Sunday night up late with some friends talking about game design as we are all at various stages of development in our TTRPGs.

And I wanted to point out an idea that I have mentioned in passing before, which is a notion of how a role-playing game is structured.

This is going to be a grounding for talking about kids' games. 

Bare Bones: Task Resolution System 

In essence all a role-playing game needs is a task-resolution engine. A roll, a card draw, or a coin flip (or drawing a Jenga brick, for that matter) to determine whether a character succeeds or fails when the outcome of their action is unclear: something to tell us where to go with the Narrative when we reach divergent paths and neither makes more logical sense.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Summer is Coming! (Gaming with Kids)

Hero Kids Warrior, Boy
by Justin Halliday
©2020 Hero Forge Games

I always work best on this blog when I have a plan in place that I have shared somewhere, so let me tell you about what I have planned for this month. This month and we'll talk about gaming with little kids.

Summer is coming, and most years for me that means road trips. Time spent at hotels trying to entertain my children. This year? It's up in the air. It depends on whether interprovincial travel is permitted at the end of June. It may be that we will be spending a lot of our summer days stuck at home trying to find a way to keep everything our sons have learned of the Year from leaking out of their heads in the heat.

And for my oldest, at least, that means role playing games. My son loves the creativity and Imagination of role playing games not a day goes by where he isn't asking to tell me a story, asking you to run him a story, or drawing a map in his Scribbler. 

At the same time, he is still a little too young to grasp of the more complex rules sets out there. Not that he hasn't tried. He enjoys playing BECMI Dungeons & Dragons quite a bit. His comfort zone his Tiny Dungeon 2e, which is light on rules and heavy on imagination. Like his dad, however, he is always game to learn a new system. And so over the last month we have been testing a number of kid oriented ttrpgs, which I will be reviewing over the course of the month. They are:

  • Tiny Dungeon 2e
  • Hero Kids
  • First Fable
  • Basic Dungeons & Dragons
  • No Thank You, Evil!

And so I will be offering a review of each including a kids-eye view assessment of them.

And I have three articles planned on playing role playing games with kids, plus, if I can do so after completing Deathtrap Lite, I will put down the rules to the super-light TTRPG I created to entertain my son on walks to school.

It is my hope that by the end of the month, if you have kids to entertain this Summer, or are thinking of writing for them, I have provided you with some helpful insight. 

Monday, May 3, 2021

The Accidental Role-playing Game

Tentative inner cover page for
"Deathtrap Lite"; Art by Lady of Hats
Last weekend, I was chatting with Stephen Smith and the rest of the Thursday Night playtest team, and ended up discussing the task resolution system Stephen was using for Thieves in World of Weirth. After awhile, I realized that I had such a complicated idea for tweaks to his system that I needed to write it all down.

After a few hours work I returned to him not just with a tweaked skill system, I had written a whole new game engine, entirely by accident. Looking at the engine, I found myself saying things like:

"If I just use the roll this way, then I have a combat system... "

" If I make this tiny adjustment, I have a magic system..."

"If i use this tool I can keep the game simpler...""

If I turn my head and squint at an OSR stat-block, I can make this whole setup OSR Compatible..."

And I just started writing whenever my kids were keeping themselves entertained. When my little guy is napping, through Saturday Morning cartoons, and in the bathroom. And now I am just a couple of day's work away from putting out a game.