Tuesday, March 29, 2022

My Monster Book Dilemma

Of Xorn and Gorgons...

I have a monster problem. Namely, I really love monsters. It is a weakness of mine for role-playing games. I know I can make my own in a pinch, but sometimes the flavor text or concept of a monster gives me something cool to work with.

I will ignore almost any other source book of role-playing game puts out, but I simply cannot resist a good selection of monsters. Even when I gave way most of my D&D 3E and Pathfinder 1e material, I held on to the bestiaries.

Unfortunately, Pathfinder bestiaries and the 5th edition Monster Manual and Volo's Guide to Monsters don't help me much now that I've moved back to OSR games, I don't really have a good monster book in hardcopy.

Basic Fantasy RPG has a great monster selection. So does Swords & Wizardry. And Low-Fantasy Gaming, with a little conversion. But they are all sections of a larger book. And sometimes flipping through to find what I'm looking for can be a little time consuming. They also both have some issues. Swords & Wizardry does not present a morale rating for monsters, for example. Basic Fantasy RPG has almost (but not quite-, nor consistently+) doubled the XP value of the monsters that are in the book, as Basic Fantasy relies more on combat and less on treasure.

And while I hate to say it, well the rules cyclopedia is the most comprehensive versions of Dungeons & Dragons around, it's selection of monsters is lackluster.. I have always felt that that was one of the greatest weaknesses of the Cyclopedia.

But, I do need something. I keep planning for monsters that I don't have the books for. Last night I planned encounters with Gorgons and Xorn, and discovered to my dismay I had statistics for neither in a format compatible with the game I was playing. I covered by opening up a website where I knew someone had copied the entire AD&D2e Monster Compendium, and thankfully my players didn't wander off that way anyway.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Strange Ways

 I have kept myself very busy this week! Once I finished work on The Queen of Decay, I decided to create another project. Namely, I decided to grab all the classes with I have created over the past few years that added their own twist on the magic system for Dungeons & Dragons and gave them a serious overhaul, and bound them in a single PDF entitled Strange Ways.

 My created classes have been all over the map in terms of how they are presented. They have been done for different systems, written using different conventions, and often created to work only on the context of a given game. 

I decided to change that first. Each class has been rejiggered to work with TSR era systems and retroclones without any serious messing around. They use familiar tables and designs:

In some cases this alone required some heavy editing in some places, but worth it. So long as you are dealing with a system grounded in TSR Dungeons & Dragons this should be pretty easy to adapt.

Friday, March 25, 2022

The Queen of Decay Completed

 Earlier this month, my main man Stephen Smith asked me if I would care to collaborate on something for the OSR Supplement Game Jam put on by Taylor Lane. He wanted to get some material for his campaign setting Wierth published. I am now over 70 sessions into his campaign and love it. I definitely wanted to help.

He mentioned my project The Queen of Decay as a possibility. I had let QoD sit idle for months as my focus has been on Deathtrap Lite, but an opportunity to get some attention on Wierth and a book to market when there was a chance at earning some attention to my modules. So I dove in and saw how much I could fill in before tapping Stephen for help.

As it turned out... I had a lot of ideas in me. During walks, my little guy's naps, and whenever else I could mutton into the phone (plus a couple of late nights), I was able to build the entire adventure in three days 

That includes 52 encounters, 2 Dungeons, 26 overland locations, and 10 detailed hexes. I am pretty amazed at what I managed to put together.

Yesterday I ran a playtest and did some editing based on what I learned, and today I put it up for the OSR Supplement Game Jam.

Get Queen of Decay Here

Monday, March 21, 2022

You Don't Build Your World Alone

One of the things that I feel is important to stress when building your world, is don't build too much of it. The Aldrune and Xen campaign setting documents I have shared are rapidly approaching excessive even if I am running Xen campaigns at the same time.

It is important to remember that World building is not the same as session prep. You aren't doing as much as you might think to prep the next adventure by constructing elaborately detailed worlds.

But more importantly, the more detail you throw into a world, the more your players are going to try and conform to it. And that is a missed opportunity.

If you focus on giving players a clear idea of the vibe you are looking for in the style of play you intend to create, they will take it and run with it in amazing and unexpected directions.

When I started my second Xen campaign, I was surprised at what my players came up with based on what I had told them.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Level 1 Should be Awesome

Choking down the fear and hurt, the young priestess gripped her mace tight and swung at the boy who had been her friend just a few hours before. One of the five would saved her life. She'd felt safe with the Bright blades, it would only be a few days since they saved her life, but they were family. Only now, they were tying up the princess of Dravanna, and she couldn't let them do it. She was ashamed they had tricked her. Now, even though it was agony, she could not let them take Lady Ruvelia.


The young tomb raiders ducked and wove under the whipping nooses of the horrid, spidery monsters clinging to the orrery above them. The machine turned revealing secrets of the universe with every gyration. One false step, and would be all it took to get a noose around their neck, and those secrets of the universe would haul them to the ceiling and snap their necks. They were being paid handsomely to uncover the lost lore of teleportation magic. They weren't about to let these things stand in their way. Little did they know the wizard behind them was already sealing the door. They would make a great human sacrifice...


The two tieflings looked over the imperial camp. Down there, they were wanted criminals, Dimo would be hung in an instant if they were caught. If the soldiers were disciplined Nysha might be lucky enough to join him... The barbarians on the glacier above might treat them even worse, if they didn't have something to offer. They held their breath together as they thought. Dimo heard the groan of the frozen waterfall next to the ancient stairwell. He put his hand against The Rock and felt the potential energy rumble through the stone. "Sister," he grinned, "I have an idea. But we will have to place the charges very carefully...." Within a few minutes the camp was crushed by a god's fist of ice and water.


Sunday, March 13, 2022

Game Jams 101

I wasn't familiar with game jams until I got pretty deep not into OSR games and D.I.Y. Indie games, and it occurs to me that my readers might not be familiar with them, either, so I figured now might be a great time to mention them.

Game jams are very much a part of the culture of the online marketplace itch.io, which started as a place to share indie video games and software, but quickly developed a robust role-playing/ story- game culture.

This led to a lot of imports of Indy video game development conventions being absorbed by ITTRPG and storygame writers on Itch, such as the jam (my first exposure to the idea was during an AGS jam quite a few years ago.)

During a game jam, a call is put out for contributors using forums, Discord channels, or a Twitter hashtag. The group arranges to release a huge amount of content together at the same time which usually can be purchased as a bundle, and where everyone cross promotes everyone else's work.

Jams also provide great opportunities for coaching, accountability, and mentorship in a good group.

In some of these game jams, the contributors use the hashtag to find collaborators, allowing them to cover their weak points: "I'll write a piece for you if you do some art for me" agreements let everyone create a higher quality of content than they might have been able to do on their own.

Often, the jam focuses on a single game, subculture, or group. For example, I have mentioned to then Goon Jam from a couple of years ago where dozens of people got together to create variants on the Highland Paranormal Society's Tunnel Goons. In the summer before last a huge number of South American (mostly Brazilian) game writers got together and ran a event called the RPG Latan Jam. Whose original organizer, Tiogo Rolim tragically passed on from complications related to COVID-19 before it's completion.

The end result of most game jams are a huge number of small, pamphlet or zine sized products that help get a whole (sub-)community exposure.

They can be prone to cliquishness, turn into pyramid schemes, or promote groupthink at their worst, but the majority of game jams I have observed have just been an awesome way to build more of an audience and share the awesome.

Right now Taylor Lane is hosting an OSR Game Supplement Jam and I am giving serious thought to completing The Queen of Decay to contribute.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

On The Spectrum of Hobbies that Use TTRPGs, and Finding Yours

I don't think that there is one single tabletop role-playing game hobby. The more I look at the culture around these games the more I'm convinced that there are actually seven or eight hobbies that all use the same tools. Just as you can use paint to paint miniatures, paint houses, paint landscapes, or paint portraits.

A lot of the toxicity of online role-playing communities comes from the fact that people have very different expectations about the game and therefore what makes a good game, what makes a bad game, and what even, to some degree, makes a toxic or abusive game.

I think this is complicated by the fact that there are a lot of people who have a vested interest in having their hobby have ownership over "role playing games" as a whole. There is some money in this. And an opportunity to promote your ideological agenda, if that gets you off.

I find one of the most ridiculous things about the discourse around TTRPGs is that we treat it as a zero-sum game while squabbling over games that are, 90% of the time, anything but. You think that we would learn to reflect the medium of the game in the culture around it.

It seems reasonable to me that we need to develop some method of communicating which way we want to use our role-playing games, and what we want our group to entail.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Your Campaign Goals Dictate Your World Design Tools

While I was doing my first piece of writing on World Building a couple of weeks ago, it was happening real time in my head.

In my last article, I detailed how looking at the artwork of Yoshitaka Amano inspired me to create a world called Xen. In it's original inception, this was going to be a world designed for games played less than 2 hours at a time that drew on some of the weirder fusions of Science Fiction and Fantasy that appear in the best of Appendix-N lit. 

I wanted the strange sci-fi technology of Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom, the complex and mystical politics of Roger Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber, the psychedelic fantasy qualities of Abraham Merritt's Ship of Ishtar and The Face in the Abyss.  I wanted the strange and highly pervasive magic of Jack Vance's Dying Earth.

And for good measure, I thought it might be fun to add in some of the Gain mysticism and high concepts of peak Final Fantasy.

The more I created this world, the more I fell in love with it.

I had been building Aldrune with the idea that it might be a world I can spend quite a few campaigns in. Generally speaking, I make a new world every campaign or two because I always want to try new things. The only exception was a world called Astraea, which I ran five campaigns in back in the mid-naughties. Intentionally building a world that I feel like I could stay with for a while felt like it would be a great way to help grow my abilities as a Dungeon Master.

And here was Xen. A high-concept weird kluge designed for play in short bursts after the kids have been put in bed and my wife had finished your planning for the next day. I'd made it weird, because that way I could toss whatever oddball sword and planet trope I wanted to into it and it wouldn't feel too out of place.

It was as alien to the idea of the high chivalric fiction I wanted as I developed Aldrune as you could imagine. And it was something I wanted to play suddenly far more.

And so, I decided to develop Xen further and produce a document like Aldrune's. Something that has details about where the classes fit into the campaign world, what races are available, appropriate house rules, and enough lore to work.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

The Power of a Single Image

It is amazing what one piece of Art can accomplish. The image below by Yoshitaka Amano is one of my  favorite pop art creations, although I had not seen it in many years.

It was created as a piece of concept art for Final Fantasy VI in 1995, and depicts the heroine of the game, Terra Brantford riding on a machine called Magitek Armor as she is about to spearhead an invasion of a remote coal-mining town.

"Terra Brantford at Narshe" by Yoshitaka Amano, ©1995 Squaresoft Inc.

I love Yoshitaka's style: it is an incredible fusion of Art Nouveau, Pop, and fantasy with signature flourishes all his own. I have taken pains to import a couple of his art books, which my son and I have wiled away quite a few hours appreciating.