Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Cha'alt on Roll20


I'm opening up Cha'alt to the world, at least those who frequent Roll20.

So, if you're interested in a 5e D&D game that's part cyberpunk, part mutant wasteland, part dungeoncrawl, here's the link.

These weekly sessions will only be about an hour long (Thursdays, 11:30 - 12:30pm central standard time) and text only (I'll be sitting at my desk in a fairly public space).  So, we'll dive in ASAP. 

Come with a character concept ahead of time.  check out these character classes!  Races can be any standard fantasy thing you want to come up with... as long as it's not too immersion-breaking, I'm fine with it.  Half centaur, half stalk of celery, and half nuclear bomb?  Umm... no.

If this turns out well, I will most likely blog about it... perhaps even self-publish the campaign as an adventure or setting book down the road.  So, signing up to play means you're cool with that.

VS


Monday, July 16, 2018

MotBM an OSR Dead-End?


Ok, this deserves a blog post all its own...

So, I and many others read this review of Maze of the Blue Medusa right over here.  There's been a lot of feedback, as well as, quite a bit of push-back from the OSR.

Now, if the reviewer was railing against commonly accepted OSR staples, I would wholeheartedly agree with their rebuttal.  However, I got the sense that the reviewer is himself an OSR gamer and was judging MotBM on its own self-proclaimed old school merits... and found it lacking.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't see the reviewer advocating for adventure paths.  He simply wants a megadungeon to have some logical cohesion along with something going on that relates to the PCs.  You know, an adventure!  That's not some newfangled modern 4th edition story-game nonsense.  On the contrary, it's the foundational bread and butter of RPG scenarios: there's something going on that draws the PCs in and makes some kind of sense as they involve themselves.

I don't know if this is quite right, not having read MotBM (though this is probably the 13th review I've read over the last year), but from the reviewer's perspective, it seems like a deconstructed megadungeon.  All the parts are there, but it tricks you into thinking it's fully assembled.

Just because an adventure (any adventure) says, "You can do what you want with it - make it your own!" that doesn't mean it's useful, what the customer wants, or is worth paying for.  Now, I think MotBM is worth buying and I intend on purchasing the 2nd edition yonder.  But my acquisition is not why the ordinary gamer wants it.  

I'm looking for inspiration, what worked, what didn't work, why it captured the 2017 imagination as hard as it did.  Why?  So I can surpass it, of course.  Hoping to publish my own megadungeon in 2019!

Anyways, when it comes down to it a gaming product should be gameable - especially when it's expensive, talked up to the nth degree, and was a work-in-progress by two accomplished gaming authors for 4 friggin' years (trying to verify that, but not finding a source - will keep trying)!

If the reviewer, and he's not alone - I've seen lots of feedback over the last 12 months - thinks it stops short of providing satisfactory gameable content, that's a flaw.  Thankfully, I don't believe MotBM's flaw is shared by the OSR.  If anything, MotBM strayed too far away from old school principles - and that's what bit it in the ass.  

But I'd love to read your thoughts, will gladly engage in discussion and hope to have my beliefs either verified or reduced to ash after I've read the damn thing (probably end of August).

VS

p.s.  Ever since I realized my interview with Patrick Stuart pictured not Patrick Stuart, I've felt a little bit bad about it (but not so bad that I actually did anything).  So, here he is pictured!  Also, here's a link to that post-MotBM interview.  For completion's sake, here's my post-MotBM interview with Zak S.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Cha'alt: Session One


Last night was the official start of my new post-apocalyptic D&D campaign Cha'alt: Sun-Bleached Death Under Magenta Sky.

4 players, specific classes I came up with last week, a few house-rules, handful of scenario notes, and... that's it.  Nothing else.  I didn't have any rulebooks, charts, screens, supplements, or full-fledged adventure.  No music, weird lighting, artwork, or any theatrics, pyrotechnics, special effects, etc.

I was, admittedly, a little apprehensive about going that route, but it felt very refreshing.

The only thing I'm going to say about the session as of now is that three PCs came from the wasteland (wasters) and one came from the dome-city (domer).  After conducting their initial business, they were attacked by raiders and ran for their lives.  While being pursued, they found a place to hide... and explore.

Oh yeah, I can also tell you the party's dragon priest was almost swallowed by a giant sandworm.

I want to keep the rest under wraps because I intend to open the Cha'alt campaign world up to everyone - details coming soon!

However, I also want to share some system / game mechanics that I came up with to make my O5R game feel like D&D without sacrificing the range I've cultivated with VSd6.

Difficulty

Easy:  10
Moderate: 15
Hard: 20
Near Impossible: 25
_______

In addition to a d20 roll, players add their character's level and relevant ability score modifier.

For example, Harold's techno-mancer tried to imbue a disused subway car with power and force it to run over his enemies.  He rolled his d20 and got a 14, then added his level (they all started at 1st level) +1, and finally his intelligence modifier +3 for a total of 18.  That means he was able to get the subway car up and running and moving in the right direction, but couldn't put as much force or direction into it as he wanted.

Result: it struck and wounded one of the oncoming attackers.

I'm using this for pretty much everything, except standard combat maneuvers.  So... spells, special attacks, perception checks, etc.  However, all rolling comes after the all-important roleplaying.  You can't just roll to check for traps without describing what you're doing first.

VS

p.s. Almost forget to mention, if a player gets 5 or more points above the target, he generally gets a little bonus, like a critical success.  If he gets 5 or more points below the target, he's bound to get some kind of penalty or further loss, like a critical failure.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Shades of Amber


Patrick Stuart's False Machine review of Amber: Diceless Role-Playing brought up a lot of great memories.  I haven't played Amber since High School in the early 90's, and haven't read the core rulebook in over a decade, yet Wujcik's wisdom seems burned into my psyche.

I just re-read his review, and while I can't pinpoint the exact sentence getting to the heart of this blog post, it's in there somewhere.  Allow me to plunge my warlock hands into the primordial soup and see what I can yank out...

As a designer of RPGs myself, my foundation seems to be context.  In any interaction, there are a number of variables, each having their own weight, pushing and pulling the odds of success, failure, or something in-between hither and yon. 

For me personally, needing to hit a target number of 14, rolling a 15, and saying, "Yeah, you hit," or rolling a 13 and saying, "Nope, you miss," just doesn't satisfy me like it did when I started out playing Basic D&D in grade school. 

After years of gaming, I realized how much I preferred subtlety, nuance, interpretation, the dice as oracle and I, Game Master, as the one who speaks for them.  I want the dice to give me a range, a degree of good, bad, and ugly where I'm able to refine the raw material... shades of gray, rather than just rolling to see if the outcome is either black or white.

That's why I came up with VSd6, a system using d6 dice pools.  The result allowing GMs to know which way the wind is blowing so they can narrate the actual outcome... their outcome, rather than something hypothetical and polarized.  In this way, the dice results are like potential energy, awaiting the GM's ultimate determination.

Where Amber expects the GM to do all the factoring in his head, the RPGs of Kort'thalis Publishing (Alpha Blue, Crimson Dragon Slayer, The Outer Presence, and Blood Dark Thirst) provide tools cutting out much of the guesswork. 

The GM as final arbiter; rules merely a framework for GM and players to immerse themselves in virtual reality - is the very definition of old school.  That's why I believe both Amber: Diceless and my own RPGs are essentially OSR.

VS


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Cha'alt: Character Classes


So, a couple weeks ago was session -1, and yesterday we finally got to session zero.  Although, to be completely honest, it's more about having lunch with friends than pre-planning D&D.

Regardless, some campaign discussion happened.  For instance, here are the available character classes in Cha'alt: Sun-bleached death!

Basically, it's Shadowrun within the domed cities and Mad Max / Gamma World / Dark Sun everywhere else.

  • Dragon Priest: Dragons rule the world of Cha'alt and they are perceived as Gods by the inhabitance.  However, there are priests who worship other god-like beings too... such as, worm priests (yes, giant sandworms burrowing in the wasteland).  Focus: non-offensive spells, such as healing, protection, divination, flight, creating water, etc.
  • Sorcerer: They wield the magic; this was a land of fantasy and technology before the apocalypse.  Focus: offensive spells; destructive sorcery such as fireball, lightning, acid arrow, magic missiles, etc.
  • Urban Ranger: They live in the domed cities, detectives, investigators, blade-runners, and bounty hunters.  Metropolitan killers in nice slacks.  Focus: tracking, locating weaknesses of their prey, and surviving in city environments.
  • Brutalizer: If you're going to live in the wastes, you either have to be a hunter or gatherer.  These are the hunters - they tussle with big game out in the radioactive ruins.  Focus: killing!
  • Scavenger: Thieves of the wasteland, scavengers who search for necessities, tech, magic, and anything that can be used to survive.  They know how to get in and out of the ruins and sewers beneath the domed cities.  Focus: detecting and disarming traps, skulking around silently, getting into hard-to-reach places, hiding in what little shadow there is and striking death-blows.
  • Techno-mancer: They plug into cyberspace in order to access the network, repository for all the available knowledge.  Focus: creating, repairing, operating, and maintaining machines, electronic equipment, and any kind of high-tech gear.

For the dragon priest, sorcerer, and techno-mancer, magic (even techno-magic) is rather free form (player describes what he wants to have happen).  Spells / day = character's level (3rd level character can cast 3 spells per day), but additional spells may be cast at a cost of 1d4 HP per spell.

Next time I blog about Cha'alt, I'll talk about PC races!

VS


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

It's The Adventures, Stupid


I've had this blog post on my mind for a while now...  It all started with a discussion on g+ about Labyrinth Lord.

How one of the first big retro-clones has been virtually eclipsed, why, and if it's possible for Labyrinth Lord to reclaim its former glory.

Well, what makes for a successful RPG?  I'm sure there are many factors that could and should be discussed by those interested in the answer.  But today, I'm going to focus on the primary reason: SUPPORT!!!

Support for that RPG keeps it going, makes it feel alive, engages players, and provides material for using that game now and in the future.  The ideal kind of support is adventures, the backbone of roleplaying.  Various supplements can't hurt, but a large number of scenarios is probably the best gauge for success when it comes to new RPGs.

Just look at your DCC, LotFP, and S&W.  They come out with adventures all the damn time.  If Labyrinth Lord wants to compete, it's got to have just as many high-profile scenarios coming out under the Labyrinth Lord name.  That's why it's so hard for the little guys to compete... any one-man shop is going to be hard-pressed to generate one adventure a month or more.  You need a team!

On that LL thread, I made the boastful statement that I could turn LL around if put on the payroll as brand manager, scenario connoisseur, or whatever to the tune of $50K a year.  Yeah, that seems like a lot, but the juice has to be worth the squeeze.

What's funny is that it's all compatible!  There's no earthly reason why you can't swap one system's adventure for another.  But perception matters with these kinds of things.  Brand awareness affects the market.  We're only human, after all.

I've tried to maintain a regular flow of adventures myself with the several RPGs for Kort'thalis Publishing, but in the end I only succeeded with Alpha Blue.  Crimson Dragon Slayer almost kept pace, but I think sci-fi more lenient than the over-saturated genre of fantasy.  Alas, I realized the full extent of this lesson too late.

Having said that, I'm going to make an announcement regarding Kort'thalis Publishing's RPG lines.  But first, I want to finish Alien Ass, Hydrogen Gas, or Cosmic Grass... No One Warps For Free!  It'll be released before the end of July.

I've already mentioned elsewhere that I'm taking a break from RPG publishing once this last adventure is completed.  There are juicier fruits out there that I have to find.

VS


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Return of the Blue Baron


Since I made a small contribution, just wanted to mention Return of the Blue Baron, volume 2.

It's a collaborative dungeon full of all kinds of crazy stuff!  It was a fun, easy experience and I think the OSR should do more of that kind of thing.

Cooperation makes this hobby possible. I'm always happy to share little tidbits with my fellow creators.  Just ask!

The PDF is free, so definitely check it out.

VS

p.s. Also, be sure to post feedback and reviews.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Describe Stuff


Originally, I had a different introduction for this blog post (see below).  But reading this post on Raging Owlbear, I'm just going to say that providing descriptions is, like, the GM's #1 job.  Take that away and why even bother having a GM.  Just do some wargaming skirmishes with miniatures, instead.

It is fortuitous that I was thinking about Clash of the Titans this past weekend - specifically the character Thallo. Because without those stray thoughts, you wouldn't have this blog post and I wouldn't have found out that Tim Pigott-Smith just died.  He played Captain of the Guard Thallo.

So, I was walking the twins and thinking about descriptions.  Going the extra mile, taking it to the next level, and just how important that is in RPGs.  Of course, keep in mind there's a world of difference between fully describing something the PCs experience in their virtual reality type of environment and the adventure writer's crappy novella about the town the PCs are visiting, all the townsfolk, and 1,000 years of history that nobody gives two shits about - just get on with it!

Anyway, it struck me that Thallo's description of flies when he's talking to Perseus is the perfect example!

Even back then, when I was about 8 and watching Clash of the Titans seemingly every day, I knew that Thallo's words were beyond mere mortal description.  As a wordsmith, he was like the Gods, and probably would have made a fucking boss GM, too.

Let's take a look at what he said...

Accursed, hell-sent swarms of blood-gutted marsh flies.

Any adventure writer or GM can come up with "marsh flies."  That's nothing.  Describing them as "blood-gutted marsh flies" is better, we can both see them clearer and get a better sense of their feeding habits.  It's visceral.  But "accursed, hell-sent swarms of blood-gutted marsh flies"?  Damn, that's awesome!  The players now know where they're from or where they seem to be from, that their evil, possibly demonic, that they come in swarms, probably plaguing that entire marshland area.

Great descriptions do more than convey information - they're symbolic, the programming language that literally makes the game.  Words are the tools we gamers use to create and interact with that virtual world.

Sure, you can go overboard.  After all, Lovecraft did that all the time and no one remembers him or his creations. That was sarcasm, yes.  When it's called for, go off the rails - describe stuff like there's no tomorrow.

So, be like Thallo and Lovecraft - do your job as either an adventure writer, GM, or both!

VS

p.s. Want more advice like this?  You can get Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss and Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss II.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Imagining Cha'alt


This blog post serves as a record for "session -1"... basically talking about the stuff there is to talk about before session zero.

Yes, I'm launching a new D&D campaign next month.  Why D&D?  Well, it's awesome and... you've got to go where the fish are.  Tons of people play D&D.  Comparatively, 5 people play any of the lesser known, old school, retro-clones or OSR off-shoots like Crimson Dragon Slayer (even though d6 dice pools are way cooler than d20).

Three guys talking about D&D, movies, concepts, influences, and the kind of campaign we'd like to see - nay, live in!  It went well; let's dive into the juicy stuff.

I've always had at least an inkling of science-fantasy post-apocalypse in my D&D games.  However, this time I wanted to go all-in.  Mutant Crawl Classics has been ordered from my FLGS (just found out the 1st printing is sold out, but the game store's distributors had a couple extra copies).

In creating the campaign setting/world called Cha'alt, I'm planning on drawing quite a bit of influence from MCC and Dark Sun, but also the following movies...

Mad Max: doesn't get any more post-apocalyptic inspired than that.  I also want to use Cyborg and Water World as inspirations.  A totally ruined civilization where survivors must scavenge to survive in a chaotic, untamed world!

Blade Runner and Split Second: not so easy to find the latter on DVD or blu-ray, but I keep trying.  Anyways, Shadowrun has always been mildly fascinating as a concept.  Fantasy + cyberpunk, so Cha'alt is going to incorporate that, too.

But how?  Well...

Zardoz:  A trippy, 70's favorite of mine.  Just like in Zardoz, there's two lands - one populated by the brutals where it's all savage and low-tech and the second populated by eternals - young and beautiful degenerate intellectuals who want for nothing and have elaborate social rituals.  The eternals use the brutals by way of the vortex (seriously, if you're dying to see Sean Connery's chest hair - just go see Zardoz).

Why not have two main realms?  One was shielded from the apocalypse, more or less, and is the dark near-future cyberpunk world we're familiar with.  Possibly a domed city or one of several, like in Logan's Run.  The other land (pretty much the rest of the world) got the full brunt of the apocalypse and are living in the devastated aftermath.

The PCs are opportunists, mercenaries, thrill-seekers, or one of the dregs of society who agree to travel between the two lands, carrying out various missions and/or independently seeking fame, glory, and treasure (gold, credits, magic, and tech).

How did the apocalypse occur?  Instead of going the usual route of nuclear war, why not dive into the sword & sorcery lore of Thundarr the Barbarian?  Yes, a mysterious comet passed too close to our moon, broke it in half, and shit went crazy!  Ok, it's not really "our" moon.  This is all happening on some fantasy world, which explains the elves, dwarves, magic, etc.

What about Gods?  Dragons.  Dragons?  Yes.  Dragons!!!

I was looking up my kids' Chinese zodiac signs last night and early this morning.  There was something in the description for Year of the Dragon that caught my eye.

In ancient times, people thought that dragons could control everything in the world with their character traits of dominance and ambition.

That sparked something in my imagination!  I started thinking about dragons as gods in Cha'alt.  All-powerful monstrous beings who influenced the people of that world.  Priests would pray to and worship dragons - fire dragons, water dragons, gold dragons, steel dragons, and so on.  As dragons fought amongst themselves, so would great armies - leading to the Dragon Wars.

Yeah, you could just keep going with that idea, from religions and cults to empires and customs - dragons are a huge part of everyday life in Cha'alt.  In fact, I'll most likely take another crack at writing a novel, one based on Cha'alt.

System-wise, I'm leaning towards the Basic Starter version of D&D 5e and adding bits and pieces from there, instead of saying everything in the Player's Handbook is legit and then having to go through it and take bits and pieces out.

It'll be old school.  O5R, to be exact.  And while the 1st session starts up in July, there's going to be an online version of the game people can play, too, via Roll20.  At least, that's the hope.  We'll see.  I still have to complete my latest Alpha Blue kickstarter!

Have an opinion, let me know.

VS