Thursday, October 20, 2022

❄️ Waste Inferno ❄️

The Silver Warrior by Frazetta

Sound - track.

FOR CENTURIES, the frozen island of Efirene, nicknamed "Inferno", has served as the Empire's dumpster. Criminals, dissidents, deserters, or anyone looking for a fresh start took refuge in this Waste. A known secret, three competing archmages carried out foul experiments in the island, obliterating themselves (and making it more dangerous) in the process. Engadin the Enchanter, The Iron Mage, and Ralagazzam the Restless.

TEN YEARS AGO the Empire fractured into a myriad of city-states. Decadency and corruption survived the fall. Inferno, now in an awkward position, still accepts the scum on the other side of the Ocean. A brass collar inscribed with explosive runes placed on every Criminal's neck.

NOW, your sorry ass lands on the docks of Inferno, dizzy and starved after a one-way unforgiving voyage across the Ocean. A tight collar is placed on your neck. Buy your Libero state with the daunting 10'000gp fee, and with it the right to roam free, acquire land, or leave Inferno forever!

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Stranger in a Strange Land

No, this is not a post focusing Heinlein's book by the same title. More popular in its time, this work definitely flies a lot under the radar these days. Touches on a lot of varied themes. A read I greatly enjoyed some years back, and that probably is more notorious for coining and spreading the term "grokking".

This post is about the dichotomy of a lot of roleplaying games that operate under the dynamic of one Referee and a bunch of Players. This is: what does my Character know (about this world, about the adventure) that I, the Player, have no way of knowing? Which can be extrapolated to: how much homework do I, the Player, have to do in order to enjoy this experience?

This task is tackled with different approaches, and varied rates of success in my experience:

1. The Referee prepares a detailed multi-page primer document, which encapsulates the most distinctive, pressing, and (for the game) important points about the campaign world and its assumptions.

2. The group has a shared understanding of media and tropes associated with the upcoming game. Books, graphic novels, TV series, films. And the group grooves from there. D&D becoming its own regurgitated ideas also falls in here.

3. The Kitchen Sink approach. Everything goes, within one extremely broad theme. This is liberating, but removes the sense of wonder very quickly in a game that could be primarily focused in exploration.

4. Players get a significant share of the world-building. Player: "Which God does my Cleric worship?" Referee: "Dunno, you tell me".

My puzzlement comes from "Strangers in a Strange Land" not being a more common happenstance when starting and adventure game. It is ubiquitous all over literature and other media: Peter Pan, Gaiman's Neverwhere, Harry fucking Potter, John Carter of Mars. This vehicle serves as an outlet for exposition for the viewer/reader, so why not use it more prominently in our games?

We can make characters foreigners from distant continents, time travelers that got stuck here, someone from our own reality that lives this adventure in their dreams. The possibilities are countless.

I'm not claiming this is not used, or that I'm proposing anything innovative here. Just that next time character creation comes up, let's just liberate ourselves from the burden of doing too much work ahead of a game. And consider the "Stranger in a Strange Land" from time to time as a viable option.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Striking Collectionism?

 What has actually seen the table

... vs what has (maybe) been read and sits on the shelf, but has never seen actual play.

(excluded above are home-printed materials and adventures that have seen the table)

Whenever the new shiny release or Kickstarter drops, I remind myself of the pictures above. And that as much as I take enjoyment from reading roleplaying materials for inspiration, a solid book, graphic novel or film will likely be much more appropriate. The materials above could last me several decades of gaming as it stands.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

A d6 Resolution System for WhiteBox FMAG

(This is a train-of-thought posting, where no proper research was conducted. Surely a myriad of illuminaries have arrived at the same conclusions before. Please point sources my way, thank you!)

In recent games I have been fortunate enough to introduce several new players to the hobby of roleplaying games. Frankly, they are my favorite group to fish for. As much as I like the expertise of a commited and focused group of players tackling a demanding adventure, the delightful ingenuity from someone new to the medium is charming. They bring their own Appendix N of related media, minus past experience RPG baggage.

All of this to say that when playing Old School games with these neophyte players (B/X via OSE as of late), I see a lot of confusion about what rolls to make. And if they need to roll high or low!

Many systems have tried simplifying and streamlining things since. From new OSR inspired games that use roll-under ability score for all, to many other variants. Knave (everything's a save!), Black Hack (only players roll!), Macchiato Monsters (all is a risk die!)

Maryse Heilig
But despite delving into Knave and B/X or OSE, I find myself drawn to White Box FMAG. It has simplicity. It is well presented and laid out, with consistent artwork. It is readily available, and dirt cheap to get a printed copy! And more importantly, it is a constant invitation to lay out your preferences via rulings and house rules, stated numerous times throughout the text.

This post from 2009 (!) suggests using the Swords & Wizardry unified single Saving Throw (ST) for general task resolution.

BUT, I much prefer keeping things seprarate. The d20 to avoid and inflict danger (ST and combat). And a d6 for general task resolution. Since bonuses/maluses in WhiteBox are just up to plus/minus 1, let's use a simple d6. Target number is 5+.πŸ¦„

Having a relevant Background can give you a +1 to the task. And players can pour gold and weeks/months of downtime to gain new ones!
πŸ¦„πŸ¦„ So combined with a positive ability score maximally a player can stack a +2 to a roll.

Now some important caveats: keep rolling scarce, and avoid it in most cases in lieu of common sense. "Yes, you were a Butcher (background) and brought the Basilisk's carcass to the keep, so you are able to extract its eyes." OR "No, you cannot read or understand the runes in this archway since you don't know that area".

The outcome of this roll is not a binary YES/NO. Instead, since we are playing a TTRPG and there is a human brain running the fiction, I lay out chances and possible outcomes BEFORE any rolling is done. And this can be a YES/NO or YES/YES WITH CONSEQUENCES or YES/NO WITH CONSEQUENCES or whatever.

To the consequences. Everything is for grabs. Attack the character sheet. Most obvious...
1. Time. Task succeeds, but you are slow. Random encounter checks, timer, timer, timer.
2. Equipment. You force the door open with the crowbar, which ends up bent and useless in the process.
3. Future risk. You jump the chasm, but the bridge is damaged for your return.


πŸ¦„ With this I would reverse the usual Open Doors, Listening at Doors, Find Traps, etc. from the 2-in-6 to this 5+ to have equal odds, but a "roll-higher" instead.

πŸ¦„πŸ¦„ There are plenty of such d100 tables, from WHFRPG, to for instance Black Pudding, Shadow of the Demon Lord, etc. They inform setting and tone. As the effect is mild, there is no real risk of having less useful Backgrounds, as players have to come with interesting applications in each situation that comes up during play.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Ulflandia Play Report 1-3

This being a (long overdue) play report in our Ulflandia campaign, where the players basically tackle a single dungeon. Initially, there were no pretensions of evolving into a campaign, just to cleanse the palate after playing Willowby Hall. Things then snowballed, and we are now in the double-digit realm of sessions.

The avid reader will notice that this is Goblin Gully, an OSR classic. Used this Toadstool Gully variant instead of the original by Dyson Logos. Of course it ended up being easy to shoe-horn into Ulflandia, since the author of Toadstool was planning to use it in Necrotic Gnome's Dolmenwood anyways, and there are a lot of synergies between Ulflandia and Dolmenwood.

Goblin Gully is placed in hex #4626, in the Coblyns region.

Total play time for the 3 sessions: ~7.5 hours

The Cast

Higgley Halfling 1 (Copernico): cannibalistic gourmand; probably killed a wizard? (wears a wizard's hat and has wizard liver patΓ©); collects ears.
Neem Thief 1 (iagson): suave thief; from the biggest distant city you never heard of; favors the crossbow.
Retainers:
- Calico Dwarf 1 (iagson), stout and with a broken broadsword
- Rana (Copernico), Magic-User 1, an alchemist's apprentice.

Highlights

  • Two distracted Goblin sentries on top of the leafless tree, picking their noses and bickering. They spot the group and fire an arrow to Neem which brings him to the ground (0HP), luckily the suave Thief gets to tell the tale (made the save vs. death). This, the first roll of the game! Setting the tone...
  • Once the two sentries are bested by the group, Higgley questions a captive for details, stealing its bag of "magical shrooms". Giving into his meat devouring habits, the Halfling has to taste the goblin's calf! On the party goes, to the Gully
  • Drop halfling down to the bridge with rope. Down there, patroll of goblins approach and spot him! Rana the retainer flings herself down the rope too, doesn't catch the rail, and perishes at the bottom of the pit.
  • A series of confrontrations on the fragile bridge ensue, where the party comes out with the upper hand. Then, they decide to descend to the bottom, check that odd frog statue and loot Rana's body. In the process they discover and negotiate with a talking toad, Xaar, to drive off the goblins in exchange of future riches.
  • Group gets mushrooms from Xaar the talking toad, that allows them to create a (temporary) clone of themselves. Intellect and instincts of a dog, dissolves at nighttime. This proved invaluable to the group, and served as cannon fodder. The group's number is doubled!
  • Next room with glue and rope, and a trapdoor going down (Pretty glaring mistake on my end here. There is no trapdoor in the map, just a descending staircase. Oh well...). Fleeing goblins manage to gain a safe position by climbing up the rope (and pulling it up!). At this point the group goes back and forth, unclear on what the next move will be. Players moan and bicker and grovel.
  • Negotiation with the Goblin Prince. Goblins taken too many losses, and are willing to negotiate. "Want to go downstairs? Sure sure. Great treasure behind big door".

the goblin prince. just a negotiating voice for most of the game!

  • With a temporary and fickle truce in place, and a goblin mook to guide and oversee them, they descend to the goblins' barracks. This was a temple at some point, there's an altar, a big stone door, and carved reliefs and runes on the walls. Here I stole the hammer trap from Tomb of the Serpent Kings wholesale, and the group solved it by moving the altar!
  • All Hell breaks loose! Black Pudding released! The "clones" take the worst of it, the group scadoodles out of here fast like the wind, shortly followed by the Goblin Prince & co. Proceeds to add a Black Pudding to the overland encounter table...

capture of our Roll20 gaming board

Referee Commentary

  • Should have made the bridge combat more realistic, and give the structure a decent chance to break under that duress (with the consequent fall!).
  • My players like to overthink and plan zany endeavours. A lot! Sometimes have to push them to reach a decision.
  • The random mushroom bag obtained from the goblin sentries, with random effects, was an absolute kick. And Higgley would benefit from it for in-game weeks (sessions) to come...
  • As a mea culpa, I realize more and more that a shortcoming of my refereeing is not being impactful enough. "Bad" or risky player decisions should get the impartial outcome they deserve. Instead, I tend to get muddled in unneccesary and rocambolesque saving throws, x-in-6 rolls, etc.
  • I also failed to make the goblins whimsy and trickstery, instead resorting to the dull cannon fodder mooks stereotype.

Monday, May 30, 2022

d10 Draconic Symbioses

In some games, Dragons are powerful setting defining creatures.πŸ•‡ They shape entire regions, soaking with terror every soul within reach. Something as notorious as a kaiju flying lizard that can turn to ash entire cities takes a lot of attention. Followers and remora wanting to live off of that power will sprout, it's just a matter of time.

1. An arctic city is heated by the underground sleeping dragon. In return, the peasantry makes sure slumbering music and aromatic candles keep the fat lizard asleep.

2. Cultists drink this dragon's blood to go berserk. Has to be done through the dragon's eye (only spot without scales). Of course, this dragon loves the flattery of worship.

3. Yaach are hairy bison-like creatures, their pelts reaching the ground mutating its coloration to blend into their environment, making them very hard to spot. Their huge trunks are used to drink and eat (mice, oversized insects). They are mammals, but wish otherwise. Will hatch a dragon's egg for as long as needed, given their protective instincts.

4. The dragon lives in its tower, overseeing and protecting the duchy with a menacing gaze towards external threats. The fierce rule of Law reigns here! Every seventh year Tribute hits, and the dragon takes a maiden as payment for its services.

5. A Red Dragon is flying over a Pickle the size of a galley, impaled on top of the Cathedral's spire. Every so often, the dragon dives into the cucumber and takes a lick, doing so makes it regain d6 HP and go into an elated stupor. (See here)

6. This Black Dragon is at the center of the Ghoul oligarchy. Improvised sage, counselor, confidant. There is mutual respect and understanding, but utter dependency. See, an addict, the Dragon depends on the oligarchs to provide the drug it needs to feign death.

7. Gets teeth pulled to be used as magical daggers, by mousefolk and wererats. Gets trinkets and candy in return, perpetuating this arrangement. This, in turn, evolved into a children's tale.

8. Selling its offspring, the eggs land on a powerful but wealthy wizard. The magician likes them scrambled with salt & cheese. He gives spells and rare books for the dragon's lain eggs in exchange, and as a dragon's hoard is the most important...

9. The Pink Fog and Mist of the Yahaleh Steppes is magical in form and nature. Source of a 1000 gruesome tales, feared by merchants and travelers, it gets avoided if possible. An ancient dragon, however, has taken residence within in the last year. Breathing the fumes for that amount of time makes it (as if by a Geas) incapable of telling the truth. On the flip side, the Pink Fog caused Sapphire Gems to grow on the barren land like tubers, which the wyrm gladly harvests.

10. Actually this dragon is the "little sister" in this relationship. Serving as the furnace of a kingdom of fire giants underground, underneath a mountain complex. Outraged by the working conditions and wage, it is planning an uprising.

πŸ•‡ Some people take offense at only seeing dragons in the mid- to high levels of play. "But it's on the bloody title!". This is a known (perceived) problem since 1974. And of course there are a lot of ways to have them present in the game from level 1 on. I personally have thrown a lot less dragons at my players than I should have, and for that, I repent.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Ulflandia Campaign: B/X House Rules

2. Ulflandia B/X House Rules (this post)
3. Influences, Yoinking and Appendix N
4. Solo Romping
5. Weather, Time, Rumors and Other Minutiae
...
talking about my houserules people end up like this... wonder why
GENERAL & COMBAT
  • Criticals: no effect on a 20 rolled (this was the players' choice). πŸ•‡πŸ•‡
  • AAC: Ascending Armor Class, that's how we roll.
  • Maneuvers: attacker gives effect of the maneuver, then do a normal attack roll. The defender then chooses either to accept the maneuver, or accept the damage (before damage is rolled). From here.
  • Morale: of course we embrace this "optional" rule.
  • At 0HP, Save vs Death. On a fail, character is dead, otherwise they are unconscious and need to be stabilized immediately. (Only for PCs and Retainers).

CHARACTERS & CLASSES

  • New characters get one random impedimenta and one minor magical item at start.
  • No prime requisite bonus/malus to XP
  • No Elf PCs πŸ•‡
  • Halfling: their hiding in the wilderness undergrowth or woods ability of 90% assumes a static/stopped case.

EXPERIENCE

  • Overcoming Monsters does not grant any XP. πŸ•‡πŸ•‡

EQUIPMENT & ENCUMBRANCE

 

πŸ•‡ Rationale: Ulflandia is peppered with different Elf variations and their factions. It would be a disservice to player discovery to just allow them as an option to play. Sword-mage but pointy-eared does not cut it this time around. This can change as the campaign progresses and players grow into Ulflandia.
πŸ•‡πŸ•‡ These were, in fact, the choice of the players.


The above are fairly minimal. This is intended, as we prefer to change the game as the campaign play progresses. It goes without saying that this post will see edits in the future. Fight On!