Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Forest of Fiends: Simple Jungle Weather Tables

I did an earlier post with simple weather tables for a generally temperate climate.  Now, for the new sandbox campaign idea I'm developing, I need jungle weather.

Monsoon Season (November ~ February)
1~4 = Hot; constant torrential rains sweeping in from the sea; overcast; flash-flooding
5~8 = Hot; frequent thunderstorms sweeping in from the sea
9~10 = Hot; frequent light showers
11~12 = Hot; clear

Summer Season (March ~ July)
1~2 = Brutally hot; thunderstorms
3~6 = Brutally hot; clear and sunny
7~10 = Hot; clear and sunny
11~12 = Hot; occasional light showers

Harmattan Season (August ~ October)
1~4 = Hot; blustery winds from the interior
5~8 = Warm; blustery, bringing thin clouds of chaotic fey pollen from the interior
9~12 = Warm; blustery, bringing heavy clouds of chaotic fey pollen from the interior

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Campaign Idea - Forest of Fiends

Okay, so I'm still playing around with ideas for my campaign after this one.  I'd like to do something different.  Different not only from what I've done before but also what my gaming group comrades have run for us.  One type we haven't done is the classic sandbox: the GM draws up a map, populates it with locations and encounters, and unleashes the players on it.

A little while back I read a great sandbox idea over at The Wandering Gamist meant to be done in the Adventurer, Conqueror, King System (ACKS).  It's a take on the idea of a "lost continent" ripe for exploration.  I liked that general concept so I'm doing some prototyping with ideas to see if I can make something come together.  The rules set is as yet undecided, partly so as to not limit my thinking, but also because I'd like to offer the players a couple options and let them choose.  I'm generally thinking "not Pathfinder"--because that's our go-to set and this campaign is meant to be a break from the usual--but I'll leave it up to them.  I'm grabbing the deities from the old Forgotten Realms setting because I've always liked them and because I'm not motivated to do an entire pantheon from scratch.  The working title is "Forest of Fiends" because it will feature a lot of chaos, demons, and jungle.


A thousand years ago the Empire of Pra-Kryush ruled a mighty continent and made war to conquer lands far across the sea.  Their power rested on a blood-soaked alliance with the vile Marilith Queens.  With the aid of demon generals and titanic warbeasts supplied by the queens, the armies of the empire conquered lands far and wide. There they built temples to the Queens where the blood of victims filled the sacrificial basins and all knelt before the abyss.

But there came a time when the Queens' lust for conquest and blood could not be sated and they turned on their allies in Pra-Kryush.  Ravenous demonic things poured from the temples and the empire fell into chaos and fire.  The conquered lands seized the opportunity and  rose up with the help of their True Gods and threw off the yoke of the empire. These liberated lands renamed themselves the Holy Realms.  But the heartland of Pra-Kryush, across the wide ocean, was declared anathema: travel there was forbidden and any who delved into knowledge of summonings, demonology, necromancy, and other hell-arts were burnt at the stake.

Seven years ago Warpriest Chazan, the greatest priest of the god Torm, proclaimed a vision from his god: that the time had come to cleanse Pra-Kryush and establish the light of the True Gods there.  The temples of Tyr and Ilmater, the other two members of The Radiant Triad, joined their ally immediately.  The kings and queens of the Holy Realms quickly responded, both from religious fervor and an unparalleled opportunity to acquire land and treasure.  The kingdoms and temples sent various expeditions but almost all failed for one reason or another.  Pra-Kryush is still a place of doom.

The adventure begins in the town of Tymoris on the riverine island of Light of Fortune, where a sprawling temple-casino of Tymora anchors a ramshackle boomtown awash in fortune-seekers of every stripe.  Crusaders, exiles, colonists, pilgrims, pirates, and desperados all rub elbows in the streets and taverns.   Light of Fortune is located in the delta of a massive river dubbed the Hellflow.  All manner of fiendish creatures swim in it, just waiting for prey.  Rumors say the waters boil up from a cave in a fire-mountain, bringing the creatures up from the depths.  Luckily they generally avoid salt water so ships from the Holy Realms can usually get to and from the seaward side of the island unmolested.

 A forgotten people built a town on the island which scholars claim was called Tymoris.  The island is rocky, with only scrubby grass and stunted trees on the upper surfaces.   Fortunately, the original inhabitants built a reservoir and equipped it with a magical fountain to provide drinking water.  Channels and piping, now restored, carry water to several other small fountains throughout the town.  Despite the inflow of colonists and fortune seekers there are still a number of empty houses on the island, although all buildings legally belong to the Council of the Triad who act on behalf of the monarchs of the Holy Realms.   The days are warm and sunny with occasional light showers sweeping in from the sea, but in a few weeks the monsoon rains will arrive.

The game begins as the ship on which the party took passage approaches the town docks.  The captain of the Brightwave, an elder human named Tio Manzzada, has made the long passage seven times already and regaled the characters during the trip with rumors and stories--some of which may actually be true.

Features of the Campaign

The adventures will include much adventuring in the wild jungles, but also many "dungeon" type locations.  Encounters with demonic creatures, fey abominations, and natural creatures of the jungle will be frequent.  There will be significant political interactions with factions from the Holy Realms, particularly the temples.  There may be some travel by sea along the coast (this is a sandbox type campaign).  Travel back to the Holy Lands is not expected as the focus will be on exploration of Pra-Kryush--and dying a lot.

Pra-Kryush is a tropical jungle land.  Few maps remain from the old days, as most were burnt with their heretic owners to protect the faithful.  Even now there are only partial maps and navigators logs providing any information and even them mostly only what lies on the coast.  Old songs tell of a grand Cloud Plateau far inland, homeland of the inscrutable fey, who are as evil as the demons who presumably still prowl the lowland jungles.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Getting Started with Campaign Cartographer 3+

I've dabbled a bit with hand drawn style already for dungeon maps, as posted a few times here on the blog.  But there are a lot of great maps out there done with art programs or specialized mapping programs.  After looking around a bit I decided to try Campaign Cartographer by ProFantasy Software, now up to version 3+.  This is a very complex program but luckily there are some great tutorials on YouTube to get started.  On a recent Sunday afternoon I went through some of the tutorial videos on the Crawford Cartography channel.  I'm very much a visual learner so watching someone use the program while they discuss what they're doing is extremely helpful for me.  I basically just followed along and came up with this map, done with the Mike Schley style library of objects.  The sizing and placement of things is a bit clunky but I'm pleased with it as a first effort.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Review: Beyond the Wall

Herewith a review, or at least a set of impressions, on Beyond the Wall by Flatland Games.  So I dropped in at my FLGS a little while back and picked up a copy of this rather nice little game.  I had read a couple reviews and it sounded worth checking out as another approach to Old School Revival gaming.

First off, this game has a definite setting.  Beyond the Wall (BtW) is low magic, and set in a fantasy version of early middle ages Britain, with definite Celtic and "northmen" bits.  So, no kung-fu monks or ninjas here.  Also, the only player races are humans and elves.  Dwarves, gnomes, and hobbits appear in expansion material.  (On the publisher's web site there is also a fun free download for intelligent bear characters.)  The monsters/creatures in the short bestiary are also European themed and scoped mostly to traditional types.  No weird aboleths, cloakers, etc. to spoil your afternoon fantasy medieval jaunt.  You could also drop it into a Tolkienesque Middle Earth--Bree would make a great starting village, for instance.  The implied setting reminded me a lot of the one for the historically-based fantasy rules I started with: Chivalry & Sorcery.  Like C&S it is also an all-in-one book which allows you to play without assembling a small library first (although there are several supplements).  And at $7.99 for the pdf (I bought the dead-tree version for slightly more), it's easy on the budget.

Now for the core of the rules.  For comparison with OSR games:
  • you have the classic six attributes but rolled on 4d6 and drop the lowest
  • there are three basic classes: warrior, rogue, and mage (plus an optional warrior-mage, the Elven Highborn)
  • there are the classic five saving throws
  • you get Fortune Points 
  • initiative is done according to set initiative scores, no rolling needed
  • magic is a bit different, with cantrips which require an attribute check and can go wrong, spells which are cast much the same as in D&D, and rituals which take hours to cast and may also go wrong; also, compared with AD&D and later editions there are very few spells here, which is in keeping with the low-magic setting.
After rolling up the characters as you would in any D&D game, the next step is to build the village.  BtW features collaborative world building to create the characters' home village.  The GM and players take turns adding features to a map which starts with only the village inn at the center.  Everyone gets to add locations and NPCs.  Additional locations and NPC are added during use of the Character Playbooks (see below).

What makes BtW different from most OSR rules sets is the Character Playbooks.  These are tables which the players use to build the background story for their characters and also to link those characters to those of the other players.  The playbooks have names like "The Self-Taught Mage" and "The Village Hero".  They have tables on topics like "How did you earn your name" and "What first caused the witch to choose you".  You roll randomly  and get a bit of background with stat and/or skill bonuses--and other characters can also get a bonus with a shared story.  One example is: "For years you worked for her [the witch] calmly and patiently, and never questioned her wisdom or authority.  The friend to your right often calmed you when you grew frustrated with your lot, and gains +1WIS" and the character gains +2 WIS and the spell "Sanctuary of Peace".  I liked these playbooks because they help bind the group together with a shared history.  They also make building a character background easy for those who aren't into it or aren't good at it.

The book finishes up with two scenario playbooks.  I liked these a lot because they have a core concept which you detail with random roll tables.  The tables make for good replay value, allowing you to re-skin them for re-use later.

Bottom Line: This is a great little book, packing rules, world building, a bestiary, and scenarios into an easy to read, easy to use package.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

"Shut up and take my money" (Reaper Bones 4 Kickstarter)

Alas, now that I have drunk from the enchanted well of gaming miniatures goodness that is Reaper Miniatures' "Bones" kickstarters I can't actually stop any time I want to.  So, yes, I'm in for this one too.  Bones 4 is still happily unlocking away and will probably hit ridiculously high levels of funding due to the hordes of fanatics (hi!) who are already descending on the Kickstarter site.   I'm a little worried because I'm in very early this time, before the core unlocks are all revealed.  But the minis already unlocked are very cool so how bad can it be.  Just as long as they don't throw in any superhero minis...

Friday, August 4, 2017

Review: Slumbering Ursine Dunes

Okay, so decided to take the plunge and buy some game products I've been eyeing for a while now.  One of them was Slumbering Ursine Dunes by Chris Kutalik. This is a fun point crawl adventure for Labyrinth Lord (but usable with most any old school D&D rules) set in Chris' Hill Cantons campaign world. I wasn't sure whether I'd enjoy it, given that a lot of OSR stuff comes across to me as rather cheesy, but this is a really fun adventure.
(image from DriveThruRPG)

Actually, I was surprised that it felt a lot like the games I first ran back in high school.  I didn't start with D&D as such and had absolutely no campaign books so I totally made up my own game world and added in a lot of my own monsters.  Chris' game world is not your classic high fantasy D&D world: there are bear-people and elves from outer space (well, another dimension, but you see what I mean).  In this adventure you point-crawl across a small area of the world warped a bit by chaos, as various areas are, encountering unusual places and things.  There are also two small "dungeon" locations with their own bits of oddness.  The area could be attached to an existing campaign world as a side adventure or you could use it as an introduction to Chris' larger world.

There is also a cool Chaos Index.  As explained in the rules it's "a dynamic events system for modeling the mythic weirdness of the Dunes. Actions of the players in the sandbox will escalate or de-escalate the levels of events
from blood-rain thunderstorms to an aerial invasion of magictech bubble cars."  I've always used the PC's actions to create ripple effects that come back to them.  This book adds a specific mechanic to help you out.  I'm planning to adapt this idea for my next campaign.

Bottom Line: I really like this book.  It's very imaginative, links to other books (if you so desire), and is reasonable priced.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Necropolis - Quick Random Generation

I love the idea of not just a single ancient tomb, but an entire necropolis of dangerous adventures.  I also would like to have quite a few of them in my new campaign setting.  So I came up with some quick random generation tables.  These are easily customized for other settings and are good for hex crawl type adventures.

The Imperial homeland has many resting places for the dead.  Most common is the official Imperial Necropolis but the New Faiths have their pyramids as well.  Each necropolis is a sprawling complex of tombs, statuary, archives, temples, funerary vaults, workshops, shrines, and pilgrimage hosting.  Each one has a famous dominant spirit who gives the place its character.  Some spirits are hostile, insane, or malicious, others are more mellow and even helpful on occasion.

A necropolis is a big place and will have quite a few important features.  The mix of features varies from place to place and so here is a method to help do a quick build:

Step 1: Presence (two 1d6 rolls)

Notoriety (roll 1d6)
1 = Lost & Forgotten (-4 to find)
2-3 = Obscure (-2 to find)
4 = Minor (no find modifier)
5 = Well Known (+1 to find)
6 = Famous (+2 to find)

Size (roll 1d6)
1 = Small (-1 to all Feature die rolls below)
2-4 = Medium (no modifier)
5-6 = Big (+1 to all Feature die rolls below)

Step 2: Features (1d4, 1d6, 1d8, 1d10, and 1d12)

Character (1d4)
1    Deeply Spiritual
2    Creepily Spooky
3    Relentlessly Insidious
4    Viciously Malicious

Temples (1d6; once for how many, again for what type is each)
1-4    Imperial Ancestor Cult
5-6    New Faiths deity, typically Anubis but sometimes Bastet, Mayet, or Thoth

Gardens/Plazas (1d8; once for how many, again for each one to determine the prominent feature around which it is centered)
1 - statue of a deceased emperor
2 - statue of a New Faith god
3 - cenote/moon pool
4 - fountain
5 - ancient obelisk or primitive menhir
6 - Yin-Yang tablet array
7 - eternal "flame"/illusionary display
8 - mysterious divine or arcane gate thing

Archives & Workshops (1d10)
1 - Mummification
2 - Incense refining
3 - Alchemy lab
4 - Scriptorium
5 - Library
6 - Archive
7 - Woodworking (coffins)
8 - Weaving (shrouds, banners, curtains, biographical tapestries)
9 - Metalworking (iron and bronze fixtures and furnishings)
10 - Distillery (ceremonial wines and alcoholic spirits)

Graveyards, Catacombs & Crypts
(1d12 for how many; d6 for type of each)
1-2    Catacombs (underground passages)
3-4    Graveyard (surface graves)
5-6    Crypts (aboveground structures; 1-in-6 chance of New Gods pyramid)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Simple Unpredictable Magic for OSR Gaming

 Okay, so I sort of lied there in the title.  You could use this with almost any game with fantasy magic in it.  I made up these tables to go with Old School Hack/Neo School Hack but then realized you could apply them to plenty of other rules sets. 

One complaint I have always had with D&D, and D&D based games, is the predictability of magic casting.  Sure, there are a few spells where a random roll is involved, but usually the spell is cast and the effect occurs without needing a roll.  This never felt right to me.  Also, certain magic items should become less of a sure thing over time.  Those potions are magical but after centuries or even millennia sitting in a chest in some tomb they might well go bad.

So here are some simple d12 based tables for potions, scrolls, and spellcasting to keep everyone on their toes.

Potions (roll 1d12)
1: Toxic!  No magical effect, but drinker suffers one wound
2: Flat!  No magical effect happens
3 - 11: Shazam! It worked!
12: Mana Rush!  Magical effect works and drinker gains 1 Awesome Point

Magic Scrolls (roll 1d12)
Anyone can read a magic scroll if they know the language it's written in.  In the case of a holy or unholy scroll, the reader must also at least partially share the same alignment as the deity to whom the scroll is dedicated.
1: Rebuke!/Backlash!  No magical effect, scroll crumbles into dust, and reader suffers one wound
2: Mis-read! No magical effect happens but you can try reading the scroll again later
3 - 11: Praise and Glory!/Shazam! It worked!
12: Mana Rush!  Magical effect works and reader  gains 1 Awesome Point

Magic Casting (roll 1d12)
1: Rebuke!/Backlash!  Casting fails, the spell is expended, and caster suffers one wound
2: Botched! Casting fails, but the spell is not expended and you may cast it again later
3 - 11: Praise and Glory!/Shazam! It worked!
12: Mana Rush!  Magical effect works and caster gains 1 Awesome Point

Conversion to typical D&D values:
  • for the damage, use 1d4 points of damage per level of the spell
  • for the Mana Rush either: add Awesome Points (or Hero Points, etc.) to your game, have the person gain 1d6 temporary hit points, or allow the scroll or spell to be cast normally.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review: Legacy--Life Among the Ruins...and more.

Okay, so I haven't been posting very actively lately.  I'm going to blame it on...let's see...too much gaming on Roll20, a welcome uptick in in-person gaming, and Netflix.  Also, I purchased several more gaming books which I'm slowly working my way through.

One of my latest acquisitions is Legacy--Life Among the Ruins by James Iles.  I came across this game while browsing all the games I could find at which use the Apocalypse Engine.  I bought another game "Powered by the Apocalyse" a little while ago (Dungeon World, see my review here) and was intrigued by the mechanics and its fresh approach to gaming.  I've been wanting to run some sort of sci-fi game to balance all the fantasy and superhero gaming my group does and so I bought Legacy and the two expansions: Legacy--Echoes of the Fall and Legacy--Mirrors in the Ruins.  I got all three pdfs for under US$20 so that's less than one typical print book for the whole set.

Legacy is set in a not-too-far future after civilization has collapsed.  The game does not lay out any specific timeline or even a specific location on earth.  There is mention of stories passed down by grandparents and great grandparents.  It could be that the very oldest people around (90+) still remember the pre-fall world, or maybe it's a generation or two beyond that, depending on what suits the GM's concept best.  But it's not so far back that everything old has crumbled.  There are still a few working vehicles, weapons, tools, and machines around.

Players play both a single character, as one expects in an RPG, but also that character's family.  There are eight character classes and five types of families.  Because this is a PbtA game, there are Moves which represent what you can do.  Each class has a set of unique Moves it can perform but so does each family.  Characters have four stats but families have three: Reach, Grasp, and Mood.  Reach is the family's influence in the wider world; Grasp is the family's ability hold onto what it has; and Mood is the family's overall well-being.  A family also has points of Tech which can be hoarded or spent.  An average family is posited to be 20-30 able-bodied adults.  Interacting with other families in your area is intended to be a feature of any campaign.

Another feature of Legacy is "Ages".  Ages allow you to move the game time forward, apparently by a couple generations.  There is a move for this called The Age Turns, the roll for which is modified by your family's Mood.  This feature may not appeal to all groups but it is a nice addition to the PbtA system overall and could easily be adapted for making other campaigns multi-generational.

As noted above I also bought the two expansions, Legacy--Echoes of the Fall and Legacy--Mirrors in the Ruins.  Echoes of the Fall adds two new family types and one more PC class.  Mirrors in the Ruins adds four very science-fictiony families and a new PC class to go with each.  While the main rules and Echoes are about humans in a near future Mirrors goes much farther into the realm of science fiction and I would definitely use it in a Legacy game to spice things up.

Friday, January 13, 2017

I Hate Keeping Track of Stuff in RPGs

As I peruse various articles on old school gaming I come across a certain thread from time to time.  Old school dungeon crawling and hex crawling campaign rules had a definite resource management side of them.  Players and DM alike were supposed to carefully account for every potion, torch, ration, arrow, coil of rope, etc. acquired and expended.  This, allegedly, provided a challenging mini-game within the larger game.

Frankly, I hate having to keep track of stuff whether as player or GM.  It's just a annoying, boring distraction from the fun stuff.

I prefer games which either hand-wave resource management or build it smoothly into the rules.  For instance, in Dungeon World you have the option of losing one "ammo" if you fail a shooting roll.  Outside of that you just assume the character is being careful shooting and scavenging arrows along the way.  The character does need to possess at least one notional "ammo load", but that's it.  Delightfully simple.

This also goes for keeping track of various conditions or effects, particularly spell effects.  In a lot of games when battle is joined you will likely have multiple spells functioning at one time to either buff the PCs or hinder their opposition.  Each spell has a different duration, may allow/require saves each turn, etc.  That's just more crap to have to keep track of--and who really wants to waste mental energy on that?  I'm thinking it would be much better to frame durations in a way which eliminates that sort of micro-managing.  A suggested set of duration frames, which I'm using in my Neo School Hack rules, is:

- Instantaneous (same round as initiated)
- One round (lasts into the round after the round initiated)
- Until end of action scene (some GM judgement on when to call it off)
- Set number of hours/days/weeks/etc. (okay a bit of tracking, but low granularity)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

So I made this Kraken...

My buddy Steve is running a great campaign for us.  In our last session our intrepid heroes boarded a surprisingly small ship and headed across the big ocean to the undead-infested mainland on a quest.  I figured that at some point while we sailed around we'd get attacked by a kraken.  I didn't have a kraken figure so I decided to make one.  I needed something big but something I could do pretty quickly.  I decided to go with foam core poster boards and soft foam sheets, plus some styrofoam balls.

Made several small scale models using stiff card to test out shapes before cutting the posterboard.

Cut a foamcore sheet to make the two sides and positioned on a base sheet.

Messed about with the positioning til I was happy with it.

Used tape to keep the boards in place while I used the hot glue gun.

Cut the styrofoam balls in half for eyes and warty bumps; also grabbed a conical piece left over from a previous project.

Clued on horn, eyes, and small warty bumps.

Decided I needed a tail (or fin) sticking up for dramatic effect, so I sketched one on a foam sheet and cut two pieces.

Tail glued on!

Proper kraken have spiky bits down the back.

Must have scary teeth: soft foam teeth on top, foam core on bottom.  Deliberately made teeth slightly different sizes and added notches and chips for "ooglyness" (yes, that's a word).

Proper monsters are green.

Painted eyes yellow for contrast.  Decided to add appropriately weird tongue; sparkly purple seemed like a good color choice at the time.

Black spray paint on inside of kraken, darkest at the back but light near the mouth for blending later.

Just add water.

Added some watery effect squiggles with markers.  Also carved out horn and eyes to add small wooded button pupils.

Decided the eyes needed edge rings, partly to pop better and partly to hide the gap.  Burgundy goes well with golden yellow. Noticed the base warped due to the dampness of the paint; used books to form back flat. (Knew I'd get some use out of those 4E books some day!)

Tongue shaded with black at back and glued in; red pupils glued in place.

Eye rims glued on and final paint touch-ups.