Sunday 29 November 2020

Heartseeker - new cover and updated doc

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

Download from Itch or DrivethruRPG.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art: Jeff Easley

Friday 27 November 2020

Turning off the firehose

 Over the past month or so I've drastically reduced my time on Twitter. Traditionally I'd spend 2-3 hours a day scrolling through that endless feed, getting annoyed, sharing cool things and blathering about my own crap. That's a long time to spend on something that really wasn't doing me any psychological favours. Now I spend that total time per week, if that. I flick through a few tweets to look for anything interesting being shared, send some supportive messages (since we all must contend with this awful year) and get out. As someone who suffers from anxiety, this has helped.

Twitter is such a double edged sword. On the one hand, as a game designer I want to use it to make connections and understand what's going on in the industry. On the other, the outrage-reward economy brings out the very worst in normal people. Minor discretions get blown out of proportion and the pile-ons begin. The circular discourse never ends, with the same points trotted out and the same arguments flaming up every couple of months. It's not healthy.

There's very much a 'if you're not with me then you're against me' mentality there. Often the best thing to do is just stay completely quiet - talk about the things you like and inject some positivity into a trashfire social. You're not at the behest of anyone to behave how they want you to behave. 

And me? I'm guilty of all of the above. I've called out random people I've never met out of some misplaced sense of righteousness that really gives you that dopamine hit. It's not right. We tend to become experts in philosophy and morality, or whatever the topic of conversation is that hour. Then we'll defend our position pretty much to the death. It's exhausting, both to do and to watch, which is why I'm using Twitter less and less these days. 

Wednesday 25 November 2020

Keep on the Borderlands - Heartseeker solo session


I decided to run a solo session of my new OSR adventure game Heartseeker today, and opted for B2 Keep on the Borderlands as I've only ever really played this when the D&D Next playtest was happening. 

I ran it by simply reading through the book as I went, ignoring any secret information and using a quick d6 oracle system to determine certain eventualities. 

First off I rolled up four characters: Nark the goblin pathfinder, Hawkmoon the human warrior, Elderflower the halfling cleric and Silverward the dwarf wizard. 

They all began at the Keep, starting their adventure at the Traveller's Inn. After buying supplies for their journey and gathering four rumours from tavern patrons, they paid for the good rooms and slept. At the crack of dawn they began what would be their doomed journey. Trust me - it went poorly for them. 

They decided to go through the forest, which would take around 4 days to get through and then a couple more to get to the caves. The first day was great - serene, even. Travelling overland they could see the forest looming before them. But they were cocky - adventure awaited them!

The second day was a problem. As they marches through the undergrowth they were ambushed by 7 giant shrews out for the hunt. Silverward managed to get a fairly weak sleep spell out to put two unconscious and arcane bolted another, frying its skull. But the group were soon overwhelmed, with Hawkmoon falling before Silverward. Elderflower and Nark managed to escape, guilty they had to leave their companions behind. After several hours they returned to the scene and found their bodies stripped to the bone. Picking up their packs they took several items and rations, ultimately deciding to continue to the caves.

On the fourth day they crossed paths with a band of 13 halflings scouring the forest for bandits. They were hostile to the characters and despite Elderflower pleading with them the halfling leader was taking no chances, having them stripped of all their belongings and marched to their camp where they were taken prisoner. 

For two nights they were tied up, not being fed. Elderflower grew weary and Nark knew he had to try escape. He lured over one of the guards while most of the others were out scouting. The goblin attacked with a headbutt and Elderflower attempted to barrel into the halfling, but to no avail. The halfling kicked Nark in the ribs and spat on him laughing. 

One the third night three wolves entered the camp and began savaging the halflings. Three were slain but the others made short work of the wolves. However in the chaos the characters managed to escape, albeit pursued by several of their captors. They managed to lose the halflings and the pathfinder got them back on track, foraging for berries and feasting for the first time in days. At this point they could have gone back, but they were so far into the forest they decided to continue their journey with absolutely no equipment. 

After emerging from the vast forest, Nark managing to sustain them with food the whole time they made their way across the plains and eventually sunk back into a forest, emerging into a rocky area with several caves. They made their way to a northerly cave, hoping to find some more food, but found themselves being ambushed by 8 kobolds. Nark went down fighting while Elderflower escaped into the undergrowth, panicked and wounded. 

After a few hours she came to a river, which she knew ran back near the keep. There was no way she could survive out here so spent the next five days travelling, starving for a few days and managing to find some fruit one day. On the final day she staggered into the keep, worse for wear. 

And that's where I left it. Elderflower is back in the keep and will need to find some other adventurers to go back. 

Tuesday 24 November 2020

Heartseeker out now

 Today I've released Heartseeker, my 2-page OSR game. You can grab it as pwyw from itch or DrivethruRPG.

Monday 23 November 2020

Coming soon: Heartseeker

Gosh, it's been a month since I last posted. Safe to say this year is one for the toilet. But designers gotta design, so I decided to create a 2-page OSR game called Heartseeker to pass the time in lockdown.

And with 2 pages, I mean full rules and bestiary, like In Darkest Warrens. No messing around over here. It's not exactly a replica of any D&D edition, but adventure conversion is a breeze. 

Each character has just three abilities: Physical, Aura and Mental. These also double up as saves, with a roll under mechanic. 

You have five classes: warrior, cleric, wizard, thief and pathfinder. Each has an HD that also lets you know how much damage you do. I like this idea (I'm not the first to use it) because it makes sense to me that a dagger in the hands of a warrior is more deadly than a dagger in the hands of a wizard. Bloodlines are races (I don't like the term race in fantasy). They're human, halfling, elf and dwarf. The only bearing they have is languages known. 

AC is ascending because that's what all the kids are into these days. I do like descending AC but when you're doing just 2 pages then you need all the real estate you can get. 

Spells aren't Vancian, but they're one and done until you climb the levels. Wizards automatically have 6 spells they can cast while clerics have 3 prayers (but are generally better in combat). There's no upper level, so it's possible to have a jacked up level 40 wizard who can cast 10 of each spell per day. You won't, but you could.

It should be a fun, familiar game that can be printed out and quickly prepped for a game night. 

Patrons will get a copy as soon as it's ready and I'll open it up in the public domain so anyone can remix and hack it.