Saturday, 13 October 2018

OSR Guide for the Perplexed Questionnaire

This OSR Guide for the Perplexed Questionnaire is making the rounds through the blogosphere. Like many of the participants, the imminent demise of Google+ has me thinking I need to blog more regularly so I'll take the writing prompt.

The OSR (Old School Renaissance) is a big tent so it should be interesting to see how everyone answers these questions.

Jez Gordon art from Scenic Dunnsmouth


OSR Guide For The Perplexed Questionnaire 

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:


There are a lot of these to choose from, but the one I find most useful is Jeff Rients' 20 questions for your campaign. It's useful because they are good bits of information to have settled before you start play, but it's what it says about how the game is played that makes it my favourite. 

The answers to these 20 questions about the campaign world for a foundation for the campaign. What is known is these things and the area around wherever the player characters start. That's it. The rest of the map is dark, like Schrodinger's Campaign Setting. It both exists and doesn't exist until the player characters go there. Everything is merely rumour until it is explored.

What's wonderful about that way of playing is the campaign is shaped as much by the players as the referee running it. They choose where they go and the way they play will influence changes in the world and inspire the referee as they create the world ahead of them.


2. My favourite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark:

I need to fall back on the foundation wisdom of Rulings Not Rules. OSR systems tend to be tight frameworks of guidelines for play that gives the referee what they need to make consistent rulings on what is possible and how it can be attempted. Playing this way means the game is influenced by the expectations and playstyles of the people at the table. It will grow as the group plays and become a better game for them over time. It also allows for faster, better play, as nothing breaks immersion like stopping to look up a rule in a 300 page book.

3. Best OSR module/supplement:

I think the best OSR module is Scenic Dunnsmouth. It is a toolkit for creating an adventure in a village corrupted by a cult, but it generates a different village each time so the referee while always find new surprises and elements to play out for the player characters to interact with. The core elements that don't change are great and my players have been blown away by it. It's also a great resource for new referee's who want to see how to generate a town with a quick table.

The best OSR supplement is probably the Vornhiem City Kit. The tables in there make running a city easier and it has good ideas I never would have created. I use it for running big cities on the fly and grab good stuff from it to use elsewhere.

4. My favourite house rule (by someone else):

This might sound dull to some, but I love Luka Rejec's rules for expedition/caravan scale encumbrance. The simplification of what supplies can be carried by a group and the consumables required to keep them going raises the stakes on every part of overland travel into the unknown. If you want to know more you can check out my review of the Ultra Violet Grasslands or go get it from this link.

5. How I found out about the OSR:

While I was a bit late to the party, it was long enough ago I'm not certain. There were two things I remember. My wife got me the 4e D&D starter boxed set as a present. The cover of that release was a callback to the old Red Box basic set that I had started with so I was excited to see a D&D product aimed at me. It was a profound disappointment. That disappointment fuelled a search for something that was actually for me. I found the Grindhouse  Lamentations of the Flame Princess boxed set and I was in! Around the same time I was listening to science fiction and fantasy podcasts and one of them mentioned the I Hit It With My Axe actual play videos. I eventually checked it out on a whim and that led me to Zak S' Playing D&D with Pornstars blog. From his blog roll and my search for LotFP, I found the OSR blogosphere.

6. My favourite OSR online resource/toy:

My favourite thing about the OSR is the vast amount of content and tools that are available. If I need a table for corruption/mutation I can find it. If I need some advice on sea travel encounters I can find it. So I'd say a google search of the vast materials available is my favourite online resource.

That's right. My answer is ALL OF THE THINGS!

7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:

The best place to talk to other OSR gamers is still probably G+. A lot of people have moved to MeWe and the blogs seem to be experiencing a surge of engagement again so I'm not sure how it will go in the near future.

Cons are probably a better place, but living in the North means getting to Cons to meet people in meatspace is not something I can do right now.

8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games:


I talk about games on here on my blog, Facebook, and I'm giving MeWe a try. It looks like I'll need to get onto reddit, tumbler and a few other platforms to keep track of everyone though.

9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:

Because the OSR focusses on player skill, creativity and flexible rules-light systems everyone is doing something different with the same core framework. That means it's easy to inject something new, surprising or wondrous into your game by borrowing and adapting ideas developed by others in their games.

Because everyone moves forward from the same place there are all kinds of options for different types of play and genres that are compatible. That means everyone has access to an incredible amount of material for their games.

10. My favourite non-OSR RPG:

My favourite non-OSR RPG is kind of on the border since it has a similar aesthetic to the OSR games, while using a different system.

Classic Traveller is a tight game that does science fiction well. It has everything needed in a handful of booklets that can provide years of campaign play. It needs a few house rules, like any other game of its age, but at its core is a useable game as written.

11. Why I like OSR stuff:

I think I answered this one. The OSR has incredible variety! I can adapt any of it into my game or draw on it to inspire my own new ideas. The more we have the further we can go!

12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:

One thing I haven't mentioned about the OSR that makes it really work for me is how going back to the beginning has people moving away from the default medieval fantasy that has gained traction in the mainstream. What seems to be a common ground for the products and material coming out of the OSR is a strong undercurrent of cosmic horror. The other, the weird and the horrific often feature in adventures, settings and so on. This lean more toward Lovecraft/Howard and away from Tolkien is only pushed farther by the mix and match mentality and creative competition to create something new that people can dig into while playing.

The other thing is how going back to examine the original rules as well as the original source material and assumptions the games and adventures were based on has freed up creators to move in a direction away from default tolkienesque fantasy. We get sword, sorcery and superscience again. We get post apocalyptic settings like Vance's Dying Earth where magic is the fragmented remnants of a lost age's technology that is misunderstood and dangerous instead of the dependable resource it has become. This shift in assumptions also means we get sandbox play where the stories are smaller, more immediate threats with personal stakes instead of railroad adventures to save the whole world. That means play is focussed on lower levels where death continues to be a serious threat and a party can be wiped out by a poor decision at any time. With failure a real possibility success becomes that much sweeter.

13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be:

Considering what I've written above this question doesn't make a lot of sense. If I had to pick one, I would read Kiel Chenier's Dungeons and Donuts Tumblr/Blog. Kiel has great ideas and is always excited. Their basic take on game design is different from mine and I value that.

14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is:

I like my streamlined fantasy game I designed specifically as an introductory RPG under the working title, Realms of Wonder. I'm playtesting it right now and it is going great! It's class and level so it will take some time to see how well it works over a campaign but I am excited about how easy it is to use at the table with low prep so far.

Another thing I made that I really like is a system using a 3d6 curve to determine progressive levels of success and failure. I called it the 3D System. It works well and is OSR compatible. I have plans for that too.

15. I'm currently running/playing:


I'm currently running my Realms of Wonder playtest rules for a couple of face-to-face groups. One is in a totally homebrew setting, the other is using Keep on the Borderlands in the old Known World/Mystara setting.

I'm playing in a Fate Accelerated espionage campaign set in Las Vegas inspired by the old Prisoner TV show. That is wrapping up so we are looking at using Into the Odd with some modifications to play a modern Urban Fantasy campaign.

I'm occasionally playing in a 5e D&D game as well, but it may have stalled for life reasons.

16. I don't care whether you use ascending or descending AC because:

It does not affect me. It's all good.

17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice:


Good old Dave Trampier art!

If you want to see what others are saying, there is a list of links at this DIYRPG forum post.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Review: Troika

I received a PDF of the "Troika! RPG" in one of the charity bundles I supported. Sadly, I don't even know which one. I didn't pay much attention to it at the time but the kickstarter has a bunch of people talking about the game in glowing terms again so I decided to see what the fuss was all about. Overall I was impressed and wished I'd looked at it sooner!

Daniel Sell and Jeremy Duncan created Troika and publish it under the Melsonian Arts Council.

It gives you a lot to work with in only 50 pages, but feels incomplete. It may not be an issue going forward because the new edition is projected to be nearly twice the page count and will come with a series of supporting chapbooks. Still, it's worth mentioning because I'm not sure if the brevity is a feature or a bug.

I like that the setting is baked into the rules. All of the character classes, called backgrounds here, are full of implicit setting information. The skills, the spells, and the handful of monsters, give you a strong sense of the setting. The way this is executed is great! These brief references to the world(s?) of Troika are an evocative way to root the different game elements to the setting without clogging up the game with pages of text. The problem is there is no other reference to the setting in the book. It's only implied, never described. For veteran gamers this setup is not a problem. The game master will simply run the version of the setting that blew up in their mind as they read the rules. Every group would be playing in their own unique version of Troika. I like this idea, but the game is billed as a good beginner role playing game. While the rules are easy, I think people new to RPGs would be a bit confused about what they should be doing and what is supposed to be going on in Troika.

The setting, as far as I can tell, is amazing and full of wonder. It takes place in a series crystalline spheres that hang in a "humpbacked sky" and serve as the stars for each other. It's possible to move between them on golden barges powered by mirrored sails. It also appears to be possible to fall out of one and land in another. Goblins seem to be able to connect underground labyrinths from one sphere to another. In these ways people and cultures from the different spheres mix with each other and adventurers have the option to get into all kinds of new brands of trouble. If things get stale in a long campaign the party need only move to another sphere to get a fresh start or new experience!

Troika is science fantasy, with a mix of swords, energy weapons, and magic. Personally I love the science fantasy, sword and planetesque style RPG setting. If you want a more pure fantasy game, the science fiction elements of Troika could be scrubbed out without much trouble. Certainly a lot easier than the old Star Wars RPG.

The rules are based on an RPG that grew out of series of solo adventure books. Both were called "Fighting Fantasy" and were apparently quite popular in the UK in the 1980s. Living in Canada, I never saw either and I don't remember any ads for them.

The system uses regular six-sided dice for everything but manages them to get a wide variety of results. The core of the system is 2d6 + base skill + advanced skill vs opponent or 2d6 to roll target number or under of the total skill (base skill + advanced skill). So if your character is using a hammer to fight an enemy you roll 2d6 add your skill and any skill you have in hammers and hope you get more than the GM does with 2d6 plus the enemy's skill. If your character is climbing a cliff, you need to roll 2d6 and get the total of your base skill and climb skill or less to succeed. Advanced skills are attached to specific things like climbing, etiquette, specific spells, and swords. I found it easy to grasp and good for all kinds of situations. The roll high sometimes, roll low others I find a bit irritating but it's hardly the first game I've played that switches back and forth.

A sample page from the character generation section with two backgrounds.

The book opens on character generation which is fast, random, and wild. I like character generation at the front of an RPG rule book, since it is the portion used the most. The system allows you to produce a character in a few minutes. There are no classes, but there are 36 backgrounds rolled for using d66 (11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, ... 65, 66). Because there is no class and level advancement these backgrounds are starting places for each player's character. The character improves the skills they use and learn new ones they spend time and effort on. With so many different starting places and no clear path forward, playing each character should be a unique experience.

The game only has three stats: skill, stamina and luck. Usually a game with so few stats ends up with little to differentiate the different characters from each other. In this case, Troika avoids that fate by having a long list of specific "advanced skills" that create the detail and flavour of each player character. It might be more accurate to say this game has one stat and two resources. The base skill is the raw talent the character can apply to any action and augment with a relevant skill if they have it. The stamina is the character's total effort that they use to take lumps and keep going or fuel their spells. It's recovered pretty quickly for an old school game. It is fairly close to 5e D&D's hit points in that respect. The character's luck is another resource they can spend to tip the balance in certain situations or as a saving throw. It's by no means certain, it is luck after all, but it can run out.

One thing I noticed with the advanced skills is there are none for social situations outside of etiquette. I'm guessing this comes from the creators relying on player skill and roleplay for situations that would call for a deception or insight roll in another system. Although the rules specifically invite the invention of more advanced skills, so it;s easy to adjust it to your play style.

The cover image from the game's first print run.

The backgrounds are summed up in a few paragraphs including starting equipment, skills, any special rules that apply and a brief description. The variety of backgrounds include some of the usual suspects with a handful of warriors, priests, and wizards each with a flavourful spin of its own. They also have odd things like a lost king from another sphere who no one has heard of. It turns our a king without a kingdom is just a random person in a crown with a high etiquette skill. The dwarves in Troika are not born, they are made by other dwarves. Each dwarf is an artistic achievement, except the poorly made dwarf character. To other creatures they look like an ordinary dwarf, but other dwarves either ignore them or have a discussion about their flaws and draw on them to emphasize the points made. There is definitely something for everyone in the list. A party randomly rolled of such options would be a motley crew and makes me think of the groups of characters found in Terry Prachett's Discworld.

The encumbrance system is streamlined and easy to use, but has a clever innovation for finding equipment in a hurry. Your character has 12 slots of carrying capacity before they become encumbered. Some items take multiple slots and others, like arrows, can be packed into one. Any time your character tries to grab an item you have stowed like a potion, or a crossbow bolt, you need to roll its position or higher on the list with 2d6. Otherwise they must stop and rummage through their belongings to find it. This set up means players need to "pack carefully" to keep the important stuff, like weapons and ammunition, within easy reach. It's a fun quirk and adds a sense of urgency and suspense to changing weapons or getting a rarely needed item.

The other big innovation is the initiative system. Players each put two tokens in a bag for their character while the game master puts in the appropriate number for the enemies' initiative and the end of round token. Tokens are pulled one at a time to determine the order in which each character or creature in the conflict acts. The bag is refilled and a new round starts when the end of round token is pulled, so it is possible some wont act in a given round while others act multiple times. This makes combat a completely chaotic mess where opportunities are taken as they come and sometimes you get caught flat footed! I love the idea of this system even though I'd need to dig out my poker chips or find something else to make it work.


For me, the section that could use the most expanding is the enemies section. The monsters are fantastic! The dragons are wonderful beings of light and thought, the manticores are brilliant bookworms living in splendor. Each monster entry only takes a few paragraphs and includes a d6 table of creature moods when they are met to keep the encounters unpredictable.

My favourite monster is the parchment witch. This is a long dead sorcerer that covers their bones and rotting sinew with leather, parchment, paper or vellum to hide their true nature. Their thin disguises are vulnerable to water and fire which can make things awkward. They can also wear someone's skin for about a week before it starts to rot and becomes useless. This one is so messed up and it doubles as one of the background options! The parchment witch is only part of the picture though. Some of the monsters are rooted in comedy, like the road knight that appears to be a reference to the black knight of Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail.

The magic system has a simple skill roll and stamina cost to keep spell casters in check. It also has an "Oops!" table for when the player rolls box cars. This system means magic is a bit unpredictable and dangerous without making the casters a constant danger to themselves and everyone around them. The spells themselves have enough variety and are flexible enough to be used in a wide variety of circumstances. This section is probably the most complete in the book.

The equipment section is brief, but doesn't appear to need anything more than it has. One thing I like is how the damage for different weapons is on a d6 table. Rolling a 1 on the d6 does dramatically different damage when the character is using a polearm than it does when they are using a knife. The weapons are defined by their damage spread and how they punch through armour. The armour is a simple damage reduction.


The art is consistent and good. It fits the contradictory elements of comedy, grittiness, and the strange captured by the text.

From a GM's point of view, this game is easy to run on the fly with heavy improv but doesn't need to be run that way for it to work. The stat blocks for monsters are skill/stamina/initiative so everything is there at a glance. The damage tables are in the back of the book so they are easily referenced. I will definitely run this game the first chance I get!

I like that it's not another in a long line of similar games with a twist. Like the d20 retro clones, the Fate games and the powered by the apocalypse games that are becoming legion. By using lesser known system as a jumping off point their game is all twist! Troika is different in a way I respond to. It reaches for the wonder found in the best science fantasy art and I think it's a good tool for a group to get there.

Like my review of The Black Hack, this one is a bit late. I think the reason is the same though. Both games have terrible names that don't inspire me. I thought Troika had something to do with eastern European legends, which I'm not overly interested in. The fact that it hits my sweet spot for crazy science fantasy with a magnificent mixture of awe, darkness and silly, is not referenced in the name. I asked Daniel Sell about the name and he said it was combination of it being the name of the tri-city that was the main population centre of the setting (something not in the book), a reference to the three stats, and something that sounded funny. I can't argue with that logic.

If you are looking for a tight, rules-light science fantasy game with a wide open setting, check out the kickstarter for the Numinous edition of Troika they are running now. It's already funded and the stretch goals will add to the supplementary setting and adventure material that this new version will have to expand what is at its core a solid game. So solid that I think we may see some Troika clones next year.


Have a crazy character sheet I found online.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Review: UVG - the Ultraviolet Grasslands and the Black City

With all the awesome things released this year it blows my mind that one I will use first is both free and, according to its author, incomplete.

Luka Rejec released an introductory version of the "Ultraviolet Grasslands and the Black City" last week. It's a 78 page point crawl with only one location fleshed out. According to Luka's Patreon, the complete version will be released in August of this year. While I'm looking forward to it, this teaser version has plenty to offer.

The cover by Luka Rejec


At long last, WONDER!

I downloaded UVG for the artwork. Luka's work has a way of expressing a great deal of detail and movement with a few simple lines. It reminds of the work of Jean Giraud, A.K.A. Moebius, while showing me something new and original. His work carries a sense of wonder and the fantastic while not settling in any particular genre. I am a fan.

"The Rusty Arc" by Luka Rejec

The Ultraviolet Grasslands leans into this same aesthetic. Luka is is upfront about the influence of the Dying Earth and psychedelic heavy metal on the setting/adventure. The sense of an ancient world, full of sorcery and super-science haunted by the, "long ago," is carried through the adventure's descriptions of the rotting technological remains, strange locations and local inhabitants. 

The new creatures and cultures introduced by the book add to the strangeness with a light touch. Each group, from humans to para-humans, has a brief description and then a table of rumours you can build your campaign's version of them from. Randomly generating the true and false features of these para-humans helps preserve that sense of uncertainty in the unknown and doubles down on the exploration theme of a fantasy RPG. It reminds me a bit of how Traveller's 76 Patrons was set up with a single premise or set of characters with multiple details on a table under each. It allows for the whole thing to be used more than once and be surprising for both the referee and the players.

UVG captures the wonder that the small press RPG community seems to be reaching for recently. It is exactly what I've been looking for. Judging by the sudden addition of Patreons since last week's release, I'm not alone.

"Tower and Hill" by Luka Rejec


Innovation!

It seems like almost every notable small press RPG release from the DIY D&D and OSR communities has some sort of game-changing innovation. UVG certainly delivers in this area. Luka created some new rules for travel which simplify encumbrance and travel while still making them work in a new way. His ambition was to convey both the vast size of the adventure area and the danger of travel through his weird savanna. I'll know for sure once I incorporate it into my regular game, but from reading it, I'd say he succeeds. Besides that success, he also creates a rules-light system for speculative trade that reminds me of Classic Traveller. The simplicity of Luka's system gives the players real choices about how much cargo to carry versus supplies, how large to make their caravan, and even what form of transport and retainers to use. All of these choices have an impact on the speed of travel, potential for encounters and even the likelihood of starving to death. Things like caravan speed and visibility also change the chances of starving and having an encounter.

Hacking up Treasure for UVG - Luka Rejec

I like the switch from days as a unit of time for travel to weeks. It helps to create the sense of isolation in the wilderness when there is only one encounter rolled per week. The party is on its own so they better have what they need. 

Because space and weight are issues that can kill a party, treasure can't always be hauled away with ease. Because of this feature, there are rules for hacking up the treasure for the best bits. This form of looting does terrible damage to these finds, turning the party into vandals, but it allows them to make choices about how they want to deal with large pieces of treasure.

While the UVG is a sandbox filled with all kinds of creatures and points of interest, the distance is the biggest enemy that needs to be faced. I enjoy this feeling of the vast openness as an opponent and can do a lot with it. It certainly marks this adventure as something special and reminds me a bit of how the darkness is handled in Veins of the Earth.

I like how once there is trouble, or something to explore, we return to shorter time units, from days for starvation, down to seconds for combat. It's a way of narrowing the focus and placing the players into the context of the current size of the environment they are interacting with. I'm looking forward to saying things like: "Four days into the second week you see movement on the horizon..."

Luka Rejec's Caravan Record Sheet for UVG makes tracking the new important bits easier!


How does it work?

Luka describes it as a rules-light, RPG point crawl and it is that, but it is clearly set up with some version of 5th edition D&D in mind. The saves reference the six classic statistics. Also the rolls for success use a roll high verses a ladder of target numbers. 

I tend to run a heavily modified hack of the Black Hack so the stat-based saves fit in fine, but the progressive target numbers are a bit harder to work with if you aren't using a skill system. The easiest thing seems to be dividing the stat by three and adding it to the d20 roll, but the most accurate might be to compare how much the check against a stat is made or missed by to the target number ladder. Someone using LotFP might want to multiply skill pips by two and add that amount to the d20 roll.

Despite the few 5e-isms built into the system most things are designed for cross compatibility. Encumbrance and movement rates are simplified when translated into a weekly turn system. All prices are in "cash" so it doesn't matter if you are using a gold piece, silver piece, or tic-tac as the main currency. All the creature and transport descriptions are expressed in terms of hit dice so they will work with any of the D&D editions or clones with minimal work. The weird weapons and items work with minimal conversion as well. 

Another Point of Interest in UVG - Luka Rejec

Basically the innovations are rules light and completely compatible with any system, while the details like weird weapons and armour are mostly expressed in terms of the 5e D&D rules with ascending AC for the armours and weapon terms such as, "finesse," and, "versatile." Any DM/referee using a stripped down "O5R" style rules will not need to convert anything. For the rest, it can be converted or ignored as usual.

The point crawl itself has a series of destinations arranged on the map with the different routes between them marked in how many weeks it usually takes to travel them. There are also spots for placing or generating, "points of interest," near the destinations or off the routes that the party might want to spend some time investigating. These points of interest are investigated in days instead of weeks. There is one sample, but no random generator for the points of interest. You'll need to create those on your own. I expect the full version will have more.

In this introductory version of the UVG, only the first destination, the Violet City is fleshed out. The rest are given a paragraph of description that is enough for anyone looking for inspiration, but leaves a lot of work for the referee to detail. The other locations are available to Luka's Patreon contributors up to #22, The Cage Run, but more are being added all the time. I like it as is. The paragraphs give me enough to work with that I can add details on the fly or make a few tables to generate some points of interest. I might even cannibalize LotFP's Carcosa for some points of interest and other terrors left over from the, "long ago." 

Point of interest from the "Long Ago" - Luka Rejec


UVG! What is it good for?

The sandbox can be used whole hog as described in the adventure and there are plenty of hooks to entice a wide variety of players to enter the Ultraviolet Grasslands. That's my plan.

The rules for hacking up parts of treasure for encumbrance reasons are going to be part of my campaign from the next session onward! 

UVG's rules for overland travel through what is essentially a desert are great! I'll be rolling those into my normal game for long distance travel. The simplicity and presentation of important choices to the players are the perfect tool for me. I may make some modifications for water-based travel so I can keep everything consistent. A new obstacles table is the first thing to create, but the UVG one is a great model!

The rules for trade and even market research could be used in a seafaring campaign or other trade-based adventure. If you spent a long time creating a vast world full of vibrant detail, or you spent a lot of money on supplements of the same, the trade and travel system might be a way to get the party moving around the map so you can use more of it. 

The Para-humans of the different factions in the UVG can easily be lifted and dropped into any fantasy world. There's no reason why the Cat Lords or Porcelain Princes can't be secretly be in charge of Vornhiem, Calimport, Lankhmar, or any home brewed city. 

The art is fantastic and could inspire a kick-ass campaign on its own! Knowing that the art would be awesome is a big part of why I took the time to check this intro UVG out! Without it, I might have waited for the finished product.

Final Thoughts

For a teaser product, the intro version of the Ultraviolet Grasslands is surprisingly complete and usable. The table of contents makes it easy to find specific information. The layout is clean. There are caravan tracking sheets that are well designed to be compatible with the system for the sandbox setting. The point crawl map is made to be printed, written on and used at the table. It is designed to be a tool and I can see it working well for me. The tables for obstacles and bad happenstances are nice details as well. The example of the Violet City is a fine template for fleshing out the other destinations. For a free product, I could not ask for more. It's more than a lot of referees will ever need to run a long campaign. 

It's barely referenced, but elves appear to be an affliction in Luka's campaign that infects the half-elves and turns them into tree-hugging monsters. I have my own horrific version of elves, but I'd love to know more about these ones!

I'd love a little more information about the purple mist. I may have missed it, but other than its change to the sunrise I'm not sure what it does. 

Did I mention the art? The art is great! I printed it out as an A5 booklet in black & white and it all looks great! The muted colours in the PDF set a wonderful tone and help create the feel of the sandbox setting for the adventure.

Even though I'll be incorporating the intro version of UVG into my campaign as a location as soon as I can, I'll definitely pick up the full version once it's available. Hopefully there will be a print version of some kind. Luka's ideas are different enough from mine to add a lot to my game, but still close enough I can use his work with almost no changes. I can just drop the Ultraviolet Grasslands onto the western edge of the map and start giving my players hints and hooks.

There are plenty of NPCs in UVG!


How to get UVG and more from Luka!

If I've peaked your curiousity, there are a few places to go for more: 

You can find the intro version for the PDF on Drive Thru RPG here. I printed it out as a half-letter sized booklet on a laser printer and it works great at that size. I'm torn on my expectations for the size of the final product. I am hoping the final product is A5 for the ease of use at the table, but I also want it to be A4 so the art is bigger!

There's more information on Luka Rejec's Patreon. You can get access to more detailed descriptions of the destinations by contributing as little as a dollar to the patreon. I expect I'll be sign up myself, now that the review is done.

If you are interested in seeing more of Luka's work, his website for his art and writing is here. He has a "rough portfolio" of art here. His art is also featured on his twitter here, and on his Instagram here.



Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Ecology of My Goblins or, How to Make Goblins Fun!

An article about how boring goblins are from Kotaku is making the rounds right now and it is clear that the author is missing the opportunity presented by goblins as a monster in an RPG.

They define goblins as stupid automations "produced in a factory" for the sole purpose of a fighting encounter as though they were a video game creature identical to the ones behind them and never leaving their spawn area.

Taunting Goblins by Thorston Erdt AKA Shockowaffel
Goblins have never been brave or even terribly capable fighters, but they have always been sneaky fighters. The author says they aren't "tricksy" or use traps, but even in the old modules goblins would use traps, raise alarms and run for help so they could overrun the party.

The biggest breakdown is in their suggestions on how to make goblins more interesting. One suggestion was an ambush failure because of a lover's quarrel in the goblin ranks. They suggest revealing cultural elements during encounters to make the goblins more sympathetic to the players. This direction is a missed opportunity to introduce the other and make goblins alien to the players.

I'm all for creating villains the party can relate to, but instead of humanizing monsters, why not use humans? Humans can be on the fringes of civilization even more easily than goblins. It makes sense for them to have stockpiles of currency as treasure and they start as relatable so you don't need to build a bridge to them with contrived situations. You can have lawless bandits that are causing trouble for the townsfolk. You can have a resistance group fighting the lawful, yet tyrannical local lord. You can have a chaotic cannibal cult terrorizing the area. You can have camp of refugees from a disaster in another kingdom that has taken to raiding local farms to survive. In all cases the party is dealing with humans who are evil from the point of view of the local population. They can employ whatever solution they want and easily justify it. If they go with combat they still have the problem of what to do with the children. Are the cannibal kids redeemable by society or is it more merciful to kill them? Does the party need to worry about survivors developing into recurring villains? If those are the things you want to deal with in your game, don't go half-way. Use humans.

As for goblins, I use them as scavengers and upcyclers that are close to civilization so they can raid and steal what they need to make things better for their nests. They repurpose all kinds of stuff into ramshackle contraptions that are dangerous and sometimes comical. This use they have for the player characters' society explains why goblins are often the first creature encountered by adventurers as they begin to push into the frontiers.

Goblins by Llaaii
I organize goblins into nests rather than tribes. The hive-like organization explains why so few of them have any ambition for individual achievement (in that they don't take class levels despite being close enough to society to get the resources they need to do so). The rulebooks (in whatever edition) usually have the goblins ruled by a chief with higher hit dice. I give them a queen, whose hit dice come from her immense size. She rules the nest populated almost entirely by her children. The rest include her honour guard consisting of her sisters and her mates. Her bloated form towers above them all as she is at least as tall as a hobgoblin and massive enough to lay the huge eggs.

Goblins in my world are hatched fully grown. They have a certain amount of genetic knowledge passed to them that allows new goblins to start contributing to the nest without wasting resources on developing them. I describe goblin rookeries as something out of one of H. R. Giger's nightmares.

Alien Landscape by H. R. Giger
This lack of childhood and hive organization make goblins different from humans. They are alien in outlook and motivation. They caper with delight as they take pleasure in the sadistic sport of an ambush. They are selfish and cowardly while still putting little value on individual lives. 

They make great opportunists, working with other pack and swarming creatures like wolves, rats and stirges. I love the look on my players' faces when they realize the goblins ambushing them with nets and bows also released stirges to attack.

Goblins need to be sneaky gits to cause the party major grief, but players can also underestimate them because of that. My favourite goblin trap was a shabby wooden construction in the outer entrance to the nest. The party could hear the rats squeaking and scratching in the wooden walls and ceiling but thought nothing of it. Their low opinion of the goblins also caused them to ignore the unstable construction. That made it a surprise when stepping in the wrong place caused the ceiling to fall in and drop a swarm of rats on top of them. The noise brought the guards who raise the alarm and took pot shots at the party while they scrambled and fought their way out of the wreckage. They decided to retreat and come back with a plan.

If you are wondering about hobgoblins, I run them as larger, more martial versions of their smaller cousins and their queens are the size of an ogre! They are organized as warrior cooperatives that value the damage they can do as a group to expand the holdings of the nest. Combat is not a forgone conclusion though. I had a party played by kids find a back door into a hobgoblin nest, kill the queen and then bluff some other hobgoblins into believing they had bought some of the prisoners so they could get directions to where they were held. (B2 Keep on the Borderlands is the gift that keeps on giving!) 

Goblins, like everything else in D&D, are an opportunity to spin your game into something your group will love to play in. Monsters are a place to build your world into something fantastic and different. The darkness surrounding the light of civilization can define the world as much as points of light found in the towns and cities. A great example of that brand of storytelling in the 5e D&D Monster Manual is the aboleth. Although the best example of world building through monsters I know of is the system neutral monster book Fire on the Velvet Horizon. All monsters allow you to double down on the strange and wondrous elements of your fantasy world. Don't skip the goblins because of their low hit die!

What it comes down to is there are as many ways to use goblins as their are DMs. There is no wrong way. If you are happy with goblins as a twisted mockery of humanity that needs to be cut down like the vermin they are in the search for gold and XP, great! If you want them to have a complex society with speech patterns that confuse and confound your players during negotiations and interrogations, great! If you want to give my spin on the goblin a whirl, great! Goblin encounters are what you make of them as a group. Enjoy it!



Sunday, 7 January 2018

Running 5e D&D for Newbs!

I ran a game last night for a group of people new to tabletop RPGs because one of their kids got 5e for Christmas and they asked me to show them how it's done. One of the dads was also dying to play Since his older brother enjoyed it so much when they were kids.

Character generation was SLOW with so many new people and only two Players Handbooks. My girls are experienced old-school gamers but had never played 5e so even they needed to be walked through it. I was glad my eldest had decided to roll hers up ahead of time so she could help the boys with their characters.



The game itself went well! I had a few plot hooks laid out on the rumour table for after the party got into town. They spread some gold around the tavern and talked to the locals until they got an idea of what was nearby and decided to tackle an old-school dungeon crawl a couple of days from the town.

Not all of the parents were playing. At one point one asks: "So you're grave robbers now?"

The table answers: "No, were saving this stuff from the goblins!"


My daughters adjusted well to the new system. They used their heads well and got everyone thinking outside of the box and how to work as a team.

Darkvision came into play in an interesting way. They knew the goblins had it and were afraid of alerting them with their light so they had the stealthy gnome rogue scout ahead so they could avoid stumbling into ambushes.

They played it smart pretty much the whole time. They were cautious and avoided traps. They played their fights out with sound tactics and busted out spells and spell like abilities at good times. They also found the secret door with player skill rather than rolling dice.

They talked about how much fun they had had after the game and the little guy who got D&D for Christmas talked his parents' ears off the whole way home and then some.

For me it was a tonne of fun helping some more people into the hobby and satisfying to have my tomb/dungeon cleared out in a single session. These intro games are a blast and always surprising!