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