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Lesserton and Mor, written by Joel and Jeff Sparks of Faster Monkey Games, is a product that I don’t think has received its due. It’s a fantastic, unique, flavorful, and versatile sourcebook for a premade city and its neighboring open-air megadungeon, and it’s incredibly cool.

For starters, just look at this glorious Peter Mullen cover:

The late, great Steve Zieser did all of the interior art, and his style — like Mullen’s — matches up beautifully with L&M’s “dirty British fantasy” aesthetic.

The hook

L&M has an awesome premise: The ancient city of Mor, “mankind’s proudest achievement,” was sacked by barbarians, and then destroyed in a mysterious cataclysm. The refugees of Mor made their new home next door, and grew that ragged settlement into the city of Lesserton — “the adventurer’s paradise,” a home base for those brave and foolhardy enough to venture into Mor to claim its riches.

Lesserton is fully described in L&M, from districts to buildings to personalities to laws. But Mor is not — Mor, you make yourself. It’s even possible to roll it up as you play, creating new hexes and populating them as the PCs venture into unexplored territory (along the lines of my own Hexmancer).

What’s inside

L&M is a shrinkwrapped bundle, old-school style: a wraparound cardstock cover, unattached to the three booklets inside. The loose cover doubles as a map of Mor, intended to be filled in as you go. Inside are three books: a ref’s guide to Lesserton, a thinner players’ guide to Lesserton, and a guide to rolling up your own Mor.

Lesserton reminds me of WFRP’s Middenheim and Terry Pratchett‘s Ankh-Morpork — two of my favorite fantasy cities — but it’s also its own animal. It’s populated by a ragtag mix of people, including many part-ork (“orkin”) folk descended from the original invaders of Mor, and home to all manner of gambling houses, pubs, and brothels. (“Fantasy Mos Eisley” would also be decent shorthand.)

The Referee’s Guide to Lesserton plumbs its depths rather well, and packs a lot of stuff into 68 pages. It’s not chaff, either — it’s stuff you’ll actually use at the table (like another of my favorite city books, Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, which I’ve written about on Yore).

There are regular pit fights, places to rob, weird shops where you can buy weird shit, normal shops that will sell you adventuring gear, and on and on. There’s a whole section on carousing, which I now realize I missed in my look at carousing in D&D from 1977 to present, and it’s great.

I loathe homework in RPGs, but I love players’ guides to settings; for me to be happy, players’ guides need to be extremely well done, or they’re just homework. The Player’s Guide to Lesserton is extremely well done. For starters, it’s 16 pages long.

What’s the city like? One page, boom. Where is X? There’s a map on the back cover. “I want to get shitfaced.” Covered. “I got too shitfaced, where do they take drunks here?” Covered. “Where do I gamble/drink/fuck?” Covered.

Also covered are lots of things that feel very Lesserton to me. For example, Brinkley’s Assurity Trust will, for 100gp, sell you a bumblebee pin that signals to the orkin tribes who live in Mor that there’s a ransom for your safe return. That’s brilliant! L&M is full of touches like that; it’s designed for play, not just reading (or worse, endless, droning setting-wankery), and it shows.

Finally, there’s the Referee’s Guide to Mor, plus its companion map. This booklet (28 pages, also a great length for what it needs to do) opens with useful background on Mor — what was where, what sort of city it was, and the like. That gives you a good foundation for improvisation during play.

The balance of the book is a framework for generating your own version of Mor, hex by hex, either in advance or on the spot. Random terrain, random buildings, random encounters, special areas (caches, dead magic zones, excavations, etc.) — pure hexcrawl goodness. It even covers generating the orkin clans who call Mor home.

Awesome possum

Put it all together, and L&M is a hell of a toolbox. To stretch the toolbox analogy a bit, it’s like a toolbox that contains some top-notch tools you’re likely to need, as well as the parts to make the ones it’d be more fun to create yourself, and an owner’s manual to help you make the most of both.

I rarely hear anyone talk about Lesserton and Mor, which is a shame — it’s a true gem of a setting. I rate it a 10/10, and heartily recommend it.

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I love Judges Guild’s Campaign Hexagon Sub-System for its flavor, random generators, and sandbox utility, and although I’ve finished rolling up sample Campaign Hexagon entries for every book in the series, I saved an “honorary member” for last: Frontier Forts of Kelnore.

Hail Caesar

The conceit behind these frontier forts is, basically, Rome.

In the Elder Days once stretched the Kingdom of Kelnore for many leagues across the land. To guard its far-flung frontiers, the Kings of Kelnore built a series of forts surrounding the borders. The King’s Master Mason of the time had a great fear of the “irregular.” And so with his supervision, the serfs and peasants labored to make each fort exactly like every other.

Except, that being a long time ago, they’re not always exactly alike. Some have fallen into ruin, others were modified by their garrison commanders, and still others were altered by post-fall of Kelnore owners.

So when the PCs roll up on a Kelnore fort, they’ll have an idea of what it looks like inside, but they won’t know the specifics. This is the first time I’ve come across this concept in fantasy gaming, and I absolutely love it.

It’s fantastic from a flavor standpoint, as well as for minimizing prep. I can also see a campaign-specific “manual of engagement” arising during play, with the PCs using what they’ve learned from raiding these forts in the past to determine their approach when they encounter one.

While not actually part of the Campaign Hexagon series, Frontier Forts feels like it should be. The book is a bit different from those volumes, as it includes some complete dungeons built using the fort sections, but the random generators have that Campaign Hexagon feel to them.

Okay, dice time!

Hark, a frontier fort!

  • Table 2: Table 1, which comes second in the book, is for the site of the fort; the book opens with this table because it guides future rolls, and you might already know the site. (I’ll be rolling for it.) Anyhoo, my d6 roll begets a 2: abandoned. The other three columns tell me that I’ll be making 3 rolls for ruins, 1 for alterations, and 1 for additions. I like this approach. (On a 6, I’d have gotten an active stronghold: zero ruins rolls, 3 alterations, 3 additions.)
  • Site and Surroundings: Forward-backtracking to see where the fort is, I get a 17: desert. If the hex containing the fort isn’t desert, that’s an interesting result; I’ll keep it in mind for now.
  • Ruins: My three d20 rolls are a 20 (wall section collapsed), a 14 (gate/wall walk collapsed), and a 6 (barracks floor collapsed). This place is a shithole.
  • Alterations: Before it became a shithole, though, someone made a change to it. I rolled a 19, “Wall built across Courtyard.” What for? I have an idea based on the desert-in-a-non-desert hex thing, but I’ll just keep it in mind for now.
  • Additions: I’m not sure why this is only a d12 table, not d20, but I rolled a 6: “Wooden stockade built around walls.” So this fort saw some serious action at some point — serious enough that they added a stockade wall to make it more defensible. I’m picturing a bitter last stand in this fort’s past.

The Larch

Here’s how these sorts of changes to the fort plans (which are included in the book, of course) look in the sample dungeons:

  • Principal Creature/Leader: This table is a d20 roll cross-referenced with the type of fort — abandoned, in this case. My 17 gets me a hydra.
  • Random Location: Where’s its lair? A 6, the courtyard. Sweet.
  • Alignment: I’m not going to worry about whether a hydra might have a preset alignment in some editions, I’m just going to roll because it’s more interesting that way. I get a 46, lawful good. Now we’re cooking with gas! This ruined fort just went from a monster lair to . . . something else (but also a monster lair).
  • Leader Level: Maybe a bit fuzzy when applied to a hydra, but I’ll roll and see what it suggests. My 73 makes the hydra level 9, with 5-d4 henchmen (net 3) and 6-d6 hirelings (net 5). It makes sense to me that a lawful good hydra might have some buds; I’ll worry about the level thing later.
  • Leader Vocation: Yeah, this one’s probably also only for use with “Man” results on the leader table, but in for a penny. I get a 5, magic user.
  • Attendants: This is the first of four tables which correspond to a note under the Leader Level table: “Henchmen – roll on Attendants, Retainers, & Warriors Tables.” (A second note applies to hirelings.) No instructions, so I randomize which table to roll on for each henchman, then each hireling. Only one henchman turned out to be an attendant, and a 15 tells me she’s an “Acquintence.”
  • Warriors: I got two warrior henchmen, so I roll 2d20: two 11s, “Light Cavalry Bowman.” I also had two hirelings turn out to be warriors: an 8, “Heavy Foot Bowman,” and an 11, “Light Cavalry Bowman.” I’m digging the archer theme.
  • Servants: My d2 rolls to randomize hirelings produced three servants. Follow-on d20 rolls: 3, 8, 13, for waiter, groom, and chambermaid. This shithole is now a bit posh. Maybe they’ve just moved in?

The rest of the tables cover random room contents, associated monster denizens, and what you might find inside. Those all feel out of place for a fort with a leader and its posse (it seems like they’d have cleaned it out already), so I’m going to skip them. If instead I’d rolled a ruin, or skipped the leader/hirelings portion of the generator, I’d use these tables.

Fort Hockney

Here’s how I’d pull all that together into a fort.

The hydra is a transformed magic user, Lord Pennigrave Hockney, who’s been tasked with cleaning up these filthy borderlands. He’s accompanied by an elite squad of archers, three mounted and one afoot; the latter is also a scout. An aide appointed by the queen also accompanies Hockney, ostensibly to provide advice but really to make sure he doesn’t eat anyone important. Naturally, a lord — even a hydra lord — can’t be expected to travel without certain creature comforts, so Hockney brought along his groom, chambermaid[1], and waiter.

Coming across a dilapidated fort surrounded by a couple acres of desert — a surprise, given that they’re not in a desert — Hockney and company decided to make the it work. They cleared it out, disappointed to find much of it in ruin, but the underground crypts[2] would do to house the troops and servants for the time being. Hockney himself will have to live in the courtyard.

They weren’t sure what to make of the wall that had been constructed in that courtyard, dividing it in two. But the remnants of thick shackles made it clear that at some point in the past, the garrison had imprisoned a creature — or unusual person — in one-half of the courtyard, retaining the rest for their use.

Scorch marks, melted stone, and other signs of magic also pointed to the desertification of the surrounding area not being natural. More disturbing, after a few days in the fort, they’ve noticed that the desert seems to be slowly expanding . . .

If the unit is out conducting a raid, only the servants will be home. If they’re scouting the area, Hockney himself (itself?) will be present. Either way, the PCs aren’t likely to expect a lawful good wizard-hydra on a mission from the queen.[3]

Like the other random-generator books JG has produced, I really dig Frontier Forts of Kelnore.

[1] I don’t envy anyone who has to empty a hydra’s chamberpot.

[2] Which, yes, come standard in Kelnore forts. I love Judges Guild!

[3] Or, to be fair, the waiter.

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When Grant Morrison took over as editor-in-chief of Heavy Metal, beginning with issue #280, I subscribed on the spot.

(Cover by Gail Potocki, one of three variant covers for Morrison’s debut issue.)

I’m a wee bit of a Morrison fan:

. . . and I used to be a regular reader of Heavy Metal back when I was a kid, so putting the two together sounded fantastic to me.

Right off the bat

Here’s an excerpt from Morrison’s introductory piece:

Welcome, one and all, to our jelly-packed Rites of Spring issue – where mighty prehistoric behemoths batter zombie Martian tripods to the bloody pub-sawdust with tree-like, reptile erections while Stravinsky is played at mind-shattering jet-engine volume through the bladder of a screaming helpless pig and STILL those filthy rich squidillionaires in their ermine, crowns, and fancy couture just sit there texting, oblivious to the suffering of performers, audience, and critics alike!

Expectations: high.

Also, this:

In most cases I’m unfamiliar with the work of the artists assembled between these covers, but I liked the cut of their collective jib and thought they came closest to exemplifying the Heavy Metal spirit as I understand it.

Apart from multi-issue runs of particular stories, and HM regulars like, say, Richard Corben, in the past when I’ve opened up an issue of HM that was generally my experience as well: no idea who these folks are, but their work is awesome and surprising and will likely stick with me. I’ve always loved that about HM.

Is it good?

Yep, it’s good.

It’s a weird mix, as it should be.

Beachhead, written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Benjamin Marra, and colored by Marra and Tom Forget, opens the issue strong, with over-the-top, jingoistic aliens “conquering” a far-future Earth which appears to be populated only by bacteria.

I also loved Anna Larine Kornum’s A Mind Bomb, which is genuinely creepy and wouldn’t feel at all out of place in an Unknown Armies campaign. Check out this dude, who has bloody plastic bags over his hands and the stubs of what look like angel wings on his back:

The Key, by Massimiliano Frezzatto, is lovely. This little guy lives inside a woman-shaped ship of some sort; to say more would spoil it.

There’s plenty more good stuff in there, too, and much of it is eminently gameable, from turtle-people who grow time-manipulating drugs in sacs on their backs (and are hunted for them) to a rather unusual explanation for why airplanes sometimes go missing.

I didn’t love every story, but that’s true of most media that use this kind of format. On the whole, this issue struck exactly the notes I was looking for, with trippy artwork, unusual self-contained tales, and a stew of stuff for my brain to chew on. If this is a sign of things to come under Morrison’s editorship, I say bring it the fuck on.

I haven’t tucked into issue #281 yet, but it’s waiting patiently for me.

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Nathan D. Paoletta‘s World Wide Wrestling RPG reminds me of Action Movie World, another tight-premise PbtA game, not because they share a premise but because WWW 100% delivers on its premise (just like AMW).

Wrasslin’

My last contact with professional wrestling was in the 1980s, when I used to occasionally watch it as a kid. I dug the larger-than-life personalities, but it wasn’t my thing in the same way as, say, G.I. Joe (so much G.I. Joe!). That didn’t crimp my enjoyment of the game one bit — and being accessible to gamers who aren’t into wrestling is just the first of many things WWW does well.

On the night we played WWW, my Seattle group consisted of two wrestling fans, one more casual fan, one lapsed fan (me), and two players with close to zero knowledge of professional wrestling. Without fans in the group, we’d have leaned on WWW’s excellent “How Wrestling Works” essay and been just fine; with fans, we probably got into the action a bit faster than we otherwise might have.

Our GM bought this little wrestling ring, complete with figures, to make it easier for us to demonstrate what we wanted to do in the ring:

It worked nicely, and helped to set the mood. I think it’s this set, which is totally worth its $10 price.

Gloriously over-the-top

WWW’s playbooks make it easy to create colorful, grandiose, and suitably bananas wrestlers. We created characters as a group, riffing off each others’ ideas, suggesting concepts and special moves and looks and theme songs rapid-fire, and cranked out some memorably crazy characters.

We baked in relationships — rivals, mentor and mentee, etc. — during character creation, which the game facilitates, and that gave the GM (called “Creative” in WWW) fuel to prepare the bookings. He spent a couple of minutes matching us up against each other based on those relationships, and secretly noted who was supposed to win each match.

On my initial read-through of the game, I was concerned about that aspect of the system; it sounded confining. But in play, it worked beautifully. We were all excited about each match-up, and we all had the chance to flip the script and change who won the match; one player used this option at the perfect time, but otherwise we stuck to the bookings.

Ditto my pre-game concern that there might be too many mechanics for my taste. There are more moving parts than some PbtA games, but in play they all did their job and clicked — just like good mechanics should.

A unique rhythm

A game where most of the group watches two people play might sound boring for everyone but those two people (and the GM), but again, WWW sets things up so it isn’t. One person plays the announcer, using a prop microphone to provide color commentary, and that adds a layer of interaction and entertainment for everyone. (The role is supposed to rotate, but we quickly found our best announcer and generally stuck with him.) And of course the matches are quick, so after being on the sidelines in one match the spotlight rotates and suddenly you’re the center of attention again.

The division of wrestlers into babyfaces and heels — good and evil ring personas, more or less — also gave the players on the sidelines something to think about. Not in the match, but have a heated rivalry with someone who is? Use the right move, and you can show up and get involved anyway. This worked really well in play.

The evening played out as a mix of matches and out-of-the-ring scenes. We had fun cutting promos for our wrestlers, striving to outdo each other with cheesy one-liners and catchphrases. We didn’t delve much into the other side of the game — the real wrestlers behind the personalities, and how they interact outside the ring — that much, mostly due to time and this being the first session. But what we did in this session primed that pump beautifully for some more real-world action in a follow-up session.

The best way I can sum up my first WWW session is that there wasn’t a single moment that didn’t feel right. The game facilitates feeling right at every step, from character creation through individual matches through the behind-the-scenes stuff, and the mechanics work to keep everyone engaged and on point.

High-energy awesomeness

World Wide Wrestling is pure electric sex. It’s exhilarating to play, and the stuff I had reservations about after reading it — Creative booking match results in advance, the number of moving parts compared to the average PbtA game — fell away at the table.

The over-the-top goodness of pro wrestling is a perfect match for the collaborative, player agency-driven magic of the PbtA engine. World Wide Wrestling is a two cups of coffee, bring my A game sort of RPG for me: No one can coast, because everyone is involved an “on” pretty much all the time. I highly reccommend it.

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I buy a lot of gaming books on Lulu (here’s my list of 85+ recommendations), and I can’t remember the last time I didn’t use a coupon code.

Like Steam, Lulu has taught me to never buy anything unless there’s a sale. I don’t know if it’s the healthiest business model, but there’s always a sale (and healthy or not, this model does prompt me to order more books on Lulu than I otherwise would).

For about six months there, it was the glorious LULURC, now sadly no longer working.[1] They ran other coupons alongside that one, which seemed odd, but LULURC just kept on working.

Always-on coupons

I used to Google “lulu coupon code” before ordering, and poke through the first few links for codes to try. These days, I search on G+, or go through the last couple days of my stream, and find them that way — or I just try a few default options until one works.

Lulu likes to use the same taxonomy for coupon codes, so I always try these:

  • LULU30
  • LULU25
  • GETIT25
  • LULU15
  • GETIT15

The number is the percentage off. 15% is my “floor” for placing an order, but if I can’t do better I generally wait for another coupon to roll around.

The taxonomy changes; the year used to be part of their mainstay coupons, until it wasn’t. But once you have a current coupon to work from, experiment with different numbers and variations and see what happens.

Lulu will also sometimes[2] proactively email you a coupon if you sign in, put some books in your cart, close your browser window/tab, and wait a few hours.

Almost a corollary

I coined Lulu’s Law to describe what happens basically every time I place a Lulu order: I immediately hear about another book I should have ordered. (Once in a great while, I escape this curse, but not often.)

But I realized yesterday that there’s a corollary to that law, albeit a “soft” one: The same thing frequently applies to Lulu coupons. Use a sweet 25% off code? Lulu will put out a 30% off coupon the next day. Not always, but often enough to be noticeable.

And at the end of the day, that’s okay: I like Lulu. A lot.

I like the gaming books I can find there, including many that are only there. I like their customer service, which has had my back when I have an order issue (which is rare). I like that they offer an inexpensive shipping option, that their coupons around Christmas and Black Friday tend to be quite good, and that if I’m patient, a good coupon is just around the corner.

[1] All hail LULURC, may it long be remembered.

[2] Maybe always? I’ve only done it a couple times, by accident, so I’m not sure.

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I play a lot of PbtA games these days, so when I’m eyeing new dice I’m generally thinking about pairs of six-siders.[1] And I’m a sucker for pretty dice.

These puppies stopped me in my tracks — they’re anodized titanium dice from Flytanium, combining one of my favorite metals with one of my favorite colors:

(Sexy dice demanded a sexy book, so I grabbed my sexiest PbtA game, Undying.)

Big purple

Here’s a closer look:

A 1 oz. apiece, they’re heavy — I weighed an old Armory d6 and a Gamescience d6 for comparison purposes, and those each weigh just 0.1 oz. (Make them out of brass, say, and they’d be about twice as heavy; for a strong, durable metal, titanium is incredibly light.)

They’re also larger than standard gaming d6s, 3/4″ vs. 5/8″, like casino dice.

I love the anodization, which is deliberately “uneven” — they have an antiqued look, and with time (and rolls) they’ll scuff and develop a character all their own.

With respect to fairness, they should be as fair as any other machine-made, tumbled, pipped dice. If Flytanium drilled the pips to different depths based on face (shallowest on the six face, deepest on the one face), that would make them more accurate. But they don’t, and that’s fine by me.

Destroy . . . destroy . . . destroy

I’m generally not a fan of oversized dice, but these are so well chamfered that they feel great in-hand — and they roll well. Unlike precision-edge and non-titanium metal dice I own, these aren’t table-destroyers. I’d roll them on most tables without too much concern, though I’d still prefer a pad, book, or dice tray, because heavy dice are noisy.

I strongly suspect, however, that they would be dice-destroyers. When I used to carry metal dice and plastic dice in the same bag, the plastic ones showed wear pretty quickly. Gamescience dice, with their light, crisp edges, went first; after a week, they looked like they’d been through a war. So I’ll be carrying these on their own, not with their plastic buddies.

Old eyes

I wasn’t sure how readable these suckers would be without contrasting pips — they’re anodized all over. Only real table time will tell for sure, but the pips, which are generally shiny, stand out well against the stonewashed surface.

I experimented with rolling them under different light conditions, and only when the light was so dim that I wouldn’t want to game in a room that dark did they become difficult for me to read — and even then, only at arm’s length. Closer in, or in normal light, they’re surprisingly readable.

Flytanium makes d6s in a variety of materials and colors, often in short runs. As of this writing, their website is sold out, but you can find them in other places. (I got mine on Ebay; BladeHQ also carries them, as do other knife- and EDC-oriented sites).

I’ve seen photos of a titanium version with anodized pips and non-anodized flats, and those pips practically glow.[2] I’m going to keep an eye out for a pair of those, just in case some table time reveals that the all-over-anodized versions are harder to read than I think they will be.

[1] And fun weird dice, and old-school dice, and . . .

[2] They’ve also done some that literally glow, thanks to embedded tritium vials.

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Attending Go Play NW prompted me to rebuild my “go folder” — the games I can run on zero notice, either by grabbing the book (and having everything else in the folder) or because the whole game is in the folder.

All of them are self-contained, require no prep from anyone, can be played in a session or two, and come packaged with a premise/hook to get us rolling.

The games

My go folder contains the stuff I need for these seven games, each in its own pocket (plus characters, blank paper, and stuff for my group’s ongoing games in the other pockets):

  1. Lady Blackbird (whole game), a steampunk game with a pregenerated cast that nonetheless plays out entirely differently every time, and which somehow managed to fit the core rules onto every character sheet without impeding usability. So, so good.
  2. GHOST/ECHO (whole game), a two-page RPG that kicks off with a bang: “WHILE HUNTING FOR LOOT IN THE GHOST WORLD, YOUR CREW WAS SOLD OUT. YOU’VE WALKED RIGHT INTO AN AMBUSH, WITH HUNGRY WRAITHS ON YOUR HEELS.” I haven’t played this one yet.
  3. Jedi Blackbird (whole game), a Star Wars (Old Republic era) hack of Lady Blackbird. I haven’t run this one either, but I posted about it on Yore.
  4. Ghost Lines (whole game), another John Harper game (because John is amazing at designing this style of game), this one about hunting spirits in a setting where they’re “free to roam the world since the gates of death were broken in the cataclysm.” The game assumes you’re familiar with Apocalypse World; I haven’t gotten to run it yet.
  5. DCC RPG (whole game), condensed down into a convention funnel edition, including The Portal Under the Stars and a stack of pregenerated peasants. Funnels are a hoot, and this short one is excellent; for a longer option, I could grab Sailors on the Starless Sea.
  6. Psi-Run, one of the only RPGs I rate a 10/10, because it’s perfect. The PCs are pyschic escapees from some sort of sinister program, being pursued by relentless Chasers, and if they get caught, they lose. Starts with the tension already ratcheted up to about an 8, and goes from there.
  7. Love in the Time of Seið, which is based on Archipelago, a Norse-themed Shakespearean tragedy that spirals into blood and death. I played this at GPNW, and it was amazing. All of the characters start off beautifully dovetailed with one another, and there’s almost never any downtime.

I would literally be happy to run any of these games right this hot minute.

The folder

I use an Esselte Oxford poly 8-pocket folder as opposed to a multi-pocket folio, because in my experience those tend to smush pages unless I’m extremely careful with them (which I’m not).

This one lays flat (coil binding!), holds a ton of stuff, and has bounced around in my gaming bag for the past year with no signs of wear. It’s now tucked away in my new gaming bag — poised, catlike, ready to pounce on gaming opportunities with no notice whatsoever.

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John Aegard has produced some really cool stuff, including two resources that jumped out at me: Jedi Blackbird, a Star Wars hack of Lady Blackbird, and a collection of tips for running a Dungeon World one-shot.

Jedi Blackbird

Jedi Blackbird is more structured than its inspiration, but only a little. That’s a good thing: Lady Blackbird is brilliant, but I want a hack of it to do something more than just reskin the characters and call it a day. Jedi Blackbird does more.

It’s still every bit as delightfully brief: two pages of sparse background, one page of GMing notes, and the characters. Boom.

The added structure comes from the premise:

NOW, word has arrived from the distant Outer Rim that the renegade padawan ORDO VALLUS has established a holdfast on the junk world of KONDU. The Jedi Council has hastily dispatched three Jedi aboard the starship BLACKBIRD. Their mission: to bring Vallus back to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, where he will stand trial.

Vallus has an agenda; it’s covered in the GMing notes. The PCs are on a mission, and on a specific planet, which fits well for Star Wars. But beyond that, things are wide open — there’s no plot to follow, no rails to ride. (JB tweaks more things about LB than just the setting and structure, too; those are also in John’s notes.)

I’ve already printed this out and added it to the folder full of zero-prep games that rides in my gaming bag.[1]

Index card mapping

I dig Dungeon World, and John’s tips for fitting a satisfying, emblematic DW experience into a typical four-hour convention event slot look good to me. But what really grabbed me was his mapping technique, which uses index cards.

Here’s why this sounds amazing:

The map will be a grid of index cards arranged where everyone can see. […] A map made of cards is super flexible and totally lets you earn your Draw Maps While Leaving Blanks merit badge. See, if you want to add a location between two other locations while you’re in the middle of play, you can just insert a card in between those two locations.

This turns the map into a pointcrawl, a variation on a hexcrawl that uses more abstract mapping and travel rules, on the fly.[2] Which is brilliant!

For a longer-term game, pin the cards to a corkboard or stick them to the table (or a portable surface) with poster putty. Or hell, just take a picture of the map and rebuild it for each session (until it gets large enough to need a more streamlined solution).

This is one of those mapping techniques I can’t believe I’ve never thought of using before. It has so many applications to different types of game, and it’s right up my alley.

[1] I suspect I’ll write a post about that folder before too long. I love zero-prep grab-and-go games!

[2] The pointcrawl series on Hill Cantons is a great look at this style of play.

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When I thought about what I wanted to be able to run on short notice at Go Play NW, if the opportunity arose, DCC RPG was on the list — except I didn’t want to carry the whole rulebook.

Having already trimmed the rulebook down to 18 pages, I wondered if I could go even lighter by printing out a version that only includes the rules I needed to run a funnel. There’s stuff in the “core 18” pages that doesn’t apply to funnels, but for a pickup game with strangers I’d also want a few other things included. Here’s what I came up with.

Funnel packet

So what’s in the pile? Seven things (starting in the bottom left in the photo, and working deeper into the pile):

  1. A stack of pregenerated peasants, produced using Purple Sorcerer’s o-level party generator[1] and then cut out, so that we could draw randomly for everyone’s PCs (which feels appropriately DCC).
  2. The 12-page convention funnel edition of the DCC rules, which is only the stuff you need to run pregenerated peasants, and nothing else. Setting aside the cover pages (use whatever you like), and using the printed page numbers from the 4th printing (not the numbers my PDF reader assigns), that’s:
    • Skill checks, pp.66-67
    • Equipment and related rules, pp.70-73
    • Combat, pp.76-82
    • Damage, healing, and other misc. rules, pp.93-96
  3. The Portal Under the Stars, a fantastic funnel, printed straight from the core rulebook (pp.452-456); ideal for a short session.
  4. A second funnel option, Sailors on the Starless Sea, which I haven’t run before but have heard only good things about; ideal for a longer session, at least four hours.
  5. A character creation packet, pp.18-24,[2] in case we decided to make characters. I wanted to have that option, because making funnel PCs is fun.
  6. Extra copies of the occupation tables, pp.22-23, because experience has taught me that having more than one of these available is a big timesaver.
  7. A few blank “four-up” 0-level PC sheets, also from Purple Sorcerer, which are hiding at the very bottom.

The whole idea is to reduce size and handling time. If I was less concerned about carrying stuff, I’d have stuck the pages in a binder; keeping them as little packets made them smaller. Making packets also helps with handling time: Not creating PCs? Set that packet aside, and now I don’t have to flip past those pages to look up rules I actually need.

I didn’t wind up running DCC at the con — my lone pickup session was of another game I’d brought, The Quiet Year (one of my favorite RPGs). But the next time I need my “convention edition,” it’ll already be there in a tidy little stack, just waiting to mangle some peasants.

[1] With the option to only show Luck modifiers if they matter turned on, because those are just noise to first-time players.

[2] This could easily be included in the main packet, and it does contain rules that aren’t unique to character creation — stuff about saving throws, etc. I’ve run enough DCC that I don’t need these basics handy.

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Via private G+ share, I followed a link to Alex Wellerstein‘s NUKEMAP — disturbing and depressing as a real-world visualization tool, but in gaming terms, perfect for nuking the Earth as part of post-apocalyptic setting creation.

NUKEMAP lets you choose a place on the map, the yield of the weapon, and whether it’s a surface strike or an airburst, and then click to see the radii of destruction, fallout, casualty estimates, and more. I nuked Seattle with a W-78 delivered via a Minuteman III missile, ticked the boxes for surface burst, casualties, and fallout, and got this result:

Making a custom Zone map for Mutant: Year Zero? NUKEMAP seems like it’d be a great place to start. Rolling up on one of the cities that got nuked in the original Twilight: 2000 timeline? Pick a yield, NUKEMAP it, and think about how it would look in the game.

As a person, I’m both repelled and fascinated by nuclear weapons. The circumstances of their testing, the reasons they exist, and their effects on real people are profoundly disturbing.

In one of my college film classes, I got to watch Bruce Conner’s Crossroads. It was a life-altering experience. Which sounds so clichéd, right? But for me, in this instance, it was true. Almost 20 years later, I can still remember how I felt watching Crossroads: I felt like the bottom had dropped out of the world. (As far as I can tell, it’s only available online in excerpt form, but imagine watching 37 minutes of that, on a full-size movie screen.)

But as a gamer[1], I’m equally fascinated with post-apocalyptic settings, nuking things until they glow, and seeing what happens next. There’s something deeply appealing about apocalypses of all kinds in game form.

NUKEMAP sits at the intersection of thoughtful consideration of the real-world devastation caused by nuclear weapons and the escapist fun of romping through post-apocalyptic worlds. It’s a nifty tool.

[1] And movie lover, TV viewer, avid reader, etc.

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