Friday, 18 August 2017

On the Edge of Exile: The Setting

It's time to talk about the setting of my newest Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition campaign: On the Edge of Exile.

Now, it's already been established that the game is taking place in the Border Princes (the companion splat book being Renegade Crowns), but a) what does that mean, b) it's a big place, so where exactly, and c) why is it being set there? 

I'm going to leave the first point to other articles, because it'd be regurgitating a lot of the same. These two (1, 2) do a good job of explaining the majority of it, but here are some key points to remember:
  1. It's not a nation, but a frontier.
  2. The rulers hold little to know legitimacy, and are little more than thugs controlling small stretches of land through force.
  3. The land is mostly barren, arid, and brutal. Badlands, crags, scrub land, marshes, and thorns.
  4. Think Wild West meets the Balkans.
Let's dive in, shall we?

Where Exactly?

Let's have a look at the map:
See? It's big. We've got a lot to work with, here. Lots of terrain types, lots of points of interest, and lots of cool words to spark play.

For those who aren't Warhammer nuts, here's the wider map of the Old World, so you can get an idea for context:
And a quick guide (remember that all this is fake-Renaissance!):
  • The Empire (the place with Nordland, Middenland, Reikland, etc.) is based on Germany,
  • Kislev is based on Russia,
  • Bretonnia (the place with Bastonne, Quenelles, Carcassonne, etc.) is based on France/Arthurian England,
  • Estalia (the place with Obregon, Magritta, Cantonia, etc.) is based on Spain,
  • and Tilea (the place with Niragliano, Trantio, Remas, etc.) is based on Italy.
Cool, so we're south of the Empire and Bretonnia, and east of Tilea. To the south of the Border Princes is the Badlands, a horrible place infested with Greenskins, and to the south of that we have Nehekhara (fake Egypt) which is filled with undead, and to the west of THAT human lands begin again with Araby (*sigh*, I probably don't have to tell you what that is based on - sadly, much of the Warhammer lore is pretty racist, though I try my best to remove those parts and give them justice).

Ok, back to the Border Princes. Let's zoom in on the section I chose:
A valley dominated by the Blood River. Why this valley? Well, let's look at what's surrounding it!
  • Barak Varr is the largest city in the Border Princes, and is controlled by the Dwarves. It is the only port in the region, and super well defended. The Dwarves here jealously guard their stranglehold on the Black Gulf, and don't really care about the rest of the valley so long as ore keeps flowing in from the mountains.
  • The Old Silk Road is the longest road in the world, and goes all the way through the Worlds Edge Mountains, across the Dark Lands, to Cathay (*sigh*). It is a major trade route, where untold riches flow, and where lots of illegal things occur. Bandits, smuggling, extortion, and heretical magics traded.
  • The Iron Rock is a huge Greenskin stronghold held by the Iron Claw Orcs, which are (or were, at least) led by one of the most terrible Greenskin Warbosses of all time, Gorbad Ironclaw. This is a great, impenetrable, super dungeon, which I can use to cool effect.
  • The Black Crag is another Greenskin stronghold that used to be a Dwarf Hold. The Dwarves want it back, and it likely has lots of cool treasure in it sealed away from the Orcs. Even more fodder for adventure! Also, the Red Fang Tribe that controls it apparently hates the Iron Claw Orcs, so there's room for playing enemy factions off each other, and working for the Dwarves to help take back the Hold.
  • The Badlands are on the doorstep. That means we can use the very shittiest parts of the Border Princes terrain - all that useless arid land - as a set piece. This is the Wild West. People here have hard lives, and they can barely scratch a living out of the dust. The very land they travel through will be an enemy of the PCs!
This section of land is also 200km to a side, which, if the land was perfectly flat (which it isn't), and was easy to cross (which it isn't), it would take just under a week to traverse from side to side. That's PLENTY of room to work with!

So, I snipped this area out, and got to work. Here are the results, so far:
Pay no attention to the orange regional markers - that's a mechanical thing which I hope to write about later... The PCs will be controlling the terrible little hamlet of Dunkeldorf, and I added in four major towns controlled by four other Princes: Sumpfstadt, Montagne, Collina, and Seidenstopp.

...but WHY?

Well, that's a big question. There are many reasons.

The first is that, many years ago (over a decade ago, now), I began reading an Actual Play report on called The Shadow of the Sun. Now, if you know this campaign, or you choose to go and read it (I encourage that, as it's awesome, but beware that it was never finished), you're going to see a lot of similar themes. Hell, the entire framework of the game has been adapted over to here. I loved that idea, and more than any other I've ever seen for a campaign, it has stuck with me.

Secondly, this is not the first time I have tried to run this campaign. Previously, I ran two sessions, many years ago, of what this campaign started out as before the group fell apart due to external reasons. (Well, actually severely internal reasons - I got cancer and had to go to hospital for nearly a year, but that's another story!) I then attempted to adapt this game to Dark Heresy 1st Edition a few years ago as a campaign called Into the Expanse, but my group weren't really keen on it, and frankly, it wouldn't have worked at the time. Now, it very well could work!

Third, the Border Princes are open. They are Warhammery, but they are undefined. I love defined settings to explore, but I chafe against them to run. I love the openness of Blades in the Dark, the suggestion of a setting. That's what Renegade Crowns gives you, and I find prepping for the Border Princes, and the mini-games it offers, almost as fun as running the damn game.

Fourth, and most of all, the Border Princes are perhaps the best place in the Warhammer world to talk about my favourite and most closely held theme within my games: anti-fascism. The Empire is a fascist state, if ever there was one, and in the Border Princes, you have the chance to work under that system, or go against it. Given the campaign question of On the Edge of Exile, it is a perfect proving ground.

I hope this gave you a bit more insight into why I chose the Border Princes for this campaign! Next up, I think I'll talk house rules and custom mechanics...

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Introducing: On the Edge of Exile

Hey folks, I've been a bit quiet recently, what with releasing my first commercial game and beginning production of two other games (All Shall Fade and Astrorotica, both of which I hope to talk more about soon), but I thought it was time to give a bit of an update.

I've been running two campaigns recently: Curse of Strahd using Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and Ameshirel: A World Reforged using my own playtest Do or Dice. The former is going very well, but the latter has hit a bit of a slump. Things need to change - system reworkings, campaign re-scoping, etc. I'm putting it on indefinite hiatus, and will work on something else whilst those changes percolate in my brain.

That means, in the meantime, I have a free fortnightly slot! Last night, I pitched a few campaign ideas I had to the players of that slot, and between the three ideas, one shone out. In the interest of curiosity, the other two ideas were Short Straws using Firefly RPG (Cortex Plus), and Stockholm Syndrome using Part-Time Gods of Fate.

The idea that won out? Let me introduce to you On the Edge of Exile, a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition campaign. (Yes, that's right, I'm returning to my favourite system/setting!)

I'm hopeful to post many article about this game, in the coming months, featuring the character creation notes, my changes to the mechanics to handle various things the original Core didn't do great, my mix of GM tools I'll be using, campaign notes, and so on. For now, I'll leave you with the blurb of the campaign, and the overarching campaign question I'm using to steer this ship:


On a far frontier, at the start of Spring – Nachexen 17th, 2524 IE – a settlement comes into view. It is a dreary place – tiny, diminished, and left to ruin. Little more than an outpost, Dunkeldorf is nonetheless suddenly very important. The reason? A porous stone found only at the bottom of the village's old well. Known as Morr's Blood, when ground and mixed with mordant, it produces a black dye that never fades. For Reikland, capitol province of the Empire – whose colours are black and white – and for a growing noble class that favours fashionable blacks, this is of the highest priority...

But not so high that they'd travel all the way out here, into the Border Principalities, to collect it themselves. No: this is a backwater.

This is a frontier haunted by every danger and horror imaginable. This is no place for folks of a finer lot. No: this is a place for folks like you.

You were something back in the Empire. You were a star pupil, a promising young cadet, a prodigy of the Colleges of Magic, a well-bred noble ready for courtly life... And then something happened – or rather, someone happened to you. You pissed someone off. Was it something you did, something you said, some consequence of your birth, or just wrong-place-wrong-time? It doesn't matter, now. You've been exiled – you've been given this highly important but inglorious position.

But at least it's yours. Your fates are now intrinsically tied. It's just a shame you can't trust anyone in Dunkeldorf – at least, not yet. With everything out here arrayed against you – the depredations of wicked cults, the foul Greenskins, and the greedy eyes of other Princes and worse – you have your work cut out for you.

Campaign Question

What will it take for our heroes to betray the Empire?
My prediction? Very very little.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Dirty Aces is on DriveThruRPG!

Today, as of 00:38 AEST, I became a published roleplaying game designer. Imma-need-a-minute, folks!

Dirty Aces is finally live on DriveThruRPG!

Check out Dirty Aces now!

(Mobile Link)

Dirty Aces is a tabletop roleplaying game about a group of wanderers, vagabonds, ne'er-do-wells, and unlikely heroes who are bound together by fate/Karma/ka - whatever you call it. They only have each other to trust, with the whims of the world set against them.

Who are these wanderers? Where are they passing through? What is biting at their heels? Dirty Aces is built for any situation that fits into the above - from Joss Whedon's Firefly, to Stephen King's The Dark Tower, or anything in between.

Inside you'll find:
  • A diceless engine utilising regular playing cards to resolve conflicts,
  • A simple character creation system so you can make your party and play all in a single session,
  • Fiction-first, success-with-consequences mechanics, so there's never a question about what comes next,
  • Tables for campaign creation seeds for you to create your own unique setting in the style of its many Touchstones.
Game Information:
Number of Players: 5 (4 + 1 Dealer)
Length: 2-6 hours
Pages: 19

Lastly, I'd just like to take this time to thank everyone involved in the production, playtesting, and support of Dirty Aces thus far. You're all amazing, and this work wouldn't have been possible without you. Love you, folks!

Saturday, 22 April 2017

#200WordRPG: DOGMA

#200WordRPG is one of my favourite yearly traditions, despite how young it still is. This is my second year entering - last year's entry can be found here. If you're not sure what #200WordRPG is, well, it's a challenge to write an entire tabletop roleplaying game in 200 words or less, with no graphics or special formatting. It's all about the words (all 200 or less of them).
This year, I present to you DOGMA!

You and at least two others (there is no maximum) are an entire religion, throughout its timeline - from inception, to corruption and subversion.

Your religion is growing. It will do great things... Before it is twisted, and made rotten. We play to see it fester.

The first player describes a moment of SPIRITUALITY: a fact about the religion at its founding.
//Thou shall not kill.

The second describes a FABLE that explains it: written long after, it obscures the spirituality from morality into rote learning.
//St. Cain didn't kill the sinner, but cut off their hands, feet and tongue so they could never sin again.

The third describes a MISINTERPRETATION: long after the fable is written, how is it subverted and corrupted for personal gain?
//King Auger cut out the tongues of all non-believers, stating they were now, or would become, sinners. He declared their exsanguination was God taking their deaths into Her own hands.

A player who hasn't described a Spirituality begins again. New Spiritualities must reference or retaliate to a previous Myth or Misinterpretation.
//Suffer not the sinner to live.

The religion stagnates when everyone has misinterpreted something.
//Religion fades when spirituality is forgotten.

Record everything.
I also did pretty it up a little, and uploaded it here (and put it on my portfolio here).

If you play it, let me know!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

A reply to a reply to a discussion about Losing

Some good stuff happening over at RPG YouTube right now. Matthew Colville began by discussing Losing in an RPG, and +John Harper followed it up with an add-on/challenge to that topic. I've posted both below, but also expanded on John's wisdom, based on how I've seen, run, and played games for the past many years.
Hold on to your characters lightly. When your characters experience adversity, that isn't happening to you as a player. Take the good with the bad, and accept that everything that happens to your character is part of the story. Look for how that can be interesting and dramatic, rather than good or bad, winning or losing.

This isn't to suggest that you shouldn't enjoy winning, but rather to encourage you to also enjoy losing, because even when you lose you can create great story. The Force Awakens would be a worse film were Han not killed (as gut wrenching as that was). Boromir wouldn't be as interesting a character had he not sacrificed himself. A Game of Thrones would not have been as compelling if Ned wasn't decapitated.

However, to cap this all off, I'm still a firm believer in what +Adam Koebel has now popularised: killing a character is the least interesting thing you can do to them. They can lose, and sometimes death is the logical result of a loss, but more often than not you can scar them, or defeat them, and allow them to live (and struggle) another day for a better story down the line.

Finally, regular readers may not that it's been a month since my last This Week - this has been somewhat intentional. I've needed a break, to refuel and to reorganise my thoughts. It's been very needed, and I feel a hell of a lot better after it all. I should be getting back into regular programming soon!

Sunday, 26 February 2017

This Week: Leaders, Scenes, Hags, and Silence

Welcome to This Week, a weekly series where I discuss all the gaming (both video and tabletop) content I've played, made, prepped, run and seen that's cool this week.

Normally these come out late on Sundays, but I moved this one earlier for two reasons: a) I missed last week, as I was unwell, and b) I won't be able to get everything in order night, because I'll be at Port Robinson & Madeon's Shelter Live Tour in Melbourne! Woo!
(Image from Shelter Live Tour.)
So, without further ado, let's jump in with what I've done This Week...

What I've Played

I started playing Terraria again, as it's been many years since last time, and I really enjoyed it then. The game has been updated significantly, and there's now a lot more to do. I don't know if it will keep my attention for very long, but I am enjoying it. I don't have much to say on this topic beyond that it's worth checking out again, if you used to play it!
(Image from Steam.)
I've been diving back into Civilisation VI, trying out the new Poland DLC, and getting ready to try the even-newer Australia DLC. Whilst I'm finding them game is holding me generally less than V did, I am enjoying the faster pace of DLC. I can't remember how I originally bought it, but whatever I did, I've been getting each DLC without paying additionally for it... Maybe I got the deluxe edition, or something? I don't know - I'm pretty confused, to be honest.
(Image from Rock Paper Shotgun.)
Anyway, Poland has been a lot of fun - even if I have every single other world leader angry at me all the time. Which is interesting. I've also been through a nearly 1000 year war with Sumeria, during which time they've sent a total of 2 Bombards and 3 Bazooka troops to my shores. I haven't bothered to retaliate. Yet.
(Image from PC Games N.)
Australia looks interesting, though it's a little distressing to see that there is no mention of our history before European settlement. Which is super weird, given that the civilisation only covers 1-to-2 of the Eras in the game, and just ignores the 50,000+ years of Aboriginal Australian history (and there's some insanely interesting stuff in there). I'm hopeful that we get an additional leader - like Greece - to account for this. But, I doubt it...

What I've Made

I've been working pretty hard on Do or Dice recently, attempting to get the changes brought up during playtesting into the game. I'm having to restrain myself from too quickly and too radically, changing things though - I've been toying around with a new central mechanic, but it would be unwise to jump ship without properly testing out the existing one. I'll be posting up a discussion on which one I settle with, once I have settled!
(Image from William McAusland, used with permission.)
Speaking of discussions, I posted up the first piece of Do or Dice rules on Friday, and it's already worked out well. There has been a reasonable amount of conversation surrounding it, and that conversation has already helped me work through it. It's great to start interacting more with the design community, like this. As +Steve Dee said "scenes are good".

What I've Run

I ran the first actual play session of Ameshirel: A World Reforged, using the Do or Dice ruleset, and it's done exactly what I hoped - poked holes in the game. I've always been a firm believer of test fast and early, but it's always been difficult to execute that belief. Do or Dice is now getting fortnightly playtests, and I am hopeful to increase that rate. If any folks out there are keen to get a playtest copy, please let me know!
(Image from Wizards.)
My Curse of Strahd campaign got another session (which brings the total up to 7, with 5 of them still unposted in the diary, for that I apologise, but unfortunately cannot see changing in any significant way, any time soon...) It was a great session, and I finally got to use Old Bonegrinder. Needless to say, the PCs shouldn't have let the Night Hags escape. They'll never sleep easy again!

What I've Seen

For some strange reason, I started watching the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series on Netflix a few weeks ago, and I'm making a lot of progress through it. I find it's interesting enough to have going on in the background whilst I work, but not cerebral enough to demand my attention always. I'm definitely enjoying it, though I do find some of the themes problematic. The first two seasons glorify war a little too much, but the later seasons seem to deal with the bad sides a lot more (which is awesome). I'm enjoying seeing pieces of the EU fall into place with the new canon (like seeing Saw, etc). Worth checking out, I think.
(Image from Screen Rant.)
On Friday night I went and saw Martin Scorsese's newest film, Silence. It's about two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries who travel to Japan during a period of religious inquisition, to find their mentor. It's pretty fucked up, to be honest. It's brutal, and it's basically all about torture and resilience. It's also very very long. I'm still unsure if I liked it. It's definitely not a film you can enjoy, but at some point you need to recognise that it was worth seeing or not - and I am yet unsure of that. I think it was worth seeing, but I still need to unpack it a little bit...
(Image from Esquire.)
The visuals and the score were fantastic, though, and if you're a fan of Adam Driver or Andrew Garfield, their performances were amazing, so that may encourage you to see it. I do, however, believe the film will have less impact on you if you haven't gone through some kind of crisis of faith (whether that made you more devout, or as in my case, led you to apostasy). If you do see it, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the film!
(Image from BBC America.)
Lastly, I started watching Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency last night, and half an episode in, I was hooked. I've now watched the first two, and I am keen to watch the third! It's a really weird, really curious mix of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Who, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Scott Pilgrim vs the World. It's also unlike any of those things, and much weirder. I can't really explain it, except by saying that I desperately want to play it as a roleplaying game.

That's all for This Week this week. I'll talk to you next week, and tell you of all my adventures again! In the mean time, fill your own week with as much awesome as possible.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

My Advice for Running D&D 5e Monsters?

Run 4e Monsters...

No, seriously.

I, like many, bounced off Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, because I found the rules overly complex for what they were trying to do, and moving ever further away from roleplaying and back into wargaming. Now, there's nothing wrong with wargaming, and there is definitely a place for it (a place that I enjoy as well!) but for me that isn't in my roleplaying.
(Images from Wizards.)
Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition reverted a lot of those changes, and brought the game to a point simpler than 3rd Edition, which meant I was once more interested. Whilst I have many (many) gripes remaining about D&D as a whole, I have gotten almost 3 years of mileage out of 5e, and I can see a lot of merits in it.

But, in those 3 years I have noticed one thing: the Monster Manual is flat... It's, honestly, very bland. When you boil each monster down, they are merely sliders on the same variables. This one has more HP, that one has a higher damage die, etc. The descriptions given often work well to tell you where the monster may be found, and generally what it is like, but they fail miserably with the one key note that is vital to D&D (given that it's a game about braving dungeons and fighting dragons).

There are no TACTICS.
(Image from Wizards.)
We know where a monster may lair, and what it looks like. We know who probably made it, and where it comes from. We know, sometimes, how it communicates with its fellows, and which monsters it hates.

But we don't know what it does. When it is cornered, how does it fight? We can see that it might claw an opponent, but when and why? Does it just run at the opponent and claw them until it is dead? Does it claw, then run away, then growl, or something else? It might. We can say that it does. But there is nothing in the book to suggest what it should be doing.

This, ultimately, leads to pretty static fights. Unless the GM does a lot of prep before hand, most fights will likely end the same - with monsters moving in, and the two sides grinding down until one has lost.
(Image from Wizards.)
Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition did not have this problem!

4e, when you crack open the Monster Manual, is filled with monsters that are accompanied by tactics. Each entry tells you not only what they can do in a fight, but how, and in what order. For most of them, this is just a small paragraph. This means, when you need a monster, or you don't want to prep much, you can open it up, turn to the monster entry, read very quickly, and have an interesting, game changing, way to run that monster.

Here is a cross example between the two books:

Whilst running Curse of Strahd, I needed to use 8 Gargoyles in an encounter in Castle Ravenloft itself (those of you who have played it will know the bit I mean). I read the entry in the 5e MM, and all I came up with was a straight forward fight. There was nothing particularly interesting there.

Then, I had the idea to read the 4e MM, and that spawned an idea of the Gargoyles flanking the PCs, some engaging in melee, and others grappling them to lift them to the ceiling (which is quite high up in this bit) and dashing them onto the floor to kill them. This utilised their abilities which the PCs couldn't match - flight - as well as adding their cruel natures into the mix. This change in tactics was inspired by their flyby ability. I didn't have to change the 5e entry at all, I just had to think about them differently.
(Image from Wizards.)
Note, even, that this tactic isn't the one in the MM. All that happened was thinking about the tactics, rather than the abilities, got me thinking about encounter design differently.

Now, whenever I need a set-piece combat, I turn to the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Monster Manual first. I encourage you to, as well.

It has come to my attention that Matthew Colville, a GM who does YouTube videos on how to run Dungeons & Dragons has talked about very similar topics on the following video. His videos tend to be awesome, and this one is no different. He's also a great author, and you should check out his books here and here!

Have you used this method before? Which monsters did you reverse engineer in this way? Which monsters do you think could be improved in 5e?