Saturday, November 16, 2019

Background: Scoundrel Wanted in 1d6 Systems

Here's a Troika! background for Supercalla. It's a nice guy type.

Scoundrel Wanted in 1d6 Sunrealms

Your mama cried the day you were born and your daddy's only words to you were "I regret makin’ you." People tend to avoid you, except the Law... the Law is always looking for you. And bounty hunters.

-RIG 77
-Small book of dad jokes
-Pack of Astroknotty
-Coordinates for a big score

Advanced Skills:
2 Pistol
2 Fist Fighting
1 Sneak
1 Run
2 Spotting The Law

Each time you enter a new place roll 1d6. On a roll of 1, the Law is notified of your whereabouts. On a roll of 2, a bounty hunter spots you.

Background: Private Eye

A background for Troika!

This one got cut from the Supercalla setting book because it didn't quite fit the theme. Maybe it'll show up in a later book.

Private Eye

The dame was on fire when she crawled into the room. Not figuratively, but literally. She was a fire worm. She lost a lover and she wanted you to find them. How could you say no to a dame like that? You looked at her long and hard with your one eye and said "I'll do it. Now please get out before you burn the joint down."

-Skinsuit (trenchcoat, armor 1)
-1d6 fake badges and IDs
-Emergency cozmask (1 hour use)
-Lockpick tools
-Eye drops

Advanced Skills:
3 Awareness
1 Locks
1 Disguise
1 Sneak
1 Pistol
1 Fist fighting

The Wonderful & Terrible Things That Effervesced in the OSR Scene, Part 5

Time to stick a fokkin' fork in this fokker. It's been a rambling mess, hasn't it?

Truth is I wrote like thousands of words about this and deleted them all. Nobody wants to read about the various OSR controversies from the past few years. It's old news, right? We know the birds who are bad seeds, generally, and I think many of us just kind of avoid/ignore them. Some people would see that as a failing... we should be kicking the bad seeds' asses. But I'm not a militant sort of guy and I don't own the hobby nor do I own OSR.

There will be bad seeds. We can ignore, avoid, and/or criticize them. We cannot kill a motherfucker, you know? Nor should we want to. Fuck that noise. You can take your violent ideations and shove them up your ass. I came here to make art, games, and to play. I don't tolerate assholery very well, so don't be an asshole. 'K?

An example of assholery in game design, just to be motherfuckin' clear:

Making it a point to state that your game is explicitly not PC. You might think that reads as "my game is not bullshit" but what it truly says is "hey, I'm a giant dickhead who is so threatened by socially-conscious young people I have to lash out at them impotently from the pages of my nerd book." It's a really nasty look and you should avoid it at all costs.

Think of it this way. Nobody walked into your RPG and demanded that you acknowledge the existence of other kinds of people. Why would you go out of your way to lash out at other kinds of people in the game they didn't walk into and demand anything? Don't be a dick.

And that kinda wraps this up. To quote Gump, I have completed my statements on the matter.

Next: more Troika!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Wonderful & Terrible Things That Effervesced in the OSR Scene, Part 4

A live action still from the Paramount film Weekend at Bernie's.
Being a lifelong small fry creator makes me particularly sensitive when it comes to criticizing other creators. I know how much work goes into this stuff. I know how rough it feels to put yourself out there and be stomped on. I try hard not to stomp on anyone, particularly someone who is just dipping their toes in the creative waters.

DIY communities are mainly composed of people who might otherwise be known as amateurs or hobbyists. The levels of quality and talent on display will vary wildly. And while being very critical of a book published by Wizards of the Coast seems appropriate or even necessary, applying that same degree of criticism to an indie PDF created by a single individual who probably won't make $20 on it feels rather like being a complete shithead. And of course you have to be wary of the weight of your voice relative to whoever you're criticizing. A negative word from an influencer within a scene can be a serious or lethal blow to a struggling creator and maybe for the influencer it really only represents one little thought about one little thing on one little day.

Words have power.

And yet... we should be honest. Creators generally want to know what people honestly think about their work. This is where the hard love comes down. If you create a thing and then publish it then you need to have some thick skin. You are the one putting yourself out there and there is always a risk that some complete shithead is going to give you a 1 star review that reads "My dog poops better dungeons". It's going to happen. Learn to roll with the punches.

Also, price your shit accordingly. Speaking only for me, I'm not willing to dish out $5 for a 1 page PDF even with pretty art. Asking too much money for your book is a very quick way to turn me off. Hell, I fucking love Barrowmaze Complete and I still complain that it costs too much. Especially the hardback.

And yet I bought it. Seriously it's that good.

The OSR/DIY scene* is chock full of good, bad, and ugly books. Some are absolute gems, others are absolute turds. I happen to love the fact that such a scene emerged at all and that people feel free to be creative within it. Yeah, much of what gets put out there is forgettable. But the same is true of any creative scene. And I will happily suffer a slew of forgettable books if it helps increase the chance of getting something wondrous every now and then. I just might not pay any money for the turds.

*OSR... DIY... indie? RPG community is too big an umbrella so you need some crunchier terms. I know some folks strongly resist or reject the OSR label even when they're creating content that is clearly in the OSR vein. I get it, and maybe that'll be the subject of one of these rants soon. I'll need more tequila sunrises though.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Wonderful & Terrible Things That Effervesced in the OSR Scene, Part 3

The good and the bad. And the ugly. Oh, the ugly. The OSR scene has had its fair share of all three, hasn't it?

DIY publishing is an open playing field. I got my start in it in 1988 when I was in high school. Myself and some friends slapped together a zine we called Fast Lane, which was mostly comics. Don't bother Googling it, you won't find anything. I might have some copies stashed in my storage building. If I ever get around to digging that shit out I'll post up some pics. And cringe.

F5... every zine under the sun.
Anyway, we published 3 issues and then graduated and went on our ways. I then started publishing on my own around 1994. I published a lot of small press comics and zines between 1994 and 2004. I was really into that whole scene, hitting the S.P.A.C.E. (Small Press and Comics Expo) con in Columbus Ohio and joining the Small Press Syndicate and the United Fanzine Organization. I had a fucking subscription to Factsheet Five.

The coming of the internet broke all of that. But that's a tale for another time. Right now I just wanted to lay some basics for a rant about quality in publishing within small niche markets. Traditionally it hasn't been very good. Most small press comics and zines were photocopied affairs that were cheap, fast, and dumb. And it was fucking awesome while being terrible.

The OSR and DIY RPG scene has been similar, with tons of slapdash dungeons cranked out to scratch that old itch so many of us have - to make something D&D, dammit! And lots of these slapdash dungeons are free or pay-what-you-want. That's totally in the spirit of the small press scene. Others charge a pittance at a dollar or two. Totally fine. Others want you to pay more for what I'd consider to be rather humdrum content. I'm not paying you $10 for an uninspired 5 room dungeon with some goblins and a mad wizard, so please don't ask.

I mean sheesh. Put some killer art in it and maybe I'll concede my hard-earned cash.

Room 3: Empty.
Room 4: Goblins (2) AC 6, HD oh my god kill me now

But I digress and perhaps I sound a bit harsh. I dunno. Back on target...

A collection of my comics!
The scene has produced a shit ton of fucking excellent books as well as a metric ton of forgettable books. I mean geez louise... TSR made some cool stuff back in the day but did they really ever make anything as badass as Barrowmaze*, The Chained Coffin, or Old School Essentials? Not really. And there are plenty of other great books to call out as well, though a few of them were created by complete shitheads and I'm loathe to bring them up. You know what I mean. This is perhaps the ugly part of the scene, and I'll probably get around to saying my mind about that as well in a future post within this meandering series of screedish rants and nerdy gibberishings.

(*Yes, I'm aware that Barrowmaze contains some relatively bland entries and empty rooms and repetitive shit. But if you have actually perused that book and, even better, used it at the table and you don't agree that it's a masterpiece of resource-grinding dungeon-crawling design then you can just go fuck yourself, buddy. I kid, of course. But it's true.)

ASIDE: I straight up Googled myself with the phrase "small press comics" included in an image search and got bupkis. My decade of self-publishing comics left a long, deep shadow indeed! Hah. But if you take out the "small press" bit you'll get at least one result plus a bunch of Black Pudding stuff. Whew!

The Wonderful & Terrible Things That Effervesced in the OSR Scene, Part 2

Where was I? Oh right. I was supposed to be talking about the OSR scene. More-or-less. Sorry about the lengthy DCC RPG campaign posts. I gotta do it though.

Around April 2014, within 2 years of my getting into the old school RPG scene, I started up an online group. We met one Monday night at 9:30 PM, EST, for 2 hours. We are still to this day meeting every Monday night at 9:30 PM, EST. This is a net good in the world.

This group consists of one of my oldest and dearest friends named Jayne as well as four others that I have only met/known through the Monday game and/or other RPG scenes: Andy, Bill, Dyson, and Matt. These I now also call great friends.

Sometimes I call this group the Doomslakers, whether they like it or not.

The whole thing started because god damn it to fucking shit I wanted to run some old school D&D. I was running DCC RPG in my face-to-face games but I had this burning itch to run D&D. I got the group together to play Labyrinth Lord, which had quickly become my absolute darling by 2014. Here was a game that was basically exactly the D&D rules I used to play when I was young. It was a mix of basic and advanced... the same shit I always did! Someone had put it in a book, slapped the best name on it since D&D, and gave an open license to let me make shit up and publish it. I was in.

To start out, I ran a Labyrinth Lord campaign for the group and it lasted somewhere around 50 sessions. I kept copious notes. I tracked XP. The entire campaign was original and I eventually published one module born from it: Winds of the Ice Forest, which got a very nice review on my favorite podcast Save or Die. It was a wonderful little moment in time in this tiny niche hobby.

My second module!
The campaign was tons of fun for me. At the time, the players were Andy, Jayne, Bill and Matt with an occasional fifth player (I think we had 2 or 3 who popped in and out). It was a strongly northern-themed game with lots of snow and ice and it culminated in the party battling a tremendous purple worm monster that killed one of the PCs in an epic moment. The materials I created for the campaign are still in my folders waiting for me to write the god damned follow-up modules Ur-Kak the Swine and Shrine of Worms. (I will write them, I tell you!)

After the Labyrinth Lord campaign we played DCC RPG, Star Frontiers, Bean!, The Black Hack, and others I cannot remember. The group plays on to this day, thankfully.

Labyrinth Lord is crack cocaine for someone like me who just really really wanted to write D&D stuff. Leading up to the time when I discovered the OSR scene, I was creating RPG materials in a vacuum and they were largely meant to satisfy my desire to make D&D stuff. In fact, in the year prior to 2012 (see here) I was writing a funny animals RPG that was explicitly riffing on the D&D tropes that we all know and love. Zyn Dweomer, which was a webcomic I was doing at the time, was the precursor to Rabbits & Rangers. It was talking D&D animals.

My first module!
Anyway, I wrote my first OSR module, Howler, as an OSRIC adventure first then converted it to Labyrinth Lord once I realized the truth. I was blown away by the amount of material that had already been created specifically for Labyrinth Lord. Some of it was brilliant, such as Barrowmaze (I'll get around to that soon). Some of it was just kinda OK. I won't call out specific books that were just OK (or worse), but they do exist. It's damn easy and fast to crank out a Labyrinth Lord adventure that has no sizzle. Just a few rooms on a crude map, some orc stat blocks, a treasure horde, give it a bit of Microsoft Word layout and call it done.

And yeah sure that's really all you need in order to run a fun little dungeon crawl. I totally get that. Hell you don't even need that. You can crank that shit out in a few minutes. But it is nice when someone else does the work. And let's face it... that's the nature of DIY publishing. Very little gatekeeping means you get the good and the bad...

Monday, November 11, 2019

The DCC RPG Tangent Part 3

One more DCC post. Short and sweet to finish this bastard up because I feel like I'm in the "long winded description of your game" territory. And nobody wants that.

The PCs had to deal with The Blue Queen. They found themselves back in their native village, 150 years later. And it was a winter hellscape. They fought some wicked ice witches, contended with a foul witch who gave them some guidance, and somehow ended up on X1: The Isle of Dread... but the island was caught in a time storm and all the dinosaurs were undead. The pirates they encountered (there were pirates) were the ones described in the DCC RPG rulebook... on flying boats. And of course they captured a flying boat and kept it for the next 2 or 3 game sessions.

After escaping the Isle of Dread, they finally confronted The Blue Queen and her 50' ape protector. The wheel of fortune from Hole in the Sky was back, which resulted in one PC becoming a cyborg and another PC becoming a monkey. Which he liked very much.

They killed The Blue Queen. They were now level 4 PCs. I then ran the DCC RPG adventure The Making of the Ghost Ring and we left the campaign as the PCs attained level 5. We have not revisited in over 2 years. Maybe we never will. I don't know. But the entire campaign left me with lots of great RP memories and some new friends. How can you go wrong when your campaign involves space-faring Viking ships, ninja monkeys, cyborgs with chainsaw-action battle axes, and undead T-Rex?

DCC RPG is fucking awesome. It was awesome for me particularly because it did exactly the thing Goodman advertised on the tin... it brought me back to a time when gaming was fun and imagination was king. I was ripe for it too. Like so many other people my age who played RPGs when we were young, this was a thing we badly wanted, and badly needed. It was a net good. DCC RPG told me it was OK to be wildly creative, mixing genres like peanut butter and chocolate, killing characters like a madman, and getting people excited at the table again. And like it or not, sometimes you really gotta be told that shit. It's not always enough to be neutral in game design. Say what you mean, mean what you say.

Of course DCC isn't all good for me. I could nitpick and quibble about the system. While I love the many funky dice I also fucking hate them. I still can't quickly grab a d24 or d16 without carefully examining them. And one of the main reasons I never really got into designing stuff for DCC is because the god damn spell descriptions alone are a huge endeavor. Whereas I could write a B/X style spell in two sentences, you need a solid page or two to write a good DCC spell. And don't even think about patrons. I wrote one patron, which I handed out at Gary Con in the form of a little zine. Hella Nor was her name and I used her in my other DCC RPG campaign which I ran online in my Monday night sessions. It was a bit of a chore. I don't particularly enjoy that side of DCC and perhaps that is one reason the published materials are so popular? Someone else did the labor? I'm not sure.

Anyway. DCC RPG = big fun. 'Nuff said.

The DCC RPG Tangent Part 2

EDIT: Changed the title of this because it's kind of its own thing. I also know how to use "its" and "it's" correctly so blow me.

Continuing what I was saying earlier about my first DCC RPG campaign... no juicy bits here. Apparently I really really want to talk about my DCC game for a minute.

Peril on the Lost City!

The PCs had crashed their cool new Viking ship on a purple planet next to a big pyramid thing. I was only loosely using the content from Peril on the Purple Planet so I made the atmosphere outside absolutely toxic. They got out and realized very quickly that as the weirding sun faded, the air became less breathable. There was a realization that if they didn't find shelter soon they'd die. So they immediately made for the pyramid.

(Sneaky of me, right?)

They ascended to the summit looking for a way in and found it. A trap door. They entered the pyramid and I used the map from B4: The Lost City for the remainder of the adventure. I only vaguely used the contents of B4, allowing the room contents to guide me in certain directions. They were searching for one of the Blue Queen's generals, a demon whose name I cannot remember. They found him locked in a bird cage in the pyramid. Between fighting some kith and dealing with the machinations of the demon in the cage, they eventually set the thing free (something they also did in Hole in the Sky). It didn't help matters.

I don't recall all the events but the culmination of the adventure had them facing a cult of sorcerers devoted to the green stones and the death orms. The green stones, it turns out, were the crystals used to power the Viking ship. But more importantly, the great death orm mother was being summoned in a ritual and, with some clever use of green stones, the PCs were able to sort of take control of the orm (after slaying the entire cult) and took it on a magic carpet ride across the cosmos back to their own home world.

Naturally they crash landed the great, dying death orm in a fury of exploding bits. Plot twist: Their long distance adventure resulted in a huge time lensing effect. They arrived back home after merely 3 days as they experienced it but some 150 years per home time. The Blue Queen had taken over the entire world and was turning it into an ice planet. It was the PCs' actions that allowed her to do this.

Of course they vowed to depose her and stop the madness.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The DCC RPG Tangent Part 1

EDIT: Changed the name of this DCC RPG sub-thread.

These posts are going to be all over the fucking place, so pardon me ahead of time. This is an act of stream-of-consciousness commentary to summarize/explore my experiences in the gaming community since 2012 (and maybe before). This time it seems that I'm writing mostly about DCC RPG, my entry point to the old school scene. This post has little or no juicy "terrible things about the OSR" bits. If you're here for the controversies all you'll find is my gushing on and on about my first DCC RPG campaign. Maybe next time I'll bitch.

In 2012 I distinctly remember being super-duper inspired to get a local gaming group together and play some DCC RPG. I didn't buy the book until I listened to a couple of episodes of Spellburn, then I pulled that trigger pretty fast. I got the wizard cover because it's the most badass.

It was totally the enthusiasm of Judges Jen, Jeffrey, Jim, and Jobe that got me to buy that book. It was a $50 investment, after all. And I had never held it in my hands. But their description of the rules compelled me. I was all in.

As soon as the book arrived I started pouring over it and I got a group together to play. The first game I ran was with 3 players at my house and the very first die roll of the night killed a zero level character. I think everyone at the table fell in love immediately. It was Portal Under the Stars, the zero level adventure that was in the original printings of the book. It's a solid adventure that you can run in a few hours so I highly recommend it as a starter.

After that we got together relatively regularly with 4-7 players each night. I ran a campaign that got it's start initially with Portal, then with Sailors on the Starless Sea when others joined in. Of course that adventure was memorable and one of my players still to this day mentions his poor little female halfling who was yanked off the ship into the deep where the leviathan waited. He had high hopes for her.

We went from Sailors to Hole in the Sky... this was shortly after I got back from my trip to Gary Con (was it V? I can't remember!). Hole in the Sky had just been published and I snagged it at the con. It was a huge hit with the group and a huge blast to run. By this time our core group was fairly well established and we had a nice party of level 1 PCs.

From that point I started mixing it up with old TSR modules as well as Goodman Games adventures and some homebrewed ones as well. During this time I was creating and publishing materials for Labyrinth Lord more than anything, and playing that game online. But locally, face-to-face, it was mostly DCC RPG. I allowed
myself to just play and have fun with DCC rather than worrying about creating publishable materials.

I used certain items and ideas from those funnel adventures to form the basis for the entire campaign. The key NPC from Hole in the Sky became The Blue Queen, the chief villain of the game. The PCs "worked" for her several times (whose gonna say no?) and eventually became her mortal enemies. I went from Hole in the Sky to the classic D&D module B4: The Lost City... which I mashed up with DCC's Peril on the Purple Planet box set. I had snagged that lovely treasure via the Kickstarter and was eager to give it a spin.

I mean come on. Have you seen Peril on the Purple Planet? It's lovely. So much gamable stuff in that box, so I gamed some of it. Not all of it, not by a stretch. But enough.

I know you're going to ask me, so here is how I mashed it up. If you weren't going to ask and don't care, just fuck right off for a minute while I spew my fanboyish gamer squelchies.

The PCs got the boat from Sailors but didn't get to keep it for some reason. I cannot remember why. Anyway, after Hole they found the boat again or another boat. Again, I'm old and I take shitty notes. The point is they found a Viking style ship. There were some undead monsters too. They had been set on a task by The Blue Queen to find one of her warlords, a demon who had been locked up someplace far away. They had a clue about the location of the ship, which would help them find him.

So they find the ship and it's got this funky crystal-based control panel at the helm instead of a wheel. One of the part members, perhaps Nando the Thief, was able to ascertain its usage. There was a helmet he put on and was shown a vast panoramic view of the cosmos. He made some nice saves and was not driven insane and was in fact able to activate the ship which proceeded to propel them through space at warp speed. It was an epic little session and I remember being quite proud of how I described this event and the players seemed to be hugely into it.

Nando wasn't a good pilot and didn't land very smoothly. The party crash landed on a purple world near a large purple ziggurat. This was, in fact, the pyramid from B4.

Here's Part 1 of this meandering series if you're a completist.

The Wonderful & Terrible Things That Effervesced in the OSR Scene, Part 1

I came into the DIY/OSR RPG scene perhaps midway through it's golden lifespan. My understanding is that 2004-2008 is sort of the seeding time and 2008-?? was the flowering and fullness of it's prurient presence*. If I dig back into my archive of files and emails and such, I can see that I was dipping my toes in the water in 2012. I didn't even know it existed prior to that time and the only reason I discovered it - to the best of my failing memory - is that I stumbled across a link or ad for DCC RPG or I happened upon the first episode of the Spellburn podcast. Either way, DCC RPG is really the catalyst that got me into this shit. I very, very quickly found my way to OSRIC, Basic Fantasy RPG, and podcasts such as Save or Die and Roll For Initiative.

Given that nearly all my postings and publishings since then have been aligned with basic D&D and it's spiritual successors, I found my niche. I have created scant few things for DCC RPG and no publications. I love the game, but have been resistant to creating for it for some reason.

I was talking to Mike Evans recently about game systems and the conversation lead me once again to a post on Daniel Sell's blog What Would Conan Do: How to be an adventurer. I am not entirely sure, but I bet I've mentioned this and linked to it more times than anything else in the movement. It was a huge influence on how I've been thinking about gaming ever since because it pinged so many of my quibbles and gripes about D&D and how to effortlessly house-rule them away.

Blog posts such as that one are the reason this creative scene has been so god damned beautiful. And of course there are more. Many, many more.

(Suddenly I have a lot of rambling things to say about this topic. I'll post more later, if for no other reason than I want/need to talk about it "out loud". Maybe I'll get to the "terrible things" as hinted at in the title of this post. Also, I'm not going to obsessively hyperlink everything in every post. I think by now everyone who might read this knows where the fuck to find DCC RPG.)

(*NOTE: I'm not suggesting that the movement is dead or anything. I am not a good judge of these things. I know I still love creating in this vein and so do a lot of other people so... not dead. But changed, altered, completely transformed in many ways that could be linked temporally to the death of G+ among other events.)