Friday, 2 August 2019

Bell Peppers and Beef

I like how money works in RPGs - as in, it just kinda does. You start poor and then do missions and get a bit richer - now you can buy better gear to do more missions! You get to see those numbers go up, and with them your characters' social standing and potential to get cool stuff.

It's like real life capitalism, except you don't have to worry about millions of people and the planet they live on being systemically crushed by the relentless pursuit of a few chosen individuals' personal gain! Huzzah! Money is one of those things, like conversation, that you don't really need to abstract through mechanics in a tabletop game because you can just play out the real thing at the table, or else handwave it as needed.

But for the new 5e game I'm starting with some friends, tallying gold and copper just didn't seem ideal. It wouldn't fit the tone, for a few fairly arbitrary reasons, the biggest one being that this campaign takes inspiration from Cowboy Bebop. 

(I almost launched into a Cowboy Bebop treatise here, so this little aside is me barely managing to stop myself from ranting about one of the greatest TV series - not just in sci fi or animation, but of any medium or genre - of all time. If you've never watched Bebop... Watch Bebop. Just... Just watch it.)


I figured our heroes in this setting weren't the classic B/X gold-for-XP murder hobos, as much as I love that conceit. Nor were they 5e's archetypical fantasy rag-tag do-gooders who maybe buy a boat. These are people under constant systemic and societal pressure, worn down by a world that works against them at every turn, struggling to survive through loopholes and dirty tricks - drifters in a cosmic race that threatens to overturn their unstable lives of they ever, for even a second, stop running. They won't ever get rich, and if they do they'll die trying.

Also I thought it would be cool to have scenes of them sipping coffee in a hazy neon jazz club or eating ramen from a street stall between jobs, and I didn't want to undercut that with "ok, everyone cross off 2 copper". Money is a background feature in this world, a system first and a tangible gameable thing a distant second.

But at the same time, this isn't a storygame, and spending power means something to the way players approach challenges. I want to give them the satisfaction of earning something from a job (on top of the best thing to earn from adventures which is fictional positioning, and the second best which is levels and items and stuff), even if it's quickly ripped away again. Money and how it relates to the characters' place in this world is interesting and gameable, and I want it to have weight. I also wanna reinforce the "just one more job" cycle of play that RPGs excel at anyway.

So, I cooked up a little something with what I had and ran it by my players. They agreed it was a good idea - a session in and it's working nicely so far.


Here's my Bell Peppers and Beef (and hold the beef) Financial Abstraction Mechanic. Or as I half-jokingly call it, the Poverty Roll. Kind of a variant on "usage die" mechanics.

The crew has a shared Money stat of 1-20, most likely starting at a 0 or 1 given the implied flavour. Gritter games can use a lower top end to the scale; 1-10, or 8 even.

Each completed mission earns the players 1, 2, or occasionally even 3 points depending on the fiction.

Every time the players:
- spend a day shopping or the night at an inn. Y'know, an in-game day where they make general, normal purchases
- make a significant purchase (relatively speaking, I'm thinking like a magic sword or a big bribe) or otherwise spend more than usual for the day
- take a long rest (1 week in this setting as per the 5e DMG's variant rule)
- other relevant expenditure as decided by the GM

They roll a die, dX, where X is the highest integer that is lower than their current Money stat and is also a die type available at the table - or a d4 if the stat is 1-3. (d2 also possible I guess.)

On a 1, they lose 1 from their Money stat.

At 0 Money, they have no purchasing power and must take a job before they can buy anything.

Try it out! Try not to think too hard about how it mirrors real life financial struggle and the world is a cyberpunk hellscape ✌️

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Games Worth Playing: Kobayakawa

A word of warning: this post discusses a gambling game, and the act of gambling, in a favourable light. As with everything I write, I trust you to know whether or not a game I recommend is appropriate for you and the people you play with. Be good to yourselves.

Also: If you're unfamiliar with Games Worth Playing, start here!

Kobayakawa


Designed by Jun Sasaki, published by Oink Games (and Iello). 3-6 players, 20~ minutes, ages 8+. Game is language-independent, version reviewed includes English and Japanese language rules.


Little Box, Big Oink


Japanese indie publisher Oink makes cosy little games in appropriately cosy little shapes. Every game they put out is tucked snugly into an 11 x 3.5cm box (!), and while there's nothing whatsoever mechanically linking their wide variety of titles, all those diddy Oink boxes share a certain spirit.


From Tomatomato, a kid-appropriate tongue-twister generator, to Startups, a personal favourite that combines set collection and bluffing for a tense and involved competitive challenge, an Oink box tends to be a tight, controlled play experience focused around one or two simple, easily explained mechanics. Because of this simplicity they're generally pretty accessible; you can almost think of Oink games as being the Boardgame Renaissance's take on old family classics - but these are classics with a twist.


photo by BoardGameGeek user bortmonkey
Games are Deep Sea Adventure, In A Grove and A Fake Artist Goes To New York.

Fun fact: Deep Sea Adventure lists "Goro Sasaki" as a designer. That's Jun's 6-year-old son! He came up with the idea of a game about getting treasure beneath the ocean, and his dad gave him a co-designer credit.
This "with a twist" tagline is a little reductive given the breadth of originality present in Sasaki and his fellow designers' work, but let's roll with it for a moment. Maskmen, f'rinstance, is a lot like party classic UNO, the "twist" being that the rules governing how cards can be played emerge during play itself. It makes sense in context, trust me - and is both a decent party game for groups and a nice little contest at 2 players. (UNO, btw? Very popular in Japan. Last time my mum was there she sent me a picture of UNO sets in a vending machine.)

How's this for "with a twist" -  A Fake Artist Goes To New York, perhaps Oink's biggest release in terms of acknowledgement if not box size, is essentially reverse Pictionary, but with a hugely entertaining hidden role element - someone doesn't know what we're all meant to be drawing! Or yet another game, Insider (recently caught up in some unfortunate controversy as suspiciously similar game Werewords receives recognition and awards nominations while Oink's version remains under the radar) which infuses folk game 20 Questions with a similar degree of paranoiac fun, likewise through a hidden role.

It's perhaps overly clear at this point just how enamoured I am with Oink's output. The streamlined focus on play experience, the simple yet fresh mechanics that hit the spot far more often than they miss... those lil boxes! The way they make rules explanation videos by turning the game boxes into a stop-motion pig. Oink have been facilitating great board game nights of mine for a short while now, ever since I found out about them, immediately became a fan and ordered a slightly unreasonable number of titles direct from their Japanese HQ (with free worldwide shipping! Don't get carried away, and remember to check customs charges for your country). I'm currently refreshing that store page every other day, waiting for their newest release Nine Tiles Panic to go on sale.

The box in question - Kobayakawa.
The Clink Of Coin

Now that I've gushed all over you about the people behind this little doodad, let's actually have a look inside the box in question, shall we? Board games often live or die by the attention designers pay to the actual, physical bones of them - so how does this little blue box shape up as a physical artefact?

Kobayakawa (the name of a Japanese feudal clan, from whose crest the game also takes its logo) is, to put it mildly, light on components. The main component is a very svelte deck of cards numbered 1-15. Yup, that's just 15 cards. Along with some tokens, that's the whole game.

These slim pickings attempt to justify a not-inconsiderable price tag through build quality. Those few cards are weighty, with a tactile protective finish and smart, minimalist design. And the tokens are metal, a full 70 of them in a little drawstring pouch of sturdy fabric, the handling of which makes you feel like a medieval tradesperson (side note - a good prop for your RPGs?).

I'm of the opinion that a great game is more than just the sum of its fancy knick-knacks, and I've had the time of my life with more patchwork indie games and makeshift playtest components than I can count - but dang if those hefty tokens don't feel nice. Upon opening the box, I passed the little drawstring bag round the table just so my friends could have a hold of it. More than one "ooh" was uttered.

I personally feel the extra care put into the game's aesthetic is worth the coin, but Kobayakawa's price tag is undoubtedly its biggest sticking point. If you're understandably unsure about forking over $25 USD for a box of not-much, consider one of Oink's more component-heavy games. Tricks and the Phantom has custom coloured wood pieces, little cardboard magnifying glasses and cool noir-ish card art if you feel like a deduction game, and the aforementioned Startups packs a level of complexity that surpasses Oink's normal semi-casual fare into a package of the exact same size and price as Kobayakawa (all Oink games are sold at the same price point, though you can likely find the popular ones a bit cheaper at local game stores).

One more important thing to note with regards to the physical quality of the thing you're buying - Kobayakawa was licensed to the much bigger fish Iello Games for an international release a few years back, after an initial, smaller launch in Japan.

While Iello's version is likely available cheaper, I wouldn't recommend it - the art is adapted to be a bit more flashy, losing some of the cool simplicity of the Oink version. And perhaps the biggest drawback - those metal tokens that make our little box so wonderfully weighty? They're cardboard in the Iello version, and you only get half as many. Thankfully, Oink re-released their original version, with some updated rules, in 2019.

Let's look at those rules now, shall we?

(Side note - Iello also redesigned Oink's Dungeon of Mandom, a fun push-your-luck/bluffing game with a jokey dungeon-crawl theme, releasing it as Welcome to the Dungeon in Europe and the US. If you want to try it, get Oink's new edition Dungeon of Mandom XIII, which combines the original with extra content that Iello fobbed off as a full-price expansion.)

Daniel Craig as James Bond, playing cards - the example used in Shut Up and Sit Down's An Intro to Board Games as proof that board games can be cool. Point taken.
(Also, SUSD are lovely fellas who do sterling work, so check out all their reviews!)

Shaken, Not Stirred

I'll bring up that "with a twist" tagline one last time here because, again, while it's somewhat reductive, it does explain Oink's style in a neat little elevator pitch quite well - just the sort of pitch you might use to coax your friends and family into a quick game. (Tip when pitching Kobayakawa to your group - set it up under their noses even as you sell them on it. There's so little to organise that they'll be ready to play before they have a chance to say no - and a round takes mere minutes, so there's much less commitment than your average trial run.)

So then, we've revamped Pictionary and UNO. What's the game that Kobayakawa spruces up with that classic Oink twist? What's the folk favourite you'll be likening this to in a "like that, but good" way as you shuffle your barely-a-deck and pass out shiny coins to prospective patsies?

Poker.

That's the whole review right there, let's be honest. No sense beating around the bush with the whole spiel about cute little boxes and build quality: Kobayakawa is like poker, but good.

OK, that's unfair, poker is good. It's the one cool tabletop game, in fact - bucking the trend of the hobby's association with esoteric rules, poor personal hygiene choices and dingy basements by replacing those with slick casino bluffery, tuxedoes and cocktail dresses, and the bright lights of Monte Carlo or wherever the next Bond movie is going for location shoots.

Poker is cool. It just is. It's literally in the dictionary - someone in control of a situation is "holding all the cards", and if they can do that without letting on, we describe their effortlessly cool expression as a "poker face".

There's even a well-known (infamous?) variant of the game where people take their clothes off, and that's just kind of... accepted? I mean, strip poker's rules are questionable from a game design perspective, regardless of your personal moral position on competitive nudity, but the point is that poker's so cool we let it undress us - whereas I'd imagine that a game of "strip Magic the Gathering" might have less of a mystique.

The thing about poker, though, like most card games of its age: the rules aren't great. We don't care, because that's not really the point of poker. Rules are so rarely the whole of a game - we know this, being something of an OSR RPG blog. But the random hierarchy of decreasing possibilities associated with the various winning hands is the kind of thing you need a reference sheet for until you've played a dozen or more games.

Wouldn't it be great, then, if there was a game of poker that didn't have all those rules? If there was a poker-style game with... one rule?

There really aren't many different images I can use of this game. It's very slight.
One Rule To Bring Them All

Ok, more than one rule, but they're so simple that it's basically the same thing. The rules of Kobayakawa are so simple, in fact, that I will now explain the entire game to you in four sentences.

1. The dealer gives each player one card from the deck, and one more card is shown face up to all players in the middle of the table; this is the "Kobayakawa".

(Side note - I'm still not sure why the game is called what it is. There's nothing particularly notable about the clan themselves from my cursory glance at their history - it's my guess that Sasaki went with a classic, somewhat noble-sounding name to match the game's elegant simplicity and "timeless", parlour game quality. Or it could be a potent metaphor - who am I, Bill Wurtz?)

2. Each player in turn may choose to either take a new card - keeping only one of their two cards and discarding the other face up - or flip a new card from the deck onto the Kobayakawa to replace it.

You can tell how, with such a short and simple decision for each player to make on their turn, play progresses at a heck of a pace. Board games have recently been delving more and more into simultaneous play and other structures to avoid the classic problem of players sitting around waiting to do something, but in a game as whip-fast as Kobayakawa that's just not an issue.

3. Players bet on their hands in a system identical to poker*, before revealing their cards - the highest card wins.

*the old version of the game, from Oink's original run, had its own betting system, and I believe the Iello take included those rules too. You can look that version up online and give it a try, but I reckon the 2019 edition's use of the standard poker setup works wonders.

At this point, you're likely wondering where all the game is. There's nothing in the box, and those are the only rules? Have I really become such a consummate rambler (talking, not hiking, though I do enjoy a stroll - ok, not the point -) that I've written this bloody much about a game that... isn't?

It's at this point that I allow myself a small smirk, lean across the table, and reveal my hand. Because rule number four is the twist that makes this Oink box sing.

4. The player with the lowest card adds the current Kobayakawa to their result - if they are now the highest card, they win.

The game designers among you, of whom I'm fairly certain there are a none too insignificant number, are quite possibly now grinning and scrolling back up the page to find that Gumroad link so you can play this tiny thing for yourself and find out if the real thing is anywhere near as good as the wild possibilities that last rule just put in your head.

For those of you with better things to do than verse yourselves in what makes toys tick - allow me to elaborate.


Deus Ex Machina

I've talked extensively in the past about the idea of "gameable" mechanics. I'll use the same example I've used before: Mario. Y'know, "it's-a me". Short fella, wears a hat.

The original Super Mario Bros. game for the NES has one mechanic. Again, not really just one, but there's one big one that matters, and that's movement. Think about what all the buttons do - left and right make you run. There's a button to make you run faster, and another to make you jump. That's it. Moving in different directions.

What's "gameable" about that mechanic, though, is all the things the game lets you do with it. Boxes to jump onto, to hit from below or run along from above. Enemies that die when you fall onto them. Pits, steps, platforms. All you can do is move - literally one thing - and from that thread, Nintendo manages to tease out and unravel one of the best examples of video game design of all time.

There's no question that a game can draw a rich experience from a simple set of mechanics. Am I saying that Kobayakawa is on the same plane as Mario in that regard? No. It's a fun, fine, functional game, but it doesn't transcend its medium or innovate on that level.

What Kobayakawa does, and this is a much better way of putting Oink's MO than "with a twist", is it refines. It evolves - and from a game as set in stone as Actual Poker, no less.

The 15-card deck is just about few enough numbers to keep track of, while at the same time far too many to ever be fully sure of your chances. The single-card hand presents a scoring mechanic that's as simple as 1-2-3 and yet also mired in mystery as you try to deduce other players' intentions. And the Kobayakawa card... oh! That scoundrel. It sits there, centre stage, at once encouraging and taunting, a constant reminder that your perception of the game state might be flipped on its head by a simple miscalculation or spark of bad luck.

And, just like poker, that's not even the game. The game proper is what happens above the table's surface, in the air and in your own head - the furtive glances, the sly smirks, and yes, the poker faces. Like the best roleplaying games, the meat of the game is written nowhere, but emerges as the players interact with and feint around and resist the meagre options they've been given. The game is all of our cunning and wit and foolishness and sheer dumb luck. That's poker. And that, perhaps even more so, is Kobayakawa.

It's probably too expensive for what it is, but what it is might just be the coolest game on your shelf. If you want the slick, frictionless style of a casino game in a tight, short, really very small package - if you want the best upgrade to a poker night since taking your clothes off - then Kobayakawa is a game worth playing.

*

If you liked this post and want to see more like it, consider supporting this blog! The best way to do that right now is by tipping just $1 USD a month on my Patreon, or by buying something at my Gumroad store.

Monday, 1 July 2019

For the Guild! and Games Worth Playing

For the Guild!

I've done what I've been threatening to do for a while now and updated my Patreon page, the Graverobber's Guild. Currently, this is the best way to support me and the stuff I make on a regular basis.

You can tip $1 USD a month if you like what I'm about, or for just $2 USD a month you can get monthly updates, advanced playtest documents, sneak peeks and discounts on the games I make! Back in April, Guildmembers recieved my game GoGoGolf! for free, and there are lots more lil nuggets like that on the way.

Have a look and please consider chipping in to help keep the lights on!

art by Nicoletta Migaldi
(the Graverobber she designed is the blog's mascot! That's her, there, at the top of the page!)

Games Worth Playing

I'm starting a review series here on the blog called Games Worth Playing. That includes tabletop RPGs as well as other tabletop/analogue/physical games. Whatever I want, basically.

Here's a bit of info so you know what to expect, and so I have some kind of structure to hold myself to:

- I will only review games I think are actually good in at least some respects, hence the Worth Playing. No scathing takedowns.
- No review scores! I don't think they really do much good overall.
- I guarantee that if I am reviewing a game, I have played it. I'll play games as many times as I feel is necessary before reviewing them, so likely more than once.
- I will attempt to approach reviews from a design perspective, so if you're here for me talking Game Design then this series will fit in with the rest of this blog.
- Blog posts on here are fairly stream-of-consciousness, often just my notes given a roughly readable shape - I'll be doing my best to write Games Worth Playing to what I consider a professional standard.
- I won't review expensive games unless I feel they unequivocally justify their price tag - I doubt you'll see many, if any, Games Worth Playing that cost more than £30 or so at time of purchase, and many that are much cheaper than that (or free!).
- Generally speaking, there will be more of a focus on independent creators and lesser-known games!
- Also, can't believe I need to say this, but given the current climate around media journalism - reviews are just my personal opinions! No more, no less.

I've put a goal on the Patreon page; if we reach 20 Guildmembers, I'll do one Game Worth Playing per month. Until then, I'll post them whenever I get round to it.

First review coming soon! It's shaping up to be a doozy...

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

It Came From the Blogosphere! Straight to Video

Back from holiday! Currently in the process of moving out! Too... busy... for... RPGs!

But while there hasn't been time for much writing this month, there's certainly been time for reading. Here's a lil instalment in my ICFTB series.

did you know: you can read "blogs" (birtual logs) from all around the world while On Line?? 

My off-the-cuff ramble about the SWORD DREAM moniker is now the most viewed post on this blog. People really like talking about thinking about games, huh? I prefer making and playing them, so that's likely the last major thing you'll see me write on the topic - but here's some more context for people who want it. I edited the post to include a couple of links too.

If you're still looking for yet more high level meta-commentary, I found this post on how the indie scene fosters an unwelcoming attitude a worthwhile read, and true to my own experiences.

I enjoy learning more about the early days of the hobby, a time during which I was very much Not Born Yet. Here's a fascinating and well-written dive into a lesser-known RPG from that primordial era... and I really do mean "lesser-known".

Jeff Rients is running a FLAILSNAILS game again! If you're on this blog you likely already know about this and why it's a Cool Thing. You may even be taking part! Jeff's games are super fun, inclusive free-for-alls, and I'm definitely going to try and play once I'm more settled. If you don't yet know about FLAILSNAILS, you should check out the play reports Jeff's been posting - like this one - and get stuck in.

Finally: Zedeck wrote a living weapon class and it rocks socks.

Your regularly scheduled (to wit: largely unscheduled and highly irregular) Guide resumes next month!

Saturday, 1 June 2019

a SWORD DREAM

(The first bit of this post is *very* inside baseball. Skip to "Housekeeping" if you're a normal person who reads this blog for fun.)

EDIT, 7/6: This blog post is very good and proposes another good name, "Interactionist" gaming. EDIT, 9/6: There are a few manifestos going around (semi-tongue-in-cheek, naturally); this is my fave of those I've seen. 

The idea of "officially" (I use those quotes in the heaviest of senses, for reasons that will be elucidated) moving on from the OSR scene has been bandied about at least since I became a part of it.

The central argument - that the emerging mishmash of artpunk modules, new mechanics and blogs is seen by its contributors, proponents and outsiders alike as only tangentially connected to the initial movement of an Old-School Revival and/or Renaissance - has been recently galvanised by a growing awareness of the depths to which a significant portion of the current OSR use the acronym as a cover-cum-calling-card for regressive, predatory and bigoted behaviours and rhetoric.

At the very least, we possibly need a new name.

Ben Milton's proposal of Tabletop Adventure Game (TAG, #tag, my own silly idea RAGTAG) has, to my knowledge, been the most sensible suggestion so far. I think I saw it on a Kickstarter or two.

There's also "artpunk" which is now seeing much wider use, but denotes a more specific subset of games and creators - I feel comfortable calling Scrap Princess' work artpunk, but I'm not sure whether someone like Emmy Allen is also, for example?

Very recently, a new contender has gained steam - and, crucially, like artpunk and #tag, done so among relative luminaries of the actual genre up for discussion. I am still tentative about its adoption (again, elucidation forthcoming), and as I said it's only just begun circulation; only time will tell whether or not it sticks.

The chrysalis discarded, a new life emerges. She stretches her glassy wings, still slick with the albumen of a body regenerated, regurgitated, drying them under a hopeful sun and preparing, for the first time, to fly. She is called:

SWORD DREAM

The initialism Second Wave Of Roleplaying Design - DIY Rules Everything Around Me is a useful backronym. The basic tenet is a design philosophy identical to the current OSR-as-genre, with the caveat of a movement rooted in a rejection of intolerance. I offer this Twitter thread for further reading.

logos already! people are excited! this by Nate Treme is v cool

I think this is a good name, appropriately ridiculous, and I could theoretically be not only behind, but a force for transition into, the new era it represents. But I am, again, tentative.

For this to work, SWORD DREAM must carry over all the things that made the OSR function, and there are some of those bits that I can see easily - through nothing more sinister than human lack of awareness - falling by the wayside. To wit:

SWORD DREAM must be a genre, not a "community".

("genre" can be "scene", "movement", etc.)

The OSR functioned as a loose web of online connections based singularly around appreciation of a form of game design. The only community that ever mattered was each individual's home game table.

This is perhaps the point least understood by the "indie" scene, who function primarily as a self-contained cottage industry. The OSR acronym is at its best nothing more than a handy stamp to indicate possible areas of interest for like-minded game fans searching the quagmire of Online Content for things they might find useful. It's the "rock/pop" section at the record store, not a meaningful label, certainly not anything resembling a cohesive group. There was never a centralised hub and this is to the scene's credit.

So, when people think up ways to bring SWORD DREAM creators together under some kind of banner - an ostensibly noble cause! - I just can't get fully on board. Free-use logos, f'rinstance, are ok, but only as long as we recognise anything without the logo as being just as much a SWORD DREAM as something with it.

Similarly, though a smidge more rankling, is talk of registering a domain name or starting a forum - again, fine in theory, but it must allow literally any content from literally anyone who wants to participate (in good faith, obviously, in accordance with the above tenets).

And what would be on that website - content? Discussion? Who curates that? Who "runs" SWORD DREAM dot com? Even if its moderation is somehow as decentralised as "everyone who uses the site", that's an "in" group, which necessitates an "out". A genre shouldn't have an out group beyond "people who aren't into those games really."

Nobody runs a genre, nobody could, but by creating a "manageable" space you invite management, and suddenly SWORD DREAM is not a loose connection of shared interest like the OSR that spawned it, but the output of a glorified subreddit. Things the platform's creators agree with will be more prominent, dissent will be quelled by a growing hivemind as unwritten social rules form around what is or isn't "appropriate", and anyone who doesn't feel like they fit won't fit.

I'm not even talking about politics here - what if someone posts a piece of art on a forum that mainly deals with written content? Is that ok? What type of art do we like? Do we ban porn? What do we consider porn? What if art content overtakes text - do we ban art? Split into subforums? Or what if, say, the mods run a friendly "200 word RPG contest" - what do all the people who don't feel able to write in that style contribute to that space? 

Psst... These are not actually important questions! Not when talking through the lens of SWORD DREAM as a whole-ass genre. But if we considered it a community...

Every act of curation and definition in a public space spawns these questions about identity and then answers them, whether according to individual whim or vote or consensus or whatever, defining the group who uses that space not only by shared interest but also tangentially related values, and thereby directly or indirectly excluding people worthy of inclusion, along arbitrary lines.

A SWORD DREAM with content curated in any sense beyond the bounds of its inherent definition inevitably gains, like the acronym OSR, cultural meanings beyond the genre of game that it is.

It becomes... ugh... a brand.

I also like this one from Sean McCoy
While we're on the website example - what about all the content that would inevitably happen away from that site? Or if SWORD DREAM happened on Twitter - what about everyone else, the sensible few who don't frequent that hellsite?

A public space with the name SWORD DREAM plastered on it that doesn't include absolutely all of SWORD DREAM - an impossible task if "all of SD" is as wide as a genre can be - begins to close the genre off into something at best esoteric, or at worst exclusionary. A clique will form. People asking what SWORD DREAM is can be directed to a handy website with that exact name, believing it to be the sum total of some imagined community and missing out on an entire genre along the way.

This dividing of the "in" and "out" crowds would happen purely by negligence - perhaps something innocuous like a collection of SWORD DREAM content being sold as a product by the people who organise said public space. The issue: highlighting a particular creator's work on something "official" like a website called SWORD DREAM, or even something merely prominent enough that it might be misconstrued as "official", is inherently exclusionary to anyone not on that creator's "level", or rather, and perhaps more importantly, anyone who perceives themselves to be not on their level.

Again, this is a difference between the OSR and indie scenes - any fool who starts a blog and claims it to be OSR is automatically just as OSR as any given published creator. Things are often even considered OSR regardless of creator opinion on the label, because they just fit the genre - I know that Sean McCoy doesn't really call Mothership OSR himself, but accepts that most do because of how genre works.

Conversely, how "indie" are you really if you're not active on X forum/social platform, demonstrably at least this woke *gestures vaguely*, have had at least one needlessly divisive tweet go semi-viral, and have put an illustrated PbtA hack for sale on itch.io? (Ok, I'll stop being catty, but seriously indie folks - the OSR is a genre, not a community, so stop pretending queer/PoC/non-Western/working-class/left-wing creators don't both exist and create amazing things within that genre just because it makes your tweets sound more pithy.)

By attempting to unite and centralise discussion and/or content under the banner of "community", said group would only serve to draw a line between those who are and those who are not SWORD DREAM - or merely *feel* like they are/are not part of that group. This, even if only because it is perceived as such, is a barrier to entry.

There can be NO barriers to entry.

(Yes, that necessitates the inclusion of a wealth - nay, a surfeit - of free games and content. Sorry, capitalists.)

and here's one by @OpeSounds
I don't have an antidote to any of this, other than what the OSR has already been doing: blogs. Longform content, free and easy distribution, individual creator-run spaces over some nebulous collective, considered discussions rather than a social media-esque frenzy on some community hub.

(Zedeck Siew has said some very well-thought-out things on why the longform nature of blogs benefits the scene but I unfortunately can't find a link.)

When, inevitably, someone who claims to be part of SWORD DREAM is discovered as having done terrible, hateful things (it will happen), the reaction should be akin to that of rock n roll fans discovering that one band is problematic (i.e. decrying them and moving on), not that of sailors on one big boat discovering a leak - a "breach" in a community they fooled themselves into believing was somehow ideologically pure and/or self-sustaining, leading to panicked puritanism, cancel culture and performatively woke "discourse".

Let people be fans, or not, of each SWORD DREAM creator; nobody should feel they have to be a fan of SWORD DREAM as a whole. Nobody should ever be entirely sure of what SWORD DREAM "as a whole" is.

Which brings me back round to those quotation marks around the word "official" at the top of this ramble:

SWORD DREAM only survives as long as there is no "official" SWORD DREAM

- neither in actuality nor in the general perception.

If this can be done?

Then I, too, will dream the SWORD DREAM.

Now stop reading about games and start playing 'em!

*

phew

OK,

HOUSEKEEPING

I'm going on vacation this month! Just a small break but it's the first time I've been away in literal years. I've earned it! So, there won't be posts on the blog again until near the end of June.

Which makes this probably not an ideal time to remind you that you can support this blog via Patreon! Just a tiny monthly contribution can really add up and help me out.

Or, if you don't want to commit to a monthly thing, I have cool stuff for sale over on Gumroad.

Money is hard for me. I don't like talking about it. I don't like the fact that I need it, but, guess what, I do. Rent and food and stuff, but little things too - Both mine and my partner's laptops recently broke down, so I've been doing blog stuff and actual RPG work on my phone and public computers. I need new glasses (thank the NHS for free eye tests!) but can't afford them, so I'm still using my old prescription for now.

Again, little things, and I'm certainly not in any genuine danger right now. There are people in this community who sincerely need your help to survive and function, so please support them first.

But if you're left with a bit of change after that, I'd certainly appreciate it. And I'll give you games in return! Capitalism at work.

I also want to start doing regular reviews of RPGs and tabletop games in general. These would be about once a month and to what I consider a professional standard - not like the stream-of-consciousness ramble above! To that end, I'm going to be updating the tiers on the Patreon this month, in the interest of hopefully making this blog yet more of a cohesive, useful thing.

It will also very much still be my game content and nonsense opinions.

Happy gaming! I sincerely wish you all the very best in the month ahead x

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

It Came From The Blogosphere! the Third

Every once in a while I'll round up some good things I've read lately on the so-called "Internet" and yell at you to go and read them too - welcome to It Came From The Blogosphere! Check the tag for earlier instalments.
actual footage of me surfing the Web
This is one of my favourite things about the scene we still tentatively call the OSR - everyone's just sharing their fun ideas and helping folks out and whatnot. All kinds of people, with all kinds of good stuff!

F'rinstance:

Emmy Allen's game about secret agents doing missions in the faltering reality of a dreamworld, Deep Morphean Transmissions, is OUT! I've been hyped for this for a while - read more about it right here and then buy it. Emmy is just so good at what she does, you'll love this and everything else she makes. (There's a heart rate mechanic, you guys.)

This scene is so great in part because of how freely great designers share their process and talk about how and why they do what they do. When Sean McCoy talks about layout design, you'd better listen - and he does so right here.

Ben L at Mazirian's Garden is doing a series about the whys and wherefores of old-school design - some very thoughtful and well-referenced articles from the umbrella perspective of the differences and similarities in OSR and "storygames". The latest one is here, and worth a read no matter what kind of tabletop RPGs you play.

One of the best things about games with PC classes is when you read about a class option and want to play the game immediately just so you can be one of those guys. Zedeck Siew wrote one such class for Robertson Sondoh Jr's game, Metatoy, and I want to play one! 

Joseph Manola's back, baby - and he's diving into Dickens

How about some preliminary rules for piloting giant robots in Into the Odd, written by its creator? Here ya go.

I wasn't familiar with the blog before now, but Was It Likely has an idea for a game whose mechanics revolve around items, and it's a game I reckon I'd have a lot of fun playing.

Happy gaming! x

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

After School Demon Hunters

I wrote a 200-word RPG a year or so ago as a kinda of creative exercise and put it up on my Gumroad store, mainly just so there'd be something there.

I feel like it doesn't really fit in there anymore so I'm taking it down, but I didn't want it to just disappear.

So, here ya go!


After School Demon Hunters

The Story

Each player is a teenager in high school. Together you run the After School Demon Hunters and rid your school and local area of demons, using the magical power from a mysterious book, phone app, etc. It may be tempting to use its magic in your daily life, but don’t forget about those demons!

Characters

Your character has 4 Traits: Jock, Nerd, Prep and Goth. Spend 7 points between them, with 0 to 3 in each.

Also pick a favourite subject from the following: Arts & Drama, History & the Humanities, Literature & Languages, Maths & Sciences and Physical Education.

Gameplay

To do something important, roll to match or beat a difficulty of 4 (average), 6 (difficult) or 8 (almost impossible), decided by the GM. Roll 1d6 and add a Trait, explaining why it’s relevant. If your favourite subject is also relevant, you can reroll once.

The team collectively has 7 Magic dice. Add these to any result, but when they’re gone, they’re gone.

Investigate whatever spookiness is afoot, but don’t neglect your school work! When you finally discover and confront the demon, roll your remaining Magic dice. If any are doubles, you exorcise, seal or destroy it.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

A Proper English Weather Table

Roll for Season

1. Winter
2. Spring
3. Summer
4. Autumn

Roll for Temperature (1d4 in Winter, 2d4 in Summer, 1d6 in Spring/Autumn)

1. Bitter
2. Cold
3. Cool
4. Mild
5. Warm
6-8. Hot

Roll for Sky (1d6 in Spring/Autumn, 2d6 take lower in Winter, 2d6 take higher in Summer. On a result of 1-5, use Rain table below)

1. White
2. Grey
3. Overcast
4. Cloudy
5. Light cloud
6. Clear

Roll for Rain (It might not rain all day, but this is the most it'll rain when it does. 1d8 in Spring/Autumn/Winter, 1d8+1d4 in Summer. Alternate Winter results in parentheses):

1. Rainstorm
2. Pouring (snow)
3. Rain (hail)
4. Rain
5. Drizzling (sleet)
6. Spitting
7. Threatening
8-12. No rain [Optional: Flip a coin. If heads, alter the previous (Sky) result by adding the d4 you rolled as part of this table, to a max of 6 total]

Reroll results (excepting season) once or twice per day, if you can be bothered. Druids may perform a rite once daily to alter the Rain table result by 1d4, adding or subtracting their result from the GM's.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

The Monster is Three Things

For the sake of example, this monster is old, sad and hungry.

Behind your screen or in your book, note these and nothing else. Beyond this, there is no monster.

Do not describe the monster other than through what it is; if the players ask about its size, for instance, speak only of how it has withered through age or starvation, or grown with its insatiable appetite. If they wonder about its appearance, consider the effects of its mood or its long life on its colour and form.

Your players may ask what it is - you only tell them it is old, sad and hungry. "No", they say, "what, it must be something", and list names of monsters they know, guessing. Their guess is as good as yours. All you know is the truth; it is three things. Anything they guess that does not contradict the truth may as well be treated as accurate, if only for the sake of manufacturing shared understanding.

If your game uses stats for monsters, avoid them, unless they manifest its oldness, sadness or hungriness directly within the rules. You will get by fine without your numbers; you have the truth of the thing.

An image will form. Do not dispel it.

Then, move on. They will never see this monster again.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Lighthouse Island (an adventure)

A mini starter adventure for GoGoGolf, but I guess you could adapt and use it for any adventure/OSR system if you really wanted to.

(Psst - it's meant to be easy! Let players beat it quickly and creatively, but also reward them for exploring further. Another tip: have some nori or vaguely kelp-looking sweets, if such a thing exists, to give to your players if they decide to eat the bubble kelp.)


The players find themselves shipwrecked, washed up on the shore of a small island.

Inland from the beach they see a dense jungle, and beyond that, rising above the canopy, a lighthouse. Seabirds lazily circle the top of the red-and-white striped tower, from which no light shines.

*marimba riff*
The Shore

White-gold sand and calm, crystal water. Michelle, a curious mermaid, has swum into the shallows to see if you're ok. She says that visitors rarely come here since the light in the lighthouse went out.

She knows little else about the island, being a sea creature. If the players return here later with some way of breathing underwater, she will offer to take them to Shell Town.

There are small, flighty fish swimming in the shallows that could be caught with a net or rod.

The Jungle

A sandy trail leads into the thick foliage, the air hot and steamy and full of the chatter of animals.

Just off the trail, a withered old pirate captain named Belinda Barnacles lives in a ramshackle treehouse (her ship, utterly wrecked and crashed into a tree) with her pet parrot, Pedro. She's unused to seeing other people and is easily startled, possibly unhinged, but friendly enough. She remembers that the lighthouse went out about a year or so ago, but knows little else.

Capt. Barnacles has a Plant Club, which she carries like a walking stick, using its Magic Spell to grow her food. If the players inquire about it she'll assume they want it, and will ask for a mango lizard in trade (if she gets one, she promptly feeds it whole to Pedro).

If players spend too long wandering the jungle, they come across a snake. There is a nearby plant that acts as antidote to the snake's venom - the character most likely to know about plants (due to eg. high WIT or a relevant backstory) will recognise it.

The Lighthouse

The jungle clears as the ground slopes up to the island's centre, where the lighthouse stands. Shuffling and banging noises can be heard from inside.

There is only one entrance to the lighthouse, on the side to which the jungle trail leads. On the opposite side of the building, a mango lizard is basking high up on the wall. (A Swing could stun it and knock it down on a critical hit - Target 10.)

The lighthouse interior is comprised of 3 levels:

Level 1

A dark, echoey warehouse space that smells of dust and mould. Crates are stacked against the wall, all empty, and a spiral staircase runs along the edge of the space to a landing, then continues to an upper floor.

There are three goblings, one of each variety (the wizard uses the Star Club's spell), chittering and conspiring in the main ground floor space. They will defend their hideout, but flee upstairs the second a combat turns against them.

Some large heavy barrels are on the landing, held up by shelving that looks old and worn (Target 10 from the lower floor - a critical sends the barrels tumbling down like Donkey Kong, defeating any goblings below.)

Level 2

The goblings are guarding a stash containing a heart potion (restores 1 heart), a Star Club, a fishing rod with a can of bait and several old comic books.

There is a bunk bed on this level, and a desk with some paper and pens next to a potted plant. The plant is of a variety none of the players have seen before with long, wavy blue leaves. Capt. Barnacles might know what it is (she does - it's bubble kelp, which lets you breathe underwater for a day if you eat it).

Level 3

A small, circular space. Archways along the walls serve as open windows to the sky outside.

A giant, smashed light bulb stands in the centre, not working. The machinery to power it is old and doesn't function (but could be revived by a Thunder Club). If the players can get a strong enough light of any kind to shine from the lighthouse, a ship will come and rescue them (adventure complete!)

The players can easily get the attention of the pelican flying outside, who perches on a little wooden rod protruding from the wall by one of the archways. He knows that the old lighthouse keeper used to keep the light running, but hasn't been seen on the island in over a year.

The pelican has a lavender conch in his beak and will trade it for food (fruit, fish, or a mango lizard). He can carry messages for his friends, or take one person at a time in his beak, back down to the beach or to anywhere else on the island, but no farther.


Shell Town

There is a small village deep below on the ocean floor, obscured under the waves. It's too far to swim unless you can breathe underwater.

Several giant conch shells serve as houses for the mermaid population, including a shop that sells souvenirs, run by a young mermaid named Crysta who is surprised to have customers. The mermaids' currency is a rare lavender-coloured conch - one conch will buy you any single item in Crysta's shop. The items are all funky shell jewelry, cool clubs that the players want, including a Thunder Club, as well as a large glowing rock that could be used as a giant lightbulb.

There is also a farm nearby that grows bubble kelp and various other nutritious sea vegetables, run by a monkfish named Gregg.

The town's mayor, Sandy, lives in the largest shell. She's worried about some rough-looking octopuses that live in a nearby shipwreck - they keep stealing food from the town and need to be taught a lesson. (The octopuses' treasure hoard contains many fancy jewels, a Fire Club, and a gold crown that lets the wearer walk on water.)

The mayor's husband is an old human who eats bubble kelp for breakfast every day. He vaguely remembers being a lighthouse keeper.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Simple Complex City Generator

No real city is a monolith, but too many fantasy cities are cut from whole cloth - just a bigger town, plus a bazaar or a slum or something suitably urban. I say this as much in admonishment of my own efforts as a callout for anyone else's. I grew up in a city where digging tunnels for the subway unearths Roman remains. No street matches its neighbour - there is always something so new that it's still being built, while some houses are older than many modern countries. Some trees are older still. On one of the hills near my old school, a queen was said to have rested beneath an oak and thereby blessed it - the tree died centuries ago, and in its place is a foundation for an anti-aircraft cannon, grown over with age, now a hangout for teens and the homeless. There is another hill that is rumoured to be not a hill at all, but a mass grave of bubonic plague victims, piled high and composted by time. A freeway cuts across it, and the field often plays host to a circus. That's a city to me. Let's do better, shall we?
Write 6 important places in your fantasy city. An entire area can be just one of the six, but specific major landmarks get their own entry. (If you do more, change the die you roll for the next steps to match.) Roll 1d6. Fate or the gods or simple luck smile upon that place in its current form, for good or ill - draw a little symbol next to it. Do this once or twice, or more if you want. Symbols can stack. Now, roll 1d6. Cross out the entry you rolled (unless it has a symbol, then cross out the symbol). When you cross something out make sure you can still read what it once said - then replace it with something new. Inspiration for what the new thing is and why the old thing is gone can come from a reading of your GM's Oracle, or these tables: Scale of upheaval: 1. Neighbourhood 2. City-wide 3. National 4. International 5. Worldwide 6. Cosmic Nature of upheaval: 1. Immigration 2. War 3. Patronage of the arts 4. Steady political progress 5. Plague 6. Magic Keep going until nobody alive could remember how and why all these changes happened. Forget all the crossed-out bits until they become relevant to your players

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Building a GM's Oracle

The GM is arbiter and referee, making decisions on how rules are executed. We tend to call these "rulings"; some, often dismissively, call it "fiat".

(I'm saying GM because it's the familiar paradigm; this all encompasses solo or GM-less games too, the role is just shared or has new context.)

The GM also makes decisions on a fictional level. They're not just telling you to roll double damage against the orc-chief cos a die came up 20, they're also deciding how the orc-chief's untimely demise will affect the world around you.

When a player asks a question or their character does a thing, the GM must have a response, just as the players respond to the world put in front of them.

The GM's job, chiefly, is answers.

An illustration from one of the helpful diagrams in GoGoGolf
(what, did you miss last week's post? get on it!)
Human beings are brilliant at questions, but not very good at answers. We're just not that smart.

So, a GM defers. They may not have all the answers they need, but they're not expected to. They can consult their rulebook, notes, the adventure module. Some ask the players, take suggestions.
They're still making up their own mind in the end, but with these foundations the process is eased. The fact that any given decision is not all on one mind, but also guided by a set of rules and established ideas, means it's possible to make hard and fast decisions in a meaningful and effective way: just leave it to the dice.
Decisions we defer, consult for, have gravitas. We like consensus, we like The Rules, we like coming down from the mountain with a stone tablet from on high saying "this is How Things Should Work". That's why, say, mechanically enforced lethality (an HP system f'rinstace) is good. Death has weight, becomes an effective antagonist and motivator, when it is an answer given not by the human at the table, but an uncaring god.
(Of course, in this neck of the game design woods we want our stone tablets to be concise doctrine over bloated dogma - if Maze Rats is the ten commandments, something like Pathfinder is all that stuff about wearing mixed fabrics or having to pronounce your Latin right so the demons don't take your bad prayers down to Hell.)
the demons in question! called a "tutivillus".
i like how one has pants.
Deferral of decision making is not only good for rulings, but that "fictional level" stuff as well.

This is why we love a random table (if you don't yet, try starting here). It's like a horoscope or tarot reading; no higher power truly exists, but when we play pretend at deferring to some greater wisdom, we find said wisdom in our own imagination. The power was inside you all along ya dingus.
So, to wit: the game is the people, the mechanics are an Oracle, random tables are horoscopes and Maze Rats is a damn good game.
(Further reading: Luka elaborating on the dice as an Oracle.)
With all that in mind...
Let's make a GM's Oracle. Basically, a randomiser to consult for inspiration. (I'm not coining the term or idea btw, just going through my own process. Ironsworn is just one game that already does this with random tables; the new Skyjacks podcast from Campaign uses Illimat cards in a similar way.)

First off, we need some raw materials for the random generation. Dice are classic, tarot would be a fun gimmick - but hey, any opportunity to use something really weird instead, right?
So I recently got Dragon's Crown on PS4... (Yes, this is the bit of the recipe blog where I tell you all about my travels and how I fell in love with food; skip to the next image break if you want.)
The fancy Special Deluxe Collector's Edition was going cheap and it comes with seven cards, these royal-card-meets-tarot-looking dealies that are kinda cute. There's one for each of the game's archetypes, plus a "common" card.
Also, me and my partner have been listening to the audiobooks of His Dark Materials, and if you haven't read them, oracles are a biiiiig thing in the trilogy. There's a cool steampunk ouija/tarot pocket watch, and it's got a bunch of symbols like the Major Arcana, but this is fantasyland so they're all like The Beehive and The Anchor and The Chameleon. I love that kinda bullshit.
I'd tried to make an Oracle before using the royals from a playing card deck, worked OK but I wasn't super into it and it got shelved. Not weird enough for me probably.
Now that I have these funky lil game cards though... It's on.


So basically I'm making up a fortune telling system using these weird video game merch cards.
This is the heart of RPGs for me. That LEGO-set feeling of taking raw mechanics and ideas, tools from whatever I have to hand, and repurposing things to my own ends for the joy of not only the creation process but a playable end result.
Playable how? The crux of it is a bit like that mood board we did last month, in a roundabout way - deferring creative decision making. I'll be assigning meaning to these cards as if they were constellations or entrails, then constructing gameable systems of procedural idea generation.
OK enough preamble, I'm just gonna do it. You'll get the idea.
Hopefully this'll make you want to make your own GM's Oracle! If you want to use the one I made but don't have these cards, take seven ordinary face cards and, if they're symmetrical, mark one side so you can tell which is the inverse.


First off let's consider some higher-level meanings for each card. All the Major Arcana, for instance, have broad connotations about different Big Concepts - facets of the world, the soul, human nature, love, life and death - and between them they sort of cover all the bases.

Our cards don't come with any attached meanings, but their names and images are archetypal enough that they can evoke certain themes or ideas, which is a good place to start for making up our own connotations. Think broad and general.

Now's also a great time to introduce the coolest aspect of this process - the in-universality (or "thematic resonance" if you wanna get nasty) that you can incorporate into your oracle.

Take for example our Elf card. When considering meanings the first idea that might come up is probably "nature". A bit more thinking and stretching of the imagination may yield "age" or "beauty", because of the LotR/D&D default elf that is our modern cultural archetype.

But! Consider your world, your game - what is an elf to those people? What is an elf, in its essence, in your mythology and across your various cultures? This can yield meanings you wouldn't've thought of otherwise.

And! This can be a great way to decide what an "elf", as a concept, means in your game. It's almost a worldbuilding exercise. Throw in a random meaning - "reflections" or "fire" or "bad weather" - and then think backwards to work out why your world associates that meaning with The Elf.

And I'm not just talking about how your in-game cultures think about things. Remember that gods and fortunes and all that are immutable truths, as real to a fantasyland as the laws of physics - the associations your cards make are facets of reality on a cosmic level. Each of my cards could be one of the gods, f'rinstance.

Pick obscure meanings, or ones that don't make sense at first or contradict one another. Not too many of these; reading your oracle still has to be intuitive, not an exercise in "hmm, hang on, which of these did I say means "disaster" again...?". But mixing things up at this early stage, throwing in your silliest ideas or your most weirdly specific connections, will imbue uniqueness into your Oracle and your world. (Also: separating similar concepts across different cards calls their subtle contrasts into focus.)

Nobody else will make associations between ideas in the exact same way you do - that is your advantage, in this as in all things.


Here are the "high-level" meanings I came up with for my set of seven cards. If you have more, these concepts might get more specific or more spread out.

I didn't have a world in mind when I started this, so I built ideas out of the cards and their art rather than matching them to existing notions - although I did lean into the base worldbuilding assumptions I tend to use in my D&D games, so this should mesh ok with any other fantasy content on my blog if you want to use it in parallel.

Each card has a different face depending on which way up you turn it, so I gave them all "inverted" meanings, kinda like in tarot. As long as I remember which face I chose to be the inverted one I'm peachy.

Amazon: Challenge, honour, sex, summer. Inverted: Passion, wrath, instinct, the 6th day. Common: Luck, change, death, autumn. Inverted: Greed, omens, spirits, the 7th day. Dwarf: Plenty, art, discipline, patience. Inverted: Gluttony, masculinity, jealousy, the 1st day. Elf: Nature, water, defiance, spring. Inverted: Time, sloth, loneliness, the 2nd day. Fighter: Family, humanity, past, fire. Inverted: Recklessness, wrath, lust, the 3rd day. Sorceress: Magic, femininity, community, love Inverted: Illusion, envy, apathy, the 4th day. Wizard: Knowledge, travel, winter, discovery. Inverted: Hubris, teaching, future, the 5th day.

These aren't set in stone, and this isn't the stuff we're actually going to be using most of the time, but it helps to have these general concepts sketched out in your mind.

You'll notice parallels within mine, like how each has a connotation with a particular Deadly Sin. This is good and can make the later steps easier. Since there are seven I also gave each one a day of the week, which I dunno, might be useful for something. Clearly what day it is has some cosmic or magical importance in my setting; I'll decide what later.

It's perhaps important to note these Big Ideas should never be a constraint, and you can always extrapolate to get more concepts - entries for masculinity and femininity doesn't mean androgyny isn't a concept in this world, just that it straddles those two cards.

There are also no judgement values here; Gluttony sits alongside Masculinity because the Dwarf represents both, not necessarily because they're linked to each other, and most of these concepts are meant to be read as ambiguous rather than inherently good or bad. Likewise, the "inverted" side of a card is not the "evil" version.

Look, just... just study tarot and steal ideas tbh.


Mainly just for fun, at this point I'm going to play fortune-teller and make up a way to do a reading. I don't tend to do prophecies and fortunes and things in D&D games because what even is fate in a game where you roll a 20-sided die for the outcome of any important event, but this is an exercise to help me think about my oracle so far and get in the zone.

Let's say a fortune is 3 cards - what will happen, what change it will bring, and what can be done.

I draw... Amazon Inverted, Fighter Inverted, and Sorceress.

Now just do some improv or bullshitting or storytelling or whatever your preferred term is. Hmm... looks like following my instincts will lead to recklessness, and the solution is to remain apathetic? Or perhaps my passions will incite lust, but someone involved will become envious?

Ha! it already sounds like the right kind of bullshit. Love it.

Ok, a more gameable version - my players are headed into some woods and I have no ideas for what might be there! Let's draw two cards to spark inspiration.

I draw... Elf Inverted and Amazon Inverted.

That's enough inspo for an encounter, right? Maybe a wandering knight, lost in the fey wood, has become mad with loneliness and accosts the party?

Or let's take the Time and Instinct meanings - if the player wait too long in one place here, they'll become like animals, slowly transforming (that's gameable too - many a PC would risk it trying to hang around for just long enough to get some cool beast ability.)


Ok, we're getting somewhere.

But it's not gameable enough yet! Having a wishy-washy mood board for ideas is all well and good, but at the table I want results, dammit!

Let's get results - random table results.

Make some random tables - the kind you would in any game. If you like making tables for strangers encountered on the road, do one of those. If you need a wandering monster table for a dungeon, do that. Festivals happening in town, quest generators, weather tables, NPC name lists, whatever.

The only difference - and this is the cool bit of this whole idea, not whatever I said was the cool bit before - is that each entry will be thematically linked to the oracle. We're not rolling dice for numbers, we're drawing cards, and now that we've decided these cards mean things, we can tailor our entries to those meanings.

This a) makes it easier to fill in your tables in the first place, b) ensures each has a variety of disparate entries, and c) links every aspect of your world back to its core themes and concepts. If every draw on a random table could be the Sorceress, that means every randomly determined thing in your world has a chance of pertaining to, say, magic or illusion or femininity. This solidifies these as themes inherent to your game.

You can do single entries, or tables that cross-reference different card combos. The inverted thing also means I can do tables with either 7 or 14 entries, which I like. (Ooh... I could run an OSR game where each card is a character class... hmm...)

Anyway, let's try all this theory out in practice! Here's an example table (again, worldbuilding on the fly, here. It's the only way to go.)

Encounters in the Woods
Amazon:
A fey prince, furious at your trespass in his grove, challenges one of you to a contest (whoever most looks like a leader). He is feeble but sly; win and the fairy maid reluctantly betrothed to him will, blushing, request you take her favour (be careful - love and the fey realm a potent mix).
Common: This tree grows chattering skulls like fruit. Each was a warrior who fell here and now repeatedly whispers their life's last words - only one had her wits about her at the moment she fell, and tells the way to some treasure in a nearby bathhouse.
Dwarf: Goblin-men have set up something resembling a gallery, taking turns to display useless trinkets and appraise them through stolen monocles, nodding sagely. They are angry at your approach, unless you act like their art has some value to you. They will trade for fruit, of which they already have much (beware the fruits of goblin-men).
Elf: A gang of elf-children live in a tree, recalcitrant squatters disobeying the fat local fairy lord, whose obsession with cultivating and expanding his lush garden is upsetting the woods' wild heart. (Elf-children are not young elves, as elves are all full-grown; they are actually a type of fairy.)
Fighter: A human youth, troubled deeply behind his wan but handsome features, has fled to live in these woods but is unable to cope and close to starving. He does not wish to go through with the wedding his rich father has arranged.
Sorceress: A witch lives here, they say. Disturb her dawn walks as she sings to the plants, or interrupt her dancing naked beneath a full moon, and she will enact a quick, cold sentence upon you - death, or perhaps transforming you into a toad if she's feeling playful. However, knock on her cabin door while she is home and she welcomes you to stay and rest. Or, enter the cabin while she is away - there are many odd things to steal.
Wizard: Travelling your way is a wizened old hermit with only an owl for company. Ask him to join you, show him kindness and give him time to grow comfortable, and he will divulge that the owl is really a transformed monarch from a strange land. He is on a quest for the spell that will restore his companion's form - or perhaps he is a madman with an owl.


I like the feel that's emerging, classic D&D with a kinda gonzo-Arthurian meets Angela Carter does Grimm-ness to it.

And that's what, under 10 minutes' work for 7 whole quests? And it'll only get easier the more you use your oracle over time; fleshing out more and more gameable content for your campaign, keeping it all thematically linked and havin' fun doin' it.

Try it out! Any other ideas on how to make or use one? Try those out too!




Sidebar - Dragon's Crown is fun so far. I know I'm not a video game blog but it's pretty OSR actually (there's even xp for treasure!) so I thought I'd share my thoughts.
If you'll recall, Japanese fantasy owes its lifeblood to D&D, and the lineage here is something like: D&D > Wizardry! > Dragon Quest > Fantasy hits Japan > D&D books reillustrated for Japanese market to ape Toriyama's style > D&D arcade games from Japan like Shadows Over Mystara use said style > this game is a tribute to those games. OSR af.
Anyway, it's got a cool art style, almost Frank Frazetta meets Kinu Nishimura - two of my fave art icons so I'm a happy duck. Everything is hand drawn, 2d graphics on parallax planes like intricate cardboard cutouts - it's all v v stylish.

The characters are fun, hyperstylised fantasy tropes; I've tried and enjoyed playing both the beginner-level Fighter with his wardrobe-wide shoulders, and the more complex playstyle of the willowy goth-boy Wizard, while my partner gravitated toward the Amazon's chainmail bikini and thunderous thighs. Each uses a fairly simple control scheme, similar but different enough to the others to feel fresh.

Gameplay is very much like those old arcade beat-em-ups but also an RPG kind of. It's got drop in co-op both online and off - I love couch co op options! My feeble wizard can better hold his own when he's got an Amazon taking the front lines (there are NPC allies too, but that system works a little differently).

Negatives: - All the hallmarks that make this a solid arcade game could be seen as negatives if that's not what you're looking for - this game makes no bones about what it is, like it or lump it. - Although its sexualised aspects are mostly fun and campy, and there are cool female characters with agency, things still feel quite, uh, old-fashioned. - The translation is largely fine but has moments that really needed proofreading - although the patchiness makes it almost more endearing?

Worth a look!


Cool concept art, right?
Except this is the *in-game character select screen*.
This game is gorgeous.