8/1/14

WE'RE ALL STARS NOW IN THE ROLE SHOW

There's a whole section of what makes the OSR so important that I haven't seen tackled elsewhere so I'll give it a ranting shoot in here. When I started to play (Holmes D&D), I was but a kid, and a very small one, and for kids, man, the road to D&D was a harsh uncompromising one.

Because the rules, the system and the people all expected that playing D&D was like following a progression curve that would eventually lead you to design D&D. You started a player, then took a big step forward and became a Dungeon Master, then had, yes had, to write your own adventures. Only then were you considered a complete player and accepted as such. Now, writing adventures when you're 8 to 10 years old can prove tricky but yes, I did.


We didn't have the internet back then so people with a little more craft would handwrite or type their adventures, put some picture on the cover and go xerox all the way to "sell" them around for a handful of peanuts. Every club, every city, every place was a bustling underground network of DIY publishers and THAT WAS PART OF THE GAME.

Now that we have the internet, our virtual city has different venues. It has Indie Press Revolution, Drivethrurpg, Lulu. I bet you know those names. But deep down, it's the same story, it's where we share this part of the game where we become designers, this part where we reach the full extent of what D&D is, turning us all into writers and game creators.

To a player, the release of D&D5, with or without OGL, or the decisions of the other system owners (think Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Dungeon Crawl Classics) is probably good news and won't change much of the way he games anyway. But to the designer intending to release his tidbits on the internet, to the complete D&D player, the way the industry goes and especially the level of creative freedom - either legally or in the nuts and bolts of its system - it allows him is far more important. We're all stars now and we might need to struggle to keep intact the design & release side of the OSR for I don't know where the 5th might lead us, nor do I know what decisions the big boys are going to take but I know for sure that we need that space or else, it isn't D&D anymore.

7/29/14

THE SHAHRAZAD EFFECT



'Players must leave game in progress as it is and use the cards left in their libraries as decks with which to play a subgame of Magic.'

Following the OSR Megamix line of thoughts, I have accumulated a lot of stuff that could intertwine and play together wonderfully over the last few years. In addition, I'm writing new stuff that will hopefully blow a few minds at the moment and somewhat, all this is falling into place like a puzzle (I know, that's what paranoid people say as well).

Did you play Call of Cthulhu Dreamlands? I did. If you wanted to, you could run two campaign that interacted with each other at the same time, almost with two different characters melt into one, a campaign in the 1920s real world, another in the Dreamlands themselves. I've always loved this idea but found what Chaosium did at this time unsatisfactory since the connections were thin. It felt like the Dreamlands were almost a derail instead of a feed for your character's waking life and that is not what I was looking for.

Yet, wonderful possibilities now exist if you plan to play campaigns on the long run, possibilities that can open your game into subgames and allow to spin-off wildly while keeping in line as long as the main campaign is concerned. Your characters could find the journal that starts Zzarchiv Kowolski's Thulian Echoes in another, totally unrelated dungeon, and they could fall in a pit located elsewhere in this dungeon and enter Dungeonland, where there might as well be a gate to the Demiplane of Ducks (there, now you know the name of my next release, soonish, I swear) - in which, as most of you know, there could be a magical entrance to Geoffrey's Isle of the Unknown (where you also find the Dungeon of the Unknown).

When we think of a campaign, we usually think of an overarching plot, a vilain (mandatory says WotC) and interconnected adventures. When we think of a campaign, we think railroading (or we think sandbox but that's another story) but what if the campaign was just a central hub from which hundreds of subgames could emerge? What if we played a sandbox of sandboxes? Think about the Talisman boardgame extensions, you could start in a classic medfan forest and end up in Deep Space 9 anytime. So why don't we think of campaigns with a Shahrazade Effect?

I'm writing something else at the moment (you won't get any clues on this one here, except for Jeremy Hart's splendid cover illustration) where you can spin into another adventure in a dream, enter another in a musical symphony, open a gate to yet another, fall into one and travel to distant Swords & Planet sandboxes, all this wrapped into a single location in less than a 100 pages. So I'm designing the central nexus hub and whatever happens within but I intend to use many, many other adventures when I run it, including Castle Amber, the Pleasure Prison of the B'thuvian Demon Whore, the Infinite Tower stripped right from Better Than Any Man (again, yes), A Question of Gravity and many more. I intend to play with a full Shahrazad Effect ON. So it's like: you find a castle in your dreams, in which you fall into a pit, in which you find an odd journal, etc.

7/22/14

THE DOOM-CAVES & THE WEIRD

WARNING, MAJOR DOOM-CAVE SPOILERS AHEAD

Paris was so remote from any shop that participated to the Free RPG Day that I had missed all the fun this year. That's why the PWYW release of The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children was an event for me. Last year was basically the same and Better Than Any Man was quite a blast. I loved almost every bit of it - especially its long introduction about playing in a Faux Renaissance-Europe setting. I'm a Solomon Kane/The Enemy Within/Dark Ages Call of Cthulhu sort of player and always thought that Old Europe makes a perfect fit for grotesque and horror fantasy, So Dark All Over Europe as the Sisters of Mercy say.

James is the best publisher around the OSR. Carcosa, Isle of the Unknown, Vornheim and Better Than Any Man have all pushed up the limits, wrapped our RPG subculture into Art and vice-versa, crashed the few fences that needed to be crashed and promoted real production value where the standard was still rooted in the 1980s. We, small DIY players/enthusiasts/designers now strive to keep up with the level of expectation he's set (except for the ENnies crowd who seem to ignore just about anything about what's been published this year). He may not be the best writer this time, though - to each his own.

For when I read The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children, I can't help thinking that it's been a rush job. Not so much on the production side, not really on the writing side, no. Worse. On the imagination side. The plot is so contorted that it could have been part of a season of Lost, it relies heavily upon a "it's science-gonzo-fuckmagic" instead of even trying to show a seeming of logic. It's so circonvoluted that it makes me think of a BBS Forum Fanfiction plot. You know what I mean: "he loved her but she wasn't her then because then she was me but my evil twin is so powerful because he's made love with Alucard and now his baby is singing and your ears bleed so yes, I can type with my CAPS LOCKS on". Were there some fun in this that I would have been sold, to hell with logic! Alas, the only reason I see for such a plot is that it makes us think of the Bodysnatchers and that it's cool. It is indeed, except about all of James adventures make us think about the Bodysnatchers. You can even do that to yourself if you fuck with a summon spell by the book. So yeah, Bodysnatchers once, right, Bodysnatchers twice, we get the hint but every effing adventure? No, thank you. You get the weird and the grotesque when you have an ordinary, it's a balance that keeps the surprise element hitting as hard as it must and keeps the players on their toes. When you get turned into a turnip, transformed into a rotting fish, mind-warped and grow an extra leg off your ass every adventure (I think you got everything you need here for next Free RPG Day, James), it's not weird anymore, not grotesque anymore, it's just a theme, a color, a background ; and it's boring because nothing else happens, because if everything's always special, then nothing is.

Don't get me wrong, I love when my characters warp. I've played a half-demon who randomly became a monk and whose skin was green and could synthezise light as plants do, and he was my favorite character for a long time - before becoming an undead cat. It wasn't boring, never was, because every other character struggled to remain normal and because that happened over time, because that wasn't a routine. You'll find a lot of random tables in the Doom-Caves as well. Those of you who have bought my stuff know how much I love random tables, I've designed a whole city just with random tables (not like Vornheim, a complete city - neighborhood by neighborhood). I'm the sort of guy who draws 4 cards from the Deck of Many Things when one pops up. But here, most tables could be subsumed in 2, maybe 3 effects - to such an extent that the tables aren't really useful. 1 - you gain 1 point in a stat 2 - You gain 1 point and your friend Bob loses 2, 3 - You both lose 1 point and dance a Polka, etc. What's the point? I mean, what is there to tinker with since most results come to similar conclusions? It's just random for the sake of being random as it's weird for the sake of being weird and that's bad design. And deep down, when you strip the thing to its bones, there's a room with a wizard and a set of machines and traps. I'd say "yawn" if it wasn't for the adventure's upside.There's a mechanism for collective intelligence, the Ladder, which is brilliant because it builds an incredible tension just by itself, a mechanical tension, perfectly suited to the theme. There's this incredible environment to explore as well. It's well-detailed and thought-provoking and reminds me very much of Paul Keigh's adventures, as published by Geoffrey McKinney in his Psychedelic Adventures line. These adventures, the Dreams of the Lurid Sac, The Streams of the Lurid Crack and the Gleams of the Livid Plaque are location-based adventures set in weird gonzo places where factions compete. Unlike the Doom-Caves, they're not very detailed and leave a lot to the Referee's imagination, like the Doom-Caves they distantly feel like Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, complete with the mandatory alien abduction, the robots and the awful monsters from Outer Space. If you put them together with the Doom-Caves, you've got a whole crossover campaign to play and it sounds like your players will remember it.

I'm not giving stars, who the hell I am to give marks? but as written, I think I'd pass on this one and get back to my campaign notes, I'm running Better Than Any Man very soon and it's a tough nut to crack.

PESSOA & THE SYNNIBAR SCAM

Only sometimes, I am half-tempted to create a movement. Like in a fashion or a rad, like writers in the United Amateur or the Parnassians in Paris. Except I'd do it all by myself. That's right, alone. A movement which would include people I love and people I argue with, people I support and people supporting my writing and each of these people would write in a different style, look different, create different things. So yeah, sometimes, I want to do what Pessoa did. For those of you unaware of what he did, here's the shortcut: Pessoa was a Portugese poet and writer, and a very lonely person. Except at some point, he's created a lot of heteronyms - friends and foes, fictional people involved into some weird poetic renaissance in Portugal. For each of these characters, I can't find any better word, Pessoa would design a full physical and psychological description, he would compute their astrology, think about how they would write, and write texts the characters were signing. And he sent that to actual, real publishers, which published a few of them. Real Fucking Publishers. Imagine that one day, you learn that all the guys who wrote in Fight On! were actually all the same guy using different names. Well, that's what Pessoa did. And people screamed "genius" (well after his death, to be sure) but that was before the internet and the Synnibar ScamIf you want to do that today you need to manage G+, mails and Facebook accounts for all your writer characters and you need to switch your IP everytime you impersonate one of them. If you succeed, you're a fraud and a scam, not a genius anymore because there's an internet cred now and you're basically fucking with the whole trust system it's been built upon. So if you do this today, you can't be caught doing it nor boast about it like Pessoa did. Yet, internet is a playground and there are times I'm still half-tempted to go his way.

5/9/14

MAD MONKS OF KWANTOOM


http://www.rapidejdr.fr/product/129506/Mad-Monks-of-Kwantoom



http://www.rapidejdr.fr/product/129506/Mad-Monks-of-Kwantoom


Some say the gods expelled the grotesque and the weak from their ranks at the beginning of time, denying them entrance to the lofty heavens. Demons all of them, they fled to remote places where they had palaces built in which they could dwell and prosper in the glittering shadows, and that among these places, the 1001 Pagodas of Doom of the Yellow Springs Island are supreme, sheltering countless horrors and ghosts.

AN ORIENTAL ADVENTURES COMPANION, A MONSTER MANUAL, A TOME OF WONDROUS MAGIC, AN ASIAN-THEMED CITY, A SOLO CAMPAIGN AND A DM'S AID — ALL IN ONE BOOKLET

Are you looking for an Oriental Adventures Companion? A Chinese-style monster manual with a twist? A tome collecting a hundred brand new mundane magic items? An Asian-themed urban setting? A game aid to help you fill in the gaps when improvising? An endless campaign that you can play solo or with your family and friends without a DM? Good, because you'll find all this gathered together in one nifty package right here.

IN A NUTSHELL

In a nutshell, Mad Monks of Kwantoom features a wondrous Asian setting with new character races and classes, crazy unique creatures inspired by matchbox pictures coming straight from ancient China, alternative petty magic items, tables for random dungeon generation and simple house rules for all of this to run smoothly. In addition, you'll find campaign rules to help you flesh your characters out and embed them in the setting, which they can change and mold according to their whims as they proceed to glory, prosperity and — who knows? — immortality.

WHAT ELSE?

Ninjas, tengu player characters, the revised monk character class, the City of Innocent Deaths, the Lucky Charm of Many Ghastly Friends, the Style of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists, Pa'kua kobolds, the Monkey King himself, a game that your partner can play and enjoy with you — and you alone, the 1001 pagodas of doom and actual rules for becoming the Noble Jade Empress or the head of the Shrine of the Purple Lady of the Latrines if that's your thing.


This booklet is officially compatible with Labyrinth Lord and the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion. since these systems emulate the Basic and Advanced editions of the original Old School rules, you can play with them or with any Old School Renaissance gaming system instead.



1/11/13

RUINS OF THE UNDERCITY



Deep beneath the streets of the City-State of Cryptopolis, sanctuary of the lich-thieves and abode of the Red Goddess, sewers and ancient ruins mingle together into a labyrinth of horrors and wonders.

Bring your own character and play solo without a DM with this huge random-generated adventure spanning a full campaign and backdrop setting.

Maybe there are not other players around you, or maybe your schedule doesn't really allow you to engage in a long beer & pretzel session of hack'n'slash. When this is the case, you can play the Ruins of the Undercity solo, bringing your good old characters in or rolling for new ones. You can also use the adventure to play with a few friends and no DM.

In a nutshell, Ruins of the Undercity features an alternate set of tables for random dungeon and monster generation, traps and magic effects tables, treasures and simple house rules to run all of this smoothly. In addition, you'll find a simple setting and basic rules for solo campaign play.


This booklet is officially compatible with Labyrinth Lord and the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion. since these systems emulate the Basic and Advanced editions of the original Old School rules, you can play with them or with any Old School Renaissance gaming system instead.

6/3/12

DON'T WAIT FOR D&D NEXT, PLAY OWL HOOT TRAIL

I've had a crush lately for Owl Hoot Trail, Clinton R. Nixon's new RPG and decided to playtest it ASAP with the smatter of rules I've found in the Revised Microlite20 RPG Collection. I have no clue about the state of the playtest at Pelgrane Press Ldt., I just wanna play it — and I want to play it soon. I've dropped them a mail, though, so that will eventually become as kosher as it gets.

Owl Hoot Trail is basically an Old School Renaissance tabletop RPG set in a fantasical wild west teeming with magic, dwarves, goblins and gadget science and it promises a lot of fun. Clinton R. Nixon sort of mashed up Microlite with OD&D retro-clones and set the whole thing aflame with Boot Hill, Deadlands and Go-Go-Gadget stuff akin to WoW goblin engineering and D&D Vancian magic. He advises his readers to buy Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogues from the 1890's in order to complete the equipment list, and I will. This little gem of a promising game is full of weird wonderful ideas, just read what follows:


  • Exploding pistols,
  • Cool holsters to win initiative ties,
  • State your intent first, roll initiative later — can't tell you enough how much I love this,
  • Skills that match with every stats, and that you can twist the way you want to haggle-roleplay your way out of all the straits, so that it's not only character's skills but player's wits that matters at the end of the day,
  • All your Hit Points back after an extended rest,
  • Blue finish on your gun for $5 extra,
  • And so much more...


I mean, hey, if you want a game that encompasses all D&D editions and connects a little bit to indie roleplaying — Yes, Clinton R. Nixon, I saw what you've done here with the Skills — don't wait for D&D NEXT, just play Owl Hoot Trail.

4/10/12

UNPLUGGED

An essential part of the game, for me, lies in its social aspect: you meet people face to face and spend hours and hours with them, you get involved into clubs, flyers printing, and all the activities required by the fact that you're actually fostering a social event of sorts. Think about a campaign: that's a night a week, or every other week maybe, for months. And during this night, you meet the same people again and again. One day, they're bound to become friends for good, or to leave the game table.

There are those moments in the early morning where you laugh and talk together about what's happened during the play and the bewildered looks upon the face of innocent bystanders. There's Steph shouting « backstab, backstab » in the bus, Fred and I fighting a lightsaber duel with neon lights, there was this day where I played ZZ Top loud during the game, and the first day I've started smoking pipe, and it was with them, my fellow adventurer friends.

I've made a few of my lifelong friends with Dungeons & Dragons, I've met them at the local shop, at the club or in the wider roleplayers community, friends of friends and the like. To me, that's a whole part of what Dungeons & Dragons is: you risk yourself socially, you get to meet people out of the snug comfort of your boundaries, and you're going to share your passion with them.

There's none of this all online, whether you play with Google+, speak over Teamspeak or Ventrilo, and use tools or not to get your mapping and notes done. None of this all. While I quite like the fun of playing online with a headset, for a World of Warcraft raid maybe, it's quite a different experience from your good old Dungeon in the basement because it basically rips the social need off the game, and thus, rids the game of one of its major benefit. It's like « I'm blogger this and that, hello » and of course, you'll remain blogger this and that forever because nobody will really challenge you over Google+ or maybe D&DI with NEXT, how could they? So, gentlemen, I'm saying, you're taking no risks anymore and take the tiny really useful and good parts of this game out of the scenery, and that's bad.

I know, it's probably the way our western societies go anyway, lonely people everywhere pretending friends with other people they never met, never will, and to be honest, never want to meet. Well, that's not enough for my game.

9/17/11

THE GREAT SCUM HACK : OSR MEGAMIX



I could have chosen. I could have said: we play straight B/X, Labyrinth Lord, Holmes D&D or Lamentations of the Flame Princess maybe. At the opposite extreme, I could have laid my own house rules bare and send them all over the web through this Lulu guy. At some point, owning most retro-clones and original rules, I found myself wanting to choose too many mutually exclusive rules at the same time and I was like “what exactly are we playing?”.

I've got now the answer: we grow up, empower ourselves and play everything we love. We're playing elves as character classes if we feel like, next to an Advanced Edition Companion, or AD&D or whatever elven fighter/thief, we're playing the spells and magic system from Lamentations of the Flame Princess with Dark Sun's Dragon Kings spell casting weird effects, we're playing Holmes initiative, PHB assassins and bards, jesters from Dragon and White Dwarf houris.

The first session my players sat in, they began like “come on, don't tell us we play 1st level again, make it a two” and, to my — and their — utter surprise I went “sure, cool. Now give me those oreo cookies, please. Oh and, while you're at it, eject this Guild Wars, Apocalyptica and Conan OST we've been playing with for too long, and play the last VNV record”.

So did we begin The Great Scum Hack, an adventure set into the Rudingoz random city I'm designing at the moment. It's called “hack” because this introductory adventure shows a way to hack the random city and to play it, say, reverse engineered. I can't think of any better way to write an introductory adventure to a setting/campaign than one that makes it lie from the beginning, it's so boring to wait 12 sessions until a bit of the secrets get revealed anyway. It's also called “hack” because this adventure was originally designed for Rackham's Cadwallon RPG, but disappeared into the nether void when the publisher went bankrupt or so. I was paid good money to design it in 240 pages and it's now 16 pages, going to be cheap and way better.

But it's not the only reason why it's a hack, it's also because there's everything OSR inside when I run it. Characters starting money, physical traits, background skills, contacts and enemies are ripped from Lesserton & Mor ; shop keepers, dead bodies, NPCs and fortunes are from Vornheim ; most magic items come from Goblinoid Games' Realms of Crawling Chaos — or Deep Ones if my players feel like playing one some day — temples and events come from the Classic Dungeon Designer Old School Encounters Reference #4, etc. I could go like “oh you've printed Nicolas' Orc and you want to play one? Let me think about how to make it fit, I'll find something”.

Of course, you're not gonna need anything else than a rules system and the booklet I'll Lulu to run it yourself but if there's something you or your players love anywhere, whether in Stars Without Numbers, Red Planet, AD&D2 Al Quadim, the Hill Cantons Compendium, whatever, just do like I do and get your fun.

One last word: it's not Gonzo, not at all. The universe this all shapes has a very, very strong suspension of disbelief, it's almost seamless, it's rock-solid as a good book saga. Yet, of course, I'm lucky not to play with any rules lawyer or setting expert. What about you? Is your game a megamix as well? Why not?

9/16/11

MESSING AROUND: WHEN A STAR FALLS


The whole UK adventures series were, as an Amazon reviewer said, well ahead of their time. Most of them involve a strong railroading, but not much more than the one you get in your usual Pathfinder Adventure Path. You're railroaded okay, but you don't quite feel like it and there's a bit of space for different options if you want to somewhat derail: that's railroading with a leeway, which I will coin as rollercoasting for future debates and blog posts. Now that rollercoasting has become the standard for many players, these adventures shine as brilliant precursors.

In most of them, and When a Star Falls is no exception, you begin somewhere in the wilderness or in a settlement, usually a small town or village, and get to crawl into 2-3 dungeons in a defined order before unveiling an overarching plot and solving it. Usually, these dungeons are original enough to generate an atmosphere that sets the adventure apart from, say, the Caverns of Quasqueton: an abandoned villa, a derro lair that's full of strange machines, a fallen monastery, etc.

The adventure starts in the moors when the player characters stumble across a memory web, a creature that feeds upon memories. Killing it releases all the memories that filled it in a blast, effectively providing the players with enough minimal information to start the adventure.

Messing around: The web could provide the player characters will all the relevant information from the start instead of just giving them starting bits. The adventure would then be all laid bare up front and rely upon their choices as advised in this post. The Spawn of Azathot campaign uses this logic a lot: you've got everything into your hands, and I have 5 adventures ready for you, which one do you choose? The only issue a D&D game, or a “fixed” When a Star Falls adventure would have with this approach is that it would be difficult to scale the adventures according to the character level. What I mean is that the level system implies a progression in adventures that befits more the rollercoaster approach than the wide-open sandbox one. Let me sort this out: okay you don't care about balance, you play OSR, fine. The party goes to some place that's too strong for them to tackle? No big deal, let them flee or die. I'm fine with that. Yet, what will happen is that clever parties will automatically stick with places they belong to level-wise. Hint: it's just the same as rollercoasting. So the level system is a limit here and the rules have to be changed to address it. Make all the places more or less the same in level and cut the progression? Or make level progression ultra-quick in order to let the party explore everything freely? Leave it as it is and have it all fall into place by itself – a.k.a. rollercoasting?

With the memory web, the adventurers learn that a star fell, changing the land as it did. That's the good old cataclysm thing. They then explore the land, and fix what the star has done, helping a new condition to emerge. End of the story.

Messing around: Use the How to Host a Dungeon logic. Create a land, a hexcrawl, a place, a dungeon, whatever. Hit it with a cataclysm. It's like when you launch Godzilla into your Sim City. Change the place accordingly and guess how the inhabitants react. Are the monsters changing? Do some rise in power or go extinct? Create a continent. Hit it with a thousand stars, make a sandbox setting with it. Be careful of the level cap of the zones in the sandbox, you don't want your sandbox to become a rollercoaster.

At the end, you meet derros and machine creatures in a minimal Gnomeregan dungeon.

Messing around: Go further, take the Psychic powers from Stars Without Numbers straight into the campaign, use the radioactive rocks from the Anomalous Subsurface Experiment, Mutant Future or whatever, go for the OSR Megamix.

9/12/11

DID THE OSR BURY THE FORGE?

I know, I'm not supposed to talk about "Forge" topics without an awful lot of details and mandatory caution, but I won't. I simply don't have the time/energy anymore to go into such extend of gaming theory, especially since it sucks a little bit of the very same energy I  use to write and to play. This post is thus bound to fail Forge-wise but still, I'd like to point at a few things in it.

You know, the Big GNS Model and its implied truths: games are different because they address different Creative Agendas, they should be tuned to a specific agenda, Color and Setting instead of the fantasy heartbreakers/kitchen sinks they've become, their system, which matters, should have teeth, and the like.

In my own experience, going through The Forge and participating there was key in bringing me back to the Old-School systems through Matt Finch's Quick Primer for Old-School Gaming and I've come to consider whatever I did on The Forge as a pre-OSR training of sorts.

Yet, when we look at what the OSR is, it turns all The Forge principles head over heels: specific Creative Agenda? No way. Fantasy heartbreakers are bad? No, they're awesome. System Matters? Hell, yes, but not like you think. Having teeth, resolution mechanics implying a specific way of playing, deeply embedded into the system's mechanics? Of course not, these games are about freedom, goodbye Luke Crane. Strong theory backing our designs? We have the Quick Primer, thank you.

Oddly, it's the OSR that manages to fulfill all what The Forge somewhat failed to accomplish in its days of glory: punk venues, open source, PDF & POD, internet coverage, conventions, a hell of a buzz, reaching everyone, mature gaming, ashcans everywhere, etc. I could say that The Forge is actually an ancestor of the OSR. I could.

8/28/11

ART IS ANOTHER CONTENT

I remember once in a while reading a published module, setting or whatever and being baffled by the art at some point. However hard I looked for it, I couldn't find the written section to which the art would relate nor how would the player characters put themselves in such a situation with the actual written content. How can they possibly be fighting a vampire giant slug in the throne room when the throne room key says it's got a golem in it and the module doesn't contain any reference to vampires, slugs, or any combination of both whatsoever?

It may indeed seem a bit frustrating but I'd like to show here how cool it actually is. It's pretty cool because these off-the-tracks pictures are haunting — come on, there must be a vampire giant slug somewhere! They beg to end up in play very hard and at some point, they do.

You maybe don't realize it on the spot, but this giant slimy stirge you've put yesterday in the Grisly Halls, the first level of the megadungeon you'll never finish, has a lot in common with the vampire giant slug you've half-forgotten by now. The inspiration is way stronger than any fantasy haphazard picture you see, because you had been told somewhat, that this picture was in the module you've purchased. These pictures are screaming "play me!" or maybe "please, find a way to make me happen".

That's why I've come to consider art as a provider of hooks and inspiration instead of demanding that it fits the text. It opens windows, gives new and unexpected ideas and sets the adventure on different tracks, tracks the artist sets instead of the writer — except if the writer has some sort of intentional deal with the artist, which I'm very doubtful of. On the contrary, art would be a strong imagination limiter if it suited perfectly the text — can my orcs be like Star War's sandmen, but darker, instead of pig-faced, please?

So, to come to the point: no, the art doesn't have to fit the content exactly and it's much better if it doesn't. I think we yet have to try this by setting the artists free with instructions like "Oh, and please, derail", provide them with contradictory guidelines on purpose or deliberately ask them for something the text doesn't cover.

VAMPIRE GIANT SLUG
MV: 60' (20')
AC 8[12/14]
HD 12
Attacks: 1
Damage 1d12, drain life energy
ST F12
Morale 11

Vampire giant slugs are blind creatures crawling in the underworld. They shun the brightness of light and continual light spells and recoil at them as they convey the feeling of sunlight, which destroys them in 3 rounds. On the other hand, they can sense blood and unerringly follow the track of blood if they can feel it at less than 60'. They are utterly immune to the sleep, charm, hold and any other mind-affecting spells, to poison, to paralysis, to cold, to electricity to blunt weapons and to non-magical weapons of any kind. On the other hand, they are repelled by garlic, they suffer from holy water, can be turned as vampires, die when poured in salt water for 9 rounds and suffer 2d4 hit points damage when a vial of salt is pitched at them.

Unlike humanoid vampires, vampire giant slugs can't shapechange, assume gaseous form nor, obviously, charm with their gaze, but their bite drains 2 energy levels just like any other vampire's. In addition, they can sing with a high-pitched and somewhat childish female voice, their song enthralling any listener failing to save versus Paralyze and freezing him on the spot just like a hold person spell for 2d6 rounds, targets being entitled to another saving throw every time they suffer damage. Vampire giant slugs usually sing when they smell blood.

Last but not least, they regenerate at a rate of 6 hit points per round unless damaged by fire, salt and/or holy water. When reaching 0 hit points, they don't die, but dissolve on the spot into a pool of ochre jelly instead — as the monster, maximum hit points — until they reach their full hit points and become whole again.

8/20/11

PEOPLE ARE CLEVER

I'm amazed at the sheer quantity of role-playing products that assume their reader is an utter beginner. It's almost a stance we've inherited from the early years: writing and designing products as if our audience had bought this one and only booklet in the course of the past 37 years. This is especially absurd when it comes to old-school products one finds only on very specialized POD and PDF platforms. What actually happens follows as such:

1. Your audience already owns a lot of games. And they've played quite a few of them.
2. Your audience won't play your product by the book.
3. Your audience itself designs adventures, settings and systems. Maybe most won't edit nor publish them, but it's still an essential part of the game on the DM's side.

As I'm in the course of designing a fully-fleshed version of Rudingoz, a whole urban campaign in random tables, I've decided to take the fact into account: my audience is clever. They read a lot, they probably own the same games as me and they know how to find all the materials they need to run their game.

With these ideas in mind, I didn't go into a lot of explanations but I've scattered inspirational sparks everywhere instead: in the art, which doesn't really match the text — more on this later —, in the tables themselves, in the adventure bits, in the mapping or even in the stats. Sometimes I go like: "if you need to create a NPC on the fly, just use what you already have : your Master Guide, the Classic Dungeon Designer's Old School Encounters Reference, the Vornheim City Kit, whatever you like" and I feel it's okay to say so. This has all been covered somewhere in a book or another, and I know that you, my audience, own those bloody books and already play with a style of your own.

Who am I to tell you how to play? And given you've got all this, can't I provide you with something that will take this all to the next level? What if I build my design on top of all the wonders others have done? I know you'll want to hack it anyway, and am happy to help you to do so.

11/12/10

A THOUSAND LAKE GENEVA CAMPAIGNS

Story was an excuse back then. There were giants, slave lords plotting, there was The Master in the desert and dwellers in the Forbidden City. There were Tharizdun and Zagyg. They all gave us the feel of a greater scope. But let's look at it: we didn't actually play this greater scope along scripted lines, we played whatever popped up at our own private game table. And this game table was unlike any other, because they all were unique. There was a storm, but every snowflake was peculiar. And there was a risk too.

This is what roleplaying was like. And this is why I fully back everything guys from The Forge intend when they craft games you can't plan anywhere else but now, as you play and go together. They had the feeling that roleplaying had become something else, that what they were looking for was waning everywhere and us, Old School Renaissance players, share this feeling. Except we go another way.

There had been a slide, you know, from the point where published campaigns and setting were mere excuses for your own creativity to the point where I can hardly distinguish between a roleplaying campaign and a HBO series. As hard as I look into 3rd or 4th Ed products, I can't find any usable material for my game table. All I see is scripted content I don't want to cope with. Why? Because the material would become a hindrance instead of a help. The original ideal of Dungeons & Dragons meant that each and every game table, each and every gaming group would become a Lake Geneva of its own, not to copy the Lake Geneva group a thousand times. We've entered the era of spoon-feeding: Encounters detailed to the absurd, format standards, learning curves, climatic endings, tightly-knitted plots leaving no room for chaos and creativity, settings ripe with railroads everywhere – hardly even hidden. Players write actual play reports you could have written before the play. And they enjoy it as one enjoys a good movie. And they all look the same. Deep down, it's not a matter of edition, it's a matter of agenda. But the newest editions are supporting very specific agendas that don't leave room for any other, hence the Old School Renaissance.

We fucking had something different, something nothing else really had, something that could have mauled mountains. And there's the blueprint somewhere amidst those weird 5 saving throws, those dwarves as character classes and those +1 swords. We have the tools so, yes, let's get out this bush and invent the wheel again.

10/15/10

THE SHRINE THAT GLITTERED

The Shrine That Glittered, a swords & sorcery OSR adventure of mine has been released in Fight On! #10. It captures the essence of my design options, a page layout by yours truly and a few critically-acclaimed illustrations by Y. Zogg. The adventure itself leaves room for whatever comes to mind during the play, including options to play it with freshly created cavemen characters, Mutant Future explorers and time-warping OD&D scoundrels. It's a pretty little gem I'm proud to announce today, along with the sheer joy of being published in the glorious Fight On! Enjoy and feedback!

4/6/10

STRANGE DESTINIES INDEED

I've been playing the Strange Destinies solo adventure right off the Tunnels & Trolls v7.5 box. This has inspired me a lot of fresh ideas and set a new course in my musings about solo adventures. Here they are.

1. A Story With Options

In this widespread vision of solo RPG play, you play the hero of a story. The story is more or less defined in advance, and paragraphs are nudging you forward towards its completion. There might be challenges, and many opportunities to die or to fail, but eventually, you'll choose the right path, or maybe become strong enough, and finish the adventure in a blaze of glory. It's like picking choices (more or less blindly I daresay) and trying to guess whatever preplanned route was set by the designers.

The Warlock of Fire Mountain was damn tough. Yet, there was barely a couple of options to get to its end, and one only to finish him victoriously.

2. A Creativity Puzzle

What hit me with Strange Destinies is that you can't really win if you're not playing creatively with the booklet and its rules. Some paragraphs hint you at doing something the text doesn't talk about (make a torch with a wolf's skins? Cook your food? Trap a monster?), some other sound so absurdly tough that you can't really overcome them. Yet, the text tells you what happens when you do. It's like throwing a 12th level monster at your 1st level character in Labyrinth Lord and the text saying "when the monster dies, go to paragraph 127". First reaction is "what the hell?", second is "okay, let's think about it, is there a way to defeat it? What can I think about that's NOT in the text?"

I don't see why solo play couldn't derail from the written text as much as party adventures do. The interesting bit is that you can't do so if you don't really immerse in your character and think creatively.


In Strange Destinies, I've stumbled through mushrooms before, and died because of their spores. Now, as I carry on with another character, a Black Dwarf named Hoderl the Nift, I turn cautiously around their stalks and a bit later, face an incredibly powerful giant ant. The ant was much, much more powerful than Hoderl. What would Hoderl do? Fight dumbly to a certain death? No. He would run, and try to lure the ant into the mushrooms. I rolled a Speed saving roll, rolled high and went back to the paragraph in which the mushrooms were described. I rolled another, rolled high, and went to the spore paragraph with the ant. I kept running, tracing 3 or 4 paragraphs back when the spores produced their effect. Hoderl, who had over 30 in Constitution, survived, and left the caves. The ant followed, heavily damaged by the spores. Once out of the caves, an ogre tried to catch him, but he managed to escape as the ogre was bashing the ant. Hoderl then entered the caves again from the start and I considered the ant as defeated when I got back to the paragraph it was described in.

Some people, probably basing themselves upon A Story With Options, would consider that as cheating. By the time I played Hoderl, I had become an expert of these caves, with over 13 characters having met death inside. This is player's knowledge versus character's knowledge. In my example, player's knowledge is backing immersion, my 13 previous deaths had shaped Hoderl as a survivor. That made him partly him, and partly me: MY player character. As far as I'm concerned, I consider that solo adventures should find a way to produce this immersion feeling, and to offer a decent challenge level as well.

Strange Destinies do, because if you play it by the book, your character will die. Some paragraphs tell you that if you've lit a torch, monsters will flee. Yet, no paragraph ever tells you that you can light a torch. Why? Because you shall know whether your character carries a lit torch or not, you're impersonating him or her, not just rolling dice and picking options.

A few mechanisms help to induce this Creativity Puzzle instead of rollercoasting you into a story: a table of wandering monsters like in Strange Destinies, random loots, random paragraphs, monster evolution and/or diplomacy, etc. Playing solo implies that you, the player, should take a bit of the GM's responsibilities as well. For hard-core fans of option 1, this is pretty much breaking the rules. Yet, no story-based play experience was ever rewarding as Strange Destinies was, a solo adventure in which I was both the player and the GM.

4/2/10

IN LAIR


Sandbox adventures have been hugely commented lately upon various blogs, as the distinction between site-based and event-based adventures, two connected topics. On a side or spin-off direction, I want to share the Lair and Tribe logics here.

It begins really easy with the few numbers you find in your standard old school Monster Manual. Do you see this Number Appearing line on the picture above? It's about this. I wonder if many Dungeon Masters have actually used this number ever, and the long sections detailing humanoid monsters lairs, allies and structure of power. Surprisingly, most humanoid entries of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons include such details, appropriate to the most absurd figures dungeon-wise. Who can throw 300 orcs in a dungeon? Wouldn't the dungeon become a Bara-Dur fortress of sorts if we did?

I can think of 1 or 2 officially published adventures at least that did : the U3 module, The Final Enemy, the A2 maybe, Secrets of the Slaver's Stockade in a more devious way.

Most adventures make an extensive use of this Number Appearing logic, but they do it in a nutshell: a few gnolls here and there, some goblins — are they many enough to pour a shaman and a chieftain in? Cool. I can think of none who purposely used it in order to create and shape the adventure.

Well, I did. I rolled an orcish tribe and rolled about 250 orcs, discovering two « effects » as I did. Here they are:

1. The Domino Effect

The Monster Manual says orcs must have a strong leader, telling me there's maybe a wizard or an evil priest. Let's put that question aside for the moment, but keep it in mind. For about 250 orcs, I have 8 leaders and 24 assistants. I add flavor here and, inspiring myself upon the Lord of the Rings and my old Sword & Sorcery SPI wargame, I decide that these stockier, more powerful orcs all belong to a special sub-race : white orcs. In Swords & Sorcery, white orcs are followers of the Czar. Hey, why not?! I also get 21 bodyguards, fiercer orcs, cadets of the crown maybe — do they have an uniform? —, and I'm hinted at adding a few ogres. I do, of course. Now, going to the ogre section, I find that ogres often ally with gnoll raiders, trolls and stone giants. Okay, there's gnoll raiders too, then, and maybe a troll or two. Looking at the gnoll entry, I'm told that gnolls follow evil priests. That solves my first question, the tribe leader is an evil priest. The gnolls are also allied with trolls (I have them already) and a few hyenas. Great, I now have a kennel.

This is the domino effect: my dungeon is now stocked with standard orcs, white Czarist orcs, ogres, gnoll raiders, trolls and hyenas, all under the power and command of an evil priest. Since half-orcs are described under the orc entry as well, I add some, giving them character class levels, as lieutenants of the evil priest.

2. The « Stocking First » Effect

The monster section actually says a lot more: it says that orcish lairs might be above ground or underground. I roll, and get underground, which is nice because the same section tells me how good they are at mining and underground constructions. Orcish tribes also sport a name. Mine being led by an evil priest and Czarist orcs, I choose the Vile Rune, a name that tells of northern wastes, ancient primitive religion and evil. Under the gnoll section, I find that gnolls often live in abandoned villages. So here I am, in an underground mining lair with many slaves close to an abandoned village. Since there's a priest, there's a temple too, hidden inside, all bowing to the power of the orcish Czar.

Take a closer look: I have an adventure, fully-fleshed here. It's about freeing slaves, beginning in slavery maybe? It rings an Indiana Jone's Temple of Doom sort of bell in a Russian-like setting. I now need a god about which the evil priest's cult revolves, and so on... Are the player characters hired by the orcish revolution? Knights fighting the evil cult? Mercenaries of a border kingdom threatened by the Vile Rune?

2/28/10

BUNNIES & BURROWS

While shuffling through my good ole' shelves, I stumbled into my tattered Bunnies & Burrows copy. Let me tell you, reading and playing the same game when you're 12 and when you're over 35 is quite a different story. This game, in which you play rabbits in a Wind in the Willows, Watership Downs or even Mouse Guard style, traces back to 1976. It's the only game I can think about that shares such groundbreaking insights at such an early stage. Okay, you play furry rabbits, right. But there's much, much more to it. Take a look:
1. You have a character "class" and a few stats but they aren't used much in game. What's used a lot is the previous experience of your character. He's faced this kind of trap before? Seen this herb? He knows how to cope with then. In order to do so, you keep track of all the minute details you usually skip. It's almost like writing a trait down in an indie RPG "I know how to prepare and use Wildroot" "I know that Wolverines don't enter warrens", etc.
2. You know what Ben Robbins' West Marches are don't you? Well, here they are: hexcrawl, wandering creatures tables, hex search rules, sandbox style, and so on.
3. It's gritty as hell. It renders such a feeling of overwhelming danger that playing Call of Cthulhu is like playing Marvel Superheroes compared to this. Most blows will kill you, as will most natural hazards. If you don't use your wits, you're a dead duck... err rabbit.
4. You're not playing an ordinary rabbit, you're playing an intelligent, talking, fantasy rabbit with psychic powers and herbal magic. Does it ring a bell? Yeah, it's Mouse Guard but aimed at character simulation instead of motives and beliefs.
5. You don't "level up", you just play. When you face hardships, you know better the next time and your capacities improve on the basis of what you've done and how you've done it.
Looking at this small 36-pages game provides a feel akin to Matthiew Finch's Quick Primer for Old School Gaming. It's like a gold mine for us retro-gamers, and it deserves a lot. It deserves writing, for instance. Once again, stay tuned.

Bunnies & Burrows is copyright Fantasy Games Unlimited.

11/14/09

GET BACK TO THE ROOT

When you're lost, get back to the root. After having inspired generations, seeped deep into the Comics and video game industry, and given birth to countless designs and patterns, the tabletop roleplaying hobby has now broken into tiny pieces everywhere. We, Kabuki Kaiser, have chosen to get back to the source of it all full circle, to Castle Greyhawk and the fabled 1974 campaigns, to the White Box at the Borderlands and the Silver Princess of Lake Geneva, to the game of your imagination truly. Fully supporting retro-clone systems emulating what we now call OED such as Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord, our releases propel them into 2010. What if the future were the past? What if we took the artifacts back from them hands and used them now, with full knowledge and experience of what's been going on since? We'd get new, unique releases for sure. World of Hexcraft, Wrath of the Lichlords Edition? City State of Everquest II anyone?

Boot the system and stay with us, we're going to reload it all with you from the very beginning.
Swords & Wizardry, S&W, and Mythmere Games are the trademarks of Matthew J. Finch. We are not affiliated with Matthew J. Finch or Mythmere Games™.

Labyrinth LordTM is copyright 2007-2009, Daniel Proctor. Labyrinth LordTM and Advanced Labyrinth LordTM are trademarks of Daniel Proctor. These trademarks are used under the Labyrinth LordTM Trademark License available at www.goblinoidgames.com.

The OSRIC™ system text may be found at http://www.knights-n-knaves.com/osric. The OSRIC TM text is copyright of Stuart Marshall. "OSRIC™" and "Oldschool System Reference and Index Compilation™" are trademarks of Stuart Marshall and Matthew Finch and may be used only in accordance with the OSRIC™ license.