Tabletop Gaming Feeds

Through A Veil of Blue Mist Did I First Behold Talislanta

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 12:00

I've mentioned my appreciation for Stephan Michael Sechi's Talislanta setting. Since I'm contemplating running a Sword & Planet game that uses Talislanta as the "planet," I though it was a good time to revisit the setting, and it's publication history in a series of posts, as I think about what I'm going to use and what I might do differently.

Historically, Talislanta is both a setting and a game. It's core, however, has always been the systemless Chronicles of Talislanta, first published by Bard Games in 1987. Chronicles is the narrative of Tamerlin, a wizard from another world, as he explores the continent of Talislanta. Sechi's imaginative setting is made more compelling by P.D. Breeding-Black's distinctive illustrations.

When I first encountered Talislanta, I didn't have much experience with Sechi's inspirations: the works of Jack Vance, Marco Polo's Travels, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, and the comics of Philippe Druillet. To me, it seemed more daring than the implied setting of D&D, and at once goofier and more lurid than the likes of Middle-Earth. It reminded me of Star Wars and comic books. I liked it instantly.

My appreciation has only grown over the years. So, I'm going to trace Tamerlin's journey and the places it visits across editions and think about how I might make it my own, influenced by my understanding of Sechi's stated influences and influences of my own.

More to come.

Outline Of A Lovecraftian Mega Dungeon - Mysterious Mountains of Death

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 01/15/2020 - 20:58
Over the last couple of days I've been rereading H.P. Lovecraft's the Mound, & thinking about the legends of the Dark Watchers of the Santa Lucia Mountains for my Cha'alt/Godbound rpg campaign. If you don't know the ins & outs of HP Lovecraft's The Mound here's the inner word from the novella's wiki entry;"The Mound is a horror/science fiction novella by American author H. P. Lovecraft, Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

It’s Gnoll Time!

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 01/15/2020 - 12:17
by Megan Irving Self Published For every game system ever Level ?

Deep in the forest is a village that has been destroyed by gnolls. Gnolls are corrupted hyena monsters that crave innocent flesh. They eat anyone in their way and spread across the land like a plague, corrupting more hyenas and creating more gnolls as they go. The only way to stop them is to track them down and kill them all. This is your quest.

This twenty page adventure, in zine digest format, details a forest region plagued by a gnoll war band. It has some interesting writing and items and is trying to be a kind of loose framework for an adventure. Alas it was a little too unstructured for me to figure out … which was exacerbated by the issue I had figuring out the order the pages were supposed to be in(!)

Let’s imagine a forest. There’s a smoking ruin of a village in the middle of it. There are locations in the forest (maybe?) and some NPC’s to run in to. Thus the adventure is intended to be a a kind of investigation in to the ruined village (I guess?) and a then some travel in the forest meeting people and, eventually, dealing with the gnolls.

Each page of the digest represents one “idea”/location/NPC. There’s a short little intro text, that reads like read-aloud (IN FUCKING ITALICS! DON”T USE FUCKIGN ITALICS FOR LONG BLOCKS OF FUCKING TEXT! IT”S FUCKING HARD TO READ!) There are short and evocative little snippets of text that introduce the place/person to the party. A stench of rotting flesh. Rattling bones, teeth clattering, or a stretched humanoid form made of shadows with a strange rune on its forehead, drifting between trees and strange obelisks … not bad little snippets of text for introducing something new to the players, two or three sentences, full of flavour. What follows is a little background, goals, etc, some “fronts” (more on that later) and then some notes, like where to find them, how to use them, etc.

There’s a random treasure table, with no real treasure set. A magic cloak: the wearer isn’t easily noticeable even when they should stick out like a sore thumb. A golden tiara, might be magical, or just extremely valuable. Someone’s definitely looking for it.  A magical bow and arrow that fire arrows of pure darkness that can punch through anything, but can only be fired on a moonless night. That’s some fucking PHAT L00T! The magic retains its wonder. 

The NPC’s have goals. The “fronts” for various entries appear to be a kind of timeline of events for them, a progression as they further their own goals while the party is fucking about.

At this point things start to break down.

I will admit that I had a hard time comprehending this adventure. It’s a zine thing where you can print if out and fold it to make a booklet, or read the other version provided on the screen. The screen read seemed … like the pages were out of order? And then the zone, when printed, came out backwards and, again, seemed like the pages were out of order? So, heads up, I dug through it but, ultimately, I’ve decided that my confusion is in some part to the type of product being presented. 

The designers is, I think, trying to do something relatively new. A zine, one page per concept, a kind of framework of an adventure, open ended with the DM to bring themselves but enough structure to provide the grounding needed. That is, I think, the intent. Unrealized.

You can see some of this “looseness” of the framework in the description of that tiera: someone is looking for it. SOMEONE. Likewise the looseness of the loot proper, not given per location but on its own table to fill in the encounters with as they see fit. Further, the random encounters are “a peaceful and beautiful place to rest” or “a feral and aggressive animal that can be calmed and healed with love and kindness.” While these two tables are the extreme, there’s also a kind of looseness, as exemplified by the tables, present in most other areas. Down to the map which is more of a conceptual map, disguised as a real one. In isolation I’m ok with all of these. A conceptual map can be ok. Ideas to sprinkle in the adventure are ok. A little looseness is ok. But when EVERY element is this loose, and combine it with a kind of looseness in the layout/organization of the book itself (which may be my own lack of ability to understand it) then I’m just a confused mess. I can’t figure out how/why/where the graveyard is, in relation to other things, where the gnolls are, where the scavengers are, where the NPC’s are, or anything else. Of everything presented in the adventure the only thing I can truly understand is “The Village” the first/center location, and even then I don’t really understand how it is supposed to work. And the “fronts” that are advancing with time? Either the adventure is too short or there are too many or the wanderer chart is too small or … I don’t know. I get the IDEA but I think it’s implemented in a manner that I might call “unrefined” if I were being generous.It doesn’t work.

And that’s is, essentially, my summary of the adventure as a whole. It’ doesn’t work. I can’t really figure out how its supposed to work. (And after 2000+ reviews I’d like to think I have some comprehension in that area …) Mechanical issues with the layout/printing. The front issue. The kind of aggressive abstraction of conceptual encounters and items … would it hurt to say WHO is after the tiera? That would add color. Or the creature that needs love? Why the emphasis on the conceptual instead of the concrete?

I think I can understand what Megan is going after here. And I think I can see the promise in the concept. And the evocative writing and treasure is good. I think it just needs to be a bit more grounded. More specificity. If I understand the intent correctly then I think the goals can still be accomplished while being more specific in wanderers, magic, encounters … maos. EVerything more … comprehensible, without resorting to something like a more traditional format. I look forward to seeing how this format progresses in the future. And “I look forward to …” are not words I write often. It’s interesting as a design idea and needs some further refinement, if I understand what’s being attempted.

This is $5 on DriveThru. There’s no preview. Ouch! Put in a preview, please? And there’s no level given. And it’s listed for every system under the sun from 0e to 5e, include 4e. This is another clue to that … abstracted framework thingy that is being aimed at.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Putting The Spark of Mayfair Games's Role Aids Archmagic Box Set Into Your OSR Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 01/15/2020 - 05:11
"Adds high-powered spells and items to any fantasy campaign, but is "presented for use with ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS". Rules for Archmages, Artifacts, Grimoires and Archmagics are presented. Includes an adventure utilizing the rules within. Also includes maps of various mystic places and props depicting various powerful items. Contains: 64 page rulebook32 page adventure48 page map Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

XP Started as One of D&D’s Breakthrough Ideas. Now the Designers Don’t See the Point

DM David - Tue, 01/14/2020 - 11:52

When Dave Arneson ran a session of his Blackmoor dungeon for his Dungeons & Dragons co-creator, Gary Gygax’s biggest impression came from two innovations: (1) the dungeon expedition and (2) how characters improved with experience. In Playing at the World, author Jon Peterson describes reactions to the revolutionary game and shows new players and reviewers always touting the experience system. The steady reward of experience and levels forged an obsession for many players. I shared their fervor. In my junior high cafeteria, when I overheard some kids talking about a strange game where you could kill an orc, gain experience points, and get better at fighting, that single notion hooked me.

Early in Dave’s Blackmoor campaign, characters earned one experience point for each hit point of the monsters they killed. Players rarely saw the details. Blackmoor player Greg Svenson recalls, “We didn’t track our experience points as is done now. Dave simply told us when we had transitioned from one level to another.” Dave liked to shield players from his game’s numbers, partly for mystery, partly so he could change rules whenever he thought of something better.

His method for awarding experience certainly evolved. In a 1978 interview, Dave Arneson recalled awarding experience for characters who used skills associated with their class. “Each player increases in ability in a given area by engaging in an activity in that area. For a fighter this meant by killing opponents (normal types of monster), their ability to strike an opponent and avoid the latter’s blows was increased.”

While realistic, awarding experience points (XP) for different activities could have split groups to work their separate professions. If characters gained, say, spellcasting ability through endless hours of practice and study, players would face choosing between the fun of exploring dungeons and the drudgery of practice. “While it is more ‘realistic’ for clerics to study holy writings, pray, chant, practice self-discipline, etc. to gain experience, it would not make a playable game,” Gary wrote in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide. “Magic users should be deciphering old scrolls, searching tomes, experimenting alchemically, and so forth, while thieves should spend their off-hours honing their skills, casing various buildings, watching potential victims, and carefully planning their next job. All very realistic, but conducive to boredom.”

In the pursuit of realism, Chivalry & Sorcery (1977) took study so seriously that the authors argue that magic users shouldn’t leave their labs at all. “What real ‘experience’ is to be had in a dark, damp dungeon?”

Gary saw dungeon expeditions as the second compelling innovation in Dave’s game. To succeed, the budding D&D game needed a way to lure every character into the dungeon, and then to reward their risk taking. Players loved seeing their characters gain power, so Gary motivated them to explore dungeons by stocking the underworld with treasure and by awarding characters experience for winning gold. The rogue might want wealth, and the paladin might want to smite monsters and to give to the church, but they could both win experience in the dungeon. Plus, the hunt for treasure resonated with players. Gary wrote, “If you, the real you, were an adventurer, what would motivate you more that the lure of riches?”

In addition to rewarding players for seeking fun, the XP-for-gold system offered another benefit: It created a simple way to award experience points for succeeding at non-combat challenges. As a new PC in the original game, potentially with 1 hit point, you had little chance of leveling through combat. Players joke that D&D is about killing things and taking their stuff, but in the original game, you were better off using your wits to take stuff. So long as your cunning led to gold, you got experience.

In the original game, characters earned much more experience for gold than for monster slaying. This rewarded players for engaging in exactly the dungeon exploration that made the game so much fun.

Once treasure led characters to the dungeon, Gary harnessed the system to tempt players to higher risks. In the early D&D game, players chose the amount of difficulty they wanted. Every level of the dungeon corresponded to a level of character, so the first level offered challenges suitable for first-level characters. Players could seek greater challenges—and greater rewards—as they went deeper.

When Gary created this aspect of the game, he needed to find ways to entice players deeper into the dungeon. If a cautious party could gain nearly as much loot on an easy dungeon level as on a deeper one, why go down? Gaining experience could become a safe—and dull—grind.

To draw characters to danger, Gary doubled the number of experience points needed to advance to each level, then matched the increase with similar increases in treasure. To rise in level at a tolerable rate, players needed to delve as far down as they dared.

Doubling both experience requirements and rewards offered a second benefit: Low-level characters could join a higher-level party and catch up quickly. This gave newer characters a boost and so made dead characters easier to replace. Also, the quicker advancement made monsters that drained characters of levels a bit less punishing.

In the decade after D&D’s introduction, a mania for creating realistic alternatives to D&D dominated the hobby. Every D&D player who ever wielded a foam sword cooked up a more realistic alternative to the D&D combat system.

The XP-for-gold system struck players everywhere as unrealistic. In the original Arduin Grimoire (1977), Dave Hargrave wrote that in his game, “[Experience] points are given for many reasons, but NOT for gold or other treasure. After all, it is the act of robbery, not the amount stolen, that gives the thief his experience.” In 1989, with the second edition, D&D would follow suit. The game would never award XP for gold again.

Without XP for gold, only killing monsters earned specific experience awards. Players liked to say the D&D only awarded XP for killing things, but that has never been true. While second edition stopped granting experience for gold, “a character can earn experience points for successfully completing an adventure or achieving a goal the DM has set.” But neither dungeon masters nor published adventures tended to follow the advice. Everyone, professionals included, tended to ignore improvised awards for experience in favor of the set numbers printed for each monster.

In the countless video games that adopted experience points, the mechanic proved its psychological draw. With every battlefield victory, gamers saw their score rise, leading to higher levels and greater power. This feedback of rewards kept gamers hooked. Electronic games brought advantages to an XP system. The computer freed players from working the math, and CPUs patiently served an endless stream of foes to characters who needed to grind their way to the next level. Still, grinding hardly sounds fun.

When second edition stopped awarding XP for gold, D&D superficially became more of a game of killing than ever. Except D&D matured anyway. Adventures started spinning stories deeper than that one time we killed a minotaur for gold. Originally, every character chased treasure; now, characters pursue adventure for justice or for honor or for countless other reasons, including treasure. And that worked so long as when players joined a game, they joined an unspoken pact to find reason for their character to accompany the other characters in following the plot.

In the newer, story-driven play style, some players stopped seeing the point of counting experience. Those players included current D&D head, Mike Mearls. “Tracking experience points and using them to award levels makes a lot of sense in open-ended games, where the players can go where they wish, tackle the specific challenges that appeal to them, and create their own goals as a campaign progresses. In this type of game, when the players decide to assault the lair of a blue dragon, their primary goal is most often the treasure and XP they’ll gain for defeating it,” Mike wrote.

“In a more story-driven campaign, however, that lair assault could have a more complex purpose. Defeating the dragon removes a threat to the realm and creates a key event in the campaign’s story arc. In this type of campaign, treasure and XP take second place in the characters’ goals, behind the dragon’s importance in the narrative. The reward lies in making the kingdom safe and completing the mission, not necessarily in collecting loot. Leveling up might feel like the best way to mark that campaign milestone, even if the XP earned by slaying the dragon doesn’t quite cover it.”

In addition to faulting XP for failing to serve narrative campaigns, D&D’s designers disliked the bookkeeping behind XP. Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo, the designers behind D&D’s 3rd and 4th editions wrote, “We think that XP systems are better left to computer games.

Even today, players still mischaracterize D&D as a game that only awards experience for slaying, mainly because every monster lists an XP number, while diplomatic and other challenges lack them.

Meanwhile, the game’s designers abandoned experience points in favor of milestones—leveling after story-driven accomplishments. Mearls wrote, “In the past, we’ve always defaulted to using experience point rewards for everything. However, for narrative-driven adventures like adventure paths, that approach can prove troublesome. Designers have to jam in the ‘correct’ number of combat encounters to make sure the PCs level up at the right pace. Adventure design thus becomes a process of matching up the right flow of XP to the correct tempo of the plot. Otherwise, if characters don’t level up at the expected rate, subsequent chapters in an adventure path become too difficult or too easy.”

When Mike complains about jamming in combat encounters, he reinforces the canard that the D&D rules only allow XP for killing monsters. Even a long-time designer never considers other XP awards. To be fair, story awards that help characters meet the level requirements of an adventure yield the same result as a DM announcing that everyone gains a level. Milestones lose the math, but they also lose the hook of small XP rewards for successes, seeing progress, and then earning levels.

The fifth-edition hardcover adventures lack enough monster-slaying XP to keep characters on pace with the adventure’s target levels. The designers could have added XP awards for other accomplishments, but they show little interest in supporting XP. This disinterest posed a problem for those of us who ran the hardcover adventures for the Adventurers League through the first 7 seasons. The league used experience then, and if the characters had only earned XP for slaying, they would never reach the levels targeted by the adventure. I may have violated the letter of League rules by awarding extra XP for overcoming non-combat challenges. I may be good, but I’m not completely lawful. Don’t tell the administrators.

Now, the League follows the D&D designers by dropping XP in favor of granting players the option to advance after an adventure, chapter, or other milestone.

Next: XP versus milestone advancement—at least we can all agree that awarding XP just for combat is terrible.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Purple Cha'alt Venger Mail Call & A Bit of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 01/14/2020 - 03:15
So let's talk about when Venger Satanis backed his purple mail truck up to the Dark Corners mail box & dropped off my Cha'alt care package! And away we go! He packs em right! Cha'alt came with a purple vengence!This has been my go to OSR campaign for some months but after seeing video after video review on Cha'alt I beg,borrowed & pleaded to get a copy. And boy did I get one! Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Dungeon of Kursh Velgont

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 01/13/2020 - 12:24
By Jonathan Hicks Farsight Games S&W No Level Given. Shame on you!

You and your friends are about to embark on a dangerous yet rewarding adventure into the floating dungeons of Kursh Velgont, a powerful but long-dead wizard. The magical dungeons of the wizard have risen from the ground and toppled the abandoned castle that it used to be part of. Right now it is drifting through the air towards Chalisan, and the undead denizens of the dungeon are falling from the rapidly collapsing hunk of earth and corridors and terrorising decent folk! How has the dungeon risen? What power keeps it aloft, and what damage will it do to the lands? The PCs have been commissioned to get into the floating prison and find out why this is happening, and to try and find a way to stop it before it reaches the town of Chalisan and the evil dead are deposited upon it!

This sixteen page adventure, details a seventeen room dungeon that if floating through the sky, dropping undead and dirt and stuff from it as it floats towards a major town. It’s a conversion from Advanced Fighting Fantasy and shows it. A few neato lines of descriptions are scattered throughout, but that can’t stop the disco: long italics read-aloud, and bad design.

How shall I rail against thee? Let me count the ways … 

This is a conversion from AFF. It shows. This is where I now go on and on about the unique flavour in a game system and how most conversions don’t capture that. Let us take a game like Polaris: Chivalric Tragedy at Utmost North. (AKA: The Harry Clark game containing no Harry Clark.) Sad tragedy marked by failure and people saying “but though are but a warrior …” to fail you. Now, let’s take G1/Steading and stat convert it to Polaris. Is it a Polaris adventure? What if I don’t convert it AT ALL and just call G1 a Polaris adventure? What if G1 had no stats, could I call it a Polaris adventure? What if I took an adventure for a game like Polaris or Lacuna, something with esoteric targeted rules and just said “Yeah, It’s an OSR adventure now” … a game whose entire concept was based around player ingenuity, no forced combats, gold giving you XP. That’s what this is. The designer has little understanding of what makes a D&D adventure and has just stat converted the thing from AFF to S&W. The big loot at the end is 200gp in gems. That’s great, right? Let’s see, split five ways … better to stay home and ambush people in the alley and take THEIR stuff for xp. Being a hero don’t pay, at least in XP. And then there are other things, like falling damage. You can fall from the floating dungeon. You take a d6 damage, even though its very high up. Is that how falling damage works in S&W? I don’t think so. Or, maybe, “high up” means 10 feet from the ground?

Nevermind the abstracted treasure in the form of “200gp in gems”. Nevermind that we’re not told how fucking far offt he ground the dungeon floats. A super basic quality. Something everyone wants to ask, I’m sure, as they approach it. “How long are the ropes hanging down from it? How long must we endure undead attacks while we climb?” Or even “how fast is it travelling?” since that’s a main theme of the adventure. Nope, none of that. It’s all fucking abstracted. No brave little tailors here. Look, yeah, I can make it up. But that’s not the point. It’s a pattern. It’s a basic lack of understanding of what to include and not include in an adventure.

What should NOT be included? How about column after column of read-aloud? And it’s in italics, making it super hard to read! And it’s full of bad fiction writing! 

“The lands are rife with danger, but there are plenty of rewards for adventurers willing to take the risks and face the evils that threaten to plunge the lands and lives of decent folk into darkness. Most days pass by without incident and people go about their affairs peacefully, but some days are dangerous and can change lives forever.Today is one of those dangerous days.”

Uh huh. That’s the read-aloud?

It goes on and on with the read-aloud. “Which way do you venture?” the read-aloud tells us. Uh huh. Priorities misplaced. And none of that fucking “its for beginners” shit. We don’t fucking pander. Besides, thats just justifying bad writing, there are better ways to present to n00bs. 

So, mountains of read-aloud. Including a big bad monologue. Joy. A room description of a hallway junction that takes a quarter page .. for nothing more than a hallway junction. 

And then there’s just bad design. There’s enforced morality “no matter how many foes the players defeat they should not receive any XP.” No, that’s not how D&D works. That’s how bullshit enforced morality works. “Once you defeat the monster you notice the large key on its belt.” No, that’s bad design. By making the party notice the key in the outset you make it a temptation. The point becomes getting the key rather than just engaging in another fight, which is how it’s written. AFF or no, a fight for the sake of a fight is bad design. “Don’t be too hard on them this early in the adventure, just have one or two skeletons per player attack the party.” No, that’s not how things work. Again, combat for the sake of combat and an ATTEMPT to have a dramatic moment. Those enforced moments SUCK BALLS. Better are the moments that come from the players own attempts. That’s what you’re writing for. 

The writing is muddled, with various elements all knotted up in the same paragraphs making it hard to find information. It’s conversations “don’t tell the players, but in 6 rounds a numbers of skeletons will come to investigate.”

What’s sad here is that there’s some good imagery. Buried in a column of read-aloud is, in the opener., a woman riding up frantically yelling “Have you seen it?! Have you seen the dungeon?!” That’s a good opened. The lower parts of the ropes leading up to the floating dungeon are slick with blood. Skeleton heads have an inner green glow. There are bloody handprints on doors. That’s all greta. It’s just too little, too far in between, and buried under mountains of useless text and bad design.

This is $2 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages. You don’t get any dungeon rooms, which is bad, but the last two pages DO show you almost two full pages of read-aloud. That’s a pretty good indication of whats to come. Also, THERE’S NO FUCKING LEVEL RANGE GIVEN. *sigh*

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisited: In the Twilight

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 01/13/2020 - 12:00
The original version of this post appeared in 2016...

At least ten empires rose and fell during the Meridian of Earth. Each was glorious and wrested such secrets from the universe as to enable it to bend laws of nature, obdurate to earlier cultures, to its whim. Each in time fell into decadence, dwindled, and died, but at the end of the Meridian Time, the Earth had been transformed by their works; it had become the abode of beings other than Man.

As the Twilight fell and the sun grew bloated and sanguine, those Outsiders and abhuman things encroached ever closer on the nations of Man. By and by, they gained greater dominion over the Earth. In the early centuries, the technologies of the elder Meridian still functioned, and Man comprehended enough to build great walls as a defense against the inhuman. As Twilight deepened, many of these redoubts fell, but a few stood fast and managed even to throw back their foe. The Coming Night was held in abeyance for so long that generations passed and many began to doubt it would ever fall.

But beyond the walls, the Great Beasts crouched and waited with patience inhuman but not infinity, and abhuman armies gathered in the deepening in gloom...

Here's the pitch: Take the early modern bleakness, occasional black humor, and body-warping chaos of Warhammer Fantasy and put it in a Dying Earth gone weird like Hodgson's The Night Land, making sure to filter the Watchers (Great Beasts in this case) through Lovecraftiania, a hint of kaiju, and good old fashion goetic demonology. Wrap it all in "points of light" surrounded by walls out of Attack on Titan.

The Forces Of Chaos - Old School Hell & OSR Damnation - The Uses of the Hordes Hell From The Lion & Dragon RPG & Beyond

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 01/12/2020 - 20:22
So I've been doing research while shaking this cold, I've been looking into Chaos & Hell! I've been looking at Dark Albion, Lion & Dragon rpg,Dark Albion's Cults of Chaos,  & RPGPundit Presents: The Old School Companion 1 . But I want to use these with my current Cha'alt/Godbound rpg campaign. Why?! Well because while Games Worshop was 'borrowing' from Michael Moorcock for the RealmsNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Campaign Idea in Pictures

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 01/12/2020 - 12:00
A scout ship crashes on a distant planet.

A world teeming with life, some of which mysterious shows ties to Earth, and primitive civilization.

Things are not what they seem.

But what can explain the apparent examples of magic?

The short pitch summary: A Planetary Romance short of sandbox, inspired by Vance's Planet of Adventure series with Talislanta (modified to taste) used as a base.

Zweihander, Open Content and a reply to Daniel Fox

Bat in the Attic - Sat, 01/11/2020 - 19:37
The Old School Renaissance or OSR, rest on the foundation of open content released under the Open Gaming License. Open content is what allowed this segment of the hobby to become then just a regurgitation of classic DnD content and tropes. 
For everyone who worked to support the classic editions 'as is' dozens more emerged to take them into new direction. New genres, or infusing a new version with a different tone or tenor than the originals. All of this was possible because the use of open content placed no restrictions on the next author imagination. The main requirement being is that anything you use or is based on open content must also be open content along with retaining proper credit.

For over a decade this has fueled an amazing array of works and products using not only classic edition of DnD but other older games as well. Including hybrid fusing older concepts with newer mechanics and ideas. The result is a dazzling array of products and works for anybody tastes within the tabletop roleplaying hobby. Five thousand+ on DriveThruRPG's site alone.

Yes there are individual and companies that don't contribute open content yet strive to take advantage of the OSR label. One of them is Daniel Fox and his Zweihander. RPG. Recently Erik over at Tenkar's Tavern pointed out the incongruity of having a OSR community content program.

Daniel had this reply

Hi Erik,
Thanks for the post. A few points of factual clarification:
* Zweihander Grim & Perilous RPG was released under Creative Commons License non-commercial. This means anyone can take, remix, reduce and create their own free content, unbound by a license.
* Commercial efforts for community content can be monetized through the Grim & Perilous Library, our Dungeon Master Guild at DriveThruRPG. They are released in PDF, and print-on-demand starting in February. Commercial efforts can only be released via DriveThruRPG.
* RPGs Powered By Zweihander (our commercial IP license) are released by Andrews McMeel Publishing. Examples include the upcoming Colonial Gothic Grim & Perilous RPG.
My design intention: the argument whether Zweihander RPG is OSR isn’t ours to make, but our fans believe it’s an OSR game. The OSR was one of the design principles when it was written, influenced by Maelstrom and other older games that hadn’t been revived at the time.Thus, why we categorize it as OSR.
OSR isn’t just D&D. It may have started there, but there are numerous examples of games classified as OSR that aren’t D20-based
The argument that Daniel make is disingenuous, the debate isn't what rule system is to be considered part of the OSR, the debate is whether open content is to be primary driver of the OSR.

The first thing to keep in mind that Zweihander is the result of Daniel's own work. While inspired by the first two Warhammer edition it is not a clone in the sense that OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, or Swords and Wizardry are clone of various classic edition. It is a system that is design to appeal to fans of early editions of Warhammer Fantasy, and to easily be understood by those fan. This is important to understand because this mean that in regards to Zweihander IP, Daniel has complete control over how it is to be presented and used.

Unlike the situation I have with Judges Guild where I am licencee and thus limited in what I can do with it. For the recent Wilderlands releases only the Monster & Treasure section was released as open content. But where I do have complete control, I tend to release the work as open content under the OGL For example Blackmarsh, and much of the material found in Stuff in the Attic.

.  Why? Because it only fair. While I do a lot of my own work when it comes to settings like Blackmarsh, when it comes mechanics and rules, I stand on the foundation built by past authors. Those publishing in the 70s and 80s. Those publishing now in the 2010s. So it only fair that I contribute back, not halfheartly but fully in the same spirit that the material I used was given.

As for the OSR label, what it is the largely the work of hundreds of author doing their own thing. My voice may reach a larger audience but I don't have any bigger say about what the OSR mean then the individual who just shared their first adventure last week. But I am not going to stay silent when I see people not contributing or in Daniel's case justifying why they are not fully sharing.

Breaking it down.
* Zweihander Grim & Perilous RPG was released under Creative Commons License non-commercial. This means anyone can take, remix, reduce and create their own free content, unbound by a license.This is a nice thing to do. However it is not sufficient. The reason many in the OSR prize the freedom to commercialize their work is that many project need some kind of return in order to happen. To buy art, editing, or layout services. The non-commercial restriction means you only have the freedom to do something if it on your own dime. Which is fine for somebody like me who makes a decent living from a job. But not fine for somebody who has little to no income.

Keep in mind that most OSR project are written, produced, and sold within somebody's time they have for a hobby. Usually the income these work generate won't make them rich but it will just enough to make it possible compared to what else they could be doing with that time.

Commercial efforts for community content can be monetized through the Grim & Perilous Library, our Dungeon Master Guild at DriveThruRPG. They are released in PDF, and print-on-demand starting in February. Commercial efforts can only be released via DriveThruRPG.First of all the Grim and Perilous Library is not a DM Guild program. It is a Onebookshelf Community Content program. Each program has their own license and their own body of IP that they offer. The only thing in common is that they are managed by Onebookshelf through DriveThruRPG.

Second every program except the Genesys Foundry but including the Grim & Perilous Library has the following restriction. This excerpt is taken from the license attached to the Grim & Perilous Library.
(b) Except for short promotional excerpts used to promote your Work, you may not display, recreate, publish, distribute or sell your Work (or derivatives thereof) outside of the Program administered on OBS websites or through other platforms or channels authorized or offered by Owner.
(b) Exclusive License to your Work. Effective as of the date you setup your Work through the Program on OBS’s website, you grant us the exclusive, irrevocable license for the full term of copyright protection available (including renewals), to develop,
license, reproduce, print, publish, distribute, translate, display, publicly perform and transmit your Work, in whole and in part, in each country in the world, in all languages and formats, and by all means now known or later developed, and the right to prepare derivative works of your Work. The implication of the above is twofold, the first is that you can't bring an existing work or existing open content into a worked released within the Grim & Perilous Library. Second, any work you release first within the Grim & Perilous Library, you lose the right to use it outside of the program even if you remove all of the Zweihander IP.

In effect if you wrote the Cave of the Night Warlock for Zweihander you can't release it later for DnD 5th edition even if you removed all of Daniel's Zweihander IP.

Needless to say, I very opposed to this provision and view as unnecessary for any program except those that are focused on sharing setting IP like Traveller's Third Imperium or WoTC's Forgotten Realms.

There is now an alternative, a few month back the Genesys community had an outcry about this issue. Fantasy Flight had OBS chancg the license. Removing the clauses limiting derivatives work and putting in new limit stating only FFG IP has to be remove for a work to be used outside of the program.

So it is within Daniel's power to have this changed for the Grim & Perilous Library.

My design intention: the argument whether Zweihander RPG is OSR isn’t ours to make, but our fans believe it’s an OSR game. The OSR was one of the design principles when it was written, influenced by Maelstrom and other older games that hadn’t been revived at the time.Thus, why we categorize it as OSR.
OSR isn’t just D&D. It may have started there, but there are numerous examples of games classified as OSR that aren’t D20-basedThe debate isn't over whether the OSR label includes non DnD systems like Zweihander. That ship has long since sailed. The debate is whether the label OSR stands for sharing open content free from any condition other than to share. In my opinion a generous as Daniel has been with his IP, that generosity doesn't met the standard of many of us who use the OSR label who offer material free of any condition other than to share as we have.

What should be done about this?
As I stated many times before nobody controls the OSR label. It widely known because many, including myself, adopted it as a shorthand for their own work. What it is a result of our combined work over time not of any one person or smaller group.

But I do have opinions, and one of them that the OSR is at its best when sharing open content. A thing that doesn't just benefit a particular system or edition but the entire hobby. The way to ensure that the OSR continues to stand for sharing open content, is to share. Share your thoughts on open content, make content and share under a open license like the OGL, and support those who do share open content.

In doing these we will ensure that the next five thousand works are every bit as amazing as the first five thousand.

So I talked to Daniel Fox over on Discord and learned something interesting about how OBS handles the Community Content Program. That is largely on the publisher to police including enforcing the above clause. Several people on in the Grim & Perilous program have published their work elsewhere. Daniel was receptive to changing the license to one more like the Genesys Foundry to better reflect what he is already doing.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dragon 53 & The Spreading Menace of John Wyndham's 'Day of the Triffids'

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 01/11/2020 - 19:15
The year is Nineteen Eighty One & Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is at its height of popularity. Its September that September that my wizard is killed & poisoned by a horrid plant  monster.  Dragon issue 53 was released in September of 1981 within it was the article by Mark Nuiver 'The Ways of the Triffids'. Yup that's right my wizard was killed by the English science fiction author John Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) DDAL-EB-01 The Night Land

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 01/11/2020 - 12:17
By Shawn Merwin Self-published 5e Level 1

The brokers of Salvation pay good coin for artifacts scavenged from the haunted battlefields of the Mournland. In this nest of cutthroats, daring explorers gather to carve their destinies from the ruins of Cyre. They’ll need all the help they can get: it’s no secret that most scavengers don’t survive their first expedition in the Gray.

This 29 page adventure is a collection of three short “one encounter” adventures in sixteen pages. Set in a kind of post-apocalyptic “Bartertown”/salvage-town bordertown, it has you making trips in to a Forbidden Zone to do short missions. Nice concepts with the whole thing, but the actual implementation is boring. There’s little continuity and the “creative” part of evocative writing is missing.

Ok, so, evidently I’m an asshole. All this time I’ve thought of Eberron as a techno- fantasy setting, kind of RenFaire stuff, which has absolutely no appeal to me at all.  Magic railroads and Sphere of Annihilation toilets and the like. But this adventure seems to imply NOT. This is a kind of post-apocalyptic people living in Bartertown kind of vibe going on, or tries to anyway. A less gonzo Rifts or a Gamma World with some magic tossed in? Fuck yeah I’m in! Maybe it’s just this setting and I’ll gouge my eyes out later when magic Zeppelin races appear. Anyway, there’s this underlying vibe of a barely there town and people salvaging things from The Forbidden Zone.

A cloud bank straight out Fury Road, a little ways off from town. Screaming faces and buildings collapsing sometimes appear in the fog. Fuck Yeah! That’s what I want to see! Talk about a transition to the mythic underworld! The description for the threshold is pretty good and gives this great sense of impending danger and YOU ARE ELSEWHERE NOW. The whole town vibe is enhanced by a little newspaper handout with some decently Orwellian writing that again adds to the mood. “Remember: Sheriff is watching. So keep your troubles outside the outpost.” Orwellian inside but a free for all outside! I’m in! And the newspaper announcing 70% of people who go in don’t come back out? Uh huh uh huh. I’m in LUUUUUUV.

Substantial information is conveyed through bullets, with what you can learn from NPC’s being the primary usage of them. Bolding and section headings, indents and a summary table are all present. And, there’s job board handouts in addition to the newspaper. Very nice. And there’s this little NPC, the leader of a fellow salvage gang, with a great little table of how they know you/how you’re connected to you. “Saved from kneecapping” and the like; the table is full of flavour!

And the entire fucking thing is actually implemented lame as all fuck. 

That NPC reference table? Full of the wrong things. Instead of it being a table that helps you run the NPC’s it’s more a writers reference. “Chaotic Good Human Female Artificer.” Great. How about quirks? Goals? A train? Something to help me actually run the NPC? No. For that you need to reference the text and hope that the designer put in a little offset box for that NPC. The table is ineffectual for its intended purpose.

The three “missions” come from the job board in a tavern. There’s really nothing tying the three together at all … which may be ok, I think, if it’s serving as an introduction to the town and the salvage lifestyle. But then THAT becomes the theming and tie to hold them together, and it’s just not there. It feels like three changes of scenery rather than “my life as a salvage worker on the edge.” And that salvage board … a centerpiece of the adventure and the entire town built around salvage? A boring ass bulletin board in a tavern. No mementoes or shrines to the fallen salvagers, no rituals, nothing. This was a SUBSTANTIAL miss in adding to the “Salvage Life 4EVAR” thing that should be going on in this adventure.

Most of the writing it boring. A ghost train comes across as boring. The writing is just not evocative at all. Now, we should all know by now that I’m NOT looking for a lot of text, but I expect the text that IS present it be interesting and describe the scene/thing in a way that makes it comes alive. “The air around you suddenly fills with cracking, ringing noises. Some of the larger black glass shards twitch and fragment, reforming into lizard- like beasts with maws of razor-sharp glass teeth.” B O R I N G. Nice idea, ozone, crackling, maws of obsidian glass … but a “lizard like creature” is boring, as is anything with the fucking word “Suddenly.” This is poor writing. 

More than that though .. The Mournland, inside the fog cloud, is boring. The fog is a barrier. No dust storms. No 70% death rate. No littered landscape. Just more featureless plains. And no wanderers. No hint of danger. I was excited for this shit! “In the morning of the second day of travel …” It’s not even the slow burn of Stalker or Annihilation. Just nothing. No text to speak of and what there is “decrepit wood buildings.”  The whole place comes off as dumb and boring. Just Another Shitty Lame Ass Boring Generic D&D Setting. Go somewhere, have an encounter, mission over.

It tries. With that Mournland text. With a sculpture made out of corpses. But it fails. It feels thrown together and as if not much work in to it beyond a draft. Repetition of text, and not in a Salome way but in a Didn’t Think About It way. Some read-aloud gets long. There’s a section in the beginning, in which bar patrons gets hushed when an old salvager gets on top of a table to speak … a load of nonsense. I’d guess it has to do with the overall plot that will eventually show up in these, but it telegraphed HORRIBLY. Everyone should recognize “yeah, this is the evil cult thing we’ll eventually have to stop,” and, at the same time, it would have been MUCH more effective if introduced as a part of one of the other missions (NO! NOT A FUCKIGN DIARY!) or somehow his exposition had an impact. The hushed voices of the rowdy scavvers? Great! Just anti-climactic as fuck. “Oh, it’s a fucking monologue. Great.”

Missed opportunities include a little construct Dog, which should have been called Timmy, or had a Timmy/well codeword/connotation/theming. And a goblin turned to stone with a ghost train hurtling down on her NEEDS to be her caught in the train tracks. No, I don’t know how it works … that’s the designers job. But fuck me if rescuing people from train tracks isn’t iconic.

And then again that scene shows the problems. The train arrives in five rounds to crush the little girl. How far away are you? Who the fuck knows, we’re never told. And this sort of Missing Information thing, critical information for a scene, is not  uncommon. The overall impact is that the 70% of people who die in the Mournlands do so of boredom. 

It’s so full of promise, you can see it in the edge. But the actual implementation, the writing, the “now the D&D encounter starts” format … it’s kills the thing. It should be enhancing that half-glimped themes and vibes. I’m not sure I’d tout my MFA in Creative Writing if I turned this out.

This is $5 at DmsGuild. The preview is four pages. The last page actually has something for you to look at. You can see a long/useless read-aloud for the tavern and then the little gnomes speech … that has no impact on the adventure. Bad preview.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Shadows of the Dragons - Godlike Dragon NPC's & Their Uses

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 01/11/2020 - 03:39
So I've been thinking about dragons for my Godbound/Cha'alt campaign. I'm talking about dragons with a capital 'D' & these are not your typical fire breathers. Basic & Expert Dungeons & Dragons & Advanced Dungeons & Dragons has a history of incredibly cool & detailed NPC  dragons. But I'm looking for something different & its been a few year since I broke out Rafael Chandler's Teratic Needles
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Dicebreaker Article About OD&D Players

Zenopus Archives - Fri, 01/10/2020 - 19:13

Today Matt Finch (of Uncle Matt's Blog) posted a link to this Dicebreaker article on OD&D: 

Meet the Original Dungeons & Dragons diehards still playing by '70s rules
I'm not familiar with Dicebreaker or the author Steven T. Wright, but the article is a decent primer/intro to OD&D for a modern D&D audience. Smartly, the author talked to Matt and Delta (of Delta's D&D Hotspot) and much of the article reads as a conversation with them. 

Nice to see general interest attention on OD&D, though sadly the article mentions Dragonsfoot but not the OD&D Discussion forum. I left a comment thanking the author and providing a link there.

Meet the Original Dungeons & Dragons diehards still playing by '70s rulesRefusing to roll with the times. Most tabletop fans have thrown a rolled a d20 or two in their time - especially now, thanks to the unprecedented popularity of Dungeons & Dragons 5E - but we all have our own opinions about what edition of the RPG rules them all.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Setting History Should Do Something

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 01/10/2020 - 13:30
If setting books for rpgs sometimes get a bad wrap, history sections of setting books are probably even more widely reviled. There are reasons for this, but I don't think the solution is that history should be banned from rpg books entirely. I do think it's worth thinking about why we have history (particularly deep history) in rpg setting books, when it's useful and maybe when it isn't.

My thesis is that history in rpg books is most useful/good when it does something. Possible somethings are:

1. Helps to orient the reader (mostly the GM) to the themes/mood/flavor of the setting.
2. Directly establishes parameters that impact the player's adventures.
3. Provides "toys" or obstacles.

It is unhelpful when it does the following:

1. Describes events that have little to no impact on the present.
2. Describes events which are repetitive in nature or easy to confuse.
3. Provides few "toys," or ones that are not unique/distinctive.

Now, I am not talking specifically here about number of words or page counts, which I think a lot of people might feel is the main offender. Those are sort of dependent on the style/marketing position of the publication. Bona fide rpg company books tend to be written more densely and presumably read more straight for pleasure. DIY works are linear and more practical. My biases are toward the latter, but I am more concerned with content here. I do think in general that economy of words makes good things better, and verbosity exacerbates the bad things.

Let's get into an example from Jack Shear's Krevborna:

Gods were once reverenced throughout Krevborna, but in ages past they withdrew their influence from the world. Some say that the gods abandoned mankind to its dark fate due to unforgivable sins. Others believe that the gods retreated after they were betrayed by the rebellious angels who became demons and devils. Some even claim that the gods were killed and consumed by cosmic forces of darkness known as the Elder Evils.Looking at my list of "good things" it hits most of them. It helps orient to mood and theme (lack of gods, dark fate, unforgivable sins), it sets parameters for the adventurers (cosmic forces of darkness, no gods), and provides obstacles (demons and devils, rebellious angels, elder evils).

That's pretty brief, though. What about a wordier example? Indulge me in an example from my own stuff:

So, the good stuff: orienting to theme, mood. etc. (deep history, memeplexes, super-science, transcendence as old hat, names suggesting a multicultural melange), setting parameters (a fallen age compared to the past, psychic powers, vast distances), and toys and obstacles (psybernetics and a host of other advance tech, Zurr masks, Faceless Ones!)

But wait, have I done one of the "bad things?" I've got two fallen previous civilizations? Isn't that repetitive and potentially confusing? I would say no.  The Archaic Oikueme is the distant past (it's in the name!). It's the "a wizard did it" answer for any weird stuff the GM wishes to throw in, and the source of McGuffins aplenty. The Radiant Polity is the recent past. Its collapse is still reverberating. It is the shining example (again, in the name) that would-be civilizer (and tyrants) namecheck.

The Legacy Of Kalthalax... Slayer of Demons & Devils - Some Thoughts on Liberation of the Demon Slayer By Venger Satanis

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 01/10/2020 - 06:59
"The stars are falling - which can only mean one thing. Your town is about to be invaded by demons! Unfortunately, the famed demon-slaying sword Kalthalax lies in the caves below, and all manner of dark and deadly fiends reside in those eldritch-haunted Nether Realms."So I got an update for the Cha'alt: Fuchsia Malaise kickstarter today even while everyone in my house is down with the flu/Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Some Thoughts On The Star Ship Warden Kickstarter By Troll Lords & The Star Seige Rpg

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 01/09/2020 - 19:55
"Near the beginning of the 24th century, humans began the largest construction ever undertaken by their species. A mini-world designed to ply the deeps of space, providing safety and comfort for her many passengers. Less than two decades into her mission, she simply disappeared. There has now been no word of the Warden for more than 300 years...."So the Starship Warden kickstarter by TrollNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisited: The Planetary Picaresque

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 01/09/2020 - 12:00
This post is of relatively recent vintage (2017), but I've been thinking about this sort of thing again...

We're all familiar with the Planetary Romance or Sword and Planet stories of the Burroughsian ilk, where a stranger (typically a person of earth) has adventures of a lost world or derring-do sort of variety on an alien world. I'd like to suggest that their is a subgenre or closely related genre that could be termed the Planetary Picaresque.

The idea came to me while revisiting the novels in Vance's Planet of Adventure sequence. The first novel, City of the Chasch, is pretty typical of the Planetary Romance form, albeit more science fiction-ish than Burroughs and wittier than most of his imitators. By the second novel, Servant of the Wankh (or Wanek), however, Vance's hero is spending more time getting the better of would be swindlers or out maneuvering his social superiors amid the risible and baroque societies of Tschai than engaging in acts of swordplay or derring-do. One could argue the stalwart Adam Reith is not himself a picaro, but the ways he is forced to get by on Tschai certainly resemble the sort of situations a genuine picaro might get into.

These sort of elements are not wholly absent from Vance's sword and planet progenitors (Burroughs has some of that, probably borrowed from Dumas), but Vance makes it the centerpiece rather than the comedy relief. Some of L. Sprague de Camp's Krishna seem to be in a similar vein.

The roleplaying applications of this ought to be obvious. You get to combine the best parts of Burroughs with the best parts of Leiber. I think that's a pretty appealing combination.

Lovecraftian Serpentmen & Canyons - Cha'alt & Adventurer, Conqueror, King Rpg Adventure Encounter With OSR & Old School Systems

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 01/09/2020 - 00:28
With literal hours remaining in the Cha'alt: Fuchsia Malaise kickstarter. I wanted to turn my cold remedy soaked brain to Grand Canyon National Park . This works very well with my Cha'alt/Godbound campaign.  Not the real one but the 1903 serpent  men lost colony & city that exists within the Grand Canyon. The colony is the last place where a crop of 'white Zoth' exists. White Zoth allows Needles
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