Monday, 7 December 2020

Character classes vs character types

 In Tunnels & Trolls Ken St. Andre decided against classes like OD&D had. Instead T&T has types, which aren't really specific professions but descriptors of broad kinds based on their relationship to magic. Whereas a cleric in D&D has specific encoding around pious warriors and undead hunters, anyone wanting to make a cleric in T&T could basically choose any type they want. A warrior type would be a non-healer, more like a Knights Templar. A rogue (who has some innate magical prowess) could be more like a priest with some spells (a Poor Baby, of course), while a wizard could easily be a divine monk with great magical abilities. 

The bonus of having a class is that you know what you're going to be doing - particularly in later editions where you're set into boxes. There's also no reason you can't play around with thematics. Earlier editions were more flexible this way while later editions would have so many extra rules and abilities that they became much more rigid. 

I enjoy both methods, but sway towards T&T's broad types. Later they would feature specialists, which is as close to classes as they ever got, but still broad. There was a great article in one of the Sorcerer's Apprentice magazines where Ken took inspiration from Arduin, helping readers create traders, assassins and others. Similarly there was a Trollszine article that explained how versatile the types system is, creating shamans, thieves and the like with just the types and stats available.

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Interesting nuggets from T&T 5e

 It's commonly accepted that 5th edition Tunnels & Trolls is the finest foundation of the game. I say foundation because there isn't a single player who doesn't glom on a bunch of house rules. I wanted to take a look back through the US version of the rules (not the UK Corgi) to pick out some interesting tid bits.

Leprechaun lords are bureaucratic

Something I hadn't picked up on, because me nor my players have been leprechauns, is the rule that despite leprechauns being wizards, the Wizards Guild won't teach them. Why? Because the leprechaun lords won't allow branches of the guild to be build near their land. This has such great flavour to it and tells you a lot about leprechaun society in a short piece of flavour. 

T&T is built for a character stable

My players have only ever run individual PCs in our games but Ken days from the outset that it's preferable to have fewer players but more delvers. It's expected for each player to handle two or three delvers each. I'm going to do this next time.

Wizards can join hands to cast tandem spells

If two wizards are of too low strength to cast a single spell, they may join forces with another to share the load as long as the other wizard knows said spell. 

Magic staves don't have to actually be staves

A magic staff can actually be a ring, a wand or other wooden trinket based on the wizard's preference. Maybe even a little wooden pig. In addition, a deluxe staff is sentient, either a creature bound to the staff of one that IS the staff. Delicious.

Characters can speak pig

T&T deviates from its d6 only system to include a d100 language table. Aside from your usual fantasy languages there are some incredibly imaginative inclusions including porker (pig language), wizard speech, rodent and even pachyderm. Your move, D&D.

 Characters age based on the real world passage of time

Every 73 days in real time, a PC grows a year older. 

Saturday, 5 December 2020

Wrapping up a bizarre year

So, 2020 has been... interesting and not just because of the global pandemic causing a paradigm shift in many of our lives. But it's also been an interesting year for my own game design progress, with the first anniversary of the release of Romance of the Perilous Land with Osprey Games this month. Speaking of...

I was brigaded by Varg and his nazis

Early in the year when Romance of the Perilous Land was fresh, ex-Mayhem white supremacist and murderer Varg Vikernes was so upset that there were depictions of BAME people in a game about British folklore that he told his mouth breathing followers to tell me just what they thought of that. Cue many, many tweets calling me a race traitor and telling me to drown myself in a bog. All super mature stuff. Of course, the whole thing backfired because the book started to get more sales in part because Nazis hated it. Hilarious. Osprey were good enough to put out some supportive messaging around it and we all got on with our lives. 

Star Wars got me in the global media

I decided this year to rewatch the Star Wars prequels because there was nothing else to do. After discovering a new found appreciation for the film's I asked Twitter to say a nice thing about them. Again, I was bored. A few days and a viral post later Rian Johnson and a host of celebrities had responded and the tweet was getting written up in places like Rolling Stone. Bizarre.

I worked on Against the Darkmaster

A game I've been really looking forward to release is Against the Darkmaster, a MERP homage that tickles me in the right way. I was lucky enough this year to work with the development team on writing an upcoming adventure, The Silence of Dawnfell. Excited to see it out in the wild.

Going global

Refugio de Ryhope, who published an excellent Spanish edition of English Eerie last year called Cuentos de Animas will be putting out a Spanish Quill in the future. Likewise, German publisher System Matters, who last year did a great German Quill this year put out the German English Eerie. Swapsies!

English Eerie Second Edition

Speaking of, I finally released a second edition of English Eerie. 


I was fortunate enough to be invited to take part in two panels to talk roleplaying games at Albacon this year. That was so much fun and I met some amazing designers.

Getting Merry

As part of the folklore game jam I created Merry Outlaws, a game set after the death of Robin Hood, along with a limited print run.

Seeking Hearts

Just a week ago I put out Heartseeker, a 2 page adventure game in the OSR vein. It's even got a soundtrack.

The Romance Continues

Because I now have the ability to publish official Romance of the Perilous Land supplements, I released the first in the line called Heroic Origins. Watch out soon for a new adventure (or two) and official errata.

Under Wraps

Other than that I've been ticking along this year working on some projects that are yet to be announced because they're for third parties. Both are extremely exciting in different ways - one for a range and publisher I've admired for a long time and another being a dream IP. All will be revealed in time.

Friday, 4 December 2020

It's YOUR game

I seem to be talking about D&D a lot recently, so I promise to offset that with other games in the near future. This is just something I've been thinking about recently and I'm sure it's not gone unnoticed.

Now, I'm not getting at this individual at all - they're not the first and they won't be the last to ask a question like this, but I think this is a good indication of some of the current roleplaying ethos. Jeremy Crawford fields a lot of questions, many of them based on rules clarifications of mechanics. But every now and again I see questions like this crop up. I think the question is a reflection of how Wizards wants D&D to be, possibly more in 5e than ever. 

The game is YOURS. You and your group decide what is part of your game reality. You own the game and you don't need permission from a corporation to do something in your own game. I absolutely don't blame people for asking these questions, though. Wizards has been incredibly savvy with 5e about controlling the narrative. Books are released as events, with multimedia storylines tying into that one narrative. As a marketing professional, I think they've done an amazing job, but as a gamer I don't think it fosters the right culture. I'd suggest the marketing around D&D is partially to blame for a permission culture. 

At its roots D&D was about hacking the rules to your group's tastes. Fermenting and growing your own D&D. Even 4e, in which Wizards had a tight leash, encourages you to create your own world. Some players now seem to need reminding that they're in charge of D&D. I'm almost certain it says this in the 5e Player's Handbook, but that ethos seems to be at odds with the corporate machine.

Sunday, 29 November 2020

Heartseeker - new cover and updated doc

Thanks to everyone who had downloaded Heartseeker since going live a couple of days ago. I've now updated the document with a couple of changes - the biggest being brand new art from Dean Spencer and an update to the font. 

Download from Itch or DrivethruRPG.

How 4e brought D&D (mostly) back to its roots


"It's a great tactical miniatures game, but it's not D&D" is the refrain we've all heard time and again about 4th edition. They're not wrong about the first part - it's a fantastic minis game. I don't agree with the second sentiment. 

I'm not going to say that 4e is basically OD&D because that would be a lie, but for me the maligned edition is closer to the philosophy of the older games despite the wholesale ground-up changes the designers made.

The Nentir Vale, what was the Points of Light world at inception, is hands down my favourite setting because it fits with that original sandbox intent Gygax, Arneson and co had in mind. The Vale is a frontier locale, where empires have risen and fallen leaving solitary city-states and towns dotted around a dangerous wilderness. The setting offers referees a canvas to fill in, making it a much more collaborative affair than, say, the Forgotten Realms. There's a real sense of danger and wonder in the Vale. 

I also believe the grid combat is very much in-keeping with those OD&D Chainmail days. The roots of the hobby came from wargaming and to wargaming they return. Ok, I'll absolutely concede that as the game grew over the late 70s and early 80s imaginatory play was more the design intent, but at its core D&D was about miniatures and fighting. 

Alignment in 4e feels more like the original law, neutral and chaos of old. This came as the game completely upended the Great Wheel cosmology in favour of the World Axis, which presented anymore organic view of the planes and their interactions. As a result, 4e uses lawful good, good, unaligned, chaotic evil and evil. Like classic D&D these roles as much broader and less stringent than the usual 9 alignments. 

Alignments aside, there's something core to 4e that feels very much traditional - putting the fun first. The designers flat out encourage you to reskin monsters, and swapping out powers is super simple. The game is so tight that you can chop and change magical items to create your own pretty much on the fly. 

Look, I'm under no illusion that 4e isn't an old school game. There's so much there to separate it from, say, BX, but in reality it's closer to that than its detractors realise. I love 4e, so much that I've been running a campaign for over a year. I also adore older editions (not so much AD&D). I have to admit that 5e still kind of leaves me cold, maybe because during the playtest it was meant to be a very modular game that could run in and old school way, but what we ended up with was more of a streamlined AD&D. Setting it in the Forgotten Realms by default makes everything high fantasy, rather than the pulp fantasy D&D came from. Even 4e, despite it being high powered, has a wild and dangerous setting where the PCs are the exceptional beings and the wilderness is dotted with unexplored dungeons. If exploration is one of the core tenets of 5e, why is it set in a place that has been fully mapped and filled out with decades of history? 

Anyway, if you want to play a game that has barely changed since the 70s, play Tunnels and Trolls. It's superior to D&D anyway

Art: Jeff Easley