Bat in the Attic

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A blog on 40 years of gaming and Sandbox Fantasy.Rob Conley
Updated: 5 hours 39 min ago

Minimal Dungeons Redux

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 16:10
Nearly eight years ago, I wrote a post about Minimal Dungeon born of an observation that various example we have of keyed dungeons from back in the day were very terse with little notes. As you can see from Judges Guild Tegal Manor and the well known photo of Gary Gygax with his Greyhawk binder attached to this post.

Rob's Note: You can download the dungeon referred in my original post from here the Elf Lord's Temple.

Now both +Peter V. Dell'Orto  on Dungeon Fantastic and Delta on Delta's DnD Hotspot wrote about their observations. Both have the opinion that the format is useful for a referee's own notes but not acceptable for print publication. I disagree in part.

First off I concur that what we see in the attached photo is too terse. Even the published Tegel Manor suffers from terse although there the uses of map notes, and room titles makes it more usable. My opinion the root of the problem is the long shadow of adventures formatted tournament style. An adventure with a keyed map, with each keyed location fully describe with a introduction that provides an overall explanation and general notes.

The problem with the tournament format that it doesn't scale. There a limit to the size of a locale that can be effectively described in this format. Beyond with people get lost in the detail or the project itself is unfeasible for publication.  Nor does the tournament format work well when the focus of the adventure is on the interactions between different NPCs rather than on the exploration of a locale.

So what is the ideal format? I would contend there is no ideal format. The focus should be on teaching you the reader on how I, as the author, ran the adventure. Whatever does the trick for that particular adventure is the right choice.

It starts with you imagining sitting down with another referee and explaining how to run the adventure. Then taking what you imagined (and perhaps practiced on a friend) and writing that up so the rest of us can learn how to run that adventure.

For example +Zak Sabbath excels at using his talent as artist and writer to explain his adventures and supplements through a unique combination of written and visual elements.

What about minimal dungeons specifically. Let's look at Tegel Manor by Judges Guild. It compactly details a fundhouse dungeon in the form of a sprawling manorhouse with a small four level dungeon beneath. It does this through a combination of terse text, some random tables, room titles, and above all the map itself.

To be clear I am not holding Tegel Manor as a great example. Having run it twice now, it just on this side of plausibility. Along with I get little sense of how Bob Bledsaw Senior ran it outside of the obvious "it is a funhouse.".  However I think it only a little more to turn it into a a great example of a minimalist dungeon. About double the page count should do it and most of that would be in the beginning where one explains how the place works overall, and give some specific on areas of the dungeon. Then add a sentence or two to flesh out the different room and leave it at that.

I think the advantage of the minimalist approach that is plays into the default mode of referee which is largely a matter of improvisation as the players attempt various things as their character. The only time that a complete description of C14 Butler's Room is needed is for product oriented towards novice referee. Otherwise it just take too long during actual play to read that much text. And beyond a certain point it is too much to retain even if you read it all beforehand.

But it tricky. It is a fine line between too much and too little. Which is why if you are terse it is best to use a combination of technique written, visual art, and maps to teach somebody how to run that adventure.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

City State Map spotted in the wild.

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 17:08
Thanks to Allan, Jon, and the Black Blade Publishing crew, my color City of the Invincible Overlord map made it debut at Gary Con. Wish I could have attended. But still if you want a copy the map is available on RPGNow for $10 print + shipping (around $3 to most of the USA).

Thanks to +Allan Grohe and +Guy Fullerton for the photos.

Update: I just learned from +Allan Grohe of Black Blade that they just all sold today. That was quick! Again thanks to the Black Blade Publishing crew for display my books and maps.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Scot Hoover aka Kellri needs your help

Sat, 03/03/2018 - 13:19
The OSR operates at a variety of different levels in the hobby and industry. Ranging from people who only blog, to full fledged publishers like Frog God Games and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Among these people are the folks that "really know their stuff" and are excellent at producing useful tools and reference.

One of these is Scot Hoover also known as Kellri. Since the beginning of the OSR he has operated a blog packed with useful information and most well known for the Classic Dungeon Designer Netbook series. Particularly for #4 Encounter Reference. The complete list of what he wrote can be found on the right edge of his blog. Currently he is midst of a massive multi-year project called Dangerous Dungeons. A open content update of the Encounter Reference that expands and extends that work for OSRIC.

Unfortunately he suffered a stroke Monday and needs help. He has two kids and lives in Vietnam teaching English. If you can help he has a GoFundMe page. He trying to raise $5,000 to cover the diagnostics and treatment he needs to recover from this. Hope everybody can help him reach his goal. As of Saturday he is halfway to his goal.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OBS Content Program is terrible and it is now not just an opinion.

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 17:56
My first post of 2018 was about how the One Bookshelf community content were a terrible deal for authors ... with one exception.In the discussion here and elsewhere commentors noted that much of what I said was opinion regarding a technical area of IP law.

So I submitted a series of question to One Bookshelf. The answers were all I suspected, and not favorable to the independent creator.


If I created a 5e supplement about Daggerford in the Forgotten Realms. And in had some original magic items of my own creation (for example the Spear of Night). Does the DM's Guild license preclude me from using that Item in a product outside of the DM's Guild.One Bookshelf responseYes, if you released that content on DMsguild then you cannot release it again as part of an OGL product. You could theoretically put that same magic item repeated in another DMsguild product.Me
Suppose several years ago I released the Spear of Night in a d20 product and then later incorporate a variant of it in a DM's Guild product.
One Bookshelf response
If you've done that then you should not put the Spear of Night in a DMsguild product.
Slightly more broad, say I release Mongoose Traveller 2nd edition product based on an original setting of my own creation (for example of Majestic Stars). Then I turn around later and release the same material for a different system. Not using any Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition. Does the Traveller Aid Society license prevent me from doing that?
One Bookshelf response
Yes, the Traveller's Aid Society does prevent you from doing so.
MeWhat if I released the Majestic Stars under another set of rules and then released a Mongoose Traveller 2e version under the TAS?
One Bookshelf responseNo, you cannot do that.
MeUnderstand I am talking solely about reuse of control original to me. I am concerned as the Community Content licenses grant rights to derived  works. If I released a hypothetical Daggerford supplement I am fine with that product as a whole remains on the DM's Guild for the duration of its copyright. What I am not fine with is not being able to reuse original concept and elements that are original to me and not based on publisher's IP.
One Bookshelf responseI understand your concern here. If you want to maintain control of the content you should not make it part of any Community Content program. Final CommentsWhat makes this bad are the consequences it implies for being successful. If somebody is successful with any of these community content programs, and has built a body of work that in part original to them, the license preclude not only ever use it elsewhere but also forbids preparing derivative works.

This is particularly problematic with programs like the DM's Guild and Traveller Aid Society, as they are not just about a specific setting, but also define much of what is fantasy roleplaying and science fiction roleplaying through their culture impact. The derivative works clause comes close to being literally shackled to a specific factory floor.

It understandable that publishers want to maintain control over their own IP. These community content programs are innovative in the IP holders giving up some of the traditional control over one's IP.

Incorporating a no derivative content clause into these agreements to the third-party creator or original content is unjust. The use of a publisher's IP and the publicity behind the program does not make this a fair deal, and Wizards, Cypher, Mongoose, and the rest should ashamed for including this as part of the IP agreement being used.

This is even more so when you consider that under current US Law there is a specific provision for author to regain the rights to the works they created between 35 and 40 years after publication. Steve Jackson used this recently to regain the rights to the Fantasy Trip, Melee, and Wizard.

This exists because Congress, in a rare moment of sanity, recognized that publishers all too frequently take advantage of new authors. The newbie authors are forced to sign draconian contracts that effectively surrender lucrative rights to the work they create. It not some theoretical or ephemeral problem, but something that currently exists throughout creative industries.

Shame on the publishers for doing this, and shame on One Bookshelf for enabling it. Don't force authors to wait 35 to 40 years to get back rights that are theirs. Change the agreements to eliminate the claim to derivative content, and until then, spell out ALL of the rights the authors will be giving up front and center of the agreement and FAQ.
Note: Thanks to Douglas Cole of Gaming Ballistic taking the time to edit my post.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Talking about Authentic Medieval Roleplaying

Sun, 02/11/2018 - 19:50
I been doing a series of podcasts with Brendan Davis, Nick Seidler and Adam Baulderstone.

The first was with Brendan as gamemaster and featured a trap dungeon.

The second was me using my Majestic Fantasy Rules (based on Swords and Wizardry) to run an adventure set in a fantasy medieval setting.

The live stream is here and the podcast where we discussed it can be found here.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

One of those days.....

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 22:56
Every have one of those days and then something happens that just puts a smile on your face.

Congrats to everybody at SpaceX for a hell of an achievement

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Livestreaming the Majestic Wilderlands

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 18:45

Just a heads up that I will be refereeing tonight a one shot adventure and it will be livestream.

The link

The adventure will be Deceits of the Russet Lord, an original adventure I been working on as the follow up to the Scourge of the Demon Wolf.

It will be run using my Majestic Wilderlands rules which are a combination of my supplement and Swords and Wizardry.

Nestled in the western eaves of Dearthwood is the Shrine of Saint Caelam the Dragonrider a popular pilgrimage destination. The monastery that runs the shrine are habitually late on delivering their tithe to the Bishop. This time are even later than usual. His excellency is fed up with the continual delays an is sending the player characters to resolve the issue and collect this season's due.

But meanwhile others feel their due is owed as well and their payment is far bloodier.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

That vague setting behind Points of Light and Blackmarsh

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 14:36
For those of you with both Points of Lights, and Blackmarsh know that there are common elements like the Grand Kingdom, the Ochre Empire, Delaquain, etc throughout the different setting. While never spelled out in detail they are all could be considered part of the same setting. In the first Points of Light each of the three lands (Southland, Wildland, and Borderland) are also separated in time that when put together open a window into the larger history.

+Ethan Gundry asks whether has anybody had any success merging all the Points of Light settings, along with Blackmarsh? A while ago I combined the Blackmarsh and Southland map along with the work I done with the Wild North merge with Blackmarsh. The result was this.

But do I have a "master" map that combines everything? Do I have a master document like the old Greyhawk Folio? Yes I now have a master map, no I don't have a Greyhawk Folio style master document. Keep in mind the focus on the Points of Light/and Blackmarsh is usability. That each individual setting stands on it own as a useful backdrop for a campaign. Making them into the equivalent of region supplement defeat that purpose. But still I want the option to exist to combine them so I keep the few background elements I write about consistent.

So what the deal with the master maps. Well I drew a lot of maps over the years and I have a bunch that not part of the Majestic Wilderlands or any other setting. For example this giant map I made for what I call the Eastgate region.

At the heart of which is the City State of Eastgate

Both originated in 2008 before I got my license from Judges Guild. I took all the content I made for the Majestic Wilderlands and stripped out the Judges Guild IP which included drawing new maps. I started writing the initial draft of the Majestic Wilderlands when a fortuitous set of circumstances led to me to securing a license to use enough of the Judges Guild IP to publish the Majestic Wilderlands supplement. Having that license meant I could use my original notes as is saving me a lot of work.

But the above work didn't go to waste as I used some of what I created for Blackmarsh.

So back to Ethan's question about combining the maps. A year ago I was sketching out some map on paper to get a feel for how mountainous and hilly regions really looked like based on Earth's geography. I decided to draw a outline map as an experiment to see how real I can make it look. The result was this.

And I figured if I am spending the time doing this I might as well incorporate the Points of Light/Blackmarsh maps use the above as a future reference.

Here is the annotated version of the above.

At this time I am not going to flesh out all the blank spots as I want to leave the possibilities open for further Blackmarsh style projects. The thing I am currently working is the circle marked Beyond the Borderlands basically my answer to the question of what lies beyond the Cave of Chaos in B2 Keep on the Borderlands.

I am also working on the tweaks to the Wild North to make it fit along the north edge of Blackmarsh. This is the map for that. Basically everything below Row xx26 has been tweaked while everythiing above is pretty much the same as the version from Fight On #3.

Hope this answers your question Ethan. Appreciate asking it as it gave me the idea for this blog post.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Making a campaign human centric with the least amount of violence to RAW

Tue, 01/23/2018 - 13:58
+Joshua Macy has a complaint that not uncommon, all the players in his campaign made non-human characters. Let's face it, non humans are cool kids of fantasy roleplaying. Most races have interesting backstories, memorable characters, and of course the racial abilities. Sometimes all three like with the Drow.

Starting with DnD 3.0, later edition attempted to rectify this by giving Human their own racial abilities. Typically extra flexibility by granting a feat or two, increased ability of the player's choice, or more skills. But still it seems lacking and rather bland.

The primary way I fixed it was to grant a 15% XP bonus for humans that works the same as the XP bonus due to having a high prime requisite. Read below the fold for my reasons why.
There is the approach of Adventures in Middle Earth, where the focus on is on picking a culture not a race. Two of the culture, Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain, Elves of Mirkwood, and the Hobbits of the Shire are indeed different races. The rest, Bardings, Beornings, Dunedain, Men of Bree, Men of the Lake, Men of Minas Tirth, and Riders of  Rohan are human but with very different culture abilities.

Furthermore Adventures in Middle Earth replaced feats with virtues, most of which are more roleplaying oriented than combat oriented. Each of the above cultures has their own list of virtues that only they can choose. All and all AiME does a great job of making human as interesting choice as the non-humans.

But what about a bog standard DnD campaign? While the above fixes the issue it is a lot of work to do for a setting. Many referees neither have the time or interest to write up something that elaborate.

When I was writing the Majestic Wilderlands Supplement in 2009, I thought of focusing on race as culture. This stemmed from some stuff I did for DnD 4th edition.

Gynorians (unfinished)

Alas it fell by the wayside due to all the other things I had to work on to get the supplement written and published.

After publishing Majestic Wilderlands I ran more campaigns using it and soon ran into an issue related to the one Joshua complains about.. The roleplaying complications I use for non-humans in a human dominated culture tended to make party majority human. However the players complained about the disparity in abilities between humans and non-humans.

While some of it was due to the players desire to have "better" characters. I felt they had a legitimate gripe. I found through designing the supplement is that when there is an imbalance it is better to "reward'' than it is penalize.

This can be seen in my ability system for skills. Every characters can use any ability, but some classes, particularly the rogue classes, are better at some abilities than others. Rather than saying to the fighter player, "you can't pick locks". I say "You can pick locks, but the burglar is always going to be the best at it.".

While there is no negatives for playing humans, most players in my campaign acted like there was. So I searched for a way to fix this. Being based on ODnD my rules didn't have feats so that was out. I didn't want to grant attribute bonuses or extra point to use on abilities. Other edition did that and it didn't seem to fix the issue. Then while fixing some typos with the prime requisites XP Bonus it hit me. Why not give human a XP bonus over and above the other races?

It is simple to implement and to understand. And it has the virtue of pandering to one of the things that the players are most interested in, gaining XP to level. The question then becomes how big of a bonus it needs to be to make a difference. As it turns out after several months of playing with different numbers 15% hit the sweet spot. So I added that to the +1 to a chosen attribute that I wrote in the original release.

So the write up for Man (humans) now reads as follows
Man is the dominant race in the Wilderlands. The combination of hardiness, birth rate, and intelligence has allowed them to spread to every corner of the land. The wide range of conditions that humans face has left them highly adaptable. The gods have not chosen to reveal the mystery of Man’s ultimate destiny. Among the wise it is said that Man’s ability to leave the Wilderlands after death is an integral part of this destiny. Some consider this to be a bitter gift.
• Humans gain +1 add to the attribute of their choice.
• Humans gain +15% to all earned experience
• Human base move is 120 feet per round.Since then it worked well, and the complaints about that issue disappeared. The +15% proved just sweet enough that despite the advantage of the Elves, Dwarves, and other non-humans, the human players felt they were holding their own. And it had little effect on how combat and roleplaying encounters were resolved. 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Why Middle Earth is working for me, the Cubicle 7 supplements

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 16:03
There are two main things that "sold" me on Adventure in Middle Earth by Cubicle 7. The fact that magic is presented as subtle in the core books, and the quality of their supplements.

First most of the AiME contents is repackaged from their The One Ring (TOR) equivalent. What differs are the short sections of either AiME rules or new stuff like NPCs, Creatures, and items. The rest is duplicated from the original TOR version. Luckily the TOR stuff is excellent. But I have to put it out there so you are not surprised in case you decide to buy the TOR supplement AND the AiME supplement. The Moria Boxed Set will be the first Middle Earth product that new to both TOR and AiME. For the rest TOR is generally ahead on the release schedule but AiME is catching up.

Rhovanion Region Guide
TOR and AiME have a class of supplements that can be characterized as a region guide. Both games have a referee hex map that divide broad areas of Middle Earth into regions. One reason for this is that the hex map works hand and hand with the journey rules. Another is that it offers a useful way of  organizing the geography for supplement like this one.
This is a section of the referee's map for the Wilderlands in Rhovanion.

The reddish area are the place that are most  dangerous to travel in as the party found out last week when they were attacked by a swarm of black squirrels in the middle of the Heart of Mirkwood.
The Rhovanion Region Guide has three major section. The first covers the regions along the river Anduin, the second covers the regions of Mirkwood. Dale, Lake-town, and Erebor are not covered although the TOR supplement for these areas have been released. The last section are new adversaries found in these region. It includes NPCs like Gorgol, son of Bolg, and the more general like Hunter Spiders. Seventeen new foes are added plus numerous NPCs in the various region writeups.
Out of all the supplements this is perhaps the most useful.
Each region is given a general description. Has a section called combat scenery which is advice on where typical encounters take place. A description of the wildlife, and inhabitants. This is followed by a list of notable inhabitants. For example the East Middle Vales describes; Beorn the Shape-shifter (from the books), Turin the Tinker, Gelvira Pot-stirrer, Ennalda the Spear-maiden. The last three are original characters created by the author. Turin is a useful contact about the what going on. Gelvira runs a inn at the Old Ford which can be used as a home base by the PCs. Ennalda is a spear-thane of Beorn and is likely the person the PCs will interact most with if they associate with the Beornings.
Then the section goes on to describe notable places within the region. Which for the East Middle Vales is The Carrock (from the books), The Old Ford, The Isle of Strangling Tree, Beorn's House (from the books), The Grey Heath, and The Cleft of Storms. All of these provide interesting places to explore or have roleplaying possibilities.
Man it looks packedIt is and it isn't. While there are a lot of things described it isn't like my mini-region in Scourge of the Wolf where I provide a capsule description of a dozen settlement within a 25 mile radius. Each hex in the above map is 10 miles not quite the howling emptiness of Greyhawk's 30 mile hexes but large enough that even with what I described for the East Middle Vales you have to spend a day or so travelling to each site. And if you go outside of that, you are talking journey of a week or longer.
When you look at the below map for the East Middle Vales keep in mind that you are travelling two hexes (20 miles) per day by foot. That the only two "settlement" are The House of Beorn and the Old Ford with perhaps the Carrock when the Beornings meet there. Where are the Beornings? Read the description from the book.While most Beornings live in isolated farmsteads, there are a few… well, towns would be an exaggeration. Call them villages, or steadings, clustered around trading posts or river crossings; one of the largest has sprung up in the vicinity of the Old Ford. 

I will talk about the other supplements in the next post.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Why Middle Earth has been working for me

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 15:03
Since the beginning of summer I been running a Middle Earth Campaign using Cubicle 7's Adventures in Middle Earth. My friend Tim's blog post reminded me that I haven't blogged on the campaign in a while.

One of the initial reason I was attracted to Dungeons and Dragon in the late 70s was due to my love of not only Lord of the Rings but the history that was revealed in the Return of the King appendices.

DnD offered me a way to take that love and actually turn into something more concrete than scribbles on a paper. Because Tolkien's history described realms rising and falling, naturally I was open for the players to do the same. Leading to me to be the referee that let players "trash" his campaigns.

The disappointment of Iron Crown MERP
As the hobby and industry expanded I looked for material to help me with this. I found it easier to use things that were grounded in the medieval side of fantasy. Then layered the level of magic I liked on top of it, Harn and Ars Magica I found particularly useful.

During this time Iron Crown published their Middle Earth Roleplaying System or MERPS. I really wanted to like this RPG and their supplements but they paled compared to the quality of Harn, Ars Magica, and Pendragon material I had. Everything except for Pete Fenlon's maps which were great.

The main problem with the game and supplement is that they didn't feel very Middle Earth to me. Yeah they had the names, characters, and locales but they lacked that spark that Tolkien infused the books with.

Over the years I collected two dozen MERPS books which remained unused until I gave them to a friend who really like the game and Middle Earth in the early 2000s.

During that time Decipher released the The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game. Then Cubicle 7 released The One Ring RPG. I looked at both and felt they were more interested in having the referee tell Middle Earth stories to his players rather than helping the referee bring Middle Earth to life as a place for the players to experience.

I know a subtle point but to me the distinction is important. When I referee I am not into telling my stories. My goal is to bring a setting to life so that the players felt they actually visited another place and did interesting things that were fun.

Adventures in Middle Earth
Then came along Adventures in Middle Earth also by Cubicle 7. I wrote a review of the first book in this post. Because it was rested on the foundation of DnD 5e, I knew that there was a limit to the amount narrative mechanics it could have. After reading it, I was intrigued because of how they reworked the classes, eliminated DnD style spell,  and turned feats into virtues More than just a Middle Earth RPG, it was a very much a low fantasy RPG using the mechanics of DnD. And completely avoids the issues I had with MERPS which to me always felt like DnDish fantasy, routed through Rolemaster, dressed in a thin Middle Earth outfit.

So I wanted to run it to see how it played, and so started a campaign. I started buying the supplements. It is in the supplements that Cubicle 7 kills it. It doesn't matter if it is the AiME version or the ToR version they make killer supplements for ANY Middle Earth campaign. And the stats are presented with light enough touch that they are easily adapted to your RPG of choice.

And their initial focus on setting the RPG in Wilderlands is brilliant. In the Return of the King appendices we know shit went down in the Wilderlands, both Dale and Erebor were attacked by the forces of Sauron. We get a paragraph of details and that it.

This means that a Middle Earth campaign can be set during the time period of the Lord of the Rings where the players are truly the heroes that matter. The members of Fellowship of the Ring may have ultimately ended Sauron and the war but dozens of other locales has their own struggles and victories. To be specific the various ToR and AiME products are all set between the Battle of Five Armies and the beginning of the Lord of the Rings novels.

The actual supplements are some the best adventures and campaign guides I seen outside of Harn, Pendragon, and Ars Magica. They range from regional supplements, books of adventures, to a pendragon style grand campaign spanning decades. And when they expanded to other reasons like Rivendell, Rohan, and Bree, the authors done a great job of opening enough of a crack that what the players do matter but still make the events of the novels plausible. For example Rohan regional supplements (Horse Lord of Rohan) and the associated adventure book (Oaths of the Riddermark) all focus on helping Thengel, the father of Theoden, the King of Rohan from the novels.

Next up is a Moria boxed set which I can't wait to see. It been a while since I bought into a RPG line wholesale and Cublicle 7 has earned my dollar.

The Campaign
I will blog more about what I am doing in my AiME campaign but I want to point out one thing. The biggest difference I am noticing is the pacing of in-game time. At first the alternating cycle of fellowship phase and adventure phase seemed seem too much like a straight jacket akin to the metagaming mechanics that other games use to in a vain attempt to create a "narrative" in the campaign.

But then I found it makes for a great way of abstracting the downtime between adventures. I am always a fan of what most hobbyists call down time activities. For example in my Majestic Wilderlands Thursday campaign  one player is always using the magic item creation rules, while another is busy lining up trade deals.

What make AiME fellowship rules nice that they are not all meat and potatoes activities (trade, crafting, training, etc). About half of them are what I call pure roleplaying focused on interacting with NPCs. Here is a partial list.

  • Gain a Cultural Virtue
  • Gain an Open Virtue
  • Gain New Trait
  • Heal Corruption
  • Influence Patron
  • Meet Patron
  • Receive Title
  • Open Sanctuary
  • Recovery
  • Research Lore
  • Secure a Supply of Herbs
  • Tend to Holding
  • Training

Added to this are version regional undertaking. For example a couple of sessions back the PCs made friends with a group of Woodsmen living next to the Old Ford across the Anduin. That settlement has a special undertaking called Guard the Old Ford. Which offer the possibility of earning a bit of rare coin from the tolls levied on travelers.

Wrapping it Up
Again I am having a great time and now that I have several months under my belt I will be posting on some of the interesting things I learning running a Middle Earth campaign.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The many maps of the City State of the Invincible Overlord

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 03:00
Sales of the City State of the Invincible Overlord color map has been good, with 100 copies sold so far. I ordered another copy of the map for myself to see what it would take to assemble into a single map.

I started by dabbing some two way glue on the overlapping areas. Once it turns clear it act like sticky tape. I can carefully pull apart the two maps and adjust the alignment. Once I got it right. Then I use clear packing tape make a solid join. After I got all four maps together and taped I took it to Staples and got the map laminated.  I was happy with the result but look forward to the day RPGNow gets posters added to the paper sizes they support for print on demand.
While doing this, I was reminded of how many times I dealt with different version of the CSIO Map.
So I pulled them all out and took pictures with my lovely wife Kelly Anne.

The one on the right is the color map joined together and laminated. The one in the center is the original map I got in 1980. As you see the color map is slightly longer but the same width. The one on the left is the map for the Necromancer Games version of City State. I didn't draw that one but did proof it for the cartographer.

The above is a photocopy of the original no name city map drawn by Bob Bledsaw. I used to double check the original printing. The offset printing process required the original handdrawn map to be photographed to the paper size which causes a small loss of detail.

Around 1986 my CSIO map was getting worn as you can see in the first photo. And the setting was developing into the Majestic Wilderlands. I was studying for a geography minor so had access to light table and a set of technical pens and rules I had to buy for class. So I put the original map on a light table, a piece of vellum on top and proceeded to draw. 
Here a closeup of that map

Then around 1993 I bought a copy of CorelDRAW 4 as well had access to a HP 12" by 12" drawing tablet. When I drew the hand drawn map, I drew just the ink line (walls, buildings, shorelines). Had it photocopied on a blueprint copier and then added the color detail. 
I still had the master I photocopied off so I had it reduced to to fit the table and used it make a rough sketch of where everything was located. Then built the map up layer by layer to the below result. 

This was my first major map drawn using CorelDRAW. Which after much practice led to the below.

At some point I will modify the Majestic Wilderlands version of CSIO to this style. 
Hope you enjoyed this. Those of you attending Gary Con (and later North Texas Con) will be able to purchase the maps at the convention from Jon Hershberger and the Black Blade Publishing crew. In addition to the map themselves I am sending the following cover sheet to use in the packaging.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OBS Community Content Program is terrible (with one exception).

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 15:08
While I talked about the issue of One Bookshelf's Community Content before, +James Raggi's reminded me to that people still are largely unaware of what going on.
A few years ago Wizards and One Bookshelf (DrivethruRPG and RPGNow) got together and created a community content program that on the surface offered the following deal

We will allow you

  • To use anything from Forgotten Realms 
  • The published DnD 5e Book 
  • Use any content posted to this program including templates and art.

Provided that
  • You give additional 20% cut of the revenue over what you would get for an OBS listed product.
  • that you can only post the content you create for this on this site, 
  • that the only rules you use are DnD 5th edition
  • that the only setting used is Forgotten Realms
  • That you adhere to some content guidelines.

Now most folks zeroed in on the additional 20% cut. But I never cared about that. If I really wanted to release a Forgotten Realms products for profit my chances of securing a license from Wizards was effectively zero. So the cut seem reasonable especially I don't have to go through any lengthy approval process.

But there is a huge downside that really kills this for anything but a very narrow range of products.

From the license you agree to when posting a work to the DM's Guild or any other community content program.

5. Rights You Grant to OBS
(a) No Reversion. Due to our licensing arrangement with the Owner and the collaborative nature of the Program, you are granting us broad licenses in your Work and your User Generated Content included in your Work, and the rights to your Work will not be reverted once it is published in the Program. You will have the ability through online tools at OBS websites to stop public display and sale of your Work on OBS marketplaces, but not to stop the sale of works of other authors in the Program even when such works use your User Generated Content that you originally created in your Work and thereby became part of the Program IP for other authors to use.(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.(c) Exclusive License to all User Generated Content in your Work. Effective as of the date we first make your Work available through the Program, you grant us the exclusive, irrevocable license for the full term of copyright protection available (including renewals), to all User Generated Content included in your Work. You agree that the User Generated Content is available for unrestricted use by us without any additional compensation, notification or attribution, including that we may allow other Program authors, the Owner and other third parties to use the User Generated Content.So pretty scary right? But I still think it fair for something based on another person's IP but then this one phrase.
and the right to prepare derivative works of your Work.This in conjunction with the use of Exclusive license kills the use of Community Content for any original settings or content. If I had released Scourge of the Demon Wolf on the DM' Guild first, by the terms of this I couldn't prepare a Swords and Wizardry version with different art, layout, and trade dress. Because that would be a derivative work of the 5e release.

Granted I am not sure what would happen if I did the reverse. Release the Swords and Wizardry version first and then the 5e version on the DM's Guild. Likely I would just kicked off and the product listing dropped. Anyway by that point you need the advice of a IP attorney anyway.

The prudent course is to avoid the use of any Community Content unless your work only makes sense for what they offer.

The One Exception.

The Community Content program vary in what they share. Broadly they all offer access to a set of rules. Some also have setting. The one expection is if you want to write something for a setting. For example if you want to write something for the Third Imperium then the TAS program will work for that. Unless you know Marc Miller well enough to secure your own 3PP license for the Third Imperium or get a work approved at Mongoose or another 3PP licensee this is the way to go get Third Imperium material published. The same for the DM's Guild and Forgotten Realms or Ravenloft.

Some, like Cortex Plus are rules only. My view that these are bad deals taking advantage of their fanbase.

As mentioned in my previous post on the topic, the problem is bad enough that for the first time the Traveller 3PP community felt the need to make the first Traveller retro-clone, Cepheus. Unfortunately fans of Cypher, Cortex and other don't have that option. My opinion is that OBS and the publishers are unjustly enriching themselves for the community content programs that only offer access to rules. That the no derivative content clause is predatory especially for novice authors and that publishers and OBS should be ashamed for including it.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Kellri's Wilderlands Index

Thu, 12/21/2017 - 13:14
Kellri is a longtime blogger and writer who has contributed a number of useful Old School References, notably CDD #4 Encounter Reference.

Yesterday he released the Wilderlands Index a spreadsheet that summarizes nearly all of the original Wilderlands of High Fantasy material. It is an outstanding reference if you are using the Wilderlands for your campaign.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Medieval Life in Action Part 2

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 13:14
Part 1

This part 2 of a series detailing how I incorporate medieval history into my Majestic Wilderlands. One debate that been around since the beginning of the hobby is how "realistic" are the medieval elements of a fantasy campaign especially one using the Dungeons and Dragon rules (various editions). Most of these debates tend to devolve into people talking theory. I figure it would be useful to show actual play example using a campaign I ran two years ago using Dungeons and Dragon 5th edition. The campaign was continuation of a previous campaign using the excellent Lost Mine of Phandelver found in the DnD Starter Set. I re-skinned the adventure slightly by setting in the Majestic Wilderlands instead of the Forgotten Realms.

In the last part I gave a general overview and some general advice. This post is about the first session of the campaign and the medieval elements I incorporated and why. One of my players +Douglas Cole kept a detailed journal over on his blog Gaming Ballistic.

My Account
Doug's Account

Doug made a Paladin of Veritas the God of Truth. The religion of Veritas or the High Lord is associated with the Sylvan culture of the Elves in the Majestic Wilderlands. In the region where the players are adventuring, in there are several cultures that define how NPCs behave. The feudal cultures of the Tharian Horse Lords, and Ghinorian (chosen of Mitra). Along with the Sylvan culture of the Elessarians (Celt like with druids) and demi-humans (Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Halflings, etc).

One aspect of the Sylvan culture is that is tracks closely to the D&D default of the adventuring party of a kalidoscope of races. This makes it easier for a newcomer to roleplay as a member of this culture. For Doug it had the benefit being somewhat distant from where the campaign was taking place. So it played into Doug not knowing the setting as well as the other players.

Paladins in the Majestic Wilderlands are respected and feared. Respected because they are divine agents of their god. Connected to the deity directly as their agent. Feared because as divine agents they are sent to where there are problem. Their active involvement in a region means somebody in trouble and it could be them. There also tensions between paladins and the political and religious hierarchy. While paladin respect the rule of law and those who hold position, in the end they answer only their god.

While paladins are more recent myth than historical religion always enjoyed a privilege place in society. Typically it was woven in tight with the secular half with the the sovereign acting as King and Priest. The advent of Christianity meant, among other things, the role of King and Priest were separated and turned into parallel hierarchies. In Western Europe particularly, the head of the church, the Pope, contended with Kings over who had the final say. Eventually the Kings won the war, but during the 12th and 13th century the Papacy was ascendant.

Overall the Majestic Wilderlands was polytheistic. Behind the scenes there was only ten major divine powers. However when translated through local culture and its history this resulted in a complex melange of religions. The storm god, was known as Thor to the Skandian Vikings, but in the south to the Ionian barbarians he was Mantriv the Thunderer.

Out of all the cultures, the Sylvan culture led by the Elves were the most aware of the true nature of the divine powers of the world. They viewed as enlightened beings of power imparting great truths through their teachings. The leader of these powers was Veritas the High Lord who name means Truth. Paladins of Veritas main purpose is to promote harmony among the races and to deal with threats to that harmony. The clerics of Sylvan cultures call themselves the Trehaen or teachers. When I use D&D as my rules they are based off the Druid and Ranger class.

The regions that the campaign was set there are two other important religion. First is that of the Ghinorian who arrived a millennia ago from the south. They believe themselves to be the chosen people of Mitra the goddess of honor and justice. I always depicted them as a faux Catholic Church and much of the details are taken from or inspired by the historical medieval church with a dash of Judaism. The Church of Mitra is often the religion my players "get" right away. I deliberately play with the stereotypes people have of the medieval church in the details and in the roleplaying.

The next important religions is that of the Tharian Horse Lord. They swept in from the west 200 years ago and conquered the City State of the Invincible Overlord a century ago. They believe in a High Lord however unlike the Elves their focus of worship is directed to a concept they call the Lars. They believe each clan has a council of dead ancestors established by the High Lord to guide the clan and its members. The clerics are those in charge of the proper ceremonies to honor the Lars and perform auguries to seek counsel with the Lars in the clan's time of need. I was inspired by the religious customs of China and Republican Rome. In creating this.

Again I said in my previous post was important about all of this is how the influenced the behavior of the NPCs the PCs encounter. The Tharian norm is do right by their ancestor. The Ghinorian was to live by the code that Mitra teaches, the Sylvans desire harmony between all.

The Situation
The current dynasty and most of the nobles of the City State are Tharian Horse Lords. While top dog their culture has a serious issue. They are vastly less sophisticated than the Ghinorians and Elessarians (Sylvans) they conquered. For the past century they been playing catch up as they have little in their culture to handle complex economic transactions or handle the rule of thousands living a city as opposed to several hundred clansmen. Over time many Tharian became disillusioned and turned elsewhere for answers. The most popular of which is the martial faith of Set the Dragon God. Set and Mitra are rivals and their respective religions despise each other.

Fifty years ago, the current Overlord's father was having political issues, mostly with the Ghinorian merchants and the few nobles that remained. During that time a Set Mission arrived from the south. In a deliberate snub to the Ghinorians in City State he granted permission for the mission to build a Temple of Set right next to the Cathedral of Mitra. However what started as joke, turned into something more. The worship of Set grew in popularity among the younger generation of Tharians. They were attracted to a religion that advocated a warrior ethos similiar to their own, emphasized that the strong had the right to rule, and was sophisticated as the Church of Mitra in having an answer to many of the problems they faced.

Again how this translate to the player level? Mitra versus Set thanks to Conan and Jaquay's Dark Tower is an enduring trope in tabletop roleplaying. So most when hearing Mitra and Set know that they are not going to like each other. That Mitra is the good guy in all this and Set is the bad guy in all this. This dynamic was always been part of how I ran the Wilderlands. I loved the Dark Tower adventure and its background. It quickly became incorporated in my take on City State with the Hellbridge Temple being dedicated to Set, and instead of there being three central temple each dedicated to a different god, I made it the Cathedral of Mitra. Most of my players expected good clerics to be kind of like Catholic priests so this all reinforced each other.

The Set versus Mitra conflict has been a central dynamic since the first campaign I ran in the Wilderlands. I had campaigns where the players were on the side of Mitra and campaign who were on the side of Set. By the mid 2000s the consequences of all these campaigns was that City State and the territory the Overlord controlled was about to be torn apart in civil war.

The campaign that Doug became part of is where it happened.

The First Game
When D&D 5e came out we all wanted to try it. I really like the Phandelver adventure in the boxed set so volunteered to run it. In case it grew into something more, I took it out of the forgotten realms and set in the Majestic Wilderlands. I located it in a frontier march the City State maintained on the borders of the orc infested forest of Dearthwood. Outside of a few reference and custom maps I pretty much ran the first part of the campaign straight out of the book. I ran this part from July 2014 to October 2014. The players were successful in completing the adventure and won the respect of the town.

Then after the New Year everybody wanted to play 5e again. So I started where we left off. Only this time the long build up to civil war was about to explode

The last time we played 5e the players successfully dealt with the Black Spider in the Wind Echo caves and were heading back to Phandalin. They were gone a number of days and in the mean time a messenger arrived from the Mitran rebels in City State that the time to overthrow the Overlord and his nobles was at hand. The leader of the miners, Halia Thorton, was an known adherent of Set. And previously Sildar Hallwinter I made a Black Lotus Agent. The Black Lotus is the Overlord's secret police.

Sildar could see the pitchforks being pulled out and got the miners out although it was too late for Halia. Sildar, his group, and the party met each other on the trail, got attacked by a random patrol of orcs, and a few round into the fight the rest of the PCs showed up.

My inspiration for figuring out how the rebellion would play out is reading the accounts of various peasant revolt throughout the Middle Ages and the Reformation. Like Wat Tyler, the Hussites, and the Peasant War in Germany. When reading about these I tried to imagine why people were acting the way they did. And when it came time for me to use this in my campaign, how would those same beliefs and feeling play out in the particular circumstances of my campaign.

For the Ghinorians, they been in a culture shock ever since the Tharians conquered them. The fact they are now starting to worship the deity they despised the most was the final straw. For Wat Tyler and his group it was also the intersection of several things, the economic disruption of the Black Death, the high taxes, the regency of a young king (Richard II) all combined to form a powder keg that exploded in 1381.

Thinking about the reason for my own civil war allowed me to come up with a multiple intersecting reason for why NPCs acted the way they did. Some are fighting because of economic, some out of religious beliefs, other have a personal grudge against the Tharians. It makes the situation more interesting, more believable, and gives the players more choices on ultimately what they decide to do or not do.

What made this particular situation interesting is that the players knew Phandalin and its inhabitants well from the initial 5e run. So to see the town they worked to protect tear itself apart involved some tough choices.

Part III
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Medieval Life in Action Part 1

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 15:05
In 2015 I ran a Majestic Wilderlands campaign using D&D 5th edition. One of players was +Douglas Cole  who blog frequently on Gaming Ballistic. He also kept a journal of his time in the campaign. Given the interest over in campaigns that are Medieval Authentic I figure it would help to show an example of actual play in a campaign where a lot of the material is drawn on medieval history.

Re-skinning History
One technique I use is re-skin history. I will take one or more incidents, change names, and make the background fit. Earth's history is incredibly diverse and easy to find stuff to adapt to a campaign if you are well-versed in history.

For example, Saladar, King of the Grand Kingdom (from Blackmarsh, Points of Light) just died and his only child surviving to adulthood is the Duchess Aleia. Alias was married Geran, Duke of Powin, part of the neighboring Kingdom of Gwyneed. However the Grand Kingdom is only two generations old. The seven realms having been united by King Aldric the Bold, Saladar's father, 50 years ago. When Aldric died, Saladar's older brother, Aldric the Red (II) took the throne but died in a hunting accident a few years later. As he had no child Saladar was crowned king. Unfortunately Saladar's eldest, Prince Edwin, died while patrolling the eastern borderlands leaving only Aleia as his heir.

However Barons did not like the idea of a Queen being in charge. Their hold over their estates throughout the seven realms was tenous and they desired a strong warrior king like King Aldric the Bold. Palanon was the grandson of King Aldric the Bold, however his mother was King Aldric's daughter so he wasn't considered as a candidate for the kingship until King Saladar died without a male heir. Palanon's supporters moved quickly as it would take two month for the Duchess Aleia to arrive at the capital of the Grand Kingdom. The royal treasury was seized and Palanon was proclaimed King just as the Duchess crossed the borders a few week later.

The Duchess Aleia was known for her fiery temper and wasn't about to give up. She issued a call for loyal supporters to gather under her banner. And with that call the Grand Kingdom was plunged in the era of the Chaos.

Now if you don't recognize any of this, this is a thinly veiled re-skin of the Anarchy period of England. Saladar is a King Henry I who lost his son in the shipwreck of the White Ship, leaving only his daughter the Empress Matilda. Palanon is Stephen the grandson of King William the Conqueror by his daughter Adela of Normandy.

But it not enough
OK so you made the above background and re-skinned it nicely. Right now it is useless vanity piece you wrote for your enjoyment. The only thing that makes it matter is how it defines the behavior of the NPCs that the PCs will encounter.

If you read medieval history a lot what drives things is the social webs that surround those in power. In one sense the Anarchy was two biker (or horse?) gangs (Matlida, and Stephen) fighting over turf with various allied gangs coming and going for their own reasons. So the next step one need to take is to define who does the Duchess Aleia know, do they support her (or not), and why. The same for Palanon. For myself I try to keep to the rule of the half-dozen. At each level I only focus on a half-dozen npcs. That way I can keep things in my head. The actual number should be whatever you are comfortable with keeping in your head. Some can to more and some need to do less.

For this type of background what will impact the players the most are retinue of the lowest ranks of nobles with land and power. Those who follow Barons, Sheriffs and the like. So sketch out Palanon, and Aleia, half dozen of their main supporters, and then of them pick a handful who impact the area the PCs are starting in. Then define their retinues and the NPCs that the players are most likely to encounters. Chancellors, Bailiffs, Captains of the Guard, etc. The retinue depends on their lord for privilege and survival so whatever whom the lord is backing they will back.

Finally this is the average, there will be exceptions and variants. But you have to have a norm. So keep a rough count of how often you make an major exception to the rule and if it exceed half of what your are detailing then quit writing up exception and go with mild quirks to add color. For example you defined a regions that has two Barons and five knights. No more than a single Baron and two the knight should vary greatly from the feudal norm in some way. The rest will have quirks to add color.

Part II
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Print option for the City State of the Invincible Overlord, Color Map now available.

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 04:56
When I uploaded this project to RPGNow I thought that the 18" by 12" small poster map was going to be discontinued because it was listed as being on standard paper.

From talking with my OBS rep that turned out to be not true. So I created a print version, uploaded it, and ordered a proof copy. As you can see it looks pretty good.

If you already bought the PDF I sent a email with a discount code to buy it at a low cost. I took the base price and added $1 so it will count as a sale for the site rankings.

City State of the Invincible Overlord, Color Map

If you haven't bought the map yet, the price for Print plus PDFs is $10. The price for print is raised by $2 to cover the cost that OBS charges me for the map. The print version comes with five poster maps.

  • Four full scale maps of each quarter of the city. There is considerable overlap between the different section.
  • One with the entire map resized to fit the 12" by 18" dimensions of the small poster.
The one downside of the poster maps is that they come folded in half leaving a crease. I already put in the suggestion that they have a tube option for uncreased maps. 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs