29 June 2022

Review: Ruins of Symbaroum (5e) Gamemaster's Guide

tl:dr; a solid GMs guide to an interesting mod of 5e to deliver the flavour of the Symbaroum setting. Very flavoursome with neat mechanics for where Symbaroum differs from typical 5e D&D. Lots of good practical advice in here too.

This came from backing the Ruins of Symbaroum kickstarter, I liked what I previously got from Free League as part of the Forbidden Lands project so I went for one of the juicy tiers and in came a nice cache of stuff.

The unpacked Kickstarter haul

For this I wanted to take a look through the GMs guide to see how, if at all, Ruins of Symbaroum differentiated from every other dark fantay setting out there. The dark fantasy setting niche being somewhat stuffed, starting from grand-daddy Ravenloft up through the original Midnight d20 through to European contenders like Shadows of Esteren and the original Symbaroum. Original Symbaroum has good word-of-mouth so when I saw this 5e adaptation I jumped for it.

First impressions of the whole package once unboxed? Gorgeous. Great finish, lovely evocative art, a harmonious style to the whole thing. Throughout I found a level of polish that was reminiscent of Worlds Without Number - it felt like an extensively tested flag-ship settings where the team had a clear vision of how it should feel.

So what do you get in the book?

27 June 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #74

Links from the crossing of the Solstice. 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.

Against The Wicked City gives us a great piece in Early modern corpse medicine

Link this with Elfmaids & Octopi d100 More Goblin Peddlars

And this - Whose Measure God Could Not Take gives us a great generator for Oddities of the Traveling Merchant

Stalagmite-folk + Process Notes: Overloading the Random Table on Zedeck Siew's Writing Hours reveals their deep process secrets

The Retired Adventurer talks through their hex-filling workflow in Types of Terrain on Hex Maps

Dice Goblin gives a nice piece in The Things We Find Along The Way – Filling The Gaps In A Hexcrawl or Pointcrawl

Combine these with Tales of the Lunar Lands great d20/d4 Local Lore generator

Rosalind Chapman writes on guest-right in Finding a Place to Sleep in the Ruined Queendom

The Alexandrian gives us more solid hexcrawling advice in Designing the Hexcrawl – Part 3: Further Inspiration and Hexcrawl Addendum: Running the Hexcrawl and how this all should flow in Running the Hexcrawl – Example of Play: Thracian Hexcrawl

25 June 2022

On retro-clones that last

Digging into trends in campaign data from Obsidian Portal to see how retro-clones were doing; some clear favourites emerge.

To figure out what exactly to count as a retro-clone I went with this "List of D&D-esque Games" which may cast a slightly wide net but I wanted to see what a generous interpretation came up with. This was to allow that perhaps people had moved off older editions into strict retro-clones like For Gold & Glory or Old School Essentials and then on to slightly odder stuff in that same OSR space like Mothership or Mork Borg.

Going back to the data gathered from Obsidian Portal (2008-22) and extracting retro-clones from the 'other' bucket, the surprising answer was that they tracked the behaviour of the older editions quite well. The same up-tick in the 4e era during the big shift to variety then fading back down in the 5e era but much less than older editions so that today there are as many new retroclone campaigns created as 3.5e and earlier editions together. For this iteration I mashed D&D Next together with 5e given that it was a proto-5e rather than a pre-5e edition. Red is 2014, the year before 5e dropped, the height of diversity of systems.

22 June 2022

d6 solar cults of the Scaledlands

For tis the Solstice let us talk about the sun. In honour of the Baleful Glare of the Hateful Day-star we have d6 Solar Cults of Sholtipec.

1. Children of the Solar Queen - build ever higher, seek the life giving heat. Great spires, temples, mirror-dish topped ziggurats, all to gather and concentrate the glorious rays

Once national cult of the lizard imperium, now supplanted by a cult of elemental fire. Remnants can be found in the old high-land strongholds left behind in the great retreat.

Dancer of the Solar Queen by Evlyn Moreau

2. Withering Sun - all exists at the permission of the sun, all decays, withers, collapses beneath the weight of the suns mighty gaze - so hasten that decay, tear down all that offends the suns gaze that the new brighter realm be born

Typically followed by natives of the scaled lands from before the lizardfolk came. Resurgent since great retreat. Some renegade red dragon cultists have started venerating the Withering Sun alongside their draconic patron.

3. Devouring Sun - weakness is anathema, contest for space in the light of the sun through strength of arms. All the suns light falls upon is the rightful domain of her faithful. Bring all to her faith, destroy those who fail to see the light.

Mostly followed by human cultists from the desert world nearer the sun. To the faithful, a unifying force that sustained them against tides of darkness, to others, a scourge.

4. Scouring Sun - ascetics, do more with less, adversity is the crucible for the spirit, be kind for we are all one another can rely on, there is no help coming under the baleful glare of the devouring sun

Rare, mostly found within odd planetary wanderers, refugees from the Devourers and mystics.

5. Nourishing Sun - sunlight brings growth, her moods mark the seasons, through her generosity we have the plants that feed us, the light for our days. Steward her bounty, tend to her garden, pass on her gifts to those that come after you

Most popular of the local variants, followed by much of the peasantry

6. Searing Sun - simplicity is best, exposure yourself to the light of the sun, cleanse your soul beneath its gaze, live in the wilds, reject caverns and roofs.

Part of the pantheon together with Grandfather Crocodile and the spirits of nature followed by the local saurial and lizardfolk population in the once-imperial lands.

Bonus: The Staircase to the Sun - the huge artefact at the heart of the city of the same name, onceo known as the Labyrinth between Worlds. A stolen dwarven solar forge at its heart drew power from the sun to open gates between worlds then over time something in the complex of artefact, site and spells began to open more portals to places where the sun was shining on other worlds - first at night and then more and more until the sun always shone within the Staircase. The different shades of light from the daylight of different worlds mixes to make day and night within sight of the great tower of the Staircase an eternal glorious dawn. As the grip of the Children of the Sun and the lizard imperium has loosened of late, more and more of the other solar cults have been drawn to the city to contest posession of this mighty artefact.

20 June 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #73

Another collection of links to start your 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.

Orcs and Beastmen, Part 1 on Goblinpunch - always worth reading.

Zedeck Siew tweets about resisting memory loss in a creative culture by citing one another

The Alexandrian writes Designing the Hexcrawl – Part 2: Stocking Your Hexes

Traverse Fantasy writes Clerical Splash Zone on treating holy water as the main resource of cleric activities

Earnest Pleas in Early Muslim Poetry as adventure prompts by Molten Sulfur Blog

d100 Planar Quests on Dump Stat Adventures

18 June 2022

The Spelljamming Saddle

tl;dr stats for the Spelljamming saddle - which I figure ought to exist. Interpolated from 3.5e Spelljamming stats.

I have figured (since back in my mid '00s Hikuru game) that there ought to be a spelljamming saddle in our magical arsenal.

We think of flying ships as the natural home of Spelljamming, and for the most part that feels correct - a mage driving a Spelljamming helm can haul a lot more if they can bring a hull with them. But in a world with dragons, griffons, manticores and other flying beasts, those who looked to the skies are going to have seen those flying around long before they laid the first plank of a keel. Maybe not everywhere but certainly on some worlds, inland, it would be far more natural for people to think of enchanting saddles to make their already flying mounts faster rather than trying to make a thing that does not fly (a boat) do something so unnatural.

We can also well imagine that similar to the situation of the Pern novels, with the plethora of monsters that dwell in Wildspace up there, there would be a push by groundling realms to find a way to guard against the threats from the stars with the tools they have at hand. Examples from my own games - large breeds of wyverns with wang-liang riders provided aerial watch from various mountain keeps in one campaign. The grand finale involved the players getting flown over a dormant volcano with an evil dwarven earth-blood refinery. They feather fell from the wyverns down the volcano to grapple with the villains.

Most recently in my current home game, the party found great great grandfathers dragon saddle on the wall of the sealed up throne room and have pressed it back into service. It has been strapped to a skiff but they have been getting good use out of it that way. There was some good mileage gained on figuring out how the thing worked - mostly by Spellcraft, Knowledge (Arcana) and good old fashioned trial and error, none of this Identify spell short-cutting. Memorable tests include strapping the thing across a large water barrel filled with ice, and hovering it while ever greater weights were attached beneath.

Converting it from a 'brute lift' thing strapped to a big wine tun to a useable vessel took some creative scrounging but the party managed to fit themselves out with a Stygian whaling skiff that now can fly. More of their adventures with their flying skiff can be read in high-speed hex-crawling - exploring with flyers. So far there have been a couple of hostile encounters but the party bard has applied cunning spells to win their escape on each occasion so far.

The Crunch Behind the Saddle

15 June 2022

Review: Burgs & Baliffs Warfare Too by Paolo Greco

tl;dr: another dense zine packed with ideas, a great resource for running parties through mass combat events

Burgs & Bailiffs: Warfare Too is only about warfare: from skirmishing to large-scale battles passing by castle-building. As said in the intro, this is about giving you tools to bring medieval warfare to your medieval RPG and you probably will not use all of these but you may well find the ones that suit you.

At €€2.50 this is even better value! As before shipping will kill you if you order it alone but next time you go anywhere near Lulu, throw these in on top, you will not be dissappointed

13 June 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #72

Another collection of links to start your 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.

Tales of the Lunar Lands speaks of what sources they have incorporated into their game in Good Artists Borrow...

Prismatic Wasteland talks about time in Tempus, Fudge It

Discussions of nautical rules on the Spelljammer boards lead to The (Sea) Voyage Continues attempting to "provide the closest thing I can to smooth sailing for AD&D nautical adventures" on AD&D Complexities

Tales of the Lunar Lands writes about Brazen Heads. I love a good information-giving magic item.

Sſtabhmontown Adventures gives us Consolidated rules for hirelings

Papers & Pencils gives a great prep overview in Prep Tools, Not Adventures

The Orc Rehabilitation Commission writes [OSR] A Visit from the Goon Squad with some great examples of making the same basic statblock feel different

The Lizard Man Diaries gives us d40 NPC Generator (Travail Saga)

11 June 2022

Overloaded Wildspace Voyage Dice & Gravity Slingshots

tl;dr: since space is enormous, keep journeys interesting with overloaded travel encounter dice and a speed-boost from using planetary gravity wells.

One of the things with travel in space is that space is very large which can make travel somewhat dull. I could see the upcoming Spelljammer reboot hand-wave wildspace travel with a serious speed boost for Spelljammers. Currently at 100 million miles/day, I could see a factor of 5 or 10 increase to make interplanetary travel quicker. For comparison - the squares on the right hand inner system are 200 million miles across, those on the left hand outer system are 400 million miles across.

(Digitally) Modified Planetary Display Map from my Spelljammer box

What that means practically - if we take Smoulder-space that I rolled up recently - starting off at Planet 3, the outermost of the inner planets, and heading out to the crystal sphere takes 130 days of travel, never mind wherever you are going after that. Assuming a quick 30 day jaunt to the next system, a similar flight in-system, doing a thing for a fortnight and returning, we rapidly arrive at a two year journey. That is significant travel time and with the removal of crystal spheres and the fade of deep wildspace into the Astral sea, I can see those journey times getting cut down.
While that would be a potential fix, I feel it a bit too hard of a wrench so I would suggest the following alternative: - overload your wildspace encounter dice - give planets a gravity-slingshot speed boost effect

08 June 2022

Popularity of games on Obsidian Portal (2008-22)

Troy Press tipped me off to this with their article in 2019 looking at RPG campaigns played by system where they looked at the top 10 games. When I first looked at this I realised Obsidian Portal has been around since 2007 so the Wayback Machine could allow us to push back the veil a couple of years from the earliest Roll20 Orr report in 2014.

This could give another view on the old question of whether 'edition collapse' after the release of 5e had really been as sudden and severe as it looks from Roll20 data. It appeared from Roll20 and pre-2014 surveys that there had been a multi-edition ecosystem with 3.5e, 4e and Pathfinder all being played at the same time. After 2015 it became dominated by 5e almost immediately. This appears to be verified by the Obsidian Portal numbers.

06 June 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #71

Interesting links from about the blog-o-sphere and beyond! Slightly late, it being a bank holiday today. 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.

A great articulation of one of those old 'obvious truths' that noone bothers to actually describe anymore with An Example of Milieu Centricity from Grumpy Wizard

Tales of the Lunar Lands unearths Forgotten Adventure Design: Bar Brawls

The Dream Aesthetics Dilemma on Mazirian's Garden

False Machine gives us deep mythos in Gilding the Shadow

Get yourself a coffee and biscuit for "The OSR Should Die" by Traverse Fantasy - a history of the multiple things called the OSR.

Continue with "Have you tried ANT? A response to Marcia’s “OSR is Dead” post" on Richard's Dystopian Pokeverse. Be sure to read the comments for more thoughts from Traverse Fantasy in response.

A Knight at the Opera writes another interesting long piece in Tabletop is Theatre, Videogames are Film

Glumdark presents a Quest Seed Generator under the marvelous tagline "Even a small idea can yield enormous misery."

04 June 2022

State of the Blog (post #300)

tl:dr - views up ~ 44% since post #201, tags in Glatisant suggest some find this place useful. Requests can be made in the comments.

On traffic

Comparing to October last year, the #201 post - monthly averages views are up from ~2900 to ~4200. There seems to be some splash from whatever cyber nonsense is going on around the war in Ukraine (until the war, I had ~40 views/month from Russia, since March that went up to low hundreds. I doubt I have a new diehard fanbase there.
- 878 russian (last 3 months)
- 130 3 months before that
So even scrubbing out what I presume is a cyberwar traffic uptick, numbers look good

Highlights - another mention in the Glatisant! - along with giant spike in views. This time the review of Worlds Without Number and the round up of hexes crawling resources were deemed worthy. I also got a nice mention on AideDD about the analysis of their stats which drove a bunch of connection. This was very interesting to see because it looks to me like an oblique mention on a 'general gamer' resource can be huge. That small slice of the torrent landed close to the weight of the Glatisant traffic, one of the kings of the jungle in curated, subscription news letters.

01 June 2022

Revisiting RPG Campaigns by System on Obsidian Portal

Troy Press wrote an interesting article in 2019 looking at RPG campaigns played by system where they looked at the top 10 games. I thought it might be interested to rerun that check today and see what if anything changed.

Similar to what other sources show, the lions share of new campaigns in the past 3 years have been D&D 5e. It looks broadly like a consolidation of systems. - 20 games to get 80% of campaigns for first 12 years - 10 games to get to same mark in last 3