Monday 25 February 2019

Hedgemen of the Bramble

You have been walking this wood for some time. In a clearing you are greeted by Tomnick, of the Hedgemen Spineguard - a race of humanoid hedgehogs.

He sees that you are weary and takes you to the burrow, a maze of chambers, a city of soil. The berries are sweet here and they clear your head. Tomnick says they will help you see in the dark.

The Castidors are the protectors of the royal quill and upholders of the underlaw. They wear sparrow beaks as necklaces. Their gods are fearful.

Dellylane mixes potions from tree gum, owl blood and pollen. She can no longer fetch the dandelion needed for her tinctures for the toadstool people have stowed them.

You are seated on a feather cushion before the Grand Hog. She is high from nettle smoke and her lovers have all fallen asleep. When the full moon rises she must leave the burrow for the last time and make her trek to the lake where she must perish, as is the holy rite. She requires champions to accompany her.

Their tapestries depict the foxwars. The vizier says the foxes have returned, led by a new king. Their guild, The Tooth and Claw Society will descend swiftly and quietly. They will leave none alive.

Sunday 24 February 2019

Dungeon Nights dev diary

I've been working solidly on Dungeon Nights since I put the 'lite' version on the blog. I originally kind of just wanted to expand the lite rules slightly and make a nice pdf but things have changed. I've ended up expanding the game considerably because I've kind of fallen in love with it.

Avanor. That's the baked in setting that's referenced throughout. There's no setting section. Instead I've drizzled setting into the rules. You get an inkling of who the Shadow Seven are, and how powerful the three Great Mages might be. You know that different cultures have different mounts - Thorish tend to use giant moles as transportation, while Frigos use riding bears. It's kind of apparent that Vennans drink lots of wine. Gnomes are made of pure magic but nobody really knows why - it's up to the group.

Class specials have been expanded too. All classes have at least three of them. They can build strongholds, fortresses, guilds, temples and towers at higher level. Thieves actually do sneak damage. Clerics can turn undead.

Even more, mercenaries can be acquired, there's advanced combat rules, languages also have dialects (78 combinations of language and dialect - speaking glade dune means desert elf language. Gloam gob is night goblin), there's more magic, weapons do varied damage, there are proficiencies and journey tag rules have been introduced.

In other words, it's much fatter. It's a bit B/X with some OD&D but mostly new. Completely compatible with OSR adventures. The only reason I'm not writing an adventure with it is for this reason - there's a tonne already out there.

It's pretty much there now. I'm currently tackling spells - there's a tonne more than in the lite version but a bit fewer than Swords and Wizardry. Any add ons to it will probably be short, punchy pdfs.

Anyway, I'm excited to show you the new Dungeon Nights.

Saturday 23 February 2019

OSR monster: Shingran

The Shingran is unlike any creature you've faced before on your adventures. For starters it has no material form - it exists only when imagined. Once imagined, it will seep into the material world and hunt those who imagined it to the death. Just reading a description or seeing an image is enough to develop a Shingran in the mind. Once the seed is planted it takes 1d4 hours to 'gestate' before appearing within 3d6x10ft of the imaginer. Once someone has seen a Shingran, they must save vs spells or another Shingran appears. There can be up to 10 creatures appear at one time in this way. While I'm loathe to describe the creature to you I will begrudgingly give you some keywords to help: slavering, bone, eyes, cat-like, tendrils, jaws, carapace.

AC 14 (5)
MV: 30'
ATK: Tendrils (d8) or Bite (d6)
SAVE: As W6 (or 10)
SPECIAL: Mind Gestation

Friday 22 February 2019

B/X is the favourite D&D edition among gamers

Earlier this week I ran a poll on Mewe asking people to vote on their favourite edition of Dungeons and Dragons. While I know the sample size is too low to be anything near representative (45 entries), the survey did indicate that B/X is the crowning jewel of D&D.

A majority (40%) of respondents were all about B/X by Tom Moldvay and David Cook, a revision released in 1981 as a standalone game that ran alongside the AD&D line at the time.

Coming in second, 20% said 5th edition was their most loved version - an intergenerational favourite from Wizards of the Coast that stripped back the 4e clutter and went back to basics.

AD&D 1e garnered 15% of the vote, making it the third most popular edition, followed by OD&D with 11%.

The editions recieving the fewest votes were 4th and 3rd edition, which both got 0%, whereas 3.5, BECMI and Holmes Basic were just 2%.

What's your favourite edition?

Thursday 21 February 2019

What did your character think of the session?

Art: Harry Quinn
Character development isn't something D&D is designed for outside of gaining experience points and acquiring new skills, nor should it do.

But it's called roleplaying for a reason and it's good every now and again to take part in some naval gazing to help understand your character. So here's an exercise to try.

At the end of the session, as a GM, ask your players "what did your characters think to that session?" Go around the table and ask each player to answer. Doesn't have to be long, but it should help develop character in bitesize chunks. It helps solidify a character in the player's mind. It reminds them that they're playing a role and has them engage a little more with the game.

Or don't. Whatever.

Sunday 17 February 2019

Dungeon Nights redux

Ok, so I accidentally created a new game earlier. I didn't mean to - it sort of just happened.

Since then I've been building on Dungeon Nights into something that can be a downloadable PDF with art and stuff. There are a few design decisions I've made to set it apart from other OSR games on the market:

- Journey Tag system makes travel interesting for the players
- Cultures and races form the backbone of a character
- A baked in setting so it's not just a set of rules

I've ironed out some specifics and expanded on the rules. I've made good head way so Dungeon Nights should be out soon.

Free OSR game: Dungeon Nights

Dungeon Nights is a fast and dirty old school adventure game, powered by fuzzy riffs and fizzy drinks. It's designed to scratch the traditional fantasy itch when you can't be arsed with anything else. It's a light mish-mash of old school and new school thinking, but probably not for beginners.

So grab some dice, paper and some mates and have at it.

Character creation

- roll your attributes
- choose a culture (gain culture bonuses)
- choose a race (gain race bonus)
- choose a class
- roll your hit die plus your Con bonus to figure your HP
- Your AC begins at 10 plus your Dex bonus
- Begin with 1d6x10 gold

Strength: Bashing doors, lifting heavy items, swimming, hitting with swords, climbing walls.
Dexterity: Sneaking, vaulting walls, disarming traps, dodging fireballs.
Wisdom: Religious insights, spotting hidden things, willpower, common sense.
Intelligence: Knowing facts, understanding mechanisms, recognising monsters, keeping lucid.
Constitution: Staving off damage, taking a beating, surviving without food.
Charisma: Entertaining, persuading, leading, lying.

Roll 3d6 for each. Less than 7 is a -1, 8-10 is ,+0, 11-14 is +1, 15-17 is +2, 18-20 is +3.

Tags: Cultures and classes have certain tags to help you get a flavour for the character you're creating. Use as many or as few of these tags as you like to help inspire your character.


Stone Culture (Thorish)
Tags: Proud, Loyal, Traditional
Common races: Dwarf, Halfling, Orc
+1 to Str or Con/ -1 to Dex or Cha
You can see in the dark
You have a 1 in 3 chance of being able to tell the history of an underground structure.

Sea Culture (Venna)
Tags: Adventurous, Open minded, Talkative
Common races: Human, Elf, Gnome
+1 to Dex or Cha/ -1 to Con or Int
You can sail boats
1 in 4 chance of being able to circumnavigate waters

Desert Culture (Al Hadar)
Tags: Curious, Welcoming, Organised
Common races: Human, Dwarf, Gnome
+1 to Wis or Con/ -1 to Str or Dex
You can go 2 days without needing water
You have a 1 in 3 chance of recognising poison from the smell

Night Culture (Gloam)
Tags: Meticulous, Honourable, Quiet
Common races: Elf, Halfling, Orc
+1 to Dex or Cha/-1 to Wis or Con
Gain a +2 when attempting to use stealth
You can see in the dark

Forest Culture (Arboran)
Tags: Cautious, Theatrical, Empathic
Common races: Elf, Human, Gnome
+1 to Dex or Int/ -1 to Cha or Str
Gain +2 when attempting to climb
You have a 4 in 6 chance of circumnavigating a forest or wood

Frost Culture (Frigos)
Tags: Solemn, Resilient, Resourceful
Common races: Human, Dwarf, Orc
+1 to Con or Dex/ -1 to Cha or Wis
You do not need cold weather furs in extreme cold
Gain a +2 to Con saves


Select one race.

Move 25/ +1 Int
Move 20/ +1 Str
Move 30/ +1 Wis
Move 20/+1 Dex
Move 20/ +1 Cha
Move 25/ +1 Con


Tags: Precise, Brave, Deadly, Grizzled
Hit Dice: d6+1 per level
Saving Throw target: 15 (reduces by 1 per level until level 9)
Special: +1 to attacks per level until level 6.

Tags: Savage, Tough, Traveller, Ostracized
Hit Dice: d8 per level
Saving Throw target: 14 (reduces by 1 per level until level 9)
Special: Rage - Once per combat, gain + 1d4 to damage rolls for 3 rounds.

Tags: Holy, Vengeful, Patient, Courageous
Hit Dice: d6 per level
Saving throw target: 16 (reduces by 1 per level until level 8)
Special: Can use prayers. +1 prayer per level up to a max of 8 prayer slots. Start with 1 prayer slot.

Tags: Shady, Connected, Misunderstood, Careful
Hit Dice: d6 per level
Saving Throw target: 14 (reduces by 1 per level until level 9)
Special: Gain a +1 bonus to picking locks, picking pockets and disarming traps.

Magic user
Tags: Esoteric, Curious, Scatterbrained, Surprising
Hit Dice: d4+1 per level
Saving Throw target: 17 (reduces by 1 per level until level 10)
Special: Can cast Arcane spells. +1 spell slot per level up to a max of 10 spell slots. Start with 2 spell slots.

Levelling up:
-Roll your Hit Die and add the result to your HP.
-Reduce your saving throw target
-Roll d20 per attribute. If you roll under the attribute +1 to it.
- Level caps off at 20.

Melee or ranged weapon (d6 damage) - 10 gp
Superior melee or ranged weapon (+1 attack, d6 damage) - 100 gp
Ammo X10 - 3 gp

(Each armour has a max Dex. bonus. This is the most benefit a character would get from their Dex bonus to AC)

Cloth (+1 AC, max Dex NA) 10gp
Leather (+2 AC, max Dex bonus +3) 50gp
Chain (+3 AC, max Dex bonus +2) 120gp
Plate (+4 AC, max Dex bonus +1) 600gp
Mithril (+4 AC, max Dex bonus +2) 2000gp


- all players roll 1d6 for initiative. 4+, they go before the opponent.
- combat is done in 6 second rounds. A round is over when everyone has had a turn.
- characters may move and attack or move and cast a spell on their turn. They can do any other action that takes 3 seconds in place of either moving or attacking.
- to attack: roll d20 + Str (melee) or Dex (ranged). If equal to or higher than opponent's AC, do weapon damage
- the DM should modify combat as she wishes (i.e. offering +2 AC to a character hiding behind a low wall).

Tests: Whenever you want to try something that could fail roll d20 + attribute. Targets: Easy 5, Medium 10, Hard 15, Ridiculous 20. If you are testing yourself against another creature, have a roll off. The highest roll succeeds. Example: Sneaking past a guard will be a roll off between the sneaker's Dex and the guard's Wis.

Saving throws: Saves are tied to attributes. Whenever you are in danger and need to make a save, roll d20 and add the relevent attribute bonus. If you roll equal to or higher than your class saving throw target, you have succeeded.

Spellcasting and Prayers

Magic users and clerics can use magic in the form of spells and prayers. Spells and prayers use up slots based on their level (i.e. a 1st level spell uses 1 slot, a 2nd level spell uses 2 slots etc). Magic users and clerics may only use spells or prayers of their level of below. For example, a magic user of level 5 could use a fireball and a magic missile.

Arcane spells must be memorised at the beginning of the day before they can be used. Prayers must be prayed for at the beginning of the day to be used.

Cleric prayers
Lv. 1. Heal: Restore +1d6 +1 per Wis bonus HP to you or another person
Lv. 2 Bless: Grant someone a +1 per Wis bonus to attacks until their next turn.
Lv. 3 Blast Undead: d4 undead creatures take 1d6 damage within 50ft.
Lv. 4 Stop Undead: d4 undead creatures cannot move for 18 seconds.
Lv. 4 Invigorate: d4 creatures within 50ft gain +1 per Wis bonus to saves for 30 seconds.
Lv 5 Raise Dead: Restore a dead creature to life. They return with HP equal to cleric Wis bonus. They cannot have been dead for longer than 3 days.

Arcane spells
Lv 1 Acid spray: Do damage equal to Intelligence bonus to a creature within 50ft
Lv 1 Light: Create a 30x30ft sphere of light
Lv 2 Magic missile: Do 1d6 damage to a creature within 50ft.
Lv 2 Barrier: Increase the AC of a creature within 30ft by 2 for 24 seconds.
Lv 3 Fireball: Do 2d6 damage to d4 creatures within 50ft. Creatures may not be more than 10ft away from each other. Dex save to halve damage based on Magic user's Int attribute as the target.
Lv 3 Teleport: Instantly appear 100ft away.
Lv 4 Illusion: Create a convincing illusion of a creature or structure. It can move and make sound.
Lv 4 Freeze: 1d4 creatures within 30ft are unable to act for 12 seconds unless they succeed a Str save with the magic user's Int attribute as the target.
Lv 5 Vorpal weapon: a weapon within 50ft gains a +1d6 bonus to damage for 24 seconds.
Lv 5 Fly: You or a creature within 30ft can fly for up to 1 minute.

Bestiary example

HD: The number of dice rolled to work out HP
Attack: includes their attack bonus and damage. X/X indicates more than one attack per turn.
Saving Throw target: the creature rolls d20+ HD whenever they need to save.
Move: Number of feet able to move per turn.
Special: an ability the creature has.

HD: 1 (1d6 HP)
AC: 11
Attack: Sword +0 (d6 damage)
Saving Throw target: 17
Move: 25
Special: None

HD: 2 (2d6 HP)
AC: 13
Attack: Mace +2 (d6 damage)
Saving Throw target: 15
Move: 20
Special: Anyone trying to intimidate an orc takes a -2 to the roll.

HD: 4 (4d6 HP)
AC: 15
Attack: Club +4/+4 (d6 damage)
Saving Throw target: 14
Move: 20
Special: Trolls can camouflage as boulders. Other creatures must succeed a medium Wis test to spot that a boulder is a troll.

HD: 10 (10d6)
AC: 18
Attack: Bite/Tail/Tail +7/+7/+7 (d6 damage) or Fire Breath (3d6 damage - see Special)
Move: 20 (fly 30)
Special: Breathe fire, affecting 1d4 creatures within 60ft. Dex save halves damage.

Friday 15 February 2019

Moving forward with the OSR

Let's get one thing clear: Zak is not the OSR. Though nobody can deny the impact and influence he's had on the OSR, this is in the past. I've seen some people proclaim that the OSR is now essentially dead in the water. That innovation is over and it's time to move on.

I simply don't believe this is true.

The community is as important as it's ever been. It's as innovative as its ever been. Look at Luka Rejec's Ultraviolet Grasslands (Exalted Funeral Press) and tell me that's not an exciting slice of fried gold. Look at Black Pudding (Random Order Creations). This year Romance of the Perilous Land will be the first OSR game from Osprey Games, owned by Bloomsbury.

The imminent closure of Google Plus has ignited a resurgence in the blogosphere. Without a centralised community, we've become nomadic, moving from blog to blog conversing, challenging and celebrating. This is a visionary community, one that will move forward with positivity. There are thoroughly decent people doing thoroughly decent things and this should continue.

Not only will the OSR survive - it will thrive.

Sunday 10 February 2019

An argument for cultures instead of race in roleplaying

Image: Wizards of the Coast

Alexis at the Tao of D&D recently wrote about D&Ds propensity, particularly in 5e, to force identity onto a PC through what essentially amounts to 'race fluff'. This got me thinking about why culture is a favourable alternative to race in games.

Race is a loaded term and in roleplaying games it tends to put you in a box. As an elf you're more sensitive towards nature, you're more musical or whatever. As a dwarf you dislike elves, you can recognise underground masonry etc. God forbid you come across a goblin trying to parley because your Paladin's having none of it. Goblin equals evil bad thing to be killed. Essentially, things tend to get racist.

I'd argue that culture is a better alternative to race. Culture covers traditions, customs, language and heritage without having to hang onto a particular race. An elf could be integrated into dwarf culture. They're still an elf, but they may not have anything to do with typical elf culture. This is a simple way of looking at it, but it still sort of talks race. Let's take it one step further.

The Tharesh culture are historically miners. While Tharesh started mainly as dwarves, die to trade and travel the Tharesh count many humans and gnomes among their numbers. Growing up in this culture, people are more likely to be sympathetic to rocks, understand the value of precious minerals and know the great lays of Udrick of the Great Pick. Mechanical bonuses can apply to these, but they're never predicated on race.

Taking it further still. Your gnome bard had grown up in Tharesh culture, but has since moved to the warmer southern climes to Dwilt, integrating into Al Tal'hu culture. This is a seafaring culture of all races, many of whom worship Venhara, the sea goddess, and many have traditionally grown vineyards, so they understand well the southern wines. Here we see a patchwork culture - our gnome has heritage as Tharesh, but it interweaves with Al Tal'hu. This could mean taking some aspects of both cultures mechanically.

Races are static, but culture is ever flowing. Characters could pick up aspects of cultures as they travel around - whatever resonates with them. Pathfinder 2e changed race to ancestry, but this is simply a difference in words. Culture still has room for racial heritage - but this can be as important as the player wants it to be.

Why the Genesys system is a great storytelling tool

Image: Fantasy Flight Games
Around three months ago my group decided to kick off a game of Edge of the Empire, with myself at the GM helm. For those unfamiliar, Edge of the Empire is a Star Wars roleplaying game from Fantasy Flight, now one of three variations that focus on a specific Star Wars theme, albeit with the same core system called Genesys. EotE is all about smuggling, roguery and netting a big payday even if you have to break the law.

Regular readers will know that our game for the past four or so years has been Pathfinder. We love Pathfinder for its tactical combat and granular character creation, but we decided that, after a stint with PF2, we should try something else. Being big Star Wars fans, we wanted to give Fantasy Flight a shot to wow us with their system. We knew we weren't going to get the crunch of PF (fine by me) but with the vast array of races and character types in the galaxy the players should still get a good character creation experience.

We're now three sessions into our second adventure, Beyond the Rim, and I'm happy to report that we're having a great ride. The system is built from the ground up for cinematic gameplay, which took us a bit to get used to at first. It's full on theater of the mind, rather than the prolonged miniatures combat we're used to. The dice are configured in a way that outcomes are never binary, but have degrees of success and failure, with even big wins having the potential to carry what the game calls 'threats' - which is where things can go wrong. Ultimately the system aids am emergent storytelling experience. Because outcomes can swing in so many directions, the GM or group can determine how the story is affected. Couple this with light side and dark side points, which can be used by the players and GM to add new elements to the game, what you have is a rich system that facilitates cooperation between players and GM in coming up with all kinds of story curve balls and plot points. Take a short encounter from last week's game. The players were being stalked in the jungle by a ferocious nexu (think a four-eyed tiger with a massive mouth). The nexu pounced on one of the PCs, rolling a success to hit, but a couple of threats. This meant something was going to go a tad wrong for the beast. We all decided that the PC had managed to grab it and hold it towards another PC, who would gain a bonus die in order to help him try shoot the nexu. It worked - the nexu's brains went everywhere. Afterwards, the players realised that it was getting dark and they were in a jungle without supplies. They had previously tried and failed to make torches from rags and tree sap, leaving them vulnerable to night prowlers. One of the players spent a light side point to basically change the game world by saying that nexu blood is known to be a tad flammable. They soaked some rags, wrapped them around some branches and created a couple of torches.

This is a really small example, but it illustrates how the Genesys system operates. It facilitates a story that can unfold in multiple directions. Sure, the strange dice take some getting used to and fans of crunch may be left wanting, but for that cinematic feel Genesys is a great choice of game.

Saturday 9 February 2019

Let's talk about how incredible Break!!! looks

Break!!! could well be the most beautiful game not yet released. I've been following the game's development since the designers began blogging about the creation process in mid 2014, seeing it blossom like a pink candy rose into what looks to be a sumptuous anime-inspired experience.

Those breezy pastel brush strokes are courtesy of Grey Wizard, a phenomenal artist whose style evokes fantasy manga by way of the NES. Mr Wizard is one half of the talented Break!!! team, whose scribe is Reynaldo Madrinan, though both take design duties on the game.

Looking at the sample pages the team has blogged, you'll notice its ruthless design efficiency. This is a manual designed to help readers learn to play, littered with helpful markers, keys and uncluttered layouts. It's the best pathfinding I've seen in a roleplaying book so far. It looks like a videogame and boardgame manual had a child.

Break!!! sits somewhere in the modern fantasy genre. Races include the cat-like Rai-Neko, the 'perfect' Promethean, and the orcish Bruun, while players can also take on the roles of blue collar workers, retail workers and desk jockeys. I'm not super into anime, but dear lord does this game interest me. Following the game's development, you'll see how much of a labour of love Break!!! is. Recent pictures show dabblings with a die-cut 3d world map. It's gorgeous, as everything I've seen in the game has been.

Needless to say, I'm waiting with bated breath for Break!!!. 

Images property of Grey Wizard and Reynaldo Madrinan. Used with permission.

Wednesday 6 February 2019

The arrival of The Thin Priests

The following is a concept for my upcoming game Blackmace.

Our lady of perpetual sickness, the matron of buboes, the queen of filth. Her rusted scythe carved the Pit where she resides with her Broken Horde. Worshipped by the Fetid Gorgers, so named for their proclivity to devour diseased flesh in wretched festivals. Her Flayed Knights, stinking of corpse grease, emerge from swamp ichor, screaming into unlife, hunting warm bodies to glut on the scarlet wine of their meat vessels. These are but frontline soldiers of her eternal war on the living - a war she will inevitably win through the atrophy of time.

Disease is her purview. Cities fall and civilisations crumble under the spread of rot. The Fetid Gorgers crow mockingly as the serfs are instructed, with the din of a tin bell, to bring out their dead. Ravens pick at bloody sinew.

 The Thin Priests arrive, swinging pink clouded incense on creaking chains, their faces hidden by pallid masks. Suddenly blades gleam in flickering torchlight, a gorger head rolls into the gutter. The Thin Priests don't speak - rapid taps on their breastplates signal their next move. Tok tok tok. The ravens launch into the night. Gorgers disperse, finding black nooks in which to crawl spiderlike, their crooked speech becoming rasping whispers.

Dawn arrives with the hymn of the thrush. The Thin Priests have long since moved on.

Monday 4 February 2019

Taking a look at Fours, a new minimalist RPG from Ken St. Andre

It's been a while. Time for the first post of 2019.

So, yeah, Ken St. Andre has released a new game. He dropped this sneaky whisper of a PDF onto DriveThrurpg, the rogue. It's called Fours and it's a super minimalist game that spawned from Ken's conversation with John Wick around how few rules a game can have to be still considered a roleplaying game. Let's dig in!

First off - the cover was designed by Gilead (presumably not of Handmaid's Tale fame). It's a Danforth-esque line drawing of a warrior lady. Pretty nice stuff. Nothing fancy, but I suppose it's minimalist.

Characters have four attributes: smarts, intangibles, power and health. They also have a class and basically a list of stuff the GM agrees they're allowed to have with them.

Classes are Thief, Warrior, Avatar (demigods who don't know they're demigods) and Wizard, with only the latter two able to use magic. Each is linked with a card suit and character creation uses random card numbers to get your attributes, with bonuses depending on your class.

I don't want to give too much away with the rules otherwise I'll end up writing the full game out, but conflict is pretty interesting, working on either a success/fail basis by picking a random card - if it's your suit then you succeed; or a struggle/compare basis where cards are compared, added to attributes and the highest wins. Aces are critical successes and deuces are catastrophic failures. In combat, the lowest total is deducted from the highest to get amount of damage done. Interesting system, but I'm not too sold on being only able to succeed 25% of the time on average. This is also how magic works - the caster freeforms it by saying an effect and they have to pick a card matching their suit.

Otherwise everything else is GM fiat, but the GM must respect the outcome of the cards.

So it seems that Fours was a bit of an experiment in minimalism, which I'm totally on board with having created In Darkest Warrens, Wired Neon Cities and Shatter6 to basically answer the same question Wick posed to Ken. I'm intrigued, but maybe not enough to play it. Still, I have the feeling that the system is (ironically) begging to be fleshed out into something bigger.

You can pay what you want for the Fours pdf.