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

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A sense of wonder and putting Orcs in a custom setting

So I am running another two group campaign  (Similar to how in Xan Than Du I had two competing play groups racing through a Victorian setting) and that means building something new and trying to keep the info-dump as small as possible.

One thing that is hard to replicate from your own personal early days of gaming is the sense of wonder and the unknown.  The first time players ever encounter any particular monster or trap is a very different feel than a similar encounter twenty years of gaming later.  The character's may never have encountered a beholder before but the players know what it is.

When people see this as a bug rather than a feature, in that they want to recapture that feeling rather than use its replacement "familiarity" as a tool for enjoyment, one of the more common bits of advice I see is to create novelty.   Don't use goblins, orcs, elves, and dwarves but have whole new paradigms of reptoids, sentient insect swarms, and robots (or whatever fits the flavour of the campaign setting). That works for people, but I see a few problems for my own style. 

First, as the years of play grow longer the game has to get more and more bizarre and removed to keep that feeling of novelty which removes much of the "real world" grounding where you can fathom how the world works outside of the adventure (and yes, with skill and effort that can be minimized). 

Secondly it makes it harder to have rumours and background assumptions without providing an info dump.  You don't have any real idea before running into them that sentient insect swarms are a thing nor any idea what they might be about if they do exist. You could give players some rumours and have some of them be false, but that always feels off.  In the real world you aren't sat down and told "Here are four facts, some of them are false",  and if you don't flat out state "these are rumours and may be false" it can be interpreted as if it were information that is known first hand. If I say "Goblins are Blue Skinned" as an info dump fact,  it could be interpreted as if that is known because the character had seen them directly before.  If I say "You have heard Goblins are Blue Skinned",  then its an immediate red flag when the words "you have heard" are spoken.  This isn't to say this doesn't work (and it is better than nothing), its just not as smooth and organic as I'd like. 

So,  instead I say flat out  "People say there are Orcs over there",  its obvious its a rumour.  Players will ask "What are orcs like?", and I will state that they have competing rumours,  pretty much in line with what you as a player envision orcs to be like.  There are a scatter-shot of rumours, all second hand but probably have core truths.    World of Warcraft Orcs,  Warhammer Orks, Lord of the Rings Orcs (and Uruk-hai), and AD&D Pigman Orcs are all possibilities and they know the truth of what Orcs are belong somewhere in the Venn diagram of those examples.

I also never name monsters until the players do.  I will never say "You have encountered an Orc raiding party",  I will describe exactly what they see and let the players declare them to be Orcs or not without ever being sure if those are the legendary Orcs they heard of.

In my current game,  the two parties have between them encountered three different groups that might fit into that Venn diagram that they suggested could be orcs, and, delightfully, both of the groups are leaning towards different choices of what they declare to be Orcs.

A common example of where this technique is used in games are "Vampires".   Vampires have so many variations of their powers and weaknesses (right up there with Golden Age Superman) that groups often have a sense of wonder when they first encounter them in a custom setting as to what EXACTLY they are..

They definitely drink blood... but may also drink other things or just drink blood as a medium to steal life force.

They probably are affected by sunlight and are usually killed by it (but maybe not, Dracula didn't die)

They probably suffer from holy symbols

They may be able to turn into a bat, or a wolf or two tailed cat

They may die from a stake to the heart

They could have problems crossing running water

They might need to count things, like spilled rice

Hypnosis is a possibility, as is turning into mist.

The blood of dead people may poison them

And so with all of those in mind, there is a palpable sense of exploration when first encountering a vampire.   If you never actually call it a vampire before the players do, that adds to the sense of exploration.  What if this ISN'T a vampire, but some sort of ghoul or revenant and the REAL vampire is somewhere else?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Age of Myth: An Iron Age Campaign

This is largely a placeholder to serve as a reference for campaign information in my new Iron Age campaign, set in the mythic land of Cromspoint.

 The game is set at the dawn of the iron age among "The People".

Both the home group and the online group are all be members of the elite class of one of the clans (each group is a different clan), out to forge a proper kingdom out of scattered tribes. KoDP is a big influence.

The most prominent god of the region is Crom, and as such no priestly magic is granted. Lesser gods often try to interfere in the affairs of mortals but that is frowned upon and considered dishonourable, unlike sorcery which is a craft one must hone and thus is a source of pride.

The main unit of currency that you would deal with is the reindeer, as domesticated reindeer herds are the primary source of wealth.  Longhaired goats are also kept,  but there are no dogs in the region only domesticated foxes.   Chariots exist, but riding an animal directly is considered unclean and perverse. Wars are mostly duels and ceremony, consequently you will have an entourage of freedmen who in theory will fight with you but mostly just jeer your opponents and maybe throw things at extreme range.

Some clans have iron,  most still use bronze.   Each group secretly picks their clan specialty.

Clan specialties:

Iron Working (Access to Iron weapons)
Wainwrights  (Access to Chariots)
Bowyers (Access to Longbows)
Runes (Better access to spells, and other literacy advantages)
Animals (Access to a domesticated guard animal, similar role to dogs)
Fisherman (Access to simple sailboats)
Traders (Access to canoes and currency)
Raiders (Bonus thralls to your entourage)
Armourer (Bronze Armour is available).
Masons (Stone fort, which will prevent loss of wealth to raids while you adventure)

Allying with other clans with other specialties will then let you gain more options as you try to form a cohesive nation.

For equipment,  only valuable items are kept between sessions (treasured items).  Simple items can simply be picked up at will at the start of a game session (which represents a season). They are simply taken from peasants as needed.

Valuable Equipment

1 D - Bronze Knife/ Javelin/ 6 Arrows
2 D - Bronze Spear/ Hatchet
4 D - Bronze Battle Axe
2 D - Longbow
8 D - Bronze Seax / Great Axe

4 D - Bronze Helmet
8 D - Bronze Great Helmet
12 D - Bronze Shield
16 D - Bronze Scale

1 D - Currach
2 D - Birch Bark Canoe
4 D - Catamaran
4 D - Chariot

1 D - Bronze Leatherworking tools
1 D - Large Skin of Maple Wine
4 D - Bronze Pot
12 D - Velvet Cape

Iron is 1/4 the price of bronze and items under 1D are not treasure.

Simple Equipment

Sling (Short or Long)
Large Wicker Shield
Leatherbound Medium Shield
Solid Wood Buckler
Stone Hand Axe
Stone Spear
Stone Arrows
Bone Javelin
Bone Knife
Hunting Bow (Small)
Leather Armour
Leather Cap
Wood and Antler Splint Armour (Medium Crude Mail)
Quivers, Backpacks, Pouches, and the like
Dark Cloak
Raiding Sash
Peace Sash
Pouch of Corn Flour
Wicker Backpack
Leather Pouch or Sack
Clay Pot

The Gods

Crom - The Smith, the high god who cares not for mortal concerns
Glaa - The Crone, goddess of caves, necromancy, and unwanted children
Moff - The Arbiter, god of reason, punishment, and salt
Vix - The Maiden-Mother,  goddess of royalty, fertility, and bears
Zer - The Eternal Child, godling of fire, raiding, and briars
Zuul - The Gatekeeper, goddess of the veil between worlds, revenge, and disease
Vel - The Singer, goddess of storms, trade, and reindeer
Bal - The Stalker, god of forests, hunting, and shields
Ancestor Spirits - Some clans also know how to appeal to the ghosts of their dead relatives to inconspicuously tilt the odds in their favour.

Key insults to provoke a fight:

Moss Farmer -  You are of unimportant social status
Beggar Friend - You are a recipient of charity
Beast Rider - You are a pervert
Lichen Eater - You are poor

Living Expenses and Downtime Activities between seasons

Working alongside your clan
Cost: No charge
Effect: Nothing

Training a new skill
Cost: 1D of food
Effect: You may attempt to learn a new skill

Cost: 1D of food
Effect: You heal 2d6 stress and gain +2 on any backlogged healing checks.

Warrior Training
Cost: 1D of food and 1D of goods as gifts
Effect: Learn all the basic combat tricks of a clan's warriors

Conspicuous Generosity
Cost: 2D of goods
Effect: Gain Charisma die of Piety/Honour

Thralls take 1D of food each season to live but can also work to provide value.

Entourage: Follow the party around
Planting: Spring only, plant one field (10 fields per clan meadow)
Harvest: Fall only,  harvest one field for 1d6D of Food.
Hunter/Gatherer:  Feeds self in spring, summer, or fall. Max 3 per clan forest hex.
Worker:  Produce 1D worth of goods
Fisher: As H/G. Requires boat, max 5 per water hex.

You may construct the following structures for each character.

Pasture:  Free (starting),  holds 10 Deer. (limit 1 per player)
Barn: 8D (1D of goods yearly), holds 20 deer
Stockade: 10D (1D of goods yearly), reduces deer raid losses (-1)
Watchtower: 4D (1D of goods, 1D of food yearly), reduces deer raid losses (-1)
Boar Pit: 4D (1D of food yearly), produces 1d4-1 D of food each spring.
Granary: 12D (2D of goods yearly) can store 20D of food
Shed: 1D (1D of goods yearly) cab store up to 5D of goods.
Loom: 4D. A thrall worker produces 2D of goods with a loom (1 per thrall. 10 max in clan).
Shrine: 8D (1D of goods yearly). 1 Honour each winter. (limit 1 per understood god).


*note that rivers are not straight lines, those are how the locals would represent them in terms of point to point transportation.