Categories
Godsbarrow PbtA Tabletop RPGs

The first Godsbarrow campaign

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.

Categories
Story games Tabletop RPGs

Mapping with index cards, and Jedi Blackbird

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 (paid link). 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.

Categories
PbtA Story games Tabletop RPGs

The Star Wars World RPG rocks

My group played our second session of Star Wars World this past weekend, and this unofficial Apocalypse World hack by Andrew Medeiros is now my favorite Star Wars RPG.[1]

One of the things I look for in a PbtA game is interesting playbooks, and SWW has those in spades. When I was choosing one, I “narrowed down” the field to a half-dozen, all of which were equally appealing. Every single one feels like Star Wars, and you’ll immediately know which iconic characters they reference.

That feel carries through to the reskinned moves, the Force mechanics, and then straight on into actual play. With no prep needed (or desired), a Star Wars story unfolds during play, full of pulpy action, careening from frying pan to fire to frying pan again.

My two benchmarks for licensed property RPGs are:

  1. Does it feel like [Star Wars]?
  2. Is it also the kind of game I enjoy?

I’ve played plenty of licensed property games that hit #1 but miss #2, and I don’t play them anymore. Star Wars World hits both targets.[2]

To play, you’ll need a copy of Apocalypse World — SWW consists only of the basic moves, playbooks, XP triggers, and a countdown clock sheet. It assumes you already know how to play AW, and have a good understanding of how PbtA games generally run. It borrows from Dungeon World (paid link) as well, and passing familiarity with DW might be helpful.

I’d love to see Andrew strip out the Star Wars IP and artwork, apply a light gloss (“When you call on the Energy . . .”), fold in the full rules, add MC advice and examples of play and all that good stuff, and publish SWW as a complete game.

There’s a Google+ Community for the game if you have questions about it. For the moment, at least, the game itself lives on Google Drive.

Star Wars World is a slick, competent hack that works beautifully in play. I highly recommend it.

[1] I’ve played lots of WEG Star Wars and Fantasy Flight Star Wars, and tried out Saga Star Wars. I’ve never played d20 System Star Wars (Saga is pretty close, though) or Star Worlds (which is another unofficial AW hack).

[2] Stay on target!

Categories
D&D Planescape Tabletop RPGs

Raiding the larder for Planescape sandbox ingredients

I’ve been noodling some more about running Planescape as a sandbox, and since my copy of the boxed set isn’t here yet I decided to pull stuff off my shelves that seemed like it might be a good fit.

Important safety tip, Egon

This is dangerous! This is how ideas collapse under their own weight! But I only have two speeds, OFF and TURBO ZOOM, so I can’t not think about it.

I’m not reading, or rereading, these before I dig into the Planescape core set (paid link), and if you’re thinking about running a PS sandbox I’m not suggesting that you do, either. But these are Cool Things, and they’re shaping my thinking, so here we are.

Calgon, take me away!

The stuff in that photo falls into two categories: things that seem like a good fit for a Planescape sandbox, and things I’ve used to good effect while co-GMing a Dresden Files sandbox with no session prep. Here they are in alphabetical order:

  • The Dresden Files RPG, Volume 1: Our Story (paid link): The city creation system in DFRPG is stellar, and while Sigil already exists and doesn’t need to be created, Dresden’s toolkit still sounds like a good match. It involves identifying themes, threats, locations, and faces (key NPCs), and then — and this is important! — using those ingredients before creating others. That’s awesome for sandbox play.
  • Fever-Dreaming Marlinko (paid link): I wrote about why Marlinko is awesome here on Yore, but the bits I’m thinking might mesh well with Sigil are the carousing rules and the Chaos Index. The latter is a simple way to track how the stuff the PCs and others are doing affects how weird the city of Marlinko is, which — based on my half-baked, haven’t-read-the-books-yet understanding of Sigil — sounds like it’d play nice with Planescape.
  • Fire on the Velvet Horizon (paid link): I really need to write about this monster book here sometime, but in brief it’s 1) weird as hell, 2) amazing, 3) strange in ways that make me think of Planescape. I like monsters that confound my players’ expectations, and that’s this book in a nutshell.
  • The Harrow Deck (paid link): This is basically a reskinned Tarot deck for Pathfinder, and it’s awesome for improv GMing. I draw a spread of cards, usually three, and either use them to come up with something specific or just keep them in front of me for those moments where I go “Uuuuuuuhhhhhhh what the fuck is going to happen now?” They go really well with the Story Cubes (below).
  • Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad, issue #3 (paid link): Another thing I’ve written about here, but in this case just one thing from one issue: “The Heist.” PCs are always stealing shit, or hoping someone will pay them to steal shit, and this heist adventure toolkit is fantastic for dealing with that on the fly. It includes patrons, marks, heat, and loot, and rolling up a heist is stupidly easy. In a city full of factions, it seems like a good fit.
  • Planarch Codex: Dark Heart of the Dreamer: This tiny book is more or less solely responsible for making me wonder whether Dungeon World (paid link) might not be a better option for the style of game I have in mind. Either way, though, it includes a system-neutral job generator for planar freebooters which, like the Ur-Hadad heist generator, looks like it’d drop seamlessly into Sigil.
  • Red Tide (paid link): I own most (all?) of Kevin Crawford’s books, but Red Tide remains my favorite. It includes great systems for generating locations and other sandbox elements, it’s excellent imagination fuel, and the output is lean and mean — it makes stuff that’s actually useful in play. There’s nothing Planescape-y about it, but the guts line up pretty well.
  • Rory’s Story Cubes (paid link): I have umpty-doodle sets of these, and I love them. I use them when I’m winging things, and in Dresden they paired well with the Harrow Deck. I grab a random handful whenever I need to make or decide something I hadn’t thought about before, like NPCs in whom my players take a sudden interest. Not all the sets are perfect for this, but most of them are.

I’m probably forgetting a bunch of other stuff I shouldn’t be forgetting, but that’s what’s rattling around in my brain at the moment.