Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Save vs Lust (a Racial Mechanic)

Elves, dwarves and whatever else should be at least a little different from humans, or there's no point. Like, on some fundamental level, there should be a clear distinction. There never is though, because players have better things to care about, and that's ok.

If you want that distinction though, here's a storytelling mechanic you can use. (Storytelling?! In my OSR? It's more likely than you'd think.)

elves and dwarves and hobbits, oh my
Each race has a different vice - not drink or drugs necessarily, although those certainly are part of it. No, this is something much more deep seated in the species' culture or cosmology or whatever, a fatal flaw ascribed by the gods to their various clans of dramatis personae.

Once per session, a player may voluntarily roll a save vs this "racial vice", to find out how their character acts when that part of them is tested. Doing this earns them XP or Inspiration, whether or not they succeed, and they can get more benefits if the consequences of them failing are more dire.

If a character comes up against a test of another race's vice, they just use their normal better judgement like with anything. Or, for more fun, they constantly and fundamentally misunderstand the appeal of all other racial vices, to a fault.

(btw, these are written for the races as depicted in Standard Elfgame Fantasylands like the 5e default setting. Change em for your setting - in a lot of what I write on here, elves are the horny ones, f'rinstance.)

the most severe Good Cast to Bad Movie ratio since Ridley Scott's Prometheus
Humans: Save vs Lust

When you meet a half-orc or a half-elf, you never question what the other half was. Humans go for anything with a pulse. Roll vs sexy barkeeps, handsome princes and succubi.

Dwarves: Save vs Greed

They call it dragon-sickness, but that's just projection. There's a rumour that dwarves are just worker bee drones of the same species as dragons, anyway. Roll vs treasure, money and feasts.

Elves: Save vs Grief for Nature

This one's a bit more vague, but then we are talking about elves here. All the other races have jokes about how they get philosophical around trees. Roll vs seeing a tree cut down, picking a flower, or contemplating the life of a forest as you stroll through it in a reverie of numinous angst.

Halflings: Save vs The Quiet Life

Even the hardiest furfoot has to admit, there are times when she'd rather be at home with a good book, a warm fire and a pipe full of weed. In dangerous situations, there is always a halfling instinct, or perhaps destiny, to run and hide and wait for all this to blow over. Roll vs danger, adventure and your own potential for heroism.

Gnomes: Save vs Whimsy

You've never truly understood why your taller compatriots are always so brow-beaten and glum. Sure, it's a grim pseudo-medieval fantasy hellscape, but it's all in good fun, right? Roll vs etiquette, common sense and funerals.

Tieflings: Save vs Wrath

Brooding antiheroes aren't really cool right now (spoilers: they never were), but sometimes you need a good angsty yell sesh. There's hellfire in your veins after all, whether you like it or not. Roll vs being calm, letting people help you and self-actualisation.

Orcs: Save vs Hitting The Problem

The world is full of obstacles that require a delicate touch to surpass. And it's not that you don't know that, it's just that it's so tiring dealing with all the politics and backstabbing... Much easier to hit things. Roll vs traps, illusions and delicate social situations

how's that for a Racial Vice?

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

For the Dark Lady!

artwork by @spookybri on Twitter (link below)
This morning:
1. Woke up

2. Scrolled Twitter, saw some cool art on my timeline.

3. Worked out (I do this now. ugh.)

4. Wrote an RPG based on the cool art over breakfast.

You can get it here.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

huevos rancheros

get this book if you like cooking
(don't worry this blog is still about RPGs)
"But what [this book] does add up to, in the end, is a patchwork of facts, connections, impressions and recollections, designed less to tell you exactly what to do than to provide the spark for your own recipe or adaptation."

- Niki Segnit, The Flavour Thesaurus


The metaphor of an RPG book as a recipe is one of my favourite ways to explain the way I run RPGs, the general ethos of the DIY RPG scene, and what many consider to be the tenets of the OSR. I'm no chef, but I've worked and trained in fairly high-level kitchens, and food is as much of a hobby as mine as games are, so maybe it's just the semantics of this particular allegory that speak to me.

I don't think the metaphor is as clear and succinct to everyone as it is to me, though, since there are many folks who just don't seem to... get it. At all. Every time a lead designer from D&D tweets, for instance, their replies are filled with people who very clearly don't see their book as a recipe, but as rules or... I don't even know, something else. Doctrine? Instructions?

That's fine, we're all learning, I'm not here to shame anyone. But I've never seen the metaphor unpacked, only thrown out as a pithy remark that some of us nod sagely at and like/upvote, leaving those not in the know presumably just as bewildered as before.

Here's what it means to me when we describe an RPG book as a recipe, and why that's important.

(These lessons may be obvious you, but I feel like someone should actually say this stuff rather than all of us just knowing that we all know it.)


Yesterday, I made huevos rancheros.

(I know that it's not really important whether or not this actually happened, like when comedians in the 90s made jokes about their in-laws when they weren't even married, but fyi this is a 100% true story.)

mine did not look like this
I am fairly certain that the version I made would make your abuela genuflect in abject horror. The recipe I used is from a UK based company that emphasises quick and easy meals with no prep and few ingredients. Cheap and cheerful, as we say on this side of the pond.

I'm sure there are well-meaning cooks who would be able to share with me their own recipes, or tips on how to change the one I was using into something vaguely beginning to resemble authentic Mexcan cuisine. I'm sure, in the eyes of any chef with even a modicum of talent, my recipe was inauthentic and therefore unacceptable.

They're right, of course they are, but they're right for them. With all respect, if you're not eating my meal, hypothetical chef, your opinion means nothing to my situation. You're not at my table. If I want a new recipe I'll ask, but the recipe I used works, for now, for me.

Lesson: Use the recipe (recipe means game book, remember) that works for your table and your group. Other groups are not your group.

The recipe I used calls for tomato frito. I didn't have any, so I used passata and added extra garlic. It tasted fine. I also didn't have a tablespoon handy so I eyeballed all my amounts for spices and stuff.

I wasn't "doing it wrong". I didn't do it exactly as written, I improvised, and I was happy with the results. I am still playing the game as intended.

Lesson: A recipe is a guideline. If you follow it roughly, messily, or make substitutions, and the game still works, you are following it correctly.

Little substitutions & changes like that are the kind of thing cooks expect will happen almost 100% of the time a recipe is used in a non-professional environment. Even professionally, though generally not in such a spontaneous manner.

I grew up in a house with shelves piled with recipe books, and pretty much every one of them had my dad's notes scrawled in places, making changes. His changes worked. We didn't have a lot when I was kid, but I ate well.

The people writing recipes don't care - they really don't care - about you following their instructions to the letter. They care about you making a meal. (And if they care, fuck 'em, they're not eating it.)

Lesson: The designer is not at your table, and they do not get a say in how you use the recipe. The recipe itself is their final word - take it however the fuck you please.

David Chang, a chef with the right kind of attitude about this stuff. Stop reading this bullshit and go watch Ugly Delicious on Netflix
So, the recipe called for coriander. My partner - the only other person who would be eating this meal with me - doesn't much care for coriander. (Besides, my coriander plant was dying. I'm not good with plants.)

The recipe already had plenty of spice and flavour, so I felt fine leaving an ingredient out. I wouldn't particularly miss it, and it would make the meal more enjoyable overall for someone else.

I took a whole ingredient out, didn't substitute it or anything.

Lesson: You can use a recipe selectively to make you and your group happy. (This seems the most blindingly obvious of the lessons to me.)

"cilantro" if you're nasty
The recipe I used calls for a few tortillas, lightly toasted, as a base upon which to dollop the bean chilli and egg.

Our local supermarket has recently begun stocking a slightly fancy brand of tortilla chip, and one of the flavours it comes in is chipotle and lime. These are two of the flavours used in my recipe, so I know they'd go together.

Hmm... Could we substitute the plain tortilla base for a flavoured one? Change a nice, healthy-ish and aesthetically pleasing foundation to our dish for what is essentially a pile of Doritos?

Not even a question; of course we can. We can do what we like, it's our meal.

(It tasted great by the way. If it didn't? No harm done, just try something different next time. Simple as that.)

Lesson: You can do whatever the fuck you want to a recipe. Experiment. Do your own design. (I know dumping chilli onto chips is hardly groundbreaking design work, but it's an idea that I came up with, tried out and kept doing because I was pleased with the result. That's all you need to homebrew RPGs.)

Oh, and I'll sneak another lesson in here, to make things perfectly clear, because people like to bandy around the word "homebrew" like it denotes an inferior product.

Lesson: A changed recipe that makes a better meal for a group is a better recipe for that group than the original.

When the meal was ready, we sat together and ate, and enjoyed the food and each other's company. I got a compliment on the meal and a thank-you, but it's not like that's a reason for doing it, that's just what happens when you spent time with good people.

The recipe isn't a recipe for friends, or love, or a machine where you can input effort and it pumps out good vibes at the other end. It's just a recipe for food.

Your job is to bring good company. Be good friends, be good people. Show affection, show appreciation, enjoy the time spent together. That's on you. "How do I be a good player/GM?" By being a good person.

Half of the complaints about games online are from people not having a good time. THAT'S NOT THE GAME, THAT'S THE PEOPLE. For fuck's sake, RPG nerds, have some self-respect. Stand up for yourself and solve the problem.

And stop playing with people you don't like. You don't have to cook for people who don't appreciate your food. Nobody's asking you to do that, nobody's making you. It's a game.

Lesson: Above all, the game is an excuse for a social gathering. The recipe and the meal you make from it, are just a shared language that those gathered can use to communicate together.

(If you can't enjoy a normal conversation with these people, how the fuck are you gonna do it with food in your mouth?)

We all clear now?

Good. I'll finish off with one last lesson, the thing that ties this all together for me, and makes the DIY RPG space such a great place to be in.

Lesson: Any idiot can cook. Hell, look at me!

And so: anyone can write their own recipe.

Get to work.

PS: a good RPG book should be designed like a good recipe book, and do the following:

- contain all the information you need to use it in the heat of the moment, clearly displayed
- completely leave out extraneous content (anything unhelpful to the actual act of cooking)
- tips, guidelines and suggestions for changes or improvements should be succinct and intriguing
- use good art, pics, design and layout to present all information words cannot, summarise any information that would take too many words, and aid general clarity (eg diagrams, good typography)
- assume the reader has basic competence but offer clear and general instruction in any specific techniques used
- in every instance wherein the reader could make a better judgement than the writer, or come up with a better idea, leave decisions about design and content to the reader ("salt to taste", for example)
- assume that the reader is acting in the best interests of themselves and those they are feeding, and not instruct or lecture them on how to be a human being

Friday, 31 August 2018

Journeylands Miscellania

~ The month of the Journeylands playtest draws to a close... Find out more and get the rules for free right here. ~

1d8 Quick Points (Nothing Dangerous)

Player: “Well, maybe we should go that way instead. What’s over there?”
GM: “Uuuhhh…” *rolls dice*

1: abandoned warehouse
2: sundered obelisk
3: food truck: drinks cost 2, meals cost 3
4: a small crew setting down after a photoshoot; popular spot, photogenic backdrop
5: big plant-thing that blows bubbles
6: a small shelter for hitchhikers, 50% chance there's someone there
7: a scrapheap, roll Coordination to notice a working car part (d6 Power) in the pile
8: giant, sun-bleached whale skeleton

1d4 Mildly Interesting Skyfish

We just call them “fish”.

1: Herringbees. Dense schools of little fish that move in unison. They can be trained to track a strong scent for miles, but you’d need a whole school.
2: Wingfish. Impressive finspans. As with gulls in a maritime campaign, tracking their flight patterns reveals a lot about what’s nearby. Where do they roost/feed/avoid?
3: Lightning rays. Docile until poked and prodded. Catch one gently then, while it’s asleep and drifting on the wind, and you can use its tail to charge up a battery.
4: Sharks. Like wolves in a fantasy game – a boring enemy for your first encounter only.

1d6 Route Ideas to Expound Upon Your Own Damn Self

Point A to Point B.

1: A smooth desert track. Mushrooms, tall as sequoias, dot the landscape.
2: A gleaming highway bridge. Popular for races.
3: Road skirts past a forest. Small chance of a forest encounter emerging from the treeline.
4: Rock canyon. A mudhole deep within is the demesne of a Demon Toad.
5: Ancient stone bridge over a sea of smoke. Clearly some old civilisation knew to avoid it.
6: Sea route! Put your car on the back of a boat and make your way to the island.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Racing in Journeylands

~ Every day for the rest of August, I'm posting content for the Journeylands mini-RPG playtest! Find out more and get the rules for free right here. ~

Journeylands is a game that features vehicles heavily, but its focus is travel, not racing.

You're probably going to want to race, though.

literally sounds like the background for a Journeylands campaign
Cross Country
The type of race most suited to Journeylands. Pick a starting point (a Point, literally) and a destination, and make sure there are various optional Routes to take. Other competitors start at the same location too, and the GM controls their actions as per us'.

For the purposes of a race, each unit of Fuel spent relates to an hour of spent time. For each hour the players thusly spend, the GM decides what each other competitor did in that same hour. Racers might meet at times, by chance.

First to the finish line wins!

Actual Cool Racing

The kind of racing you were probably hoping for.

Come up with a track, but don't make it out of Routes, just call the whole circuit one Point. Map it out as a vague squiggly circle, and number each important section in order. Then come up with something fun, cool or interactive for each number, leaving breathing room with a couple of simple, straight roads. Consider forking paths or shortcuts.

The race begins! Every competitor rolls a contested check against one another, but rather than working out a success or failure scenario or making cars lose Body, each vehicle's roll result is noted and tallied. We'll call that number their "score".

Proceed along the track. For each numbered section, roll another contested check between all competitors, and for each vehicle add the new total to that team's current score.

The dice rolled for each section depend on what that vehicle is doing when they get to that numbered part of the track. Use Power for speed and brute force, Handling for tricky turns or terrain, and Weapons to blast obstacles.

Vehicles can interact with each other directly only if they have the same current total, or the vehicle they're interacting with is one step ahead of or behind them in the overall total scores (otherwise they're too far away). Interactions might be a Power roll to outspeed or shove another vehicle, Handling to outmanoeuvre them, or Weapons for a straight-up attack.

Highest total score at the end wins. Or, knock out the lowest scoring competitor each lap and keep going round.

The Grand Prix

Combine the two into a campaign. Different cool circuits at different points, lowest score at each track is disqualified. Then, race to the next track - last one there is disqualified too.

Look at something like Oban Star Racers for NPC ideas - each competitor has a different reason for racing.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

The Kingpin’s Getaway (An Adventure)

~ Every day for the rest of August, I'm posting content for the Journeylands mini-RPG playtest! Find out more and get the rules for free right here. ~

A Point for use in your Journeylands game - but written to be fairly system-neutral up until the end bit, so run it with whatever you want and change the racing to fighting or something if needed.

Written after watching an episode of Lupin III Part V. I’m not as into this Part overall as I was the last, but it’s slowly winning me over with some excellent translation work and these fun little “flashback” digressions to previous jacket colours.

Tales and Rumours

A drug lord had a secret retreat here in ancient times, a private villa where he would entertain lovers away from prying eyes. It is believed that he was buried there, and some say his most prized treasures are still deep within the ruins with him.

Thieves and those who have tried to raid the tomb will know that there are traps still working – “watch out for the eyes”. Explorers and wanderers from nearby will have heard that a cursed flower grows on his grave, and even breathing the air brings sickness. Stories of the man himself range as you would expect of a drug lord, but all speak of a love for excess.

Yellow Flowers

As you approach the old entranceway, overgrown with rust and jungle plants, a faint sweet smell wafts out to greet you. Inside the villa, the smell is thick, strong and nearly unbearable. The flowers grow everywhere.

Every in-game hour (or, even better, real-world 10 minutes – set a timer) that trespassers spend inside, breathing the air, increase the effects of the yellow flowers by 1 on the scale below.

Temporary fixes like a cloth over the mouth delay the effects from starting for 1 increment of time. A character can reduce the effects on themselves to the previous stage by spending an equal increment of time outside in fresh air.

1: A tickling around the inside of the mouth. Thickening mucus in the nose and throat.
2: The eyes begin to itch. Treat normal light as dim light.
3: A hacking cough – save vs coughing or become unable to keep quiet until you recover.
4: Difficulty breathing. Movement and reactions become sluggish.
5: Begins choking on own mucus. Will die if left untreated.

The Villa

The villa consists of an open plan lounge and entertaining space, as well as a kitchen and a private bedroom with an en suite. One final door leads to a back room.

Everything is old, once ostentatious but now weathered and dirty, overgrown with vines and weeds. Insects flit through the muggy air. A portrait hangs of what must be the man himself, posing by a sports car with several beautiful onlookers. There is a craps table that might be functional, and next to it a gaming machine that is very much not.

And everywhere, the musk of those yellow flowers.

The Skeleton Staff

Three skeletons stand around: one in the kitchen, one by a craps table in the lounge, and one in the bedroom. These are the remains of the kingpin’s staff, their lives gone with his, like servants in a pharaoh’s pyramid.

The skeletons can barely move, crumbling away and grown through with flowers, but they are animated and act as they did in life. They assume trespassers are guests of their boss, and are polite conversationalists.

They speak highly of their employer, admitting that his life was a dangerous one and full of hard decisions, but speaking to a depth of character and a good heart. He supposedly treated them well, though nobody was ever allowed in the back room except a select few guests.

The skeletons mildly protest, and then use force, if they see anyone attempting to enter the back room.

Snot Sloths

These dumb beasts hang from old pipes in the ceiling, living among the branches of trees that have crept their way into the back room.

The yellow flower dulls their senses pleasantly, though they are allergic to it. Thick, globby strings of mucus dangle from their noses, hanging from the ceiling above like vines, shuffling and wobbling around with the creatures’ slow movement.

The snot strands will occasionally plop to the floor under their own weight – there is a translucent coating of hardened mucus encrusting everything on the ground, including several shiny coins, gummed-up old gears and pieces of machinery.

The sloths are utterly docile, but if anyone attempts to remove the flowers from their room, they will revolt. They are slow, and only attack half as often as anything else, but their claws are incredibly long and surprisingly nimble – there is nowhere to stand in the back room without being in range of their slashes and scratches.

Right Antechamber

There is an open hallway to the right of the back room, leading to a circular antechamber. A magical stone eye guards the passage, rolling around in a disturbing facsimile of life. Anything that would blind an eye works here.

If the eye sees intruders try to pass, a little mechanical arm that protrudes from the wall will fire spurts of purple paint. This permanently dyes anything, including skin. Some sloth snot would gum up the arm easily.

Within the antechamber, among the yellow flowers and the thick haze of pollen they expel, are a couple of old skeletons, a small amount of money, and a big skull statue. Water pours from its open mouth in a steady trickle, into a basin that is overflowing and dripping everywhere, presumably feeding the plant life.

Left Antechamber

An open hallway to the left of the back room leads to another antechamber, mirroring the one on the right. This magic eye blinks a lot, and its arm doesn’t spray purple paint – it just likes slapping things out of people’s hands. It’s very fast.

In this room the basin is bigger, large enough for several people to get into even, but there is no water flow. A golden goblet sits on the basin edge, probably used to fill it. If only there was a water source nearby… the players could use their waterskins, but that probably wouldn’t fill the basin up more than a tenth of the way, and then they wouldn’t have anything to drink.

If the basin is filled, the water will magically drain away into the stone, revealing a trapdoor that was not there before.

Beyond the Trapdoor

The door opens and descends down a gentle slope into a large natural cavern. An underground river bisects the room, with the players emerging from the slope on one side. Blind, translucent fish swim in the clear water.

On the other shore sleeps a creature – a giant panther, with a head like a black-furred snake and far too many legs. It is collared and chained to a post, but the chain is more than long enough to give it free reign of its side of the cave, and it can climb adeptly.

On its side of the cave are piles of bones – fish, mostly, with a few human skeletons in tattered, purple-stained rags. It has a little collection of pet toys in various colours, and the purple one is by far the most loved, in the way that animals love things with their teeth and claws.

Beyond the beast’s domain is a bulkhead door with a big circular handle to open it, like a safe.

The Secret Track

The door opens onto dark tunnels. Lights flicker on in sequence, revealing an underground race track. Two cars stand ready – between them, a skeletal figure beckons, tattered old racing gear flapping in another world’s breeze, hollow eyes eager for a challenge.

The wraith lets the challenger choose their car. One is sleeker and flashier, one more reliable looking. Both are extravagant and well-kept, famous models that were the height of luxury collector cars in their day. Stat them with 8s and 10s.

The wraith has A6 C10 T8. Its Trait is Kingpin, and it can upgrade its ACT die in any roll it makes while cheating or playing dirty on the track – however it will only do so in retaliation if it first suspects foul play, and it much prefers a fair race and honest sportsmanship. Roll a best of 3 contested rolls to represent the laps, and narrate along.

If it is beaten in a race, or the race is good enough to make it recall its glory days, it will fade into the next life. The skeleton staff in the villa will move on as well. The cars will resume their true forms as age takes hold of them and they rust away, and the yellow flowers will begin to die and wither.

The winning driver finds themselves suddenly adorned with a gold medal worth 2k, or 3k to a collector. The medallion was a distinguishing mark of this particular drug lord, and even these days has a certain cache in local crime circles.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

1d4 Encounters on the Road

~ Every day for the rest of August, I'm posting content for the Journeylands mini-RPG playtest! Find out more and get the rules for free right here. ~

1: A lone adventurer in their own personal vehicle, starting their journey. Roll up a PC, and roll 1d8 on a list of the names of the Seven Dwarves for a personality (reroll 8s).
2: A noble postal worker from the esteemed Guild of Letters! See their characteristic red garb and winged envelope insignia! Marvel at their resourceful determination! Giggle at their cute lil moped!
3: A broken down delivery truck, driver presumably nearby. Was carrying… 1: meat, 2: big eggs, 3: candy, 4: video games, 5: soda, 6: toys from a failed merchandising line.
4: What’s that, up above? A skydiver with a giant fan and gliding wings strapped to their back – an experimental flying contraption of their own design. Coming in hot.