30 March 2022

Actual Play - Splinters of Hope: Mechanus

First of what I hope will be a couple of one-shots visiting the planes (see Great Planar Scavenger Hunt) I also took this as a personal project to get better at running one-shots. My natural home is long run campaigns so there were a couple of learnings for me in this.

The pre-game brief was: "elves are dying, you are one who has answered a call for aid by the local temples trying to do something about it - whether for coin, glory or favours I leave to you. Only steer I would give at this point is
- build someone who can work as part of an adventuring band - no lone wolves
- you will be venturing out onto the planes so will be far from your networks - a character who's whole schtick is their networks will likely be cut off from those
Build classic adventurers of whatever stripe, going to run 5e, start at level 3. This is going to be more puzzles and exploration than high crunch combat."

The puzzle, that they needed to figure out was that the thing, a long forgotten remnant from a lost elf world, was going to be crushed in the turning of the gears of Mechanus. The players would get a 128 cog 'local atlas' list and then eliminate various places the thing could not be and arrive with a singular location. I hoped that the process of elimination would allow exploration of the nature of Mechanus and flex the unique conditions of the plane.

I built this as a hex-crawl to give lots of freedom to discover new things. The players got an opening clue, an oracular vision that the thing they sought was going to be lost in 30 days.

Some sample clues I thought up:
Clue 1: access is lost abruptly, which eliminates all the slow turning cogs (target cog must be one within an escapement group, moving suddenly at intervals).
Clue 2: the thing is still here, so is on a cog which has a long turning cycle - eliminating any cogs that have cycled within the time frame since the item was lost.
Clue 3: it is on a cog unoccupied by locals - modrons, formians and inevitables all fully adapt the cogs the occupy, consume or use everything they find.
Clue 4: the thing is still accessible today and therefore is not on a cog with a climate that would prevent decay - either hot/dry or very cold or bare metal.

Mindful of the three-clue rule, I tried to make sure that there were multiple routes to get to the same answers.
- players thinking it through themselves
- interviewing locals for how things work around here
- accessing local observatories or archives to do some research
- doing observations of the cogs

** What worked well:
- Captured the flavour of Mechanus, the gears, the strange terrain, the 'not in Kansas any more' side. I think those that participated really felt they got a jaunt to elsewhere. The instant nightfall, instant dawn shift was a good part of that.
- The few mechanics I threw in to make the place feel different worked well - checks to cross the between gears and average damage in combat.
- The mission / central puzzle was interesting enough that it kept folk engaged and let them explore the environment.
- Great fun role-playing was had; two completely different flavours from the pair of core groups that went through.
- Feedback on the NPCs was good, interesting and reflected the locale well.
- The different groups founds lots of different ways to eventually get to the answer which showed it did not bottleneck too badly anywhere.

** What needed improvement
- I tightened up the launch significantly, the first run burned a chunk of time getting to 'boots on the ground' which was my fault. They got background briefing and 'why this matters' flavour which is good for long-form campaigns, needs to be skipped for one-shots. Start in media res - "you step out of the gate. The reason you are here is..."
- Need to clear more time so be ruthless with interactions. The flip-side of having fun with NPCs is recognising when the interaction is no longer giving them fresh info or moving things along. At that point zoom back out and wrap it up, otherwise it can be a time burn that leaves you squeezed later on.
- Kill random encounter tables - they were good sources of flavour, great for multi-session crawls, great for me getting my head around the setting, not good for one-shot format. You can see the Mechanus Encounters table I created here.
- Better clue hand-outs to really highlight critical information.
- Inject energy with combat, hazards as needed. Particularly with a puzzler, if the players get stumped you can either feed them the answer which doesn't feel great or kick them into a different activity which ramps up the energy but also sets their minds working on something else. When they return to 'what were we doing?' after the combat then someones subconscious will likely have some fresh thoughts to get them going

Group 1 - In House Testing Team: Ran the theory with a stats generated average group of nameless adventurers led by a Cleric of Kord

Group 2 - Scholars and seekers
Quogon - tortle cleric of twilight
Nar Norsa - firbolg druid
Jan - dwarf ranger
Lykoe Errie - high elf Warlock
Ivy - eladrin Oath of the Ancient Paladin

Group 3 - Planars
Parvina Loren - Human Barbarian
Kayleigh Evendur - Valkerie Paladin from Ysgard
Dak'hal - Githzerai Monk from Limbo
Leddwi - Gnome Warlock (Celestrial patron)
Zanna "Muffins" Tusen d'Sivis - Gnome Druid

** Most favoured moments:
- The Scholars, independently came up with a pair of wise old scholars, a scout for hire and a pair of lore-hunting elves - when these seekers of knowledge ran into some of the sages that dwelled in Mechanus there was a wonderful meeting of minds and deep discussions
- When the Scholars stepped out and caught sight of the skyful of gears for the first time, there was a beautiful OC table-wide in-draw of breath and an IC flask of hard liquor was handed around
- When the planars figured out that their attacks were doing average damage every time - "I hate it but I love it"
- The Planars, unaware the mission would be Mechanus, cooked up the most chaotic bunch possible, hailing from Limbo, Ysgard and other points on the opposite side of the Great Ring. The table masterfully played them *hating* the place, with laser-tight mission focus so they could get the hell out and go home.
- Both groups like the sites they ran into - these are written up in the Hinter-Cog sites post.
- The Guvnors gravity clipper: every party, given the choice between trekking out to the cog once it was identified or taking the scary short cut of a ride on the Guvnor experimental gravity clipper took the ride. This was fun, recognising that a gravity sling-shot around the flat, double-sided gravity of the cogs that are sometimes at angles to one another would be a both something fanatical mathematicians would try to master and would be nerve wracking to put in practice.
- I was pleased the players came up with an in-hindsight obvious question of 'which cogs will complete a turn soon' (compared to my thought of which ones have not completed a turn yet. This let them narrow down a shortlist and skip another filter.

So, despite some squeaky moments and sessions ending in a rushed montage once the objective had been found, I count these as success - people got to see Mechanus and it was fun.

28 March 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #61

A significant haul of interesting links this week. More can be found on the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find even more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

The Man With A Hammer writes Languages and Common as Trade Common.

OSE Hexcrawl Generator on Whose Measure God Could Not Take.

Dynamic Timelines in OSR Play by Doof's Goofs.

The Mystical Trash Heap gives us Abyss Info Dump.

I Cast Light! gets to week 4 in a Gygax 75 challenge!

26 March 2022

A hoard reclaimed

Returning home to my parents house for the first time since the pandemic and since I started this blog I got a chance to see what last gleanings of my RPG collection might have remained there. I recalled having pushed a lot out the door to charity shops, to friends starting up and to interested good homes as my call on the shelf space dwindled with the frequency of my visits. I thought I knew what was still there - magazines mostly but no - there were nuggets of gold too!

These particular treasures were a happy surprise - the AD&D Monstrous Manual and '95 DMG together with the Castle Guide and the Complete Book of Villains. I knew I had saved some of my favourites but I was sure all my system books had gone out the door to people just getting into the game last time I was home. In addition the old Deities and Demigods was one I was sure that had gone out the door to a worthy home - well it has come back to an appreciative home now.

23 March 2022

Review: For Gold & Glory

tl:dr; a great retro-clone of AD&D, nicely laid out with well-chosen art framing all the rules and a bestiary in one book. As someone who started with that edition, it gets the feel right.

I picked up For Gold & Glory after it appeared on a couple of lists of faithful retroclones as the best 2e AD&D retroclone. This was my system back in the day though my books have long gone on to charity shops or others who wanted them. I thought it might be nice to have at least one set of those rules on my shelf in case I ever wanted to spin up Planescape in the original system again or run any of Huso's stuff like the Fabled City of Brass...

The additional kicker was that it was discounted on DriveThruRPG when I looked so obviously it was fate.

Print-on-demand copy, cover art by Walter Crane

First impression - the hit of the full nostalgia. This was a treat for me, like picking up a memory. Starting from the shape of the book being generally the same as the old Monstrous Manual to the formatting of the logo. Of all the OSR retro-clone stuff I have put my hands on this was the one that really hit the 'oh yeah, this brings me back' spot.

20 March 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #60

Back at base and noting more shiny links from across the blogosphere. More can be found on the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find even more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

Eldritch Fields makes a Quick humanoid lair generator for wilderness stocking

Foreign Planets gives us a Universal Battle and War Framework

Republish of lost "PHILOTOMY’S Dungeons and Dragons Musings" on Save vs TPK

The Ways of Folk - A Template for Cultures, and an Example on Shadow & Fae

Abandoned Hireling thinks about "The Hit Dice Pool"

Also on shared resources, Prismatic Wasteland writes on Level Up Everyone and Everything

19 March 2022

d20 Odd events at a nobles ball

1. 'Our people' - you are recognised by someone from your home location and invited to dance when a traditional song is played. Check to see how well you dance, gain a contact
2. Two guest are conversing loudly in an obscure foreign tongue. One of you knows that language and realises they are speaking gibberish, just words strung together without sense. Both of the strangers appear to be pretending to understand the other.
3. While snaffling a bottle of fine spirits, you notice a pair of other guests scurrying out to the gardens. You recall neither of them arriving with each other and turning you see their original partners searching the dance floor.
4. "What does this fellow have to say about it?" A group you pass opens and you find a half dozen of local political power-players in heated discussion. They demand your opinion on a relavent local issue. Bonus to the diplomacy roll if you have a real opinion. Low, they should have expected no better from commoners, mid, you get some grudging agreement from 2, dismissal from 2 and polite nods from the last 2. On a high success, the speakers think you a skilled partisan of the position you took - half now think you a solid fellow, half a dangerous element.
5. One of the hosts grabs you and presents their latest pride - homemade schnapps - a very limited batch. They insist you drink with them, it is terrible.
6. You come upon a game of chance being played where a young lady or man is playing with someone elses money. A fortune is on the table.
7. Introduced to a minor noble by one of the hosts you recognise the person from behind the counter at a stall you shopped at earlier. Who are they really and what are they up to?
8. Someone gives a stirring speech about an issue and it becomes the new cause celebre - unfortunately it is also the focus of the parties current plans and now all these people are going to be treading on their toes.
9. A marriage proposal is made on the balcony. Roll on a reaction table to see how the hosts take it.
10. The guest of honour is missing - they have gotten lost in the venue and someone needs to go find them

16 March 2022

d12 Cyberpunk Corporate Arcology Snatch Complications

I see cyberpunk pieces written where the talent has to be extracted and its just a case of getting in, finding the guy or gal sitting quietly in their room and bundling them off. This does not gel with my experience of high corporate nonsense - nothing is ever that simple. With that in mind, here are a random table of complications when you manage to punch through to the residence of the corporates you are trying to extract.

Roll d12:
1. Target is not where they should be. All residents are to be found at a tournament at a central location. The highest local exec thinks it builds team morale for everyone to participate, whether they like it or not so everyone is there, intoxicated on various recreational substances and the target is unwilling to leave right now because they are finally on a winning streak.
2. Target is not where they should be. An impromptu pool party has been declared in the soon-to-be-equipped hydroponics lab. Most of the personnel are sitting in the tanks, intoxicated on various recreational substances. Atmosphere is mellow but unfinished section has incomplete sensors so they are all currently off the grid and unfindable. Sector appears deserted.
3. Target is home, hosting a party. Rooms are stuffed with entertainment hardware, music is so loud all communication with an audio component is impossible, group skews towards the junior personnel who are not savvy enough not to try and be heroes.
4. Target is home, but a major argument has broken out over a card game. The head of this quarters headline project has bludgeoned the chief financial officer with a flower planter and is being pinned down by the head of human resources while the chief of security and the chief medical officer are trying to staunch the bleeding. Security is already en route.
5. Target is not home, their residence looks like it has been ransacked. The trail of destruction leads to the local childrens creche which has been taken over and converted into a dance club. Music is loud, lighting is non-existent, dancers are under the influence of various recreational intoxicants.
6. Target is not at home. They are currently intoxicated on recreational substances and hunting scorpions with a blacklight along with the rest of their lab group in the nearest park/lab/hydroponics section. As this is a firing offense, they are all daubed with stealth coating and nothing else.
7. Target is home, with their family and four other neighbourhood families at this ungodly hour watching a major sporting even from another timezone. Everyone is wide awake and alert whatever time this is.
8. Target is home, currently in the ceiling splicing in their forbidden entertainment tap onto the main comms spine. Getting caught is a firing offense, so they have left no trace to where they went.
9. Target is not home, they and the rest of their group of friends are recreationally abseiling in a nearby cargo lift shaft that they have sabotaged for this purpose. As this is a firing offense, they have left all traceable electronics at home and are wearing home-built stealth suits.
10. Target is not home. Along with a group of peers they are celebrating an obscure saints day by consuming large amounts of recreational intoxicants and visiting every other resident nearby sequentially.
11. Target is not home. An operational emergency has all hands at their desks. This section is empty, noone has been here for the past 48 hours.
12. Target is home and in the middle of a major conference talk when encountered. Security is immediately alerted when the PC team appears in the background of their talk. There are approximately 6000 witnesses.

The incidents portrayed in this random table are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places and events is intended or should be inferred.

14 March 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #59

A short set as this week I travelled. More can be found on the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find even more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

The Weird and Wonderful World of AI Art - always helpful for inspiration.

What has the canny odontic farmer sown, and into what will it grow? on HYOPHEXIA

Wolfram’s 4 colour theorem | Relationship mapping? by Goblin's Henchman

Waddling Donkeys - an encumbrance system on Weaver.skepti.ch

12 March 2022

Review: Mostly Harmless Meetings

A delightful zine from Dan Sumption that Kickstarted in Dec 2021 - pitched as "A zine full of whimsical random encounters set in the countryside, suitable for most TTRPGs" it turned up today.

I am very pleased with the results, it has a nice heft to it, with ink-splotch designs and public domain art in a surprisingly solid feeling zine. The hand-addressed delivery envelope was a nice touch.

The contents within are a d100 table of countryside encounters that are, as the name says, mostly harmless. Laid out in alphabetical order, running from Ants and Ash trees to Wrens and Writers, each entry is a few lines, sometimes an adventure hook, sometimes a strange bit of lore associated with the creature or plant in question. A nice flavour injection for encounters or low stakes encounters by themselves.

I like it, I reckon it will find place at my table. A short, sweet zine, like this review.

09 March 2022

3d10 Mechanus Encounters

tl;dr: things you can run into on the move in Mechanus. Tends more towards chaotic than the sites because they keep on the move.

Inspired by the old Monstrous Compendium II, the 3.5e Manual of the Planes and boosted by a sweep up of creatures that are lawful. Use these as the wandering component between hinter-cog sites described previously.

Roll 3d10

07 March 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #58

Another handful of links from about the internet. More can be found on the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find even more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

d4 Caltrops went on a roll giving us d100 tables for Spellbook Surrogates & Ritual Research, Starting Equipment: Backstories & Seeds, Fairy Tale Weaknesses and Magical Footwear

d66 Kobolds writes on how Any Source Is Gameable

Coins and Scrolls gives us Legal Spells in Endon - on the law in magical societies

Eldritch Fields gives us Lamentable Blades: swashbuckling combat house rules for LotFP/OSR games.

A Web of Hooks: Quest Connections in a Sandbox Megadungeon Region on Silverarm Press.

05 March 2022

Scale and Hexes, a round-up of posts.

tl:dr; there is a *lot* of adventuring in a single 10k hex, this post is a round up of many wise sources.

This - Scale & Sublimation - was the jolt I needed to get going on this post. This is a round up on the theme of getting the sense of scale right - how much stuff should be in a hex - rather than the mechanics of running a hex-crawl. For the mechanics of hex-crawling Hex-based Campaign Design by Welsh Piper is one of the core references, lots of additional useful posts in the sidebar.

I based a good chunk of my 'take' on "In Praise of the 6 Mile Hex" from Hydras Grotto. In my own set up I had significant challenges switching between my 'realm scale' 13 kilometer / 10 mile hex to my fine grain 1.3km / 1 mile hexes but I finally got them resolved.

Siena's 6-Mile Hex on Coins & Scrolls is helpful for getting a sense of scale. They also have a whole series on creating a hex-map of which part 3 is particularly good for getting down to populating individual hexes.

Continuing on the theme of scale, Spriggans Den writes "how large does a setting have to be?" noting how much is encompassed by 1000 x 1000 miles.

Tao of D&D writes about scale on the ground to help realistically size content.

For another perspective on the scale of things see this magnificent analysis of the logistics of medieval caravans through the lens of the loot train battle from Game of Thrones season 7 by A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry.

A useful rule of thumb for adapting hexes for vertical relief is Naismith's rule - "Allow one hour for every 3 miles forward, plus an additional hour for every 2,000 feet of ascent."

Retired adventurer has a sub-system for populating content within hexes assuming a hex divides into 6 triangles (by connecting the corners through the centre).

Great Hex-crawl lessons learned from Nine and Thirty Kingdoms

Some more thinking on Searching a Hex by Stirges Suck with a fine grain procedure.

For more Thalian Musings compiles hex-crawl resources on blogs and on youtube

02 March 2022

Geography as destiny - emergent world-building from maps

tl:dr; emergent world-building by pushing your fantasy world onto Map-to-Globe and giving it a spin to get a new perspective

After rediscovering the Map to Globe tool I have, in coherence with the current internet memesphere, been pondering my orb. I dumped out the world maps for my home campaign and had another look at them on the globe in rotations centered on different pieces of interest. The key thought driving this was assuming seas are the main long-haul roads between nations and cultures, is there anyone who ought to be talking or interacting with each other that I have currently left out?

For any fantasy world, there will of course be flyers, dwarf under roads, portals and other mystic and magical ways that geographic distant can be bent. but assuming the usual ~ 5% of the general population has a class and some small portion of that have significant magical abilities, most people and trade is going to go by water or land so where is next to where for the most part remains relevant.

Starting with the world map from Azgaars Fantasy Map generator

Then wrapping that onto a globe with Map to Globe.