Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Thoughts on the Ghoul Prince (published DIY RPG)

I now have one published adventure written for the DCC ruleset.

Its got snazzy art from the ever talented Alex Mayo and maps from fellow Canuck Dyson Logos.  But other than have DCC stats and features,  whats its deal?

Its got a psychotic slasher villain as the main antagonist, straight from the eighties.   Slasher villains don't normally work in an RPG about well armed lunatics with supernatural powers and a penchant for fighting wraiths and dragons.  I don't think a machete and an inside out mask of a sci-fi celebrity would really be enough of a threat to stop an adventuring party of non-camp counselors.

The feel of the slasher is there though, with diegetic abilities which strongly encourage using different tactics for the party to defeat (or avoid) this antagonist. If nothing else it will be a breath of fresh air as the party tries new things.

The larger change with this adventure is how it is written.  With most things that I write, you may have noticed I am usually experimenting with some concept or element of the adventure.  This adventure sprang out of my adventure convert-o-tronica concept of making ready to use location based adventure that can easily fit into any campaign.  The Ghoul Prince follows that relentlessly.   I show the core elements of the adventure, the moving pieces that set the stage for potential climactic battles, gruesome deaths, or fabulous schemes while everything else is a skeletal frame.   I then also give three different "skins" that smoothly fit over that frame and instructions on how to make your own.

I don't want to imply that the skeletal frame is somehow bare or requires the GM to write half the adventure themselves, they don't.  The skins really do cleanly fit over top,  I could have just taken one of the skins, applied it and published it that way and it would be perfectly cromulent.   But I did want to show a little bit of whats under the hood of an adventure when you structure it as a game component first and then make sure the 'fiction' lines up with it. A big pet peeve of mine with adventures is when they are incredibly imaginative and full of great ideas,  but that they aren't actually fun to interact with at the actual game table where 4-6 people will be spending several blocks of time, each multiple hours in length.

The Ghoul Prince is available HERE

Reviews, good or bad, help creators both spread awareness and improve their future work so don't hesitate to do so.

Monday, April 23, 2018

What does Neoclassical Geek Revival do better than other games

I get asked this question often and its a fair question. First the waffling bit of this post. I have generally grown to dislike the term "better" as better requires an end goal.  To be better requires a specific set of goals and not everyone likes the same thing in an RPG.  Is a flat d6 for damage better than varied dice of different types?  It depends on what you want the game to do.  But I do have specific goals in mind so lets dump that valid and reasonable chain of logic.

The second bit of waffling is that NGR is a very different game than OSR games in very subtle ways. It has a bit of uncanny valley going on with retro-clones where it is similar but also just slightly different so that things pan out very differently as each of the small differences compounds.  That is also a boring if reasonable line of discussion that doesn't suit the elevator pitch style answer people are looking for.

There are two major ones which I will say I like unequivocally better:  Stealth mechanics and Priest magic (miracles).

In OSR games stealth is binary.  You are hiding or you are found.  It also tends to be something one or two party members do while the others twiddle their thumbs and wait for the "Stealth bit" to end.   I have found that over the last decade and change (jeez this is getting to be an old system) explaining stealth has gotten easier.  Stealth has an accrual of "stealth damage" (called suspicion) that builds up until people are caught.  Being a rogue makes you better at stealth in the way a warrior is better at fighting, but everyone can be stealthy in the same way everyone can fight.  The reason this has gotten easier is this is vaguely an analogue to the way Bethseda games handle stealth so its become easier for people to intuitively grasp.  Accruing suspicion is the little eyeball icon getting bigger.  There are a myriad of other small changes that make this even better, since it ties into other factors.  For example this is also how random encounters are triggered.  As dungeons are much more dangerous this also makes stealth just as important (and often more so) than combat.  "Hitpoints" in NGR as "Luck points", and the same pool that you use to keep from being skewered in combat is the same pool you use to keep from being spotted or triggering random encounters. Bringing a lot of light with you will reduce penalties in combat, but also cause more suspicion every time you go into a hallway (meaning potentially more combats if you aren't careful).  You will often have tense resource draining conflicts through a dungeon without ever getting into a fight.  Because you are desperately trying not to.   NGR naturally ends up with way more heists than OSR games in my experience.

The second thing I believe NGR does better than OSR games is priestly magic.  Priests do not use Vancian magic.   They have their full assortment of spells available to them at any time and as often as they would like.  They do not have any spells for free.

To use these spells priests have to expend a resource called "piety", its basically a reward system from your god.  How much do they want to help you out.  You don't have any sort of daily pool to allocate, it isn't a renewable resource in that way.  Every point of piety you have to spend on miracles (priest magic) you have to earn.

Kill an abomination? take some piety. 
Bury the dead? take some piety. 
Destroy an enemy temple? take some piety.
Make a bargain with a demon? lose some piety.
Etc etc.

But priests never use spells frivolously. You don't waste spells because its the end of the day and you'll re-memorize them tomorrow.  Using that heal today means that is one less heal you can use in the future. It also forces players of priests to really act the part.  It takes player lead action to acquire the favour of your god if you want their help in the future.

Going back to the concept of uncanny valley for a moment.  NGR is not a retro-clone, not even remotely.  It does not have the same DNA as TSR D&D,  but it works towards a similar purpose of low fantasy adventure.  Of grappling hooks, crowbars, and battle axes being brought to bear on crumbling ruins and untamed wilds populated by monsters and men, explored on the scale of normal people without super powers.  To that end most adventures written for one will work for the other, what changes is how they pan out. NGR features a lot of schemes, stealth, and shenanigans with combat being avoided unless the fight is either an overwhelming ambush or desperate bid for survival since fighting is dangerous.

City of Tears is a desert themed NGR dungeon crawl,  coming soon!

Friday, April 13, 2018

An Ominous Portent: The release of the "Scenario from Ontario" this Friday the 13th

The Biggest Write-Off of 2017

Late in 2017 Kiel Chenier and I had a 24 hour adventure writing contest.  We were each tasked with writing a small (~7000 word) adventure about maple syrup for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  Our resulting works were compiled together into this handy-dandy volume with redone maps (by Dyson Logos) and with professional art and layout (by Chris Huth).

This is 100% uncut Canadiana and is available to you now in PDF form.   We will hopefully have a PoD version in the future.

It is available here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Seed Table: The Great Northern Desert

Now that my Xan Than Du game has been done for awhile, I thought I might post one of the seed tables used to generate wilderness encounters.

The Great Northern Desert Seed Table
  In ancient times the area was a wealthy agricultural hub with many small city states. Thousands of years ago a cataclysmic drought struck, followed by winds carrying great clouds of fine red dust.  Only the stone age hill tribes stayed and continue to live on the hostile land.  Caravans cross from the great coastal cities to the jungles beyond and where they go the nomad king of the horse bandits follows.  The ancient ruins still crawl with undead, and roaming packs of ghouls have slunk into the area to consume them (as well as any fresher dead they can find or create).

Roll 1d8, 1d6, and 1d4 before consulting the table before. Only roll the dice once.

Where (D8)
1: Plain of cracked earth with the odd scraggly bush
2: Dust coated (d4 inches) packed earth, odd tree, some agave
3: Dust coated long dead forest (stumps, some greyed wood)
4: Abandoned farm or manor area, many building foundations, dust drifts
5: Slightly rolling hills, scrub
6: Slightly rolling hills, giant cactii
7: Scrubland, odd tree,  obelisk (even) or statue (odd)
8: Great dust drifts covering scrubland and dead/dying trees.  Obelisk on 15+.

What (D6)
1-  Desert Demon (night only)
2-    Beasts
         1 = Jackals (d8+d4) night only
         2 =  Buzzards (on 13+ they bestow curse of Carrion God if attacked), circling a corpse on even
         3 = Red Kangaroo (d8) day only
         4 =  Step near a rattlesnake ( on 12+ they bestow curse of Yig if attacked)
3- Boon (less than 9) or Bane (12+). * Use the next entry on the list.

4-  Monster
         1-2: Giant Camel Spider (size d4) (night only)
         3-4: Giant snake (size d4+1)
         5-6: Terror Birds (d4) (day only)
         7-8: Giant Scorpion  (size d4-1) (night only)
5-  Nothing
6-    People: (d8 x 3)
           1=  Caravan on camels (day only)
           2 = Bandits on horses
           3 = Orange Tribesmen (1/3rd have dingo sleds)
           4 = Ghouls (night only)  (1/3rd guns, +4  hyenas)

Weird (D4)
1=  Dried out watering hole
2= Tumbleweeds
3=  Windy (rain on run of 3)
4=  Rubble, with a tomb on 13+ or a road segment on 9<

Special Results
1  - The watering hole is actually an oasis
2 -  Lost caravan (dead or dying)
3 - An air elemental in bird form haunts the area
4 - Amidst the ruble is a secret Temple of Yig with 13 cultists worshiping the snake
5 - A sudden Dust Devil tears through the immediate area
6 - Quadruple amount of people, cave temple is present for Orange Tribesmen, Dice Total/4 undead are present if Ghouls.

Max (18): Besieged Ziggurat (Ghouls vs mummies).  A special location (dungeon**) has been found. Ghouls besiege the ancient tomb, hoping to eat the undead inside and plunder their wealth.

Runs (based on start):
1 - An unattended camel with bags full of quinoa and jug of water is wandering lost.
2 -  d4 is used as an extra d6
3 - A wise Dervish (level d4) is nearby, offering blessings and cryptic wisdom.
4 - Undead forces lair in the tomb (20 and level d6-1 Undead noble)

* I had a separate page of unique minor positive and negative events. Every time this came up I'd cross the top one off the matching list and use it. At the end of the game I'd randomly make something up and add it to the bottom.  Things like "You find a supply cache marker, buried are two jugs of water and some flour in a sealed pot" or "The biting flies here may spread a disease, make a health save".

** I had a number of dungeons pre-setup that would appear in whatever hex they were first rolled in and then remain there from then on.

As an additional update,  here is a sneak peek of the upcoming Zzarchov/Kiel joint for use with LotFP "The Scenario from Ontario".

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The importance of a "Leader" in a player lead game

The last couple campaigns I've run have been specifically set-up to handle the realities of mid-life and busy schedules.  Players drop in an out week to week due to a hundred competing priorities.  This means that I've avoided setting the games to pick-up seconds after the last one ended, instead they are based on excursions from a home base (or bases) with assumed down-time in between.

In a game without this structure, it wasn't essential to have a designated leader since there were usually immediate priorities that needed to be dealt with.  If a game ended on a cliff hanger then you could easily jump back into the mindset needed to keep going. Sometimes you would run into a dysfunctional moment where "Analysis Paralysis" would set in and the group would become stuck, and sometimes you'd run into someone becoming a "self-appointed" boss, but assuming your players are all well adjusted adults those are pretty rare.

When you move to an excursion based game the math changes.  Each week is a fresh start and you can easily burn 25% of your game time in a brainstorming session of what to do and what the risks and benefits are.  One of the changes I implemented is to randomly assign one player as leader each game after the first 10-15 minutes if no plan of action is decided.  The game follows that player character's actions for the rest of the session.  If a player doesn't feel like making the calls they can pass the baton to another player (sometimes you just aren't 100%).

I find this has a couple of effects:
1.) The game both gets moving faster and handles puzzles and other choices faster. Things keep moving.

2.) You get a much larger variance in what people do week to week.   Instead of 10 weeks in a row of the forbidden temple because 3 of 5 are most interested in that, you'll get mostly forbidden temple but interspersed with some jaunts to a haunted castle and one to an ancient tomb.

Unrelated, here is a sneak peak at the title of one of the upcoming releases:

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.