Sunday, 21 October 2018

Journeys within Games and Best Left Buried

TL;DR: Best Left Buried is a horror-fantasy game that tracks a dungeoneering party’s descent from fresh-faced recruits to grizzled veterans. You can buy it here:

Bear with me, this goes on a tangent. I wanted to do something more than shameless promotion, so you get a blog article on something I think that is important in RPGs, but often overlooked in game design.

It is my opinion that many RPGs suffer from being overly generic in terms of genre and journey. D&D is a great example of this. You can use it to run (and this is a quote from the 5e DMG) games set in: Heroic Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Epic Fantasy, Mythic Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Intrigue, Mystery, Swashbuckling, War, or Wuxia. It tries to hit a lot of notes, and while this gives it broad appeal and makes it very marketable, it also has downsides. 

Good systems should try to sell a genre, or, better even, try to sell a journey.

The best new roleplaying game I have read in the last year is Blades in the Dark. It tries to run a gloompunk heist game and every rule in the book is designed to do exactly that. The planning flashbacks, the downtime rules, the gang playbook, the Stress/Vice system all turns Blades into a bullet that hits the target right in the bullseye. 

A lot of people recognise this and try to pitch to a narrow scope of genre or gameplay style, but Blades does everything it can to carve out a singular feeling. That feeling is being Tommy Shelby from Peaky Blinders or Corvo Attano from Dishonoured or whatever heisty protagonist you are trying to nail.

Video games also sell feelings. Nothing beats sprinting around as the Doom Marine nailing demons with a shotgun, riding through Hyrule on a horse, or that “One More Turn” vibe that the good Civilisation games pump your veins full of.

What is this feeling that Dungeons and Dragons tries to hit? Was there an emotion or experience they were aiming for? Maybe there’s an art to that, leaving a system open an letting those emotions appear in play, but I honestly think Wizards didn’t even know. I think Gygax knows what he wanted from his game, but Mike Mearls certainly didn’t

Now, back to my stuff.

Best Left Buried is designed to run a specific style of game and give that same feeling. I realise now, but I tried to write a fantasy game and wrote a horror game with a fantasy setting.

The journey is fairly singular. The characters start off as badass adventurers, but then become destroyed by everything that lives in the dungeon.

Dungeoneering is a terrible career path. I discussed this in my first ever blog post. You go into the earth and fight monsters, deal with traps and get covered in mud and worse. You sometimes get rich, but you usually end up dead first. 

Through their journey, they would see all of this crazy shit in the bowels of the dungeon. They would be cut down by the monsters, or at very least left with weird insanity and crippling injuries. I wanted to plot this journey from a fresh newcomer to a grizzled survivors with PTSD and a pegleg. 

The came was originally called Descent, plotting both the descent of the characters into the dungeon both physically and spiritually. We also called it Crypt for a while, the environment where all of insanity was found. I eventually settled on "Best Left Buried", after dreaming up the tagline:

"There are things that dwell in the Crypt and some are Best Left Buried."

The end of the journey for our adventurers is death or worse. Eventually, as the injuries, insanities and mutations stack up, the character will become little better than the monsters they fight.

That’s the journey I’m trying to sell. That’s the journey of Best Left Buried.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Artefact Session: The Session Pitch for my Novel

I just found a crazy document in the archive of my computer. This is the campaign pitch for the D&D game that eventually become my books: The Last Errant and the WIP Last Mystic. 

The Barren would have probably been a weird game, but it sure as hell sounds fun: 

The Wasteland 

Influenced by elements of the Dark Tower’s Mid-World, the frontier spirit of the Wild West and the post apocalyptic vibe of Fallout, the Wastelands is a Dark Fantasy setting where adventurers head into the wild unknown of the Western Expanse, away from Hubris, a once-great city which is all that’s left of the Old Ways.

“I am the punishment of God... If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.” - Genghis Khan

“Once again there was the desert, and that only.” - Stephen King, The Gunslinger

Hubris is a rotten city.

A city of corruption, blasphemy and the remnants of a dying way. Beneath its ruined spires, thousands starve to death every winter, while the powerful sit in palaces that stretch for miles, living in unimaginable luxury. Cultist scream the names of long dead gods in overcrowded streets and others worship darker creatures that lurk in the depths of the shadows: fiendish Blackbeasts, the eldritch Gibbering Ones and the emotive Fae. For the common man, the city of Hubris is a deathtrap. Many folk chose to leave the depravities of the city behind and seek out a simpler life in the Western Expanse.

Legends tell of a LAND BEYOND 

Stories say that the Expanse that makes up the Old West is nearly thousand miles tall and wide, , but past that lies the LAND BEYOND: the great city of Reverie, the realm of Dumah, ruled by the God-King of Numin, the glory of the Dawn Ocean. Some believe the LAND BEYOND exists, but many call them fools living on false hope. 

There is no law in the Expanse. It is the Wasteland, the Lost Wild, the Barren. Chaos rules.

The same legends tell that Lost Wild between Hubris and Reverie is a savage land. League after league of hungry desert, savage grasslands and haunted forest. Mile of mile of rugged terrain filled to the brim with madmen, beasts, ruined cities, demons and things a thousand times worse. A nightmare land that will never end. Even in near side of the Wasteland villages of Barrenfolk can only etch out a primitive existence, all while harassed by drifters, beasts and shifters. 

Heroes travel the Wasteland

The remainders of the Last Knights of Errant wander the Wasteland. These warriors, explorers and adventurers journey through the perils of the Barren. Some seek fortune hidden in ruined cities, others are running from something behind, but most simply desire to reach the LAND BEYOND whatever the cost. There heroes travel through the Wilds, fighting evil and aiding the Barrenfolk wherever they can. 

The Wasteland runs with a Low Fantasy version of the 5e ruleset, where magic exists but is rarely wielded by men. All players are human, using the variant human rules from 5e and may take two Virtues from the Adventures in Middle Earth instead of one feat from the Player Handbook. Choose a Background from either the PHB or AiME. There are eight classes:

  • The Godsman, a friar who wanders the world spreading the words of Gods That Were. 
  • The Scholar, a learned man who is uncovers the secrets of the past and is wise in lore
  • The Slayer, a savage and dauntless killer who fights alone and with bestial fury 
  • The Treasure Hunter, a scavenger who delves in the depths and recovers the remains of the world before
  • The Wanderer, a traveller who is at home in the wilds of the Wasteland, bringing news as they go
  • The Warden, a fellow brave of heart who kindles the spirits of allies and guards the hearth-fire
  • The Warlock, a sorcerer of forbidden and evil magics, who has sold his soul to some strange entity 
  • The Warrior, a stalwart and discipline fighter who rallies his allies in combat 


Sunday, 14 October 2018

OSR Guide For The Perplexed Questionnaire

Zak Smith of HitItWithMyAxe posted this list of 20 questions he wanted us to answer. I hate chain mail, but I'm happy doing this one, because the OSR is RAD.

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

I love this piece by Joseph Manola about the OSR and its obsession with ruination and decay. when i read it, it just made sense immediately and ending up inspiring large pieces of my work.

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

“Rules are hard to remember and details are easy to forget under stress. Intent is not. Intent is easy to recall and unlike detail it actually grows more powerful under stress. You remember who hates you. The more stressed you are, the more you remember it.”

This quote from Veins of the Earth by Patrick Stuart sums up my opinion of rules vs rulings, and also process vs procedure. It actually sits on my desk, glued to my office computer at my actual job. 

3. Best OSR module/supplement:

I think Veins of the Earth is simply unsurpassed from every design perspective, but it probably suffers from being too arty. 

The most useful thing I’ve ever ran is Skerples’ Tomb of the Serpent Kings. This stellar low level dungeon should be the “I don’t know what dungeon to run tonight, lets play *blank*" for every single OSR DM. 

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

I love the Black Hack’s usage die for food, light sources etc. I don’t know if that’s technically a house rule, because its part of a game already, but so many people use it as a house rule in other games that I reckon it counts.

5. How I found out about the OSR:

I was looking into Swords and Wizardry, after reading the Sword of Air, a mega campaign by Frog God Games. I remember then researching stuff like Dungeon Crawl Classics and them stumbling across Questing Beast’s youtube channel. From there, I bought a copy of Fire on the Velvet Horizon and the rest was history. 

6. My favourite OSR online resource/toy:

You can find every map you ever needed for a fantasy game here, in the storage repository of Dyson Logos: 

7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:

I love Discord Servers. My favourite is the Questing Beast Patreon Discord server, but if you can’t get onto that, Twitter is pretty sweet. 

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

A few other discord servers for Troika, DIY RPG or OSR. If you want links to any of these, message me or comment below.  

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

I love being rid of death saves, instant death or whatever, and replacing it with a coin toss. Tails, you live are unconscious. Heads, you die. It makes some really fucking dramatic moments. 

10. My favourite non-OSR RPG:

I know we aren’t meant to like story games, but I really love Blades in the Dark. It is a game carved like a bullet to do exactly one style of campaign and knock it out of the park. 

11. Why I like OSR stuff:

Less commercial and corporate. People make OSR shit because they love it and its cool. Most of it isn’t designed to shift copies or meet some targets, its because someone has a genuine passion for a project and made it themselves in the desk on their kitchen. The art is just better. There is less direction and it isn’t stale. Its like comparing original John Blanche stuff to something from a modern 40k product.

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

Luka Rejec, the WizardThieffighter and Stratometaship guy, has made two awesome products lately: Ultraviolet Grasslands and Witchburner, as well as doing art/layout for lots of other projects. This guy is the full package and does all of the art/layout/writing for his books. UVG is sublime and reckon everyone should read it. Grab his Patreon here and his twitter @Stratometaship

Other shout out is Troika by Dan S and the Melsonian Arts Council. The game is weird and utterly British and janky and I absolutely love it. Grab the Patreon and the book on DriveThruRPG 

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

Coins and Scrolls, cos Skerples makes a crazy cool blog full of massively gameable shit. Additional shoutout to any of his stuff on Feudalism, which a lot of people may find dry but i think is amazing. 

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

Best Left Buried. The fantasy horror RPG game I’m written and is currently available on DriveThruRPG. It's been realeased but I weirdly haven't made a blogpost yet, mainly cos no one reads this blog.

15. I'm currently running/playing:

A Black Company-esque mercenary game using Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 2nd Ed, but set in my own version of medieval Europe. The players are chasing a bounty on a knight who is impersonating another knight. They decided the best way to draw this guy out was to write him a letter while pretending to be his long lost brother. Many letters have been written at the table and exchanged. We have spent 2, 4 hour long sessions without a single combat. 

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

I know this cheating but I do care. Sorry? 

Descending AC doesn’t make sense to me. I have distaste for role under systems in general, because I think you should always have consistency of dice expectation. If high is good on damage rolls (and it always is) then 'to hit' roles or skill checks should be good as high too. It creates a massive disconnect with new players for the system. I hate when players have to go "Wait should this dice role be low or high for it to be good?", or ever worse, confusion after a dice lands about what the good results are.

Games that don't obey this rule, like Black Hack, GLOG, Into the Odd etc, will just never be things I want to run.

I make an exception for WHRP 2nd Ed, because D100 low is the only place where low is good and I feel like that is a different "dice space" that is defined separately from the rest of the game where high is good.

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

I call this thing “Footshark” and it comes from Best Left Buried. It’s mad.