Saturday, February 26, 2022

What Needs to Be in Your World Building Document?

This is yet another part of my world-building series, which started with What is World-Building? and I am going to reference three worlds that I have shared here.

I have prepared (most of) a campaign reference document for each, all of which are radically different from one another. And they are so different because I'm looking to create different experiences with different groups with different expectations and needs. 

For the purposes of this article, I am going to talk about three stages of campaign development for each:

  • Player Data: after you know what kind of experience you want to offer, the next step is to figure out what you need to tell your players about the world to get them making characters, giving you ideas to work with, and building excitement.
  • DM Data: Once you have your players making characters, asking questions, and possibly "front-loading" campaign material for you, you need to figure out what else you as the GM need to know to run the first couple of adventures.

Ultimately, some of your most important world building has to happen after the second adventure, but that is a topic for later.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Mechanically Faithful Clones of Dungeons and Dragons

In the name of keeping on creating content while Cthulhu is trying to hatch out of my face (COVID sucks), I wanted to follow up last week's piece on some popular D&D Clones that Modify Dungeons & Dragons to a different genre or for a tailored experience with a roundup of clones that more or less accurately reproduce old editions of D&D.

After all, sometimes, you just want to play the original games without modern hacks. Or you want to hack it yourself.

This is likely not a perfect list of faithful retro-clones; only the ones I have personally had a chance to read and make some notes on.

Almost all of these are re-written, reorganized, and in order to avoid copyright infringement, have deliberately altered some numerical values or table structures.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

COVID-Coping Roundup


Mercy (Overwatch) Fanart
Courtesy of PNGEgg

So, COVID-19 has kicked my ass hard, and prevented me from getting much done. I am too muzzy-headed to DM an RPG, let alone write anything useful about it in a timely fashion.

On the nights when I've been supposed to be running games I've been playing Overwatch* and Conan Exiles instead, just to be able to spend time with my friends.

That said, I never stray far from my two favorite hobbies, and I have kept up on media that helps me scratch my D&D itch. I thought I might share my favorites: 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

What Is World Building?

The other day I saw someone on Twitter ask the question "What is World Building?" And, as I was already working on some articles on the topic, it was a question worth stopping and thinking about. 

I was going to enter into this assuming that people had a fairly good idea of what it is and what it's for, but sometimes you can reveal a lot by asking these fundamental questions.

And as I went to slowly talk a little more in the following months about the Free Kriegspiel movement, it's even more important to start with the basics.

So here's how I'm going to describe, to the best of my ability, World Building and what it is for.

World Building is Context for Play

In any role playing game or any war game that is not attempting to simulate a real world historical battle, the first thing the game needs is context. The players need to know why they are engaging with the scenario.

On D&D Clones and their Virtues

Game time in the Deathtrap

Before I get down to my article on world building, I wanted to share quickly some thoughts I had while chatting on Twitter.

YoDanno asked if there were people who were still playing vanilla D&D from the original manuals in the OSR Twitter crowd. Aside from pointing him to a group I know playing not B/X D&D and AD&D RAW, I pointed out that a lot of retro clones were just the old rules verbatim, and he could find the groups he was looking for by searching for them. I also decided to throw in my two cents about some of the cooler retro clones out there and how they differed from the base rules.

Personally, I do play a great deal of BECMI right out of my original Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, although years of use have roughed the book up a bit, and I am loath to just leave it sitting around where my toddler can get at it. Sometimes I mod it with options from The Dozen Dooms.

There are days where vanilla, or a lightly hacked version of vanilla D&D are all that you need. For example, I am still playing a solo game set on Venger Satanis's The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence that, apart from a custom character, class some rules specific to the islands' magical energy, and a simplified experience system, are being played straight out of the 'Cyclopedia.

Unfortunately, my solo play has gotten so complex that I have been unable to put it all down in a written format. I need to do something like a narrative podcast if I want to keep sharing my Crawling the Purple Isles.

So, if I'm still playing out of my Cyclopedia, why am I collecting retroclones? My shelf has copies of Basic Fantasy RPG 3e, Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Swords & Wizardry, Lowlife 2090, and low fantasy gaming. My Google drive includes downloaded copies of The Black Hack, The Mecha Hack, The Wasted Hack, Castles & Crusades, Old School Essentials, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Stars Without Number, Star Adventurer, Machinations of the Space Princess, Dark Dungeons, For Gold and Glory, and Shadowdark.

And that doesn't even go into the Dungeons & Dragons-derived products like Index Card RPG, Dungeon Bright, Mausritter, Into the Odd, Cairn, and Knave that to take up even more gigabytes of my collection.

So, why do I bother having all of them?

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Aldrune Campaign Setting

Hex Map: Cantilin region of the Northlands, Aldrune
Map by Brian C. Rideout, made with Worldographer

(Sorry about the long delay... Both my kids were sick with COVID this week and needed some serious TLC.)

 I wanted to share another, more elaborate Campaign Setting with you here as a prelude to several articles on world-building.

I created Aldrune around Christmas and fleshed it out last month after reading Castle & Crusades, replaying Majesty: the Fantasy Kingdom Sim, and binging on issues of Yum/DM's incredible D12 Monthly magazine all at once.

The lightning bolt of inspiration had me scribbling madly through lazy family holiday gatherings, and spending every free minute of the first weeks of the new year muttering into my phone or hunting for Art.

Aldrune is written as my home campaign world, at least for a few campaigns. There are virtually no mechanics for it yet, although I intend to add some. The document as-is, is 100% "fluff". But there is a rich and complex tone set for it. It has gods, religions, major reasons, history, cosmology, and places for every OSR race and class. It's intended audience are close friends and family that I would invite into home to play.

The setting itself is high fantasy with a focus on Chivalry, Heroism, Honor, and Piety as themes. It is a mishmash of Arthurian legend, Norse Mythology, Tolkien, and Narnia mixed with a hearty dose of AD&D2e aesthetics, Buddhist and Gnostic spirituality, and a splash of Final Fantasy.

Who I wrote it for, and what I wanted for the game made for a very different take on how and why I designed it compared to the Gorzeh Wastelands, Golden Heresy, or my Aerith setting for Deathtrap Lite. I encourage you to have a look, and will happily answer questions or comments.

Adrune Campaign Setting

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

The importance of Encumbrance, And How to Make it Easy in Your Game

I want to talk about one of the most contentious mechanical issues in table-top RPGs: Encumbrance.

I know a few readers are just going to shrug and skip this one. There are plenty of tables that see encumbrance as such a pain in the ass that they  simply ignore it. Hell, when the Dungeons & Dragons Next playtest was running it took them months to notice that they forgot to include an encumbrance mechanic. The developers admitted in the development blog that don't use it themselves.

And for every GM that just throws encumbrance out, there is a few more who ensure that a Howard's Handy Haversack or Bag of Holding shows up in an early treasure hoard, then "forgets" the item's limitations. They usually follow it up with a Murlynd's Spoon, Field Rations Box, Portable Oasis, or Wand of Goodberry. And maybe Decanter of Endless Water or Alchemy Jug for good measure. Or if you are mean like me, an Omelet of the Planes.

But here's the thing: Encumbrance can make your game better.

When your players have to manage resources, it introduces constraints into the game that the players must adapt to. Needing to choose their gear carefully, because they need to carry it all. It creates limits to how long they can spend in the dungeon by limiting the torches an oil that they can carry. Not to mention the rations,

This in turn gives them reason to engage hirelings and animals. This requires them to spend the gold they are bringing out of the dungeon, which makes treasure seem meaningful.

It also makes exploration more interesting, as the PCs have to limit their range, plan for diversions, take into account terrain. They will have a reason to push themselves during a mission, and find ways to make it pay because It represents an investment of time and planning. Developing a company to ensure supply trains might even be in the cards.

When the strategy, logistics, and planning pay off, it can be incredibly satisfying. 

Why We Ignore It

Here's the thing: the way almost every edition of Dungeons & Dragons traditionally handles encumbrance is dull and fiddly. It feels like accounting. I will cover the common methods of tracking from D&D (and other mainstream TTRPGs) and then compare with some if the more innovative tools in the indie and OSR scenes you might want to consider as a replacement. 

Friday, February 4, 2022

The Golden Heresy Sword & Planet Campaign Document

Cover to Warlord of Mars #2
Art by Joe Jusko
2014 Dynamite Entertainment

Late in 2020 I started it a world-building project as part of this blog called The Golden Heresy. Inspired by a mix of Stargate SG-1, the music of Gloryhammer, the movie Wizards, and a cocktail of Jack Vance and Edgar Rice Burroughs, it was a campaign in which at least the starting party would begin as a set of interdimensional saboteurs in the service of a wizard who was trying to murder the gods.

I started out with the concept of a powerful Chaotic magician commanding a navy of interdimensional ships sending saboteurs to a post-apocalyptic world called Rustidium in order to infiltrate a world protected by angels and gods of Law, and then work undercover to sabotage a magical artifact keeping the forces of Chaos from descending upon the world and destroying its gods.

There was a pretty good chance that the characters might get lost or lose their method of inter-dimensional travel before they found the portal on Rustidium, at which point the campaign would have turned into a survival adventure across a radioactive wasteland to find a science outpost of their armada. If they found the portal, then it would become a traditional medieval fantasy with a twist has the player characters are out to destroy the world.

I figured that eventually, if the latter happened, the party would eventually have turnover enough that instead of being agents of Chaos trying to destroy the world, they would become natives to the world trying to repel the invasion they have learned about from the their dead allies.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Game Review: Swords & Wizardry (Complete)

Cover for Swords & Wizardry Complete
Rulebook; Art by Erol Otus;
©2008-2012 Frog God Games
: Matthew J. Finch
Publisher: Frog God Games
Marketplace: Frog God Games, Amazon, Drive thru RPG
Engine: OD&D

Swords & Wizardry might be described as a selective retro clone of the original 1974 Dungeons & Dragons rules. I say selective, because the original 1974 rules are not a cohesive game. Instead, there are toolkit for playing what we now call a role-playing game. As it was the first, the original Dungeons & Dragons called itself a medieval fantasy war game, and was rooted quite deeply in the Frei Kriegspiel movement that was emerging at the time. I plan on discussing FKS and how it has transformed both war gaming and led to the emergence of role-playing games later this month.

At its core, OD&D was a tool kit to enable a style of play rather than a cohesive ruleset. It included multiple combat systems, for example, but assumes that the players have enough wargaming experience that it doesn't include tools such as initiative. Over the course of its various expansions, OD&D offered quite an array of subsystems, that sometimes are contradictory, posed alternatives to earlier published rules, or that seriously changed the context of previous rules.

Swords & Wizardry takes all the various source material prior to 1978 and compiles it into a single cohesive rule system. Where it has significant gaps, such as initiative, it includes its own alternatives based on later editions of Dungeons & Dragons or popular wargames of the time.

What you end up with is an extremely light system that even to an 80s kid who grew up on Mentzer's BD&D, it looks stripped down. This is quite intentional: OD&D, being heavily influenced by nascent FKS games like Braunstein, wasn't interested in being a complete system of rules. It was interested in having enough rules to enable the style of play desired, that is to say pulp Sword & Sorcery mixed with a little Tolkinian fiction, and left the rest to the referees logical in narrative rulings.