Saturday, 7 December 2019

Stuff I've been up to and things

I've been doing a terrible job updating here, so let's get back in gear.


My biggest highlight last week was being on the Osprey Games stand at Dragonmeet launching Romance of the Perilous Land (full release is Dec 12). Tiring day, but I met so many great people, including lots from Anchor, G Plus, Twitter etc. Was great to finally meet people in person. I was joined by Graham Rose, who wrote Paleomythic, the other game launching Osprey's RPG line. Super lovely chap and Paleomythic is ace, so check that out.


I've launched a project where I turn Aubrey Beardsley's art into a BX setting. It deals with beauty, corruption, vice and greed in a fantasy Paris - you can find out more here.

Romance of the Perilous Land makes Best Games 2019

I was overjoyed to discover RotPL is in Tabletop Gaming Magazine's special Best Games of 2019 issue. Yay!

Cuentos de Animas

Spanish readers might be interested to see that English Eerie has been converted to print by new publisher El Refugio de Ryhope. It's a gorgeous book, with a set of cards included. Get it here.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Romance of the Perilous Land gets a thumbs up from Tabletop Gaming Magazine

It's a few weeks until Romance of the Perilous Land is released to the public and the folks at Tabletop Gaming Magazine have given it its first review.

In short, it's positive. Hurray!

I've also written a blog post on the Osprey site talking about the setting and system.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

D&D 4e: a daring triumph of design

I was up in the early hours of the morning the other day after travelling back from New York and suffering from jet lag fun times. I decided on a whim to open up the 4e Essentials Rules Compendium and read it pretty much cover to cover because that's the kind of cool nerd I am. When I used to play 4e in my two year campaign I loved the Compendium. Its digest size made it easy to sling in my backpack and it's really easy to read.

Fourth edition is maligned, and there are some fairly good reasons for that. It entirely revamped the game of D&D - it broke its own rules and altered the way the game was run. Sprawling billion room dungeons were replaced for the most part with larger set-pieces created for the larger than life combat the game necessitated. The spell lists of editions gone by were stripped away in favour of individual class spell powers. Hell, saving throws were pretty much removed - existing only for a few occasions (roll over 10 and you're golden). Abilities pretty much only focused on combat - very few had good roleplaying potential. 4e was a system shock, it was plunging your head into a bucket of ice.

But when I read the Compendium I realised how tight this game is. This is engineered, perhaps over-engineered, but it works. I read through some Dungeon adventures originally put out on DDI (remember that?) and Reavers of Harkenwold. Oh my, Reavers of Harkenwold. I've not run it, but this is a really great-looking adventure and others have corroborated this.

It struck me that in completely redesigning the game, the designers took a huge risk, but honestly I think the positives outweigh the negatives. Like, they really do - you just have to realise that you're playing a different D&D experience and lean into it.

While back in the day you had some class and racial abilities (still my favoured way to play), in 4e you fly right out of the gate with crackling lightning hands, magnificent duelling abilities and healing upon healing. You're not a pot washer with a stick - you're a Hero. These powers (daily, encounter, at-will, utility) basically put everyone on a level playing field. The 4e experience obviously skews towards big combat, it was specifically designed this way, and powers make combats exciting. You're not just attacking with strength or dex - powers allow you to use other abilities, meaning no dump stats. Everyone had a role. Literally. Controller, striker, leader and defender - yes, videogame parlance, but useful. Immediately you know what your character is about when it comes to combat, but there's no reason you can't have multiple roles.

4e knows it's a game and makes playing more intuitive as a result. I really don't hate measuring in squares instead of feet. From a game perspective - because you're playing a game - it makes sense. This extends to other aspects of its design.

Why all the focus on combat? Because combat is structured. You know where you stand with combat because of the feedback loop. Mearls Heinsoo and co wanted to make the game as easy to run as possible. Basically plug and play, give the DM bandwidth to focus on character development, NPCs and creating an experience. The way powers and spells are written are basically if this then that code - easy to parse. Ambiguity was tossed aside and replaced with concrete design, something Pathfinder would also do. The designers had vision - they knew the kind of game they were setting out to make.

This obsession with engineering a program that we call D&D translates the best to monster design. Kobold isn't just a little dragon chap with a spear. Now Kobold could be a Kobold Soldier, a Kobold Slinger, a Kobold Knight etc. Each plays differently, having their own roles. The DM immediately knows how to play an artillery monster and the tactics section makes this abundantly clear. They're also not just prodding you with a spear anymore - they're using powers, status effects, auras - lots of them. A goon might allow an ally to move after an attack, or have an aura that helps its fortitude. When I DM'd 4e I couldn't wait to see how enemies played. The game made it super easy to build an encounter. Plug and play.

Everything was an encounter. Why? It all comes back to the feedback loop. If the designers could make exploration like combat, it would once again free up DM bandwidth. Enter, skill challenges. Yes, these were confusing and badly explained. But at the heart of them, skill challenges were a daring piece of design. They could represent a group effort over five minutes, five hours, five days, or even five months. They never really were explained well, even in Essentials, but I admire what they were going for.

I'm going to wrap this up here by saying that no edition is better than the other. Each offers a different experience. It's a flavour. 4e is inspired by videogames, but that's not a bad thing. The designers dared to have a vision, even if that meant entirely reinventing the most popular roleplaying game ever.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Vote for Quill

German publisher System Matters did a great job localising a print edition of Quill in a lovely bundle containing Love Letters and Shadow and Ink. Quill us now up for a German award nicknamed that Golden Stephan. It's not just a roleplaying awards, it's for nerd culture in general. I'd love a vote if you please :)

Vote here

Sunday, 27 October 2019

King Arthur is returning in our time of need

You might have noticed something in the air recently. As populism grips the western world, protests ignite around the globe and political divides become even more deeply entrenched, magic has begun weaving its way back into the world.

The Arthurian narrative has always been popular in the western canon. Chivalry, honour and leadership are the tenets expounded by these stories (though modern readings of texts like Le Morte d'Arthur don't quite stand up to moral scrutiny). After all, Arthur is the once and future king, promised to return when England needs him most.

The above is basically a flowery way of saying there's a bunch of Arthurian stuff out there lately. Venerable game designer Patrick Stuart has funded his Gawain and the Green Knight Kickstarter after the first rat attempt unfortunately fell short. This will be a beautifully illustrated poem and I'm really looking forward to it.

Screenwriter Thomas Wheeler and comics legend Frank Miller this month released their book Cursed (of which I'm two thirds of the way through), which attempts to tie the events of Arthurian legend together into a single cause, telling the story of Nimue and the Sword of Power. It really is an excellent read and Netflix will be putting out a series early next year.

Comic writer and pop culture savant Kieran Gillen and illustrator Dan Mora are in the middle of their run of Once and Future, a modern story that holds quite a different lens on the legend, turning Arthur into an undead leader of a fascist group. It's a fun read and I'm looking forward to seeing where he takes it.

Of course, my own roleplaying game interpretation of the legend, Romance of the Perilous Land, will launch in December. This puts Arthur at the centre of a war with the powers of darkness as Mordred and Morgan Le Fay try to conquer and destroy Camelot respectively.

There's also said to be a new Merlin Disney movie helmed by Ridley Scott waiting in the wings. And a few years back we had the Guy Ritchie adaptation King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which for all its problems (there were many) managed to produce a unique look at the tale. Also, David Beckham was in it for some reason.

Arthurian legend will always find a way to be relevant, even in the far future when everything is holograms and headjacks. It's a malleable tale of human nature, good and evil, and fate.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

The Purple Hashish House launches - first Echoes of the Labyrinth adventure

You may remember I wrote a T&T adventure thingy right here on the blog called The Purple Hashish House. Well, I've converted it to Echoes of the Labyrinth, my T&T hack, and made it available as a pwyw download.

It's not a straight conversion - I've added a couple of new things: namely some setting info, a basic map and a treasure table. The rest is very much the same location romp it was before, crammed full of adventure possibility - a pressure cooker for Delvers to experience. This is the kind of adventure I most enjoy writing, because it's not an adventure per se. Instead, it's a load of hooks plopped into a location - in this case the Purple Hashish House. I've popped in a handful of adventure hooks, like guarding the ostrich vizier, joining a group of assassins and attempting to retrieve a wand.

The thing I love portraying is the possibility for adventure. Social locations like a tavern or, indeed, hashish house are great for this. Lots of characters doing things, having their own goals and personalities. In the Purple Hashish House there are 35 characters in 5 pages. Pelican masseuse, geckomen nomads, sarcastic sand golem, a sentient puppet, rat demons, a fat astrologer, a rhino crime boss are just some of them.

You can download Echoes of the Labyrinth for $2 and pwyw for The Purple Hashish House.