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.

Dragonmeet

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.

Aubresque

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.


Thursday, 24 October 2019

Quill scenario: The Haunting of Pettigrew Manor


You have recently moved into a fine manor house in the heart of Kent, England after inheriting it from an estranged uncle. Not long after you unloaded you boxes, you began to experience strange phenomena. First were the noises in the dead of night. Then, soon after, came the disturbing moans that echoed from the kitchen as you tried to sleep in your chamber. Recently, you've found objects lying around where you hadn't left them. But most concerning of all were the bloody red handprints on the bathroom mirror.

You are writing to a well known author and paranormal researcher in the hopes that she will come and investigate the strange happenings.

Rules of Correspondence

- Strange noises are occurring as you write, leaving you shaking. Take a -1 to all Penmanship rolls.

Ink Pot

Ghost/ Phantom
Room/ Chamber
Noises/ Unearthly reverberations
Picture/ Portrait
Red/ Scarlet
Fluid/ Ichor
Beg/ Beseech
Look/ Investigate
Underground/ Cthonic
Gust/ Squall

Less than 5 points: Your letter receives a response within two weeks. It is clearly written by the author's assistant, saying that while your story sounds quite interesting the investigator has far too much on her plate to visit. Best of luck! From that day, events spiral. You are forced to flee the manor, never to return. Oh the horrors you have witnessed.

5-7 points: You tear open the letter with a small knife and eagerly read it. It's the author, signed in her own handwriting. She is interested in your story and will be visiting in the coming months. By the time she arrives, you are naught but catatonic, babbling about the horrors of the night. Seeing you in this state, she packs up and leaves instantly.

8-10 points: Within a week there is a knock at your door. The author stands before you donning a black wide brimmed hat. She tells you she was struck by your extraordinary tale and decided to come post haste. She spends several nights in the manor, monitoring activity on a series of strange brass gadgets. One morning, she doesn't show up for breakfast. You meekly knock at her chamber door and hearing no answer you open it. Oh, you wish you had never opened it. Now, as you flee across the country you can only see her face. Her twisted face.

11+ points: Three people show up at your door not a week after sending your letter. One is the author, donning a wide brimmed hat. She and her associated begin at once to monitor the strange activity in the manor with a series of brass instruments. They stay for two weeks, documenting the phenomena. One of her assistants is found dead in the greenhouse, impaled on a statue. The author decides to leave and offers that you accompany her - the manor is not safe. In a year a book called The Haunting of Pettigrew Manor is released to the public and you reap the royalties. Perhaps the horror was all worth it in the end.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Trollish Delver has reached over 1,000,000 views

Well, it's taken more than 10 years, but the blog has reached over 1,000,000 views. Thanks to all my readers over the years.

That is all.

Against the Darkmaster Kickstarter live plus special announcement


Oh I've been waiting for this for a while now and now the hour has finally arrived. Against the Darkmaster, the MERP-inspired roleplaying game has now launched on Kickstarter.

I also happen to be a stretch goal on the campaign. That's right, if the campaign hits $35,000 backers will be getting an adventure written by yours truly. The Silence of Dawnfell will be a folklore-inspired adventure with the following teaser description:

"Silence has fallen over Dawnfell. The enchanted ringing of the sacred bell Frostchime, the bell that wards away the clan of wild trolls in the Biting Wood, has vanished. Now Dawnfell is open to vicious attacks, how long can it last."

Go back the Kickstarter.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Quill scenario: The Horror on the Hill


As a very special Halloween treat, I've written a new scenario for Quill. It's a spooky one inspired by Lovecraft. You can use the normal Quill rules or the rules from Quill: Shadow and Ink.

Letter profile

- You are writing to friend and folklorist Abraham Cutler about a strange occurrence that happened two nights ago. You're trying to explain the horror that befell you in an attempt to gain further information.
- You live in a small house on Willow Hill, an abode you inherited from your father when he passed two years ago. Over time you've occasionally noticed lights in the sky after sundown. Recently you've heard a strange buzzing in the deep of the night, as if it were a voice calling out to you. The woods close by have been alight with odd fires and you've heard the din of drums in the small hours. Two nights ago you finally saw the thing that caused the buzzing and also the ones who were responsible for the infernal drumming.

Rules of Correspondence

- Cutler is an old friend. Gain an extra heart die.

Ink Pot

Night/ Starless twilight
Drumming/ maddening rhythm
Fear/ Disquietude
Cries/ Exclamations
Fire/ Conflagration
Weird/ Eldritch
Cut/ Rend
Horrors/ Abominations
Found/ Discovered
Sounds/ Buzzing

Consequences

Less than 5 points: Your letter goes unanswered. You decide that you've clearly just hallucinated everything and you need to take some rest. In four days you are visited by a being like the one you saw previously. The world goes blank as it dismantles your skull with surgical precision.

5-7 points: Cutler responds within a week. He believes you're going through an episode and should seek help. He is concerned for your health. You see the lights in the sky again and laugh. You're fine. You're fine.

8-10 points: Cutler's response is swift. He's clearly alarmed, explaining a few different stories from the area. You both correspond further before he arrives at your doorstep. When he stays over, he too experiences the drumming and the buzzing, but he dares not look at its owner. He convinces you to leave your home and live with him for a while.

11+ points: Cutler pulls up at your home on the hill. He explains exactly what the phenomenon is, having read about it in the Dread Necronomicon. They are drawn to the house, something to do with it being built at certain angles. You both watch as th house ignites, the flames licking up high. In the nights after there is no drumming or buzzing in the area. You have started your new life in the city, but you still have no desire to look at the stars.





Elder Tunnels zine: Halloween 2019


By heck, it's been a while since a new issue of Elder Tunnels graced the interwebs, but here it is. ET started life as a Tunnels and Trolls zine, but has now evolved into a publication covering all sorts of indie games (along with T&T).

Here's what it's got in store within its 40 pages:

  • Introduction by Christina Lea
  • Crawlspace Adventure: The Clown in the Woods by Tom K. Loney
  • QUAGS Adventure: Dead and Breakfast by Ian Engle
  • Stay Alive! Adventure: Voodoo Dusk by Jerry Teleha
  • Tunnels & Trolls GM Adventure: The Horror on Bleakmoor, by Scott Malthouse

When Tom Loney asked me to contribute, how could I say no? Elder Tunnels was the first place I got an adventure published - it holds a special place in my heart. Plus you've got the likes of Jerry Teleha, Ian Engle in addition to Loney leading the charge.

If you're running a spooky one-shot, definitely check it out https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/292139

Friday, 18 October 2019

Customising characters in Romance of the Perilous Land

In Romance of the Perilous Land there are six classes: knight, ranger, bard, barbarian, cunning folk and thief. But your class is just the framework to hang your character on.

So how does a player customise their hero? After all, everyone in Romance is human.

First off, there's the background system. Both your class and your background offers a selection of skills. You knight may have been a farmer, which would give them a selection of different skills than if their background is an outlaw.

Secondly, there are talents, which offer new abilities that can be selected at certain levels, including first. I firmly wrote the game as OSR, but I did want to offer some customisation with talents. It means your thief could dabble in magic, or your ranger could become a trapper. This isn't about min-maxing, but instead creating a great character you really want to play. Whether it's a monster hunting bard, a spell sword cunning folk or a healing ranger.

Thirdly, there are the factions. Romance has a narrative and history and factions have a part to play. Factions give your character a series of rules to abide by. The Knights of the Round Table have to donate treasure to Camelot and live by a code of valour, while the Order of the Fisher King must find magic treasure to heal their monarch.

Finally, there are deities. Most, if not all, characters will worship a god or goddess, whether this is the thunder god Taranis or the horse goddess Epona. Deities give the player a steer on how a character will act in a situation.


Of course, as is often the case in roleplaying games, everything from the weapon you use to the languages you speak all come together to create a unique character.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Dungeon Gits - full pdf download (PWYW)


Earlier in the week I was knobbing around on the blog and came up with a little set of rules called Dungeon Gits. Because I can't let things go, I've expanded on the rules, cleaned them up and put them into a downloadable formatted pdf just for you. How nice of me.

You can PWYW for the DriveThru version. I've asked for at least $1 for the Itch version, so it's entirely your choice. If you're already a member of my Patreon, you will be able to download it from there.

DriveThruRPG link
Itch.io link


Friday, 11 October 2019

Join my Patreon

I've given my Patreon a refresh, so if you fancy one or two monthly goodies go sign up. New backers now have access to Echoes of the Labyrinth.

https://www.patreon.com/scottmalt

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Dungeon Gits - simple roleplaying


As you know, I love creating little systems. It's pretty much my favourite thing. So here's a really easy tiny game for a trad fantasy setting with low/ no magic. Inspired by Tunnel Goons by Nate Treme. I call this Dungeon Gits.



Two attributes: Bashing and Not Bashing. Bashing is used for anything strength related as well as all combat. Not Bashing is everything else you can do.

Split 3 points between them, with 0 being the minimum. HP is 10 plus Bashing.

Next, choose three Knacks. This is any skill your character has. It's up to you what this is, but run by the GM. A Knack gives a +1 bonus to a Test.

Name your character and give it a Class name based on its stats and Knacks.

Tests are rolled when an effort could end in failure with consequences. Roll 2d6 + an attribute + a relevant knack + any item bonuses. If you roll a 10 or more in total the Test succeeds. If you roll a natural 12 you get a Crucial Success, meaning you gain a Hero Die. You can only have up to 3 hero dice at any one time. You can also get a Crucial Success in combat. If you roll a natural 2 at any time you lose a Hero Die. If you can't lose one, nothing special happens.

Using Hero Dice: you may spend a Hero Die whenever you have to roll. To do this, roll your Hero Die in addition to you usual dice. You can spend as many Hero Dice as you like in this way.

Combat: When attacking an NPC the players rolls 2d6 + Bashing + Weapon bonus. The roll must exceed the NPCs defense score (DS). If it succeeds, damage is done to NPC HP equal to the amount the attack exceeded the DS. If if fails, no damage is done.

When an NPC attacks, the player rolls 2d6 + Bashing + Armour bonus. If it equals or exceeds the enemy DS they take no damage. If it doesn't, damage is done to player HP equal to the difference between the roll and the enemy DS.

Combat participants get one action each, including movement (30ft), attacking, using an item or doing a stunt. For initiative, players go first in order of highest Not Bashing first. Decide between you on a tie. Enemies go after in whatever order the GM wants.

You can only use weapons or armour with a bonus equal to your Bashing attribute.

Weapons: Dagger or sling (1), shortsword or bow (2), longsword or longbow (3)

Armour: Hide (1), Chain (2), Plate (3)

Start with 1d6+10 copper pieces. Weapons and armour cost 10 X their weapon bonus in copper.

Your Backpack is equal to Bashing + 5. This determines how many items you can carry. Anything bigger than a fist counts as 1 item. Anything bigger than a leg counts as 2 items. For every point you have over, reduce Not Bashing rolls by that much. Also reduce movement by 5 feet for every item over.

Levelling up: after 3 sessions, level up. Gain 1 point in one attribute and +3 total HP.  Cap out at level 5.

Bestiary example:

Goblin, DS6, HP 3
Skeleton, DS7, HP 5
Orc DS8, HP8
Giant, DS9, HP 10
Ogre, DS10, HP14
Dragon, DS15, HP25
Titan DS16, HP40

Example character:

Phineas Schneed
Slinker
B: 2
NB: 1
HP: 13
Knacks: Sneak, Acrobatics, Thieving
Equipment: Dagger (1)





Saturday, 5 October 2019

Delvecast episode 5: Romance of the Perilous Land

This episode I talk about Romance of the Perilous Land a bit more, seeing as though review copies seem to be landing on people's doorsteps.

Enjoy: https://anchor.fm/scott-malthouse/episodes/5--Romance-of-the-Perilous-Land-e67egr

Friday, 4 October 2019

The Eye of the Beholder documentary


On Amazon Prime you can now watch Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons and Dragons, a great documentary covering the legacy of art in D&D as told by some of its greatest artists.

Definitely recommend.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

We need to talk about Wendys' roleplaying game


I saw a teaser for something that fast food joint Wendy's was doing with roleplaying and today it seems the FAST FOOD COMPANY has dropped a nigh on 100 page fully illustrated roleplaying game for some reason.

Feast of Legends, a title that makes little sense, is a downloadable PDF that includes rules and a campaign that, if we're serious, nobody will play because it's garbage advertising.

It's pretty much D&D, but some of the stats are different and you roll 4d4 to generate stats because of something about $4, which I assume means something to people who eat there. Instead of classes you have Orders, where you get shit like this:

Adventurers who choose the Order of the Chicken Nuggets are often small and quick, but they pack an unexpected punch.Th ey bring great fl avor to the party and are a wonderful addi-tion to any combo of adventurers in Freshtovia.

Often overlooked at fi rst but always remembered after, those of the Order of the Chicken Nuggets are truly undeniable with their record-breaking reputation.

Aaaand this:

Tight, compact and packs a punch.The Order of the Jr.Bacon Cheeseburger is for the efficient warrior; no movement or moment is wasted.These characters appreciate the great flavor of many things coming together in one tight space.

What the actual fuck does that even mean? This isn't enjoyable - it's insanely on the nose advertising that's positively masturbatory about its own brand.

Hey, don't get me wrong - WORK went into this. There are lots of orders and the rules seem to work. Hell, I even quite like the Feast Mode mechanic that gives you advantage on a turn after a crit. But then there are mechanics like this:

As you’ve probably discerned, food is a major aspect of Feast of Legends. As such, what you’re eating in the real world will create direct buffs that affect your character in the game. Each of these buffs will go into effect for the entire 
duration of play for the day. So you might want to swing by your local Wendy’s or hit up delivery real quick.

Nope. No thanks. A mechanic designed to optimise conversion rate?

I've not run through the full adventure, it's a tonne of read aloud and full of stuff like this:

You come upon a huge stone door with three large dials on its face. The dials have the numbers 1-2-3-4 on them and face north, east, south, and west.Each dial currently has the “1” at the top.Upon further inspection, there is an inscription on the door below the dials that reads: “Thrice repeat-ing, nice for eating, a meal? A deal? A steal for certain"

Ohh, because it's that $4 thing again. That's what people want when they're playing games with their friends - to be advertised to at an astonishing rate. Every other sentence is an ad.

I'm not completely against a brand creating a roleplaying game, but understand that what people like about games is NOT your brand - it's good ideas.

Look, I admit that I'm putting on the rage a bit. I work in PR, I understand what this is. But at the same time, it's a roleplaying game that people are meant to play and I talk about roleplaying games. This is dire.

Wouldn't mind a chicken sandwich right now.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

English Eerie coming to Spain

I'm very happy to announce that English Eerie will be released in Spanish by El Refugio de Ryhope. I won't go into details at the moment, but it won't just be a translation of the English version.

English Eerie is my gold-selling solo rural horror storytelling game that allows you to create a story of terror based in the English countryside using a card-based mechanic. You can pay what you want for the download.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

A peek inside Romance of the Perilous Land

Last week Osprey delivered my advance copy of Romance of the Perilous Land and I've not stopped salivating since. It's such a lovely book, so I wanted to show some of it off.







Monday, 30 September 2019

Delvecast episode 4

I did another episode! What a guy I am. I talk a little more about yesterday's post about the problem with D&D, and give a few shout outs to new games. 


Please call in and leave your message. 

Sunday, 29 September 2019

The problem with Dungeons and Dragons

Dungeons and Dragons is a subcultural phenomenon, there's no denying it. With D&D, Gygax and Arneson created an entirely new form of entertainment and little would they comprehend that when they formed those rules that it would become the behemoth it is today. D&D is great - it's the touchstone of the hobby and generally a lot of fun. But there's a problem with it.

Wizards made some incredibly smart decisions with 5e, from larger event-based releases to bringing streaming into the forefront of their marketing. It's worked effectively and as such the game is likely bigger than ever, with approximately 13.7m players worldwide. Target had an exclusive on the Essentials Kit, Rick and Morty and Stranger Things sets exist, tapping into a broader, non-gaming audience. The media is now constantly talking about D&D. But this is the problem. They're talking about D&D - not tabletop roleplaying games. Tabletop roleplaying games aren't getting more popular - D&D is.

Imagine if every videogame were referred to as Super Mario, or every book The Da Vinci Code. It sounds ridiculous, but that's what D&D is right now - shorthand for every single RPG out there. I see questions online about how you'd play a horror game using 5e. You wouldn't - there are plenty of games specifically for horror.

The problem is, this skews people's expectations about what roleplaying games are. This is supported by Twitter discourse, where so many default discussions are about D&D. Don't get me wrong, there are lots of really cool, smart people who are super into D&D. I'm not knocking the players here, just the culture that means it's tougher to build a playerbase for a different game because there's not a Critical Role or a Stephen Colbert or millions of dollars being funnelled into the game. I worry that so many indie creators who are doing exciting, bleeding-edge stuff aren't getting a look in because of the D&D monopoly.

But there could be a silver lining here. D&D, in general, is a gateway drug to the rest of the hobby. It's where I started decades ago. We could see a post-D&D movement where more people begin to explore other options. More people in the hobby is good for the hobby - they just need to peek of our from behind the DM screen and see the vast world beyond.



Saturday, 28 September 2019

Throne of Eldraine prerelease report

As I said previously, I decided to get back into Magic: the Gathering (a bit) by attending today's Throne of Eldraine prerelease tournament.

I was under no illusion that after several years of not playing I'd be pretty rusty, but really it's just a fun game to play and the new set is pretty much made specifically for me. One game turned into a good fight as I sacrificed pies, hogs and fruit for my witch to do damage to the opponent. Thematically, this is a really strong set and the art is impeccable. 

Alright, so I ended up winning one, drawing one and losing three (although the last was pure lack of mana). Even so, I met some new people and had a lot of fun. 

I'm not going to get back into Magic full time - it's a money drain and I'm not a fan of modern constructed, which rewards cash, not tactics. Sealed limited is where it's at for me - everyone is pretty much on an even keel. So I'll probably purely attend prereleases in future. 

Friday, 27 September 2019

Against the Darkmaster Kickstarter coming October 22nd


Most of us have been waiting a fair while for the reveal of Against the Darkmaster's Kickstarter date and now it's finally here.

The design team on the game, which is a MERP-inspired epic fantasy, appeared on the Grim and Perilous Twitch channel today to talk about the upcoming book, offering some new glimpses.

The team have now set a Kickstarter live date of October 22nd. The team promises some extra treats when the project goes live.

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Throne of Eldraine is bringing me back into Magic


How could I resist it? When I saw a few months back that Magic: The Gathering, the greatest money-sink in the universe was releasing a set that mashed up Arthurian legend and fairytales, how could I even possibly NOT buy everything?

I've not played Magic properly for a good few years. I've played some Arena online and some of the apps and games on the old computer machine, which are always fun, but by heck, I'm really smitten. So smitten that I pre-ordered and subsequently devoured The Wildered Quest, the novel that was released prior to the set. Oh, by the way, it's a really good read.

So I'll be going to the prerelease tournament this weekend and getting valiantly rogered by my opponents. Will let you know how that goes. Anyone else playing?

Image: Wizards of the Coast

Delvecast ep 3. Echoes of the Labyrinth

It's been a while since I did a podcast, so I thought it was time to get back on the bandwagon.

This episode I talk a bit about Echoes of the Labyrinth, my new OSR T&T-inspired game.

Listen here: https://anchor.fm/scott-malthouse/episodes/Ep-3--Echoes-of-the-Labyrinth-e5idgb

Also, do leave me an audio message!

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Echoes of the Labyrinth out now


There's no rest for the wicked. Today I released Echoes of the Labyrinth, a T&T inspired mini roleplaying game using the rules I first cooked up in Delvers of the Underchasm.

The concept is that in the centre of the world is the Labyrinth, part architecture, part god. The Labyrinth calls out to certain people, known as Yearning Delvers, and enchants them to delve into its depths in the hope they will die and their souls will be devoured by the god.

The mechanics are T&T-like, with pooled combat and cool stunts. Foes are simple to create on the fly.

Download from Drivethrurpg or Itch.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Five tricks and traps for your game


1. Mirror spear: A long mirror is placed on a false wall. Behind the mirror is a spring loaded spear trap, 3 spears (3ft in length), each arranged to hit the average human, dwarf or halfling in the face. A pressure plate at the door of the mirror releases the spring, send the three spears through the back of the mirror and into the viewer. Works best if you write a load of nonsense on the mirror so the victim has to closely inspect it.

2. Poison Statue: A false door is installed with a brick wall behind it. A statue is placed in the centre of the room, its eyes and mouth hollow. Inside the statue is a cannister of paralysing gas. A wire runs from the door, under the floor, up the statue and around a cork top on the cannister. When the door is opened, the cork pops out and gas spills into the room, paralysing all and sundry.

3. False lava: A cute play on the old checkerboard trap. A 50x50 checkerboard forms the floor. Many of the checks are red hot lava, while others appear to be cool stone you could jump on. Not so. As an illusion placed on the room by a crystal chandelier, the spaces that appear to be lava are actually safe, while those that look like stone are boiling lava. Smashing the chandelier breaks the illusion.

4. Magnetic inferno: A trophy is loaded onto a pedestal, with wires running around the room and through the trophy, creating a circuit. The ceiling is metal and electromagnetic. Attached to the ceiling are 100 small metal balls full of oil. Two burning torches on the walls are also magnetised. When the trophy is picked up, the circuit is broken and the balls fall, breaking and spilling oil everywhere. The torches also fall, igniting the oil and the floor of the room. Place two more trophies near the circuit trophy to add some extra peril.

5. Sponge walls: a short corridor has sponge walls. Behind each wall are a series of cauldrons on shelves. When a pressure plate in the corridor is pushed, the wooden legs holding the cauldrons up fall down and the water flows into the sponge walls, causing them to rapidly expand, smothering anyone in the corridor.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

The Purple Hashish House


Adventure hooks:
- The vizier is visiting his favourite hashish house and needs guarding
- There are rumours a group of leprechaun thieves works out of the house.
- A frost wand was stolen from a local Wizard who believes the miscreants frequent the house.
- A dwarf thief with a manticore trapped in an opal was seen in the house. The Extreme Guild of Merchants will pay 1000gp for it.
- You're hired by rat people to assassinate the vizier for his crimes against their kind.


1. Entryway: A lounging catfolk (MR14) lazes, playing with a yellow frog called Ereep (MR4 - does 1d6 damage if touched with skin). A silver mechanical bird sits by his feet, picking the sand from his toes. A grouchy bonobo (MR12) wearing an emerald eye patch (30gp) is serving ice cold camel milk for 2sp. Patrons pay at a small counter manned by an over-enthusiastic pink djinn called Tamara (MR40). She can cast 3 spells 3rd level and under.

2. Massage parlor: Three geckomen nomads (MR20) set their poisoned spears on a rack. Two are getting roughly massaged by a talkative pelican woman (MR10). One smokes a long pipe and watches their belongings (10gp, spears, scorpion venom, smoked frogs). A quiet elf called Heloras (MR16) is looking for a stolen dragonfly brooch.

3. Royal den: A smooth-spoken turbaned ostrich visier (MR34) takes deep huffs of a yellow pipe, rapier in his belt. Two overworked fairy handmaids (MR8) cast water spells to keep him cool. A pouch of 30gp sits unattended. A blue cobra (MR26 - spite 1/ extra 3 damage) slithers in. A rotund selfish astrologer inspects a silver dragonfly brooch (300gp).

4. Main den: A pink haze lingers. A suspicious dark hob (MR20) in sparkling robes sits with his two-headed tiger (MR80), telling it old stories in a dead language. An assassin of the Green Cobra disguised as a forgetful old lady (MR60) sips jasmine tea and scans the room cautiously. A chattering blue imp (MR16 - can cast wink wing) scurries around carrying a manticore opal (if smashed, an MR120 manticore emerges), chased by a drunk dwarf thief with one arm. A glass bottle of lilac perfume belonging to the imp sits on a small table (25gp).

5. Backroom: Guarded by a 7ft sarcastic sand golem (MR86). Three robed leprechauns (MR22) are counting blood money at a sandy table. A devious fat rhino woman (MR40) paces the room, complaining about discretion and paying off the city guard. A green concoction sits on the table that increases CHA by 10 for an hour when drank.

6. Secret underground chamber: Three demon rats (MR30) plot to assassinate the visier with a frost wand (three uses, costs 5 WIZ, does 2d6 CON damage and immobilises for 1 minute). They speak the language of the desert. Cases of hashish are stacked against the wall. It smells sweet.

Random encounters. Roll 1d6.

1. A boastful purple djinn (MR36) barrels through the door, challenging anyone to a sprinting contest.
2. An eloquent elephant soldier (MR70) charms a cobra.
3. A noble emerges from the main den, a dagger deep in his gut. He says the words "snake scar" before dying.
4. Two demon belly dancers (MR28) entertain a pale elf Wizard called Lania (MR80). She holds an ever-refilling goblet of wine and eats skewered fire drake.
5. An elderly puppeteer (MR10) has an argument with her sentient llama puppet (MR12) over who will pay the bill.
6. The snake sultan (MR28) walks in with a retinue of four royal guards (MR32). People fawn over him, asking for a slither blessing.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Rick Loomis has passed

I'm saddened by the news that gaming luminary Rick Loomis has passed away. I'll be doing a full post tomorrow.

Rest in peace, Rick.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Gaming legend Rick Loomis needs your help


Recently Rick Loomis, founder of Flying Buffalo and all round gaming icon, has been undergoing treatment for cancer. Unfortunately this has left him with staggering medical bills in the tens of thousands of dollars. This is where you come in.

There's a gofundme page set up for Rick and your donations would be hugely appreciated.

Please dig deep for the guy who published Tunnels and Trolls, Nuclear War, Grimtooth's Traps, and who was one of the pioneers of PBM roleplaying games.

From this week, all sales from any Tunnels and Trolls product from Trollish Delver Games on Drivethrurpg will go directly to funding Rick's medical bills.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

The Midnight Chimes out as part of Tunnel Goons Jam


Just a quick update to say I've released a new game as part of Nate Treme's Tunnel Goons Jam over on Itch. Tunnel Goons is a simple one-page d6 game using classes as stats. I quite like it.

The Midnight Chimes is a Victorian pulp horror game in a few pages, inspired by The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hellboy and Penny Dreadful.

While Tunnel Goons has three classes to pop your points into, I decided to widen this with six archetypes: Ruffian, Hunter, Occultist, Priest, Acrobat, and Aristocrat. Putting points into archetypes determines the type of skillsets you have.

I've introduced Afflictions into the mix. These are what make your characters ghastly, but superpowered. These include Hyde, Invisible, Vampyre, Shadow and Demon. There's also a Ghost Affliction you get if you die.

To round off a character, you gain a knack. This offers another edge, whether it's being better at swordfighting, guns or simply being able to dismember an opponent easily.

I've included a monster codex and an extended play example in the mix.

You can download for free (at the moment) at itch.

Monday, 22 July 2019

Modiphius resurrects Edgar Rice Burroughs books with original stories


Holy fucking shit, my friends.

Just received the following email from Modiphius:

San Diego Comic Con has been running over the weekend and there's been exciting announcements for fans of John Carter from the Edgar Rice Burroughs panel.
A series of new novels based on characters from the world of Burrough’s have been announced for release, these new tales will expand on the original stories and form part of the new official canon.
Book one, Carson of Venus: The Edge of All Worlds, will be written by Matt Betts.
Book two, Tarzan: Battle for Pellucidar, will be written by Win Scott Eckert. It’s slated to be a mad cap pulp tale with Ape Men fighting WWII Nazis riding dinosaurs.
Book three, John Carter of Mars: Gods of the Forgotten, will be written by Geary Gravel.
Book four, Victory Harben: Fires of Halos will be written by Christopher Paul Carey and introduces a new character to the world Victory Harben.
The books will be published in 2020 and will form part of a ‘super-arc’ of connected stories.
Burrough’s The Land that Time Forgot is potentially going to be adapted into a television show, a script has been written and with any luck will go into production.
Dear lord, that's tasty. Most people are excited for the slew of 5000 Marvel shows and films next year, but this right here is hitting my sweet spot.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Vote Trollish Delver Games for Fan Favourite Publisher

A very quick update to say that ENnie voting is live and you can cast your vote for Trollish Delver Games as a fan favourite publisher: http://www.ennie-awards.com/vote/2019/index.php

I'd really appreciate it if you took a few seconds out to vote for me. Thank you.

Monday, 15 July 2019

Fishguts Village


The rank aroma of rotting herring wafts through the crooked, slimy streets of Fishguts Village. The place is populated by humanoid amphibious fish people called Troot.

You meet a random villager (D12)

1. Pollock the landlady has blood on her apron and a fishhook in her pocket
2. Breamer Basher, dandy man about town can't get enough of that anemone dust. Sends him wild
3. Corporal Haddock, wearing purple military colours. He's seen something down the cove and is off to hunt it
4. Reena Codder, detective with the degenerative snooks disease. Two weeks to live. This was no accident.
5. Sparks Flatfish, young, muscular adventurer. Sliced open his boyfriend and ate his insides. Great poker player.
6. Marlin the coot. Old man who's seen it all. Has premonitions. Some people want him gone.
7. Chummer Lorris, the spearsmith. One milkly eye. Mostly drunk.
8. Sharks Mcginn, gangster, tough guy and heavily religious. Runs this village.
9. Barbara Cuda, femme fatale. Bright red. Transforms into a human on a full moon.
10. Clowny the tramp. Lives within the shadows of the village and sees more than most. Can hook you up with the good stuff. The stuff is actually terrible.
11. Whitey Baiter, wet wizard of Wattle Street. Raised his two kids from the dead and keeps them in his cellar. They're more feral than ever.
12. Goldie the Guard. Smart as a whip but loves to gamble. Lost everything. Wants it all back.

Nasty things lurk around Scud Bay (D12)

1. Hulking crawdads (HD3/ MR40)
2. Clairvoyant crab (HD2/MR 28)
3. Vomiting sea witch (HD2/MR 24)
4. Rocktopus (HD4/ MR50)
5. Alluring clam (HD1/ MR20)
6. Wizard of the Rockpool (HD3/MR42)
7. Lobster God, Mr'sha (HD7/ MR120)
8. Clowny's insane twin brother, Silas (HD2/MR28)
9. Troot mobster (HD1/MR18)
10. Seaweed golem (HD3/MR46)
11. Sand doppleganger (HD2/MR25)
12. Salty goblin (HD1/MR12)

What kind of food you gonna eat? (D12)

1. Pan fried seaweed with smoked peaches
2. Dried perch with crackers
3. Tuna yogurt
4. Plankton soup
5. Mackerel cheese and sea cucumber soufflé
6. River ham sandwiches covered in swamp flies
7. Trout truffles in blue wine
8. Chopped shark liver in an anemone parcel
9. Lobster prince and children
10. Squid surprise!
11. Whale blubber pie with gravy
12. Seahag slime

Troot omens (D8)

1. Sea snail trails mean gold tomorrow
2. A male has died, the harvest is denied
3. A silent seashell in the ear foretells a storm
4. No lobsters in the cage, the sea witch brings her rage
5. Blood moon on a weekend, the dead will rise
6.  Don't pick the red seaweed. You firstborn will perish
7. Three starfish on the beach signifies good fishing weather
8. Should the salmon disappear from the river, the kingdom will fall

Some PCs for Delvers of the Underchasm

First off, I've made a small patch update on the file which addresses a few things:

  • Small punctuation fixes
  • Skill Roll difficulties reduced after Easy
  • Rule for dual-wielding added
  • Gold is now Gold Coins
  • Clarification that unsuccessful combat stunts should have consequences
  • Armour has been reduced for all pieces

Housekeeping out the way, I wanted to share some of my newly-rolled characters. 

FLAMEBOY!
Red Dwarf Champion
Background: Disgraced city guard
Str 14, Dex 10, Mind 9, Spi 10, Charm 11, Luk 15
HP: 20
Combat points: 9
Weapons: Mace (5), Dagger (3)
Armour: Chain (3)
Kin Trait: Fire spell

Blibglib 
Goblin Scoundrel
Background: Misunderstood vigilante
Str 9, Dex 16, Mind 9, Spi 6, Charm 12, Luk 14
HP: 15
Combat points: 10
Weapons: Dagger (3), Sling (3)
Armour: Cloth (2)
Kin Trait: +2 stealth Skill Rolls

Azaryal 
Summer Elf Sorcerer
Background: Descendent of the High Mage of Greenfire
Str 8, Dex 14, Mind 18, Spi 11, Charm 8, Luk 7
HP: 12
Combat points: 4
Weapons: Staff (3)
Armour: Cloth (2)
Kin Trait: Immune to sleep effects

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Delvers of the Underchasm pamphlet RPG out now



I've just released a new pamphlet RPG called Delvers of the Underchasm onto itch.io and DriveThru. It's one of these two-side dealies, like I did with In Darkest Warrens. A complete game on a sheet of A4 and all that.

It's based on T&T - pretty heavily. I wanted to keep the dice numbers down, so it's all 2d6 plus a bunch of standard modifiers. Classes are Champion, Scoundrel and Sorcerer, and there are 11 kin to choose from, each with their own little special ability. The Red Dwarf can throw fireballs, the Brownie can turn invisible, the Winter Elf is immune to cold etc. Classes have little random background tables for some flavour.

I think it would be cool for this to be a nice core game to hook other pamphlets and blog posts onto.

You can get it from DriveThrurpg and itch.io.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Against the Darkmaster: The Blightlord


Against the Darkmaster has taken a vice grip on my imagination and refuses to let go. Today the official blog posted an example of the Horned King of Annwn, the sort-of-default Darkmaster that takes more than a few cues from our lord and saviour Sauron.

So I've decided to create my very own Darkmaster, which is part of the point of the game.

Vestrian, the Blightlord


Appearance


Vestrian appears to many as a manifestation of their darkest fears, and sometimes their innermost desires. His actual form is obscured from all but his closest Hollow Bishops. He occasionally defaults to an impossibility emaciated, stretched figure wearing a three-pronged crown and draped in a sickly yellowing cloak.

Symbol


A white mask with a single black eye. Just observing the symbol can send someone spiralling into madness.

Dark Place


The Palace of Maladies


Vestrian does not exist within the mortal reality proper. His seat of power looms across foul dimensions, fractured in space-time. Within the city walls of Chane towers the vast Palace of Maladies, a structure of impossible dimensions and twisted angles. The rooms within shift and warp, very occasionally emerging in the mortal realm.

These entrances are most often revealed to those mad enough to glimpse them. On even more rare occasions, a fragment of Vestrian punctures through to the mortal realm, if only for a brief time.

Coveted Artefact


Vestrian's only hope of uniting his fractured persona into a single dimension is the Eye of Darkness, a jet black gemstone inset into a foul ring that exists only in the mortal realm. The Eye of Darkness belonged once to him until it was taken by Destria the Gluttonous as part of a powerful ritual. Before her power could spread too far, four heroes vanquished her, but the Eye was lost.

By retrieving the ring, Vestrian can once again return to his original state and expand his tyrannical empire of madness.

Servants


Lieutenants: Dark Mages, Nightmares

His Hollow Bishops, powerful mages warped by madness, and nightmarish beings indescribable to human tongues descent on the mortal realm with the objective of gathering worshippers to find the Eye of Darkness.

Minions: Men

The minds of men are malleable, too easily corrupted by promises of power. Acolytes of the Blightlord are growing in the ranks of humanity. Warnings that your very own husband, wife, son or daughter could be an Acolyte echo throughout the realm. Paranoia is rife, which only serves to feed the madness Vestrian craves.

Spies: Men

Vestrian's spies are the most frightening of all. They are everywhere, behind the local bar, teaching children, even in the courts of kings.

Powers


Maddening Visage: To look upon the face of Vestrian is to lose ones faculties. Even seeing a fragmented version of the Blightlord can have a powerful impact on the wisest hero. When you first look upon the symbol of Vestrian, you must make a WSR against attack level 1, with failure resulting in a -20 to Wits based rolls for an hour. When you first see a Fragment of Vestrian, you must make a WSR against attack level 5, with failure resulting in a -40 to Wits based rolls for an hour and being stunned for a round. When you first see the True Form of Vestrian, you must make a WSR against attack level 9, with failure resulting in you falling into a catatonic state for 3 hours, unable to take any actions or speak. After 3 hours, any Wits based rolls have a -60 penalty for 5 hours.

Art: Zdzisław Beksiński

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Romance of the Perilous Land officially announced by Osprey Games


I've had a busy month, which is why I've not been posting. However, it was a very exciting week because Osprey Games officially announced Romance of the Perilous Land as part of its new Osprey Roleplaying line, which also includes Paleomythic by Graham Rose.

So, yeah, it's all out there now. I've been making some final edits to the book this weekend and I'm super excited about it. The art looks beautiful and I can't wait for you to see the finished book in November.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Let's talk: Against the Darkmaster


It bears repeating that the OSR isn't just D&D, and the upcoming game Against the Darkmaster (VsD) is evidence of this. Starting as a bunch of Rolemaster house rules, VsD evolved into a ruleset if its own. Think streamlined, modified MERP. I've always found MERP pretty confusing in terms of layout and perhaps a little too esoteric, but it's always attracted me in a weird way.

You can download the deluxe quick start rules right now and a Kickstarter will go live sometime this year. Oh, and when I say quick start, I mean a 120 plus page book.

Everything uses a d100 mechanic, rolling d100 and adding various abilities and skills, cross-referencing with table to see how successful you've been. Combat is in the mid-crunch realm, relying on tables where damage is figured by looking at your weapon type and your opponent's armour, with damage having degrees of success and types of wound. Typically, this isn't the kind of combat system I go in for but it's all pretty simple.

Characters are formed of backgrounds, kin, cultures, and vocations, giving you a nice amount of customisation without getting too bogged down in min maxing. I like the kin types, like dusk elves, star elves and high humans, giving it a particularly high fantasy Tolkien feel. They each have their own attribute bonuses and special abilities. For instance, halflings gain double HP after eating a second breakfast. See what I mean about Tolkien?


Which brings us onto cultures, which is a mechanic I included in my own Dungeon Nights game, offering some extra background, equipment, skill ranks and helping to determine how wealthy (or dirt poor) you are. Cultures include City, which are obviously city or town dwellers, Woad, which are tribal folk, and Noble, who are rich types with privileged blood.

There are six vocations in the main game, but four in the quickstart. These include warrior, rogue, wizard, animist, dabbler and champion (the first four of which are in the QS). Your vocation offers you a pack of skill bonuses and/or vocational spell lores, which are types of magic, of which only wizard and animists can cast in the QS, but I'd imagine the dabbler will likely have some spells. You gain skill development points at character creation to choose which ones to upgrade, in addition to the innate bonuses you get. Ultimately, VsD is a skills game - your vocations don't get their own innate powers, but the wide array of skills actually make them highly customisable.

Speaking of customisation, we're not quite finished yet. Backgrounds can be purchased based on background points you get from your kin. For instance, my dusk elf rogue gained 3 background points, so I spent it on the major tier of Elven Training, meaning he can use his Swift attribute instead of Brawn when fighting with certain light swords, in addition to gaining a silver elf trait. Each background has two tiers that cost different points, so if you have enough points you could buy minor or major tiers in multiple backgrounds, rounding out your character and adding to their pot of abilities. Bring all of the above, kin, culture, vocation and background together and you have the ability to customise without being overburdened (looking at you, Pathfinder).

The game also has Passions and Drive. Passions are split into three categories: motivations, nature, allegiance. Each one of these is a statement the player comes up with at character creation with the help of the rest of the group. These are basically why your character is doing what they're doing and how they may react to situations. Passions link directly to drives, which is a mechanic that offers a boon. You can gain drive by playing on your passions, and spend it on bonuses, re-rolls and a few other nifty little things. It's a great mechanic that helps contribute to roleplaying and characterization.

I've not really sunk my teeth into the magic side of things yet, but it's point based and has the capacity to go wrong, which I really like. It's much more involved than your typical D&D OSR game, where casting spells can attract the attention of the Darkmaster himself and there are various modifiers to do with range, whether the target is moving and whether the spell is prepared or not that beef up the system a bit much for my taste. It's not overly complex, but I'd probably chuck a few rules out for streamlining purposes.

I'm super impressed with VsD as it stands and I look forward to backing the Kickstarter when it launches.

Image: Against the Darkmaster/ The Fellowship & Sego

Saturday, 4 May 2019

How I run games


I'm not saying that this is the right way to run a game, but it's the method that suits my GM style and my lifestyle.

I'm a fan of Sly Flourish's Lazy DM books and I take cues from these in terms of creating NPCs and locations, but not having anything fixed. I have to start a campaign with a hook, otherwise why bother, but after this hook it's fairly loosey goosey.

Take my current Aetherscream PF campaign. I have a setting (17th century aetherships, horror and Mediterranean fantasy), a hook (the PCs are finding their way home, a planet's godhead has vanished and may be their only hope of getting home), and some NPCs and factions (Will of the Elder as the theocratic church, Clayshrikes as golem augmented freedom fighters, Grey Ones as vastly knowledgeable underdwellers run by a hyper-intelligent psychic black pudding, Skywretches as an expanding empire of Hammer Horror monsters). I built in a couple of fun gimmicks, like the PCs pistols being Ghastlocks, guns that absorb monster souls and offer special bullet abilities.

The above took me the most effort to come up with but I also know it's a framework that I can alter as I go. Before every session I note a list of possible secrets that could be revealed in the session. Some of these come into play, others get crossed off or carried over to the next session.

I have a set of Rory's Storycubes I roll if I want to create a new NPC or simply understand what a situation entails. I find having these removes bandwidth from me, giving me a little random engine I can use to expand my universe on the fly. As a GM, you're the engine that drives the game, which uses a tonne of bandwidth. I use tables, lists, random rolls and the players to share the load.

Consequences matter. I don't think it's a particularly good game if the PCs have zero impact on the campaign world, so I note down how my world reacts to their actions and make sure they see it resolve. This can take the game in unexpected directions, which for me is the best part of a game. I have no prepared endpoint. I honestly don't think you can really play a good game if you already know how it ends, since you're essentially coaching your players towards that ending. I'm cool with dropping the main quest or hook altogether if something more interesting organically grows from play. At the moment, I have a couple of players that have written a manifesto in the game world to help unionise overworked guards. It stemmed from a joke, but is now going to have consequences to how the game world operates because I know how my world would react to this development. This could take things in a vastly new direction, but it may not.

Since it's Pathfinder, the most intense prep is creating maps and stocking them with creatures. This, by the way, is my least favourite part of GMing. Some people love it, but I do not. Before a session I'll make some notes on developments since last game, some new secrets, and take a location from my master list to flesh out if I know that's where they're heading. I couldn't give a shit about balancing "encounters", but I do it within reason since it's PF. I don't think too much about it - I know what dwells here, so I add the creatures that make sense and build the ecology on the fly. As an aside, I'm not a fan of long, drawn out combat. My fights rarely go to the death, with opponents either running away or surrendering. You get far more play options keeping a goblin alive than having them decapitated.

I used to have big bads with plot armour and all that nonsense, but that's dumb. If someone who I thought would be a tough big boss gets slaughtered by my min-max players then it simply wasn't a big boss. I don't want to be precious about any character in my game.

As I say, this isn't the only way to run a game. Some people love binders of intense prep, spending hours on their NPCs etc. This isn't a style for me. For me, less prep is more. It allows for flexibility and means that I don't get pissed if the PCs don't visit my intricately designed dungeon or meet an NPC with a page of backstory. Here's how I write an NPC: Talie Thundersnow, show-off thief, in love with Ozarn the potter. Hates the monarchy.

So, there's an insight into how I prep for and run a game. It might help you, it might not.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Tunnels and Trolls cartoon adventure comic launches on Kickstarter

Tunnels and Trolls never had much in the way of peripheral material. Ken wrote a couple of novels, but it's high time we got some new T&T fiction. Fortunately, a new comic called Tunnels and Trolls Cartoon Adventure has just launched on Kickstarter by Spanish publisher Hirukoa.

From the KS page, the story revolves around a group of adventurers - an elf wizard, a dwarf warrior, a human wizard and a... centaur rogue. I have to say, the latter surprised me as I don't really think centaurs when I think T&T. Leprechauns and fairies, but not horse people.

Aside from being a comic, this is also a series of solo adventures, a GM adventure, new items and monsters, in addition to mini T&T rules. Now this has piqued my interest.

If this sounds like something that interests you, please go to the Kickstarter page.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Why I carry a torch for Tunnels and Trolls


This blog was originally only about T&T. That was over 10 years ago now and, as anything, it's evolved to talking about all sorts of games. However, I never want to lose my roots - T&T is near and dear to my heart and I want, in some small way, to help it succeed.

There used to be a small T&T blogosphere. The Omnipotent Eye, The Lone Delver, Trollhammer Press and The Delving Dwarf to name but a handful in the space. Unfortunately all the aforementioned are no longer updating and haven't for a few years in some cases. Even official locations like the Trollhalla community has fallen into the arms of Facebook - a place I refuse to go.

While I'm not going to turn Trollish Delver into a full T&T blog again (I have my OWN games to blather on about now) I do want to continue to carry the torch, to light the beacon of Tunnels and Trolls, because there are few now who do.

I don't want the game just to fade, but without fan support it just might do. T&T has always been bouyed by the community and when this no longer produces material then the game is at risk. Thankfully, Flying Buffalo are still putting out Kickstarters (Elven Lords, Vaults of K'horror, MSPE) and Ken is still writing (Mongoni Island, The Monster Maze of Zorr), but looking back over the past couple of years and support has been fairly minimal. This year so far there have been just two titles put out - my own Beneath Dark Elms and Ken's Mongoni Island. This time last year there had already been 8 products put out.

This is why I carry the torch. I'm passionate in helping to keep the game alive. As part of this, I'm announcing my upcoming T&T zine Phoenix. If you fancy contributing, please get in touch.

Art: Liz Danforth

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Venom Vegetation for S&W and T&T


Inspired by the current run of Flash Gordon Sundays at Comics Kingdom, here's the Venom Vegetation for S&W and T&T.

Venom Vegetation is a large plant with a huge gaping maw. Unlike most plants, this one feasts on unwary adventurers who become ensnared by a particularly devious trap. The plant cast an illusionary image in the mind of its victims of a person they desire. It then overloads the senses with a wonderful aroma, enough to make their victim approach the illusion and embrace it. Once embraced, the great jaws of the plant close over its prey, locking it in and digesting it.

S&W

HD4
AC 14 (5)
SV 12
Atk Special
MV 0'
Special: The Venom Vegetation casts charm person three times per day. If successful, the victim moves into the centre of the plant to embrace the illusion, before the jaws clamp shut. The victim takes 1d8 damage per round from the acid swilling around in their prison.

T&T

MR 64
Dice 7d6+32
Armour 4 (natural)
Special ability: The Venom Vegetation can create an illusion three times per day. The target must make a L2SR-IQ or become charmed, falling under the control of the plant. Thr victim moves into the centre of the plant to embrace the illusion, before the jaws clamp shut. The victim takes 2d6 Con damage per round from the acid swilling around in their prison. Armour is only half as effective.

The Venom Vegetation cannot attack in a conventional sense.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Taking a look at Fours! 3d augmented printing by Ken St. Andre


Since I did my previous post about Fours!, the latest game from legend Ken St. Andre, the trollgod has released two more iterations building on his initial design.

As a reminder, Fours! was born from a conversation Ken had with John Wick about the minimum rules a game needs to be a functional RPG (the name question I asked myself before writing In Darkest Warrens). What he ended up with was a card-based generic system that totally works, but I did have trouble with some of the probabilities. Namely that it was fairly difficult to succeed.

The 3d edition has been slightly revamped and some extra bits bolted on by other writers. While three of the main stats have remained the same, Intangibles is now Resources (although the character sheet still reads Intangibles). The mysterious Avatar class has been replaced by Scientist, who now gets a +4 to smarts instead of Wizards, who now get a +4 to health. I'm not entirely sure on the reasoning here. With a super lite game, you have to rely on tropes to help build more information in the minds of players, so classes and stats should be familiar. I don't know why wizards should now get additional health. I'm not sure why scientist was the best replacement, but I suppose in a medieval setting you'd call it an alchemist or some variation.

I don't want to teach Ken to suck eggs - he's a far better designer than me, but I'd have perhaps had power, resources, smarts and spirit, with health being static, but each class getting its own bonus to health. Spirit would be force of will, resolve and magic, and useful for wizards.

I really appreciate Ken writing a short piece in the document about failing forward. He's obviously recognised that failure is more common than success and has made it a feature of the game. That's a very Ken thing to do. There are also some example spells and science examples (science is a lot like magic in Fours! very Arthur C Clarke), which are also a welcome addition. The edition also includes a random adventure ingredient generator, which I like.

I really like Fours! It's a breezy game that I think could be built out more and ironed out, but it really hits that lite sweet spot I like. I particularly love the advice that Ken gives about using the deck to determine the chances of anything being a reality in the game world. The example he gives is a player wanting to buy a drink and having to pull their suit to determine whether they actually have the money to pay for it. This really allows for some great emergent roleplaying opportunities.

Before I sign off, here's my Fours! character.

Red Tonya
Warrior (clubs)
Power 10
Smarts 3
Resources 1
Health 6

Stuff: Scimitar, rope, mail, dirk, map, torch.
The most important thing about this character is that she can both swash and buckle.

Pay what you want for Fours!

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Why Tunnels and Trolls is so important to roleplaying


I'm not going to say that it's a crime that Tunnels and Trolls isn't more popular, but it's a damned shame. What makes it worse is that it's one of the most important roleplaying games ever conceived and a work of genius. Why? Let me tell you.

The year is 1974 and two visionaries - Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson give metaphorical birth to a highly unusual game. But for some, Dungeons and Dragons was overly complex and relied a bit too much on its wargaming heritage. One of these people was Ken St. Andre, a Phoenix librarian without a background in miniatures gaming, but a healthy love of science fiction, fantasy and comic books. Ken loved the idea of a roleplaying game, but didn't like D&D's execution, so in 1975 he released his own version. Originally Tunnels and Troglodytes, Tunnels and Trolls was arguably the second roleplaying game on the market (it gets a bit hazy here because Empire of the Petal Throne was self-published in 1974 and released by TSR in 1975 - but this was still based on D&D rules).

T&T re-invented what the roleplaying game could be. Instead of tables, funny dice and complex rules, Ken created a ruleset for himself and his friends that felt a world away from D&D. He introduced a universal mechanic in the saving roll that could be applied to any situation. The Monster Rating invention allowed GMs to create monsters on the fly with just one number and some imagination, and the stripped back class system was much simpler than in D&D. T&T was indie before indie was a thing.

While D&D became more rules-heavy through subsequent editions, T&T remained refreshingly simple, which was partly due to Ken's ethos of wanting to make a game that the players can own. T&T has always been about empowering players to create their own rules in their own worlds - a mentality that has become much more prevalent in the indie gaming scene more recently. My own home game probably isn't the same as Ken's or Steve Crompton's or whoever. Mine are a splice of 5th, 7.5, Deluxe and my own ideas. There are few games that remain as maleable.

I can't go on without talking about the humour instrinsic in T&T. The first edition was nothing like D&D's. It was sprinkled with in-jokes, cartoons and an informal tone. It wasn't to the same professional standard as the other game, having being typed up and 100 copies created, mainly for friends. Granted, there are some dubious things written in the 1st edition, and the spell name Yassa Massa is infamous in T&T circles, but this approach solidified the game as one that you didn't have to take too seriously. Unfortunately, some of the silly spell names have held the game back from gamers who are probably a bit too po faced, but it was this kind of design mentality that immediately set it apart from competitors (plus, I've always thought magic missile was dull as dishwater, while Take That, You Fiend was far more evocative. I can see a curmudgeonly wizard booming the latter). There's something in the game that makes it feel incredibly light at the tabletop, that encourages a creativity I've not seen in any other game. My own players will attest to this. Maybe it's because characters are a little more throwaway, being so quick to create, so it's not such a huge deal if they die. But maybe it's that perfect mix of easy rules and humour that brings out the best in people at the table.

I'm not trying to say that one game is better than the other - I'm a huge fan of early D&D editions, but D&D is having its time in the sun at the moment so I wanted to talk specifically about T&T. This is a game that had the biggest weapons table ever (jambiya and pilum, anyone?), a game that had solo play before Fighting Fantasy was a thing, a game where you can become a gremlin wizard, a game that cast away those wargaming shackles and forged a new path for roleplaying games forever.



Monday, 22 April 2019

The Cult of Unknown Knowns


Braskin Radle could never accept anything he was told. It began innocuously enough. His father, a cow farmer, explained to his ruddy-cheeked offspring where milk came from, but Braskin couldn't believe this were the case. A delicious drink coming from one of those dumb animals - absolutely ludicrous. No, milk surely came from a milk spring in the ground, Braskin hypothesised.

Now at 34, Braskin is a much bigger thinker. Birds were created by the king to sprinkle a magic dust onto the populace to keep them placid. The blue sky was obviously the backside of a mega dragon, with rain being its...toilet. The king isn't even real - he's a troll in disguise. Once branded the village fool, Braskin found himself with a following. He'd talk about his theories in taverns and some people latched onto his way of thinking. Yes, it seems far more plausible that the sky is a dragon's arse.

It began as a small meeting group. A handful of humans, dwarves and a couple of elves came together in a pub back room to talk about how the world was probably no more than a week old and they were living in some kind of time loop. As more people became interested the group grew into 50 people, all of whom venerated Braskin. He named them The Society of Unknown Knowns and through the donations he was recieving built a reservation in the country just for them. He figured that they were the only people he could trust, so living with them made sense.

One day, a dwarf called Groggin referred to Braskin as the High Wod, a corruption of 'word', and the name caught on. Braskin told them that modern clothing was made to control their minds, so they all wore clothes made of leaves.

It was 4 years until Braskin hit on his most brilliant realisation yet. That he and his society didn't actually exist. They had never existed. But it was their duty to be brought into existence in what he called The Grand Birthening. The society nodded in unison and asked for a blessing. "How do we become born?" Groggin asked.

"Ah, well, that's tricky," said Braskin. "But I'm pretty sure it involves speaking to a god.

"Right," replied the dwarf, "And how do we do that?"

"Oh, erm," the High Wod thought for a moment. "Well, to get a god's attention we'd need to do something big. Something drastic," a smile crept over his face. "We have to kill the king and drink his blood, I reckon."

"Blimey, very good, your worship."