30 November 2022

Closing a old gaming loop

Space allowed recovery of my old Spelljammer folder; cover is one of the divider art pieces that came with Monstrous Compendium Spelljammer Appendix and the spine logo I think was cut out of the cover. It was never actually got to contain a Spelljammer campaign back in the 2e days, it held notes for my sprawling teen AD&D campaign, the Monstrous Compendium pages and miscellanea - until now!

I now have managed to get this relic to my current abode and have now got notes from my 2-shot and what is looking like a remixed Light of Xaryxis campaign.

The original campaign I recall wanting to run was centered around a crashed Gnomish sidewheeler that the adventurers would stumble upon, be fascinated by and then boot-strap their way to the stars from there. Bless my innocence at planning the meat of the campaign to occur only after so many dominoes had fallen the right way. Needless to say, never happened and I had nothing on the cards for after they got space-borne beyond thinking Spelljamming was intrinsically cool. Looking back I would have planted some hooks that needed the players to get up to Wildspace to deal with them, then maybe they would have gone with wizards or pegasi or something but at least it would have been directionally correct.

I did manage a minor cameo for a Mindspider in a planar one-shot I wrote as a convention game in college - they had a rebadged Mindspider as some sort of Tso plane-jammer for a raid on Gehenna. I cannot recall what they were even doing there - the scenario was called Mockingbat Keep, it was infested with Varangoin and they needed to deal with those. It worked well enough in the ship served as a point to HALO jump off, using potions of feather-fall - but that was the extent of my Spelljamming for a good long while.

Flyers made an appearance as *anti*-Spelljammer defences in Hikuru - a world that had been oppressed by elves needed means to stave off the Elven Imperial Navy and ended up with large warriors mounted on over-bred wyverns. Not much for off-planet force projection but good for dominating the local skies.

Finally Spelljammer 5e comes around ignites interest in my ancestral gaming group - coupled with all our comfort with remote play a window of opportunity opens and I have managed to stuff through a 2-shot concept test - the Interstellar Whaling game fed by my Gygax-75 run - which proved such a success we are continuing with the same game.

It is a very nice prospect to have a decent shot at filling out this old folder with game notes, I am glad I hung on to it all these years. Much of the content is being generated digitally for maps which is a note if I want anyone to get anything from pulling it down off a shelf in the future - printouts will have to get included or none of it will make sense. We discussed player note taking around the table of a thanks-giving gathering and how hard it would be to draw sense from the average gamers notes - similarly for a DM's notes I fear - so this time I am going to try and give my future self a chance and be more organised.

28 November 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #96

Only some high-lights inbetween time on the road. 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 the RPG Blog Carnival or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

Talaraska gives us Odd Loot Items

Tales of the Lunar Lands shares Gods of the Lunar Lands

Scriptorium Ludi writes Deeds not Words

Weaver.skepti.ch gives us Orcs of the North

Rise Up Comus joins RPG Blogs as Fantasy Taverns

Gundobad Games writes On Running Very Different Types of Games

liches get stitches gives us Ichi Plains Region: Uncompahgre Basin

A Knight at the Opera shares Dragons of the Great Game

The Wyrd Lands gives us Building Wyrd Beasts: Trolls

Spriggan's Den opines The common narrative of OSR gaming is all wrong!

26 November 2022

Domain-level dirty tricks (part 2 - tactical)

Returning to our extracts from an old Birthright game I was involved in, playing the communist goblins of the Bluepeaks islands. Writing this up as a drop-in realm for anyone who might need a competent ally or a dangerously persistent foe - although these tactical ideas could probably suit many smaller scale foes as their 'grand plans' also.

Recalling the realm concept was of goblins having a vision and realising their ill-treatment at the hands of the world, then setting out on a hallucinogenic fueled messianic conversion spree and finding welcoming ears in the scattered minions of a recently deceased dark wizard.

The dark wizards old citadel became a Wizards Academy - the Labyrinth - and was a research powerhouse on the general theme of what can be done with shard-crystals - the crystallisation of magic and its use in various kinds of techno-arcanic lunacy. Large quantities its fairly harmless and inert - i.e. a shardstone vein would sit quietly under a village without having much effect beyond causing a fair few seers and two headed calfs - but broken down to crystals its causes mutations, nightmares, trees to walk, poisons wells, and if you go as far as powdering it, its explosive, unstable, addictive, and when snorted, spiked or smoked gives you incredible power - which you either use or it melts your brain.

In-game this was Birthrights meigbheal being used as these wicked crystals which went into both chargable magical items (straight lifts from Eberron Dragonshard) and into crazy Skaven and Cryx tech - Warpfire throwers, Jezzails and Deathjacks.
- Weaponry – Jezzails with shardcraft bullet, shardfire throwers, shardlightning casters, poison wind globes, explosives, incendiaries
- Artifice – mimirs, navigation arrays, scrying devices – mostly derivatives of well known things except that they would use shard-crystals as fuel and be inert without – real ‘Skaventech’ feel
- Breeding – using shardcraft to develop means to improve beings – would be reflected in ‘grafts’ both surgical and mutated – brains in jars to create rudimentary ‘computers’
- Augmentation – developing a subtler level of use of shardcraft – ingestion focussed. This would be the combat drugs, shardsnuff for magic enhancement
- Winnowing – magical plagues, shard-dust poison gasses
- Eternity Project – retaining the skills and knowledge of the talented through soulcapture

Essentially, the Bluepeaks were very conscious of being very small and very few, so anything that could fight and die in our place, from bacterium up to Helljacks, all to the good.

Below are some of the direct action concepts prepared against the day of need:

23 November 2022

Capsule Reviews #5: TTRPG Tsundoku

Inspired by Jeff Grubbs Game Tsundoku blogpost I want to take a glance over my TTRPG book Tsundoku - the books that have piled up.

Actively intended for review (notes in partially complete state)

21 November 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #95

Short set this week as I travel. 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 the RPG Blog Carnival or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

Tales of the Lunar Lands gives us More Amusing Historicisms

Gorgon Bones shares Between the Serpents of Smoke & Steel - Setting Primer

Eldritch Fields presents Quick Equipment Packs

Whose Measure God Could Not Take gives us Nine Horse Wizard Spells

CROSS PLANES writes Dungeon Mastering 101: Its okay to not be okay

Leicester's Ramble gives us Appendix N vs Appendix N

The World of PhilosopherZeus writes Folklore in RPGs

Underground Adventures shares Thoughts about Hits in Diceless Combat

A Knight at the Opera declares Enough Dweeb Adventures

Grand Commodore gives us Butterflyman Raiding Party

Monsters and Manuals writes How Creativity Works, or 'The September Kingdom'

Traverse Fantasy shares FMC Alpha Errata

Scriptorium Ludi gives us Preliminary Review: MCDM’s Kingdoms & Warfare

19 November 2022

Domain-level dirty tricks (part 1 - strategic)

Extracted from an old Birthright game I was involved in, playing the communist goblins of the Bluepeaks islands. Writing this up as a drop-in realm for anyone who might need a competent ally or a dangerously persistent foe.

Realm concept was based around some goblins having a vision and realising their ill-treatment at the hands of the world was bullshit. They set out on a hallucinogenic fueled messianic conversion spree and found fertile soil in the realm of a dark wizard who had recently been killed leaving the shattered remnants of their minions behind and open to new ideas for self-governance.

The Bluepeaks were well aware they were starting well behind all the major realms on the power curve and could expect neither charity or mercy when their attention finally fell on these upstart gobbos so survival and the carrying of their Vision past any battlefield defeat, were the doctrines of the realm.

Major realm projects

16 November 2022

Review: The Folio - Roslof Campaign

One of two sets of adventures that represent my personal tide-line for collection - the Art of the Genres 'The Folio' series has long caught my eye as some extremely pretty content. I have resisted through multiple kickstarter campaigns as already what I have nudges SABLE - that knitters metric of "stash acquired beyond life expectancy" - at this point I am planning to hand my collection down to the next generation. However! I managed to get my hands on some of the Folio series - the Roslof Campaign - in a recent bundle and got to have a look.

Covers of Folio's 1-6 by Jim Roslof & Travis Hanson, Jim Holloway, Todd Lockwood, Daniel Horne, Jeff Dee, David Martin

There is a common structure to all these - nice art work, with a declared mission statement of recreating the old school feel of "adventure through the eyes of artists like Jeff Dee, Erol Otus, Bill Willingham, and Jim Roslof" and giving a framework for running your own sandbox like such classics as The Village of Hommlet and Keep on the Borderlands. I see a lot of the same artists that used to appear in Dragon magazine in the 90s and it definitely brings back that feel for me. Apart from the art we get double-column writing on most pages, mostly good editing with a few typos here and there. Everything is statted for 1e and 5e. We also get some nice maps - both in old school white-on-blue which is fine and also great 3D isometric maps.

Going through the actual content of each of the sections, what do we get?

14 November 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #94

Interesting links from the start of November. 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 the RPG Blog Carnival or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

Traverse Fantasy launches the retro-ist of retro-clones in FMC is Out!!!

The Alexandrian gives us Pointcrawls

Mindstorm shares The Pirate Crew

homunculus-argument talks writes worldbuilding

What's On Your Mind Then? gives us Making Cultures, Not Races

Sly Flourish shares Reach Satisfying Campaign Conclusions

Revenant's Quill reports on Den of Wolves Megagame

Gorgon Bones shares How I got into the OSR

Weaver.skepti.ch writes Sprezzatura

Idiom Drottning gives us The Good and Bad of Random

12 November 2022

Attitudes of Upper Planar denizens

Continuing thoughts on how to make the inhabitants of neighbouring planes feel distinct, following a prompting comment from the Lower Planes post. Setting up for a new Planescape campaign I was putting some thought into how to make the inhabitants of the Lower Planes feel different one from the other. There is already a good distinctiveness between the terrains of the different levels of the different planes and while it is fine if the many celestials feel similar wherever you run into them the general inhabitants of the planes should have something to differentiate them.

For the upper planes the challenge is slightly different in that you are probably not here to just murder the locals so that means there is no adventure to be had, right? Well, probably not but you do need to work a little harder to set up adventures that make sense. Following on from our previous example, each of the upper planes should best typify some virtue though none of these will be exclusive to that plane.

The key point of upper planes is concern for and helping others - not the selfishness of the lower planes - and a high trust of each other. This may not extend to outsiders but amongst one another the denizens of the upper planes are living in a high-trust society. For outsiders there can be problems - Mount Celestia is unclimbable by those who do not abide by its strictures - but assuming that the locals spend most of their time interacting with each other, these aspects will govern their outlook and attitudes.

This means that whenever outsiders get roped in, it has to be some problem that either slipped under the radar of the locals, is something so weird that they cannot deal with or is something that the locals do not recognise as a problem. This last is especially high risk as this has a high risk of the adventuring interlopers slotting into the role of extraplanar reavers and drawing a robust response with every local turning against them.

Going plane by plane
Arcadia - a place of harmony and service of the greater good. Everyone is working in their assigned way for the greater good of all. The Needs of the Many are held as a cardinal virtue. The system is held as good because good people are working within the system. Ones role is strictly delineated and life is highly predictable and this is all held as good.
Mount Celestia - someone has to do it, that someone is us. The beacon of justice tempered by mercy, Celestians see their way as the best way, good and ordered, and if anyone else thinks differently they are wrong (mistaken in the case of other good entities, dangerous or maliciously wrong in the case of others). The team works, with the rules adjusted where the letter would violate the spirit. Most engaged with the rest of the outer planes, certainly in awareness, though the sheer scale of the task of bringing justice to the multiverse has led to a tendency for the perfect to become the enemy of the good and what actions happen not making all that much of a dent.
Bytopia - doing what you can so that all may have what they need, indulging in the pleasure of an honest days work for a just reward. Work in good cheer, help from the neighbours and everyone pitching in are the hallmarks of Bytopia. Can also manifest in a slightly Pleasantville style approach of everyone making assumptions that you will fall in with their plans. At its best, all for one and one for all, with people helping selflessly to overcome your problems. The proactive problem solving can come across as intrusive to outsiders.
Elysium - where rest has been earned and one need only have faith that all will be well. The denizens here lived a good life and have come to their reward in the hereafter. The attitude here is acknowledging your concern but seeing it as just another cycle. They fought their demons in their time, all this has been seen before. Can come across as complacent or patronising because your urgent concerns are tiny against eternity. The local celestial guardians, the Guardinals, are likely to firmly send you away if you disturb the locals earned peace too much. Everyone should care, but because this is a balance point it can stall into 'be at peace' without any impetus to act.
Beastlands - harmony with nature. The locals attitude is take only what you need, leave as light a trace as you can, be generous with what you have, welcome the stranger. The rules are the changing of the seasons, the cycles of life. The locals will be happy to host you, to welcome the respectful to their campfires but they will be hard to persuade that the frantic flailings of most civilizations are worth concern. The great cycle of nature will turn and all will return to the wilderness in good time.
Arborea - following your heart, where passions reign. The locals are ruled by passions greater than themselves, joys, sorrows, they wear their hearts on their sleeves and act upon it. Fast friends but also demanding. Words are not as important as people but balancing the needs and wants of many people absorbs a great deal of energy. At best this is spontaneous, joyful living, however everyone can be individually well intentioned but the result can be a mess that noone wanted, so getting anything done can involving going around in circles and a lot of cat herding.
Ysgard - freedom and courage are held highly. They welcome any to their hearth but respect must be earned to get beyond the feast-and-tales level. The telling of tales is held in high regard, but of the valour of heroes not the bloody grind of the uncaring battlefield. Fighting the good fight is the highest virtue; with a strong bias to action and seizing the day to live gloriously. Quickest to action, trusting in their prowess and courage to win the day, trying to plan with Ysgardians is like trying to restrain an avalanche.

Thinking up scenarios to showcase a planes aspects and the attitudes of the inhabitants we could suggest some of the following:

Arcadia - the plane of harmony, participating in the great good could have some kind of puzzle about figuring out how to get to where you need to go by learning timetables and patterns - a maze but in time - where the hazards are all delays. Something akin to around the world in 80 days?

Mount Celestia - the Bastion of Justice - here you will have to contend with navigating the heavy-handed locals who will want to know what you are up to, where you are going and why they should let you do anything on their plane. Expect to have to convince a number of powerful entities and frame all your actions in how they contribute to furthering Law and Good in the multiverse.

Bytopia - land of collective endeavour and freedom of opportunity - noone is an island, so expect the locals to help, even without you asking. The challenge becomes managing the locals all getting involved - if you are here to take something, you may need to trade or earn your right to take it after they help you get it.

Elysium - here the challenge is getting somewhere without getting mired in the many, many momentum sinks. Do not eat of the lotus, nor join the meditation circle, nor take the offers to lay down your cares. You have a mission! Like threading your way through a maze of traps but these traps are unending hospitality and the loss of all impetus.

Beastlands - here hunter becomes the hunted. Stalk a predator on their own terrain, or traverse the hunting grounds of something big to get where you need to go. An example I ran can be found here.

Arborea - expect a quest in the Olympic tradition, something involving conquering difficult odds. You may be able to get help to come along with you but the great deeds will need to be yours. Expect the opposition to be those roused to passions and acting counter to you - for love, glory, the best of reasons. A quick calm chat would probably solve things but this will be moving far too fast already.

Ysgard - quests and raids, with honor at stake. You will need to prove your worthiness for passage or assistance and expect the locals to be very territorial. After all, any Ysgardian that falls in battle wakes again at the following dawn - death here holds no fear for them, so violence often wins out over patience.

09 November 2022

Review: Downtime in Zyan

tl:dr; handy downtime systems, modular enough to fit both old-school train-to-level tables and any others that just want to make time between active adventures valuable

Through Ultans Door describes the dream-city of Immortal Zyan - collectively one of the classic zines of the OSR. I talked about issues #1 and #2 and issue #3 before - today we look at the newly arrived Downtime in Zyan - Actvities Between Adventures.

photo of newly arrived Downtime in Zyan, showing cover art by Evlyn Moreau

07 November 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #93

Links that caught my eye as I traversed the web 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 the RPG Blog Carnival or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

Whose Measure God Could Not Take proposes Reviewvember 2022


Archons March On gives us Some More Animal Name Monsters - But From French This Time

GROGNARDIA argues The Real Adventure Was the Random Encounters We Had Along the Way

Weaver.skepti.ch proposes a nice alternative frame in Qualifying Advantage

Methods & Madness gives us Sandbox quest, part I and Part II

Daily Adventure Prompts gives us Drafting the Adventure: Dungeons, An Introduction.

Welcome to the Deathtrap gives us What's in a Label?

Spriggan's Den has a view on future sourcebooks in Unforgotten Realms

Graphite Prime gives us On 2nd Edition...

Methods & Madness gives us My favorite B/X house rules / changes / bits from other editions [2022]

05 November 2022

Actual Test: 5e Spelljammer: Adventures in Space (Fantasy Space Combat Rules Part 6)

Tl;dr: if you want actual guidance on running fantasy flying ship combat, you need to look elsewhere.

Our previous effort tested two magazine-published sets of rules for fighting magical flying ships - the 3e adaptation Shadow of the Spider Moon and the 5e Aces High aerial combat rules from Arcadia #3 published by MCDM as well as the original AD&D Spelljammer and the to-be-published OD&D compatible Calidar and the gridless, Theater of the Mind house ruleset for the Spelljamming focused 'Tales from the Glass Guarded World' podcast.

Between running Spelljammer Academy at my local Adventurers League and an online 2-shot mini-campaign - the Interstellar Whaling mentioned on previous posts - I have gotten an unexpected amount of opportunities to test out the new 5e Spelljammer rules - and so how do they stack up? Certainly the sessions themselves were fun but this was no thanks to what came in the 5e Spelljammer: Adventures in Space books. As predicted, I got jack all in terms of mechanics or guidelines on how to run a decent flying ship combat session so while it worked pretty well at the table, it was only because I finessed across a lot of gaps.

02 November 2022

d20 Plot hooks drawn from PCs' noble house (GLoGtober #8)

Since I forgot to start at the start of October, I am running my GLoGtober out a week to catch the two posting slots I should have filled in the month itself. We return to the prompt from the list on GLoGtober '22: Under New Management from Phlox to talk about "Plot hooks drawn from PCs' families"

This is a list of hooks launched, resolved or ignored from running a noble house campaign. The house, the PC's family, has proved a rich vein of hooks - from the fun and frivolous to the worrisome. The mixing of family with rulership and personal possession of ancient halls and mysterious depths gives great fodder for adventure.

d10 Bigger, worrisome hooks
1. - grandfather the Duke seeks a battlefield death to speed them on their way to the afterlife. They are seriously ill but have been granted a short renewal of vitality and have embarked on an epic quest with it. The quest must succeed but noone but the Duke wants them to die doing it.
2. - After the Dukes death a successor must be chosen from his children. Their are a number of candidates, a number of whom have times to different PCs.
3. - A cousin wants to come on adventurers but is sadly out of their depth. They are partially shielded by a relatively competent retinue of companions but still have ambitions well above their capabilities and will need this to be demonstrated before they can be dissuaded from their ambitions. Doing this without getting them killed will be a challenge.
4. - A brother to a PC has turned up at the winter court with a princess of a cadet line of the royal house leading to significant concern from the representative of the royal house as to whether the most powerful duchy in the realm was seeking to align with a rival line to the crown and 'adjust' succession or even the current occupant of the throne.
5. - An ancient ancestor has had a vision and needs to be escorted to a place. They have significant oracular talents but are also fragile and have spent over a century in a monastery and have no independent survival skills.
6. - The family is in dissarray about what to do with the many challenges facing the court while no strong leader sits on the throne. Someone needs to investigate what is critical and then persuade their aunts and uncles as to what to do.
7. - An upcoming wedding has dragged the political concerns from the home realm of the 'in-law-to-be' to the PC's realm. Expect conspiracies, spies, shapeshifters and magical shenanigans.
8. - A guest to the great house has vanished and some of the older house staff think they may have somehow activited great-grandmothers extra-dimensional closet which access the fae realms, she being a fey. Someone has to figure out how they used to work and fish out the guest.
9. - An aunt writes, that her court has fallen to some manner of curse. She thinks it may be related to a great dragon that has started lairing in the nearby mountains and is malignly influencing all the dragon-blooded folk of the court but she needs trusted outsiders to help deal with it.
10. - Two senior members of the house have gone out of contact in the border war along the north. It is the depth of winter but someone needs to go find them or at least take charge of the forces in the north until they can be found.

Expanding to minor concerns: