Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Excellence from the Blogosphere (Aug-Oct)

Following the steps of Humza K, I present to you a collection of blog posts (mostly from August and September) that I found inspirational.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Review: Dark Places & Demogorgons

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

The subtitle of Dark Places & Demogorgons is "It's the 1980s and there are strange things happening everywhere!" (emphasis not mine), and it surely is accurate. In this game the players portray teenagers from a small town (the default setting is Jeffersontown, Kentucky), solving mysteries. The game is built on the familiar old-school rules chassis, but the game completely focuses on investigating strange occurrences. There are combat rules, but fighting monsters isn't sustainable for teenagers.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Network System Success Rates

The following table summarises the chances of success (in percentages) for various Target Numbers in the Network System (used by Sertorius, Servants of Gaius, Terror Network, and Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate (all affiliate links)). The resolution mechanic is "compare highest result of Nd10" (except for 0d10, where the result is the lowest of 2d10). I have included probabilities only up to 6d10 as it is a soft cap in Ogre Gate.


0d10 1d10 2d10 3d10 4d10 5d10 6d10
TN 3 64 80 96 99.2 99.84 99.97 99.99
TN 4 49 70 91 97.3 99.19 99.76 99.93
TN 5 36 60 84 93.6 97.44 98.98 99.59
TN 6 25 50 75 87.5 93.75 96.87 98.44
TN 7 16 40 64 78.4 87.04 92.22 95.33
TN 8 9 30 51 65.7 75.99 83.19 88.24
TN 9 4 20 36 48.8 59.04 67.23 73.79
TN 10 1 10 19 27.1 34.39 40.95 46.86

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Review: Engines & Empires

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

Engines & Empires is an old-school steampunk fantasy game. It has seen multiple iterations over the years (the first version saw the light of day in 2008, I think). This review concerns itself only about the most recent edition released in 2017.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

XP for Exploration in Hyperborea

This is a fairly lazy post about adapting Jeff's eXPloration idea to Hyperborea. I'm a little behind with finishing my reviews due to editing a fantastic (and quite gigantic) book. Nevertheless, I'll try my best to squeeze one in before the end of the month.

In this variation of advancement, XP is awarded solely for visiting major cities, studying the Great Obelisks, and finding hidden wonders. The XP awards aren't divided among party members, and each character can earn XP for visiting a given location only once. I would probably use my own set of hexcrawl procedures to run such a thing.

Visiting any one of the twelve great cities of Hyperborea is worth 2000 XP. The great cities are the following:

  • City-State of Kor (Fields of Vol)
  • City in the Clouds (Floating Island of Paradoxon)
  • Gal City (Gal Hills)
  • Krimmea (Kimmerian Steppe)
  • City-State of Khromarium (Lug Wasteland)
  • Pandoros (New Amazonia)
  • Fidib (New Pictland)
  • Fazzuum (Scythium)
  • City-State of Orcust (Skarag Coast)
  • Erikssgard (Vikland)
  • City-State of Yithorium (Zakath Desert)
  • Port Zangerios (Zangerios Islands)

Studying any one of the Great Obelisks for a week is worth 5000 XP.

Lastly, every region has 4-6 hidden wonders. Finding them earns the characters a progressively larger XP reward within a region (that is, finding two wonders in two separate regions nets 200-200 each, while finding two in the same earns 200+500). The rewards are as follows:

  1. 200
  2. 500
  3. 900
  4. 1400
  5. 2000
  6. 2600

For instance, the Gal Hills might have the following hidden wonders:

  • the burial mound of King Arlan the Wolf
  • the sacred grove of the blackthorn druids
  • the spring of beauty
  • the menhirs of the elements
  • the pool of visions
  • the slumbering evertree

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Lessons Learnt Running Megadungeons

Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of sales without extra cost to you).

I have been running megadungeon products a lot. I've run Barrowmaze (the first volume) for two regular players in person, I am still technically running Dwimmermount for a face-to-face group (although we only played like 3 sessions each year, and none so far this year), plus I am actively running Rappan Athuk online (we spent about 20 sessions down there, but the campaign is on the cusp of turning into something very different).

I have tried to summarise my thoughts about running megadungeons, focussing on some of the issues that I have. I must add that I immensely enjoy reading and running megadungeons, so these concerns aren't about invalidating the concept but rather things that if solved would make it an even better, smoother, and more rewarding experience. I should also add that these issues may come up in other types of adventures as well; they just seem exacerbated in megadungeons.

TL;DR: (1) consider the costs and benefits of grids and gridless dungeons; (2) add environmental cues around branching off points on the map; (3) use observable warning details around traps consistently; (4) secrets doors should always be interesting; (5) random encounters should have details that you can build on

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Current AS&SH House Rules

Attribute Generation
Roll 3d6 in order to generate your first array. Your second array is the inverse of this (18 and 3, 17 and 4, 16 and 5, etc.). Choose whichever array you want. Make sure you qualify for the class you want to play.

This house rule is taken from Esoteric Enterprises (aff link), and it's supposed to provide a nice middle ground between 3d6 in order, 4d6 drop lowest, and 3d6 arrange to taste. I personally haven't tested it; I just assume Cavegirl did.

Hit Points per Level
Upon attaining a new level, either roll a single HD (plus CON modifier) and add the resulting amount to your total HP, or reroll all your HD (and CON modifier times your new level) to determine your new HP total. If the reroll would result in no increase in HP, increase your total HP by 1 instead.

This is a house rule I have been using for years now. It has worked fine so far. The intent is to alleviate the impact of really bad hit point rolls in the long run.

Scroll Use
Spellcasters can identify scrolls of any tradition. They can also use scrolls of any spell level. When they use a scroll of a different tradition, there is a 2-in-6 chance of miscasting (1 random target, 2 half efficacy, 3 half duration, 4 lose 1d4 random ability points, 5 opposite effect, 6 different spell of same level).

This one's a bit trickier. I haven't actually tested it at all. Since AS&SH uses so many different spell schools, the scrolls in most OSR modules would need to be tweaked, otherwise only Magicians and Clerics would have a chance to find usable scrolls (let alone learn new spells). This house rule is basically my lazy way of handling that instead of rerolling every scroll found on the fly using the tables in the rulebook, while also helping out casters in situations where I actually do roll on those tables.

Encumbrance
Encumbrance limits are calculated based on one’s Constitution score.

This one we haven't tested yet, although The Nighmares Underneath (aff link) already does this. It makes more sense in the fiction (because encumbrance isn't really about raw strength but endurance, plus STR already has so much going on for it.

Critical Hits
If an attack roll is a natural 20, use the standard critical hit table in the rulebook. Furthermore, critical hits add a notch on the target’s armour (or shield, if they so choose).

Critical Misses
If an attack roll is a natural 1, the attacker chooses among the following options:
1) Weapon gets a notch (-1 to-hit and damage per notch; breaks at 3 notches)
2) Attacker is disarmed (weapons falls 2d6 feet away in a random direction)
3) Attacker gets off-balance (-2 AC penalty for 1 round)
Unarmed attacks always result in off-balance, while ranged attacks always result in a notch.

Weapon notches have been part of my game for a really long time (about 30 sessions, probably more), and they have proven to be a very nice addition. The intention is threefold: (1) to incentivise bringing more weapons along, while balancing encumbrance; (2) to surprise the GM and the players at the table at times; (3) and to provide another resource to juggle, one which is decoupled from levelling. Repairing weapons costs one-third of its gold value per notch, which is especially expensive for magical weapons (although they are able to withstand more notches in general). High quality weapons are easy to model in mechanical terms without introduction to-hit and damage bonuses, too. It also generates anecdotes, like the fight with a bunch of skeletons, where the party suffered like 10 notches and had to retreat immediately, even though they had plenty of HP and spells. Even trivial fights may deplete precious resources now, which is a huge positive for me. As for the other options, I have tried similar outcomes in the past, but this is the first iteration I find actually fitting. This way every attack has a possible negative outcome, but there is also player choice involved for most cases.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

City of Masks - First Peek

Here is a little preview of something I have been working on: a city supplement presented as a random encounter table. Below you can find a work-in-progress description of a district, plus a piece of the encounter table expanded.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Review: Songbirds

Note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

Songbirds is a fantasy game based on the system of Into the Odd, albeit with a lot of changes. It mixes the simplicity and adventure game core of its parent game, and then mixes it with indie narrative concepts. It is similar to Whitehack in that regard.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Review: Ghastly Affair

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

Ghastly Affair is a romantic horror game. It is a genre variation that features all the classic elements of D&D (classes, levels, hit points, to-hit and damage rolls, etc.). Mechanically the game strives for simplicity first and foremost, and the genre emulation part comes from the content (classes, spells, and antagonists) and referee advice.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Personal Trad Game Manifesto

I am trying to make an all-encompassing guide that I personally follow when I run traditional games, such as AS&SH, Call of Cthulhu, Runequest, Warhammer Fantasy, Ars Magica, Numenera, Rifts, Exalted, Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, Zweihänder, GURPS, Traveller, Dragon Age, or World of Darkness - any game that has distinct player and referee roles, and their mechanics are concerned more about success and failure than narrative rights. Here is what I have so far.

The setting is separate from the characters and exists independently. Locations aren't designed and power levels aren't necessarily considered with the player characters in mind. If something sounds dangerous, it probably is. In the lich's mansion you will likely run into the lich, whether you are level 9 or level 1. Similarly, numbers aren't tweaked based on the number of player characters.

There is no plot in the sense that no encounters are planned to take place in a given order (or at all, sometimes). The events of a session will naturally form a narrative, in the sense that each day or lifetime of a person forms a narrative. Some of it makes sense immediately, some of it never will. Some of it would make a good movie, while some will be a chaotic mess. Importance is not inherent but recognised either retroactively or spontaneously.

Locations, NPCs, monsters, and items are all treated as stolen cars. I don't invest much into them emotionally, and the players are free to interact with them as they please. The consequences follow the logic of the game world (which is a combination of realism, genre appropriateness, and gaming conventions).

Dice are rolled in the open, and once a roll is declared, there is no going back. If you ask, I will tell you what happens on a failure, and you can decide not to go forward, but once the die is cast, both parties have implicitly accepted all the possible consequences. Impossible or trivial things aren't decided by dice rolling, though. They fail or succeed automatically.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Review: Pugmire

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

Pugmire is a DnD-esque game about uplifted dogs exploring a post-Man world. The dogs (along with other uplifted animals, such as cats, rats, badgers, and lizards) are capable of using tools and language, and they have built their own society upon our ruins (the details of mankind's disappearance are kept intentionally vague). It is a very upbeat and moderately cinematic game: a beacon of optimism in the despair of murderhobos and grand futility of gonzo adventuring. It's post-apocalyptic from our point of view, but to the characters, the Ages of Man are parts of their mythology rather than history, and the remnants of our civilisation are more like holy artefacts than archeological evidence.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Artefacts Sought by the Lord of Oblivion

High up in a wind-blasted plateau over the Blackfang Mountains stands the tower of the archwizard Thuzziak. The old master of the arcane hasn't left his abode in over a century. Reportedly, his collection of magical items includes the legendary Staff of Power. The mountains are plagued by demon-worshipping orcs and wyverns, while the plateau is home to an enigmatic tribe of satyrs, whose pipes inflict madness upon mortal men.

In the misty Mirror Realm ruled by Mal-Lam, the Fearful Symmetry lie many ancient artefacts. Among them is the sought after Mask of Lunacy. This pocket dimension is accessible through a number of magical mirrors found in places where the dimensional boundaries have been weakened by potent magics.

The powerful Gauntlet of Doors is said to be kept in the Floating Palace of Medusa the Opulent. The palace constantly changes its location, but it returns to Aigos Island once every month. The isle is ruled by Queen Bellatrix and her merry women, but the jungles are home to more feral dangers, such as vicious raptors, burrow-dwelling utu, and rhino-sized grey leopards.

The craters of Luna hold more than just the moonsilver mines of the grey folk: one of the massive tombs of interdimensional raider gods is believed to contain the Sword of Annihilation, the deadliest weapon ever wielded in combat.

The Tablet of Stars is known to be hidden in the Inverted Pyramid of Madness found in the hot and dry Red Desert, home only to crazed dervishes, fearsome nomads, and ungodly scorpion-men. The treasures in the pyramid are guarded by nefarious traps and deadly magic.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Review: Echoes from Fomalhaut #1

Disclaimer: I am credited as a co-author of one of the articles in the zine, and I received an author's copy free of charge.

Gábor Lux, known as Melan on most tabletop gaming forums, is an author of great imaginative power. My first contact with old school gaming was his game Kard és Mágia (Sword and Sorcery), and his modules (in English mostly published in Fight On!) were of utmost influence for me back then. The first issue of this new zine, titled Beware the Beekeeper!, is a mixed bag of adventures, random tables, house rules, and miscellaneous goods.

The very first article is a d100 table to generate interesting merchants (with suitable descriptors, persona, goods, and complications). It may result in things like "a hungry justiciar selling slaves bearing secret identifying signs" or "a hypnotised explorer selling privileges at reduced prices" (both rolled just now). As it occupies the very first spread of the zine, it's very easy to just pick up and use whenever needed.

Then we find some simple rules for generating caravans (number of carts and guards, the type and value of the goods carried). Again, very universal. At the bottom of the page are laid out the systemic assumptions of the zine. There isn't much to discuss here. Knowing these assumptions make it very easy to decide whether one needs to adjust NPC levels and the value of treasure hoards, though.

The next article is the largest in the zine, detailing the Singing Caverns. There are a lot of things going on in this two-level dungeon: bandits, an orcish tavern, ancient graves, a potent magic tree, a crazy druid, etc. 49 areas in 15 pages (including the maps, illustrations, and prerolled - and unarranged! - hit points). Gábor aims for "good vanilla", and it is indeed some very sweet vanilla. The maps are drawn without grids, and they include a lot of connections between the levels. I tried to read the entries in the order a methodical party would encounter them, and that required some unnecessary page-flipping (but then again, the whole thing is only 15 pages). The total loot obtainable is a little below 9,000 gold pieces (including gems, jewels, and valuable goods), plus some magical stuff.

Then we get a handful of alchemical goodies, suitable for any laboratory or witch's brewery. Most of them are colourful reimaginings of already existing potions and spells, but my favourites are the so-called "essences" that come in a handful of varieties. They have very distinct uses, and they can be experimented with by mixing them together.

Next we find Red Mound, a 5-area location in the Broken Wastes. It's all abandoned and void of encounters (save for some fire beetles scavenging and giant scorpions hunting); very atmospheric. However, the party may find a powerful but cursed sword, a portal to wherever the referee deems it leads, and an altar, where a sacrifice might just grant something powerful.

Before the last adventure we have yet another short article, this time about hirelings and morale. The rules are translated from a Hungarian B/X variant called Kazamaták és Kompániák (Catacombs and Companies). Modesty dictates I say no more.

The last article is another low-level adventure location, a ruined manor now inhabited by goblins and orcs working for a pirate captain. The manor holds many secrets in its 23 described areas. There is significantly less treasure than in the caverns before (and most of the good stuff is very hard to get one's hands on). Still, most inhabitants, including the orcs, are not hostile by default, and the numerous 3D connections here again make it an interesting experience as far as exploration goes. Plus, through his lieutenant the party may get to be introduced to a powerful patron, which is always nice.

The POD and PDF versions are on their way, and so is the second issue (along with an unrelated adventure from the author, as well as a translation of his second game, Helvéczia). I do urge you to purchase the hand-stapled version, though, as it comes with a complimentary unkeyed city map printed on sturdy paper. Go get your copy here.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Review: The Nightmares Underneath

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

The Nightmares Underneath is a monstrous game sewn together from various bits of both classic and modern games; it combines both old-school and modern design sensibilities in an exemplary way. The basics are simple, but it seems quite complex at first as it addresses a plethora of situations that may arise in play.

The premise of the game is that the mortal realms (collectively called the Kingdom of Dreams, where law and science provide the ruling ideology, as opposed to most fantasy setting's pagan idolatry) are threatened by incursions from the realm of nightmares. The upper levels of these dungeons resemble the mundane world to a certain degree, but the deeper one goes, the more surreal and alien (dare I say nightmarish) they become. Most people are helpless against the influence of these nightmare dungeons and their denizens', except for the player characters.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Review: Return of the Woodland Warriors

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

Return of the Woodland Warriors is a fantasy game inspired by animal tales. The protagonists are anthropomorphic animals, heroes and protectors of the Abbey. They go on Quests to protect the weak, save the innocent, and punish the unjust. It is a fairly light-hearted game in tone, simple in design, building on well-trodden traditions. This review makes no comparisons to the original edition of the game (published in 2011).

Monday, 12 February 2018

Review: Quarrel & Fable

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy by the author.

Quarrel & Fable is a simple and concise game that tries to emulate the mood and feel of the Fighting Fantasy books (so in a sense it is a cousin of Troika!). Systemically, it is a hack of Maze Rats (which started as a hack of Into the Odd itself).

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

OSR Games in 2017

I have made a number of posts concerning available and upcoming OSR/D&D-esque games in the past, and I decided I will continue making these summaries, as they are low effort posts that help me keep focussed on writing and creating.

In 2017 a total of 70 OSR/D&D-esque games were published in English (81 in 2016).
16 were variations of The Black Hack (24 in 2016).
8 were second or revised editions of previously published games (9+ in 2016)
In terms of genres (where stated explicitly), there were 2 sword & sorcery games, 4 sci-fi games, 2 zombie survival games, and 4 post-apocalyptic games, and a number of other genres were represented by at least one game as well (such as cyberpunk, espionage, fairy tales, prehistoric fantasy, pulp adventures, steampunk, superhero, and western).

Sadly, none of the games I posted about here were among them. There still were other highly anticipated releases, such as AS&SH 2E, Blueholme Journeymanne Rules, SWN:Revised, and White Star Galaxy Edition, and a handful of happy surprises (at least to me), chiefly the new version of Engines of Empires and the revised edition of Wolf-Packs and Winter Snow.

There already have been a number of OSR releases this year, but I intend to make a separate post about the scene's current state in early April. A list of previously unmentioned upcoming games will hit the blog soon, too.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Review: Five Ancient Kingdoms

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sales without extra cost to you).

Five Ancient Kingdoms is an old-school D&D-esque game focussing on adventures in a vaguely Middle Eastern fantasy world. The terms and game mechanics closely resemble those of D&D, but there are a couple differences as outlined below.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Thematic OSR Series

I have talked about thematic OSR games in the past. What I mean by the term are D&D-esque games that are not merely clones (e.g. Labyrinth Lord or Delving Deeper) or house ruled variants (e.g. Dungeon Questing or Blood & Treasure), but rather games rebuilt to serve a niche setting or campaign structure (e.g. Wulfwald or There is Therefore a Strange Land) or very particular genre conventions (e.g. Arcana Rising or Silent Legions). It definitely isn't an objectively measurable property of games, and it's more of a continuum than a binary attribute (that is, the easier it is to simply reskin the game without changing the mechanics, the more abstract it is, therefore either more divorced from its theme, or the less unique its theme is). I would like to note, though, that virtually any mechanical change introduced will result in a slightly different game, and I'm not arguing the opposite.

In the following weeks, I will take a closer look at some of the games I consider thematic to some degree and discuss how they tweak the rules or call attention to the specifics of the genre or setting through the mechanics and procedures (including adventure generation tools).

These reviews are compiled from extensive notes I took while reading (or often rereading) the games in question, and they follow the same formula. First, I describe the game system and its most significant departures from the original games. Then I list the things I liked the most about the game (be they design choices, layout, or just a clever little tweak), then the things I didn't like. There ought to be a lot of subjectivity involved in this, but I try my best to make the list as relevant as possible for those who feel otherwise (and for them, the whole thing should be a simple list of features). Finally, I write about how the game approaches its premise and whether it falls short in some areas (again, in my humble opinion). I plan on releasing one such review every other week, and I have written a handful of them in advance, just in case. I have identified more than 20 games that fit this series (a few of them are yet to be published at this point).

My main goal with all this is to shed light on some of the more neglected games and present the state of a particular segment of the OSR. I don't intend to bash on products, but I will obviously point out their shortcomings (again, from my point of view). Familiarity with the structure and terminology of D&D-esque games is assumed (e.g. HD, AC, saves, etc.).

Monday, 8 January 2018

Review: Stalkers of the Elder Dark

This a reading review of the recently published Stalkers of the Elder Dark. It is a game of cosmic horror in the veins of Call of Cthulhu and Silent Legions. It is a small game (roughly 12k words on 94 pages of 6×9 inches) with very few mechanical widgets, set in the 1920s, and the cosmic creatures, grimoires, and alien technology greatly resembles the Cthulhu mythos (although it also alludes to another product by the authors, Opherian Scrolls).