2/1/14

LES JUNGLES-ARAIGNEES DE BOOMSHARTAK

  




If you 1) love Tunnels & Trolls and/or Gonzo Old School Gaming 2) are able to read French or can cope with some Google Translate nonsense, this new release is for you!

For you, Oh happy few, I have the great pleasure to introduce you to The Spider Jungles of Boomshartak, a Tunnels & Trolls adventure where you play jungle trolls in the midst of a coming of age ritual that involves a Shantak bird, a thousand spiders, a fallen Empire, laser guns and a mouthful of frogmen. Sex, violence and success are all optional.

Only on Lulu, published by Grimtooth himself.

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.

4/21/12

THE DREAM SHELF


In Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, you'll find a library with all the books you've thought about writing, dreamed about or hoped you'll write someday, but never quite had, and probably never will.

While my own private shelf of the dream library numbers thousands of them, I'll make a quick OSR pick here and let you know what five of them are about. Since I won't do anything with them, I won't be stingy and let you all use whatever you deem cool in them. How about you do the same and post some link to your dream shelf as a comment in here?

Shades of the Sunless Realm

Concept: Post-Apocalyptic Darksun & Underdark mashup

  • There are two suns: one red and one white, that shed so little light that most of the world is flooded in complete darkness, save for the stars and the thin slice of a crescent moon.
  • It's like a surface underdark: most races, except humans, have ultra or infra vision, humans have night goggles, sunrods and lanterns.
  • All forests are mushroom or slime forests. Psionics are widespread.
  • There are rifts of ashes and silt, petrified forests and huge depressions that were seas ages ago.
  • The magic is tied to the two suns and their phases, the red one for arcane and the white for divine.
  • Grimlocks, derros, svarts, drows, etc.

Stryfe

Concept: Balkanization, Birthright at war

  • The whole world is at war with no large political entity.
  • The technology level is set at the early Renaissance stage: firearms, yes, but very primitive, a little bit of engineering.
  • Charts of alliances and connections between countries. Think Divine Right.
  • Both a wargame and a RPG: you play a RPG session, and then a wargame, and both games have consequences, a bit like Birthright, Mouse Guard or Zak's God Chess.
  • You begin by playing an adventurer's company, with alternate characters and a lot of henchmen and hirelings.

Knaive

Concept: O-level rules from Dragon, Goodman Games, Treasure Hunt and People Them With Monsters, but the game never goes to 1st level.

  • Your character never becomes a « class » character, though there's a few in the world, all NPC, like the King's champion is maybe a level 4 fighter.
  • Characters evolve, though, getting better chances at what they've been good at, and get incredible strokes of luck that no « class » character ever has, they access feats sometimes.
  • You play scullions, stable boys and footpads with a permanent beginner's luck.
  • At 0-level, an orc is really dangerous. Think of Shelob as a Giant spider and Nazguls as wraiths.

So Dark All Over Europe

Concept: Cthulhu Solomon Kane

  • The map is Europe's medieval map. Culture and society is like real medieval Europe.
  • But there's no clerical magic and no D&D standard monsters. Instead, there are spells taken straight from CoC, CoC Dreamlands and Doctor Strange.
  • Sorcerers, Bhyakees, Deep Ones and al.

The Glory of Yesterday

Concept: A The Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System hack compatible with D&D

  • Includes a « translation » system mechanic that allows you to play any D&D or AD&D adventure (pre-2nd Ed) without adapting anything
  • Uses everything in The Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System to twist it all
  • Plays in a custom Greyhawk or Mystara-like setting

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.

3/30/12

1-PAGE RETRO-POETRY


So yeah, The Shrine of Urd & the Shield of Faith, my submission for the 1-Page Dungeon Contest 2012. It's both a playable dungeon - I guarantee the fact, just try - and the whole atmosphere of my early and vibrant gaming years in a nutshell, it's full-on OSR, with a big R.

What I've tried to achieve here - did I succeed? You tell me - is to convey the atmosphere of the crowded high-fantasy Arduin-like powerplay games we had back in the years, with a strong naive look and feel. It seems gaudy and silly, but I can tell you, it's not that easy to do when you're a grown-up with an industry experience. It feels like it's been done by a teenager with scraps of early published products or a typewriter maybe, and a lot of Moorcock-Lovecraft-focused imagination. At least, I wish it feels like this, because what I'd love to share is exactly that: the feel. Hell, it even smells of rotten tobacco and coffee, but unfortunately, you can't smell a PDF. And I'm pretty sure that, just by conveying that feeling, it contains everything you need to run it in a single page with very few descriptions, if any. Just try.

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.

9/5/11

GET RID OF DESIGN 101


Whether on blogs, message boards or Con lectures, you're bound to stumble upon design advice everywhere these days. Most of them sound like a friendly advice would, but they're put in such a way that you're a stupid fool if you ignore them, or so they say.

Yes, they're useful, if only because they question the way you design your own private soon-to-be-shared fantasy. Yet, on the other hand, they set a hype of sorts that's able, if you follow it too blindly, to seriously hinder your creativity. Designing a Megadungeon? From the bottom up, mate! A location? Where are your random tables? A sandbox? Hexes of about 5 miles, please! Into indie gaming? Your rules are bound to have teeth and a clear Creative Agenda (yes, this one takes caps, hype, you know).

The OSR, whatever that means, has broken such fixed ideas, mostly generated by the 3rd or the 4th, in the past: mandatory game balance, tailored challenges, intricate plots as the one and only good adventure seeds, etc. And now, it seems about to shape its own fixed ideas: megadungeons are a setting, read-aloud sections are bullshit, and so on.

From the very first issues of The Dragon to the latest blog debates, libraries are brimming with do's and don'ts, and among the don'ts, the ones saying “don't you begin everything at once, stupid, you're going to get lost!” is hugely popular. Right, and what's wrong with getting lost, please?

Let me tell you how I like to design my own-private-soon-to-be-shared-if-ever fantasy: I begin everything together at once. Everything. I begin with layout bits, levels from the bottom up, explanation sections from the top to the down, art research, phone calls to the copy editor, zooms in, zooms out, writing a background section, the keyed location #31, the family tree of a dwarven clan I'll never use, the stats for gargantuan goblins, new fonts, another layout, editing the last line to fit in the page, saving it somewhere, writing location #3, designing a god, tying location #3 with location #243 - not even written, possibly never will - and ringing the copy editor again.

Yes, it's all over the place and I have it all, all, wrong, as you read. I've noticed however, some interesting side effects:

1. I don't get bored, and when I don't get bored, I'm quick and eager to do more.
2. I finish what I begin. At some point, all those tiny dots join, almost by themselves, and they shape an adventure or setting that I'm happy with.
3. I'm never stuck. It's a bit strange because I've read everywhere that I was bound to be, but I'm not: it keeps moving, going ahead, changing. Of course there's a little back-and-forth sometimes and I have to cut/paste from former versions but hey, the layout's already done and it's even copy edited as I type this message – which isn't.

So, basically, I'm not saying you should do this, but I'm saying that once you know the design 101, the next step is to get rid of it.

GARGANTUAN GOBLINS
MV: 60' (20')
AC 6[13/15]
HD 7
Attacks: 1 by weapon
Damage By weapon*
ST F7
Morale 11
*And special, see below

7' tall goblins, gargantuan goblins are monstrous misshaped crimson-skinned humanoid creatures born from the failed experiments of a crazy archmage. They usually wrap their broken bodies in russet-colored soiled garments and wear armor pieces scavenged from tall human or ogre veterans. While vaguely resembling goblins, their mongrel features are scarier and instill fear, as the cause fear spell in all onlookers for 1d3 turns (individuals with more than 3HD or levels are allowed a save versus spells to resist the effect). Like standard goblins, they have infravision up to a range of 90', but seldom see the light of the sun nor hear any sound in their abyssal abodes and are slowed, as per the spell, when in full sunlight or in a very noisy surrounding. The great weapons gargantuan goblins use always cause double damage.

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!

4/10/10

MORE OPEN SPACE FANTASY

I've just created a brand new webpage to host the Open Space Fantasy. Feel free to shuffle!

OPEN SPACE FANTASY WEBPAGE

OPEN SPACE FANTASY

I've been working lately on an art series aimed at naive and symbolic graphics. I've decided to use the less glamorous geometric shapes streamlined through professional engineering tools to render imaginative, pure fantasy scenes and characters. It's like playing with office boards, pens and papers and shaping them into whatever dream takes you away from your open space desk: a nod and a tip to this sort of musing trance that takes us amidst busy days and generates the most stupendous ideas from a rubber and a ruler. It's definitely pop art, but pop art devised about the Old School fantasy values and the escaping fact.

Please tell me what you think about it, whether you like it or not.

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?