Friday, May 24, 2024

How We Lost Faction Play, and Why it is Valuable

 When I was a kid, I taught myself to play Dungeons & Dragons from the Red Box. I have a lot of praise for the design of the Mentzer Basic set: It was the first version of Dungeons & Dragons with a really clear how-to play guide, as well as two introductory adventures played solo in a way that was pretty familiar to a Choose Your Own Adventure addict like me. Castle Mistemere was a pretty clever design as well, giving you the first floor of the dungeon, a map of the second, and mostly a question mark for the third, it eased the Dungeon Master into learning how to play their role; perhaps not as well as Keep on the Borderland, had but it gave you a more methodical approach. 

There was one way adventure with Aleena at the beginning of the book was deeply flawed, however. As a tutorial it was great, even as a piece of fiction it was pretty good. You got attached to Aleena, and then her death broke your heart, especially if you were 6 year old boy at the time...

...But, it also set up the idea that you were going to be playing the hero in a high fantasy narrative. You had an evil sorcerer, on the run, and, if you carried on with the PC you started with, were hunting them. You had a friend to avenge. Castle Mistemere reinforced that by suggesting that Bargle will be placed somewhere in the lower levels of the dungeon as a mastermind. 

This is great Dungeons & Dragons; don't get me wrong. But, unlike Keep in the Borderland, you don't start as a mercenary looking for a quick score. Nor do you start as an escaped prisoner, or a castaway. From the beginning, the introductory adventure and castle Mistemere create the kind of plot are that we now associate with the kind of ""trad" play that was soon thereafter refined by Tracy Hickman in Ravenloft and the Dragonlance saga. In other words, it was a heroic journey,  not a sandbox adventure,

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Detectives in Space, Desperate Cowboys, Freezing Barbarians, Mystic Pilgrims... Or all of the Above!

Looking to start a game? I have some campaign ideas that might inspire you.

How I Pitch my Campaigns

When I am ready to start a new campaign, I put together a handful of "pitch documents" that give the players a taste of what they might expect with the game. The style of my pitch documents varies a lot by mood and inclination.

Recently my wife and I concluded a one-to-one Fabula Ultima campaign, and have been, after a couple of false starts and a few weekends where life just got in the way, looking to start something new. I recently prepared a document with four campaign pitches for a one-to-one game based on our current leanings, taste, and media intake.

As this could be a useful tool for assembling a group, I thought I would share a (slightly tidied up) PDF version of the document.

Pitches May 2024

Generally speaking, I give a fictional preview either written like a movie trailer, or a summary of precipitating events written like the back of a book cover.

Then I create a couple of paragraphs explaining the game of choice, the role the PCs might start with, and what kind of overarching experience I hope to provide.

I used to add in some evocative art hunted down on Pinterest. These days, I try generating something custom using an AI. It seems like a good, non-commercial use for the tool.

The Pitches

In this case I have a Scifi Detective Noir that is drawing a lot on Philip K. Dick, as well as an old favourite podcast, Black Jack Justice; a natural fantasy story based on a fusion of Babylon 5: Crusade, The Slayers: Try, Legend of Mana, and Sorcerer Hunters; A cowboy story that is intended to be a massive and dark expansion of my Vulture Rock wargame scenario played in Cowpunchers; and there is an AD&D scenario there inspired by the copious amount of Manowar that has been on my CD player in the last week (I'm also on my 15th play-through of Skyrim).

Feel free to steal and use these, and I am happy to answer questions, if you want more information about how I intended to use them.

But these particular campaign pitches just didn't sing. They weren't quite what we were looking for.

Trying Again

I sat for awhile trying to think of what I might try differently, and started taking the most appealing elements of each into a totally different beast.

I am currently enjoying the novel Hyperion by Dan Simmons as well. If you're not familiar, it is a dark and surreal (and much more serious) science fiction take on The Canterbury Tales which involves a group of pilgrims being sent to their deaths on an alien world, telling about their experiences on a previous voyage there. Hyperion is a pretty influential book in science fiction media, but is not itself very well known. If you have played Borderlands, Bio-Shock, Mass Effect, or Amnesia games, you have probably heard a lot of references to it.

I decided to blend my four campaigns together: a dark western story, but with a mystery focus, set in my own science fiction world, to which I would add in some heavy metal notes. And while I was at it, I decided to toss in some elements of Mass Effect and Borderlands (a fantastic Sci-Fi Western setting)

 What I ended up with is a frontier space colony world full of ancient hyper-tech ruins that can create miracles, where runaways, psychics, criminals, and cultists are rampant. I called it Adaro

I've written a lot about realizing a science fiction setting in the past. One thing that I find to be axiomatic is that if you are not using an established setting, you need to work a lot harder to tell your players about it. When I write science fiction pitches, I add a lot more detail to it before I pitch it.

Adaro is written as a series of three monologues from very different perspectives, and two dossiers written for a government agent, plus a couple of definitions, and I feel it does a great job of doing heavy lifting.

Steal This Planet!

Tragically, it just didn't sell to my wife as a home game setting. However, i feel like Adaro might be just the thing someone else is looking for, so I am going to toss the pitch document up here, and see if any of my readers want to steal it and make it their own.

Download it as a PDF here:

Adaro: A Mythic Space Western

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Game Review: Death in Space

: Christian Plogfors, Carl Nibeaus
Publisher: Stockholm Kartel, Fria Lagan
Engine: Mörk-Borg Compatible (OSR)
Marketplace: Fria Lagan, Amazon, DTRPG

Death in Space is a sci-fi horror game set in a distant future where the Universe is beginning the process of heat death, and humankind, after aeons of expansion across Space, are now in steep decline.

The game's setting, which is heavily baked into the structure, is the Tenebris System, a star system that had been at the heart of humanity's final war; many powerful mega corporations and space empires fought for centuries over gems found on moon in Tenebris which were so flawless and possessed such fantastic properties that they would revolutionize the manufacturing of spacecraft, computers, and hyperspace gates 

By the time the war was over, humanity was so beggared and in such steep decline that it didn't matter anymore: no one had the means left to use the gems.

Now humanity is clinging on to an existence where they make nothing new: everything has been repurposed and recycled over and over again. An alien force, the void, is creeping in, infecting, tainting, and mutating everything it touches, and that can be heard in strange whispers on radio waves across the Universe.

 Humans live in poverty in the wreckage of their once great empires. In Tenebris, most of the population lives in The Iron Ring: a hoop of fused hulks of space stations and starships in orbit around the moon where the gems were once discovered.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Swords Against Madness

 Swords Against Madness
, my new gonzo OSR solo TTRPG podcast launched today, and I have to start by saying that I have never felt a more warm welcome for anything I have ever done. Abel from The Iron Realm, Simon from Legend of the Bones, John from Tale of the Manticore, and T15 from Legends from the Fireside all dropped by and said hello, and asked me how they can help and promote me. I am blown away by how awesome a crowd this is already.

Swords Against Madness is played using Swords & Wizardry Complete and a bevy of tools from tables stolen from ICRPG to the Pendulum World-Building Assistant, to the Dungeon Dozen. I am turning the gonzo weirdness is going to be turned up to the max.

If you are interested in Swords Against Madness, you can learn more here! Or listen to it through YouTube here: