Monday, October 12, 2020

The Conceptual Beats of Weird North

Okay, so Ray Otus' throught-provoking Gygax 75 came out in April of this year. I was very intrigued by it, but didn't really have the time to commit. Now, with a bit more breathing room, I'm going to go for it week-by-week as a think-out-loud process of expanding the implied setting of my own Weird North. The world is assumed to be ancient, strange, and filled with layered mystery. 

1. Get/create a notebook

  • I'm using this blog for this purpose. Yes, I have and enjoy many moleskine journals, but when I write creative notes on paper they tend to disappear, get ripped in half, or outright eaten by toddlers.

2. Develop your pitch

  • The world is very, very old 
    The planet itself is ancient. Dozens of world-spanning civilizations have come and gone. The current populace mostly doesn't realize it's number X in a long line of successful occupants of the world. Bizarre and inscrutable relics from past eras are buried in the earth, or stick out of hills at random. Magic and technology are cruel and indistinguishable.
  • Many realms have links to the land
    Portals abound. Whether magical, mechanical, or entirely inscrutable, the landscape is perpetually connected to out-world, demiplanes, extant planets, and spiritual realities. Portals might be obvious (blazing gateways in plain sight) or obscured (crawl into that tree root and take a left).
  • Human power centers are not alone
    Many human outposts and lesser kingdoms have scratched out a living in and on the world's surface levels, but cabals of snakepeople, demon overseers, and eldritch abominations hold sway over the greater politics of the landscape whether by obvious or covert means. Every local plot tugs on strings leading into the shadows.
  • Magic is corrupting 
    There wasn't always arcana in the world. It came from outside. As the eons churned, more and more strange energy seeped into the planet itself, whether by portal, occult influence, or mechanical summons. There are extant masters of magic, but not one of them is human. Humans can't handle much magic before they begin to lose their humanity.
  • Mercenary ambition is the norm
    With apocalyptic events having peppered the world several times over, no one makes many lasting plans. Kingdoms are small or nomadic. Villages are transient. Artifacts, outsiders, and the planet itself are armed, dangerous, and paradigm-shifting. Everyone survives, no one thrives.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

RPGs with Kids, 5: Push the Button

My boy and I had an awesome follow-up session to our maiden voyage of Galaxy Far Away

Last time, the crew of the Brave Eagle (Ithak, Jenssi, Dash, and 10-N) knocked over a supply depot held by Imperial troops in order to jack some contraband tibanna gas for use as Rebel hyperdrive fuel. There were some rigged explosions, burgeoning Force powers, and a funny conversation with a stormtrooper in an elevator. Ultimately, Dash got shot (but recovered!), and the Brave Eagle returned to the moon of Corellia where Commander Suto gave everyone a word of congratulations for the mission. Most importantly, my young son, Ted, had a wonderful time playing Star Wars.

For the next session, Suto tasks the crew with finding a refinery to process the tibanna gas into actionable fuel for Rebel ships. A tip-off leads to Onderon across the Inner Rim from Corellia where another operative, Janna Kor, leads a recon group. Janna is a seasoned Rebel who has a heavily-modded A-Wing at her disposal, and is currently assigned with R2-D2 (Ted's request!). She often zips around the planet spying on Imperial operations and looking for weaknesses. Ithak (Ted's main character) hits it off with Janna quickly, and the two put their heads together to make a daring plan--use the tibanna gas as an explosive, blow up the biggest Imperial refinery on Onderon, and steal all of their fuel. All I had to do was let slip to Ted that tibanna gas is very volatile and can blow up, and the rest of the plan was all his.

My favorite take on Onderon was from Knights of the Old Republic II.

Monday, September 21, 2020

RPGs with Kids, 4: Frag Grenades and Force Powers

A little while ago I wrote Galaxy Far Away to play Star Wars with my young son, and we finally sat down to do just that this weekend. 

With a few questions and d6 rolls, Ted created Ithak the Ithorian, a Force-sensitive X-Wing pilot and loyal Rebel who is very shy but loves his family. He's great at sneaking around. At some point in the past he went to Tatooine and was ambushed by Tusken Raiders and is afraid to return to the planet. He also met R2-D2 once and they became good friends. His goal is to find Yoda and get real training in the Force.

Ithak the Ithorian, our protagonist

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Quick Dolmenwood Loadouts for Bastionland

After reading Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell I was enchanted all over again by the dark and quasi-creepy folklore of the British Isles and Northern Europe that I grew up hearing. Clarke nailed the eerie otherness of faerie, and proved for modern audiences that concepts like neverland are not, in fact, streaked through with rainbows and pixie dust. 

Pauliina Hannuniemi

There is one RPG setting that has perfectly captured this strange, disturbing-at-the-edges folk feel, and that's Gavin Norman's Dolmenwood as made popular through the Wormskin zines by Necrotic Gnome. As I type this, there is a Kickstarter for the setting somewhere on the horizon. Could be this year. Could be five years from now.

Who knows? But I want to know... pssst, Gavin!

Friday, September 11, 2020

Weird North is LIVE

When Eclectic Bastion Jam was announced back in July, I decided I wanted to try my hand at writing a full-scale RPG hack based on Into the Odd. I'm all for pulpy fantasy like Conan the Cimmerian, Fahfrd and the Gray Mouser, and Dying Earth, so I set to work putting together a proper Sword & Sorcery hack of the Bastionland family of games.

At forty-five total pages, Weird North is a stripped down ruleset which is easy to learn, use, and adapt. 

- A simple but punishing inventory and encumbrance rubric forcing tough choices about treasure and lackeys.

- Corrupting magic with a chance to turn your players into snake people, demons, and eldritch pillars of otherworldly strangeness.

- More than a dozen generators for dungeons, warbands, pocket realms, NPC problems, and occult rites.

- Six archetypes for players to delve into the flavor of the world, such as the grave-robbing Sepluchrite, the weapon-mastering Contender, and the rat-controlling Dirtfriend.

- Genre-focused public domain art, clean layout, and a magnificent character sheet designed by Cosmic Orrery.

You can download the PDF in pages and spreads, the plain text rules under CC-by-SA 4.0 sharing, and character sheets in A5 and Letter size for $6.00 at DTRPG and itch. The DTRPG page has a preview of everything but the generators and gear lists. The full description is below.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Galaxy Far Away: Star Wars - This Is The (Ultralite) Way

I love Star Wars. I always have. I always will. Arguments about which bit of the canon (or non-canon!) is best is moot. Every segment of the whole has its flaws--lackluster moments, inconsistencies, cringe-inducers, and poor realization etc--but the saga is greater than the sum of its parts. I digress. This isn't an agenda post, it's my attempt to slim down Star Wars roleplaying into a bite-sized game while maintaining grit, tropes, and high stakes.

Ever since I read around about FKR stuff I thought about the "worlds, not rules" adage, and what worlds I'd like to translate to an ultralite model. My son made that decision for me after he asked me to run a Star Wars game for him. I have WEG Star Wars d6 handy, but thats an awful lot of dice and still a bit too crunchy for a five-year-old to play. I've opted to take concepts from Landshut, Adventure HourRevenant's Hack, and Primeval d6 and fire them all into the thermal exhaust vent of the Death Star to see what happens.

Jaromir Hrivnac, ff

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Free Kriegsspiel: Worlds, Not Rules, Etc.

What's Free Kriegsspiel? That's a silly name. 

Okay, free kriegsspiel (FK) is shorthand for "ancient school" RPG theory. That is, how were role-playing games played before role-playing games were published and "official"? What did they look like before D&D etc showed up in the early 1970s? In a very modest nutshell, tabletop wargames in the 1800s ("kriegsspiel," in German) slowly evolved to a point where military strategists realized that a neutral referee (the "umpire") could help arbitrate fog of war and interpretation of rules, making the game/simulation far more flexible and realistic. These umpires translated hard rules into "free" rulings, hence "free kriegsspiel."