Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Simple and (hopefully) Universal Player Advice

As a short, sweet follow-up to yesterday's post on pared-down and generic referee advice, here are seven short maxims for players in any adventure game. Regardless of genre, these ought to prove helpful for framing the expectations of your game and either softening the crunch of tenured veterans or quickly bringing new players up to speed.

Stepan Alekseev, "50"

Agency: Attributes and related saves do not define your character. They are tools. Don’t ask what your character would do, ask what you would do. Be creative with your intuition, items, and connections. 

Teamwork: Seek consensus from the other players before barreling forward. Stay on the same page about goals and limits, respecting each other and accomplishing more as a group than individuals. 

Exploration: Asking questions and listening to detail is more useful than any numbers, items, or skills you have. Take the referee’s description without suspicion, but don’t shy away from seeking more information. There is no single correct way forward. 

Talking: Treat NPCs as if they were real people, and rely on your curiosity to safely gain information and solve problems. You'll find that most people are interesting, and will want to talk things through before getting violent. 

Planning: Think of ways to avoid your obstacles through reconnaissance, subtlety, and fact-finding. Do some research and ask around about your objectives. 

Ambition: Set goals and use your meager means to take steps forward. Expect nothing. Earn your reputation. Keep things moving forward and play to see what happens. Pull the lever.

Violence: Fighting is a choice, and rarely a wise one; consider whether violence is the best way to achieve your goals. Try to stack the odds in your favor, and retreat when things seem unfavorable.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Simple and (hopefully) Universal Referee Advice

While pumping out more copy for Weird North (Into the Odd/Electric Bastionland hack for the Sword & Sorcery genre), I've tried to keep my referee advice as succinct and helpful as possible. Adages, not block text. Suggestions, not a manual. Common sense, not overwrought pedantics. Hat tip to Chris McDowall for spearheading many of these concepts for the thick-skulled and slow-brained, like me.

I adore Stepan Alekseev's art. That is all.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Six Weird North Archetypes for Bastionland

With BastionJam ongoing, I'm working on a full sword & sorcery hack of Into the Odd/Electric Bastionland. I'm calling it Weird North, and it is inspired by various pulpy picaresque tales, as well as my deep-diving into the monolith that is Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (2nd Edition). As to the latter game, it's too crunchy for my taste (though I'd totally still run and play it!), but the flavor is on point. The gazetteer in the back, alone, is a goldmine. But, my preferences being what they are, it's Into the Odd or some close derivative just about every time, so that's the mechanical mold into which I'm pouring this atmospheric pulp novella goodness.

Armor, Odilon Redon
Jason Tocci and I discussed on the Bastionland Discord recently that we were both tinkering with soft classes/soft progression for Chris McDowall's games--not so hard that it forces some abstract compartmetalization of the game, but just enough to carrot-on-a-stick players in different directions through organic means. Then we both chuckled as Chris simply posted a more refined version of the same idea himself with Paralegal Bastionland. Kudos to Chris, as it's his game after all! Paralegal Bastionland affords a concise, actionable template for similar ideas, so I've decided to directly adapt it to Weird North.

Friday, July 17, 2020

The Picaresque Tale

{A bit of mood music for you}

It is difficult for me to think of old school adventure without thinking about the various Appendix N authors, which then leads me to think a lot about the specific works of Jack Vance, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Lieber and the rest, and that leads me to think about the curious word which has typically fallen out of modern use but is the foundational catch-all for the pulpy, strange, and morally gray hijinks which fill the pages of these stories: "picaresque." The dictionary definition for this old Spanish word (originally "picaro") is as follows: 

"Relating to an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero." 

The picaresque tale centers around a wandering individual of low standing who happens into a series of adventures among people of various higher classes, often relying on their wits and a little dishonesty to get by. Barring higher moral design concepts of alignment (law/chaos, good/evil), the majority of the old school adventure game context resides in the picaresque--doing what it takes to outsmart and cajole circumstances into advantages, grabbing loot, pilfering powerful secrets from those in power or those long-dead, and coming out richer, stronger, and probably more broken than you started.

A personal favorite cover and title, especially wed together.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

RPGs with Kids, 2: Daring Escape!

Rock is exhausted, reeling under a curse of The Dark One. Roxley's torch is running out, sputtering in the predatory dark. Anjo is laden down with treasure, barely able to make a step without dropping something of value.

This is where we pick up session 2 of Caverns of Thracia via Into the Odd with my five-year-old, Ted.

It's simple, really. Make a big score, then get out and secure it for profit. Simple. Simple. Even my little son knew the jig was likely up when I presented the situation as such in response to his question, "what should we do now?" The party skulked back through the dark undercaverns of the jungle ruins, crossing the trapped bridge with care, and alighting on the cobbled platform where their rope hangs solitary from the pinprick of light far above in the ceiling. "We should get out of here," I offer as Roxley, when Ted asks his peers for their opinion. Ah, but the glint of hubris sprung alight in young Ted's eye as he pored over the map and saw another corridor just to the east of the party's position.

A Long Fulsiform Object, Jules FĂ©rat

Friday, June 26, 2020

RPGs with Kids, 1: Into Thracia

Here's the thing, I've played (and more often run) a lot of online RPG stuff over the years. It's great, and I don't deny how much I enjoy it. Play-by-Forum has become a bit of an artform since I started in 2015, and I rarely have a dull day since those notifications always pop up with something delightful.

I don't have a local game group and don't really have the time to go find one, so I've put off live games for a while... until now. Until now, that is, because my oldest son, Ted, turned five years old a little while back, and I thought I'd risk possible over-the-headedness by offering to run a proper dungeon delve for him. He's already a very enthusiastic storyteller, so I didn't think it would be all that big a stretch for him to get into the game.

Opting to start as simply possible, it was a toss-up for me between using Maze Rats and Into the Odd for the game, and I opted for the latter, if for no other reason but because I've been running Maze Rats for two parallel tables of Hot Springs Island over on So, Into the Odd it was, and Ted really enjoyed rolling up some characters. I decided that I'd run Caverns of Thracia for him...

Anjo, Roxley, and Rock descend into Thracia...

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Any Planet Is Earth is LIVE

Welp, after several months of writing, refinement, and relentless editing for concision, my little sci-fi game, Any Planet Is Earth, is live and available for sale at DTRPG and! To say I am pleased with it is an understatement. I am pumped! I want to give a big thank you to those who provided excellent feedback, playtesting, and inspiration to the project, and a special shout-out to Jeff Woodman who put together the evocative and brilliantly simple cover art (the little ship is my fave).