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Preview: Unofficial Games

Unofficial Games

A blog explaining game design choices, and the reasoning behind them for Piecemeal the RPG, Adventuring Party! and other "unofficial games" content.

Updated: 2018-02-12T16:43:36.064-08:00


A sense of wonder and putting Orcs in a custom setting


So I am running another two group campaign  (Similar to how in Xan Than Du I had two competing play groups racing through a Victorian setting) and that means building something new and trying to keep the info-dump as small as possible.One thing that is hard to replicate from your own personal early days of gaming is the sense of wonder and the unknown.  The first time players ever encounter any particular monster or trap is a very different feel than a similar encounter twenty years of gaming later.  The character's may never have encountered a beholder before but the players know what it is.When people see this as a bug rather than a feature, in that they want to recapture that feeling rather than use its replacement "familiarity" as a tool for enjoyment, one of the more common bits of advice I see is to create novelty.   Don't use goblins, orcs, elves, and dwarves but have whole new paradigms of reptoids, sentient insect swarms, and robots (or whatever fits the flavour of the campaign setting). That works for people, but I see a few problems for my own style. First, as the years of play grow longer the game has to get more and more bizarre and removed to keep that feeling of novelty which removes much of the "real world" grounding where you can fathom how the world works outside of the adventure (and yes, with skill and effort that can be minimized). Secondly it makes it harder to have rumours and background assumptions without providing an info dump.  You don't have any real idea before running into them that sentient insect swarms are a thing nor any idea what they might be about if they do exist. You could give players some rumours and have some of them be false, but that always feels off.  In the real world you aren't sat down and told "Here are four facts, some of them are false",  and if you don't flat out state "these are rumours and may be false" it can be interpreted as if it were information that is known first hand. If I say "Goblins are Blue Skinned" as an info dump fact,  it could be interpreted as if that is known because the character had seen them directly before.  If I say "You have heard Goblins are Blue Skinned",  then its an immediate red flag when the words "you have heard" are spoken.  This isn't to say this doesn't work (and it is better than nothing), its just not as smooth and organic as I'd like.  So,  instead I say flat out  "People say there are Orcs over there",  its obvious its a rumour.  Players will ask "What are orcs like?", and I will state that they have competing rumours,  pretty much in line with what you as a player envision orcs to be like.  There are a scatter-shot of rumours, all second hand but probably have core truths.    World of Warcraft Orcs,  Warhammer Orks, Lord of the Rings Orcs (and Uruk-hai), and AD&D Pigman Orcs are all possibilities and they know the truth of what Orcs are belong somewhere in the Venn diagram of those examples.I also never name monsters until the players do.  I will never say "You have encountered an Orc raiding party",  I will describe exactly what they see and let the players declare them to be Orcs or not without ever being sure if those are the legendary Orcs they heard of.In my current game,  the two parties have between them encountered three different groups that might fit into that Venn diagram that they suggested could be orcs, and, delightfully, both of the groups are leaning towards different choices of what they declare to be Orcs.A common example of where this technique is used in games are "Vampires".   Vampires have so many variations of their powers and weaknesses (right up there with Golden Age Superman) that groups often have a sense of wonder when they first encounter them in a custom setting as to what EXACTLY they are..They definitely drink blood... but may also drink other things or just drink blood as a medium to steal life force.They probably are affected by sunlight and are usua[...]

The Age of Myth: An Iron Age Campaign


This is largely a placeholder to serve as a reference for campaign information in my new Iron Age campaign, set in the mythic land of Cromspoint. The game is set at the dawn of the iron age among "The People".Both the home group and the online group are all be members of the elite class of one of the clans (each group is a different clan), out to forge a proper kingdom out of scattered tribes. KoDP is a big influence.The most prominent god of the region is Crom, and as such no priestly magic is granted. Lesser gods often try to interfere in the affairs of mortals but that is frowned upon and considered dishonourable, unlike sorcery which is a craft one must hone and thus is a source of pride.The main unit of currency that you would deal with is the reindeer, as domesticated reindeer herds are the primary source of wealth.  Longhaired goats are also kept,  but there are no dogs in the region only domesticated foxes.   Chariots exist, but riding an animal directly is considered unclean and perverse. Wars are mostly duels and ceremony, consequently you will have an entourage of freedmen who in theory will fight with you but mostly just jeer your opponents and maybe throw things at extreme range.Some clans have iron,  most still use bronze.   Each group secretly picks their clan specialty.Clan specialties:Iron Working (Access to Iron weapons)Wainwrights  (Access to Chariots)Bowyers (Access to Longbows)Runes (Better access to spells, and other literacy advantages)Animals (Access to a domesticated guard animal, similar role to dogs)Fisherman (Access to simple sailboats)Traders (Access to canoes and currency)Raiders (Bonus thralls to your entourage)Armourer (Bronze Armour is available).Masons (Stone fort, which will prevent loss of wealth to raids while you adventure)Allying with other clans with other specialties will then let you gain more options as you try to form a cohesive nation.For equipment,  only valuable items are kept between sessions (treasured items).  Simple items can simply be picked up at will at the start of a game session (which represents a season). They are simply taken from peasants as needed.Valuable Equipment1 D - Bronze Knife/ Javelin/ 6 Arrows2 D - Bronze Spear/ Hatchet4 D - Bronze Battle Axe2 D - Longbow8 D - Bronze Seax / Great Axe4 D - Bronze Helmet8 D - Bronze Great Helmet12 D - Bronze Shield16 D - Bronze Scale1 D - Currach2 D - Birch Bark Canoe4 D - Catamaran4 D - Chariot1 D - Bronze Leatherworking tools1 D - Large Skin of Maple Wine4 D - Bronze Pot12 D - Velvet CapeIron is 1/4 the price of bronze and items under 1D are not treasure.Simple EquipmentSling (Short or Long)Large Wicker ShieldLeatherbound Medium ShieldSolid Wood BucklerStone Hand AxeStone SpearStone ArrowsBone JavelinBone KnifeHunting Bow (Small)ClubsStavesLeather ArmourLeather CapWood and Antler Splint Armour (Medium Crude Mail)Quivers, Backpacks, Pouches, and the likeDark CloakTorchesCandlesRaiding SashPeace SashPouch of Corn FlourRationsWaterskinWicker BackpackBasketLeather Pouch or SackClay PotRopeThe GodsCrom - The Smith, the high god who cares not for mortal concernsGlaa - The Crone, goddess of caves, necromancy, and unwanted childrenMoff - The Arbiter, god of reason, punishment, and saltVix - The Maiden-Mother,  goddess of royalty, fertility, and bearsZer - The Eternal Child, godling of fire, raiding, and briarsZuul - The Gatekeeper, goddess of the veil between worlds, revenge, and diseaseVel - The Singer, goddess of storms, trade, and reindeerBal - The Stalker, god of forests, hunting, and shieldsAncestor Spirits - Some clans also know how to appeal to the ghosts of their dead relatives to inconspicuously tilt the odds in their favour.Key insults to provoke a fight:Moss Farmer -  You are of unimportant social statusBeggar Friend - You are a recipient of charityBeast Rider - You are a pervertLichen Eater - You are poorLiving Expenses and Downtime Activities between seasonsWorking alongside your clanCost: No chargeEffect: NothingTraining [...]

Buystarter: Down in Yon Forest


Hello everyone,

The holiday season is here and I am overwhelmed with one of the spirits of the seasons:  crass commercialization of traditions.  It is time for another buystarter campaign:

Up this time is "Down in Yon Forest" , a holiday adventure about a town dealing with the overbearing threat of Krampus stealing all of their children due to a freak wassail related accident.  Unlike previous month long buystarters this project will only be available for 12 days (until the 25th) at which point I will take it down until next year.  Much like Egg Nog, its glory is too much for the world to handle year round.   The price goes up by $0.50 a day so buy early.

That's a wrap! (The Expedition to Xan Than Du)


After almost a year and a half with two different groups of players running competing expeditions,  the campaign has ended with the home group victorious over the online group in a narrow finish (the online group found the Eye of Set first but was repulsed in their attempts to secure it for two games).

The massive hex-crawl had lots of notable moments and adventures.  I created the campaign by using a randomly generated map and trying to stock with home grown things from the source material, but also specifically content from other authors tailored to fit the game.

Here are some things I noted:

1.) Multiple competing groups really added to the excitement and planning of both groups, knowing that another group of actual humans was actively racing them really changed the dynamic.  I had tested this previously with a sci-fi dungeoncrawl  and it was even more pronounced this time.

2.) Seed tables are indeed great even with massively sustained play and when built correctly add a deep flavour to regions.

3.) Time Limits on the game session (like physical real person time) add a very different mindset to encounters,  the need to "win" every encounter is drastically lowered as players quickly identify time spent dealing with things as a lost resource.  This really added to the feeling of a harried expedition and made it feel much less like a murder-crawl. Unless the party got actually infuriated they were more than willing to let enemies who took a few pot shots just escape, it also meant they were way more likely to pay bridge tolls from bandits. They COULD easily win any fight and cross for free, but that would take like 20 to 30 minutes of real time and paying a toll is like 1 minute in real time.  Haggling over prices was also reduced for anything but truly major purchases.   It made adventure pacing a player problem and they self solved it.

4.) Analysis Paralysis becomes huge with a big expedition.  I ended up "solving" this by randomly rolling one player each week to be the expedition leader if the group hadn't decided in 15 minutes. They set course and direction and goals for the week and that seemed to work out well.

5.) Setting a campaign goal as the GM made the campaign much easier run.  Players could still have whatever sub-goals they wanted, but putting the up front caveat that the campaign was about characters trying to get into an explorer's society back in London by retrieving the Eye of Set meant that every character started with at least one goal in unison.  As an expedition game where players would have a stable of characters (as characters could take weeks or months to recover from some ailments) this meant I could be very clear that if a character's primary motivation stopped being to help the party retrieve the eye of set they stopped being a PC,  use a different character from your stable and/or make a new one.  That wouldn't be ideal for every game, but if it is used it really does cement a party identify quickly.

The dog people in elven courts


In the early days when elves first began to write their history, forge silver and summon forth magics to construct their first towers and cities they also began to domesticate wild creatures that wandered out of the mountains.

At first these creatures simply lurked outside the Elven hearths to steal scraps and root through the garbage,  but over generations through happenstance and random chance, the Elves began taking in their babies and domesticating them.  They kept them first for work, but then more and more as companions.

The bloodline of these offshoots diverged greatly from their elf-avoiding kin. Neoteny gave these people lifelong juvenile features compared to their wild counterparts.  They also evolved to be naturally empathetic to Elven emotions and display vastly reduced aggression.  That isn't to say they were not capable of violence.  The Elves frequently bred stocks to act as guards, or even for helping hunt down their wild cousins.  As time went on, more and more were bred simply for companions.  Their comparatively rapid breeding and life-cycle meant most were spayed or neutered.

Despite the occasional cross-breeding with wild stock, they had become a separate species over roughly two dozen millennia.  As the technology of their still undomesticated wild cousins has advanced,   many have become feral with the destruction of their Elven master's cities.  Their wild human counterparts refer to them as "Half-Elves" due to their comparatively juvenile and lithe appearance, but their Elven masters refer to them as "Dog People", compared to the "Wolf People" of  the Empires of Mankind. 

"He's only been around 10 passes of the mystic comet, but that is like 70 passes in Human years"

The Roots of Bitterness - A very limited window of opportunity


Just a heads up that The Lamentations Bundle of Holding now has "The Roots of Bitterness" available in it.  If you missed it as a Kickstarter reward this will be your last and only chance to buy an electronic copy legally.

The Foreign Legion Encampment


The Quartermaster at the Foreign Legion Encampment has the following surplus items available:Combat GearRifle80 silverlarge, armour piercing, long range, complicated, loud*, accurate**Gunpowder5 silver for 100 charges in a flaskRifle Bullets1 copper a bulletSabre15 silver  medium, slashing, versatile, defensiveLance3 silver  large, pole, piercingKepi1 silvercounts as leather capExploration GearCanteen2 silver for 1 days waterCompass75 silverLight Tools (Spade, Machete, Hatchet etc)2 silverSuppliesSack of Rice15 copper for 14 days.Requires extra unit of water.4 dots.AnimalsHorse200 silverPack Mule30 silver[...]

The Big Game Hunter's Estate


The following provisions can be procured at the big game hunter's estate.Combat GearShotguns350 silverlarge, minor, burst, loud, accurateElephant Gun400 silver, special order (?d2 weeks)medium (size modifier 2), devastating, loudShells5 copper a shell4 Bore Bullets2 copper a bulletGunpowder1 silver for a flask with 100 chargesExploratory GearRowboatCost: 10 silver.Availability:  ConstantSeaworthiness:1Capacity: 200 dotsDutch Oven5 silverClogs2 silverSuppliesBeans20 copper for 14 days (requires extra unit of water per meal and cooking)4 dotsMarsh Mallows4 silver for 1 day1 dotJenever10 silver1 dot[...]

Lamentations Bundle of Holding +2


Bundle of holding is running a second lamentations bundle and this one includes "Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess" by yours truly.   It also supports The Electronic Frontier Foundation which fights to protect digital civil liberties.

Give it a look:

The Riders of A Thousand Names


One of the expeditions in the land of Xan Than Du managed to track down the riders of a thousand names to their secret fortress.  The riders of the divine storm, the winds of destruction, protectors of the path,  horsemen of the emperor's will.  They have thousands of names for themselves and go into great lengths to know and boast of as many as possible. They follow no official chain of command to the Emperor of Xan Than Du and often act as bandits against even his forces,  but they see themselves as staunch defenders of the Xan Than Du culture and the religion of the Southern Path especially.  They are honour obsessed seek reknown and fame. To this end they raid the great northern desert, but are especially hostile to French forces.Combat EquipmentLeather Poncho2 silverLight, Partial Armour,  (Ornamental is optional)Turban40 silverLeather Cap,  OrnamentalTwin Katanas100 silver (always sold as a pair), ?d2 weeksMedium, Slashing, Hand and a Half, DefensiveBola2 silverThrowing, Exotic, Entangling, BluntRepeating Crossbow5 silverMedium, piercing, repeating, ineffectiveExploratory GearDowsing Rod10 silverMedallion of the Southern Path45 silverSacred Oils10 silverSuppliesSkin of Pomegranate Wine6 copper, 1 dotTiger Meat20 silver, ?d8 weeks1 dotHerbal Salve3 silverCheap Horse Feed1 copper for 1 day (for a horse)2 dotsSorghum Bread8 copper for 3 days2 dotsAnimalsStallion150 silverFalcon200 silver, ?d4 weeks[...]

Villages of the Jungle Cannibals


One of the British expeditions in the land of Xan Than Du decided to try to traverse the inner jungle by river with one of their fishing boats portaged to the new French settlement.   They soon became involved in a feud between the two diminutive tribes who guard the jungle,   the Tcho Loompa who celebrate the hedonistic sweetness of life through cannibalism and the Tcho Oompa who give sombre respect the bitter taste of death through cannibalism.   Despite being nearly boiled alive in a re-purposed Cathedral bell that seem to have been left behind by an Andorran conquistador their fearless professor was able to learn their tongue and negotiate safe passage in their lands.Below are the goods one can buy from both the Tcho Oompa and Tcho Loompa.  If an expedition only has safe access to one tribe, goods from the other tribe are five times as much as they are only available as war looting.Combat EquipmentBlowgun2 silverMedium (for size half),  Long Range, Minor, Ineffective, RangedDarts3 cp each,  1sp for quiverCopper Javelin20 silverMedium (for size half),  reach, throwing, piercingExploratory GearTwine5cp for 50ft1 dotHammock1 silver1 dotMagic Charm50 silver, ?d4 weeks1 dotSuppliesBushmeat1 cp a day1 dotAssorted Nuts1 sp for 2 days  (Tcho Oompa)1 dot Fresh Fruit1cp for 1 day (Tcho Loompa)2 dotsCocoa Beans10 sp (Tcho Oompa)Fruit Syrup5 sp (Tcho Loompa)Sacrificial Meat5 sp for 1 day  (?d4 weeks)1 dotAnimalsTiny Frog30sp  (?d6 weeks)[...]

Markets of the Ethonggobees


The Ethonnggobee Matriarchy is keeping an isolationist policy and is wary of those involved in external struggles.  Prices are based on the worst standing between locals and the colonial forces. Goods originating from a market you do not have access two are double the price.  If a market is destroyed, its goods will persist for ?d6 weeks.Combat EquipmentPike5 silverLarge, piercing, pole weapon.From: Devil's MountainThrowing Blade10 SilverSmall, slashing, exotic, throwing, versatileFrom: Devil's MountainSilver Tumi100 silveravailability: ?d4Small, slashing, exoticFrom: The Citadel of the Empress and Devil's MountainCrossbow5 silverMedium, missile, piercing, armour piercingFrom: The Citadel of the EmpressGuard helm15 silverHelmetFrom: The Citadel of the EmpressElite Mask120 silver?d4 weeksTurns a guard helm into a full helm with Ornamental tag.From: The Citadel of the EmpressLeather Plated Shield3 silverMedium Shield.From: The Outer VillageRoyal Mail150 silver?d4 weeksMail armour.From: The Citadel of the EmpressLong Bow30 silver (arrows for 1 silver each)Large, Piercing, Missile weapon.From: The Outer VillageWar Blade8 silverMedium, slashing, exoticFrom: The Citadel of the EmpressCotton Armour3 silverPartial Bulky Light ArmourFrom: The Outer VillageSuppliesBasket of Peanuts30 copper4 dots for 12 daysFrom: The Outer VillagePemmican Brick10 silver1 dots for 4 daysFrom: The Outer VillageCoffee Pouch5 copper1 dots for 10 days (no food value)From: The Citadel of the Empress[...]

Veins of the Earth


So Patrick Stuart (who wrote Deep Carbon Observatory) and Scrap Princess (Who did art for the Gem Prison of Zardax) have joined forces once again and produced a LotFP book.Its a good book, its the big black book that will be a major LotFP flagship for awhile.  As big fans of both of them, it took some effort not to promote their work immediately and join the din (Its a good book from a company with high production values so go for it though),  but I wanted to wait 6 weeks or so for the initial rush to die down and target a different group than those who love Scrap and Patrick's unique styles of art and writing (they collaborate frequently),  to reach out to those who don't run games in their style.You should really read their work BECAUSE it goes against the grain of your game.A little background of my own involvement with those two.I used to game with Scrap pretty frequently in the early days of ConstantCon,  we were both mainly in Reynaldo Madrinan's game.  This was great because Reynaldo didn't run a setting like any Scrap or I would create,  it added a real sense of wonder towards figuring it out and interacting with it.  He's also coming out with an RPG  called Break!! soon, I should also encourage you to look into that. In one post-game conversation Scrap and I mused about how opposite our aesthetics were.  A magic sword she placed in a game might be living crystal that is obviously magic.  I would put a wicker bassinet that had obviously magical effects.  A different style.  This means that I rarely end up writing something which her art would suit (and why I like the Gem Prison so much, it was a good excuse for me to collaborate with Scrap).Later I was reading Patrick's blog and loved his description of the Cave Giant. His blog was not full of things I would naturally add to my own games. He hadn't put out any adventures, and I thought that was a shame, because I knew he would write an adventure that would never naturally fit into my campaigns and that is a great thing.  So I put my meager money where my mouth was and commissioned him and scrap to write an adventure and put art to it, my main request being that it include the cave giant he had written up.  Note this wasn't me paying him to write one for me, it was still going to be their adventure, I just wanted to see him write one and scrap add art to it.  I also helped get Alex to provide some basic layout for it as my wallet allowed, but I was otherwise hands off.  I didn't want Patrick to write an adventure that I would want, I wanted him to write an adventure the way he wanted knowing it wouldn't fit in my campaigns.Then I forced it into a game I ran.It didn't fit, I had to spend like 3 hours trying to find internally consistent ways to link his work into my own world, creating new content out of thin air to make the the two great tastes of BBQ Pulled Pork and Caramel Sundae go together. It is a great mental exercise to get the creative juices flowing. That in and of itself is valuable,  but that isn't the end goal. I could use a random generator to get the same effect as that if a little less detailed.Where it really pays off is with the players.  If you GM with people for awhile they get to expect your natural inclinations for how adventures are structured.  How likely are statues to come alive, how likely are those skeletons on the walls to be undead, how are traps and puzzles likely to work.  When you can smoothly bridge into another GM's adventure that follows a radically different style it helps add back in a sense of wonder.  This is unfamiliar territory, this is something the players don't expect and it ratchets up tension a[...]

The Slums of New Tortuga - The land of Xan Than Du


Ships Available:Gunboat:Cost: 2000 silver.Availability:  ConstantSeaworthiness: 2Capacity: 500 dotsSloop:Cost: 15000 silver.Availability:  ?d4 weeksSeaworthiness: 4Capacity: 2000 dotsGalleon:Cost: 50000 silver.Availability:  1Seaworthiness: 6Capacity: 20000 dotsCombat EquipmentCutlass10 silver  medium, slashing, defensiveDucksfoot Pistol40 silverSmall, devastating, armour piercing, complicated, loud, burstBlunderbuss50 silver  medium, armour piercing, complicated, loud, burstGrenade10 silver.  Used as a power level 3 "blast" spell when thrown and lit. Goes off in ?d2 rounds.Swivel Gun750 silver.Demiculverin2500 silver.  ?d4 weeks.Sword of "Genies"Limit 1.  1500 silver. Rumoured to be haunted.Matchlocks and Pistols may also be purchased for the same prices as in Guam-Yaiv (though using Pirate Standing)SuppliesBarrel o' Grog4 dots. 4 silver. 12 days worth.Bottle of Rum10 silver. 1 dot.  Can be used by any character while at sea (regardless of origin).Fresh fish2 copper a day, 1 dot.Box of Hard Tack1 silver for 3 days. 1 dot.AnimalsSassy Parrot100 silver"Trained" Monkey50 silverTortoise20 silver.[...]

The road diverged... Two expeditions in Xan Than Du


The two rival expeditions took two sharply different turns.The online group agreed to escort a group of French and English catholic settlers across Kuvo territory to set up a new town.  The two leaders of the settlers were Victor (who was French) and Michael (who was from London).  They had the usual difficulties leading a trail of covered wagons, a crocodile ambush when their scouts went across a river,  swarms of bugs, that sort of thing.  They did encounter a Kuvo charioteer scouting but just tried to avoid it.Things began to go south.  Shortly after they encountered a light war party of Kuvo youths who began to threaten their passage with what locals consider a wardance. allowfullscreen="" class="YOUTUBE-iframe-video" data-thumbnail-src="" frameborder="0" height="266" src="" width="320">Using a combination of warning shots and theatrics they managed to scare off the war party.. who carefully continued to follow them just out of gunfire range.Then truly terrible luck befell them, which was amazing luck for me as a GM to figure out what the hell would occur.  One of the reasons I love seed tables is I have no idea how they will turn out.The party encountered Haille the Storm Queen, a Kuvo Demi-Goddess.A pun related problem is that Michael from London and Victor the French were Michael Landon and Victor French in a combination Little House on the Prairie/Highway to Heaven reference that is the exact type of stupid I like.   Michael was (unbeknownst to the party) an angel roaming the lands of Xan Than Du.  So he grabbed a hand plow from the back of one wagon and transformed it into a flaming sword.   Cue mass combat between The Storm Queen and her bodyguards (being backed by the previously encountered war party who reinforced them)  and the Party and an Angel swinging a flaming sword.The end result was the storm queen was killed by a PC bullet,  and with various daring do the party was (barring a few crippling injuries) able to escape with the settlers.  Poor Michael was disabled protecting a PC and had been dragged off by the Kuvo victors,  being taken to the "House of the Conquered Gods" deep in Kuvo territory.The other party went the opposite route and got involved in local politics.  They ended up picking a side between two feuding monasteries who wage a constant battle of philosophy and morality with a yearly martial arts duel. The party warrior diligently trained to assist in this tournament and then during the beginning of the tournament reminded them that he was a former British soldier and simply began shooting all of the opposing martial artists while the party thief was clandestinely robbing their own friendly monastery to plunder it of treasure.  All in the name of the Queen of course.The road diverged, but it ended back up in the same place.[...]

The Roots of Bitterness, a new adventure for NGR or OSR roleplaying games


So I am part of a boardgame kickstarter (Pioneers of Mars) , and its going to fund but I want to get more backers as they are a bit fewer than I would like...

To that end I going to do a very limited release of a small adventure titled "The Roots of Bitterness".  Its 20 pages of OSR/NGR goodness (as most of my releases) with art by Chris Huth.

I will not be releasing this PDF through Drive-Thru RPG.  The only way you will get a copy beyond future piracy is to back the kickstarter and send me an email.

There is a five canuck dollar backer level(~$3.75 US), so I hope to see those backer numbers rise.
(and yes, if you already backed you get a copy, just send me an email)

The Expedition to Xan Than Du: Bartering with the Kuvo Empire


Continuing with the expedition to Xan Than Du, the online group set out into the unknown to explore a pass through the northern mountains.  They wandered through the badlands, meandering through gulleys and avoiding  tumbleweeds. At one point they were attacked when some form of "reptilian ape" with hypnotic eyes attempted to drag off one of their expedition at night, but a solid round from a brown bess (and some repeated bayoneting) allowed them to overcome it.  They wandered south into the savanna encountered hardships,  contracting a  terrible fever from flies and nearly being trampled by a herd of stampeding water buffalo.Bedgraggled they stumbled upon a village/war camp of the Expansionist Kuvo Empire.   Their Interpreter managed to score access to the village through a combination of grovelling, warning of curses, and bribery with trade guns.  They now have access to the following market (prices are assumed to represent trading powder and trade guns between games, in game they only accept firearms and hard liquor):Kuvo Stockpiles   Combat GearHide Shield1 silver.  Large, Light Shield.Club2 copper. Medium, Blunt.Simple Sling5 copper.  Small, Blunt, Simple, Missile weapon.Lion Claw Noble's Sword100 silver, Medium, slashing, vicious, versatile. ?d12 weeks.Lion Pelt Noble's Armour250 silver.  Partial Ceremonial Light Armour and Matching Leather Cap. ?d12 weeks.ToolsChariot50 silver. ?d4 weeksSuppliesSack of Popped Popcorn6 dots. 3 copper for 10 days.AnimalsTrained War Quagga80 silver.  Will not allow being ridden.    [...]

Pioneers of Mars Kickstarter is now live


For the last two years and change I have been working on a boardgame and found a company to help produce it.   All the art is completed and I have a working prototype in arms reach as I type this.  But to get bulk pricing it has been put on Kickstarter to try and gain the help of backers.

I've mentioned Pioneers of Mars before so I won't bore you with repetition,   but if you are a fan of any of my work I would really appreciate your support in bringing this boardgame to life.

Thank you,

Click HERE

The land of Xan Than Du: A Pirate's Life


The rival expedition (online group) became the first to have to roll on the dreaded Shipwreck Table.

They took a break from robbing dirt grubbing tree worshipers to attempt a rescue of a shipwrecked "Privateer" sloop that had become beached along the shores of the Jungle of Snakes and was besieged by an angry tribe, at least according to the lone injured pirate who stumbled into the mission to seek their help.

The left with supplies and navigated through treacherous terrain to reach the shore, where scouting reported that the pirates were still alive, but unable to leave their ship to gather wood.  The party waited until nightfall and drove off the tribal sentries with a hail of gunfire before enacting a quick repair.  Surprisingly quick,  as if the blessings of the catholic missionary they brought with them aided their repairs.

With a loud hurrah they took their fairly seaworthy crafted and sailed back,  the only risk being a cut across open water.  What are the odds they would have three results of worsening weather on three rolls (1 in 64).   So anyway they rolled on the shipwreck table.

Roll 1d8, 1d6, 1d4

You washed ashore on:

1: Guam-Yaiv Bay
2: Van De Groot Bay
3: The Southern Wastes
4: Pirate Island
5: The Southern Jungle
6: The Reptile Jungle
7: Castaway Island
8: The Southern Cliffs (and likely your death)

Where you are found by:
1:  Fisherman
2:  Merchants
3: No one 
4: Pirates
5: Hunters
6: Carnivorous animals

Suffering from:
1: no major injuries 
2: dehydration causing d6 disease
3: a loss of d6 dots of equipment
4: d6 damage of grievous injuries 

1: You are rescued by the people of Zann-Thorr and returned to that city.
2: You are rescued by servants of the big game hunter Adriaan Van de Groot and brought to his estate
3: You are captured in the night by unknown assailants who lock you in a ships brig
4: You are not found by living pirates, but wash ashore to see their dead skulls on spikes. The volcanic rumbling or TERROR ISLAND sounds in the distance.

5: A swarm of escaped slaves drag you in bondage to a SECRET TEMPLE for nefarious purposes
6: You are plucked from the see by a giant TERRORDACTYL and brought to its nest

 You end up in the belly of a great white whale.

1-2-3 You had been saved by a helpful pod of dolphins who brought you to shore
2-3-4 You wash up with a fellow survivor of those storms. He thinks you saved him and becomes a henchman.
3-4-5  The surf , or perhaps those who found you, has uncovered a chest of pirate gold (500gp)
4-5-6:  Your actual location is the island of the Ghost Elephant

The Docks at Zann-Thorr


Ships available:

Fishing Boat:
Cost: 200 silver.
Availability:  Constant
Seaworthiness: 2
Capacity: 120 dots

Cost: 5000 silver.
Availability:  ?1d2
Seaworthiness: 3
Capacity: 500 dots

Cost: 20000 silver.
Availability:  ?1d6
Seaworthiness: 4
Capacity: 3000 dots


Local Anti-Ship Cannon
Cost: 1000 silver
Availability: ?d4
Weight: 100 dots

 Projectile:  10 silver,  8 dots.

The Continuing Adventures in the land of Xan Than Du


Our intrepid expedition has been cut off from one of their members who was last seen on the island of Mr DeGroot, big game hunter.   Unfortunately there is no safe route for them to rescue him as Dal-Ga the lion demon still patrols the land and the Ottoman Slavers still hold the old Andorran Fort on Pirate Island.So they purchased a fishing boat in Guam-yaiv and attempted to sail the rough seas there,  camping at night on the jungle peninsula where they had run ins with villages of escaped slaves and snake cults. They then island hopped from the isle of the ghost elephant, to tiger island where they picked up a shipwrecked British Citizen,  Hank Thompson.   Despite all their trials and tribulations they then set out on their final leg to Pirate Island,  a hop to an ominous volcanic island and then on to a stealth mission to Pirate Island to regain their lost treasure and gear.As their sailed to the island they saw a shipwrecked dhow from the city of Zann-Thorr, currently sealed off from outsiders and of uncertain allegiance to the French Colonial Government.  After some debate they stopped to help them build a raft to tow them to shore.  The handful of survivors warned them that this island ,  Terror Island, is cursed.  The party was undeterred and helped build the raft, completing it by sunset, but deciding they would wait until first light before attempting to sail.At first the volcano rumbled and strange flying shapes were seen in the sky.  The party was unafraid as the shipwrecked soldiers quivered.   Then came the drums and the sound of people moving through the jungle towards the shore.  The soldiers screamed the party was mad and should flee, the brave party scoffed as if British citizens (especially heavily armed ones) should flee.  They began trying to count torches in the jungle.  Round by round they rolled to see how many they could see so far.  10, 15, 25...still more, 35..uh oh,  45.. surely that is everyone?  Technically yes I said, there are 40 torches, but more than 5 large beasts moving as well.Moving past the tree-line were forty locals in two units.  10 front line soldiers with palm leaf shields, wooden animal helms, and bamboo torches.  Behind the front rank were 10 archers with glistening obsidian arrows.   Also present were 7 massive terror birds being ridden by warrior priests of in feather armour with bamboo lances.  As the soldiers fled with a few half-hearted pot shots and vehement urging for the party to do the same the PC's tried to hold their ground as the enemies tried to cross a few zones of open ground.  Despite their superior firepower,  a pair of mounted terror birds managed to make it into their midst and cause great havoc. They bought enough time for the wave of warriors to approach.  After losing two of their number (with a third on fire) the party raced to the shore and jumped into the sea and climbed onto their waiting fishing boat.They sailed away defeated under a hail of arrow fire, having lost some very expensive supplies. But their rescue of soldiers from Zann-thorr has given them an "in" to the city.As their main characters healed (this is an expedition based game), the parties second line characters decided to head out to find some treasure to loot/relics to bring back to (private) museums for proper care and study. They set out North to the cloud rainforests where they heart tale of a village besieged by panthers of demon[...]

Another look at the Pioneers Of Mars


So what type of game is Pioneers of Mars?

The short answer is its a 1-4 player competitive worker placement game with a focus on base building.

The longer answer is that it is a game of juggling limited resources and action spaces in your quest to conquer the martian surface and have the highest score when the game randomly ends.

The game lasts for 12-15 rounds (its random) in which players take turns placing workers on action spaces.  Each turn a new action space is revealed.  Control of these action spaces can give prestige (used to determine the winner),  life support to have more workers, an accumulation of resources, or the ability to construct your own personal martian base.

Constructing your martian base is done by depleting a shared pool of structures such as windmills, habitats, and hydroponic farms and paying the appropriate resources.  If one player builds all the windmills, there are none left for other players.  So it becomes a juggling act of accruing enough resources to build a larger base without allowing another player to gain a monopoly on key structures.

The larger your base,  the more options you may have over other players.

It will start to look something like this in play:

I'll be doing a series of posts about this game inter-spliced with my usual fare, so I won't go too far into the details in just the second post.

Pioneers of Mars : A Board game


Over the past few years I have been working on a secret project unrelated to my RPG work. I mean, its not unrelated unrelated.  Its not like I was designing a new type of wood stove or teaching cats how to knit.   It is still RPG Adjacent in that sense.Its a board game.Pretty snazzy title block eh?Its a Euro style board game about colonizing the red planet.  Its primary mechanics involve base creation and worker placement.  Players juggle the needs of power, resources, and life support as they fight for prestige to become the first leader of an independent Mars.You already know this is going to lead into an ask in some for of crowd sourcing plea..  but first lets go a little more into where we are.  In my local area I have been playing this game for a couple years, along with a few other groups of people, to play test the heck out of it and ensure it is a smooth machine.  Look at this glorious picture by Chris Huth.Its one of nearly a hundred different pieces we commissioned for the game.  This particular one showcasing the work of an engineer.  You are probably skeptical about the timeline of completing such a large amount of art for any future kickstarter.  That could be a recipe for unending delays.  Which is why before I said anything about the board game to my readers I made sure they were all completed.Here is another fine example from an action space ,  “The Survey”.Still, fancy art does not a functional product make.  You have to actually source all the bells and whistles and get an actual game assembled. Something that fits in a fancy box and can be handed as a complete package to a customer.   We had our prototype delivered just after Christmas last year.  After confirming everything we've just ordered a few promotional copies and expect them soon.Here is one of my favourite pieces, one of the Spaceports in the game:So if  we have long finished designing and testing the game, we have all of the art completed, we have sourced the components and have working copies,  why are we going to have a kickstarter?   Bulk. If we can guarantee enough copies we can lower the per unit cost to a more reasonable level and throw in some stretch goals.The kickstarter won't go live for another month or so,  we wanted some time to gauge support and do some of the boring business background type things required.  But when it does go online, I would like any of my readers who are fans of euro-style board games to consider backing it.  I have you have seen enough of my work to know I don't produce crap and I legitimately think this is a fantastic board game that will enter into your regular rotation.   I have been able to play it weekly for years without finding it stale.[...]

How I write an adventure part 2: The Longer Version


This is the second part of “How I write an adventure”. Part one might have been a little bit simplified, but it wasn't (just) a cheap joke.Those really are the two steps: Make a skeletal frame and write the rest of the fucking adventure.Step 1: Making a skeletal frameBased on the diagram previously this may seem like the simpler of the two steps. It isn't. This requires inspiration and vision. You sit down at a blank piece of paper and decided what is the point of your adventure. Why are you writing this down in an almost endless sea of adventures both published and not. What are you trying to do with it? Write down that purpose. Then add additional reasons until you start to get a useful framework to add content with (I like about 5 rules, usually between 3 and 7).Here are two examples:Dunnsmouth:It has to be a re-playable by the same group.It has to be quick to prep, no massive piles of tables.It has to involve uncertaintyIt can't be about the end of the worldIt can't be about death as the riskThulian Echoes:It has to replace a “GM info dump”It has to reward players to “play along”It has to lure players to want to keep exploring the siteIt can't be a railroadIt has to have things to tinker withFor each adventure I would use those skeletal rules, branching from spine to finger bone in importance, and use them to hang content from (or as a reason to prune unwanted content). Notice that each of the rules are about its use is in the context of a game. I don't have things as part of the frame like “Giant spider” or “Crazy wizard” or “Journey to the center of the earth”. Those are the content. The framework is the reason for the content. Dunnsmouth has (spoilers) spiders, and secret cultists, and infections not as the purpose for the adventure, but as content to hang on a skeletal framework of other ideas. The primary reason the adventure exists isn't to showcase the cool content but to be enjoyable to play as a game. The content supports the point of the adventure, not the other way around. Its all about interest and fun at the table.Step 2: Write the rest of the fucking adventureNow that you have a reason for the adventure, dig through your notebooks and past and future campaign material for big chunks that will help you support those ideas. Rip out big chunks of meat and slap them on the framework, always making sure it doesn't violate any rules unless it somehow greatly improves a more important bone. For Thulian Echoes there is a little bit of railroad in regards to the past adventurers in that they always die, but that is acceptable because it greatly supports bone 2 in that it is used to get players to “play along”. Also if I go through my “portfolio” of past gaming material I can ensure that I only rip out the hunks that work at the table to staple into my frankenventure.Then I smooth all those hunks of flesh into an “I can't believe its not human!” pile.At that point, it is time to run through a playest and see what gaps you need to fill with more content. Start stitching up that pile of adventure cadavers until things stop sliding off. Cut anything that turned out to be rotten and replace it with new content appropriate to the rest of the form.Run another playtest to be sure, repeating the process.Now its beginning to seem more slick.You know what, maybe too slick. Add some fucked up shit and run through another playtest.There we go. No[...]

How I write an adventure pt 1: The short version


I have seen a couple really good posts detailing the process of writing an adventure for publishing from people I enjoy reading  (here and here).

This made me decide that I should hop on the bandwagon and detail my process.  This will be broken into two posts.  The first is an abridged version, the second a longer more in depth explanation with examples.

The important thing to remember is that writing an adventure for publishing is a lot like drawing an owl:
Step 1:  Flesh out a rough skeletal frame.
Step 2: Write the rest of the fucking adventure.