Tuesday, January 19, 2021
This book does not present a plot. There is neither a predetermined conclusion nor a set path to follow. When DMing, I resist the temptation to think of myself as a storyteller. I am not telling a story. I am creating the conditions for and participating in a game of imagination structured by weighted chance. “Story” is what the players will tell when the game is over. I haven’t discovered a truly useful analogue to the role of a DM. Though it shares skills with storytellers, traditional game designers, teachers, theatrical directors, psychologists, and architects, it is a unique thing.
Above all, respect the players’ agency. They must be free to make any choice allowed within the confines of the setting and the comfort and fun at the table. Do not move things around in the imagined world to render their choices meaningless. The NPCs are allowed to be deceptive, but the DM is not. Err on the side of providing too much information if players are unsure what to do, but let them make the choice. Let them surprise you. Let them create chaos. Shed your preconceived notions and allow the imagined world to react naturally to players’ choices.
Friday, November 27, 2020
B1. Waterfall Mine and the Crone
Landscape: wet, pool-filled foothills leading to craggy mountains; the River Slither finds its source here
The River Slither is thin here but leads back to a pool into which a tall, slender waterfall empties
Barely perceptible, a set of narrow, overgrown stairs is carved into the cliff up the side of the waterfall, leading to a rough-bored mine entrance behind the falls
Entrance: moss and lichen crust the rocky opening, mist and mottled light from the falls. Ahead, a rickety ladder pokes out of a wide hole. Ten feet above the hole, a round trap door is mostly obscured by a layer of moss
Descent: an old wooden ladder leads down a 60 foot shaft with about a foot of water at the bottom; 1-in-20 chance of the ladder breaking on the way down, increasing by another 1-in-20 for each additional person who uses it
Mourning Ghosts: a swirling collection of 1d4+1 elf ghosts dressed in ancient garb, from the time fairies lived on earth. They mourn the death of King Mountain-Fears-the-Rain, not realizing that they themselves have died. They encourage others to join in the mourning, and will attack guests who try to leave
Elf Ghost: AC 6  HD 1 HP 4 ATTACKS 2 (Hobbling touch: save or take d4 Dexterity damage, Distended jaw: save or take d4 Constitution damage (plus any change in HP)), immune to non-magic damage
Altar: a large rectangular slab of quartz ornately carved, on which rest offerings of flowers and candles occasionally left by questing fairy knights; anyone of fairy blood may leave a meaningful offering in return for ancestral guidance on a big decision
Elf-Silver Seam: an unlit old gold lantern (1,000 gp) hangs from the ceiling. If lit, it will illuminate a large seam of rare elf-silver, as strong as iron but may be used by elves
Tunnel: a rotting wooden catwalk leads the way over the waterlogged tunnel; 1-in-6 chance of breaking through a board and plunging into the water, which is infested with hallucinoleeches
Hallucinoleech: AC 9  HD 0 HP 1 ATTACKS 1 (Bite: +3 to hit, save vs. poison or believe you are in your favorite place, never wanting to leave the water: -1 HP per turn spent there motionless and leech-covered)
Flood: The low chamber is flooded completely with glassy water; the ornate stairs and just-visible statues of griffins peeking above the water hint that this place is very different from the rest of the mine. In the center of the room is a chest with some of the king’s effects: elf-silver idols (2,000 gp), ceremonial gold headdress (3,000 gp), barbed whip, tinder that will light a fire even underwater (400 gp)
Tomb of the Warrior-King: the mummified remains of King Mountain-Fears-the-Rain are entwined in roots which have grown around him as a sort of sarcophagus. His shield is at his side (bronze, grinning sun motif). Before him is a stone pedestal carved with bell imagery with a neatly folded note on top: Had to nip in and borrow this, chaps. Return it in a flash. ~M. This is the true resting-place of the Jade Warning Bell (The Crystal Cave, p. )
Perched on an impossibly high peak is a little chocolate box of a cottage on chicken legs. This is the home of Mim the Crone of the Maiden, Mother, Crone coven
Fat, wrinkled, with wild hair and warts, she is nearly always naked; speaks like a sweet old lady in a Monty Python sketch until stressed, when she flies into a histrionic rage
She rides a somewhat uncooperative copper pot through the night, looking for children to cook and eat
- Resources: elf-silver, hard as iron but won’t burn elves
C1. Bargaz and Saint Ophrenia the Only-Lightly-Singed
Landscape: a marshy, sandy, and desolate estuary
Bargaz, a cave-dwelling giant, is a mass of scarred, knotted sinew with raptor eyes and crooked teeth. He is naked save the large key he wears around his neck and drags a shillelagh behind him
The key opens the Smoking Mountain. His father was contracted to build the mountain, but took the key when the Knights of the Round Table refused to pay a pagan savage
Bargaz is one of three giant brothers who live in the forest, along with Balam (A4, p. ) and Bancroft (see Random Encounters, p. ). Each takes a different approach to humanity. Bargaz lives as little more than a wild predatory beast, believing that any semblance of civilization is mere pretense and a denial of the world’s true nature
The shrine to Saint Ophrenia, patron saint of third degree burns and disfigurement sits half-buried in sand among the rushes along a tributary to the River Lethe
The saint stands peacefully, holding a sword before her, sculpted to be wreathed in stone flame to commemorate the warrior-nun’s battle with the Dragon of Dyfed Mawr
- Blessing: Those with grievous wounds earned in battle, particularly burns, may present an offering of vanquished foes in return for healing and making all your scars look really cool, giving you a mysteriously magnetic aura (+1d4 Charisma, up to 18)
D2. Watchtower and Saint Fagan the Unwise
Landscape: rocky crags, twisted oak and scrub pine
A ruined watchtower sits atop a rocky outcropping
A partially-intact stained glass window depicts Arthur and Guenivere presiding over feasting knights
Thanks to a rift in the fabric of this enchanted forest, once per month the house of the Fates teeters precariously on top of the tower in the light of a waning gibbous moon halfway between full and half
The Fates go by Orddu, Orgoch, and Orwen in this part of the world. They sit at three looms, hopelessly trying to weave a single tapestry which covers every surface in the house, bunching and fraying in many places. They frantically attempt to coordinate, but are hopelessly confused. They may appear as wild-haired old women, radiant maidens, or any other form
They will each take one question, but their harried, distracted answers will only direct the questioner to a certain fold in the weave of Fate. Examination requires a save against magic.
Fail: temporarily blinded and insane for d4 hours after glimpsing the incomprehensible underpinnings of the Universe
Pass less than 20: the Fates have directed you to the wrong part of the tapestry, and what you see does not help you
Natural 20: you find your thread weaving its way into the future and work with the GM to answer your question. Additionally, on one future roll that directly affects you (rolled either by you or the GM), you may choose the number rolled and reveal that you spied this in the tapestry
The Shrine to Saint Fagan the Unwise sits in the center of a set of stones placed in the River Lethe as a crossing. Fagan is the patron saint of doomed enterprises
His statue exudes youthful exuberance and overconfidence. It faces a waterfall, behind which is the old lair of a troll he attempted to convert to Christianity. He succeeded, but could not stop the troll from eating him anyway
The lair is strewn with piles of gnawed-on bones and coins, jewelry, and weapons worth 120 gp. 50% chance of finding one of the forest’s trolls rooting around (see Forest Encounters)
- Blessing: for an offering of a valuable object acquired foolishly, the supplicant may choose to pass a roll with a 20% or less chance of success. Mark one use of the blessing. The next time the character wishes to use the blessing, they must roll above the number marked on a d4 or automatically fail the roll
Monday, November 16, 2020
I’m nearing a full draft of The Yellow Book of Brechewold. I’ll post more excerpts soon. Once I’m happy with the words, I’m going to work on the layout of the surrounding forest chapter as a sort of proof of concept and preview chapter that I’ll put up on DTRPG or something.
A huge chunk of the art is also done. I still have the maps to do, and I think I will have to wait until I’m far along in layout to know if I want to do any more watercolor illustrations. The covers for both the preview and the final book will be digital, bright, and simple. Here’s the preview cover:
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
As this splendid isolation drags on, I’ve dipped a toe into board game design. Well, it’s really sort of a board game/RPG hybrid called “We Are Not Alone,” inspired in large part by Diplomacy and the megagame Watch the Skies (check out a pretty sweet play video here). I guess I’ve been thinking about how a pandemic is essentially no different from an alien invasion. There’s this vague sense I get from pop culture that somehow humans would come together in the face of such an invasion (Independence Day, Watchmen, etc), but...of course we wouldn’t. Look around.
So in this game, each player controls a nation or group of nations, and the GM (Mothership) controls an alien threat. But it’s not a cooperative game. For now, I’ve been giving each player unique, competing goals to accomplish in addition to defeating the aliens. However, I’m thinking about simplifying that to “whoever controls the most territory when the aliens are defeated wins.” Not sure yet. I like the idea of having asymmetrical goals better, in the Braunstein tradition, but the idea of balancing them so they’re all equally accomplishable makes my eyes glaze over.
In fact, balancing in general is a little overwhelming. I never bother in RPGs, because in my mind that’s missing the point. But in a competitive board game, it’s pretty necessary.
I’m pretty proud of the resource management system. Another result of my increased online diet is that I've become more convinced by Modern Monetary Theory, at least the broad strokes. It's the idea that sovereign fiat-currency governments are constrained by physical resources, labor, and politics, but not by money. This is certainly true during wartime, when even historically nations would often suspend the gold standard to "pay" for the war. So I didn't want players spending money and potentially running out during the game, which just wouldn't be possible in our modern system.
Instead of money, players have three constraints on what they're able to accomplish in a given turn: Oil and Mining territories, which represent physical resources; the number of territories controlled, which represents labor pool; and Political Capital. Political Capital is the number of actions a player can take in a turn and is an average of stats which represent the health of different aspects of the player's nation or coalition. It's an abstract and perhaps naive nod to the notion that governments are at least a little bit beholden to their people (or party) in order to have the leeway to pursue their foreign policy.
Here is a Google Drive folder with the rules and game assets so far. My friends and I have been playtesting on Astral Tabletop. I set the board as the “Map” and the playing pieces as “Characters”. You have to make all the players GMs so they don’t see fog of war and can move all the pieces around. So, I’d be grateful for any feedback you have, especially on the balancing front. And if you actually attempt to play the damn thing, please share your experience!
Monday, June 1, 2020
- I use Willpower instead of Charisma, which replaced it in the superb update Electric Bastionland (free preview here). It's more appropriate for the situation.
- I call "Hit Points" plain old Stamina. I think it gets the point across in a less abstract way.
- No equipment matrix. I just have them all come up with a reason for staying there, and I said they could have anything they reasonably would have brought for that purpose.
- Whenever characters witness something fucked up, they take d6 Willpower damage and have to make a Willpower save. Anyone who fails freaks out and can't do anything useful until they're out of danger. You have to be completely relaxed to regain Willpower.
- Instead of moving, the killer/monster/whatever may transfer d6 Willpower to Strength on its turn. I think of this as "the Jason effect."
- I didn't do it for this game, but usually I secretly text the players hidden, conflicting agendas for their characters to complete. I never tell them I'm doing this. Actually, I saw that the Alien RPG does something similar. Great minds. It looks pretty dope - I just don't have the need or money for a new game right now.
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
- Argent (silver) field, coloured charge (symbol)
- Coloured field, argent charge
- Or (gold) field, coloured charge
- Coloured field, or charge
- Azure (blue)
- Ermine (white with black spots)
- Gules (red)
- Purpure (purple)
- Sable (black)
- Vert (green)
- Two ordinaries
- Two beasts
- Sea creature
- Cross botonny
- Cross crosslet
- Cross flory
- Uses shield to steamroll opponents
- Only fights from horseback
- Stoic and defensive with greatsword
- Graceful duelist with sword and dagger
- Uses long flail to toy with opponents
- Berserker with two handaxes
- Jumpy with crossbow
- Bruiser with huge warhammer or battleaxe
- Hidden weapons all over body
- Claims sword has a mind of its own
- Only fights in by-the-book jousts or duels
- Invents ever more elaborate reasons not to fight
- Dour, joyless
- Pompous, thinks everyone is a fan
- Droll, always amused
- Monomaniacal about quest
- Jaded, disillusioned
- Adheres to chivalry to the letter
- Generous and rare champion of the oppressed
- Insufferable warrior-poet
- Quick to take offense
- Boisterous bully
- Ambitious schemer
- Tight-lipped and suspicious, always considering worst-case scenarios
- Sarcastic to hide insecurity
- Mirthful, spontaneously bursts into song
- Constantly complains, especially of ill-fitting armour or undergarments
- Believes quest is beneath him
- Easily bribed or otherwise distracted by mead
- Is aghast at people less educated and well off than he
- Plays trombone (which he invented) to ease the stress of battle
- Hears whispers that others do not
- Save maiden from controlling father
- Test self discipline and resistance to temptation
- Seek holy relic
- Slay a giant or other eater of Christians
- Track a beast entangled with family history
- Save lost, enchanted love
- Win the heart of a cold fairy princess
- Deliver dying wishes of king or queen to relative
- Search for lost heir to a throne
- Rescue noble baby stolen by fairies
- Protect last child of a murdered royal family
- Duel old rival
- Capture and return villain to face trial
- Seek advice from old hermit
- Hide the child of a lady’s affair from her wrathful husband
- Recover the Mourning Veil for a noble who wishes to deal with the Fairies
- Forge a sword of iron troll hearts in Brechewold’s forge Belcher
- Find a vizier at Brechewold to bring back to court
- Gain entry to the Smoking Mountain
- Find cure for a dying maiden
- Bleoberis (woman in disguise, true name Elaine)
- Degore (woman in disguise, true name Laudine)
- Aglovale (woman in disguise, true name Viviane)
Thursday, May 14, 2020
It is called The Yellow Book of Brechewold unless I can think of something better. It will detail a small campaign setting: a school for magicians (the titular Brechewold) and its environs in post-Arthurian western Britain. It will include:
- A completely keyed big (what's the cutoff for "mega?") dungeon: the school and abandoned, haunted levels beneath including tombs, a zoo, a body farm, a giant orrery, portals to other planets and fairy pocket-dimensions, a goblin diploma mill, seniors growing drugs, and more!
- Detailed faculty with personalities and goals, and a more sparsely detailed student body
- A small keyed enchanted forest surrounding the school including knights, giants, witches, elfs and other fairies, a unicorn, a relic from the Last Supper, religious hermits, anarcho-atheist bandits, &c
- A chapter on the conflicts between factions and individuals to facilitate sandbox play
- A chapter summarizing the treasures found elsewhere in the book, for ease of reference
- Full color player-facing maps and illustrations, black and white DM-facing maps and illustrations
- As many of the best practices of OSR design as I've been able to absorb
Saturday, April 25, 2020
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
I don't give a shit if the guy likes Jordan Peterson. His actions speak loudly that he is very much pro-trans people. The modern left is obsessed with purity tests and turning allies into enemies. This is why President Iceberg is currently driving the Titanic.
When Jim's bestselling author was accused of abuse, Jim canceled all the author's future work and reprints. Literally no one did more to show that abuse has no place in our hobby. It seems his great sin was that he seemed upset about doing it. Well, fucking duh. But he did it anyway. And yet in online "communities," words are so often valued above actions.
LotFP forever. If you agree, buy from them if you can and spread the word. I, like many others during this time, am hurting financially with only $1200 from the government to help (thanks, President Iceberg!), but I will be buying a few books because this is important to me. If this post makes you dismiss me, that's a ship I'm willing to go down with.
(In case it is not clear: I am criticizing the tactics of left-leaning people in the old school RPG scene because I hold quite left-leaning views and I want us to do better.)
Sunday, December 1, 2019
Saturday, September 21, 2019
I also can't stand them. I have tried many, from Critical Role to the more obscure OSR groups, and they absolutely cannot hold my attention. I can't even get into the Adventure Zone, and I love their other podcast. I don't even really know why I don't like them. It may have something to do with the fact that I'm not invested in the same way as when I'm playing, or maybe I don't like to see DMs making choices I wouldn't make.
But I want to like them. I really do. Do I have to make one to find one that I like? I fucking hope not. I couldn't see myself putting in the effort. Still, I have some ideas of things I'd like to see in something like this:
- Film in front of a green screen and stick in atmospherically appropriate visuals - movies, real-world footage, photos, illustrations.
- Graphics that look like they're taking inspiration from something a little better than World of Warcraft.
- Animations that show game information - like if a player gets hit, there's a blood splatter and "-8 HP" above their head.
- Replace DM description with short animations, if you can find someone good to make them.
- Shoot on video tape for max nostalgia. I guess you couldn't stream like this, but whatever.
- Closeups of all players, and a wide shot of the whole table. I'm not a fan of the Brady Bunch style that streaming kind of forces you into. I guess in general I'd rather watch something that has been shot ahead of time and edited together later, rather than streamed live.
- Rotoscope the players so when they say something "in-character", they are literally their character, full Ralph Bakshi style. Could be pretty off-putting, but I think I'd like it.
- Like four players max. Maybe three.
- Everyone should know the fucking rules. Normally I will tell you that you do not need to know any rules to play D&D, but if you're going to be doing it for other people to watch, you should not be slowing down to figure things out every few minutes.
- Everyone should be charismatic and charming and genuinely like each other. This seems like the first thing you should worry about and the hardest to pull off. Like real life, I guess. Usually the "cast" is either wooden, gratingly and self-consciously "nerdy," or obviously frustrated actors looking for exposure.
- Editing, guys.
Saturday, March 2, 2019
- Remove hit points
- Tie combat effectiveness to statistics, which Into the Odd doesn't do
- Differentiate weapons without variable damage
- Provide interesting tactical decisions in an intuitive way
Character CreationRoll 3d6 each for Strength, Dexterity, and Willpower. Saves and non-combat skill checks are roll under these stats. Each level, try to roll over each on 3d6 to increase them by one.
Consult this table for Weapon Skill:
(The charts kinda got fucked up, but hopefully they're readable.)
Choose equipment according to your preferred method or roll on an Into the Odd-style starting package chart.
Hand to Hand CombatCombatants make opposing d10 rolls. If they have equal Weapon Skills, they each roll one die. If one combatant has a higher Weapon Skill, he or she rolls one more die. If one combatant has at least twice the Weapon Skill of the other, he or she rolls two more dice. During the first round of engagement, the combatant with the highest-reach weapon adds another die to his or her roll, but after that (until they disengage) the combatant with the highest-speed weapon adds another instead. Compare the two combatants’ highest rolls, and use the difference between them to consult the Injury Chart for the low roller.
Minor (like daggers)
Small (like shortwords)
Medium (like longswords)
Great (like two-handed axes)
Pole (like spears)
Confined QuartersIn cases where the width of the fighting area is less than the length of a weapon extended from the body (use your best judgment), its reach bonus during the first round of engagement does not apply.
Fighting in RanksIf combatants fight in a line, any reach bonus from their weapons continues to apply after the first round of engagement, except on either end of the line.
Ranged CombatThe shooter rolls a d10 and hits the target if he or she rolls equal to or under his or her Weapon Skill. If the intended target moved in the previous round, the shooter rolls two dice and uses the higher result. If the shooter spent at least one previous round doing nothing but aiming at a stationary target, he or she rolls two dice and chooses the lower result. If the shooter hits, subtract the lowest roll from 10 and consult the Injury Chart.
ArmorFor both hand to hand and ranged combat, armor reduces the number used to consult the Injury Table by a certain amount. However, heavier armor reduces the speed of the weapon carried by the armor’s wearer.
Maximum Weapon Speed
Light (like leather)
Medium (like chain)
Heavy (like plate)
Armor PiercingLongbows, crossbows, maces, and lances from horseback reduce the effectiveness of armor by one point.
Called ShotsInstead of consulting the injury chart as normal, combatants may aim for a specific injury. In that case, consult the Injury table’s “Called Shot Dice” column. In the case of hand to hand combat, the defender of the called shot rolls that many extra dice. In the case of ranged combat, the shooter rolls that many extra dice and chooses the highest roll. If the attacker still succeeds, the desired injury takes effect.
Called Shot Dice
Temporary disadvantage on Dex-related rolls
Disadvantage on Dex-related rolls until healed
Disabled, dead in 2d4 rounds if not stabilized
Temporary disadvantage on Str-related rolls
Disadvantage on Str-related rolls until healed
Disabled, dead in 2d4 rounds if not stabilized
Disabled, dead in 2d4 rounds if not stabilized
Healing takes d4 weeks after a “Second Hit” and 2d4 weeks after a “Third Hit.”