Categories
Old School Essentials Tabletop RPGs

OSE monster: 3rd instar giant mantis

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

My kiddo, Lark, is playing a goblin beast master with giant mantis companion in our OSE Godsbarrow campaign, and the mantis stat block in the OSE Advanced Monsters book is, uh, 9 HD too high for a 1st level beast master. I needed a 1 HD version.

Following the Just Use Bears principle, I statted up young giant mantises based on a mix of the listed 10 HD version, hunting dogs, and giant mutant frogs. (Instar refers to how many times a mantis has molted; a 3rd instar has molted three times.)

Broadly speaking, male mantises can fly while females cannot, and females tend to be more brutal hunters. Their stat blocks are slightly different to reflect that.

Giant Mantis (3rd instar female)

6’ long (4’ tall).

AC 7 [12]
HD 1+2 (6 HP)
Att 2 x claws (1d2+1), THAC0 18 [+1]
MV 60’ (20’) / 90’ (30’) jump
SV D12 W13 P14 B15 S16 (1)
ML 9
AL Neutral

Surprise: On a 1-3, due to camouflage. Will not attack obviously more powerful creatures, staying motionless and hidden.

Grab: If a victim is hit by both claws in the same round, they are trapped and attacked each subsequent round with the mandibles (+2 bonus to attack roll, 1d3 damage).
Giant Mantis (3rd instar male)

6’ long (4’ tall).

AC 7 [12]
HD 1+2 (6 HP)
Att 2 x claw (1d2), THAC0 18 [+1]
MV 60’ (20’) / 90’ (30’) flying
SV D12 W13 P14 B15 S16 (1)
ML 9
AL Neutral

Surprise: On a 1-3, due to camouflage. Will not attack obviously more powerful creatures, staying motionless and hidden.

Grab: If a victim is hit by both claws in the same round, they are trapped and attacked each subsequent round  with the mandibles (+2 bonus to attack roll, 1d6 damage).

I honestly can’t remember the last time I wrote up a monster stat block. This was fun!

Categories
Godsbarrow Old school Old School Essentials Tabletop RPGs

An awesome day: Starting an OSE Godsbarrow campaign with Lark

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

This past Monday, my kiddo expressed an interest in playing D&D. I’ve been preparing for this moment my whole life.

Lark and I starting up our campaign

We talked about D&D, and what that meant — because if Lark had a specific edition in mind (like 5e as seen on a livestream, for example), I wanted to run that. But the brief was more general, so I pitched classic campaign elements — dungeon adventuring, an open world, and real danger — and a few systems that seemed like a good fit: Moldvay Basic D&D (B/X, from 1981), Dungeon World, and DCC RPG.

All three got a thumbs up, and Lark picked Friday — today! — for our first session.

Choosing a game

This was a big choice, so I want to take a side street and talk about it for a minute.

As fate would have it, my Kickstarter pledge for Old School Essentials [affiliate link] arrived today — right as I was in the middle of settling on a system. I’d already ruled out DCC RPG, because as much as I adore it a solo funnel seems like a bad introduction. And while Dungeon World would be simple to solo, my gut said it wasn’t quite the classic experience I thought Lark was after.

B/X is my favorite edition of D&D, and I love Labyrinth Lord, but after spending some time with Old School Essentials I put them both back on the shelf. It’s that good.

OSE somehow manages to be clean, crisp, modern, and clear while still feeling like a mysterious, wooly box of oddities and delights. I wasn’t surprised it was good; I’ve been hearing that for years. But I am surprised it’s this good.

Ditto with an introductory adventure: Tomb of the Iron God [affiliate link] is one of my favorites, but the OSE adventure The Hole in the Oak [affiliate link] blew me away.

I also stumbled across Kevin Crawford’s Black Streams: Solo Heroes [affiliate link], the precursor to Scarlet Heroes [affiliate link]. Both enable one B/X character to be as effective as a party of four, letting you to run modules solo pretty much as-is, but Black Streams is shorter, easier to digest, and perfect for our needs.

Gaming with my kiddo

Lark and I have gamed together twice before. I designed Storylike for Lark (age 4), and we played it with my wife, Alysia, and our friend Jaben back when we lived in Utah. We had fun, but Lark was too young to remember it.

I also ran Murderous Ghosts for Lark and Alysia a few years back. That was a blast too (as it always is), but it was just that single session.

This session was different. Magical is the best descriptor I can come up with.

That started right from the jump, with Lark asking to play. Alysia and I don’t push our interests on Lark, so while I mention every year or two that I’m always happy to run a game that’s where I leave it. This was all Lark.

Partway through character creation

Life has thrown the Ralyas some curve balls lately, but today all the puzzle pieces of the universe clicked into place for a couple of hours.

All too often my Kickstarter pledges arrive and don’t interest me anymore, or I realize I didn’t need to pledge for the whole pile when just one book would have done it. Not this time: Every single thing in that package got used today.

The bones of our game: OSE, OSE Advanced, The Unlucky Isles, Black Streams, the gaming notebook I haven’t used in like three years (stupid pandemic), and a big bag of dice

After looking at all of the awesome options, Lark picked a species — goblin — from an issue of Carcass Crawler, and the beast master class from a different issue, and then asked if their pet could be a giant mantis. Of course! There’s no giant mantis in the OSE monster book, but I bet we can back into it with a couple of other insect entries…hey, wait a minute, there’s a giant mantis in the OSE Advanced monster book. (Click goes another puzzle piece.)

I seriously can’t believe there’s a giant mantis in OSE Advanced; I love this game

Lark also wanted to play in Godsbarrow, and I can’t adequately express how cool that feels. And again: Not coerced! I’ve poured my soul into this world for the past 20 months, and knowing that it piqued Lark’s interest is…well, it’s huge.

We talked about the Unlucky Isles, and how awesome it is that since I’ve never written the word “goblin” once in my Godsbarrow stuff that means Godsbarrow’s goblins will be introduced to the setting and shaped by Lark, and by the adventures of Hapishnei Tuθineσ, goblin beast master, who lives in Brundir’s haunted Ockwood.

And the whole time we got to just hang out, enjoy each others’ company, and geek out about D&D, dice, the long tradition of lived-in game settings, goblins, mantids, and all sorts of fun stuff. It was absolutely fantastic.

Character creation well underway

Lark wanted to draw Hapishnei and think about why they might be in the Ockwood, and whether goblins stick to the forest or are part of Brundiri society, so we called the session there for today. I view collaborative character creation as play, so this was the official start of the second Godsbarrow campaign.

Tomorrow we dive into The Hole in the Oak!

(As an aside, although I didn’t plan it this way, this is my 500th post on Yore! I knew #500 was coming up, but I didn’t catch that it had already happened until a few days later. I couldn’t have planned a post that makes me happier than this one if I’d tried, so that worked out nicely.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

The Unlucky Isles is now available in print

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

The printer’s proof of The Unlucky Isles has made its way to me and it looks great, and DriveThruRPG has now approved it for sale. If you’ve been waiting to buy The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link] in print, it’s available!

Cover of The Unlucky Isles, my first Godsbarrow book

As promised, everyone who purchased the PDF before the POD version went live has received a discount for the full cost of the PDF off the print edition.

Folks who have turned off the ability for Halfbeard Press, or all publishers, to contact them through DTRPG won’t have gotten that email. If that’s you, drop me a line and I’ll send you the discount manually: martin halfbeardpress com.

This feeling never gets old

There is no feeling quite like holding a book you’ve worked on in your hands. The printer’s proof didn’t need any updates, so if you order a copy this is what yours will look like.

I love Dean Spencer’s cover art so much
Sample spread showing the regional map and the intro to the Isles
The opening pages of the Brundir chapter

Thank you to everyone who has picked up The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link]! I literally do a fist pump every time I see that a another copy has been sold.

I’m closing in on covering the cost of the artwork in The Unlucky Isles with sales of the book. I’ll be rolling that money right into purchasing artwork for Godsbarrow Guidebook 2, The Gilded Lands, which is currently underway. I’m about a third of the way through the manuscript for that one.

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Now on sale: The Unlucky Isles, Godsbarrow Guidebook 1

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

The book I’ve been working on since July is now available! You can buy The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link] from DriveThruRPG.

If you purchase the PDF now, I’ll send you a discount code that reduces the price of the print-on-demand version by the full cost of the PDF once POD is available.

The cover of The Unlucky Isles, Godsbarrow Guidebook 1

Large, high-resolution map

The standalone map of the Unlucky Isles region is also available as a PWYW product, and while it’s included in the book you should snag this version as well because it’s much larger (as it doesn’t have to fit on a page): The Unlucky Isles Region Map [affiliate link].

Print is coming

I’ve submitted the files for the print on demand version of the book, but it will probably be a little while until that’s available. The printer has to process them and then mail me a proof copy, and then if that proof looks good I can turn on the POD option; if it needs changes, that adds another cycle of approvals to the timeline.

Thank you!

When I first started working on Godsbarrow back in March of 2021, there was no guarantee this day would come. But after more than a year and a half on working on Godsbarrow every single day, and running an ongoing campaign in the setting, I love this place even more now than I did when I started writing about it.

Getting to this point, where I feel comfortable sharing my first campaign setting in published format, has been a long, fun road. If you wind up picking up The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], thank you so much for your support!

Categories
Comics Miscellaneous geekery Tabletop RPGs

From pulp to pixels (and sometimes back again)

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

I love comics. But how I read them has changed over the years, from all single issues as a kid to all TPBs in college to all-digital…and then back to single print issues. And now back to digital-only again, but this time for good (I think).

Reflecting on the notion of pulling or subscribing to single issues in this, the fourteenth year of the pandemic, it feels a bit like starting to buy CDs again. Would I start buying CDs again? Nope. There’d be no point.

Everything except the smell and feel of a printed comic, and the implementation of double-width splash pages, works better for me in digital format.

Looking back

From the early 1980s until 2000, I read all of my American comics in print as single issues. In 2000, when Preacher ended, I switched almost entirely to reading TPBs. It wasn’t until 2019 that I started up a pull list again.

That lasted about a year, until the pandemic hit and I fully committed to digital comics in March of 2021. I was subscribed to 12-15 X-Men books every month, and that eventually burned me out; after a break, I came back with a leaner subscription list that stayed steady for a few months. I transitioned back to print in February 2022, when comiXology went from awesome to pretty crappy overnight.

And then in May of this year I realized I just wasn’t going to read single issues in print again. Never say never, of course, but I canceled my pulls and went back to digital-only. Most of my big-two reading these days is older runs on DC Universe Infinite or Marvel Unlimited, and it’s incredibly rare for me buy TPBs anymore.

Manga

On the manga front, I was almost exclusively a tankōbon reader from childhood through the end of 2020. Subscribing to Shonen Jump online in 2020 was a seismic shift for me, and I’ve done about 90% of my manga reading digitally ever since. (Series I’m attached to in print for one reason or another make up the other 10%.)

Inevitability

Like music, and then novels, and then movies, as much as I love holding a comic in my hands the convenience of digital options outweighs that love 95% of the time. My eyes aren’t getting any younger, and it’s hard to argue with backlit pages I can read anywhere, zoomed-in as needed, without having to manage, store, and haul around hundreds of pounds of stuff every time we move.

I don’t think my love of print will ever vanish entirely; that connection runs too deep. But nowadays I mostly buy print comics as slabbed books, or intending to send them to CGC, so I can hang them up and enjoy them that way.

Look upon this trend, my creaking RPG shelves, and weep

This reckoning is coming — slowly, but inevitably — for my RPG collection and reading habits as well. I passed the tipping point where my PDF collection outnumbered my print collection years ago, and the amount of time I actually use my print RPG books in play has diminished steadily for the past 5-7 years.

For now, I still buy print RPG books that are special in some way, because they’re gorgeous, out of nostalgia, or because they offer usability advantages in some specific cases (mainly modules, sometimes, or handing books to other people). But I’ve thinned my print RPG collection by 40% over the past couple years, and I don’t miss a single book from the culling.

The intersection of convenience and usability is the ultimate reaper.

Categories
Godsbarrow Miscellaneous geekery Tabletop RPGs

10 years of Yore, and dusting off proto-Godsbarrow ideas from 2013

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

Today is Yore’s 10th anniversary! I wrote my first blog post here on August 28, 2012: Reading Appendix N: The project, the appendix, and the goal.

10! Years!

That’s longer than my time blogging on Gnome Stew (just shy of 8 years) or Treasure Tables before that (just over 2 years). Hell, it’s almost longer than both of them combined.

Part of why Yore continues to work for me is that it’s my place to write whatever I want to write, not worry too much about whether anyone is reading it, and post when the mood strikes me — without keeping any sort of schedule, resulting in fewer posts per year than either GS or TT (by a long shot).

I do hope folks enjoy it, though! I’ve been posting gaming stuff online since the late 1990s, and one consistent throughline over the past 20-plus years is that I generally post stuff I find interesting that I think other folks might find useful, or enjoy, or both.

Waymark

Godsbarrow isn’t the first fantasy setting I’ve taken a stab at: It was preceded by what are, in hindsight, several “proto-Godsbarrows,” and from time to time I like to go back and cherry-pick my best ideas from those early iterations. A post that just says “Yay, 10 years!” is kind of boring — so I figured I’d blow the dust off an old proto-Godsbarrow post and see what it has to offer.

I picked a Yore draft post entitled “file” from March 18, 2013. I probably haven’t looked at it since then, and I have no idea why it’s a draft post rather than a Notepad file on my PC like the rest of my worldbuilding notes.

“file” is sandwiched between Reading Appendix N posts I never finished writing, a card game called Spires of Prague that I really need to get back to someday, and what I think is an archived draft of my free RPG Signal Lost, which I designed for Game Check 2013

Guiding principles for worldbuilding

That post included some stuff that very much informs how I’m developing Godsbarrow nearly 10 years later. Like these guiding principles:

  1. Don’t be subtle and don’t hold back: If it’s worth noting, it’s worth taking too far. Don’t avoid clichés; they work well in games.
  2. Dot no Is and cross no Ts: It doesn’t have to be done to be playable. It will never be done. Being unfinished is a virtue.
  3. The Rule of Two Things: Each point of interest on the map should be most notable for two things. Remembering lots of things is hard, especially as a player; remembering two is easy.
  4. The world is the world: If there are giants in the hills, it’s because there are giants in the hills–not because the PCs are “ready” to face giants.

I’m probably tempering #1 a bit these days, and #2 is less relevant as parts of Godsbarrow get more fully fleshed-out — yet entirely relevant in some ways. For example, the Godsbarrow campaign I’m currently running is going just fine despite the setting being nowhere near finished.

I don’t hew religiously to #3, but it does tend to be how I think of points of interest. If one needs more than two things to make it sing, that’s cool — but less is often more. #4 is 100% still how I worldbuild and how I run D&D-alikes.

Godsbarrow: at least 10 years in the making

This 2013 draft isn’t the oldest proto-Godsbarrow material, although it’s close. The oldest stuff on my hard drive that’s recognizably the rough clay from which I’m molding Godsbarrow dates back to April 2012. Like all worldbuilding, naturally there are much older ideas that bubble up and work their way into current stuff, but back in 2012-2013 I was actively building a setting — variously called Bleakstone or Waymark — using elements that are part of Godsbarrow.

Skulvezar, Godsbarrow’s god of skeletons, makes an appearance in that 2013 draft post. Proto-Skulvezar was more closely connected with demons; I tightened him up for Godsbarrow. Ditto the town of Cape Reckless, in the Unlucky Isles. I would have sworn Cape Reckless dated back to maybe 2016, not 2013, but there it was.

Hexcrawl points of interest

There are some names in there I need to pull into Godsbarrow — and the village of Garbriar definitely needs to make an appearance: “Garbriar is famous for its spicy prickleberry stew and for having the ugliest villagers in all of Saxum. By local tradition, village roofs are thatched with prickleberry branches.” (There’s a Rule of Two Things write-up, complete with breaking the rule with a third thing.)

Here are a few other points of interest, which I was writing up hex by hex in 2013. There’s some stuff here that would be right at home in Godsbarrow, and may just wind up there.

  • The Godsroad (0705): Maintained by laborers from Temple Town (often those doing penance or donating their time to a Church), the Godsroad is neutral territory between Saxum and Harth, traveled by traders, pilgrims, and soldiers alike.
  • Great North Road (0607): Laid down by the Vazdurak Empire centuries ago, the Great North Road is wide, clear, and well-traveled. It serves as the main trade route connecting Harth and Saxum. Waymarks — statues of demonic figures that stand about waist high, many weathered almost beyond recognition — are placed every quarter mile along the north edge of the road.
  • Cursed Grove (0906): This twisted, overgrown forest’s name isn’t hyperbole: Anyone who spends the night here has a chance of becoming cursed. Curses tend to last a few days and include things like being struck mute, seeing everyone around you as a demon, crying blood non-stop, or shouting “Hail Murgoth!” every few minutes. Every variety of mundane spiders can be found in the Cursed Grove, and in great numbers.
  • Galconny (0607): Galconny was previously the northernmost city in the Vazdurak Empire, and the present-day city is built on the bones and ashes of that one. Where the old architecture survives, it’s all devils and demons: sinister carvings in every archway, markets held in ancient arenas formerly devoted to blood sports and sacrifices, brown-stained cobbles that never come clean.

Our Dragons Are Different

Back in 2013, I had a whole thing where I was reimagining all of the staples of D&D monster manual — a perfect example of the Our Elves Are Different trope. I have mixed feelings about that trope, but I guess on balance I like it. It hearkens back to the grand tradition of heartbreaker fantasy RPGs, which isn’t an unambiguously good thing, but it also has real practical weight for anyone designing a fantasy world for publication. Why? Because it gets straight at this key question: Why should anyone play a game in your world instead of the countless existing fantasy campaign settings?

When it’s done right (which is the hard part), “because our elves are different” is a pretty solid answer to that question. (Not the only answer, of course!) If you’re running D&D or any D&D-alike, and the world is broadly based on some of the common themes therein, you probably need elves. But do they need to be D&D or Tolkien elves? No…but they should have enough in common that you can identify them as elves — while being different in ways that evoke the setting you’re trying to create and add to your enjoyment while exploring it.

As a concept, “elf” is delightfully mutable. (That same mutability is one reason superheroes are so neat.) I like elves, and dwarves, and halflings, and other staple fantasy species, and I’m enjoying riffing on the core concepts of these species in Godsbarrow. The only elves I’ve written up so far are from the Arkestran Dominion, and their species originates in the Wraithsea — their ancestors were literally born out of the dreams of sleeping gods. A lot of what makes an elf an elf clicks in a different way when that’s the starting point.

In that same vein, the dragons I wrote up for Waymark in 2013 are pretty appealing to me in 2022 — and thus far I haven’t written the word “dragon” in connection with Godsbarrow. Not every fantasy setting needs them, certainly, but I can see going this direction with dragons if they ever appear in Godsbarrow. (The petrified expanses led directly to the next iteration of this unfinished setting, Bleakstone.)

Dragons haven’t been seen in Waymark for over two centuries, and most people think they’re just a myth. The strange stony expanses found throughout Waymark are most often attributed to dragons, and are most often called Wyrmstone. They’re shunned and feared by just about everyone.

There are six dragons in the world, each a Prince of Hell. They’re arch-devils in service of Skulvezar, revered as the Apocalypse Dragons by the Vazdurak Empire and now simply known as dragons. Their touch petrifies everything around them — the ground, people, plants, animals, everything.

Waymark is dotted with expanses of Wyrmstone, places where a dragon set foot on the earth and permanently transformed the landscape–and anyone or anything unfortunate enough to be in the area–into bleak grey stone. Wyrmstone expanses have existed for as long as anyone can remember, but rumors persist that new areas of Wyrmstone have begun to appear, and that existing areas are expanding.

From my 2013 notes on Waymark, one of the unfinished settings that laid the groundwork for Godsbarrow

It was neat to find this old post, poke through it, and see the lines connecting it to present-day Godsbarrow. Hopefully you enjoyed this bit of noodling.

Thank you!

If you’re here, reading this, thank you for checking out Yore — whether you’ve been stopping by for years or are visiting for the first time. Here’s to the next 10 years!

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Making good progress on the manuscript for The Unlucky Isles

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

I’ve finished my first draft of half the countries in The Unlucky Isles!

I also have about 60% of each of the other three countries written up, awaiting all the new material and restructuring I’ve done with the first three, as well as a good chunk of the introductory elements.

It’s clocking in at around 20,000 words so far, which is already more than I expected when I started this book.

When I was planning to lay it out in my word processing software, include a few pieces of royalty-free historical artwork, and convert it into a PDF, I was a lot closer to done. But I’m going a slightly more involved route — and that’s given me time to slow down and really consider what I want to see in a setting book like this.

Which in turn has meant writing a lot of new material, restructuring more of the existing material than I expected, and doing a deeper dive into each country — while, I hope, still striking the balance between depth and conciseness that works best in a regional gazetteer like this one.

I’m also just plain having fun. Rounding out the corners of these places with “sensory snapshots,” notes about cuisine and names, and all the details that bring a fantasy nation and its people to life has been a blast. I’m learning about Godsbarrow as I write about it, which brings me joy — and I’m working to share that joy with you in a useful, gameable way.

Want to be notified as soon as The Unlucky Isles is published?

My friend and former partner in crime at Gnome Stew and Engine Publishing, Matt Neagley, asked what the best way was to find out when The Unlucky Isles is published, and that’s a great question with an easy answer.

On the Halfbeard Press publisher page [affiliate link] on DriveThruRPG, on the left side of the page, you’ll see a spot that says “Check this to follow Halfbeard Press” with a little checkbox next to it.

Check that box, make sure you don’t have publisher emails turned off globally on DTRPG, and you’ll get an email whenever Halfbeard Press puts out a product — starting with The Unlucky Isles.

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Getting back into publishing: Halfbeard Press

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

After spending 15 months developing Godsbarrow, getting to actually start up a campaign in this setting was the spark I needed to convince me to give publishing another shot.

Today I founded Halfbeard Press, the company I’ll be using to publish Godsbarrow material.

Halfbeard Press has a logo, an incredibly spartan website, a (currently empty) DriveThruRPG publisher page [paid link], and a plan: I’m about 50% done writing its first product, a gazetteer of the Unlucky Isles.

Feel the hand-coded-in-Notepad energy!

Many, many thanks to my wife, Alysia, my kiddo, Lark, and my friends Alice, John, Reagan, and Renee, who consulted on numerous iterations of the logo and made it so much better than my first draft (with special thanks to Reagan for suggesting the half-beard be on the left, and merged with part of the H).

I don’t regret selling Engine Publishing in 2019. It was the right choice. But I have missed publishing (or aspects of it, anyway), and I always suspected I’d be giving it another shot at some point.

Like Yore, which is more personal, barebones, and eclectic than my more focused ventures (Treasure Tables, Gnome Stew, Engine Publishing), I’m taking a smaller, quieter approach with Halfbeard Press.

I’m trying to do as much of it as I can myself, even the parts of it (cough cough graphic design) where I’m, at best, a clumsy dabbler with decent ideas. I’m not taking out thousands of dollars in loans to fund upfront publishing costs (as I did for Engine Publishing books). I don’t have a marketing budget, or an established readership like the gnomes had when we published Eureka [paid link] back in 2010.

Hell, this might not work out at all. Like Engine Publishing back in 2009, this venture is far from being a sure thing. But no matter what happens, I’m excited to be working on a short book about a campaign setting I love.

As soon as I have more to share about the Unlucky Isles gazetteer, and Halfbeard Press, you’ll hear about it here!

Categories
Godsbarrow PbtA Tabletop RPGs

The first Godsbarrow campaign

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

Yore has been quiet, but I’ve been busy for the past couple of months — hobby-wise, painting Warhammer 40k terrain (which I haven’t gotten around to photographing yet) and starting up the first Godsbarrow campaign.

After over a year of lonely fun creating this setting using Worlds Without Number [paid link], it’s absolutely delightful to be running a game set in Godsbarrow. There’s a simple, powerful magic to creating a setting and then playing in it, and it has been decades since I ran a game in a homebrewed setting. (Most of my fantasy campaigns have been set in the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance’s other continent, Taladas, Warhammer’s Old World, or Spelljammer, with detours into Ravenloft and Dark Sun.)

Even when I did run games set in my own world, as a kid, my settings were never very developed (not that that’s a bad thing), and none of them were ever My Setting in the way that Godsbarrow is. This time, it feels different.

Bal Acar, hexcrawling, the the Keepers of the Thousandfold Chains

The three of us wanted to play a hexcrawl, exploring a strange and dangerous place, and we liked the idea of using Dungeon World [paid link] and exploring Godsbarrow.

Before our first session, I created the largely unexplored island of Bal Acar (situated north of Kadavis, east of the Arkestran Dominion, and northeast of the Unlucky Isles) for us to collaboratively develop through play. And unlike the rest of Godsbarrow, I left it blank save for one settlement, Drem Kallow, which would be the party’s home base.

During the first Godsbarrow session (ever!) on June 7, 2022, the other players, my friends Greg Mumford and Rustin Simons, created the Keepers of the Thousandfold Chains, a coven of witches who both bind and exploit the Bleating Horde, an infinite evil — a deity whose every aspect contains part of the whole.

Both of their characters, Auderna, witch of the Bleating Horde (Rustin), and the Witchblade Dabr de Aaust (Greg), are part of the coven, and have had nightmares about demons, riddles, and Bal Acar. The coven tasked them with exploring Bal Acar to seek the truth behind prophetic dreams and the irrational, unnatural scratchings of sages which spoke of that strange place.

In our second session (June 14), we finished up character creation and started mapping the area around Drem Kallow using The Perilous Wilds [paid link]. (Which, as an aside, isn’t just one of the best Dungeon World supplements ever written — it’s one of the best gaming books ever written.) That mapping process stretched into our third session, on July 5, when we started in-character play — the first time characters had ever ventured into Godsbarrow!

Our Google Jamboard map as of the end of our first session, created using the rules in The Perilous Wilds and showing the party’s first day of travel (the dotted line heading southeast from Drem Kallow)

The mapping process from TPW was a hoot, and it produced all sorts of stuff none of us would ever have come up with on our own. I staunchly resisted the urge to develop Bal Acar in any way between sessions, with the lone exception that A Market in the Woods [paid link] was just too perfect to pass up; I knew I wanted that one on the map, so when it was my turn to add a steading, I added the Market.

We’d previously decided that rather than Dungeon World’s default “hard frame” start, we’d open with the expedition leaving Drem Kallow. The guys picked the Market in the Woods, known for being a source of information about Bal Acar, as their destination, and headed out into the driving rain to explore Bal Acar.

A Danger (per TPW) was encountered on day one (the 1 on the map), so I rolled it up randomly using TPW. Auderna, Dabr, their abnormal goat, Thett (a Horde Goat, connected to their deity, who can talk), and their two hirelings, Nus and Amsan Peśna (both rolled up randomly using TPW), bypassed the danger and made camp. They missed on Manage Provisions, and now don’t have enough food to make it to the Market and back; a problem to solve down the road.

The TPW hexcrawling moves, and the random tables for Dangers, were solid gold. Even with zero GM prep, and only a small amount of collaborative prep (characters, backgrounds, and the starting map), player choices and the outcomes of moves were all we needed to get things off the ground in an interesting way. The random danger I rolled up, the Shattered Man, will likely become one of the fronts I create before our next session.

Our sessions are short (about two hours), but even with only an hour of in-character play we got a feel for the two PCs and two out of three NPCs, and a feel for Drem Kallow; established a feeling of danger in exploring Bal Acar; introduced a strange entity, the Shattered Man, with a connection to Nus, and collaborated to make him more than just a wandering monster; and came away excited for our next session. It was a blast, and one of the most fun sessions I’ve played as a GM.

There’s a strange alchemy to gaming, and from Greyhawk to the universe of The Expanse (which began as an RPG campaign) settings which have been lived in, filled with the quirks and twists and perfectly odd elements introduced by the groups that have gamed there, are fascinating in part because they’ve been infused with that alchemy through play. It means a lot to me that Godsbarrow is now part of this tradition, and I can’t wait to run more sessions set there.

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Mastodon is the new Google Plus (I hope)

Now available: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG!

I’ve set Twitter aside and decamped to Mastodon (specifically, the dice.camp instance), where you can find me as @martinralya.

Returning to Twitter during the pandemic made me realize three things:

  1. I miss the social connections and serendipitous path-crossings and discoveries that social media can be good at facilitating.
  2. I miss Google+ a great deal.
  3. As much as I get #1 from Twitter, it brings me angst at least as often as it brings me joy — and it’s never brought me nearly as much joy as Google+ did.

Considering what a Musk-ified Twitter could be like got me thinking about leaving, and reflection on what I wanted out of social media — if anything — made me realize how important #2 on that list was to my calculations.

G+ 2

I want Mastodon to feel as much like G+ as possible. It has some of that feel, more of it than I’ve felt anywhere else, and that makes it worth my time.

There’s curation on my instance, BBS-style, by an admin I trust. I can curate my follower list to ensure that I follow folks who primarily post about gaming stuff.

There are no circles, but the first two points should help there.

If I post gaming stuff, generally off the cuff, and keep my posting reasonably focused, then I’m helping that work out from my end.

That sounds like a good start.

What it ain’t

I’m incorporating something into my usage of Mastodon that I learned from G+ going away: A fair number of my G+ posts should really have been blog posts, so when my Spidey-sense tingles I’m going to listen to it.

Yore is my most permanent home online. It’s been running since 2009 and a blog since 2012, longer than than Treasure Tables and my time on Gnome Stew.

For conversation and rejoicing in our shared hobby: Mastodon. For permanence: here, where it should be.

On smaller audiences

Why leave a huge potential audience on Twitter for a much smaller potential audience on Mastodon? Well, why not? Google+ was always smaller than Twitter, and I was happier on G+. Both are smaller than Facebook, and that place mostly made me miserable.

I left a large readership on Gnome Stew for a much smaller readership here. I left publishing, with 40,000+ sales worldwide, for not publishing, with zero sales worldwide.

There are cons in both cases, like fewer people interacting with my work. But on the pro list is something that’s become increasingly important to me: I just do what I enjoy, and if other folks enjoy it too then that’s awesome.