Archive for August 2014

Sundered World: A Primer

There are a lot of strange things in a Sundered World, but even the stuff that sounds familiar probably isn't.

Before you get started hopping islands, treading the astral—either through sheer willpower or (ideally) aboard an elemental vessel—or exploring the crumbling dominions of dead gods, there are some things you are going to need to know if you want to survive.

Without the backing of their gods, most of the Host died or went insane, and even the ones that didn't were substantially diminished in power.
—Iron Jack

Angel Gates
These stone rings mark entrances to the Angel Roads, a lattice of golden paths that were said to have spanned the heavens and connect the godly kingdoms to each other. Many were damaged or destroyed during the Sundering, but enough remain that they are the preferred mode of travel, since they instantly transport you from one place to another.

Activating one requires a period of sustained prayer, a divine ritual, the will of an angel...or the heart of one. Generally if a steading has an Angel Gate there is someone willing to open it on your behalf if you can't, but they usually charge a fairly steep price. Of course some steadings consider them holy relics, and only allow their use if you're a member of the faith or have something really important to do. Good luck convincing them of that.
—Iron Jack

Arcane Magic
Arcane magic is a combination of enforcing your will upon the mutable nature of the astral, and speaking a sequence of words derived from one the original languages spoken by the gods, primordials, or dragons. It is both physically and mentally taxing, and can have unexpected side effects, especially when there is cold iron nearby.

Cold Iron
Seeing as they're made of the stuff, this is basically the only arguably good reason anyone with any sense would deliberately visit an aberrant star. It works wonders against elves, elf-like things, and wizard magic: if you got a weapon made of it, it cuts through either of them like nothing, and if you're wearing it then neither of them can touch you.

Just, again, you have to go to an aberrant star to get it, or cough up a lot of coin. Word to the wise: if you do get it second hand make sure that any psychic residue was thoroughly scrubbed from it. Otherwise, as a vendor once told me, prolonged use can cause nightmares, hallucinations, and even insanity.
—Iron Jack

Not everything in a Sundered World is alive in the strictest sense. When most living things die their soul manifests nearby, and is usually quickly drawn away by some unknown force. Some manage to linger for a time, and for better or worse others are so emotionally attached to something or willful that they can stick around for quite a while.

Divine Magic
The gods might be dead, but their worshipers can still draw power from their corpses or angels, the astral itself, or even themselves to enact miracles. Many clerics and paladins worship and serve angels respectively, who continue to teach the dogma of their fallen masters.

Dragons are rare—though not rare enough—engines of destruction, "born" from the concentration of fear and fury given form by the intertwining of astral and elemental material. They are terrible sights to behold, composed of any combination of rock, fire, ice, smoke, and more. Born from the elements, their ancient tongue allows them to easily bend the astral to their will. Thankfully most do not often venture far from their place of “birth”. But, when they do, they leave nothing in their wake.

It used to be that you needed wings or magic to fly. Now it merely requires an effort of will. It is a common sight in most steadings to see people drifting slowly through the sky. With enough practice you can hone your mind, allowing you to fly much faster than normal. Despite the speed a lot of steadings and dungeons can have strange geography—owing to the world's lack of reliable physics—so it can still save time.

No one knows from whence the gods came. Were they always there, or were they created by some other force or happenstance? If something else created them, what happened to it? What is known is that they were: the angels that served them, their decaying kingdoms, and shattered bodies are all a testament to their deeds and power. Power that still lingers.

Gravity as Guidelines
Not only can most anyone—and thing—fly, but with a bit of mental re-orientation you can also walk on any surface of an object; as with drifting, it is commonplace to see people walking about on the walls and ceilings of buildings as they go from place to place.

Objects are still drawn to each other until they reach a certain distance, but follow the gravitational "rules" of whoever is nearby: they'll stick to walls that people commonly walk on, but if you place two things side-by-side on what most consider the ground they'll fall. Some people learn to will objects to move without touching them, and those with particularly strong minds can "lock" them in place, causing them to continue to float without even being around for a period of time.

Ley Lines
These are like angel roads, but were spun by the Weaver, an old primal spirit. Spirits, fey, and those otherwise attuned to the spirit world can sense them, making them useful for navigating the often featureless expanses of the astral—especially for dryarks—but they can also be tapped to empower primal magic.

Both the fey and spirits are often found near leylines, and islands located along one are more prolific. Where two ley lines intersect it creates a nexus of energy, which is often marked in some way: a towering tree, a mighty mountain, a ring of standing stones, or the castle of a mighty fey creature.

Primal Magic
This is the breath and pulse of the natural world. It gives birth to animals and causes plants to grow. Druids and spirits draw upon it to change skins and command the elements. Like "word" magic, drawing upon it is exhausting for those of bone and blood, though they can also call upon spirits or ley lines to fuel it. Given the prevalence of spirits, primal magic is commonplace throughout the world, either as a way to better coexist with or control them.

As mysterious as the gods are the primordials are even more shrouded in mystery, as the closest thing to angels that they had are the cthon and kytherans, and if they know anything about them they certainly aren't telling anyone.

They predate the dwarves by an unfathomable span of time, possibly even the gods, and it is said that they could raise and level mountains with a gesture, and breathe forth hurricanes so great that they could tear down even the walls of Hammerhold. Their remains, when they can be found, constantly produce whatever element or elements that they embodied, which also means elemental cores and monsters.

Where divine magic draws upon the latent power of the gods, angels, and faith, and arcane magic is effected through a sheer force of will tempered by ancient languages, psionic magic is all about using your head, and only your head, to reshape reality. Or yourself.

Psionics are commonly the domain of aberrant entities from beyond the boundaries of space and time established by both god and primordial, though some mortals have a knack for it. Unfortunately, some steadings view psionic gifts as an ill omen.

Spirits can be found everywhere, from rocks to trees, to weapons and armor, even ships, houses, and people. Most are comparatively weak, with tiny physical forms and capable of channeling prayers to perform only the smallest miracles. Stronger spirits can manifest larger, more powerful forms, and when properly supplicated are capable of nourishing entire islands and wiping out entire armies or villages.

It's said that long ago these things spawned all manner of nightmare-inducing, sanity consuming horrors, but near as anyone can tell they're dead now. Well, at least the ones that people claim to have both discovered and escaped from, because even the broken husks that are floating about out there are still plenty dangerous.

For starters when you get too close to one, space and time don't play by the rules, and as a rule of thumb if you can see one you’re already too close. Another problem is that they are made entirely out of cold iron, which wreaks havoc on magic—you know, the kind that makes your collider collide (or your anima reactor digest souls if you're one of the cambions—so even if you can escape you’d better hope that your engine doesn't break down.

The only surefire way to get away is to protect yourself is with psychic shielding, a very skilled nomad, and strong winds.
—Iron Jack

The Astral Is Mutable
The astral responds to the wills and desiresand sometimes even the wordsof intelligent creatures. Most are only capable of conjuring small, temporary objects, while those with strong wills can create larger, more complex, and longer-lasting objects. This is how the gods were able to call entire kingdoms into existence, and such was their might that even countless millenia later they still linger.

The Astral Resonates With Thought And Emotion
Though the astral responds to thought, in most cases an individual mind is either not sufficiently powerful to effect any major, lasting changes, or it is simply drowned out by conflicting desires.

If enough people desire the same thing however, the astral can respond, and when enough people desire for the same thing long enough it can create psychic ripples or echos. This effect is known as resonance, which can make some things easier or more difficult, and in some cases make things possible or impossible.

For example, if you try to heal someone while standing atop the corpse of a god of life and renewal, the task is easier because ambient resonance bolsters what you want to happen. Conversely, if you try to peacefully negotiate with some bandits in an area where ambushes and slaughter routinely occur, it can be more difficult since the resonance is tilted towards conflict and bloodshed.

Psychics and some devices can detect resonance patterns, and in the case of particularly powerful minds they can enhance it, nullify it, or even reverse it.

Living in a Sundered World
A Sundered World differs greatly from your usual campaign setting. For starters there is a lack of land, oceans, sunlight, a day and night cycle, weather patterns, and universal gravity, but it is important to note that no one even questions these differences because to almost everyone this is how it has always been.

They do not wonder why plants grow without a sun or water, because they have never lived in a world with a sun or clouds. They also do not wonder where water comes from, because they have never lived in a world with oceans or rain.

If anything it would be more shocking to them if they suddenly became bound to the earth, because from an early age they learn to walk on any surface they like, and even slowly fly about as they please.

The closest things get to normal—as interpreted by us—are the dominions of gods. There the laws of reality adhere to the desires of whichever god created it. Many possess gravity, some have a sun (or even a day and night), and still others have actual weather patterns.

Coins are all well and good among the so-called civilized islands, though what they look like, what they’re made of, and what they’re worth varies from place to place: dwarves, as well as most scions and cambions will take gold. Cambions will also take gold, because they know others are all too willing to part with other, more...immaterial things if you offer enough of it, but they also deal in favors, soul contracts, and black iron disks.

When it comes to metal, fey prefer silver and will at the least take offense to iron of any sort, and the further you get from Hammerhold, Asmodeus, and all of the other big cities the less likely people are going to accept metal that they cannot do anything with, no matter how intricate the designs or “precious” it is: gold isn't going to feed anyone, and it's certainly not going to ward off bands of orcs or kytherans.

And that’s not even considering all of the valuable materials, services, and substances that aren't coin-shaped: cold-iron (scrubbed or non-scrubbed), angel hearts, uncharged gems, illuminated prisms, soulcages, elemental cores, black ice bricks, godstone, tending to the sick or wounded, good old-fashioned labor, and so on. The most successful merchants have long lists of who wants what.

As a rule of thumb, if a steading accepts coins, then nearby steadings, as well as any other steadings connected by trade routes or instantaneous transit probably do as well. Otherwise, you’ll have to give them more or pony up something else.

Plant-life can be found in abundance on many islands, even islands without sunlight or water. This is because they are nourished either by spirits, divine prayers, or even the very essence of the astral itself, especially if there are nearby god- or primordial-corpses that radiate a powerful life-giving resonance.

Of course, these and other resonances can affect it's physical appearance and features. Does it bear edible fruit? Is it covered in thorns? Does it crave flesh and blood? In the case of primordials and elemental forces, the plant might be made of stone, appear to be a burnt out husk, or constantly produce water.

Since gravity is subjective at best, children learn from an early age how to drift or swim through the astral, often making games of it. Keep this in mind when designing a steading: buildings can extend in a variety of directions, numerous islands might be linked with bridges, and that Undercity district? You might have to actually walk across the outside of an island to get to it. Important structures are built with this in mind so, for example, windows on keeps are fortified to prevent thieves and assassins from simply trotting up and walking in.

There are a number of different languages spoken throughout a Sundered World, though given that most races were created largely by two forces, maybe not as many as you would expect.

  • Clangslang: Kytherans. Most kytherans can emulate the words of other races, but they can also communicate using a series of mechanical clicks. 
  • Draconic: Dragons, some wizards. Dragons have existed at least since the world and heavens were divided, and have their own language. Written draconic is exceedingly rare, because dragons had little reason to write anything down, and when they do they use their claws.
  • Elven: Elves, other feyfolk. The elven language is sibilant and fluid. 
  • Primordial: Cthon, tarchons, elemental beings, some wizards. There are four dialects of primordial based on the four primary elements: air, earth, fire, and water. Similarly, the written forms also vary in form.
  • Supernal: Dwarves, scions, angels, devils. A language instinctively known by angels, who were created by the gods, devils, who are corrupted angels, and scions, who were born from their blood. Over time tribes and clans of scions on individual islands and island nations developed their own dialects and slang, but they are still able to more or less understand each other. 
  • Sylvan: Kobolds, spirits. The bubbling of streams, the rustle of grass and leaves, and the whisper of wind. This is the language of spirits and their kin. Spirits that dwell near mortal communities often end up learning Supernal, most will respect you more if you take the time to learn their tongue.

Magic can be found everywhere in one form or other. Most can shape small, temporary objects out of raw astral. It is not unusual to see spirit forms manifest and move about, providing gifts in exchange for sacrifices or prayers. Runes are inscribed on servitor constructs and golems, elemental vessels, tanks to store elemental cores, and even many weapons and armor (especially if spirit bound). Angel gates instantly transport ships across vast distances.

In other words it comes many forms, and almost everyone has been exposed to it in one way or another. What is rare is the individual capable of wielding it to create more than a minor effect.

Invokers and wizards can easily unleash bolts of lightning or gouts of flame, clerics can instantly heal grievous wounds, battleminds can transform their arms into razor-sharp blades, shamans contain and bind spirits, nomads can fold space as easily as one folds a sheet of paper. They are regarded with a measure of respect and sometimes concern, not just because of what they might do, but because their way of life depends on what they have done.

Customs, rules, and traditions vary from island chain to island chain, sometimes even from island to island. When answering the following questions, keep in mind the island’s dominant race (or races) and regional location.

  • How does the island view other races? 
  • What do natives of the island value? This could range from materials to attitudes to beliefs. 
  • Do they find any forms of magic acceptable? Do they find any forms unacceptable?
  • What foods, materials, substances, icons, and actions, if any, are taboo? 
  • Do they revere anything? This could be a creature, place, or thing.
  • If they track time, when it one considered an adult? If not, how to they determine when you are an adult?
  • Do they practice any special rituals or ceremonies?
  • What do they do for fun?

Generally the overall technology level is what you would expect for your "typical” fantasy world: people use swords and bows, wear armor, and carry shields, wagons and ships are used to convey people and goods from place to place over long periods of time, and farmers have to harvest crops.

However the gods created many wondrous devices in their time, some of which the dwarves and scions have been able to either duplicate with similar results, and sometimes employ in unexpected ways. Angels, various forms of magic, spirits, and spirit bound items can also make things easier and faster.

Constructs of stone and metal are commonplace, serving as vehicles or even substituting beasts of burden. Though, to be fair, even the beasts aren't always what you'd expect: elemental horses—or rather, horse-like creatures—plod along, moving slower than your normal horse, but able to do so for much longer and while carrying more.

Elemental cores are pure elemental essence that have crystallized into a physical shape. This process happens naturally given a heavy enough concentration, but wizards have created elemental catalyzers that speed up the process. The only drawback is the extreme amount of material and energy makes them viable near a vortex.

Cores are used in a variety of ways: fire and lightning cores can be used to power devices, machines and vessels, and water cores can be used to cool machines or supply water for an island for quite some time. A broken earth core can instantly create an island, or can be drawn from at a steady rate to conjure blocks of stone.

The larger the core, the more it can do...and the more devastating the effects if broken.

Though they can be pushed along by astral winds, many vessels are outfitted with magical engines for increased, reliable speed. The most common engines are elemental colliders and anima reactors:

  • Elemental colliders smash conflicting elemental matter together to create an explosive reaction. They are the most common type of engine, easy to run (a wizard can just use her will to create some in a pinch), and very swift, but are also the most unreliable: if not properly monitored they can break down or even explode.
  • Anima reactors were of course the results of fiendish and scion, well, "ingenuity". They operate by consuming the souls of the dead that have been stored in special tanks. While most find the constant wails of agony to be unnerving, fiends take a disturbing comfort from it.

Unleashing blasts of elemental energy used to be the sole purview of wizards, mass-produced, rune-scribed rods allow anyone with a core to also pull it off. Size matters, so larger variants called bombards are a common site on ships (especially ships transporting valuable materials or people), and truly massive cannons can be found along the walls of larger cities and keeps.

Most islands do not have a system of measuring time, because there is rarely any environmental constant by which to track it. If they do, you can bet that unless two or more islands are nearby none of them track it the same way. It is because of this that there are no days, months, or years. People do not even have ages or birthdays. Instead, some islands might have customs by which they test their youth to determine when they are adults, and hold celebrations based on events.

Some islands might have some way of tracking time in various units of length, like a mechanical clock, a steady fluctuation of astral ambiance, the slowly, still-beating heart of a primordial, or the passing of Zaradica. It does not have to be precisely regular: each crop harvest might simply count as a harvest, each fishing voyage survived is a voyage, each time an angel gathers the villagers for a sermon, upon its completion it is counted as a dismissal.

A steady, ambient light can be found in most regions of the Astral, with some areas being brighter or darker than others, especially near the edges. Other areas experience a fluctuation, and in still others the light is of a different color: the Iron Circle is particularly noteworthy with its black clouds and dark, crimson ambient light, while the ambient light within the Golden Road is brighter and the clouds are golden.

The only weather phenomena everyone is familiar with is wind, fog, and clouds, and most are familiar with rain, or what passes for rain given that there is rarely any gravity.

Wind can be found everywhere, but is particularly strong near the Maelstrom, elemental vortices, and primordial corpses, where elemental forces and matter can cause massive temperature fluctuations, often with explosive results. It can also be conjured with magic, especially by wizards serving on vessels.

Unless conjured magically or within a dominion, passing clouds might leave behind droplets of water suspended in the air. Some steadings have raintowers, designed so that when clouds pass through the openings any water left behind trickles down due to subjective gravity. Other steadings have teams drift up into the sky and use specially designed sheets to gather water.
August 29, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

#RPGADAY: Scariest Game You've Ever Played

When Paranormal Activity came out a lot of my then co-workers didn't really like it; nothing happened, not enough happened, not enough blood, gore, and/or jump scares, you didn't get to see what the demon-thing look liked at the end, etc.

Personally I always chalked this up to their viewing environment, by which I mean they all watched it in the theater, probably with one or more friends, and at the least definitely surrounded by a bunch of people.

As for myself I ended up watching it at night, in the dark, alone, in an apartment where the neighbors upstairs would randomly what I could only assume knock their refrigerator over. There was never a predictable time, frequency, or explanation for this, which might have made it somewhat more tolerable, but I guess you could say that it still added some "atmosphere" to my experience that those "4D" seats at some theaters certainly don't.

Basically, I was inadvertently immersed in the perfect setting for it, so it made a more...lasting impression, I guess you could say.

But as tricky as horror can be in films (which has the added effect of visuals, audio, and a budget), it's even trickier for tabletop games: you're almost always in a well-lit area (gotta see your sheets, dice, maps, and/or minis), at a familiar table, surrounded by familiar faces. Plus, people often fuck up the mood with jokes, getting up to get soda, asking where it is, nuking a pizza, going to take a shit, and generally making it very obvious that you are in fact not, say, an ill-equipped mortal delving into a ghost-haunted castle.

Another problem is that, even in with the right lighting and location, horror is still hard to pull off. Some people confuse horror with gore and just describe the most fucked up thing they can think of, not realizing that in most cases it's better to leave out some details and let the player's mind fill in the blanks. The horrible, horrible blanks. Oh, you also gotta give it time to build and grow in their minds, so you hopefully you're good with that whole pacing thing (and no one farts). And probably some other stuff I'm not thinking of right now.

Anyway, what I'm getting at is that I've never played a roleplaying game that was scary, and even other games like Dead Space only hit me with the occasional jump scare before I learned to just shoot every "dead" body I found (though the ending still got me, as I was up at 3am, in the dark, etc, etc).

Sooo unfortunately there's no scary story here, and a big part of me really wishes that there was. Instead I'm going to take the time to pimp Fright Night again since horror is what it's intended for, it's keeping in the spirit of this RPG-a-Day post, and has definitely come closer than other roleplaying games I've played. If you haven't already check out the preview pdf, and even if you don't think it's the right game for you we'd still appreciate spreading the word!
August 28, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

#RPGADAY: Game You'd Like to See a New/Improved Edition Of...

If you've been following this blog at all, then you know what I think of 5th Edition, but just in case you haven't here's a very succinct recap: 5th Edition is not only more than a few steps back from 4th, but they failed to address problems that have been plaguing Dungeons & Dragons from the start.

So, that's what I'd like to see a new and improved edition of: Dungeons & Dragons.

Something that allows for more meaningful customization than picking a race, picking a class, picking something at 1st- to 3rd-level, and then every now and then being able to boost a stat or pick a feat (that can for some reason provide instant and absolute mastery of something).

Something that is not afraid to look at the older traditions and lore, and discard it in favor of something that makes sense, or is just more inspiring or imaginative. I'm not just talking about the pseudo-Vancian magic that pervades almost every single spellcaster out there, but even stuff like the cosmology: the World-Axis was so much more accessible and felt more mythological than the artificial, fill-in-all-the-blanks Great Wheel.

Something that makes it easy to create even complex monsters and encounters, without having to reference another book, while still making them precisely as difficult as I want them to be.

Ultimately, something that would actually justify spending around a hundred or so dollars on (I don't care if the art is arbitrarily considered "inclusive" or whatever the Social Justice Warriors are going on about nowadays). This? This is something anyone could have done in a fraction of the time.

Also, the universal proficiency bonus is pointless and sucks balls.

Fright Night Kickstarter

That's what we're trying to Kickstart: more art like that. Burney is pretty spendy, but Melissa, Ben, and myself think he's worth every penny. If you haven't heard me talk about it before, here's the "plot synopsis" from the Kickstarter page:

"Fright Night is a lightweight, easy to learn and quick to play tabletop role-playing game intended to evoke the feel of b-movies, slasher flicks, horror films, and even dark comedies. The players take on the role of typical, everyday people that somehow cross paths with a variety of malevolent entities that they must either defeat, escape from, or contain.

Or die trying.

The rules are minimal and flexible, using a simple dice pool mechanic that relies entirely on six-siders: when you try to do something, you roll a number of dice equal to your stat, and each 5 or 6 is a success.

You normally only need one success to pass a check, but sometimes you'll want more (especially when it comes to attacking or evading the monster). Tools, weapons, vehicles, extras (NPCs), and environmental factors can grant you assets or impose complications, which add or remove dice to your pool.

While the players work with the Director to set the scene, and cast their characters and the extras, both the monster's nature and course of the story are randomized through a series of tables. This means that even the Director has no idea exactly what you will face or what’s going to happen next. 

Not only does this provide a kind of story framework useful for new Game Masters to work with (especially those not used to winging it), it also prevents you from learning the trends and habits of the guy your group normally ropes into the job of running your games."

You can get a stripped down pdf of the final rules here, and if you want to read up on a couple of our play reports, you can find them here and here.

If you're a fan of the horror genre and/or rules-lite games, then we think you'll enjoy this game. If you don't or even just can't support it (possibly because of GenCon or other Kickstarters going on), we'd still appreciate it if you could spread the word around.

Thanks in advance!

Quinnspiracy, Integrity, & Yes More Inverse World

It was either fight their way through
undead-infested catacombs, or
give a 5-star rating to a shitty game.
Ever since I got into the whole indie-publishing scene just over a year ago, it's always been my practice to write a draft of something, put out a call for anyone that wants to take a look at it, get feedback, and rinse and repeat until it's done. I do this because not everything that comes out of my head is awesome or even written in the best way (certainly not at first), and the only way to either confirm that it is good or (more likely) improve it is to have other people tell me where I done fucked up.

Well, that and I have to be willing to listen: I've been kind of surprised at how often someone tells me that it's nice that I don't get offended when they constructively-yet-negatively criticize something I've done.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, not everyone feels that way.

If you're into the gaming scene at all you've probably heard about Zoe Quinn, who I guess cheated on her boyfriend with a series of journalists in order to get her game, Depression Quest, better reviews. Or maybe it was so that it could get greenlit on Steam. I dunno, but what I've also heard is that she absolutely did do it, which makes her a horrible person, that it's just drama bullshit because she's a woman, that anyone criticizing her is for some reason a coward, and that that's just the way the industry is: if you professionally review games, you'd better kiss and/or suck ass no matter what the quality is if you want to keep getting more freebies.

It's that last one I want to talk about, partially because I agree with that statement, partially because it's also not just limited to "professional" "reviewers" for video games, and partially because I've dealt with that shit in some capacity.

I did several paid reviews over five years ago. Unfortunately all but one game was incredibly bad, so I wasn't surprised when the company just stopped contacting me (honestly I was surprised that they did contact me after my Blue Dragon Plus review). I had another, much better paying job, so I didn't really care, and that's probably part of the problem: some reviewers kind of need that job (or they at least want it), and if they don't do it a certain way then they get axed, or you lose out on a potential source, and if that guy knows a guy it could be even worse than that.

Thankfully video games are widespread enough to the point where if you do even a little searching, you can cut through the bullshit and get a more honest opinion, or enough opinions to get a pretty accurate general reception.

Tabletop games, though? Well...not so much, and that goes double for indie games since they tend to lack the widespread attention that something like, say, Dungeons & Dragons gets. This is a problem because if you can't trust the author to back up his claims or promises, the handful of people bothering to give it a review (or even a star-rating), or the vocal minority blindly praising anything and everything the creator shits out no matter how polished of a turd it is (which in all likelihood are the ones giving star-ratings or "reviews"), then who can you trust?

Normally I'd say people that don't know the author and have no vested interest in remaining on the author's good side, but in my experience any negative criticism, no matter how justified, gets drowned out in a chorus of the aforementioned blind praise, dismissed with comments about how much money it makes and/or how popular they perceive it to be (I get this a lot with the 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons crowd), or—probably the "best case" scenario—simply ignored.

Another common tactic is—depending on how much control the person can exercise—to mark your comments as spam, delete them, and ultimately remove you from the conversation completely (with or without an ultimatum). In my experience I've had it be all of the above, in sequence, though I guess I got off kind of easy: a G+ buddy of mine got a pretty aggressive reaction from Jacob (of Inverse World infamy) and crew for the audacity of wanting to know why Jacob had gone two months without saying anything about his already very late project.

I've seen a lot of things get blind, undeserved praise. This almost always comes from a friend of the author, a friend of a friend, and/or from a vocal member of a particular gaming/social community with some clout just trying to remain popular (or maybe trying to get popular). I mean, they don't even have to see any iteration of the product: they just say "So and so is doing this thing, and you should support it". There's no conditional "if you like this sort of thing", it's just "fucking dooo it!", as if you owe the guy something.

If you want an excellent case in point, just check out everything having to do with Inverse World. It has a handful of what could laughably be considered reviews over on Drivethrurpg: three out of four give it 4-5 stars, including one that tries to claim that "it has at least as much content as a $40 release from a big publisher". To put it nicely, I'm guessing this guy hasn't actually seen the kind of books that come from the big guys. Another person has even boldly stated that it is a thing that objectively "deserves your money".

It doesn't stop there, either: Gamer-XP, a kind of online gaming magazine that you probably haven't heard about, wrote a very glowing review in which they simultaneously lauded it for features and content that it objectively doesn't possess, and find absolutely nothing bad to say about it, not even the most minor of nitpicks. I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that their Patreon is being funded in part by both Jacob and Andri (whose Mounted Combat rules were used for vehicles and mounts in Inverse World, and is also a friend of Jacob's)?

UPDATE (2/15/2015): They also awarded Jacob's--based on his track record--probably very shitty Law's Out game "best diceless game of the year". Makes me glad that I'm not so pathetic that I need to line someone's Patreon account in order to lie about my quality.

Nah: according to their About Us page, they're not backed by a publisher or faceless corporate entity. Of course, maybe if they were they could afford to be actually honest with their reviews?

I recall a thread on G+ where a guy was praising it up and down for anything and everything. Since he posted it online I just assumed he was prepared to have an actual discussion about it. Boy was I wrong: apparently some people just like to say things and expect you to either agree with them or just let it slide unchallenged. Who knew, right? Seriously, here's a tip: if that's the kind of thing you like to do, then maybe you should make a circle called Echo Chamber, Yes Crew, or something similar and fill it with people that will just agree with you no matter how baseless your statements are.

Anywho, I tried pointing out that it only had two magic items, a couple of pages for each region, no actual description for any of the sample locations (not even NPCs or steading tags), super cheap airships (despite them being billed as really expensive), no rules on anyone else using a robot suit, the races lacked magical/amazing features, the monsters were just bog-standard stuff like flying fish, a flying jellyfish, and a devil (and they weren't even statted correctly), that hollow worlds have been done before (apparently with suns in the middle), moves that didn't make much sense, and so on.

The only thing anyone actually responded to was my issue with the page dimensions: apparently to them 300-something pages is 300-something pages, no matter how small (though to be fair Andri seems to think that 300-something pages is actually 500 pages). In regards to everything else, all I got was a dismissive "whatever". I found it telling that he didn't have anything to say about anything else, and though I was prepared to keep going was quickly uncircled and blocked by the original poster... I turned to the one place where I could say what I wanted and not be silenced by rapid fans that are too insecure to handle a dissenting voice and/or be bothered to actually address the criticisms: here!

Surprise surprise, though not really, when his fans and supporters couldn't just stamp out what I was saying, people started opening up and saying that they actually agreed with me: it was lackluster, it wasn't original or imaginative, and despite being very, very late failed to fulfill what it claimed to do. The guy that had been attacked even thanked me for being bold enough to let everyone publicly know about my dissatisfaction.

I know some of his fans have seen the posts, as they were linked on a Twitter thread by a supporter, where a handful of them chose to predictably continue and focus on the page count issue. Only one of them actually messaged me directly, but only to try and...shame me, I guess for reviewing his stuff that I bought. Of course, we all know he wouldn't have cared if my review had been positive: I guess it's only arbitrarily "unprofessional" if you make negative yet legitimate criticisms against someone's work?

Obviously I don't think it's possible to get honest opinions all the time, whether it's because it's somebody's meal ticket, their buddy's pet project and they don't have the heart to tell him about how bad it is (or even what particular parts are bad), or they just want other people to like them. That kind of sucks, because if more people were honest I think we'd have better indie products out there, they'd be selling a lot faster, and maybe for more.

If something sucks, tell people what and why. If the creator and/or fans try and drown you out, take it somewhere where they can't. Not all of us can't handle criticism, mind you; as I said at the top hearing even the bad let's me know where I really need to improve. Also, when it comes to reviews and comments I guess my best "rule of thumb" is that if it doesn't mention anything negative (not even nitpicks), it's probably bullshit, especially if the person is friends with the creator (who honestly should not be the one posting reviews).

On a related note one of Jacob's friends is running a Kickstarter right now under his company's banner, which I found over at Gamer-XP while looking for their "totally unbiased" Inverse World "review". I think what I love most about this one is how Paul claims that the Mythos is a "little overdone" (ironic?), there have been "more than enough Mythos games already" (very ironic), and that "a lot of them don't really 'get' it" (wow, stay humble).

As with Inverse World it makes a bunch of claims and promises, but despite the rules being allegedly done there's no preview to be found. I did see mention of promises that there will be previews at some point, though I'm guessing that won't be until the campaign ends so your money is locked in. There's also no mention of a budget, which is interesting given that the artist looks...well, not bad, but not good, as well as the fact that they are pushing the cost of printing and shipping entirely onto you, the backer.

This would be fine if the pdf was cheap, but it's not: $10 for the pdf (the price of, say, Dungeon World), $15 for the softcover (or about $25 to have it actually printed and mailed to you), and the hardcover costs something like $35+ in the end (or, about what you'd pay for the 5th Edition Player's Handbook on Amazon). Of course that's not all: if you toss them $50 or more, you get the "privilege" of choosing what a picture looks like, or having them make a monster or NPC for you.

If you've ever read Fate Accelerated Edition, that's not terribly hard to do.

But, who knows? Paul authored the Fate Accelerated Edition version of Inverse World, which was still anemic and fulfilled none of the project's promises, but maybe he was just in charge of the mechanics? Maybe they were even good? It's already been funded, and that's not going to change because they collectively know enough people willing to throw money at them for any reason, no matter how shitty their publishing history is.

No, this is more for the people who're on the fence and/or don't really know the guy. Obviously I'm not going to back it: I've been burned by Jacob already (and seen how he reacts even to his supporters that ask questions and/or criticize him), and I can't trust the crew he runs with or even knows to give me anything remotely approaching an honest opinion...

...which might explain why there're no previews available.

UPDATE: Still no preview pdf available (shock!), and despite the KS stating that the book is mostly done, Paul has stated that he is getting four other writers to help write the book (s-shock?). One of them is Bruce Baugh, who is one of the guys that dismissed my Inverse World criticisms. Considering that the softcover book is going to run you about $25 in the end, I still love how he claims that the "do-it-yourself" model is cheaper for you.

It's alive! The Fright Night Kickstarter is ALIVE!

Well actually it's been live for a few days, now, it's just that I was so busy blasting social networks and jabbering in a chat room about it that I'd forgotten to write an actual post.

Though, I did put up a new graphic and mention it at the bottom of another post...that's gotta count for something, right?

We're almost 20% funded at about three days in. Not sure if that's necessarily a good thing (first Kickstarter and all), but this isn't a supplement or setting for an existing game, either: this is a complete, stand alone role-playing game running on an original system.

The base goal is entirely to fund art, and any excess gets funneled back into more art, unless we get past 6k, in which case the artist has another idea.

If you're into the horror genre check it out, and also check out the sample pdf for an idea as to what to expect with the final product. Whether or not it's "your thing", if at all possible we'd appreciate any help in getting the word out!
August 26, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

#RPGADAY: Coolest Looking RPG Product/Book

Now that I've got all my games unpacked and shelved, I was able to actually mull through everything I own instead of just going off of memory.

This was good because I'd almost forgotten about both Deathwatch (as well as Black Crusade) and CthulhuTech.

I'd initially considered going with Death Watch, partially because I'm a huge fan of Warhammer 40,000 and it's general look, partially because I'd just started replaying Dawn of War II after several years...

...but then I cracked them both open to compare their innards, and realized that Deathwatch didn't have a lot in the way of interior art, at least not as much or as memorable compared to what CthuluTech features.

Now I've never played either game, and probably will never get a chance to, so I can't speak for the gameplay or mechanics. The best I can recall from CthuluTech is that it's Cthulhu-meets-giant-robots, which is totally fine by me since I fucking love Lovecraftian horrors (more than Warhammer stuffs), and mechs can be pretty cool, too.

So my vote goes to CthulhuTech. Maybe I'll rope Melissa into playing it...right after 13th Age and some more 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

Fright Night Kickstarter Announcement
It took awhile, but after giving Amazon my complete change of address form (which showed my previous address, current address, and the very date I moved), a fax of my bank statement sent directly from my bank (which might have revealed some sensitive account information), and a variety of limbs, organs, and fluids, our Fright Night Kickstarter is finally a go.

If you've been paying attention to our play reports and game design posts, like what you've seen, and have the scratch to support us, then head on over: even a buck nets you a bare bones version of the game.

#RPGADAY: Favorite Licenced RPG

Up until recently I'd been playing a lot of Dungeon World, and while I enjoyed it well enough I didn't enjoy it for the content so much as the Apocalypse World engine; I've seen some of Apocalypse World: Dark Ages, and as a fantasy game it looks so, sooo much better.

That's what really makes it shine: not clerics with a not-as-nonsensical-but-still-nonsense magic system, or wizards with a more Vancian-then-pseudo-Vancian system, or paladins that can by default only be human, or fighters that are for some reason are all really good at bending bars and lifting gates.

Nope, it's really the fact that, thanks to being Powered by the Apocalypse, that you end up with something simple, flexible, pretty functional, easily hackable, and actively encourages collaborative worldbuilding. But, that's not what this post about (though it is what this one's about).

What this post is about, is my favorite, licensed RPG, and the answer might have come as a surprise to some if I hadn't slapped a big-ass image of the 4th Edition Player's Handbook up there, but it is 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

I've been a Dungeons & Dragons fan for over twenty years, but for quite some time now I've fully believed that the only reason I enjoyed previous editions was because I didn't have anything to compare them to, namely other dungeon-crawly-type games.

I mean, when it came to fantasy games my only other option even when 3rd Edition came out was Palladium Fantasy, a game where massively front-loaded characters can take over an hour to roll up due to the massive list of stats, skills, equipment, leveling is pretty damned pointless, and so on.

4th Edition marks the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons that I am continuing to stick with, because despite it's faults (and unlike 5th Edition) it made numerous sweeping improvements to Dungeons & Dragons that if nothing else at least justified buying new books:

  • Unlike 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Edition, characters are flexible. All of them, not just the spellcasters. You get to make a lot of choices at the start (I'd say too many), and get to make a choice every time you level. No settling with what the designers feel that you should have. No picking one thing early on that locks in every other choice down the road. No, you have so much control over where your character goes, even before you factor in multiclassing, backgrounds, themes, hybrid classes, and skill powers.
  • Magical healing is not mandatory (which is also true in most fantasy fiction), though a class with the leader role is helpful. Even better, there are leaders for every power source, so if you want to do a low- no-magic campaign (or all primal, or all magical, all psychic, etc), you can do that right out of the box, with the first Player's Handbook, in fact.
  • Hell, spellcasters in general aren't mandatory (also like most fantasy fiction). You don't need a wizard to pull some instant-win/bypass spell out of her ass (most utility magic are rituals anyway), and in fact not only can anyone use a ritual scroll, anyone can spend a feat to take Ritual Caster and have access to "pay-per-cast" magic.
  • Task resolution is the same across the board: if you do something, make with the fucking dice. Makes much more sense than, "Roll to hit, except if you use magic, sometimes anyway; then the target makes a roll to avoid it, which can still mean they take some damage because arbitrary rules, yo." 
  • Not everything is based on "the day". Yeah, spellcasters still don't make any goddamn sense, but at least you'll never have the issue of the 15-minute workday. This makes it so much easier to better pace adventures, instead of having to grind everything to a halt due to one bad encounter (possibly one bad roll).
  • Bard's don't suck, nor do they require specialized builds to become merely incompetent. Actually, no class really sucks (no, not even vampires).
  • Solo monsters weren't ideal at first, but still better than surrounding a dragon or giant in 3rd Edition and just hitting it until it invariably fell over. They got a much-needed tune up when Monster Manual 3 came out.
  • Same for skill challenges. They were supposed to be a way for everyone to contribute meaningfully to a non-combat challenge, but were fucking horribly showcased at the start. I remember somewhere around Dark Legacy of Evard they started getting good, which unfortunately was years into the game.
  • It is incredibly easy to build complex monsters, even complex encounters, making them precisely as difficult as you want them to be. Plus, everything a monster can do is self-contained: you don't have to reference one or more other books to figure out what it can do.
  • It's also incredibly easy to houserule and re-skin stuff. I mean, there's really no reason why you can't just say fuck it to multiclassing feats, and just let people pick a power from any class of their level or lower. Same goes for letting people pick whatever skills they want, tweaking the math every so slightly to avoid the "necessity" of math feats, changing all wizard spells to encounter-based (and adjusting the damage) to get a "true" Vancian model going on, and just shucking the "mandatory" grid.

In a nutshell the game is much, much more flexible, intuitive, and elegant than the other editions. A few people have recommended 13th Age to me, and while it looks intriguing I haven't actually played it, so I can't say if I would enjoy it more (I will say that I am not a fan of the +1 to stuff per level, though the Escalation Die looks neat).

I fully intend to change that once my workload peters off a bit (still cleaning the new house, Fright Night and Sundered World kickstarters, and some other projects), and we get an internet connection that can actually support a Hangout game.

Until then, 4th Edition remains firmly rooted in first place, followed by FATE and Dungeon World.

#RPGADAY: Will Still Play in 20 Years Time...

So...this one was kind of thought-provoking.

I'm not the kind of person that gets much attached to nostalgia. I know there are people that at least claim to still play the original Super Mario Bros. and OD&D, and though I own "old school" games like Mega Man III and Sonic the Hedgehog, I haven't invested a meaningful amount of time in them since I was a child (and honestly the only reason I replayed them was because I was way out in the country, roughly an hour or so from my friends).

I played Basic D&D until I got 2nd Edition, 2nd until 3rd came out, and 3rd until 4th came out. The only time I even "looked back" was when I tried running a 3rd Edition campaign during my department's lunch break, and that's only because I really, really wanted to finish Age of Worms without having to put a lot of work into converting it (it lasted all of one day before no one wanted to deal with it anymore).

Frankly the last few games that I played to completion more than once was Mass Effect 2 (and that was only because I heard that you could port your save game into Mass Effect 3, which would have been fucking awesome if the game were any good) and I think God of War III. I dunno, I played God of War: Ascension and it all starts to bleed together after a while. Beyond that I might rarely fire something up periodically, play it for about half an hour, and then just turn it off. I know I've tried several times in the past few years to actually beat Legend of Zelda: I end up getting past the first few dungeons before I just stop caring.

This is one of the reasons I don't give two shits about playing 5th Edition (and don't care about Forgotten Realms, or pseudo-Vancian magic, Hit Dice, and other antiquated traditional/classic/whatever rules): I've already played that version of D&D, and to me the "soul" of D&D or whatever isn't any of those things. Also, tastes change: right now I am enjoying cycling through Dungeon World and FATE, with a hankering to get back to Dungeons & Dragons proper and even Gamma World (watching Adventure Time is so not helping).

So, I guess I don't have a concrete answer to the question. The best I can do is to say that in 20 years I'll still be playing fantasy role-playing games (and board games) in some form or other (might be tabletop, might be digital), or at least role-playing games that can have a fantasy setting. I've been doing that for 20 years easily enough, and given that I switch things up quite a bit I see no reason why that would change. I can also say with a fair degree of certainty is that in 20 years I doubt I'll have a "need" to play any of the games I do now.

After all, no game has yet has withstood that test of time: in 20 years I'm sure someone will cobble together something even better.

Hell, that's one of my plans.
August 21, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

#RPGADAY: Favorite Published Adventure

I rarely use published adventures, and when I do it is even rarer for me to run them anywhere close to "as written", because players.

I have however read quite a few in my time: In Search of the Unknown, that one adventure with the crashed space ship, Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, every single goddamn adventure from the Age of Worms, Savage Tide, and Rise of the Runelords adventure paths, all of the official WotC ones for 4th Edition, a bunch from Dungeon (from 2nd to 4th Edition), and more.

Some are okay, but most are pretty forgettable when they aren't terrible (though there are some "memorable" stinkers in the mix), which is just part of why my favorite would have to be H1: Keep on the Shadowfell, aka a shining example that Mike Mearls has no fucking clue what to do with 4th Edition (which would explain his "warlords shouting wounds closed" statement).

To be fair it's not the worst published adventure out there, but between the fucking nonsense plot, confusing motivations of the utterly inept villain (who also left letters on his hired help, and was trying to open a portal to a plane that was in fact not inhabited by the guy he was trying to summon), and seemingly random assortment of monsters it comes pretty damned close. So if it's not the worse, and certainly not the best, why the hell am I choosing it?

Because ironically it is the adventure that I have simultaneously run the most, and put the most work into improving (as well as converting it to 5th Edition and doing a post on running it in Dungeon World). My group was barely able to get through it the first time because of how retarded it was, so after that I started just pulling shit out of my ass and largely make it up on the fly, only keeping the general idea that there were kobolds doing kobold things, and a death cult doing death cult things.

I blogged numerous times about the changes I made, and eventually compiled all of them into a document that changed virtually every aspect about the adventure, from the kobold lair (which featured a young green dragon as the "end boss"), to the ruins of Shadowfell Keep, to the catacombs underneath (which featured a pair of skill challenges to represent exploring the catacombs and trying to seal the gate). When I started converting it to 5th Edition some areas got improved maps, or maps at all, and both Sir Keegan and the ghost of his wife got more meaningful roles.

Call it a frustrating, sometimes disappointing labor of love. Call it something akin to Stockholm Syndrome. The main point is that in the end this terrible, confusing adventure has given me a lot of laughs (at the writing's expense), and eventually after a lot of work even some good times, and that's why it's my favorite.

#RPGADAY: Favorite Game System

I'm going with Powered by the Apocalypse, because even though I haven't actually played Apocalypse World, I have played Dungeon World (and even written a bunch of content for it), and the whole "ask questions, use answers", "draw maps, leave blanks", and front development in general syncs up really well with my low-prep, wing-almost-everything, roll with the players' punches/actions style of running games.

Not only that, but the mechanics behind the system are very simple to learn, and plays quickly, smoothly, and flexibly: you declare what you want to do, and the MC/GM has you "make a move". All moves are handled by rolling 2d6 and adding some other modifier (usually in the -1 to +2 range): a 6 or less is a "miss", a 7-9 is a "weak hit", and a 10 or higher is a "strong hit".

That's it.

Every move tells you what happens on a 7 or higher (though you often make choices in the 7-9 range). For example, in Dungeon World when you Hack and Slash something, you roll+STR. If you get a 7-9 then you deal your damage to the target, and it makes an attack against you. If you get a 10 then good for you: you just deal your damage, though you can opt to deal an extra 1d6 damage if you want to take a hit, anyway. If you miss? Well...

Some moves tell you what happens on a miss, but a lot are left up to the MC/GM to suss out (or tell you what happens, in addition to whatever else the GM tacks on). I love the bit in Apocalypse World where it tells you to tell the players "on a miss, I'll tell you what happens", and then follows up with "...and I promise you won't like it". This is not only great for flexible outcomes, but also adds an element of uncertainty (especially since, as Dan will tell you, not all GM's dish out hard moves equally).

For example if you are trying to hack away at an ogre and roll a miss, you might just take damage, get your weapon knocked away, or have your shield smashed to bits. It might even be a combination of those, or the GM might make you choose between losing some hit points or losing your shield. You could also get a broken arm. Adventuring is unpredictably dangerous.

I dig how classes/playbooks are setup, especially coming away from the whole 5th Edition "playtest". They're collections of thematic moves to be sure, but they all fit on a single double-sided sheet of paper. Whatever you want to play, you grab a sheet, check some boxes, and you're good to go. When you level up, check a new move, and that's it: it's fast and allows for a good deal of customization since there are "officially" only 10 levels in the game, but about twice as many moves to choose from.

Thanks to Powered by the Apocalypse that's actually in a nutshell how I would describe Dungeon World: it not only does what I think 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons wanted to do, but it does it better, simple, and faster: game prep and character generation is a snap, there is an incentive to play in character and build backstory between other characters, and since not everything is explicitly spelled out you get a more "old-school" vibe, just without all the kludgy legacy mechanics (even the pseudo-Vancian magic isn't so pseudo!).

Dungeon World: Spider Playbook

For better or worse, the spider playbook is now for sale on Drivethrurpg.

It does everything a spider can: spin webs of any size, crawl on walls, and even inject debilitating venom or digestive juices into creatures, so that you can slurp up their tasty, liquefied innards that you do so crave.

Of course the advanced moves open up a variety of other terrifying options, like dropping in on unsuspecting prey, blinding opponents with your bristles, causing your venom to inflict excruciating pain, or closing the gap between you and the poor bastard that assumed they could just outrun you.

Though Melissa and I have a strange tendency to write monstrous playbooks, this one goes a step (or several) further and allows you to play something that's not even remotely humanoid in shape.

Size is another matter, because it's not like spiders are already horrific at their "normal" size: the default assumption is that you're somewhere between halfling and human-sized, plus you can talk, allowing you to whisper sinister nothings into the ear of a creature as it struggles to escape. I guess you also have more than enough legs to gently stroke its cheek, if that's your thing.

So, yeah, use it to threaten your GM with a new character, or to just keep the rest of the party from making camp. Unless you're one of "those" people that actually likes spiders, then have fun tormenting man and monster alike.

What's Next?
Melissa is having a blast writing playbooks (even when they pertain to nightmarish creatures that should not see the light of day), so with this one out of the way what would you want her to do next? What do you feel is missing from your Dungeon World roster, or what do you think she could do better?

Leave a comment here, or hit her up on G+.
August 17, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

#RPGADAY: Game You Wish You Owned

Since it isn't explicit as to whether the game must exist, and given that there isn't any game currently out there that I wish I owned (otherwise I would own it), I'm going to talk about a game that I wish existed, just so I could briefly wish about owning it before just plunking down however many dollars necessary to get it.

That game would actually decent successor to 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

4th Edition has it's problems. No, I'm not talking about the trollshit, uninformed, arbitrary claims of class "samey-ness", superheroic characters, "magical" fighters, video game button mashing, the "always perfectly balanced so that the characters can win without being killed or even really challenged" encounters, or all that other crap that was disproved over six years ago.

I'm talking legitimate problems, like how combat can take too long to setup and get through (especially the "trash fights"), characters can accumulate too many things to keep track of, the default power structure is not ideal for conveying/evoking the fiction/narrative behind each class, some class concepts are pointlessly rooted in the past (like bards and clerics), pseudo-Vancian magic is a thing, the +1 bonus every two levels is fucking pointless, skill challenges need some refinement, and so on.

Yeah, a lot of those things can be easily houseruled away (in particular the hit points, half-level bonus, and combat setup), but some of the other stuff (power structure and accumulation) would take a lot more work, especially if you wanted to get it right, and that's what I was hoping to see out of 5th Edition. Not a pointless regression to the past for it's own sake, but a game that took 4th Edition, stripped out the bad shit, and continued to innovate and evolve the game.

Which of course is not what we got. We got something "classic". Something that stuck to the traditions of editions past, good or bad (I mean they shoehorned in Hit Dice for fucks sake). Something that was familiar in all the bad ways. Something that was different enough—but not so different as to scare away the traditionalists and grognards, mind you—to get you to buy all new books for a game that you basically already own.

Me? I can tack on a botched "roll two dice and keep the best/worst" system and houserule in a shallow implementation of FATE's aspects (we actually gave that a shot during our 4th Edition run of Sundered World). I don't need to pay a company with two teams of "designers" over a hundred bucks for the privilege of playing with some antiquated rules from a previous edition that I already paid them for, even if they did dress it up with new art.
August 16, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Document Update

And here's this week's Sundered World update.

Still busy cleaning the new place up, moving stuff around, and prepping Fright Night, but I did manage to add some more content to Living in a Sundered World and Adventuring in a Sundered World at the request of Shadi and Eric. I also some stuff to equipment and tweaked others, and started working on the nomad class.

I think the big thing now is to flesh out the example steadings, but as always, check it out and let me know everything: what you like, what you hate, suggestions, questions, clarifications, whatever crosses your mind while reading it.

You can post in the comments here, directly on the pdf, hit me up on G+ (the Sundered World community is probably the best place), or even fire off an email to Just don't be shy, and don't pull any punches: constructive criticism can only make this thing better.

Finally, if you want to feel free to take the setting for a spin. I'd love to hear what people do with it (plus it might help pinpoint or point out any issues).

Daily d100 Sale
Up until the 17th, Melissa and I are running a daily sale in which we roll a percentile and reduce everything by whatever the result is. I just gave it a roll and got 30, so up until tomorrow at some point all of our pdfs are 30% off.

#RPGADAY: Most Memorable Character Death

Given that so I rarely get to actually play in a game—our recently completed Dungeon World campaign a refreshing exception—it took me a good while to remember a time during which I both played and played long enough for my character to get him- or herself in a potentially deadly situation.

I mentioned in my Rifts RPG-A-Day post that something that happened with a fair degree of regularity "back in my day" was that we were often subjected to spur of the moment, horrible, thankfully short-lived gaming sessions.

They didn't all end up this way, but most did. This is why when I was at a friend's house and he said that someone was coming over to run us some Dungeons & Dragons, in lieu of creativity I just copied one of the main characters from Battlechasers, because I was reading it at the time you see.

Fortunately 2nd Edition was one of "those" editions where the fighter was for no reason relegated to the role of "training wheels class", which when coupled with the most unnecessarily boring race (at the time) made character generation a snap and, more importantly prevented any appreciable emotional attachment from forming.

I don't know what happened: maybe it was legitimately good, or maybe it was because my expectations were set to a level that I would later identify as Michael Baylian, but the campaign was the best I'd ever played in during my time in the 2nd Edition era. But wait, this isn't "The Most Unexpectantly Awesome Campaign", this is "Most Memorable Character Death"! Where's that sweet, blissful release?

Whelp, a couple levels into the campaign we're fighting goblins for some reason, somewhere. I forget the exact circumstances that lead up to me getting separated from everyone else, but—only recently being educated about a rule in which a fighter can make attacks against many smaller foes on the same turn—there I was, all by my lonesome, trying to hew my way through a horde of goblins.

I end getting a fatal ratio of flesh-to-arrow body composition, stripped of all my gear, and dumped down a shaft into a pile of goblin shit, which by itself is neither memorable nor dignified. No, what made it memorable was that the Dungeon Master decided to make some kind of divine intervention roll on my behalf. I forget why, but I know at the time I didn't care because I was actually enjoying this game and looking forward to coming back as something marginally more interesting than a fucking fighter.

Apparently he ended up rolling whatever it is he needed to roll (we didn't get to see the die result, and I suspect that he just wanted me to keep playing the same character), because my soul was returned and I woke up in the goblin shit.

So I run through the dungeon, still covered in shit, until I manage to somehow find the rest of the gang, still fighting goblins, one of which is trying his best to wear my armor. I figure that I must be immortal, or maybe it was magical shit ("old school" D&D was a helluva drug), so I pick up the one with my armor and use him as a makeshift flail. Once I'd finished bashing in the rest of the goblins I got the rest of my stuff back, and that's how the rest of that session went: me, wearing armor covered in goblin shit and bits.

I remember dying several other times for various reasons, always coming back due to the divine intervention roll, up until we made it to the point where the cleric could just raise dead, which was ironically the point where I stopped randomly dying.

#RPGADAY: Old RPG You Still Play/Read

Is six years old enough? I am guessing the intended answer is supposed to be something like 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, Rifts, or something even more esoteric, but honestly the only role-playing games I regularly bother with nowadays are 4th Edition Dungeons & DragonsDungeon World, or FATE.

I've already talked about this one recently, but since one of my future projects is a 4th Edition hack something I would be interested in knowing is what you love and hate about it, as well as what you wished 5th Edition would have done.

I'm sure someone will swing by and parrot out a bunch of misinformed circa 2008 trollshit about video games, board games, MMOs, "I win buttons", and the like, but I'd still be nice to hear some constructive criticisms.

August 12, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

#RPGADAY: Weirdest RPG Owned

Two words: Gamma World.

The setting of Gamma World is more or less Earth, just 150 years after the Large Hadron Collider goes south and mashes a bunch of timelines together (kind of like how in Sundered World shit hits the fan and all of the planes get mashed into one reality).

What makes this game weirder than others I have played largely boils down to the characters: you randomly roll for a pair of origins out of twenty. The Legion of Gold and Famine in Far-Go expansions add more (as well as new monsters, and rules for feats and cryptic alliances), but just with the main box you can end up as a radioactive cockroach, swarm of birds, a fire-flinging cat, a mind-controlling plant, and so much more.

There was also a deck of cards for drawing random powers called Alpha Mutations. My games are still packed up, but I was able to find a few card effects online just to give you an idea of what to expect: you can learn information from a corpse, cause your body to explode (and you remain exploded until you make a save), or grow a second head. I recall one mutation causing your feet to get really big, and the book mentions growing feelers that let you see in the dark.

Now these powers were always temporary: you drew one when you made your character, and replaced it every time you completed an encounter or rolled a natural 1 (alpha flux). As you got higher level you could stock more mutations, but since you swapped out the ones you didn't use there was no real incentive to hang on to them for very long.

There are also some weird monsters, but honestly I've played most editions of Dungeons & Dragons so only a handful really stand out to me: gun-toting, telekinetic raccoons, humanoid rabbits that can turn nonliving materials into rubber, and a bat-winged, lion-thing that has laser eyes and eats clothes.

The game itself is very simple, largely being based on 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons mechanics, except that it only goes up to 10th-level, you get +1 to lots of things based on your level, everything is based on the encounter (I recall you full-healing, too), you randomly roll your non-key stats, and weapons and armor are based on whether they are light or heavy, and how many hands you need to use it.

If you're a fan of d20 games, post-apocalyptic settings, and don't mind weird shit I'd recommend snagging it.

Dungeon World: Like Shooting Trolls in a...Narrow Tunnel

  • Augustine (5th-level human paladin)
  • Jaya (6th-level human bard)
  • Mouse (6th-level gnome thief)

With Mark and Shorna finally vanquished, it was time to pick through their belongings and see what was worth keeping.

Mark's sword was obviously magical, capable of slicing through and absorbing magical energy. The wielder could expend the stored energy, allowing it to perform feats like slicing someone open from a distance. There was also a chest filled with coins, gems, and a black cloak that seemed to absorb light. Finally, the circlet Shorna had been wearing allowed the wearer to perceive any location that they had previously seen before.

Jaya donned the circlet and thought of Hell's Arch. Her vision started at the city walls before sweeping down to the land below. It revealed the vast host of the Autumn Monarch: elves, duskies, pegasus stables, and a number of swamp and canyon trolls. One of the canyon trolls was hefting Mardral's hammer, which meant that either they had taken it from Madra, or she had thrown her lot in with them. Either way that was bad news for the city's fortifications.

The vision eventually settled upon the Autumn Monarch himself, seated upon an ornate wooden throne within a grand pavilion. A very familiar elven woman approached him, and when he prompted her for a report she responded that Fiona's "little pets" had gone into the Deeps to rescue the prisoners, but as of yet had not returned. He mused about how difficult it would be to further justify an attack if the prisoners survived the rescue, and instructed her to tell the spy to at the least ensure the dusky king's death.

Apparently they were intending to wage war regardless, and unfortunately the specific prisoner he wanted dead had already been taken care of. Jaya told them what she had seen and heard, but as they prepared to leave there was a loud clunk, followed by both of the glowing orbs winking out. Before anyone could light a torch, rumbling grunts and footsteps thundering beneath and—thankfully—past them, towards the general direction of the exit.

Trolls, and by the sounds of it there were a lot of them.

To make matters worse Mouse recalled that only the outermost gate to the Deeps was still closed. They were not sure how many trolls were on their way or how long the gate would hold, but if they hurried it was possible that they could beat them to the balcony, seal the gates, and make it outside to warn the soldiers before they were able to smash their way through.

They used a rope to descend into the basin—lowering the dire wolf using a makeshift harness—and a wide ramp provided both an easy and more dignified way out. The dire wolf could smell the path the trolls had taken: they were fortunately too large to take the upper corridors, but unfortunately so was the pegasus. Since Jaya did not want to abandon the pegasus, Augustine and Mouse would try and beat the trolls to the gate controls, while she followed from a safe distance with everyone else.

It did not take long for Augustine and Mouse to catch up to the trolls. Sure, their legs were much longer, but they were very stupid and by the time they caught up they were more than a little amused that trolls were trapped in the highly flammable slime room. Augustine picked up his pace, gaining a considerable lead on Mouse, which was why he did not notice when someone snatched Mouse up and hurled him over the balcony.

With Augustine long gone Mouse had no light by which he could see anything. Since he was able to easily get to his feet and stay on them, he could only assume that unlike the trolls he was standing in a spot without any slime.

Highly flammable slime.

He lit a torch and gave it a toss.

The room was engulfed in a fiery inferno, allowing Mouse to see the trolls and—more immediately relevant—a way out. He dashed between, under, and even over some of them, tossing food as he went in case they had a keen sense of smell, hoping that the burning meat would mask his presence. With all of the slime destroyed by the fire and the trolls—unaccustomed to injury that they could not easily recover from—momentarily writhing in agony, he was easily able to out distance them and catch up with Augustine at the lever balcony.

Augustine sealed the gate, but was a bit dismayed when the trolls arrived and pushed the button: he had not planned on trolls being smart enough to figure that bit out.

As the door began to rise Mouse stabbed the lead troll in the foot, driving his sword through the troll's heart when it stopped down to investigate whoever it was that had stabbed it. It crumbled into a pile of rock, and Augustine again pulled the lever to seal the gate. Before it could slam closed one of the trolls caught it, and with the help of a few other trolls they were able to lift it and jam it in place with rubble-formerly-known-as-troll.

A pair of trolls lumbered across the room in an attempt to activate the other gate. Augustine was too large to fit through the murder holes without first doffing his armor, so Mouse hopped down and planted his sword in it's skull. As it crumbled apart the other one turned its attention towards him and gave chase. Hoping to destroy the door mechanism, Mouse taunted it in front of the button, diving out of the way as the troll struck. Unfortunately, while the button was certainly pulverized, it was also stuck in the "open" state.

Since several other trolls were trying to barge their way in, Mouse nicked the troll with a dagger he had poisoned with goldenroot. With the troll now on their side and Augustine striking from above using his halberd, they were able to force the others back through the door and seal it. Augustine noticed that there were four levers, but only two doors: he tried one of the others and heard the grinding of stone on stone. It was not until he heard the frustrated roars of the trolls that he realized what it did.

He had locked it, keeping the trolls at bay for now.

They were considering their options when the outer gate opened and a squad of soldiers filed in. Augustine explained everything: the troll invasion, the Autumn Monarch's treachery, and the inexplicably friendly troll. He further elaborated that Jaya and the prisoners were trapped inside the Deeps: the pegasus—one of the fey prisoners—was too large to squeeze through the upper passages, so they would have to clear a path through the trolls if they were to escape.

Given that Mouse had wounded all of them already, they decided to try a pincer movement. Augustine and Mouse backtracked into the Deeps with roughly half the soldiers, found Jaya and the others, and returned to the gate. The trolls were still busy hammering at it, which made it easy to sneak up on them. They sent one of the soldiers around to alert the rest, and as the gate opened both sides attacked.

By the time the last troll had fallen there were only a handful of wounded—Augustine, Jaya, and Mouse among them—and a few deaths. As they tended to the wounded and gathered the dead a messenger arrived: Fiona had been summoned to the valley below to confer with the Autumn Monarch and other fey ambassadors.

What will happen next? Will the Autumn Monarch assassinate Fiona? Will Jaya try to concoct a plan to fool everyone into thinking that the dusky king is still alive, using a plan unknowingly based on a dark comedy from the late 80's? Will Mouse finally learn to hold his tongue, or will he end up with someone else's?

Stay tuned for the grand finale of Dan's totally fucking awesome Dungeon World campaign!

Behind the Scenes
It was nice that Dan allowed Ben to just outright kill the troll that was not paying attention to him at all. This was something that I wished I had done way back when I ran Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, instead of forcing the party to hack down every. Single. Goddamned. Zombie. Frankly I would love to run that adventure again: I think I am a lot wiser now, and that it would go sooo much more smoothly.

Similarly, we didn't play through the entire fight against the trolls at the end. We simply explained the plan, rolled, and were allowed to choose whether us or the NPCs took the brunt of the attack. Of course we agreed to it: we're adventurers, we can totally take that shit.

He also started tallying up hard moves, spending them down the road if he could not think of something to do right away. I forgot who he said also did this, or with what system, but it's an interesting idea and I might give it a shot in the future.

A Sundered World Announcement
I've been posting weekly document updates both here and on the community. I feel that this kind of transparency is very useful in gathering feedback before trying to charge money for something, as well as ensuring that you know what you are paying for (and whether you think it is even worth it).

Something else I have been asking for is what you would want to see in the next packet release. It is nearing completion, though there are still blanks to fill, but if there is something I have overlooked, needs clarification, or whatnot lemme know in the comments here, in the community, or even a private post on G+.
August 11, 2014
Posted by David Guyll


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