Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Working Through the Ketsueki Empire, Part II.

By Amdominator on Deviant Art! 
I want to use the spell duel design more often in games (to date, they've only come up once in actual play), and I was struggling to find a way to represent the single combat conceit of the samurai of the Ketsueki Empire. In the period of Japanese history on which the Ketsueki Campaign is based, samurai fought battles essentially one-on-one. The most honorable/skilled samurai from each army would meet between two poised armies and duel it out until one or the other was dead. Then a group of samurai from each army would individually duel. Before long, there was a general melee of individuals dueling before it devolved into what you would understand was a "traditional" battle.

Several years ago, I wrote a sub-system for the Sengoku game that dealt with Go, the Japanese strategy board game. I had a scene in one adventure that required a character to beat a demon at go, and I didn't want the scene to be a simple skill versus skill check, because not only would that be anticlimactic, but it also wouldn't capture the nuances of go. Sengoku, even though it was a chanbara game, had a lot to do with the nuances of the Japanese culture in the 1500s. So, anyway, I developed a more complex system of advantage/disadvantage at various stages of a typical go match, that all resolved to bonus/penalties to the final skill roll.

So, anyway, I combined the wildness of the spell duel system with the design conceit of the Go simulator to get something that I hope you will like.

To play it, take any two DCC characters with a Deed die (samurai character is assumed) and pit them against each other.

And as always, tell me what you think!

Samural Duels! 

Stop Telling Stories or How to Design for the OSR

TLDR: Make a world. Put interesting stuff in it. Some stuff is really bad. Some stuff is really good. It’s hard to tell the difference until characters start messing with them. The DM and players tell the stories, not you.

Before I puff myself up as an authority and thus put myself out there for ridicule, let me start with the most controversial aspect of OSR adventure design.

It’s Not Your Game.
If you’re designing for the OSR, the first thing you have to realize is that the game does not belong to you. It belongs to the DM, the players and their characters. The DM is going to take your carefully crafted magical thing and hammer it to fit with an encounter from Against the Giants, and a random table from the d30 Sandbox Companion, a neighborhood generator from Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad, an NPC based on Private Hudson from Aliens, and a thousand other things of the DM’s own design. And when the players guide their characters into Undersewers of the Mole Gods, they are going to take your perfectly balanced, story-relevant encounters, ball them up, shake out all the XP and gold, and pitch them over their shoulders. All that’s going to be left is the story that the players and the DM tell years later, swigging beers at the Ram Brewery after their last con game. You get part of that story, but you don’t get to tell it.

Have Lots of Things for the Murderhoboes to Mess With
The OSR adventure is not a pre-scripted adventure path with a natural story arc balancing every character role into session-digestible chunks. An OSR adventure is a collection of evocative structures thrown down on a map, some with connections, and others just hanging out there. Your job, as a designer (and I believe it’s your only job) is to build the structures that the characters and DM can pour their stories into. Some of these structures have solid foundations, like an NPC with a detailed backstory, concrete motivations and secret weaknesses. Some may be paper-thin props that when viewed from another angle are nothing more than a blanket fort. Designers use this all the time – an evocative sentence or two to describe a building in a town or a locale on an overland hexmap.

The point is, the characters need stuff to mess with (and typically to destroy). Can there be connections? Sure! There’s a spy in town investigating the cult that gathers at a nearby dolmen every dark-of-moon. Why is the spy there? Who does she work for? Where is her safe house? These questions help to build further structures, thin or solid, but they are not steps in a process for “solving the story.” All of these structures coalesce into a mini-world that may be as small as the town where the spy resides or as large as a galaxy.

Some of the Things are Horrifyingly Bad. Some of the Things Are Amazingly Good. It’s Impossible to Tell the Difference.

Players aren't interested unless their characters are simultaneously threatened with horrible death and unimaginable wealth and power. And they aren't going to stay interested if they can tell the difference.

The bad things need to appear to be horrifyingly bad. Do you throw up “Goblins (3); rusty short swords” or eyes that gleam in the darkness, faint gibbering and the scrape of metal on stone? What are we fighting? What’s its “power level?” Is there any benefit to pitting my beloved Ussa-La the Space Princess against this unknown danger? Do I take the shiny without checking for traps? Or do I risk taking the time to be careful with the constant threat of another horror coming around the corner and trying to eat me?

Piles of treasure, eldritch artifacts, a shiny new space ship, level up… All of these things drive players to put their characters into terribly dangerous situations. And, they’ll do the same thing just for a rumor of these things. A grizzled yazirian holding court in a dusty cantina swears that the UPF ditched a super-secret spy ship on the prison planet of Holeefuckdontcomehere 9S. Not only is it packed with amazingly cool gear, there’s a case with a million credits stowed in a weapons locker. The planet? Nah! I’m sure it’s mostly deserted.

As a designer, make every fight a trepidation. Make running away regretful. You are not in the business of balance. Rewards are not parceled out in commiserate-with-dangers-engaged precision. Uncertainty. Every threat need not be insurmountable, but the threat should appear to be significant. Uncertainty.
And some of the threats should be insurmountable, especially with the stats and things on the player’s character sheet. Some rewards should be wildly overpowering and “unbalancing” to the game. 

It is uncertainty that adds all the tension to the game. It is player ingenuity that leads to its greatest triumphs. And both of these keep the players coming back for more. There’s something amazing out there, and even though there may be horrifyingly bad things guarding it and even though the amazing thing may not be as awesome as rumored, I will go into this world and find out.

Your only job is to build that world.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Curse of Cragbridge: I Did an OSR Thing...

Greetings,

I released a Labyrinth Lord compatible adventure called The Curse of Cragbridge over at RPGNow and DriveThru RPG. Currently, the book is PDF only, and Pay What You Want. From proceeds, I plan to do a digest-sized print edition (if there's interest) with updated art and maps. Additionally, if interest is there, I plan to go level-by-level into the Sunken City of Xerichen and its Prisons of the Demigods. Stay tuned for conversion information for other game systems!

Here's the blurb:

Cursed Cragbridge!
Prison of Sprits Betrayed!
A Labyrinth Lord compatible Adventure for Characters level 1-3. 

For five hundred years, Cragbridge has stood abandoned and cursed. Within lurk the haunts and spirits of those that served Lord and Lady Etheril. Some of these ghosts inhabit the forms of strange insect creatures, while others guard tombs deep beneath the shattered bridge tower.

Recently, the good knight Sir Dougal Skavok disappeared in the ruins, and when the search party returned, they too were missing a few members. But, they carried strange treasures found there: coins marked with a double-headed raven, gemstones of great value, and other ornate and gilded items. They also spoke of the curses and haunts that lurk under the ruins of Cragbridge!

Featuring all original monsters, two unique magic items and a hell of a lot of fun.

This purchase includes three PDF versions: a standard pdf, a "two-up" pdf with two pages per printed page, and a booklet format pdf. 

So, if you like Labyrinth Lord and you like creepy haunted towers, and you LOVE Pay What You Want, trip on over to RPGNow or DriveThruRPG and pick them up.

While you're there, pick up +Daniel Bishop's PWYW Labyrinth Lord mega-dungeon starter (I swear we didn't plan this):  The Dungeon of Crows.

Conversion Series: UK5 The Eye of the Serpent

I ran across this module in a stack of stuff that a friend gave me, and though I had thumbed through it before, I never got to read or run it. Last week, I was hanging out with a nephew that I rarely get to see, and since this is a "one-on-one" adventure, I decided to run it for him. One of my sons jumped in and they were off.

For them, I ran it as B/X/AD&D, and I really liked it a lot. Great balance between wilderness survival-type encounters, and straight up fights. The characters have no real goal, other than getting off of the mountain after being deposited near the pinnacle by a couple of rocs (I used giant winged serpents, just to mix it up), and a kind of story develops as they fight the elements and sparse fauna while descending the mountain.

Tonight, we only had two folks for the home game, so I pulled it out again and converted it on the fly for DCC. The two characters were cavemen from +Michael Curtis's Frozen in Time. These two were left behind when the rest of the caveman group were transported...forward? Maybe sideways in time to Praeder Island and the City of the Baboon Men

Anyway... these two unfortunate souls had to traipse back to their village, almost empty handed. There the village elders asked them to deliver the Gift of Suss (which was why the intrepid 0-level group was sent out there in the first place). Young Wolf-Slaughterer refused to give up the Mona Lisa (spoilers), and the village elders had the two thrown in the village pit for various crimes. Late that night, friends of the two helped them out, gave them a bag of food and a couple of knives and sent them off in the night toward the closest village (Wet Stone, a fishing village on the coast where one of the friends had a sister).

On the way, the ubiquitous rocs (kept them for this one) swept down and flew them almost a day away far out over the ocean to a large, mountainous island, where the PCs were unceremoniously deposited in the roc's nest near the peak of an icy mountain. From this vantage, they could see a wide, mountain-bound valley stretching away for miles. A river, that began its life in an icy lake hundreds of feet below, coursed through the valley, and out onto the plains, snaking for miles to a wide lake and waterfall, down into a thick, primeval forest. In the center of this lake, like a snake's eye, sat an island.

Digressing from the module, I had a hungry baby roc for the characters to fight (no problem), and after gathering up some supplies left behind by previous roc meals, they were off.

I posted my conversion notes over here: UK5 Conversion Notes. If I have time, I'll keep this up through the whole module -- monsters and the hardships of the wilderness. What's not noted are the effects of cold (which I made minimal, but present in the upper part of the valley). Rather than having the egg (Area 6) hatch, I'm saving that for the end of the adventure -- possibly throw a dungeon under the island shrine they find there. Haven't decided yet.

Anyway -- I highly recommend this module, either in the original B/X/AD&D or DCC. With two first level DCC characters, they have been equal to all threats, though the unforgiving conditions are starting to take their toll.

Edit: You can pick up a PDF copy of UK5 Eye of the Serpent at RPGNow...