Tag Archive | roleplaying games

Scarecases and more…

Have you ever wanted to wander an endless staircase at the intersection of realities and populated by horrors?

Well, now you can!

Over at itch.io, I’ve posted a trifold brochure outlining this scarecase environment. It’s written for Old School Essentials but can be easily adapted for other games.

Link to itch.io. Or look for “Myxomycetes”.

And over on my Patreon, I’ve posted a game called Perils & Procedures and a bit from a WIP I’m currently calling Champion’s Mark.

Perils & Procedures is the journaling game of perilous procedures you play online! But really it’s me poking fun at a certain variety of TTRPG blog posts. On one hand, I love them. On the other hand, I hate them. Unfortunately, I can only navigate this tension with ironic detachment.

Champion’s Mark is a chivalric TTRPG supplement based on Orlando Furioso. It’ll be a mix of NPCs, Tables, and Adventure Seeds that I hope will let players embrace some of the weird hallucinatory wildness of chivalric romances. This is a real thing, not a gag like Perils & Procedures. I’ll likely share bits and pieces as I go along. Current deadline for that is January 2023. If you want to help make that happen, please consider supporting me on Patreon.

Welcome to Static Clearing!

Welcome to Static Clearing Station, gateway to the Tseiling Ice Plateau! 

Static Clearing is a 2-page brochure length science fantasy setting for tabletop role-playing games such as MothershipInto the Odd, and others. Besides the station itself, the region houses a monastery devoted to the study of ancient creatures from the depths of time and a storage facility where cold chaotic matter is kept in isolation.

The brochure includes:

  • An introduction to the Tseiling Ice Plateau
  • A map showing the region around the station
  • Brief descriptions of four locations: Static Clearing Station, the Feedback Palisade, the Monastery of the Mystic Starfish, and the Chaos Cold Storage Facility.
  • Assorted gear and curiosities  

Static Clearing was made for the the Weird Satellite Jam using names from the Weird Spy Satellite tumblr. The pictures are from places where I’ve lived.

You can find it here on my itch.io page.

one of the two pages.

Deadbolts Map

A map made in Hexkit using one of Highland Paranormal Society’s kits.

Here’s the map to the Into the Odd game I’m running. Their base is the little domed house at the center of the map and the circles in the cube icons are artifacts that they have been tasked to find. Other icons are various things they have encountered or stumbled across. It’s science-fantasy and riffing on all of these:

  • Electric Bastionland
  • Numenera
  • Those Who Came Before
  • Weird North
  • Golgotha
  • Iron Sleet: The Primogenitor
  • Anna X-66
  • Sudokar’s Wake
  • Trash Planet Epsilon-5
  • Ultraviolet Grasslands
  • Vaults of Vaarn

So far it’s been fun. The premise is that once a century a vast alien megastructure passes through the system and various factions send teams across to plunder and investigate the structure. The players being among the latest to do so, but the whole structure is dotted with ruins from earlier expeditions and civilizations along with the structure’s indigenous inhabitants.

Things I like about Into the Odd… 1) It’s fast, a lot of adventure can be had 2) Combat is scary because everyone is so squishy 3) It’s easy to port simple rules on to the system (for example: usage dice).

Things I don’t like…? I think it’s easy to slip and remove player agency. One thing I’ve noticed about TTRPG players, especially those who enjoy OSR games, is that they pride themselves on player ability and smoother systems like ItO can remove some of that. I feel like there’s something here to elaborate on, but I haven’t thought deeply enough on it yet.

Maybe someday.

But that’s not to say I don’t enjoy it! Between ItO and Beyond the Wall/Through the Sunken Lands my game itch is being most pleasantly scratched.

An Into the Odd Character’s Tale As Depicted in Tokens

I’m playing in an Into the Odd/Electric Bastion game. It’s fun, but has required some rejiggering of my escapist expectations. With D&D or Blades in the Dark you generally play someone with panache from the start. That’s not the case so much with Into the Odd as the below will show.

To start we made two characters and picked the one I liked the most. One of the options was an out of work animal tamer and I thought it would be fun to play as the shepherd kid accosted by the players in the game I ran (it’s the same group and would’ve been a funny in-joke), but in the end I opted for the other character: an out of work canal lock keeper with a robotic eye.

Now to me that sounded like a swashbuckling river pirate type:

Bonus points if you can guess what comic this character is from!

And that’s what I planned on playing, until I looked again at my character sheet and saw DEX: 4. Now a DEX: 4 is not something that says swashbuckling pirate. It says more bookish and uncoordinated, so from swashbuckling river pirate I shifted to local canal crime boss’s in too deep accountant.

Nothing says adventure like James Joyce.

And that worked! My nebbish accountant has found himself stranded with strange companions on a very strange island. He’s diffident and not at all a fighter. Or wasn’t at first. Two adventures in and that’s changed.

Early after his arrival on the island he came into possession of a stuffed cat and now refuses to part with it. Not only that, but the statue has the power to turn him into a man-sized cat at night. This is okay, but not great because there’s a chance when he changes he’ll attack his companions. Thank god, he has the 4 in DEX and not WILL. More to the point of this post, my initial token for his cat-form was this:

It’s your boi, Behemoth!

But again, under all the fur and teeth and claws, he’s still a nebbish accountant who got in too deep with canal gangsters. Once more my expectations had to be changed (and I saw a tweet of some awful 19th century tiles), and so:

It’s your boi, 바보

Let’s see if this remains his final form!

But there’s a notion when discussing Old School RPGs that your character is what happens to them and that’s proving true here. From a collection of numbers (DEX: 4!) to a personality to a history accumulated through play, this character is fun for the simple fact that the whole experience has been unpredictable. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly feels refreshing and liberating to me. Stuff is happening and not only has it changed my character, but also my character was never who I thought they were in the first place!

That’s neat.

Into the Odd: Actual Play

I recently ran a game of Into the Odd using the scrypthouse write-up from my Mysthead 3 ‘zine (itch.io page here). It was fun. The players were repairman sent to determine why a local scrypthouse had gone silent.

Using the pathetic fallacy generator from the ‘zine, I rolled up a house that craved silence and dampened sounds. For the cause of the trouble I decided the local corps members had come into contact with a void wraith and been taken over by a bad signal. I also stuck a roaming void miasma around the station’s roof and a juvenile pig herder having an altercation with a rival adventurer nearby.

The players arrived. When they got within sight of the house they promptly heard shouting, gun shots, and the squeals of pigs. Approaching with caution, they came upon a scene of dead pigs, angry pigs, a shouting swineherd, and an old man in heavy armor standing atop a rock reloading his rifle. So the players split up. One approached the swineherd, the other approached the old man. Sadly, the pigs caught the latter repairman’s scent and attacked.

Chaos ensued. The repairmen drove the pigs away and took the swineherd hostage. The child proved belligerent and eventually escaped. The old man introduced himself and gave some backstory. He came here to meet a friend. The station’s locked. The pigs are weird. Yadda. Yadda. Time to go in.

One repairman starts work on unlocking the door while the other does a sweep of the building’s perimeter. He doesn’t get far before the miasma attacks those at the front of the house. Fortunately, they managed to get the door unlocked and get inside. Things get worse from there.

The interior’s a mess. The corps technicians are all signal-zombies. Exploration happens. One repairman gets infected with a lexical fungus (mildly amusing, but dropped after a few minutes). They reach the brazen head and find it disconnected. Before they can check it out the old man’s friend walks in and kills the old man with a belch of void static. Cut off from the front door the repairmen have no choice but to flee deeper into the station. They manage to reach the basement and activate the back-up brazen head. It gives them some suggestions, but really the repairmen are as freaked out by it as all the signal-zombie weirdness upstairs. Or downstairs now. The void wraith’s found its way into the basement.

More cat-and-mousing ensues. The repairmen manage to get back upstairs. One’s now for high-tailing it out of the station while the other wants to destroy the void-wraith. High-tailer reluctantly agrees to assist. The void-wraith shows up and the plan’s to lure it into a room full of gizmos and zap it. This works, but doesn’t kill it. High-tailer runs for the door, while the other grabs the old man’s gun.

*click*

The old man hadn’t a chance to reload the gun before getting killed. The void-wraith kills the repairman. High-tailer returns and kills the void-wraith. The corps techs return to their sense. The void miasma disappears. The surviving repairman gathers up the dead.

OVERALL
I liked it. It felt like running B/X D&D without the baggage. Combat took me a bit to get used to. And the lexical fungus proved more a spark for a few table laughs than a solid game mechanic. Now I’m thinking how to run ItO as as a Numenera-esque settlement-building game. My take is that the system’s aesthetic is fueled as much by its illustrations as by its mechanics, and it doesn’t have to be some flavor of Edwardian Paranoia.

Recent Games I’ve Played

Part of the game shelf

I’ve been playing some games. Here’s what I thought about them:

Worlds Without Number: I wasn’t a fan despite my love for Stars Without Number. We made characters and I ran a few combats. Overall, I found it too crunchy. I think Kevin Crawford is designing a very different game than one I want to play. For one, I’m drifting away from games with detailed skill lists. I’d rather it was all summed up in a word or two background/archetype. Still, the chassis fascinates me, and as always the world-building tables are brilliant.

Scum & Villainy: Space games are hard. Everyone has different expectations of how science-y they should be. Are we playing Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Dune, or what? Is there FTL? Is there FTL coms? Can I download a city map to my communicator? Etc Despite all that playing Scum & Villainy has been fun. That said FitD games aggravate my adversarial player vs GM tendency that make me an obnoxious player. I want to plan the heist away from the GM’s eyes so they can’t prepare or counter for it, which has likely made our GM frustrated (sorry). Also, FitD games use too complex terminology (position, effect, quality) that get in the way of the game. Maybe this is the result of Roll20’s pop-up window getting buried under tabs and popped out crew ship character sheets, but figuring out position always slows momentum.

The Quiet Year: We used it to develop the backstory for a horrible place in our Scum & Villainy game. Great to play in tandem with another game to flesh out some backstory as well as on its own.

Into the Odd: I ran a game using Mysthead 3. I liked it and will probably write it up in more detail. It was fun and light-weight enough that I felt like I could easily bolt more complexity to it without a problem. And contrary to the advice its designer gives elsewhere I’m fine doing stat tests to avoid outcomes. My biggest concern is what’s the typical campaign’s longevity? Could a game that meets weekly for a year be built around a single group of characters or is this better for one shots? At some point I will likely make my own bespoke setting for it.

Bedlam Hall: A PbtA game where you are the servants to a family of awful aristocrats. Great fun for a one shot or short campaign, but run it too long and you have to wonder why your servant hasn’t quit yet. Which can be its own fun. In our game the goal ended up being to survive long enough to hand in your resignation. A great game for that gamer who wishes Paranoia had a Jeeves and Wooster supplement.

Delve: a solo dwarf-hold building game. I focused more on the map-making bits than the combat/resource management game. My goal was to make something to use in a Play-by-Post game I hope to run later this year. More about that if it ever materializes and proves interesting. This game gave me a good setting and an interesting story, which was exactly what I wanted from it.

Game Stuff

Never too early to figure out your next Halloween costume.

I updated my itch.io page with all the game materials I’ve made to date. They are all pay what you want. Most materials use Necrotic Gnome’s Old School Essentials as their ruleset, but they could be tweaked for any tabletop fantasy game.

Mysthead 1: Mysthead is a grab bag ‘zine of stuff used at my table and not. 12 pages, includes details of the Mysthead region with adventure seeds, the Beachcomber class for Old School Essentials, and a D20 table of strange things washed up on the beach. 

Mysthead 2: 12 pages, details Mysthead’s goblins and elves with adventure seeds, plus tables for mnemonic relics, whispering skulls, fae/goblin political structures, and underdark rumors. Also includes the Rumormonger Spider, a playable class for Old School Essentials.

Wolves of the Gnarlwood: a 3 page system-less wilderness adventure  

(You can also find the classes as separate PDFs along with one for the Unright Goat.)

Check them all out here.

THE LOCAL CAMPAIGN // MYSTHEAD

The local region map made on Inkarnate

Recently my game group wound down our D&D campaign for a bit of a breather. I’m the GM and we’re using Beyond the Wall as our rules. I’ve run Beyond the Wall before (here’s the first post about that game), but this time I leaned into its implied YA fantasy setting. The game had a teen delinquents and their up-tight friend solve/commit crimes and fight monsters feel to it.

Some notes and revelations:

  • Magic. BtW keeps it scary and unpredictable, so much so a few times the party had beneficial items that they were too frightened to use. Also every mage the players encountered was awful or at the very least damaged in some way. A downside to this is that the spells veer towards the looser end and require negotiation between player and GM.
  • Small setting. The furthest the players traveled from the village was four days away. Most of the time they were interacting with known people and places around town. Known dungeon sites got a bit of that Zone spice, never quite cleared out, but always there spooky and weird just beyond the edge of town. It also opens the calendar and locations.
  • The Calendar. Some places are more powerful at certain times than others. Some locations only appear on nights of the full moon. The cult is having their meeting a week from now. If you hurry maybe you can get there. I wasn’t that strict with it, but I certainly made it a bigger part of the game than I’ve ever done in the past. One danger is it can become grindy as players try to divide turns down into rounds like they’re riding Zeno’s Arrow.
  • Locations. Make places magic items. Light a fire in the old temple and no fire can harm you while you remain there. Stop by the local saint’s shrine before setting out and get a bonus. This is one way to keep magic limited and add a strategy element. This location has this effect. This other location has a different effect.
  • Pesky Kids. I dug the teen detectives uncover secrets and solve crimes angle and played up the fact that except with few exceptions no adult was going to take the teens’ accusations seriously. I did this until one player asked me to stop because they found it triggering. By then they hated the home village (with its stupid adults) so much they had to be coaxed into protecting it.
  • Reputation. Small town reputations provide a lot of pressure points for characters. At one point the delinquents got kicked out of their house by their guardians (the twins did burn a building down). They ended up having to pay rent at the inn. And they hated it! But I loved saying, “Master Barrelhelm wants his gold piece for the week.”
  • Who Gave the Kid a Knife? Despite the characters being 18-year olds, the players weren’t and for some reason those with kids of their own were reluctant for their characters to give an NPC teen friend a bunch of weapons. Go figure.
  • No Hirelings. It’s hard to hire a bunch of torch-bearers and Men-At-Arms to use as meat shields when you’ll have to see their widows and orphaned kids around town. Despite this the players had a couple of NPCs they could occasionally lean on.

If you want to read more about the game, here’s a link about its inspirations.

MYSTHEAD APPENDIX N / BEYOND THE WALL

Ivan Bilibin vibes

This is for those random persons who enjoy reading about other people’s TTRPG games. Here’s a look at all the material that went into the recent game my group and I finished*. Expect a lot of links to wikipedia pages.

THE RULES USED

Beyond the Wall

We use all the Beyond the Wall material to date. Its roots are as a retroclone of D&D, but it welds on bits from AD&D (race and class) while keeping the rules loose enough. I’d love to see it overlap more with more narrative games like Dungeon World and Five Torches Deep. Also since BtW leans into YA Fantasy for its inspiration I could easily see another table mixing it up with Monster Hearts. For what it’s worth, BtW’s version of the Banshee has one of the best save or die mechanics.

The one bad thing about the rule set is that it’s scattered across multiple books. Personally, I’d love to see an omnibus “Rules Cyclopedia” edition published some day. Through Sunken Lands (the latest iteration of the rules) does this somewhat, but TSL has a different vibe. TSL is bronze age sword & sorcery, and not the high medieval YA fantasy we wanted.

OTHER GAMES & SUPPLEMENTS

  • Dolmenwood: For the vibe more than the particulars, although I did lift the Haunted Abbey from here and tweak it.
  • Harn: I’m a fan but have little time for its level of detail. Doesn’t stop me from pillaging it for names and lore, especially its pantheon.
  • B10 Night’s Dark Terror: One of the greatest D&D modules. A good story and mix of wilderness and dungeon adventures.
  • The Gazetteer Series of D&D products. Again, it’s less the details and more the names and site tags.
  • Carse and Midkemmia Press’s Cities supplement

MOVIES

Some provided plots, others only atmosphere.

  • Night of the Demon: The cursed parchment, the hypnotism scene, the congenial devil worshiper, and the arrival of some inescapable doom at a certain time.
  • The Old Dark House: Nobody scares like Brother Saul!
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Every fantasy game needs a backwoods clan of cannibals. My players rightfully called me out when I gave them southern accents.
  • Phantasm: It, like my game, is stitched together from whatever seemed weird/cool at the moment.
  • Harold & Maude: Maude’s the model for the elderly shield maiden having a fling with the party’s wizard.
  • The Mummy // Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Do you need links to these? Both do a great job blending fantasy and naturalism. Okay, The Mummy doesn’t but the action’s fun and the props are bulky. It leans gracefully into the yakety sax.
  • Rankin & Bass’s Tolkien and The Last Unicorn movies for their cute but grotty weirdness and because they’re deeply imprinted in my brain.
  • Those Passolini Trilogy of Life movies set during the Middle Ages/Renaissance did similar imprinting from a different direction.
  • Spaghetti Western // Hammer Horror // Shaw Brothers movies all mashed together and left to ferment and link mycelia. In my opinion these three genres meld very well together.

BOOKS // AUTHORS

  • The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books by way of spoof covers.
  • Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar stories
  • The Innkeeper’s Song by Peter Beagle
  • The Book of Goblins by Alan Garner (Yallery Brown!)
  • One Thousand and One Nights (Especially that story where Sinbad gives a piggy-back ride to an awful man.)
  • The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson
  • Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti
  • The Wizard of Earthsea series by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Chaucer’s Knight by Terry Jones
  • Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli in His World by Erica Benner

OTHER STUFF

  • Early American Serial Killers and Mississippi River bandits like the Harpe Brothers.
  • Every European folklore page on Wikipedia. I would try Stargazey pie.
  • Cherry picked bits of Medieval/Early Renaissance History.
  • Cape Ann.

*It’s not done, but we reached a good pause point and I wanted to take a break and other people wanted to run games. The goal’s to come back to it before the end of the year.

Thousand Year Old Vampire: Thoughts and Impressions

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I’ve done a couple of play-throughs now of the game Thousand Year Old Vampire and thought I’d put my impressions down here.

This isn’t quite a review, just thoughts and reactions, and I’m dividing it into two posts, this one with my impressions, and another post with the write-ups of the stories the game created. That one screams of “Let me tell you all about my D&D character” and no one who doesn’t want that needs to experience that.

A tl;dr review would  Thousand Year Old Vampire is good. Is it a game or is it an activity? I don’t know and I don’t care. I liked it and thought it a great way to simultaneously create and enjoy a story.

For folks who don’t know  Thousand Year Old Vampire is a beautiful little game-book by Tim Hutchings of numbered entries that each contain a writing prompt that allows you to live the many centuries long life of a vampire. The way the game works is you create a character with a limited number of traits, connections, and memories. Then you become immortal and you roll dice to discover what happens to you. Events unfold mimicking the passing years and decades, each roll causing you to gain and lose memories until you’re making desperate choices about what to forget and what to remember. Soon the game becomes about whether it’s possible to retain any aspect of your original humanity as you slowly succumb to your vampirism and the toll of years.

It can be sad. It can be enlightening. It can be comical. Whatever it is, it’s certainly emotional.

And it’s random, so the story that emerges is at best messy and at worst incoherent.

You don’t get to choose what happens to you. What might seem like a cool foundation for a grand narrative early-on becomes a dead-end that never gets developed. This was the case in my first play-through, and while the experience was still fun, it didn’t feel coherent like a good book or movie would. What I did feel was like I was creating a living breathing character with a rich history, and certainly someone who could be useful in another situation. For example, Waldemar the Wolf has the makings of at least three different RPG villains depending on what stage of his incarnation you took him: the bandit wolf, the mercenary captain, or the sinister opera fanatic.

One thing I loved about it was that it’s backwards story telling: you tumble forward at random, but can craft a narrative by looking back and seeing the connection points. Do you nudge it and shape it? Yes, probably. Or I should say, it’s fine to give in to the temptation to nudge, because the game invites that just as much as it invites not doing that by churning up a series of unrelated random events.

Overall, each game took about 90 minutes or so, and at the end I felt like I had watched a pretty good horror movie either in its own right, or because it suggested other stories. When I played I went back and forth between two word documents: my vampire’s character sheet and the journal of their life while consulting wikipedia to create the concrete details.

Is it sort of like homework?

Kinda.

But so is Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and I love that game. If you like vampires and story-telling, this game is well-worth checking out. While I did get the book via the kickstarter, there’s a PDF available at DrivethruRPG.

And here’s another link to the second part where I tell you all about my vampires Waldemar and Antonio.

You have been warned!