Monday, December 28, 2015

Let's Build With These Dice: A Negotiated Skill System

I'm having one of those nights where I'm just feeling cruddy about a bunch of stuff. There were things I meant to get done today that didn't happen. I found out that we'd been double-billed for health insurance and I found it out the hard way. I meant to get some minis painted this afternoon and that didn't happen either. Thus, I feel the need to write something to get me out of the funk. Please forgive the indulgence of everything this far. One way of looking at the rest of this post is that it's Joesky Tax for this paragraph.

So, let's get back to These Dice, shall we?

Today, we're going to concern ourselves initially with the Green Dice. As shown in the picture above, the Green Dice have successes marked on the 5 & 6, meaning that a single Green Die has a 33.33% chance of succeeding at whatever. Let's make that a thing, let's make it skill checks.

A Negotiated Skill System

If your character wants to do a thing, you tell the DM how you're going to do it. If you're convincing enough, the DM agrees and it works (like finding and deactivating/bypassing old school traps). This is the first part of the negotiation: does it make enough sense that it does what the player wants? If the DM isn't convinced, we can go to dice. The player gets one Green Die to roll to see if he succeeds or not.

But maybe there are other factors weighing in the chance of success. Maybe the PC involved is really attentive or has great eyesight or something. Shouldn't those considerations be worth something? This is the second part of the negotiation. For every factor that the player can convince the DM that he can bring to bear on the situation, the player gets to roll an additional Green Die.

Part of the negotiation is that the DM should be prepared to say "no" when he feels a factor will not add enough or will not make a significant difference. Maybe one or two allies helping will add a die, but more than that won't. Who knows? The important part is that the player presents his case and the DM weighs it on its merit rather than reference some foreign, non-diagetic rubric like a rule book.

I used this skill system in my Delving Deeper Quasquetherion session at U Con this year and it worked out so well that it renewed my interest in making a zine for OD&D retroclones after my particular idiom. Then, over the weekend, I just now had an idea to complicate matters even more.

Behavior-Rewarding Skill System

This one works just like the Negotiated Skill System or at least it starts that way. This system exists to emulate a specific type of fiction, in effect creating categories of "behaviors of a sort that you want players to take," "behaviors of the sort that you don't want players to take" and "everything else."

 You're rolling Green Dice for most actions ("everything else), but you reward the types of actions you want your players to take by letting them roll Blue Dice in these circumstances and penalize them for taking the "wrong" types of actions by making them roll Red Dice. Maybe add something on the end where if there are no successes on a roll, things get more complicated for the players.

I had this idea while thinking about what I don't like about just about every Doctor Who RPG I've ever read. The "Tempus Fugitives" idea I've kicked around before (see here) exists to satisfy my need to have a game that scratches the itch left by Douglas Adams/Tom Baker-era Doctor Who and Douglas Adams's books. Let's solve our problems through clever tongues and clever-er plans, not with blasters and karate chops. That's what I want out of the system, and I've never seen a game system that designed to make it work.

Until the other day, when I figured out how I'd do it.

  • If the DM describes your action as CLEVER, you get to roll Blue Dice
  • If the DM describes your action as VIOLENT, you have to roll Red Dice
  • Everything else rolls Green Dice
Add to this a complication if no successes are rolled (like hard and soft moves in Dungeon World). You've now got a system where you're more likely to succeed if you've got a clever plan and more likely to suffer a negative consequence if you charge in guns blazing. While pretty much everyone can figure out when something's violent, not everyone will agree when a plan is clever or not, so the negotiation process is important to look into. 

The Nature of Negotiation

The idea of negotiating skill checks may seem odd or awkward at first, but to me it seems like we already negotiate with dice rolls all the time. "Can I get another +2 because I'm on higher ground?" "Does this game give flanking bonuses?" We do this shizz all the time. At this point, it's largely instinctive, too. "Can I get a bonus to disarming the trap because of my advanced degree in mechanical engineering?" Yeah, it happens all the time. 

I've had this attitude toward the zany schemes of my players that amounts to: "convince me." If you can spin me a good enough story that I'll just accept it out of hand, then we're good. You did your job. You convinced me. Good player. We don't need to subject your good ideas to randomness or probability because you done good. 

If, however, I think that your idea is pretty good, but I'm not completely sold, then we can get down to dice. Maybe you'll get some more dice or a bonus or whatever. This is that wide berth that DMs are given to interpret the realities (such as they may be) of the game to their players. This already happens, as I've outlined above, in pretty much every game ever. The only way my plan differs from the way that most games present stuff is that I'm putting all of my cards on the table and not hiding behind a pretense of a bunch of paper-thin rules that are nothing more than mirrors and smoke obscuring the actual processes involved in adjudicating games.

The idea of upfront negotiation as part of a task- or conflict-resolution system is one that's been dancing around my brain for awhile now. Months? Years? Who can say. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Inevitable Post U Con 2015 Post

Since it's almost a month ago, I should probably finally talk about U Con 2015, right? Okay, here goes: U Con keeps getting better and better every year, despite some minor inconveniences that seem to get piled on top of it.

The plan for U Con worked like this: I wasn't going to register for any events as a player because I like to go where I'm needed, to play in games of awesome DMs that are lacking in players to help make sure those games go off. I registered to run one game each day, registering for the last time slot each day; I am not a morning person. I am, however, as listeners to the +Drink Spin Run - An RPG Talk Show Podcast know, a beer person, so part of the plan included meals at the hotel bar where I could get a decent drink. The con food last year was okay, but nothing to write home about. The bar food was much better.

Of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy.


The con was to officially start on Friday, but if GenCon and GaryCon have taught me anything, it's that you really need to be there the night before. Now, my wife and I have a five-month-old (then four-month-old) and Katie was working that night, meaning that I had to bring Stan with me. I knew that +Donn Stroud was going to meet me at the hotel and I knew I'd run into at least +R.J. Thompson in the process. Good. We have people we know we'll see. Stan and I packed up our gear and headed down to the Marriott to see who we could dig up.

Donn is the one with the tats
The first person I saw was +Bill Webb of Frog God Games. After greeting him (and reminding him that we'd met when he did the Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day episode of DSR), he invited me to roll up a character and sit in on the game he was about to run for some of the assembled folks. I stalled for a moment, some line about having to check in with some folks or something, when I realized that +Tim Snider was one of those guys sitting on the couches around Bill. Oh, sweet! Good to see you, man! Okay, now I know I'll be back, but I've got to pop over to the bar real fast to get a drink and say howdy to Donn.

Meanwhile, over at the bar, Donn is talking to +Pete Schwab who had come all the way from Austin, TX for the con because he signed up to run events while he still lived in Chicago and is an Ypsi native, so it gave him the chance to see family (this becomes relevant on Saturday night). While catching up with Pete, we ran into R.J. (Ryan hereafter) and his lady Crystal (sp?), and +Clayton Williams and his lovely wife +Laura Rose Williams. All of them great folks. Some more stuff happened, then it was time for Bill's game. What the hell, why not?

Joining in on Bill's game with the Little Man in tow was a great idea. Not only were there tons of folks for him to meet (he loves meeting new people), but he melted more than a few hearts. Awww. So, Bill took a huge liking to Stan and kept calling him "Baby Frog" (he'd call me "Baby Daddy" for the next few days until he could remember my name), thinking that Stan's dinosaur/dragon hoodie was a frog (hard to tell in the picture above, I know). Bill held him for a while, as did his daughter Jillian, Donn, Crystal, Laura and probably some folks I can't remember. Don't tell Katie that last part.

As the game collapsed (like late night con games do 50% of the time), Stan was getting really tired, but we were supposed to (by wifely decree) wait until +Doug Kovacs & +Roy Snyder got to the hotel. Just as I was throwing in the towel and packing up el Hombrecillo, the guys walked in the front door. Literally. We were packed up and on our way out when they showed up. I let Stan spend a little time meeting his "punkfather" and Roy and then the Muszkiewicz boys had to turn in.

Super-pleased to meet Uncle Doug


I cannot remember how Friday started. I want to say that we tried to get an early start on the day, but something kept us from it. Some morning obligation that kept us busy much later than we had anticipated. Thus, we got to the convention at 2 or 3p when I'd hoped to get there sooner. We also arrived hungry, so we sat down at the bar to eat. This is probably where we met up with +Andrew Moss and it wasn't long before we were hanging out with Bill again. Doug was there, too, as was +Jim Wampler. This is a part I can't remember very well. I know we pretty much hung out here for awhile. I probably ducked into the vendor hall to check out Roy's booth, but I'll be honest, I didn't get anywhere near the amount of booth time I'm used to. The next thing I knew, it was time for the OSR Panel. You know, this thing:

The panel was fun, as usual. I forgot that Ryan "lovely co-hosted" me on this. Well played, sir. 

(Also, you can totally hear Bill talk about Stan at the beginning of the seminar.)

After the panel, it was time for me to run DCC, one of my "A Night In Ur-Hadad" games, continuing the story started at Marmalade Dog 2015. Some folks in on the session (like Andrew Moss) were veterans of my "invent what you need as you need it" sort of improv and didn't skip a beat. Folks who were new to the format were, predictably, really good at it. It seems that when I ask folks to make stuff based on facts A, B & C and they're not used to it, their answers are wilder and weirder than the folks who are used to it, WHICH I FUCKING LOVE! All in all, it was a good game that involved each player going off in his own direction, shooting cannon into the crowd and ultimately resulting in the death of yet another Grand Vizier of Ur-Hadad. 

I should really start keeping track of the Grand Viziers.


Saturday is going to read a lot like Friday but there were some notable exceptions. First, it snowed, which isn't too strange, since it's goddamn Michigan, but it was Stan's first snow. Ever. Here's what happened: 

He didn't exactly know what to do with it. That's great. 

Second, once we got there, we met up with +Cory Gahsman and his son Chase right away. I'm currently working on a project with these gents, and we had planned to talk business, so we went looking for a quiet place to talk. That ended up being the bar. We talked some business, somewhat renegotiated some terms of our project licensing contract and showed off a lot of Chase's work to some of the folks around. That's when things got really cool.

First, Bill Webb ended up joining up with us, hanging out and drinking Bloody Marys while we talked shop, which, of course, he joined in on. And that's when the artists started showing up. 

First, Chase got an art lesson from Doug. Down to "these are the kind of the pens you need to use." Then +Del Teigeler showed up and Chase got another art lesson. Art lesson number three came from +Stefan Poag who got there as the snows really started to intensify. 

Can you imagine being a 9 year old gamer, working on becoming a games industry artist and three known industry artists gave you advice? So cool. 

In the mean time, the snow had gotten completely out of control. 

The assembled personages at the bar shuffled a bit from hour to hour, but most of the time, it came down to me and Bill, until it was time for me to run my 7pm game. I spent about 7 hours (less the time it took to bring Katie & Stan home when they got tired) just chilling with Bill. Good times.

Saturday night, I ran the old Victory Games James Bond: 007 RPG for the first time ever. I had a great group of players (3 in number) including Del Teigler and Andrew Moss. Our 3rd player was a guy (whose name I sadly cannot remember but will insert if Del reminds me) who had come all the way from England to participate in U Con's Tekumel track (U Con's old school cred goes waaaay back!) and had seen my 007 game in the program and had to sign up! Pete Schwab would have been there for this session, but he ended up meeting with some family and with the aforementioned insane amount of snow, he didn't make it. Despite no Pete, we had a blast and would have saved the western world from the threat of a 3rd super power if the players hadn't ended up blowing up a uranium enrichment facility beneath the ruins of Carthage. Good times! 


Katie & Stan showed up on Sunday mostly just to show up. We'd had a nice breakfast at the Wolverine in downtown Ypsi (which has sadly now closed its doors) and took our time getting there. By the time we were there, it was time for me to run "In Search of the Unknowable," aka Quasquetherion, my take on B1: In Search of the Unknown using Delving Deeper and some houserules designed for ease/speed of play. I had a really full table (8 players, I think) including a bunch of friends like Pete Schwab, Andrew Moss, Laura Williams, Stefan Poag (it's the second year in a row he's showed up to my games, so I must be doing something he enjoys), +James DeYonke, and other folks I can't remember right now (don't hold it against me!). The players explored Quasquetherion and plundered some riches, fought crazed cannibal halflings and zombie animals in clothes, had strange hallucinations caused by the echoed memories of a nigh-forgotten spell, had a few close brushes with things that freaked them out, wasted some time playing with curtains and managed to survive sleeping in the dungeon. Somehow. We had a good enough time that I agreed to run the group (or whoever could make it) through Quasquetherion again next year, which folks seemed to be pretty jazzed about.

At the end, I don't feel like I left U Con 2015. In many ways, it feels like U Con left me. I got to spent a weekend with so many great folks who I love spending time with, engaging in our favorite communal hobby, but in the end, they had to leave, and I stayed here in Ypsi. Thanks for coming, folks, I can't wait for you all to come back again. You're welcome any time. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Let's Talk About These Dice

I posted this pic on Instagram and G+ yesterday in preparation for talking about it over here. Here it is:

Let's talk about these dice.

Clearly, they're color-coded. Red dice have an Elder Sign (the crappy new Elder Sign, not the real one, but seriously, I'll take what I can get) on the 6. The blue ones have an Elder Sign on 5 & 6. The green ones have the Elder Sign on the 4, 5 & 6.

Some background: I got these from a Kickstarter I supported a while back (this one); they're for a series of Cthulhu Mythos games that include Arkham Horror and Eldritch [I'll just assume Horror]. I've written about the other Mythos-themed dice I picked up from the Q-Workshop booth at GenCon a few years back here: . (That last bit is important and we'll be coming it again over the next few days.)

These dice aren't exceptionally nice. They're a normal size and don't appear to be the high-impact sort of plastic that I'm used to in my gaming dice. More of a standard-grade, "you use this plastic to make cheap stuff" sort of plastic. The numbers are filled okay, but with lots of irregularities; I've not seen a number I couldn't read, but I've seen a few that look not-so-great.

What's good about them is that they represent something I really dig: they work like normal dice (every facet is numbered, so they can do your standard 1-6 in a pinch), but they have very clearly-marked "success facets" coming in nice, round probability chunks. Red die: 16.67% Green die: 33.33% (1/3). Blue die: 50%.

If you're rolling one red die, it's because you have a 33%, 1-in-3 chance of success. A blue die is 50/50, either/or. A red die is because you have a slim-ish chance.

1-in-3 is the point where I think it makes sense to start rolling dice. 50/50 can be dramatic I guess, so having the blue dice aren't a complete loss. 1-in-6 is mathematically interesting, particularly when we start adding multiple dice together to form a pool, especially when the pool size should have a dramatic impact on the probability of "positive" results.

I have uses for all these things, and I'll try to show you over the next few days. It's my Christmas gift to you. Pssssh, no it isn't. It's my first draft and exploration of an idea I'm working on.

photo via
The reason my brain went to this place at all and why I bought these dice: the probability break downs on each "positive" result type by color is the same as in HeroQuest (the board game, not the pretender) broken down by action. For those not in the know, HeroQuest used unique dice to govern most actions. These d6's had faces in the following denominations:

  • Skulls - three facets
  • Shields - two facets
  • Black Shield - one facet
As a player or the game's DM (the unfortunately-named "Zargon," here present without the requisite Jim Holloway drawing [just an obtuse reference]), whenever you rolled to attack, you counted skulls rolled as successes and individual points of damage dealt. Players would hope to roll shields to defend and thereby negate Zargon's successes, while Zargon could only defend on a black shield. Thus, we see an interesting probability break down. Hits are fairly likely to accrue (50/50 for each die, with die pools ranging from 1 to 4 at the outset), players are more likely to defend (33% for each die) and monsters more likely to die (16.7% chance to defend per die). This, as far as d6 dice can go, is pretty interesting but simple probability.

Here are some things I'm working on using These Dice:
  • A "Negotiated Skill System" using the Green Dice. 
  • A d6-based system of supernatural patronage and corruption for games other than DCC using the Red Dice. 
  • I'm going to try hard to come up with a way that uses 50/50 probability (and thus Blue Dice) in ways that haven't already been used for Prince Valiant (d2!) or Burning Wheel (I've gotten far enough in BW to know how its dice work!)
If you have any ideas for how to make 50/50 probability interesting from a gaming perspective, I'd love to hear them. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Alignment Ain't for 1st Level

I had this thought last night while talking to the gorgeous wife: there is no reason for PCs to choose an alignment at first level, so why not save the decision to align oneself with the forces of Law or Chaos until the point where such a decision (a) makes sense for the character and (b) will contribute one way or the other toward the "eternal struggle" between the two forces?

Allow me to elucidate.

First, I'd like to re-introduce my concept of alignment as "that with which a character aligns himself." This is both a literal interpretation of the word "alignment" and a reference to how the concepts of Law and Chaos are used in the source literature of D&D, Chainmail and White Box D&D itself. The idea of alignment as a guide to behavior is, I feel, ridiculous. One does not "act lawful" or "act chaotic;" one has aligned himself with one of these "sides" or not. (As a side note, I won't even consider a "good vs. evil" axis as part of an alignment; it misinterprets alignment and is not the game I want to play.) "Chaos" is not "hey I'm a mischievous anarchist who loves personal freedom!" it's "I have dedicated myself to the cause of Chaos."

This distinction, I feel, requires that I discuss my ideas of what Law and Chaos represent and for this, I'll be using my Philosophy background. Law is the side of the eternal conflict that is governed by the logic of Kant's categorical imperative; that is, that (a) there is a universal "right" and a universal "wrong" in that if something is "right" now, it is always right, and if something is "wrong" now it is always wrong and that (b) a deeds "right-ness" or "wrong-ness" is determined by the following axiom.
If all people throughout history were to practice deed/action X, would society fall apart or flourish? 
If society crumbles, the thing is wrong. If society flourishes, it is right. Thus, the focus of Law is the society (whatever society) and placing the collective above the individual. Thus, the Lawful are expected to give and sacrifice of themselves in favor of the greater good while being vigilant against the deeds and actions that could cause society to crumble.

Similarly, Chaos's guiding principle is that of Nietzsche's nihilism and Rand's "enlightened self-interest:" that I, the individual, am supreme and not bound by any morality except that I should do as I will. As the plant lifts its leaves toward the rays of the sun, so too should I seek out the greatest personal power, for such is the way of nature. Sort of. As a "side" in the eternal struggle, Chaos exists by the seizing of personal power by leaders, the investiture of power to wizards and clerics by Chaotic supernatural beings like demons and by the exercise of personal will against beings lower on the Chaos totem pole than the exerciser. "Shit rolls downhill, so do everything you can to not be downhill."

Allow me to make a proposition at this point: it makes no sense for first-level characters to join the forces of Law or Chaos. If they are Chaotic, 1st-level characters start out at the bottom of the hill down which shit will roll. At best, they're amoral bandits who take what they want. At worst, they're hench-mooks in service to some greater, demanding Chaotic personality. The flip side is true of Lawful characters: at 1st level, can they expect to be anything but cannon fodder for the front lines of the war between Law and Chaos.

Or rather, shouldn't they be?

Shouldn't alignment matter? If it doesn't, what's the point in choosing it?

If alignment doesn't matter at first level (the way I've outlined it above or in some other thought-out way) then why should we waste the time writing one down?

Personally, I think that alignment must matter, even at first level and, precisely for that reason, it shouldn't be chosen at first level.

I'll develop that a little further.

In my Iron Coast game, we've had a mix of alignment for the past few years and it didn't really seem to matter (my bad). Now, as we're getting into the Conqueror phase of the ACKS game, I've been forced to ask myself, "what are each of these dudes conquering things for?" What does the fact that this character is Chaotic mean for anything that he chooses to build or the way in which he chooses to build it?

And then the realization hit me: if he hadn't needed to make an alignment decision at first level, but could have made it later on in his career he would have made a decision that fit the way the character has developed. Sure, Chaotic may sound great at level one when "no one's gonna tell me what to do, I'm out for teh phat lewts, son!" But at level 9 when you're carving out a kingdom for yourself, do you really want that kingdom to be all full of orcs and goblins and ogres and such? Maybe you do, that's cool. That's what Chaos is for.

My point, though, is that maybe we should hold off making that decision until it's an educated one.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Let's Talk About Beyond the Wall

First, before we do anything else, go get this:

I know you think you have everything in it already, but make sure. If you don't, this is a great way to get it. The three things in this bundle that make it worthwhile to me were Beyond the Wall and +Chris Kutalik's Slumbering Ursine Dunes and Fever-Dreaming Marlinko. Don't let Owl Hoot Trail turn you sour on the whole batch.

Ages ago (well, maybe not ages, but decently long enough ago) I got the original version of Beyond the Wall. All in all, it's a nice little retroclone with occasional modern mechanics not unlike Basic Fantasy and, much like Basic Fantasy, it had little to recommend it to me other than its admittedly neat magic system. When the new edition came out and I started to hear/read people clamoring for how cool the system was, I just "psssh"-ed it off. "It's just another retroclone that does the same thing every other retroclone does. Why should I play that rather than LotFP or Labyrinth Lord?"

And then people started talking about things like "playbooks" and "scenario packs." I understood playbooks from my time with Dungeon World and scenario packs just made sense (although what separates them from modules or adventures I couldn't tell you). I went back to my older BTW rules and saw nowhere where "playbooks" could interact with character creation, so I was confused.

As I said above, when I saw the Bundle of Holding's "OSR Bundle +3," I was skeptical, thinking I had everything in it already. But, I'll always contribute to a good cause (which the Electronic Frontier Foundation is) and I really really really wanted to know how many nods to Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes were in the Slumbering Ursine Dunes, so I jumped in and started checking out Beyond the Wall.

So, there were those playbook things, all in the zip file with the rules, but I didn't start there, no, why would I? That'd be like reading DW playbooks before understanding the basic mechanics of the game. So, instead, I delved into the rule book and found the exact same thing I already fucking had! [Note: I did not make it all the way through the book when I had this reaction. This is an important detail.] Rules for character creation that made no mention of playbooks. Huh? What?

So I opened the playbooks.

Then I started to get it.

I looked more closely at the rule book; there's a section that explains the playbooks and how to use them.

Turns out that BTW's playbooks exist to get your game up and running quickly and easily. Since the point of BTW is that you're playing "hometown heroes" just starting their adventuring careers, the playbooks offer a number of easy-to-use shortcuts to create not only a robust character, but also his backstory and a bit of the world around him. As players develop their characters, rolling dice in a vaguely Traveller-esque (more MGT than CT) that tells them how certain events in their past went down and how it affected them, players get to add locations and NPCs to the settlement they grow up in, officially cutting down on the DM's work and allowing the players to create things of lasting importance to their characters, tying them into the game even more closely.

It's explained that the playbooks are intended specifically to get a game up and running quickly, that they exist because the authors understand and expect that not every gaming group has the time to organically develop the degree of the detail that the playbooks allow to be developed in short order. If you had to come up with this stuff on your own, you could totally do it. What did your character's parents do for a living? How'd you get started in your character class? What was growing up like for you? That sort of thing. The difference between interpreting your character from a series of numbers and small facts on a piece of paper and the playbooks is a simple one: time. Yes, you can do it on your own, or you can roll some dice and play that instead.

I find it sort of ironic that it feels like "narrative mechanics" like these -- if indeed narrative mechanics they be -- are likely to be resisted by a number of old school gamers who are conversely totally okay with playing a luck-of-the-draw, roll-3d6-in-order crapshoot of a character that standard old school games provide. Sure, you can roll with the punch of playing a fighter with a CON of 7 and a WIS of 5, but you can't handle it when a die roll gives them a piece of background information. No, I'm not talking about EVERY old school gamer, just the ones who are vehemently set against narrative mechanics.

For me, the playbooks are nice and a great way to build a character that's every bit as valid as "3d6 in order." [Note: the backgrounds you roll on the playbooks' charts add to your character's ability scores and sometimes give you extra stuff like skills or spells, too.] Further, visual cues that mean things like "now it's time for you, dear player, to add a place to the map" are pretty freaking sweet. I play a lot of games on the fly and I could see BTW becoming a regular one.

Thanks, +Mike Evans, for suggesting I give this game another chance. Now, I'm trying to figure out when I can afford to buy the hardcover...

Just when I thought this post was over, I realized I hadn't talked about the "scenario packs" I mentioned above. These are not modules. Instead, they're like adventure tool kits like the ones that we publish in the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad zine. You get some tables, roll on them, and instant adventure. But wait! The cool twist on these scenario packs is that you take the things (places & NPCs) that the players added to the campaign maps and fill those in on some of the tables. WHAAAAT? That's awesome! It really inspires me to try out some new stuff in the pages of Metal Gods and even Nova Scream.

Very cool.

I'm eager to get this one to the table soon. So much so that I think I've found my game for our first DSR Actual Play stream of Season Two.

While we're on the topic of DSR, the podcast now has a Patreon page which you can find at . You know what to do.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Let's Talk About WhiteHack

First, as with so many of my other "Let's Talk About [Whatever]" posts, let me be clear: this is not a review of +Christian Mehrstam's WhiteHack RPG. Rather, it's a discussion of my impressions of the game and how it's unique and worth my time. But still, not a review. I'm not going to tell you why you should buy it, or why I did (I will say that opportunity is everything); that would make it a review. Instead, I want to talk about a few things that really make it shine and, in my view, fulfill the promise that Whitebox OD&D made that its supplements and subsequent games ultimately shortchanged us on.

The Whitebox Promise

There's this passage in Volume I: Men & Magic that goes like this:
Other Character Types: There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as
virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up to the top, i.e., a
player wishing to be a Dragon would have to begin as let us say, a "young" one and
progress upwards in the usual manner, steps being predetermined by the campaign
That first sentence hits me in the sensitive parts of my heart and wants to make them sing. Subsequent supplements try to deliver on these promises by adding additional character classes and character options like spells, but to me it's always felt like the expansion of options became proscriptive. You could play a thief because you had the rules to play one. You could play a druid. But why couldn't you have played those types of character without those rules and just worked it out for yourself as the game play went along?

I know I just lost some folks there.

I know some folks think that without rules that say you can do a thing, you can't do it. That's actually the sort of unimaginative thought that leads to a proliferation of classes, spells, rules, splatbooks and, in the end, system bloat. Because of thinking like this, we need to have a thief class, but we'd also need a centaur class and a werewolf class because you're not imaginative enough to sort it out yourself.

This is part one of the Whitebox Promise.

Here's part two, from Volume III: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures: "... but why have us do any more of your imagining for you?"

Yep. That's the thing.

First, you can be anything. Second, we shouldn't tell you how to be anything.

And yet, TSR kept publishing rules and made a bunch of money doing other people's imagining for them and the game got huge and sold millions of copies and was revised a bunch of times and ultimately the Mentzer edition came out and sold the most copies of any D&D ever, so many that a copy ended up in a Grand Rapids garage sale in 1985 where my grandparents bought it for me. So yes, I get that if it wasn't for TSR blowing up the D&D box beyond the LBBs, I might never have gotten into it. This isn't about irony. And it's not about what TSR should have done, because, at least in the early days, I think they got more right than wrong.

This is about a promise undelivered upon.

The simplicity of OD&D pared with a promised open-endedness that just won't quit.

This is the promise that WhiteHack delivers upon.

Simple Descriptors, Old School Rules

I've mentioned before that I really like the implementation of common language into games as discrete rules elements based upon the interpretation of common language terms. This is one reason I was hoping to love Fate (I didn't) and its use of common language in Aspects. This is also one of the reasons that Dungeon World's Bonds work so well. WhiteHack bases its answer to the Whitebox Promise in common language descriptors (called Groups) while marrying them to a different take on old school mechanics.

I think that the use of the term "Groups" is a little confusing, but really what it means is "descriptors." A Group could be "kobold." It could be "lawful." It could be an occupation (and has to be for certain character classes). It could be a ton of different stuff, and you get the picture. Here, if you wanted to be Gary & Dave's dragon from that quote above, you'd take a "dragon" Group. It would apply to all sorts of dragon-y things. It lets you be a dragon and you can apply it to the things that not only is a dragon good at, but also the things that dragons are bad at.

All of this lies on top of an old school-style "roll low" universal mechanic that feels like an inside-out version of the "d20 System" of the 3e days (in a good way) or an amped-up version of BECMI & 2e's use of ability score checks. This universal mechanic intersects with Groups in a clever way: if your Group should apply in a positive manner, roll twice and take the better result (read here as under the relevant ability score or value but as close as possible) but if it applies in a negative manner, you take the worse (read here as either above the relevant score/value or the lower of the two if both are below).

This is a super-flexible system that I could see using for a ton of different games. I'm slightly afraid it's going to become my next go-to game.

It Ain't All Good

Seriously, where's the pdf? I understand the argument for game books as gaming artifacts. I mean, I make zines, ferchrissakes. I get that things need to be in print to really get the love they deserve. HOWEVER, these days, I want a pdf. I can put it on my phone. I always have it as long as I have my computer. I can share it with the players in my group (and I will; your DRM is pretty fucking stupid, so you might as well knock it off [that having been said, I still have DRM enabled on OBS; I should fix that]). The softcover of WhiteHack is super-cheap, so affording a purchase isn't really the thing. I want to be able to say to a group of people scattered across the country (or even globe!) and say "Hey folks, we're playing WhiteHack!" They can download those rules themselves via pdf... or they could, if it were available on pdf. Not having a pdf is a bad choice and I'm afraid it will ultimately keep WhiteHack from being anything more than a fringe game.

Also, "roll low" always feels awkward. I've gotten used to it in Warhammer & Rune Quest, but it still feels strange to me. Bigger numbers are better, right? Well, I guess they kind of are in WhiteHack; the trade off of a closer die result to the score/value tested being better kind of makes my peace with the ickyness of "roll low."

In the end, I could see WhiteHack taking over a lot of my gaming life... if only it were easier to share with my players.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Let's Talk About Hubris

No, not the consistent element of Greek (and other) tragedies, but rather the campaign setting for DCC being Kickstarted right now by +Mike Evans, a guy who I'm proud to call a friend, happy to call a fellow blogger and willing to call an all-around pretty damn awesome guy. I could go off and explain why I'm excited about the Hubris project, but I don't think there's any way for me to capture Mike's boundless enthusiasm, prolific-yet-inspired writing or inimitable juxtaposition of grimdark and gallows humor, so I might as well let him do it for me.

Here's his blog:

"Oh," you may be saying to yourself right now, "that guy? The Wrathofzombie guy?"

Yeah, him.

His name is Mike and he's pretty cool.

He makes stuff for free, then cleans it up and puts it all together in one place, making it cohesive, and that's what Hubris is, which is pretty damn awesome. And also sort of what I do with Metal Gods.

Speaking of the Metal Gods, the Metal Gods team has been using stuff that Mike wrote in our regular game for... 2 years? 3 years? I don't even know anymore. It's hard to keep track of how long that game has been going on. I think we're coming up on our 3rd anniversary and so far, Mike's creations have given rise to such awesome moments as Scorpion Boy, the urchin-turned mutant who's a complete suck-fest but manages to survive due to his scorpion tail and acid blood, and Sybian the Whore-Forged, a "murder machine" (Mike's name for the class) that we found in a basement and gave to +Gabriel Perez Gallardi's super-creepy cleric of Cthulhu, Nimue, to use in her "rituals."

At this point, you're sick of bloggers shilling for KS projects. I am, too. So I'm not going to. Rather, I wanted to make sure that folks knew this was out there and is in its last few hours of KS-ing as well as let folks know that -- even before I became friends with the guy -- I was happily making use of the stuff that he posted for the community to use. In some ways, I think I'm proposing that the community "give a little bit back," but I'm not really up for that degree of pressure.

One more thing: Mike has tapped me, +Wayne Snyder+Harley Stroh+Kelvin Green & David Lewis Johnson to each write five monsters as a stretch goal once he hits $7000, a totally attainable goal. Along the road to this extra 25 monsters, there would be a ton of extra art added to the game as stretch goals as well.

Check out the Hubris Kickstarter here:

Friday, October 23, 2015

Stupid DM Tricks: Stupid-Easy Monster Math

I'm not trying to milk the "hey, I'm a new father" thing or anything, but daaaaamn! That plus moving plus wife starting a new job and a small amount of just being personally overwhelmed with all of that stuff and other things I haven't mentioned means I haven't had much time to post lately. I aim to fix that. Here goes.

My discovery of what I call "Stupid-Easy Monster Math" has its root in several places. First, what the fuck does HD 1+1 mean? Seriously! Second, I hate to-hit matrices because I tend to think they should be much, much easier. Looking up every fucking attack a monster makes on a cumbersome table is counter-intuitive and boring. I want quick math that makes things make sense. The third thing is Kevin Crawford's "Target 20" mechanic which I only just connected to this whole process and it made me decide that it's worthwhile writing this post. In the end, I ended up with a simple process that SERIOUSLY speeds up combat on my end.

Here's the gist of the junk I'm about to lay out: there's a super-simple mathematical equation you can use to figure out whether your monsters hit your PCs or not using a standard, old-fashioned descending AC system. You can skip ahead to that part if you don't want my intermediate rambling.

Your game is complex enough already,
who has time for attack matrices?
To the first root, what the fuck does HD 1+1 or 3+1 mean? The obvious answer is that you roll the appropriate number of HD and add the number of the plus. To some of us (me) this means add the plus to each die but really, is that sufficient to warrant additional notation? Clearly it doesn't. If the only difference between a 1 HD orc and a 1+1 HD hobgoblin is literally 1 fucking hp, then there's no significantly interesting mechanical variation from one to another. However, the to-hit matrices I'm about to complain about illuminate a difference that's not quite obvious from just looking at the HD expression. According to the to-hit matrices that I bother to pay attention to (OD&D, BX & BECMI), an HD "1+" creature is treated the same as a 2 HD creature. Thus, unless we start statting up monsters as 1+3 HD or other nonsense, then the "+1" really means "it's really a 1 HD creature, but it fights like a 2 HD creature;" in other words, it's 1 HD tough, but 2 HD dangerous. Now that orc and the hobgoblin are significantly, interestingly mechanically different and we know what the fuck HD 1+1 means!

Part two: the to hit matrix is cumbersome and irritating! I don't mind making players deal with it but, after all, I'm probably going to have to consult it more times for my monsters' attacks then they will ever have to for their PCs' attacks. Realistically, it will always always ALWAYS take me longer to look something up on a table than it does to do a simple math equation. When I learned to play D&D "correctly" it was with AD&D and the end of BECMI, so we were dealing with THAC0, so simple math like this is good for my brain. With this background, I looked at the to hit matrices that I reference (mentioned above) and looked for patterns. Lo and behold, a pattern was easy to see: a 1 HD creature hits an AC 0 at 19 (or, has a THAC0 of 19), a 2 HD creature (or, as illustrated above, 1+1) hits on an 18, 3 HD hits on 17 and so on. Duh. Easy. To my mind at that point, the number "19" was a sort of hinge point: using it, I could figure out what any creature would need to roll to hit any AC.

The third part is where Kevin Crawford's Target 20 system comes in. In that system, you roll a d20, add some stuff and if you hit a 20 or better, you did the thing. Since I had been hinging everything on the number 19 (the point at which a 1 HD monster hits an AC 0), what's keeping my system from matching Crawford's? Only one thing, really: all I needed to do was make the HD of the creature in question part of the equation.

Here's what I came up with:

d20 + (Monster's net HD) + (Target's AC) >= 20 

Bam. Done. Math simplified, life made easier. You no longer need charts and tables and other nonsense. Go play games and run them from just your scribbled notes and a rough sense of how tough monsters should be because you don't really need tables anymore.

Oh, shit.


Saving throws.

I guess there are still dragons to slay...

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Dynamic Hexcrawl: The Origin Hex

Now that we have our first seven 24-mile hexes blocked in, let's look at the center hex or, as I like to call it, the "origin hex," since much like on a Cartesian plane, this is the "0,0" point for our sandbox. We can worry about actual naming schemes later because, honestly, they're not going to matter until you know a bit more about your sandbox.

Zooming In

In the last step, we decided on the general layout of our first 7 hexes. The "this large area is generally like this" of them. Now, we're going to zoom in on the Origin Hex to detail it more closely. We'll be switching from 24-mile hexes to 6-mile hexes, so we're going to pick up our first super-useful resource. +Richard LeBlanc of New Big Dragon Games has created a series of useful blank hexmaps that are going to make this whole process... possible. First, go to RPGNow and get this:

The map that we're primarily concerned with is the 4:1 Hex Crawl Worksheet on page 2 of the document. Look at that. It's a thing of beauty, no?

In the Scale area, we're working on a scale (still) of 24 miles for the large hex and 6 miles for the small hex. You've got 16 full hexes (when you count partial hexes as their appropriate fraction) of canvas to paint on in one 24-mile hex!

Feel free to fill in as much of this map (and the lines on the worksheet) as you like, but remember that there are a few things you want to make sure you include somewhere in this larger hex:

  • A starting settlement. Think about the guidelines we talked about in the "First 7 Hexes" posts and use them here. Personally, I recommend starting small so that the PCs can "graduate" to a city adventure in a few levels (especially since they'll be flush with loot to be bilked out of and otherwise spend in "the big city").
  • A dungeon. You may even want to include a few. Here are some thoughts:
    • A basic, starter dungeon can be good. Something like Quasqueton or the Caves of Chaos, particularly in that they've got a finite end point, after which the PCs have "graduated" and can move on to other dangers. 
    • A megadungeon can be great, especially if there are other dungeons in the area as well. The good thing about a megadungeon is that, in a hexcrawl -- dynamic or not -- the megadungeon can be walked away from and people can move on and do something else. They may even return to the megadungeon in their own time. It's nice to have an option like this in a sandbox, even outside of a normal megadungeon-centric campaign.
    • You could do multiple short dungeons of the "side trek" variety. For these, it can be great to check out Moleskin Maps or Dyson's Dungeons on RPGNow. I use these things fairly frequently to generate short, on-the-fly dungeons of this nature. They're good, bite-sized nuggets of adventure that can see the party through an evening's adventure. If you use these, be sure to populate your hexes with them fairly liberally. 
  • Ruins! These may be a dungeon -- or tied to one -- but nothing gives your game a sense of history like the players tromping around inside the remnants of the sorts of stuff that used to be there. Remember to apply your aesthetic to these: this is an opportunity to reinforce what it feels like for the characters to be active participants in their environment. 
  • A looming threat. Again, this can be a dungeon. It can also be a lair. It could be stronghold. Whatever shape it takes, it's another opportunity for you, the DM to immerse your players in the aesthetic of the setting. If this is a threat, what is it threatening? How does this threat manifest for the common people? For the folks in charge? For the PCs? Most if not all of those questions should have different answers. The threat should be a present one for the PCs as well as the other folks as well. 
  • A legend. Again, tie this to other stuff as much as you see fit or don't. This is here less to accentuate the stuff we've been talking about so far and more to, again, get across what the area is like by showing the players (and yourself, really) what the people in this area choose to believe in. After all, people could stop retelling a legend, right? 
Once you've got all that stuff in its place, you can finish up filling in that little hex map at the top. Here, things can make as much or little sense as you want. Just apply your aesthetic in broad strokes to sort out what the terrain is like and where the things you've come up with for it are. But by now, you should be detecting a theme: your best choice at all junctures is the one that (a) provides your players something to interact with and (b) reinforces your aesthetic. A key here is to be as varied with your aesthetic as you can be to avoid beating your players over the head with it while at the same time managing to communicate something about what your actual aesthetic is. It's tricky, but I'm sure you can get the hang of it. Soon, I'll have some examples for you of how I do stuff like this. 

My favorite part of these sheets -- other than the hexmap at the top -- are the random encounter charts. Guess what we're going to talk about next time? 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

DCC Donnerstag: The Resplendent Aweswine, Spellburn & Invoking the Patron

Last week, I introduced you to a patron that I kind of made up on the spot as a result of misspelling the word "awesome," inspired by some of the revelations from one of the "Night in Ur-Hadad" games I ran at Marmalade Dog Con this year (thanks again to +Shane Harsch for all the #wizbiz). Rather than give any more of an intro, let's just jump into the shizz, shall we?

Patron Spellburn: the Resplendent Aweswine

  1. The Resplendent Aweswine feels the immediate need to experience a particular food of the Judge's choice and will live vicariously through the experiences of the caster. If the caster satisfies this craving before sunrise of the following day, all Spellburn associated with this result is negated. 
  2. The caster is parched with an urgent thirst that only alcohol can slake! For every ability score point Spellburned, he must consume 1 pint of alcohol. If he can consume a number of pints of alcohol equal to the amount Spellburned, the caster loses only half that amount, but entirely from his Personality score. If he cannot consume enough alcohol, he's just a drunk.
  3. A third eye opens on the caster's forehead and divine cosmic knowledge begins to flow outward from it. In addition to any and all Spellburn attempted, the caster must reveal a truth of the universe unknown to any present that satisfies the Judge. If he does not, he incurs the Spellburn as normal, but gains no benefit from it. 
  4. A sublime radiance settles upon the caster as if from above. It joins its power with the caster's, leaving him weaker, suffering the effects of his Spellburn. The caster must make a Will Save (DC 10+level of the spell being cast); if successful, the radiance doubles the effect of the Spellburn. If unsuccessful, the Spellburn affects the spell normally. 

Invoke Patron: the Resplendent Aweswine

  • 12-13: The Aweswine is occupied at a particularly stunning repast. Although he is incapable of directly aiding you, your communion with him channels some of the ambrosia and soma he is consuming into and perhaps through your undeserving mortal essence. The caster or an ally of the caster's choice within 30' regains 1d6+1 hit points and is fortified physically and psychologically as if he had just eaten a gourmet meal. The target of this effect does not need to eat for 24 hours. 
  • 14-17: Your spiritual link with the Resplendent Aweswine finds the patron deep in the middle of a story, witticism or other insightful statement. You may (a) know the answer to the next riddle or puzzle posed to you, (b) receive a +5 bonus on your next skill check or (c) gain a +2 bonus to attack and damage for 1d4 rounds. 
  • 18-19: The Aweswine presents you with a gift of the remnants of a feast he has attended, a "celestial doggie bag" There is enough food to feed CL+1 people; all people thus fed regain 1d6 hit points per CL of the caster. For each person thus fed, the meal also includes a small, baked confection containing a tiny strip of paper. On each slip of paper, written in red ink, is a secret bit of wisdom written by the Aweswine, intended for the person who opens it. This customized message centers the reader's thoughts and being, giving him a +2 bonus on his next d20 roll of any kind. A character may only "hold" one of these "fortunate cookies" at a time and no one can gain the benefit of another person's cookie. 
  • 20-23: The Aweswine sends a Daemon Swine (Type I Demon) to assist the caster for a period of 1d4 hours. The Daemon Swine is large enough to be ridden by the caster, is fastidiously cleanly and may fly at twice its normal movement rate. 
  • 24-27: The caster channels the awe-inspiring majesty of the Resplendent Aweswine. All characters and creatures who can see the caster must make an immediate Will Save or be overcome by the caster's nearly-deific aura, as if affected by a charm person spell. 
  • 28-29: The Resplendent Aweswine sends the caster one of his prized implements to use for a time. The caster will receive either the chakram of eternity (a +4 chakram, melee or ranged weapon, 1d8 damage; if thrown returns to the wielder unerringly; provides a +4 bonus to all spell casting checks) or the inevitable mace (a +5 mace, 1d12 damage; does double damage to Lawful or Chaotic creatures) for 1d5 hours. Either weapon must remain in the possession of the caster or will be immediately returned to the Aweswine. 
  • 30-31: The caster gains the use of both the chakram of eternity and the inevitable mace (see above) for 1d5 hours. Both weapons must remain in the caster's possession or both will immediately disappear. 
  • 32+: The Resplendent Aweswine has found the caster's actions and sacrifices in his name so favorable that he has decided to whisk him and his nearest allies away to one of the constant parties across the multiverse. Effectively, time stops for the caster and a number of allies equal to his level +1 as they slip through the streams of time and space toward whatever amazing repast awaits them. Upon their return, each has regained all of his hit points, healed all Spellburn and temporary Luck (for halflings or thieves) and healed all points of ability score damage. Poison and disease are completely eradicated from the feasters' bodies and their ravages healed. All spell casters returning from such a feast gain a +5 bonus to their next spell casting attempt. Any class with a Deed Die or Luck Die may roll twice as many such dice within their first round of combat after the feast. Any skill checks attempted after the feast are at a +5 bonus for the first hour after returning. Each feaster may also make a Luck check; if successful, he has gleaned a cosmically important piece of information from his time with the Resplendent Aweswine. If unsuccessful, he has earned the enmity of some eldritch being of the cosmos. The details of both the boon and the bane are to be worked out by the Judge and will likely prove germane to the campaign when least expected... 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

DCC Donnerstag: The Resplendent Aweswine, A Supernatural Patron

Big thanks to +James MacGeorge for contributing to this idea and +Shane Harsch for having a similar idea at Marmalade Dog Con this year that I'm drawing inspiration from. Here's a semi-ridiculous patron for your wizards and elves to debase themselves to. 

The Resplendent Aweswine, fabled and much-storied hog of the gods, is not an animal spirit of the normal, "progenitor of its species" sort so often seen in literary, folkloric and symbolically logical thought. Rather the Aweswine is a specimen of a porcine derivation so perfect, so enlightened and so sublime that even the gods cannot bring themselves to eat him. At home among the eternal rewards and punishments that the gods preside over, the Resplendent Aweswine travels as he wills throughout the universe, fulfilling the inscrutable agenda he keeps to himself, laying down heavy cosmic knowledge on those wise enough to listen and enthusiastically devouring any food set before him.

While the Aweswine has earned himself a transdimensional reputation as a sort of pan-cosmic gatecrasher, so awe-inspiring and sublime is he that, wherever he wanders across the face of reality (and sometimes into unreality and semi-reality, as well), a place at the table is found for him and he is welcomed with whatever hospitality the attendant gods, demons, wizards, sorcerers, angels, abstract conceptual beings and even mere mortals can bathe him in. In return, while he dines upon whatever delicacies and rarities the hosts provide, the very clever an the very wise contend with every other feast-guest, clambering for a close position to the Aweswine, that he may be the first to catch whatever golden nugget of enlightenment might fall from the Aweswine's lips. Being perhaps the universe's most perfect storyteller who does not regard himself as such, the Aweswine regales all attendants with tales of his travels, observations upon places few but he dare to tread, nuances of courts infernal and divine, all interspersed with his legendary wit and precise, cutting insights into the nature of all things. "Were one to have an eternity in which to dine and drink with the Resplendent Aweswine," observed Master Guang-Yuan Jo during his tenure as personal physician to the penultimate Pascha of Ur-Hadad, "one might not merely learn all things but have the an impossibly good time while doing so. I am certain that the highest of heavens and most supreme of afterlives await those mortals who die of over-eating and alcohol poisoning in the pursuit of such perfect knowledge; this would be the third-best of all possible deaths, I believe."

Several mortal sorcerers -- including the court sorcerer in the employ of the Gourmand of Shugab -- have sought to enter into the Resplendent Aweswine's confidence and have supplicated themselves before him in hopes of attracting his attention and supernatural patronage. This he can provide, assuming the supplicant meets his criteria. The invoke patron ritual must include an extravagant feast, from which no one may be barred (the supplicant need not invite everyone, but he may not turn away any who deign to attend), be they mortal or immortal, man or beast, monster or saint. Second, the supplicant must entertain the Aweswine (even in proxy, which is most likely) with a story, tale, poem, information, scientific data or the like which the Aweswine does not already know. Finally, the Aweswine requires that the supplicant undergoes an ordeal wherein the supplicant listens to -- and stays awake during the entirety of -- one complete story, history, recounting of scientific or arcane theory, religious revelation or some other sort of wisdom such as the Aweswine is known for throughout the universe; only then can the supplicant truly be considered a follower of the Resplendent Aweswine.

No being of such universal import as the Resplendent Aweswine is without his detractors, however, and such is it that a cabal of "Aweswine deniers" have sprung up within the wizardly community. These deniers claim that the Aweswine is not actually sublime or enlightened or excellent in any way but is rather a ruse carried out by Atraz A'Zul, the mother of spiders, in some mad attempt to control the flow of knowledge. The Aweswine's public statements, the deniers purport, contain just enough truth to be accepted, but are deeply flawed on a number of levels and accounts, thus assuring Atraz A'Zul's dominance in the field of purveyor of secrets and knower of all things. So far, A'Zulites and Aweswine devotees scoff at these claims, which deniers and their supporters point out the omnipresence of spiderwebs in shrines to the Aweswine scattered throughout the cosmos, some even seeming to contain words.

Patron Taint: The Resplendent Aweswine

  1. The pleasing aroma of bacon emanates from the caster whenever he casts a spell. If this result is rolled a second time, the scent intensifies and attracts carnivorous animals nearby, increasing the likelihood of a random encounter with a savage carnivore by 15%. Further, carnivores in the presence of the caster gain +1 on all attacks made against the caster. If this result is rolled a third time, the scent intensifies yet again and effects sentient beings as well, who must make a Will save DC 13 or become overwhelmed by hunger and likely to do very disgusting things to sate it. 
  2. The Resplendent Aweswine that the caster assume a personal ban or austerity to be chosen by the Judge. Some examples include: may not eat bacon, may not eat ham, may not eat any meat, may not bathe, may not wash clothes, may never harm a spider and so on. Should the caster violate his ban, he will be unable to call upon the Resplendent Aweswine with the invoke patron spell until he has made adequate restitution.
  3. Whenever the caster casts a spell, he must also eat something, though it may be something small like a nut or a single oat. If this result is rolled a second time, he must consume food of roughly the same size and substance as a piece of bread, and so on, with each roll of this spell increasing the amount of food necessary. Failure to eat something prevents the spell from taking effect. 
  4. The caster must, whenever he casts a spell, say aloud something that is true, though it may be whispered. If this result is rolled a second time, the true thing must be proclaimed loudly for all around to hear. If this result is rolled a third time, the true thing must also be something that at least someone in the area did not already know. 
  5. The caster begins to take on a distinctly porcine appearance. His mouth and nose begin to just outward, suggesting a snout, and his eyes shrink and become piggly; he loses 1 point of Personality permanently. A second roll of this result completes the snout transformation, the caster's eyes spread to be roughly on either side of the head from each other, and his ears flop forward atop his head; he loses a further two points of Personality. However, a third roll of this result confers a truly supernaturally sublime aura onto the caster as a third eye opens upon his forehead. Now, his porcine features seem less grotesque and more friendly, setting all who perceive him at ease; he regains all Personality lost from this taint and gains an additional one point of Personality. 
Next time, we'll get some Patron Spellburn results and maybe some invoke patron results. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

AVAILABLE NOW: Black Sun Deathcrawl by James MacGeorge [UPDATED!]

by James MacGeorge
"You are The Cursed - remnants of life in a universe of decay. Cannibalistic parasites, you suck a meager existence from the corpse of a long dead reality. No names, no races, your only goal to dig deeper into the earth to escape the rays of the Black Sun that will eventually extinguish what little remains."
In this setting supplement for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, the apocalypse is not merely nigh, it has passed, the world is over and all that is left are the crumbling ashes of the ages before and the Cursed survivors who have yet to succumb to the soul-obliterating rays of the Black Sun. Make what you can of the little time you have left before the Black Sun renders your efforts meaningless. 

At the time of this writing, there are 20 copies of the first printing of Black Sun Deathcrawl remaining, but they're likely to go fast! When you purchase BSDC in print, you'll also get the DRM-free pdf. You can also purchase the pdf by paying-what-you want. 

[UPDATE] Well, we sold out of print copies of Black Sun Deathcrawl in 56 minutes. Admittedly, we didn't have a lot in stock, but James I and I are already planning a second printing to keep you savages sated! We're still hammering out details and how much the 2nd printing will vary from the first, so stay tuned for info on the second printing of this, the most brutal vision of the DCC RPG I've ever seen.

[ANOTHER UPDATE] You can now pre-order the second printing of Back Sun Deathcrawl below! Get on this!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Weekend Wargaming: Frostgrave Via Reaper

I know it's been a while since I've mentioned any wargaming stuff here on the Dispatches... Wait, do I ever talk about wargames over here? I'm not sure. I'm clearly far more of an RPG gamer than a wargamer, but my gaming youth lavished just as much love and admiration (if not slightly more!) over Space Marines and Blood Bowl teams as it did over fancy campaign settings and cool module covers. That is to say: it's shit I admired from afar and wished I could get into but money and a lack of folks to play with it kept wargames out of my grasp for a long time. I know I talk about this on DSR from time to time, if only because +Donn Stroud is more of a wargamer than I am, but I figure it's about time for me to talk a little bit about it over here since it's far easier for me to actually document things on a blog rather than on a podcast.


A few months back, I discovered Osprey Games. Yeah, I know. If you're a hardcore wargames dude, you've known that Osprey has been kicking out wargames for years now. I did not. Every gamer who's picked up games or minis in a hobby shop (not a games shop) of the "every sort of crazy hobby under one roof" style knows Osprey Publishing: these are the dude who publish all those guides to what every fucking troop type that has ever existed wore, what their colors were, what the historically accurate this-es and that-ses are, yadda yadda. So, those dudes started making wargames. The draw for me works like this:

  1. First, they are slightly cheaper. Seriously, Doug Adams paraphrase aside, you can get a complete wargame for under $20. Check these things out on Amazon. You'll typically pay less than $15, actually. If I can get a complete wargame for $15, even if it's a niche game, I'm a step ahead. 
  2. Second, Osprey doesn't care what minis you use because they don't make any. They have partnerships with North Star minis in the UK to produce stuff (and North Star makes some sexy, sexy models), but Osprey isn't about to tell you that you have to spend $X-thousand on a specific chunk of plastic. This philosophy also opens you up to an implicit approval of interpreting the game: it's not like you need rules for dwarves to have dwarves. Just use them. Shit like that.
So, about Frostgrave. I'm not going to try to sell you on it. You know two of my reasons for digging Osprey games already. Frostgrave is very rules-light and streamlined. I've heard some people think otherwise, but I don't get it. You're rolling at most one die at a time (and it's a d20!), not a fistfull of d6s, the stat line is super short and self-explanatory, etc. So, here's my two-word sales pitch that I said I wasn't going to give; WIZARD FIGHT!

So, I've got fighting wizards, I'm happy. Now I just need some wizards (and henches) to fight each other. While I did participate in Osprey & North Star's "Nickstarter" program (and netted some sweet ass minis!), I've got all these minis from Reaper Bones II (and I bought in to Bones III because I'm a fiend, man!) so I figured I'd start there. Thus, I've started putting together themed warbands, grouping not-so-different stuff together. 

Warband #1 - Ver-Men Scummoner

I bought the Rats! addon for Bones II because I just can't get enough skaven or ver-men or ratlings or whatever the fuck you choose to call them. The cool thing about the Bones II ver-men is that -- and I didn't realize this at first -- she's a she, with a wide-open robe proving that not only is she a she, but that, clearly, ver-ladies have inguinal nipples. Look it up if you don't know what that means. I figured that she'd have to be a summoner since, really, what sort of magic would ver-men use? Clearly, the most corrupt and corrupting. Cleearly, being ver-peeps, she's not merely a "summoner," but a full-fledged "scummoner." 

Warband #2 - Dwarven Enchanter & Crew

I'll come up with cooler names for these warbands as time rolls on; the RPGer in me won't just let them sit without having some sort of story behind them. Dwarves, I'll admit, I have a little trouble with because I can't stand a lot of the dwarves stereotypes. No, my dwarves will never speak with an illogical highlands accents. That shit is stupid. I figured that dwarves were perfect for Enchanting magic since that fits the role they traditionally play in myth and pretty much all of the fantasy tropes involving dwarves. Yeah, it's kind of low-hanging fruit, but I think it would be a solid starting warband. 

Warband #3 - Derro Illusionist & Crew

I got a bunch of derro models in Bones II (I'm not sure if everyone did) and I think they're pretty neat models. While I had initially thought to make the derro wizard a summoner (outer dark, aberrations, madness, all that), I decided that illusionist would be stranger and less obvious, so I'm going that direction. These models look like they'll be a lot of fun to paint. 

Warband #4 - VIKINGS!

Yes, I already have a bunch of Wargames Factory vikings to use with Domains At War. That's all part of my plan. So, why not build a viking warband for Frostgrave? I got a really cool Red Box viking hero that would make an awesome wizard (probably either a Thaumaturge or Soothsayer; I think either could be cool), but sadly I'm getting away from my vision of using my Bones minis. Still worth doing, though.

Warband #5 - Chronomancer

I know that I'll end up playing a Chronomancer in Frostgrave. Time magic is always a conceptual favorite of mine and my strategies tend to lend themselves well to time-magic-y thought. The wizard I picked up from the Nickstarter was the chronomancer, and given how much I love the North Star figures, I might just wait on this warband until I've gotten some games under my belt so I know what I want to pair with the wizard, henchman-wise. 

Of course, I've got a ton of other ideas as well and am starting on getting some of these things based and primed. Pics probably next weekend. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Roll Your Own Ur-Hadad: MGOUH Generators!

I realized that I haven't posted about this yet and it really deserves to be posted about. In the past few months, two folks have stepped up and made some awesome Ur-Hadad-related computer doo-dads that I think can add a lot to your games.

First, +Chris Tandlmayer wrote not one but two random generators over on Abulafia, both taken from Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad #1. Both generators are inspired by +Edgar Johnson's fucking awesome "Street Kids of Ur-Hadad" adventure toolkit and the fantastic "ROLL ALL THE FUCKING DICE" generators that Edgar included because, you know, rolling a fist full of dice and trying to sort out everything that they mean can be a little daunting to some. Well, daunting but awesome, right? Anyway, here are Chris's takes on Edgar's tables:

Finally you can truly run Ur-Hadad completely spontaneously! (That's totally already the way I do it, but whatevs. Edgar's tables are fucking awesome and everyone should use them!)

The one thing that Chris couldn't get his Abulafia generators to do was to record when three 6's had been rolled which, if you'll remember your Metal Gods #1, necessitates the rolling of a d30 to figure out what strange shit is about to happen. Enter our next generator.

Over on Twitter, Ian Credible (@yngar) came up with a "Roll All The Fucking Dice" generator that does just that: it rolls all the fucking dice. It doesn't tell you what those dice rolls mean, so you have to look that part up/sort it out/make it up, but it DOES keep track of whether you've rolled 666 or not. The good thing about Ian's generator is that I now have more reasons to come up with more Roll All The Fucking Dice tables (or make Edgar and +Wayne Snyder do it) and I can just keep using Ian's generator for all of them. You can find Ian's generator here: 

Within the city of Ur-Hadad, it's really important that each neighborhood have its own atmosphere, ambiance, feeling. I love the direction that Edgar took with his generator, but when I was trying to push myself to improve my improvisational gaming style, I came up with the following method which is necessarily derivative (you'll see why) and practically plagiaristic of other authors' work. 


Grab your copy of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. This book is a necessity to anyone running any sort of city campaign, so I'm presuming you have it and ignoring any deficiency in your esteemed collection of books, both RPG-related and not. Flip to a random page in the book: if it's a page that describes a city, use that city's description as the basis of the description for your neighborhood. If it's not a city description, flip to another page and another page until you've found one.


Grab another book by an author you like, the more transgressive the better. I like to haul out William S. Burroughs or Hunter S. Thompson. I'm pretty sure that a middle name that starts with "S." isn't a necessity, but I haven't tested that theory. Now, flip to a random page in that book and find the central conflict on that page; that's now happening in your neighborhood. Look for the central characters on that page; they're now your NPCs. Just mine this shit for important details and make it work.


Make it work. Unless they're exceptionally well-read geniuses like you, they probably won't know where you took that shit from because you'd never grab an author's popular works, right? There you have it. That's it. 

It's also worth mentioning that +Claytonian JP just made his own trait generator for towns, villages, hamlets, etc. over here:  Very cool stuff, Clay!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Paternity Leave Brain Space & #JoeskyTax

In my last post, I mentioned that during my paternity leave, I didn't do as much writing as I'd liked to have, if only because typing with one hand isn't exactly a forte of mine. Instead, I got a lot of thinking done and some planning and other shizz. Here's a short list of some of the stuff I actually worked out.

Black Sun Deathcrawl

Get used to this image
At GenCon, the excellent Mr. +James MacGeorge released his nightmare-inducing setting for DCC, Black Sun Deathcrawl. I'd like to gush about how awesome James is and how he's one of the Metal Gods players and one of the coolest people I've ever met on teh interwebz, but then you might think that I'm only interested in pimping Black Sun Deathcrawl because I like the dude who wrote it. Well, I do like the dude who wrote it, but BSDC is goddamn amazing. It's based on a post James wrote on his blog like a year ago, and back then I was super excited about it, wanting him to develop it further; thankfully, he did. And published it. And now he needs someone to handle online sales of the book, something that I readily volunteered for. If you're looking for a gaming experience that will make you question your own existence (and really, if you're not, we're in this hobby for vastly different reasons), stay tuned to Dispatches From Kickassistan for details.

"The Gahsman Project"

Some readers of the blog may be familiar with +Cory Gahsman, aka "DM Cojo," if only from all the damn letters the dude writes to pretty much every gaming podcast out there. I knew him by name from Spellburn, and when +Kathryn Muszkiewicz and I met him at GaryCon 2014, it was kind of like meeting a family member, especially for Katie. No, seriously, Cojo really looks like he could be a member of Katie's family; it's kind of eerie. All of that aside, Cojo and his son, Chase, have been cooking up a monster book based on Chase's illustrations, which Cojo then gives descriptive text and stats. The gents were thinking about publishing this one themselves and even talked to the Dark Master himself about it, but weren't exactly sure how to get the project off the ground. This is where I came it. So, I'll be managing this project, handling layout, production and fulfillment while Chase & Cojo get to do the fun part. There should be more details about this sooner rather than later, but I have to meet with Cojo to hammer out a production schedule.

Why Aren't We Licensing More Work?

This revelation hit me the other day as I was thinking about the Gahsman Project (no, that's not going to be its final name, just a placeholder for now). I had initially planned to pay Cojo and Chase for their work on the Project, but I also want them to retain their rights to their own work. If I simply paid them for work done, it could be said that I had purchased their work from them and thus I myself own the copyright to the work. This is something I want to avoid. Creator-owned content was a strong part of what made Image Comics such a huge deal from its inception and, to me, it seems like RPGs are just as viable a field for creator-owned content. Sure, your "campaign supplement splatbook expansions" for major games, but I'm never going to have to worry about paying freelancers for their work on a megasetting or whatever. That's not who I am, that's not what I'm interested in publishing, that's not what I do.

The plan is, for things that I publish that are created by people who aren't me, like the Gahsman Project, I'm going to pay them a licensing fee for the license to publish their material for a period of time. After that licensing agreement ends, we can renew it (and renegotiate terms; something that makes more sense if it's been particularly successful) or we can terminate the license and go our separate ways, whatever. The rights are retained by the person who made the stuff, not by the guy who just published it. Things are as they should be.

To some of my readers, this may seem like a "so what?" issue, and I get that. It's not like I'm trying to be some bigwig publisher dude living off of other people's work, and that's kind of the point. In this industry, it's not even possible to live off of other people's work, is it? Eh, maybe, but that's not the point. The point is to make sure that everything I publish, I publish in an ethical manner and that everybody knows it from moment one and there's no confusion about who owns what, who can do what with it and how folks are getting paid for it.

Case in point, I have this friend who shall remain nameless and he's a small press publisher like me. He publishes entirely in pdf and contracts writers on a "pay for work" basis. This means that if you work for him, you're getting paid per word. On the surface, we're okay so far. The problem comes when this guy hires folks to do work for pay, but doesn't have a contract of any kind. Everything is a verbal agreement, a wink, a nod and a handshake. Honestly, I'm cool with that until something happens down the line and there's a dispute between my friend and someone he's hired to do work. Maybe that person wants out of the deal, maybe the publisher is using his work in a way he didn't intend, who knows. The point is, there's now a disagreement between my friend and his writers & artists, and to smooth it all over, he asks them all to sign a contract stating that the work they do for pay for him gives him the rights to that work, including the copyright and any applicable trademarks. Hmm. Suddenly, this does not seem like such a good idea anymore.

One of my other friends (to whom I am much closer) is one of guys currently being asked to sign his work away. Friend B (the writer) did work for pay for friend A (the publisher) and received compensation for it. As B understood the arrangement with A, B was paying A for the right to publish the thing, but wasn't making any claim to copyright or trademarks. Then, B receives this contract from A that gives A the right to the copyright of the material as well as trademark over its title. Since B had been looking at the title of the work as his own signature (in fact, it's a product line he's looking at extending in the future, with or without A), he's not too keen on this. For B, this had not been a one-off product like an adventure or something similar, something that -- at least from my perspective on the outside of the situation -- B views as part of his unique gamer thumbprint: this is what his games are like, damnit! B really wants to control his own property and this contract takes that property away from him.

So, don't sign the contract, right? The thing is, if he wanted to, A could probably force the issue. After all, he did pay for work done and, if we view B as a freelancer, common work for pay practices with a freelancer give the rights of the produced material to the person who paid to have it created. By default, is A an employer, paying to have work done, or a patron, paying to support the endeavors of a creator?

Sure, the easy way out of this mess is to have had a contract in the first place, but that's clearly not what happened here. I'm not using this case to illustrate why people should have contracts; that part is pretty clear. Instead, I'm using it to demonstrate why, if I'm the publisher of a thing, I want to have the contract that I want to have and why. Frankly, however much I'd love to hope that A views his relationship with B as a patron to an artist, I'm pretty sure that's not how he sees it. But that's how I'd like to see myself. It's how I'd want to be treated as an author, as a creator.

Joesky Tax: The Tongue of Lies and Conviction

After all that rant, I feel I owe some Joesky Tax. Here goes.

This mummified tongue is similar to other "liar's tongue" talismans, worn under the tongue to make its bearer's lies more believable. Unlike other similar tongues, the Tongue of Lies and Conviction may only be used against one target at a time and it exacts a strange toll upon the bearer: any lie he tells will be unquestionably believed by both the target and the bearer himself. The target's belief in the lie is fairly superficial despite being magically compelled, and he can be convinced of its falsehood if a compelling argument is presented. The bearer, however, cannot be so easily convinced; rather, his conviction in the lie strengthens if it is confronted. If the bearer tries to controvert the lie, even if he merely tells himself that he's only pretending the lie is false, he will find himself unable to speak; his faculty of speech will return when the moment has passed or when the bearer no longer persists in acting contrary to the lie.