Friday, September 4, 2015

Year of the Demon Lord - Building the Road to Blackstone Ford

Next week I'll be diving head first into the hot seat as the Demon Lord for a new monthly campaign. When I made the decision to run something "Survival of the Fittest"  had yet to be released, and I had not actually come up with a story for the first session, let alone one for the whole campaign (note: I still have no grand plan in place for the campaign!). By the end of the weekend I had cobbled together a fairly good idea, and a couple of possible encounters. I started to look at the creatures to figure things out ... and then I panicked!

Not only did I have only a starting grasp on the rules but I had no clue how combat in this system would run, and therefore how the balance would feel. There are tables and numbers and suggestions ... but frankly at that point my brain was in "oh crap" mode.

Thankfully the first introductory level adventure "Survival of the Fittest" (SotF) was released just a couple of days ago. It's geared at level zero characters and level zero GMs. Hey, that's me! Phew! After looking it over I realized it was more than capable of serving as a preamble to my original idea which I had titled "Death Comes to Blackstone Ford." I shifted gears and decided to run SotF under the title "The Road to Blackstone Ford." I then told my players to please not read SotF so as not to spoil things.

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Survival of the Fittest takes place in the Old Wood, and I had already decided to place Blackstone Ford in the Lowlands near to the Dark Forest. That's an easy enough fix; what's the name of some trees between friends right? I also decided to simply substitute Blackstone Ford as the destination instead of Fletcher's Rest; it would give additional continuity between the first and second sessions, which in a monthly campaign I think is going to be important.

Blackstone Ford is a village on a ford (meaning a shallow spot in a river where crossing is easier) and the ford itself is marked off by large black stones (look how clever my naming is!!). Making sure I could put the new "Fletcher's Rest" on a river was important to me because I wanted to use the map in SotF as-is if at all possible.

I looked at the map and found a good spot for Blackstone Ford that would allow me to be lazy and keep the map without any heavy lifting. I could have used this guy:

But I figured that if it was on the map it was bigger than I wanted to use for this town. Blackstone Ford needed to be small, maybe a few hundred people at most, and certainly too small for a sigil on the map. I decided to move to the east some ...

Both maps are totes an edited version of the map I snagged at

That red dot is where I decided that Blackstone Ford lies. It's on the southern border of the Dark Forest and serves as a waypoint for roads connecting the communities within the forest and the northern Lowlands to the southern Lowlands, and especially along the route to Landfall and Good Fortune. It's a small place because there are better roads and faster waterways that make the journey to either city faster, but it survives on local trade and a certain critical mass that means it won't die out but it also won't explode into a full fledged town without something happening to draw new people there.

One problem is that Fletcher's Rest is on the north side of the forest in the SotF map.  Problem? Nah, I'll just rotate the map 180º and call it good. So instead of traveling north through the Old Wood to village called Fletcher's Rest my group will be going south, through the Dark Forest, toward Blackstone Ford.

I plan to run the remainder of the adventure almost as written. There's an encounter or two I may tweak to foreshadow the following session which will be the originally planned "Death Comes to Blackstone Ford," but those details will have to wait until next week ...

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #47 - #RPGaDay2015 Recap

I wanted to recap the #RPGaDay2015 posts I made on Google+ this year, and since there is probably more than a little insight into how I RPG this seemed a good place to do it...

Day 1: RPG most looking forward to ... Shadow of the Demon Lord ... With the Savage Worlds Rifts adaptation being a runner up out of morbid curiosity. Why SotDL? It looks really different. Different is a good thing, especially in RPGs.

Day 2: RPG happiest to Kickstart ... Numenera, hands down easiest choice and most influential RPG on my past 2 years. Without Numenera you wouldn't be reading this blog, because there would be no blog. Without Numenera I probably would not have gone to GenCon last year of this year. I wouldn't be able to feel the pride in having my words published (even if only in a fan magazine thus far).

Day 3: Favorite new RPG in the last 12 months... Nominees include:
  • The Strange
  • AMP (years one and two)
  • Riders
Since I haven't played AMP or Riders yet I have to go with The Strange by default. It's OK though because it would have been hard to beat a game like The Strange. Using my now favorite system Cypher, this game helped to prove the robustness of that mechanically light system by allowing passage to other worlds.

Day 4: Most Surprising Game ...I'm going to say Microscope, the history building game. I thought the idea of cooperatively creating a world history as a freeform RPG seemed a little interesting, but I had no idea how amazing it would be until I played it. 

Day 5: Most recent RPG purchase ... Dungeon Crawl Classics.  I "blame" my good friend +James August Walls for this because he runs some darn good games, including an excellent funnel on the Wednesday evening before GenCon. Also my time playing Enter the Dagon and Death by Nexus at the Con itself probably helped ...

Day 6: RPG Most Recently Played... Technically Dungeon Crawl Classics, but that is by literal hours. It could just as easily have been Cypher System Superheroes or 13th Age or even The Strange.
GenCon rocks by the way ...

Day 7: Favorite Free RPG ... Yikes ... this one is difficult. I try to try out a lot of games but I'm quite happy with the ones I have as well which downgrades my impetus to constantly check stuff out.

I'm going to cheat ... technically speaking ... and say that the Archmage Engine is probably my favorite RPG system that is also free. Its the rules behind 13th Age but you can get the SRD for free so ... you know ... free...

Cheating, yes, but still free, and has a bunch of really great innovations (of which I have started to use many in other RPGs).

Day 8: Favorite Depiction of RPGs in Media... This isn't a very easy one, as the choices are somewhat few and far between. Ultimately though I think I have to go with The Order of the Stick for being both an excellent homage to and and excellent parody of Dungeons & Dragons. 

Day 9: Favorite media you wish was an RPG ... I'm assuming that this question is asking for media that have not had a prior and no longer current RPG (i.e. Star Trek, Babylon 5).

Avatar: The Last Airbender/The Legend of Korra - Pretty sure that I don't need to explain myself here, but ... crazy hybrid animals, active spirits, elemental bending, chi blocking pressure points, steam punk tech ... and some seriously gorgeous artwork to draw from.

Day 10: Favorite RPG Publisher... Man where does one start with this? Objectively? Subjectively? Just go with who makes your favorite system or setting? What about those companies you may not give much patronage to, but you agree with certain business practices they have?

steps off soapbox

Thankfully I can say that +Monte Cook Games has really impressed me since they started with an obscenely successful kickstarter in 2012. Thier KS's have hit their goal dates for release. They have put out product that is both wonderful to look at and to read. The cypher system has literally changed how I GM and spurred me to start my own gaming blog, and spurred me to start getting some of my writing published. I can't think of a single negative thing to say about them or their games.

Day 11: Favorite RPG Writer ... I could abstain from today. I really could, since I probably should as well.  I mean I don't buy things because a certain person wrote them (and likewise I don't tend to shy away from stuff because of who wrote it).

It's "easy" to point to a publisher that you enjoy, or a product line, but authors are difficult in RPGs because things are seldom a one person effort.

So I think I'll cheat. I'm going to name two, and I'm going to name them despite not really being terribly fond of the game they created.

Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson

I'm not super fond of D&D, but I am super fond of RPGs, and without their efforts I'd probably not have this awesome hobby to enjoy.

Day 12: Favorite RPG Illustration... wait, seriously? That's ... hoo boy, there's a lot to choose from.

I really don't want to cheat two days in a row here so I'm going to go way back to the first RPG I played, and the image that sold me on this weird game my friend wanted me to play.

The "red 'borg" from Rifts... 

Day 13: Favorite Podcast RPG Related Web Media ... Since I don't listen to podcasts on any kind of regular basis (I've tried, I just can't do it) I'm going to jump sideways to ... well YouTube (let's face it, that's about the only other option).

My choice is easy. Titansgrave was surprisingly fantastic. The first few episodes were a bit rough for me because they were playing heavy on the "let's make this welcoming to people new to RPGs" but as the show grew the story got deeper and the character's got more fleshed out. I think that it really hit the sweet spot for the first season and I can't wait to see what +Wil Wheaton and crew do for the recently announced second season. 

Day 14: Favorite RPG Accessory ... dice! Need I say more?



Day 15: Longest Campaign Played ... I ran a Play by Post game of Aberrant for about 4 years. It was a mixed bag. I will admit to some of that being on me but in the end I was able to execute to my vision ... for better or worse.

Day 16: Longest RPG Session Ever Played ... was in college for sure ... almost 100% certain it was Nightbane ... and I would be guessing that counting a couple of brief respites for chow we were pushing 20 hours or so. But that was almost 15 years ago so I could be remembering wrong. I do remember being tired afterwards...

Day 17: Favorite Fantasy RPG ... umm. ok, let's hold on one sec and lay down some ground rules since "your favorite insert genre RPG" makes up the next 4 days of #RPGaDay2015

For the purposes of these next 4 days I am going to count an "RPG" as a published combination of setting and rules as a unit.

For the purposes of "fantasy" let's look at how Emmanuel Lewis Webster defines it:
noun (pl) -sies
1. imagination unrestricted by reality, (as modifier): a fantasy world
OK ... not very useful ... how about Mr. W. I. Kipedia?
"Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting."
OK so apparently magic and the supernatural are what make fantasy, fantasy...

Luckily for me Sir Arthur C. Clarke famously said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." which is good because my choice right now would have to be ....


Why? Well Numenera is really meant to be played with the "science as magic" mindset and the setting evokes more "traditional" fantasy quite heavily.

Also, I love the Cypher System rather a lot.

Also, also, I probably could not have otherwise answered today's question/topic without "cheating".

Day 18: Favorite Sci-Fi RPG ... This one is a little difficult. I _could_ say Numenera again, but even though it technically is Sci-Fi it's tone more closely matches Fantasy. There are a number of potentials here: The Strange, Trinity (or as I prefer Æon), Shadowrun (kinda), Eclipse Phase, heck even Star Wars.

But I can narrow that down some. I have never played Eclipse Phase so no vote there. Shadowrun really has too much supernatural for me to call it a proper sci-fi genre game so it's out. Star Wars is out because I said so, and I have never done more than one-offs anyways so I really don't know how I would like the FFG versions over a campaign.

That leaves The Strange and Æon/Trinity. I have some fond memories from college of Æon, and there's a lot in there I like, but the system was clunky and made it hard to improvise with your kewl powerz.

While I haven't been graced with a lot of game time with it yet (my home group is in the early parts of the Dark Spiral) I already know I love the Cypher System (don't act surprised!), and the nature of The Strange's recursions can really open up some kinds of gameplay that are truly unique over the short and long term.

So, yeah, The Strange gets my vote. I know I sound like a MCG fanboy, and I probably am, but considering that this is an opinion based poll ... I don't think I need to defend myself :)

Day 19: Favorite Supers RPG ... Rather than equivocate I'm just going to call it now. DC Adventures from Green Ronin. This is basically just Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition with DC stuff slapped on top, but being that M&M doesn't come with a setting (the house setting "the Freedomverse" requires a copy of Emerald City or Freedom City) DC Adventures fits my mechanical needs with a well known setting.
Runners up:
AMP Year One & Year 2 - I haven't played so I cannot tell how the mechanics play, but the setting is really intriguing and reminds me a lot of what White Wolf was trying to do with ....
Aberrant - Which was a really terrible set of rules (yes, terrible) with a setting that was marred by WW's usual antics involving metaplot. It had promise but the execution kinda fell on its face.

Day 20: Favorite Horror RPG ... Honestly I don't play a lot of horror, it's not easy to run, or to play, because horror without the right mood and mindset is ... well it's fodder for some seriously funny stuff. Probably why Shaun of the Dead was so awesome.  Anyway, my favorite RPG that is theoretically horror is Nightbane (or Nightspawn for those of us who think Todd McFarlane is a douche). Granted I've grown to really dislike the Palladium house mechanics, but there is something about the setting (written by C.J. Carella) and my fond memories of some awesome games in college that keep this game locked away in a secure corner of my heart.

Day 21: Favorite RPG Setting ... well crap, NOW this gets difficult. When any setting can be up for grabs regardless of the strength or weakness of its core mechanics the list of options to consider becomes positively voluminous. I do have one I can objectively put as my favorite: The Sixth World via Shadowrun. The mix of cyberpunk and supernatural doesn't work for everyone, but I love the setting, I love the options it gives you as a player and a storyteller, and I love that they have never looked backwards, never rebooted or reset, they have changed the mechanics 5 times over the years, for five major editions, and probably more changes if you can account for changes smaller than the edition over-hauls, but in all that time they have only ever continued to advance the story and universe, year over year. To me that is awesome because I have over 20 years of meta-plot adventures on top of the already impressive 70 odd years of back history.

To not mention some of my other favorites would make me sad. Therefore, in no particular order:

  • Athas (Dark Sun)
  • Earth after Dark Day (Nightbane)
  • Freeport (A Pirate's Guide to Freeport)
  • The Ninth World (Numenera)
  • The Weird West (Deadlands)

Day 22: Perfect Gaming Environment ... anywhere with comfortable seating, and adequate writing space. Bonus points for some degree of quiet and access to food and beverages.

Day 23: Perfect Game for You ... anything played with friends.

Day 24: Favorite House Rule ... I don't really have one. For me house rules are something to avoid. I've learned that I am not a better game designer than those who get paid for it (which is not to say I don't think I could be competent) and I have learned to give games a fair shake as written rather than house rule as soon as I find something. Over the long term I've learned more that way and seen that things that don't work are usually the result of not understanding a related rule, or the intent of the rule. Regardless I don't have one because I try to not need them.

Day 25: Favorite Revolutionary game mechanic ... I'm going to be a smartass here ... playing a single character/person in an ongoing game where you can advance and improve your capabilities. Basically the mechanic that changed war games into RPGs; can't get more revolutionary than that.

Day 26: Favorite inspiration for your game ... DeviantArt. I trawl that place almost daily for stuff to use in my blog, and a lot of those ideas make the slow trickle into my game-mind.

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Day 27: Favorite idea for merging two games into one ... generally anything mixed with the supernatural works for me. Deadlands and Shadowrun being two of my more favorite settings (though I have not played much of either sadly). I also enjoy crossing post-apocalypse with other things. So post-apocalypse steampunk, or post-apocalypse wuxia. Heck I had fun running a post-apocalypse supers game (though it was more of a super-powers and not super-heroes game).

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Day 28: Favorite Game you no longer play ... I'm tempted to say Nightbane which I stopped playing because I stopped being able to tolerate the Palladium rules system and I have yet to find a game that can easily duplicate the right feel of the game's characters. In a general sense that is accurate.

Specifically though I really miss a pair of Play-by-Post games from my time gaming by forum. The first was a supers game called "Future Imperfect", and the other was a supernatural teenagers traveling through dimensions called "The Academy". Both games died out due to player & GM availability but I had a pair of great characters for those games and some of the best dramatic RP through them. The folks who participated were generally all good writers and when you have a group of people who can craft words well and put the effort into it Play-by-Post can really shine in a way that games at the table cannot, by offering not just the surface level action and drama RP, but by giving a look inside the minds of the characters.

Day 29: Favorite RPG Blog/Website ... excluding my own? Heh, ok, fine. Probably the Cypher System communities on Google+ I've never found anything but helpful and supportive people.

Day 30: Favorite RPG Celebrity ... Wil Wheaton. Maybe it's cliche but he's doing a lot of good for the hobby right now. Hard to argue with that.

Day 31: Favorite non-RPG Thing to come out of RPGing ... Friends. Cheesy I know, but it fits.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Year of the Demon Lord - Pre-game mission statement

Welcome to Year of the Demon Lord! A monthly campaign in 12 (ish) sessions over 12 (? ish?) months with my friends +James August Walls+Troy Pichelman+Sean Anderson+Brian Ries+Dave Hanlon, and +Andrew Cady. While I am terrible at actual play recaps I am hoping and intending to blog not only my thoughts on the game, but how I build my encounters and my own story notes for people use as inspiration. Since we don't kick off for another week I figured a preamble might be in order...

Last week the first of my Kickstarter fulfillment for Shadow of the Demon Lord arrived. An innocuous looking hyperlink to a typical DriveThruRPG page. Little did I know that the email, link, and page were all stained with blasphemies and would lead me to the corruption of the Demon Lord's throne...

... which is to say that I didn't realize that I would quickly be putting together a game with some online folks and acting as GM to a game I'd owned for less than a week.

After spending a long plane ride having skim-read a good portion of Shadow of the Demon Lord I posted a comment on Google+ saying, "It feels, tonally, like the bastard's offspring of Dungeon Crawl Classics and Dragon AGE in some ways." That's my aim at the moment, to make a game for my players where the slightly crazy and death prone DCC mixes with the moral grays and horror of Dragon Age.

How do I plan to do that?
  • Emphasize the horror - I consider myself a fair to good writer, and if I can bring the descriptions of the horrible creatures to life that will be half the battle. Putting horrific spins on the events that take place will also be top priority.
  • Moral ambiguity - while demons are Evil (capital "E") people aren't usually that way. So, much as the book discusses, I need to paint NPCs in mixed light. This will have the added boon of making the stories more interesting, and the choices more important.
  • Genuine peril - I'm not a very bloodthirsty GM, but I plan to take the reigns off and turn a cold shoulder. I'm not going to go gunning for the PCs, but I won't pull punches either. I actually do hope that somebody does die, or at least have a close encounter with the other side. I really intend to push the PCs to the brink of sanity and beyond. And I am going to try and tempt them down the dark paths because "the ends justify the means" will make for some good roleplaying.
I hope my GMing is up to the challenge, and I really hope my players will not only enjoy the ride, but actively engage with the darker aspects of the story and setting, and help to bring about a dark tale of mortal heroes rising up against the Shadow of the Demon Lord ...

... speaking for mortal heroes ... the cast of six for the initial adventure (for which I had decided to run Survival of the Fittest with some minor modification).

  • Buckets the Goblin - played by +James August Walls; you can read about Buckets on Jim's blog Living4Crits, but the short version (ha! pun!) is that Buckets worked for a wizard and spent his days moving water around for his master, until, that is, he summoned a demon ...
  • Reudan the Human - played by +Troy Pichelman; Reudan is an orphan and a friar who got abducted by elves due to his better than average good looks...
  • Runt the Orc - played by +Sean Anderson; Runt is (for an orc anyways) a runt, who has lived a hard life and even tried his hand as a town guard ...
  • Holgar Flakkison the dwarf - played by +Brian Ries; Holgar was a warrior and a torturer until he found himself an unlikely convert to the Cult of the New God...
  • Sage the Changeling - played by +Dave Hanlon; Sage looks like an older human woman, but she's really only just into her 20s, Sage may well become the witch that she impersonates...
  • Fox the Clockwork - played by +Andrew Cady; Fox's sad tale involves a lonely farmer who built a clockwork to deal with vermin but ended up with a surrogate son, unfortunately things don't work out and Fox was the victim of a poorly timed wind-down while trying to rescue his "father" from their burning home... 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Review - Agents of the Beyond

Near as I can tell it's been a good twenty plus years since I last reviewed a book that wasn't a gaming supplement. So how do I approach a "book report" as an adult?

I have no idea. I'm going to wing it and hope this all makes sense on the back end.

Disclosure: While I was not provided with a freebie of this for review, I do know the author ... though he did help kill at least one of my DCC characters at GenCon this year, so I don't think I owe him anything.

So Agents of the Beyond is the first full length novel set in the Ninth World of the Numenera RPG. It may also end up being the only 3rd party novel as well, but we shall see. First off let me say that knowledge of the game setting is not required to read the book. Michael does an excellent job laying the groundwork of the setting and bringing the reader into the world. Starting off at the Beyond's most famous landmark the Beanstalk helps to drive home the setting's mixture of high and low tech, old and new worlds. We get introduced to the main characters there before things go topsy turvy and they are pushed into a journey across the Beyond toward Nebalich.

Because this is a book and not a travel journal it is safe to assume things do not go according to plan, and the second half of the book comprises a significant diversion for the characters that results in some major upheaval. Along the way some mysteries of the past are uncovered and revealed, while some of the horrors of the present day are dragged into the light.

It took me a little while to get into the book, but I'm not sure how much that is an aspect of the story or my own reading habits. In this instance I can say that for a good portion of the first third to half of the novel I wasn't sure if one of the mains was somebody I was supposed to like or not. That is often the sign of a good story and good writing; after all, if either of those is poor you tend to lose interest rather than feel conflicted over one or more characters.

The action and adventure are also well plotted and written. The use of cyphers, which is so key to the game play of the RPG, features heavily throughout the narrative. Discoveries of the prior worlds feature heavily into the story as well.

Come this all together and the Agents of the Beyond was a pleasurable read, a fun jaunt into the Ninth World, and a good entry into the setting for people who might be on the fence for a RPG.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Last Week Today - Week of August 24-30, 2015

Story Seed - Remnants

Tuesday Tools - Organization Worksheet

Nuts & Bolts - Death is but a door...

Story Seed - On the Origin of Species

Oh, yeah, also this week the blog hit 30k views ...