Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Development History of Neoclassical Geek Revival

Decades ago, I started playing Dungeons and Dragons and was hooked (Advanced of course, I would accept nothing less).

Right away though there was this one little thing that was off and didn't flow well in the way I wanted to game..

And then this one little other thing I noticed the game after that...

First it was that shields did not seem appropriately useful to how important they should be.  Then armour seemed off because it didn't help you against traps. I wouldn't read Vance for over a decade so magic seemed wrong to me.  Having a mish-mash of 1st and 2nd edition books the XP system was bonkers since the 2e books didn't mention gold giving XP but 1e Monsters gave pitiful XP as they assumed treasure based XP. I questioned what exactly a hitpoint was.

Soon there was a very lengthy set of house rules whenever I ran a game. As I grew older the usual breaks for life came to be and gaming got put aside for awhile.

In the early 2000's I decided to try and return to gaming.  After a few games of 2e I felt the need for a change in how I ran the campaign and cranked out what would be the first version of NGR which I just called "Piecemeal" since it was a horrid Frankenstein of patched together rulings and subsystems.  There wasn't any AD&D in it.  Things flowed how I wanted them too, but it was too finnicky,  too many things to remember. Good enough to game with though.

So iterative pruning happened.  Any time something was ignored at the table, or slowed things down,  I took a note.  I also took mental notes of things that went smoothly. Using those notes I made changes to the rules and announced them at the start of the game. Initially weekly, then slowing down to monthly, then yearly. Anyone who works in technology probably intuitively understands this as iterative and incremental development.

When I still called it Piecemeal this was frequent with many big changes.  When I put out physical books and released it as "Neoclassical Geek Revival" I tended to hold them off to be small changes or tweaks with maybe one major (but still reverse compatible) change per year as changes needed heavy testing at that point and the game was hitting 99% of the notes I wanted it to.

As an example of how big changes came to be,  the first release of NGR proper had types of attacks.  You had wild attacks, knock downs, power attacks, grapples.  It was fine, it did the job of dynamic combat when it came up.   But in playing with Kyrinn it came to a single point in a game where she wanted to cut at someones legs with her sword, to hopefully hurt them but also knock them over.

The attack types didn't really allow that (those were two different options).  You could cut them (dealing damage, or double damage on a critical),  or knock them down (a check, or two checks on a critical). I could have kicked it old school and just made a one time ruling and moved on. But this was an opportunity to improve without adding complexity.

So I changed the way things like attacks work.  You roll the die,  if you beat the target you choose a success from a list of options (deal damage, try to knock someone down, etc)  and if you got a critical you could choose two things (such as double damage, or two knock downs, or a knock down and damage).  It solved the immediate problem and lowered complexity without taking away from the game.  You could do everything you could before with the same roles, it was just more flexible and easier to explain.

And for almost 10 years of Neoclassical Geek Revival and another decade of Piecemeal before that, there has been constant iterative development like that based on actual play from a number of different campaigns.   Most GM's house rule it heavily to suit their own tastes and that is something I encourage, but it always interesting to hear feedback from how the little tweaks and changes impact player behaviour. I also like to see how adventure design leads to changes.

In the current version of NGR (which will have only minor changes in the upcoming kickstarter) a curse is cast upon a person or item.  Through running my Xanthandu game I had many situations of tomb robbing legitimate archaeology where some hideous curse was foretold upon those who dare open a sacred chamber.  This lead to a small change to the curse spell description where you can make it a trap if you write the curse out.  Now there is an easy way to quickly make an adventure to use them as traps. It is minor, but it changes the way you think about designing the small side quest locations that only get about 20 minutes of writing as a GM.  The larger locations already have enough deep planning and custom content that these sorts of changes probably aren't front and center in a GM's brain.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Upcoming Trilogy Release

This year I plan to release a trio of works in one (likely) crowdfunded campaign.  It will have the following three works,

1.) A version of NGR that has "Hark! a Wizard" and "Rampaging Monsters" included as appendices and new art.

2.) A compendium of all of my NGR/OSR adventures until the end of 2017:
- A Thousand Dead Babies
- The Gnomes of Levnec
- Scourge of the Tikbalang
- Under the Waterless Sea
- Trail of Stone and Sorrow
- The Gem Prison of Zardax
- The Price of Evil
- Temple of Lies
- The Roots of Bitterness
- Down in Yon Forest

3.) City of Tears,  which is an NGR dungeon adventure, set in the ruins under a plague ravaged desert city.  It features art by Jez Gordon, layout by Jensen Toperzer, and maps by Dyson Logos.

These will be physical books, and not all of them will have electronic copies available.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

What is in the pipeline?

So I recently put out a blog post detailing what is done (or at least done my portion) and will be coming out in the current year.   But I am always tinkering on the next thing.

For those who follow at all I am running an early iron age game, so you can expect some small adventures to emerge from that particular forge.  The game is based on a mythic underworld so the good adventures that bubble to the surface will be in that vein.

I am also still working on my Four-Dimensional Hyperdungeon, which has been done for several years but has constantly vexed me for how to effectively present that information for use at a table. With any luck I'll have that done and in the queue by end of year.

My underground adventure "Hall of the Mountain King" is still half transcribed from notes, as I wonder where I should snip its tendrils to fit into one release. The problem being that all of my work stems from things tested through gameplay, and I run campaigns. Finding where I can make a clean break is sometimes hard to do without losing the charm from the adventure threads.

I have also begun tinkering on another boardgame, but it is still really early in its infancy.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Murder at Devil Pines, an upcoming board game

I have a real soft spot for co-operative board games,  no doubt tightly linked to my love of Roleplaying Games  (which are co-operative by nature).

I am very careful about who I try to play a co-operative game with to the point where I'll usually just be playing NGR with someone before I'd bother trying to run Arkham Horror most of the time. I often play board games in a more casual setting where I don't know the fellow gamers as well as I do when I play an RPG.

The reason is a common occurrence in any co-operative gaming situation with relative strangers.  There is a high likelihood that someone tries to micromanage the entire table as a one person game.  In an RPG the GM often gets involved. In a board game the whole table gets involved.  Still, its solvable if an annoyance.

But its so common because its kind of required.  To be hard, most co-op games require a high degree of teamwork and group planning or you suffer crushing defeat.  This requires players to get together and plan.  This can start to convert each turn into an office place meeting.  This is compounded by how long these games take to set up which means there is a higher cost of losing.  It takes 30 minutes to reset the board.   And of course games that take 30 minutes to set up tend to take 4+ hours to play.  This is probably your one chance with this game for weeks or months (I have some I enjoy but play once every other year due to time constraints, as I am no longer in college with free time to spare).

This is the "problem" I wanted to solve by making "Murder at Devil Pines",  its a usually co-operative game where it isn't natural for one player to take over, where set-up time is under five minutes and a four player game is about an hour.  It still has the usual proto-RPG elements that make it a good gateway game if that is your thing as well.

If you are wondering why I said its usually co-operative its because it has a special traitor mechanic where anyone could be a traitor and won't know (even themselves) until the game is at least halfway done but statistically more than half of games have no traitor at all. Some may even have a table full of traitors (very rarely).

This game features art by the talented Alex Mayo and is set in Small City 1991 America. It will be hitting Kickstarter later this year.

Friday, March 9, 2018

"Shadows of Forgotten Kings" or "Why I decided to write a 5e adventure"

One of the upcoming releases of mine (through ZERO/Barrier) is a little number called "Shadows of Forgotten Kings" for fifth edition.  You may notice that I don't normally make adventures for 5e despite it being out for many years and being quite successful.  I've played in a routine 5e game for a couple years,  as well as a few mini-campaigns as either player or DM.   It is not my natural groove though.

This is why I felt the need to go out of my way to not only write a 5e adventure, but a good 5e adventure that still followed my style to anyone who pays attention to such things. To excel at any activity, you have to spend some time working on your weak areas.  This is why most coaches will tell basketball players to develop their off hand.  By forcing yourself to do things differently and approach from different angles it forces a bit of self awareness on your ruts and your crutches.

To this end you'll probably see a few more works in what are (for me) non-standard systems.  The Ghoul Prince for instance is written for DCC.

As for the Shadows of Forgotten Kings, I am quite happy with how it turned out. If you are the type of person who likes my work and has ever tried to convert it to your 5e campaign this is right up your alley.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What is Neoclassical Geek Revival

I am going to try (and probably fail) to avoid my usual conversational styles of both self-depreciation and/or irreverence and give some straight answers to what Neoclassical Geek Revival (NGR) is and why you might want to run it as a GM or play it as a player. I will try to do this without devolving into information free cliche statements and assume you already know basic things like its a roleplaying game and it has things like classes (or class components) and levels and the like.

Neoclassical Geek Revival is above all else a "Shenanigan Generator", which to avoid being seen as a buzzword I will explain.  It is set up to encourage players to take unneeded risks in their pursuit of self-selected goals and thus create their own obstacles. This is not done through story mechanics but through reward  mechanisms. There are intentionally several different axis of reward but I will give an example of one that is common in many games of this sort:  XP.

If you kill an enemy character you gain 10% of their XP total, but if you capture them for imprisonment (or later trial, sacrifice, etc) you gain 25% of their XP total.  This encourages the adoption of recurring villains without railroading it.

Experience points for a dungeon are granted based on how many rooms you had previously explored for the first time in this delve.  The first new room might be worth 0xp, the second 10xp, the third an additional 30, the fourth an additional 60.   This leads characters to constantly risk defeat by wanting one more room since leaving the dungeon to rest will reset the XP clock as it were. Trying to make it through that 13th room (which may be empty) is worth 780xp now or 0 if they return to the surface to rest. 

Shenanigans ensue.

This added to the fact that role protections are strongly weakened in NGR.   A warrior is better at fighting, but everyone can fight.  Likewise a rogue may be better at stealth, but every can take part in a stealth mission.   The warrior will just be worse in much the same way the rogue is worse in a stand-up fight.

The goal is to encourage the possibility of the entire party doing things together, even though some of them suck at it.  The stealth system for example, is set up so that one bad roll doesn't spoil the covert operation the players have found themselves in.  It merely drains resources from the less stealthy individuals (in the way a fight drains from those terrible at combat).

Even the way d20's are rolled (or not) is based upon the escalation.   When players roll what is called a dX  (which generates a number from 1-20, different than a d20 as you'll see) they all start off being calm and simply scoring a 10 plus modifiers.  If this won't cut it they can become on-edge and start rolling 3d6 plus modifiers.  If that still doesn't cut it they can become reckless and roll a d20 plus modifiers.    As their start having more swing to their rolls they cannot go back to having less swing for the adventure.  Once you start escalating to solve a problem you start to risk failing.  While once your barbarian couldn't fail a strength check to knock down a door (having 15 Strength),  after you became on-edge to avoid being caught sneaking past an orc you developed a 1/ 72 chance of failing. Two rooms later you have to become reckless to avoid the mind control of a vampire and now you have a 1/4 chance on that big ole swingy d20.  Careful planning begins to give way to chaos.

And shenanigans are generated.

A Thousand Dead Babies will be part of the upcoming Adventure Anthology hardcover

Monday, March 5, 2018

Whats upcoming

So I don't often talk about I am puttering with and working on,  but for those who care here is a fairly complete list of things that are expected out this year (and are either complete or at least my portions are).

The Ghoul Prince

What is it?:  This is a DCC adventure where I experiment with with horror movie mechanics as well as a system to enable easy switching of settings.

Who publishes it: DIY RPG (Hubris, Demon City, etc)

Shadows of Forgotten Kings

What is it?: Shadows of Forgotten Kings is a fifth edition adventure involving a trek into the jungle in search of a ruined city.

Who publishes it: Zero/Barrier Productions (Dyson's Delves, Etc)

Murder at Devil Pines

What is it?: A board game set in 1991 America, as federal agents deal with a supernatural conspiracy.
Who publishes it: Neoclassical Games (Pioneers of Mars)

City of Tears

What is it?: A dungeon adventure for Neoclassical Geek Revival set in a quarantined desert city
Who publishes it:  Me as part of a trilogy kickstarter

Stuff without covers yet

The Adventure Anthology

What is it?: A physical copy of all of my previous NGR/OSR adventures in one book
Who publishes it:Me as part of a trilogy kickstarter

NGR art edition

What is it?:  An updated copy of NGR with actual professional art rather than being public domain
Who publishes it: Me as part of a trilogy kickstarter

The Scenario from Ontario

What is it?: On Boxing Day 2017 Kiel Chenier and I had a 24 hour writing contest to write a small LotFP adventure about maple syrup. This would be those two adventures for your comparison with professional art and layout (which were outside the scope of our initial competition).

Who publishes it: Me, or maybe Kiel, we'll see.

The Punchline

What is it?:  An adventure about missing children, Satan, and clowns.
Who publishes it: Lamentations of the Flame Princess