Sunday, January 26, 2020

Authentic vs Epic

So, I tweeted out a poll last night.  If you were DMing, would you rather go for authentic or epic?

Several people responded "both" or asked what the difference was or just needed clarification.  My reply required more than Twitter's character limit could give me.

When I say "authentic" I mean a few things...

1) Realism:  Yes, it's hard to talk about realism when we're dealing with sorcerers and dragons.  Verisimilitude is probably closer to the mark.  What would a genuine romp through the campaign setting look like?  Sleeping on the ground, cooking beans and sausages in the fire, or the Disney version where sleeping arrangements aren't even considered because everyone's rushing from starship chase to disarming the nuclear fireball to dueling with the PCs' arch-nemesis.

2) The mundane stuff:  Doesn't have to be all grim and gritty and covered in filth, but it shouldn't be super glamorous.  The lived-in universe of Star Wars IV where Luke has to scrape off the carbon scoring by hand.  That's not epic.  Nor is cleaning bedpans, but someone's got to do it.  Should the PCs?  Well, not for the entire scenario, obviously.  However, would it kill them to start their adventuring life mopping the tavern floor or chasing after poop-covered chickens?

3) Things just happen:  Not much attention is paid to the beginning, middle, and end.  No inciting incident, rising action, or climax.  As you get deeper, things may get increasingly hairy, but that's just logical progression, not anything to do with a story arc.

When I'm talking about epic, I mean things that are larger than life and grandiose.  Since I'm already on a Star Wars kick, the sequel trilogy (episodes VII - IX) would be epic.  Humble beginnings quickly lead to whooping ass and taking names right in the middle of a galactic drama between good and evil (or what passes for such things).

If this were an epic D&D session, even meeting in a tavern would launch straight into a quest to save the kingdom or at least a princess.  In contrast, an authentic session where PCs also meet in a tavern might escalate into a barroom brawl before overhearing that an entrance to the mythic underworld has just been found just outside town.

Epic goes for adventure with a capital A.  Authentic reminds you that even if you score a decent haul of treasure, there's still a chance for catching a splinter while you're polishing the blacksmith's anvil, listening to the village idiot drone on about his imaginary cat.

And yes, there's a connection between authentic vs. epic and sandbox vs. pre-plotted linear adventure.  The former moves along at it's own pace, organically... usually haphazard and occasionally awkward.  The latter is sleek and stylish with thrills and chills at regular intervals, but let's face it, those adventures also feel kind of staged, plastic... artificial, even.

So, the big question!  Are these mutually exclusive or can epic and authentic go together like chocolate and peanut butter?  I'd say, yes, it's possible to do both.  And yet, exceedingly rare is the Game Master who can consistently pull off authentic and epic in the same session.  Campaigns are easier to manage authentic and epic because different adventures can provide for tonal shifts.  Even the farm boy from Tatooine can blow up a Death Star after 10 sessions of hard work.

In the end, I, too, prefer both.  However, if I had to set my sights on just one... it would be authentic because that gets you closer to immersion, which is the prime factor of roleplaying games.


p.s. Want the Cha'alt hardcover?  Due to high demand, I've decided to extend the special January deal until Valentine's Day... while supplies last!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Blast From My Purple Past

A confluence of events has deemed The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence worthy of two new reviews... even if it has been 6 years since I birthed it.

I remember fondly my time writing, running, and witnessing peoples' reactions to that book.  Without further ado, you can listen to the 2 part podcast here.  Dan Davenport, GMshoe, has a text review here.

Want to go straight to the PDF?  Here you go.  But if you prefer the b/w softcover, I recommend buying it on Amazon.

That campaign setting hexcrawl paved the way for Cha'alt, so for that alone I'm happy to see it mentioned on the internet.

If anyone has a purple islands story they'd like to share, I'd love to read it.  Comment below!



Thursday, January 16, 2020

Cha'alt Hardcover Deal

This Deal Is Now Over!

This weekend only - from now until Monday morning at 10am - I'm running a special deal...

$50 for one Cha'alt hardcover or two for $75!  If you live within the USA, shipping is included.  If you live outside the USA, $25 shipping for the first book and $35 for both.

All you gotta do is send $ via paypal:

You've never seen an RPG tome of this high quality!!!

Along with the print version, you'll get complimentary digital files; just need your DriveThruRPG associated email address.



Wednesday, January 15, 2020

I Don't Want That

Normally, OSR blog posts lack any real divisiveness.  I mean, we all kind of agree on certain things, and where we disagree, we're mostly fine accepting those differences.

Well, I've stumbled onto something I'm really passionate about - a subject that my friend is equally passionate about.  Yay, an argument!

The following is a copy/paste from the comment section beneath his review of Old School Renaissance Like A Fucking Boss.  It might make more sense if I included Endzeitgeist's review of Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 for context, as well as, my own blog post response to it.

While it may seem obvious, let me mention it here - I like old school for the most part, I play old school for the most part, and I create old school content for the most part, but that doesn't mean I slavishly adhere to it at all costs.  If this renaissance doesn't grant us a modicum of freedom, then what the fuck are we doing here?


Care for a fun experiment / playtest?
Let’s do a 5-minute Roll20 or 10 email posts (for each of us) combat scene. You can play a cleric with 2 allies against 5 goblins. I’ll GM. Then we’ll see if the cleric is broken or not.
Also, thanks for the review and shout-out, hoss!


Your suggestions for the frame of the playtest make clear that you do not understand, or do not want to understand, the root of the issue.
The very foundation of the mathematic baselines and narrative tensions underlying any D&D-adjacent game are based on a degree of tactics and resource-attrition to some degree or another.
Particularly the OSR tradition uses this and considers it to be a virtue and one of the pillars of player skill. Same goes for 5e.
Your game professes to be based on both for branding, but purposefully flaunts the very central pillar on which this is based.
As a direct consequence, your infinite healing clerics and, as a consequence, infinite casting wizards are BROKEN because they invalidate the central baseline.
You *can* call that deliberate and skew encounter-difficulty to make (almost) every encounter hinge on nigh annihilation (see what Cha’alt’s Black Pyramid often does), only to have everyone miraculously regain all resources after the encounter.
However: Encounters are not tied to time in-game; they make no sense as a metric in-game.
Doing so invalidates any notion of survival struggle or danger…beyond excessive damage output and save-or-suck.
That might work for a small one-shot, sure. It wrecks any long-term appeal of your rules-lite games, though…because you don’t ever really are rewarded for doing anything but throwing your best damage at the enemy as fast as possible. Because you either are fine, or you’re dead.
You’re walking into a dead-end for design and tension, and have been for some time. And I really think that you’re better than that.
In the long run?
You can’t erect a system with any degree of longevity on it, because this relegates EVERY single challenge to being just a different coat of paint over the same metrics. Unless the players are super easy to please, this “oh, we almost died to damage/oh, some died to save or suck – oh well, we’re good now!” as the only type of danger to be encountered EVERY ENCOUNTER will turn stale very fast.
Infinite healing powering infinite spellcasting has, AUTOMATICALLY, this long-term effect.


Your contention that "I don't understand" or my game "flaunts the very central pillar" smacks of badwrongfun.  Rather than what I'd call macro-tension that might be better suited to the long haul of a extensive campaign, my focus is micro-tension; certainly better suited to one-shots and shorter campaigns.  You sacrifice one for the other.  That means in order to fulfill the one, you neglect the other.  Sure, some try to have it both ways, but we both know that's not easy to find, let alone maintain. 

Essentially, you're treating combat like some kind of gritty and desperate sport, but still a sport.  All things must be in alignment or balanced, uphill and against the current, so combat turns into a long-game of pick-your-poison suffering and resource management masturbation. 

Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 treats combat as war, but a potentially winnable war focused on the immediate, the here and now.  I have no interest in incentivizing the 5-minute workday or making certain classes suck because the rules treat them as one-hit wonders... but awesome after level 5.

I've allowed everyone to have a valuable role, a seat at the proverbial table, regarding combat.  That's one of my favorite things about the OSR.  It's not so rooted in old school play-styles from decades past that it can't innovate depending on the creator's design goals.

There are some things that just don't work for me regarding early D&D, that's why I came up with my own thing.  If I merely wanted to play the game as it was played back in 1980, I would just play B/X and call it a day.  Your acting like my personal revelation is nothing aside from the madness of delusion.

Falling into the same tired mistakes, the design dead-ends and cul-de-sacs of our predecessors doesn't help us pursue those strange new avenues necessary to birth RPGs catering to those looking for something different.  Not inherently better or worse... just different.

My "ultimate RPG" is going to be subjective, it has to be, or else RPG designers are chasing the "standard gamer audience" dragon of mainstream utilitarianism.  Other designers are welcome to it, but I don't want that.


Feel free to post your thoughts below...

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Fuchsia Malaise Playtest Sessions

Last week, I ran three different sessions in my Cha'alt campaign.  This post will highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Session One

This was on Roll20, and it was kind of a disaster.  Every player seemed to be on a different page or possibly different book.

They arrived at the golden gates of A'agrybah, and learned a bit about the city and taxes.  Apparently, paying taxes is a fate worse than death because several PCs (one in particular) was preoccupied by imminent tax collection for the entire scenario.  Always looking for somewhere to hide his meager wealth so the tax man doesn't take a cut.

Another PC just stalked the guy afraid of taxes like a creepy ex-girlfriend.  It was weird.

A third PC wanted to go off completely on his own to the palace (the rest of the party was in the tavern making friends).  And when he got there, he wanted to speak directly to the King.  That didn't happen.  Instead, the PC talked to a servant and when that wasn't good enough, he attacked a royal guard.  The PC almost killed the guard, but reinforcements were called.  And when multiple guards eventually killed the PC, the player complained about poor dice rolls.  Really, dude?  You chalk that fate up to bad luck?  Wow, ok...

A fourth PC decided he would take down the biggest guy in the bar who had two companions sitting next to him.  That lasted a whole 2 rounds until the PC was skewered dead on the end of the barbarian's obsidian blade.

The fifth PC tried to make the most of his adventuring time.  I felt bad for him, since his party just collapsed under the weight of their own distraction or incompetence.

Session Two

Same set-up as before (also a Roll20 game), the PCs enter A'agrybah.  This time they enter the marketplace, find a guide, and get a tour... until a couple of thieves make off with their coin purses.

They track the thieves to a blind alley and combat takes place.  It's quite the battle, ending with the most murderhobo PC ripping the head off a thief when he was trying to run away.

It was fun, and everyone had a great time!

Each of those games lasted about 70 minutes, so there wasn't much time for anything else.

Session Three

This was face-to-face at my FLGS, and a blissful four-hours long.  I'd been waiting weeks for this game.  Crummy weather (ice and snow) almost ruined things, but luckily there was a window.

BTW, all three sessions used my Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 hack of both OSR and 5e.  FYI, the cleric isn't broken!  Not only does he allow the party to keep fighting past the 2nd encounter without having to rest for the day, he allows the wizard to keep casting spells (both during and between combats).

Patrick played a cleric moon-elf, Pat played a fighter blood-elf, Michael played another fighter blood-elf, and Steve played a sky-elf wizard (who became his own familiar).

Three of the four players ran through The Black Pyramid a couple months ago.  Instead of starting at 1st level, I suggested they make 3rd level characters and rolled on that d100 past event random table from How To Game Master Like A Fucking Boss.

I introduced some Fuchsia Malaise backstory - the PCs' settlement had been destroyed by off-worlder invaders intent on draining Cha'alt of its most precious resource - zoth.

In order to successfully raid the off-worlder's base, Elysium, they'd need either high-tech weapons, magic items, or both.

Rumors of relics and artifacts within The Black Pyramid abound, so off they went.  As per usual, just the tip of the pyramid was visible, shiny black, the majority submerged beneath irradiated sand.

They met a demon attempting to open up a gateway to some Demon Lord, and decided to help him.  Each PC was bestowed with an infernal blessing, and the gate-opening demon became an NPC hanger-on.

The PCs spent a little time with The Community, but nothing substantial happened there.  Then, they wandered into a Tiki bar and chatted with a demonic vacuum salesman (vacuum sales-demon?) and the negotiations began.  The vacuum demonstration included sucking up some NPC into another dimension (ok, maybe it was demonic).  Two vacuums were purchased.

After that transaction, the PCs felt this would be the perfect initiation for their new demon friend, Qa'atz.  His rite of passage will be to kill the salesman and loot his body as the other PCs watched.

Qa'atz got advantage on a surprise stab to the stomach. Sadly, I rolled badly and Qa'atz missed horribly.  The salesman backed away and disintegrated him in one shot (rolled bad on the saving throw, too).

Disavowing anything to do with Qa'atz, the PCs made their way to a room where a female demon (wow, lots of demons in this session... even for me!) was gifted a magic sword by an infernal council.  The PCs agreed to help her by being their champion and killing the titan Za'argon so she could have a ridiculously large ruby.

The magic sword had an unbreakable glass pommel and a variable plus to hit and damage, so one player suggested the current "+" number would be visible inside the little glass sphere as an indicator.  A brilliant idea and the kind of thing that could only happen in an RPG.

A hive of reptilian insects was in another room, and they became fodder for a fireball spell, as well as, the magic blade.  A decent amount of treasure was found searching the honeycombs.

A wandering humanoid offered to sell his own magic sword.  It had a strange name, Kenyur-Trova'ak. Not having a translation handy, I looked for the closest thing in the Viridian glossary at the back of How To Game Master Like A Fucking Boss and came up with "passionate oblivion"... a better translation would be "the strength of nothingness."  Then ended up trading a vacuum and a turquoise slab for the sword.

The last room before Za'argon was full of his devoted worshipers who occasionally offered themselves to the minor god when he was feeling especially peckish.  The PCs didn't think much of them, playing strategy games and plucking their zita'ars.

The PCs had a whiz-bang idea of removing the chartreuse sphere from an adjacent triangle-shaped room so the worshipers could use it as a new age music room with excellent "triangular acoustics".

Unfortunately, Za'argon needed to roll a 1 for him to fail his save.  I rolled a 3, which was damn close.  So, he didn't immediately die.  But the sky-elf wizard did lob a fireball at him.  This little table was rolled on.  The wizard's player rolled a 6.  Ouch!  Knocking half its Hit-Points down, the rest of them dealt damage like true adventurers.

The cleric dropped down onto the titan's head so he could dish out a holy invocation to Lovecraftian abominations.  The fighters (they both had magic swords, but especially the one with the variable +) wailed on him.

Za'argon slapped all of them around with a couple rounds of tentacles, practically killing the cleric.  The wizard asked if it was possible for him to cast a spell to save his companion's life.  I deemed that it was.  The wizard could try preventing the cleric's soul from leaving his body.  The wizard cast his spell and the cleric would need to make a saving throw.  Luckily, he did.

Finally, the killing blow cut the titan in twain.  The PCs looted his chamber, the demon sorceress took her giant ruby, and her champion did not return the sword even though she was done with him.  She vanished into thin air before the PCs could turn on her.

Za'argon's horn bestowed enough power making the party's spell-caster a Very Powerful Wizard (at long last).  He used that temporary power to destroy the enemies within Elysium.  Also, the PCs became 4th level.

Having survived The Black Pyramid was no easy feat.  For years and years, they will be able to tell their children and grandchildren of their bravery, cunning, and unbelievable fortune!


p.s. One thing I like to do is look back at my sessions and see if there's something I could have done differently, that could be improved upon.  The demon sorceress should have been sexier and a potential love-interest for one or more PCs.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Kickstarter Concluded

It's over.

Thank dread Cthulhu and His one-hundred-and-eleven slimy green tentacles!

Now, I can breathe a sigh of relief before diving back into the writing side of self-publishing.

What am I referring to?  Only the greatest Kickstarter comeback in the history of everything.  That's all.  Yes, Cha'alt: Fuchsia Malaise secured just over $13,000.  Less than I dreamed, but more than I realistically expected after the first 20-25 days where we seemed to be irrevocably stuck at about 7 grand. 

If you decide you want in, don't worry.  You didn't miss out on your chance to secure a luxury, signed, numbered, off-set printed hardcover edition of Cha'alt: Fuchsia Malaise (or it's predecessor... Cha'alt).

I can't keep this eldritch, gonzo, science-fantasy, post-apocalypse campaign all to myself, now can I?  Simply email me and we'll get you squared away:

This past week, I ran three playtest sessions.  Two on Roll20, and one face-to-face.  I'll be blogging about them either tomorrow or the next day.

Besides saying THANK YOU to all my supporters, backers, fans, and fellow gamers, I'm done here.  ;)


Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Ultimate Megadungeon

I feel like I fought long and hard for this review...

Battled my inner demons, smoked a peace-pipe with that old serpent until we were both baked into a fever-dream cake with black rainbow frosting, risked my stack by going all-in against a lavender mo-hawked skeever who I knew was bluffing, and so forth!

Endzeitgeist's Cha'alt review!

I knew it wouldn't be easy, that he'd make me pay dearly for every bit of laziness or self-indulgence, every decision carefully considered and weighed as if standing before an exotic gold idol with a pouch full of sand, every creative choice mercilessly judged.

And yet, I came out unscathed... relatively speaking.  I just re-read the damn thing and I'm exhausted.  I don't have the time, energy, or even the inclination to refute his claims, except to say that I really wanted an all-caps GONZO fun-house megadungeon.  If blasters and sleep spells were commonplace, then really weird stuff would have to be way over-the-top.

Also, for a 90 minute online game or 3-hour face-to-face one-shot of D&D, Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 is just about perfect.  It also plays better than it reads.  ;)

Those brave enough to see for themselves are welcome to play in one of my Roll20 games or on January 11th in Madison, WI.


p.s. Yep, still pimping the Cha'alt: Fuchsia Malaise kickstarter - only 5 days left to go!