Sunday, July 29, 2018

Building a Better Dungeon

Since my last post, I've run the Cha'alt campaign twice, once on Roll20 and once in my face-to-face home game. 

The sessions have been fun, and it's been a learning experience (playtests always are, which is why we should do them whenever possible).  However, there have been times when I feel my creation is less than inspired.  That's not surprising since this is all a rough draft of sorts.  It's got all the quality and refinement of a Roger Corman picture.

As neat as that is, I've done the B-movie version of dungeons (and many other things) to death.  I've come to realize that there's a lot of stuff I don't know or haven't thought of when it comes to a fully realized dungeon.

Since I want this one to be the best it can be, I'm pulling out all the stops!

I'm not too awesome nor fucking boss to admit when I need help.  So, upon Endzeitgeist's recommendation right over here, I'm reading up on the subject.  Sure, I'm probably more or less aware of 85% of the material covered, but sometimes you've got to dig deep in order to reach that last 15%. 

And that's what I'm after!  So, while I digest that book, if anyone has a suggestion to make, I'm in the mood to buy and read PDFs on dungeon design.  Please feel free to comment with your own recommendation. 


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Cha'alt on Roll20: session 2

So, here's the listing if you want to play in session 2.

What happened in session 1?  Some exploration of a cave-system near the crimson rock of sacrifice, and the PCs were attacked by raiders and taken as slaves.

Dragged to the capstone of a shiny black pyramid, the PCs are forced to explore and loot the pyramid for their new masters.  The pyramid hasn't been seen in the wasteland for over a hundred years.  Does its reappearance bode well for the dome-city exiles and wasteland wanderers?  Hell no!

This is Cha'alt, campaign of sun-bleached death under magenta sky!!!

Elsewhere, I posted a little something about character classes.  Below, I'm providing information on available races... (BTW, this is a work-in-progress and subject to change.  A lot stuff I'm just throwing against the wall because I need to have something to show people.  Eventually, all will be integrated smoothly... but we're a long way off.)

Human The majority of city populations include humans.  Humans are ambitious, deceptive, and always seeking power.  Additional Hit-Points: 1d4

1st level... once per day, humans gain advantage on any roll they choose.

3rd level... once per day, humans can fight until they die - even if they'd normally be unconscious.

7th level... once per day, humans can take a secondary class that raises in level at the same time and rate as their original class.

Cockroach Men:  Also known as roach-men, these are smaller humanoid insects with impervious shells.  Unfortunately, they are frequently hunted for the natural shields growing out of their back. Additional Hit-Points: 2d4

1st level... roach-men are able to curl up into a defensive ball (roach-men cannot attack while in a defensive ball), which gives every opponent targeting them disadvantage on their attacks.

3rd level... roach-men get advantage on their saving throws where failure would lead to serious physical harm or death.

7th level... roach-men shells have matured to the point where they have damage resistance of 1d6 per attack.

V'symm:  Demons with dark red skin, an ancient race native to the desert.  They were tribal and sinister even before the apocalypse, splitting off from civilization to worship the Great Demons That Dwell Inside Cha'alt.  Additional Hit-Points: 1d6

1st level... once per day, v'symm are able to beguile one or more humanoids using their devilish charm.

3rd level... once per day, v'symm are able to cast a spell as if they were a sorcerer.  If they're already a sorcerer, this is an additional spell the character is able to cast per day.

7th level... once per day, v'symm gain advantage on a roll after they've shown favor or respect to the Great Demons That Dwell Inside Cha'alt.

Elf:  The majority of elves flocked to the cities after the Industrial Revolution hundreds of years ago.  However, pockets of feral and wild elves have always remained in the wilderness.  Now that everything beyond the dome-cities is wasteland, they survive by banding together in tribal communities.  Elves determine rank by pea-cocking around the tribe in an increasingly outlandish manner.  Additional Hit-Points: 1d6

1st level... once per day, elves can impress others with their garish appearance, brash demeanor, and outrageous behavior.

3rd level... once per day, elves gain advantage against an opponent when initiating ritual combat.

7th this level, elves may call upon their tribe (or tribal ancestors if no other tribesman is around) to give assistance.

Dark Elf:  Exiled from their surface cousins for worshiping slimy tentacled gods instead of the dragons.  For a time, they were hunted by various humanoid races who saw their nonconformity as proof of degeneracy.  While not inherently evil, dark elves are naturally sneaky and have learned to disguise their presence whenever possible.

Their skin color is violet-black.  Additionally, dark elf skin contains more water than any other race because of their subterranean existence... and also not being reptilian or insectoid.  Unfortunately, that means dark elves are sometimes hunted purely for hydration (Mmm... flesh water).

1st level... in near or total darkness, you become invisible to the naked eye.

3rd level... dark elves can creep about with unnatural quiet.

7th level... in dim light, you become invisible to the naked eye.

Lizard-Men:  These humanoid reptiles arose out of the apocalypse, but claim to have always been here... underground.  The apocalypse forced them out of their subterranean home, deep inside Cha'alt.  Now, they live in the desert, generally keeping to themselves, occasionally joining elf, human, and halfling tribes.  Additional Hit-Points: 1d10

1st level... once per day, lizard-men have advantage on traveling the wasteland survival roll.

3rd level... once per day, lizard-men get advantage on hazards encountered while exploring.

7th level... once per day, lizard-men are able to fight in total or near darkness with advantage.

Sand-Grog Brutish and muscular desert constructs created via sorcery, sand-grogs are both savage and intelligent beings of intelligence and culture.  While most often found in the desert, the occasionally live in cities, using their massive strength to do the job of 7 men.  Additional Hit-Points: 2d6

1st level... for as many times per day as their level, sand-grogs can perform a feat of amazing strength (if used in combat, this is the equivalent of double damage).

3rd level... once per day, sand-grogs are able to "melt" into a pillar of sand for as many minutes as their level.

7th level... once per day, sand-grogs can decide to "sand" part of their bodies just before a successful attack lands, effectively negating damage.




Friday, July 20, 2018

No One Warps For Free - PDF live!!!

Yes, at long fucking last... Alien Ass, Hydrogen Gas, or Cosmic Grass... No One Warps For Free! is finally available (softcover will take another couple weeks).

I'm excited about this release because ENnie-nominated Glynn Seal and I worked hard on this book and it turned out superb.  The production values are the highest Kort'thalis Publishing has ever attempted.  It really looks amazing!

What's in it?  A whole bunch of stuff.  I know it's only 74 pages, but the thing is dense with random tables, optional rules (like PC careers), and scenarios.  I'm waiting for the first few reviews to filter in, but I'm going out on a space limb right now to say that No One Warps For Free is one impressive sonofabitch!

Thanks to all my Kickstarter backers, supporters, contributors, artists, and everyone who paved the way.


p.s. Incidentally, the RPGpundit just reviewed the previous Alpha Blue supplement Battle Star: Trek Wars right over here.

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.


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).


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.


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

For simplicity's sake, assume the difficulty is Moderate unless the GM says otherwise.

In addition to a d20 roll, players add their character's level if the attempted action is relevant to his class.  If the GM is using ability scores (personally, I find them too fiddly for online games), relevant ability modifiers give a bonus of +1 for 15 and above; -1 for 7 and below.

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 (let's say his Int was a 16) modifier of +1 for a total of 16.  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 or two of the oncoming attackers (it was dark).

I'm using this for pretty much everything, except standard combat maneuvers.  So... spells, special attacks, perception checks, saving throws, initiative, 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.


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 number, 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.


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.  HD: 1d6 [max HP at 1st level]
  • 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.  HD: 1d4 [max HP at 1st level]
  • 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.  HD: 1d8 [max HP at 1st level]
  • 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!  HD: 1d12 [max HP at 1st level]
  • 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.  HD: 1d10 [max HP at 1st level]
  • 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.  HD: 1d4 [max HP at 1st level]

For the dragon priest, sorcerer, and techno-mancer, magic (even techno-magic) is rather free form -player describes what he wants his character's spell to do and rolls a d20 (adjusted by modifiers).  The GM describes what happens.

Spells / day = character's level.  For example, a 3rd level character can cast 3 spells per day).  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!


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.