An adventure game needs little more than interesting choices regarding interesting people amidst interesting locales.
Short but sweet, Sofinho invited me to his podcast for a chat about my history with board and roleplaying games; Free Kriegsspiel and whatever the heck it means; the beats behind Any Planet Is Earth, Weird North, and Galaxy Far Away; and playing RPGs with little kids. All of this led to a larger conversation about imagination, it's training, and how to lean into it with new and old players alike.
I make this post mostly to add the clarifier that DJ Kool's "Let Me Clear My Throat" is my headcanon theme song for Svarku the Efreet from Hot Springs Island, presumably surrounded by breakdancing combustarinos. That's all.
Effective. Reliable. Humane. A Different Breed of Machine.
"I'd like to remind the ladies and gentlemen of the press that several of the buildings damaged in the blast were owned by Weyland Consortium subsidiaries… I'd say it's nothing personal, but corporations are people, too."
The Android setting by Fantasy Flight Games is huge. It began in the late 2000s with an eponymous board game which was more like a cyberpunk noir film generator than a murder mystery game. It was brilliant, and remains a personal favorite for just how existential it is. Later, FFG got the rights for Richard Garfield's old Netrunner CCG and released Android: Netrunner, where the lore exploded across all of the card sets. I've indulged a lot of cyberpunk over the years, be it through the classic novels and stories, Bladerunner and its adjacents, or board and roleplaying games alike. My favorite take on the genre remains Android, and as I mull over running a diceless cyberpunk game, I decided I'd dust off the beautiful (and huge) Worlds of Android artbook/lorebook that FFG released several years ago.
So, for any of you who are already familiar with Android, whether through the board game, the brilliant asymmetric card game, or the "official" adaptation through FFG's Genesys system, none of this is new. For the rest, I want to introduce you briefly to the setting, and put out another few posts about quick-hits for lore touchpoints for megacorps, factions, groups of runners and hackers, and the like. Nothing crunchy. Few, if any numbers. Just tasty bits to break off and insert into your various cyberpunk-adjacent games. If you have Worlds of Android, great, it's fantastic, but it's also a tome, and no one wants to quickly gloss a tome when you only need a few hand-holds into the setting.
Why do I prefer Android over other, more recognized cyberpunk settings? Perhaps because it came about more recently and affords a more accurate projection of our actual society into the near future. Perhaps because not every story within is about nihilist anarchism raging against the machine (featuring soccer moms-turned-hackers like Sunny Lebeau, everyday transhumans like teenaged Kit Peddler, or a remnant AI from before the big war, slowly evolving in the darkest corners of the internet, like APEX). Perhaps because there is limited stellar sci-fi, with a giant space elevator in Ecuador, fusion reactors on the moon, and colonies on Mars. But I'd be lying if I said it didn't have anything to do with the net wünderkind, Chaos Theory, and her computer console, Dinosaurus.
So, the Gygax 75 bit is supposed to be weekly. Well, this second installment of my attempt is, uh, monthly. I blame my infant, my seminary degree, and Hearthstone*. That's at least a start.
With the help of my son, Ted (who has starred in all of my RPGs With Kids posts), I put together the first of what I hope to be multiple regional maps/crawls/supplements for Weird North. A while back I pitched him "a spin on the Dark Tower," which, of course he doesn't know about, given that I don't recommend suggesting Stephen King novels to children. He thought I said "Dank Tower," and stuck with it. It cracked me up, so I decided, yeah, Dank Tower, in some awful swamp filled with dinosaurs and relics from a bygone era. The Dank Morass was born, and now I will attempt to translate it here for your rudimentary use as I slowly hone it for my own purposes. So, well, I guess this is my second offical "Gygax 75" post. Hoo boy.
It's dank. Dank.
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.
2. Develop your pitch.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 ultralight 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 Hour, Revenant's Hack, and Primeval d6 and fire them all into the thermal exhaust vent of the Death Star to see what happens.
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."
After a hiatus of travel, a wedding, more travel, and then hiding under a blanket for two weeks of isolation, my son and I brought out the Into the Odd goodness yet again and got to work in the Intemperate Jungle and the ruined Caverns of Thracia below it. This ended up being a short session due to a certain uncoorperative infant who refused to nap in the interim, but it was a fun one all the same, and a great look into Ted's burgeoning storytelling and roleplaying self.
Anjo, Rock, and Roxley left town after a solid restock and wound their way back to the surface ruins and the several entrances to the dungeon below. The Encounter Die d6 rolled a 1, signalling a run-in with NPCs, so I let Anjo & Co know that they could hear squelching footsteps in the swampy grounds surrounding the overgrown ruins. Ted decided that Anjo and his buddies would head down the big stairs to slip out of notice, especially since he was curious about them when the party chose to rapel down into the deep black hole in the earth on the last visit.
For the moment, the footsteps go away, and the party delves into a large chamber filled with rubble and flanked on the remaining sides with dark passages. Ted heads for the forward passage which is marked with old pillars on either side. I remark that it smells like musty poop down here, which both grosses him out and piques his interest. Rock holds up a torch and sees that the ceiling is moving... bats, and zounds of them! Pulling back from the bat-and-guano corridor, the footsteps come back into earshot, but this time they're moving down the stairs to the lower chambers!
After my best hissing and clicking sounds successfully spook Ted, I have a sibilant voice call out from the darkness. "What are you doing down here? Are you friends with the armored ones along the southern chambers?" Ted put two-and-two together and responded in the negative, saying that the bad dudes in armor (the cultists for Thanatos) are no friends of his. He introduces himself and his peers, and the encroaching figures step into the flickering torchlight. Two lizardmen, taller than anyone in the party, broader, stronger, and better equipped. Ted is a bit frightened, but puts on a brave face. "We are not your enemies. We're your friends." He says with confidence in his voice. He goes on to explain that he is just an explorer, that he and his friends are trying to find a name for themselves without harming anyone who could be a friend.
The lizardmen introduce themselves as Sik'Garuk and Krask, and both seem more curious than aggressive (I rolled a 7 on the reaction 2d6). Ted was doing well in guiding the encounter to a helpful resolution. Sik'Garuk asked that they vow not to harm each other so long as they share a common enemy in the cult. Ted agreed. I reached out my hand to his at the table as Krask went to shake Anjo's hand, but Ted decided that as a show of cameraderie, Anjo would thumb-wrestle Krask rather than return the shake. I had both lizardmen appear confused, but Ted was adamant that it's something real friends would be comfortable doing, so I laughed and obliged.
Both of the party's new friends told them all about the dangers and possible traps and pitfalls in this level of the complex, and warned them that some of their own kin had joined up with the nefarious dogmen and other foes lurking further below. Ted took a piece of candy from a bowl on the kitchen counter and handed it to me, expressing that he wanted Anjo to give it to Sik'Garuk as a token of his friendship. The pair graciously accepted, and exited back into the shadows with goodwill towards the three plucky adventurers.
|Armor, Odilon Redon|
|A personal favorite cover and title, especially wed together.|
|A Long Fulsiform Object, Jules Férat|
|Anjo, Roxley, and Rock descend into Thracia...|
|Pardon my coffee table (janky).|
|The illustrious A. Shipwright.|
|AD&D Allosaurus, looking a bit bent.|