Categories
Godsbarrow Old school Tabletop RPGs

The Black Furnace level 1-A

Today I finished the draft of the first area in my #dungeon23 project, the Black Furnace.

The Black Furnace’s servants’ quarters

Level 1-A is the servants’ quarters, home to the cult of Hürak Mol. It’s accessible from one of the Black Furnace’s five entrances, and connects to level 2 and level 1-B.

I can’t remember the last time I drew a proper dungeon map, and I don’t think I’ve ever written up a dungeon this size before. I’m enjoying sitting down each day with no clear idea of what’s next, and just having fun with it.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Categories
Godsbarrow Old school Tabletop RPGs

#dungeon23: off to the races!

I’m not sure all my notes (many rolled in Tome of Adventure Design [affiliate link]) will survive the next steps, but I’m off to the races with #dungeon23. Weep at my terrible handwriting!

Sketching out the surface level of the Black Furnace: five entrances, with notes

I like megadungeons with multiple entrances and verticality, so the Black Furnace has a main entrance, two chimneys (which can be used as dangerous entrances), an observatory side entrance, and a collapsed garden/cave that also allows ingress.

Today’s room was S1, the main entrance: a huge black kiln with three ways down to level 1 (one of which also leads to level 2).

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Categories
Godsbarrow Old school Tabletop RPGs

#dungeon23: ground work

I’ve juggled things around a bit since my initial #dungeon23 post. With less than 24 hours to go until my first room, it’s time to lay the last bits of ground work for the Black Furnace.

Dungeon23 logo created by Lone Archivist and released under a CC BY 4.0 license

The thing I’ve changed up is mapping: I bought a graph paper notebook (4 squares/inch) and a Jujutsu Kaisen pencil mat, and I’m going to do some — or maybe all — of the mapping myself.

My #dungeon23 mapping notebook all stickered up and ready to go

I still might use some of Dyson Logos’ gorgeous maps later on, but for the entrances I need to blaze my own trail. I have an idea of what the dungeon looks like on the surface, and how many entrances it has, and I want a significant vertical element available early on; all of that points to mapping out the first level myself.

Origins of the Black Furnace

When I open the book for a published dungeon, there are few things I like to see less than pages and pages of backstory. That’s usually enough for me to put it down and/or never run it.

But ya gotta have some backstory, or at least I do, to hang your hat on. I don’t need a meticulous ecology that makes logical sense, but I want to know why the dungeon exists, or why the first bit of it was created, if that’s more applicable; and I want to know its themes and key ingredients.

Here’s what I already know about the Black Furnace, which appears as an adventure site in The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link]:

  • Rises from the earth during times of great strife
  • Sprawling subterranean maze
  • Realm of a long-forgotten god
  • Maw which releases ancient monstrosities into the world
  • Reappearance bodes ill for Brundir

That’s the grist for my mill, and those are my touchstones to keep me reasonably focused. But I need to flesh that list out a bit before I write my first dungeon room/location or I’m going to wind up rambling in eight directions, none of them productive.

The larch

All it took to get my creative juices flowing was a few rolls on the Religions table in one of my favorite random-creation tools, the Tome of Adventure Design [affiliate link]. I rolled the name Her + ak + Mol and instantly knew I had the heart of the Black Furnace: the god who created it.

I put a bit of English on that name, started writing…and the rest of it flowed out of my half-formed notions, the notes I’ve taken over the past month, and the raw creative flow born from knowing this god’s name.

Why does it exist?

In Godsbarrow’s earliest days, the gods warred openly against one another. Their need for new and ever more powerful weapons was insatiable, so the deity Hürak Mol (they/them, pronounced “HOO-rak mawl”) built a great kiln, and a furnace beneath it, and began forging, shaping, and birthing artifacts, monsters, and engines of war. This fell place was known as the Black Furnace.

With every creation, Hürak Mol gained power through the other gods’ reliance on them. Where most gods grew strong because of the number of their mortal worshipers, Hürak Mol thrived on the needs of Dormiir’s many gods.

Which meant that as the world stabilized, and the gods withdrew from the mortal realm, preferring to bask in their power or fight each other through proxies, Hürak Mol was no longer needed.

Their power diminished until Hürak Mol became little more than a small god, half-remembered and largely ignored by the other gods. Before they could fade away entirely, Hürak Mol infused the Black Furnace with their deific power and caused their great kiln and subterranean complex of forges, fires, and chimneys, as well as their servitors, raw materials, and small cult of devout worshipers, to sink beneath the earth.

The Black Furnace was not seen in Godsbarrow for many centuries. Hürak Mol was entirely forgotten by the people of Dormiir.

Where has it been?

The Cult of Mol the Timeless has survived within the tunnels of the Black Furnace for untold centuries. Generation upon generation of worshipers have tended the Black Furnace, banked its fires, and — most importantly — remained fervent in their devotion to Hürak Mol, ensuring that they do not fade away entirely.

Hürak Mol, for their part, slumbers in god-sleep in the depths of the Black Furnace, their ancient, war-filled dreams forming part of the Wraithsea.

The Black Furnace is a god-realm, not subject to the laws of physics nor entirely bound by notions of time or reality. It somehow sustains the life within it, and time passes much more slowly inside its tunnels — until it returns to Dormiir. Infused with Hürak Mol’s power, the dungeon itself can sense when there might be enough strife in the world to return Hürak Mol to their former glory.

When this happens, the cult seeks to wake up Hürak Mol. Cultists work the forges and kilns, birthing monstrosities into the world and forging dark artifacts. They attempt to recruit new members. They spread a gospel of war and chaos — the fertile ground Hürak Mol needs to awaken from torpor.

It has appeared in different places throughout Godsbarrow’s history, and done so often enough to become the subject of legends throughout the world. Thus far, the Black Furnace has always remained in Godsbarrow for a time and then, responding to the ancient dictates of its creation, sunk back beneath the earth to await the next moment when Hürak Mol’s return might be realized.

Fuck yeah

That’s what I needed to feel confident heading into day one of #dungeon23!

I’ve got some evocative, partially-formed notions of what the Black Furnace looks like (or parts of it, at least). I’ve got reasons for just about anything to be part of it, as it has been accessible to the denizens of Dormiir many times over many centuries. Hell, there’s room for gonzo science-fantasy stuff, too.

I have at least one faction in mind, the cult, and it’s likely to be a fractious one. (Who could possibly agree on how to stay devoted to a sleeping god for untold centuries without becoming divided over the specifics?) It’s accessible via the Wraithsea, which is a whole other avenue of ingress and egress (sort of). That means the Arkestran Dominion likely has a presence here, or has at some point.

It also has agency, because the second it appears — which it already has — the weirdoes who live there starting making fucked-up monsters and shit, fanning out across the countryside, and spreading the gospel of Hürak Mol. Hell, they want people to find the dungeon; they’ll tempt anyone they think could be useful with promises of unimaginable power (and be telling the truth about it, although the trade-off isn’t going to appeal to everyone).

The dungeon and its core inhabitants have a direct connection to the PCs’ actions, too: Wiping out the cult would kill Hürak Mol. Aiding the cult would wake up Hürak Mol. If they survive long enough to reach the lowest levels, the PCs will encounter a god. The longer the dungeon stays in Godsbarrow, the more messed-up shit is going to leak into Brundir.

I love it when a dungeon has potentially world-shaking implications, yet can be accessible to 1st level D&D characters. That’s what I wanted out of the Black Furnace when I came up with it, and having jotted all this stuff down I like how it’s coming together.

I’m stoked to explore the Black Furnace this year and see what comes of it!

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Categories
BattleTech Godsbarrow Miniature painting Miniatures Miscellaneous geekery Old school Old School Essentials Tabletop RPGs Warhammer 40k

2022 end-of-year hobby wrap-up

2022 has thrown the Ralyas a couple pretty hard curveballs, but so far we’re doing [whatever you’re supposed to do in baseball when someone pitches you a curveball] and managing pretty well. I usually focus on hobby stuff here on Yore, though, so I figured it was time for a little 2022 wrap-up — all highlights, no lowlights, and a few surprises.

The Unlucky Isles

One of my biggest hobby milestones for 2022 was starting up Halfbeard Press and publishing my first Godsbarrow sourcebook, The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link]. I’ve never had a well-developed fantasy campaign setting of my own before (which has always made me feel like a bad gamer), and having Dormiir to work on and explore and expand has been a delight.

The Unlucky Isles print proof

I work on Godsbarrow every single day — sometimes just a word or sentence or two, sometimes much more — and have been doing so since March 16, 2021. I’m often hard on my own work, so I’m honestly still a bit surprised I still love this setting as much as I do. (Hell, I’m more jazzed about it now than I was when I started out.)

I’m proud of doing as much of the work on The Unlucky Isles as possible myself, which was one of my goals; I did everything but the artwork. That includes some stuff I’ve notably never done in a professional capacity, like layout and cartography.

And I’m not sitting still: I’m about 25% done with the manuscript for Godsbarrow Guidebook 2: The Gilded Lands. It’s a little while away yet, but it’s coming!

Two Godsbarrow campaigns

Hobby-wise, the only thing that tops publishing a Godsbarrow book for me is running two campaigns set in Dormiir. This is one of those quintessential GMing experiences — designing your own world and then running games there — that I’ve just never had until now. I’ve run games in homebrewed settings before, but those worlds were never more than a sketchy map and some rough concepts; Godsbarrow is much more fleshed-out.

Both of these games are ongoing, and I’m having a blast with both of them. The first Godsbarrow campaign started up in July: a Dungeon World [affiliate link] hexcrawl set on the island of Bal Acar, which I’m running for two of my best friends, Rustin and Greg — the first explorers of Godsbarrow. This game feels like all the best parts of exuberant high school D&D — just weird-ass exploration and shenanigans, all signal and no noise.

Our Google Jamboard map from the first couple sessions

In November my kiddo, Lark, expressed an interest in playing D&D — a moment I’ve been preparing for my whole life. Lark picked Godsbarrow as our setting, and after some discussion we landed on Old School Essentials [affiliate link] for the system.

Lark and I starting up our Godsbarrow campaign

It’s impossible to overstate how cool it is to be gaming regularly with Lark. We’ve previously played a couple of sessions, but nothing ongoing; I never wanted to push this hobby on Lark. We’re having an absolute blast — and, again, I can’t overstate how much that means to me. (This is also another of those quintessential gaming experiences that I’m just chuffed about.)

Wargaming

Lark and I have also been playing Car Wars 6th Edition — Lark’s first proper wargame — and having a great time with it. I pitched CW because we’ve played tons of board games together over the years, and I thought the minis and zaniness of Car Wars would interest Lark. Sixth Edition is superb, and just the right rules weight for us.

That’s led me to delve back into my wargaming roots, which stretch all the way back to having huge naval battles with my dad, all spread out on my bedroom carpet, when I was maybe 10-12 years old. I re-acquired Renegade Legion: Centurion, which was one of the first full-fat wargames I played (circa age 12-14), because it seems like one Lark might enjoy.

And then, to my complete surprise, I stumbled across an RPG.net thread about BattleTech just the other day and learned that 1) there’s now a fast-playing alternate version of the rules, Alpha Strike, and 2) there’s also a huge range of plastic ‘Mechs available. After a bit of research I pitched that one to Lark, got an enthusiastic yes, and ordered the core AS box.

My old BattleTech minis from the 1990s and 2000s

This hasn’t been a banner year for miniature painting, which is understandable given my focus on Godsbarrow and real-life stuff. With 40k (and Kill Team), my motivation has been sapped by not wanting to play with strangers during the pandemic, so I’ve done tons of painting and never gotten to use the fun toys I’ve painted. Even the return of my beloved space dwarves, which were my intro to Warhammer 40k many years ago, hasn’t shaken me out of my painting doldrums.

I’m hoping that some comparatively easy-to-paint BattleMechs, which — and this is key! — I’ll immediately be able to use in a game, are just the shot in the arm my painting hobby needs at the moment.

Ranma 1/2

No segue, but I can’t do a wrap-up post without noting that this was the year I finished Ranma 1/2, one of my all-time favorite manga series — which I started in 1992. I’ve read a shit-ton of manga this year, which has been a lot of fun.

Revisiting the Star Wars prequel trilogy

I decided it was time to revisit and reevaluate the prequel trilogy, all of which I previously rated ½ (which I think marks the first time I’ve voluntarily rewatched any ½ films), for three reasons.

One, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the first couple episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and I wanted to see if I might like the prequels now, decades later. (Andor had the same effect, but for Rogue One.)

Two, I’ve based some of my identity as a Star Wars fan on hating the prequels. I wanted to try to appreciate them on their own terms rather than, when they clash with my expectations, simply assuming my expectations are perfect and therefore the films are the problem.

And three, 20+ years later I’m a different person, I love the Star Wars universe even more than I did back when these films came out, and my appreciation for the Republic Era has grown. I’ve spent dozens of hours playing Star Wars: The Old Republic and engaging with prequel content in other media, and I’ve enjoyed it.

I wound up liking or loving all three prequel films. Reviews/comments, with spoilers, are on Letterboxd: Episode I, Episode II, Episode III.

Mastodon

I said earlier in the year that Mastodon felt the most like Google+ of any G+ replacement I’ve tried, but it wasn’t until the first Twitter exodus that it really took off. My feed is full, it lacks virtually all of the toxicity of Twitter, I’m having fun gaming conversations and learning about cool stuff there — the whole nine yards. It feels like it’s going to stick for enough folks to provide a real hobby haven, too.

#dungeon23

The #dungeon23 challenge doesn’t kick off until January 1, 2023, but it was — thankfully! — announced much earlier, giving me time to noodle about it, decide to do it, and come up with a framework I think will help me succeed.

Dungeon23 logo created by Lone Archivist and released under a CC BY 4.0 license

I’m going to write Godsbarrow’s first dungeon, the Black Furnace. I’ve got my ducks in a row and I’m excited to get rolling!

Yore’s 10th anniversary

This blog turned 10 years old back in August, making it my the longest-running ongoing thing I’ve ever done online. My quiet approach, erratic non-schedule for posting, and eclectic mix of hobby stuff haven’t done wonders for attracting an audience — but I write Yore primarily because I want to write it, so that’s okay by me.

At the same time, I’m thrilled whenever anyone mentions enjoying Yore, comments on a post, or uses what I’ve shared here. If that’s you, reading this, thank you! Knowing Yore is useful to other folks is a big part of why I keep at it.

Here’s to a 2023 with more hobby milestones, and maybe — hopefully! — with fewer curveballs. Happy holidays!

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Categories
Godsbarrow Old school Old School Essentials Tabletop RPGs

#dungeon23: The Black Furnace

Sean McCoy‘s #dungeon23 challenge has been making the rounds on Mastodon: Every day in 2023, write one room of an old-school fantasy megadungeon (or whatever similar project tickles your fancy). I’ve been intrigued, but felt like I didn’t really need another project next year — until this morning, when the puzzle pieces fell into place.

Dungeon23 logo created by Lone Archivist and released under a CC BY 4.0 license

These days I do best with long-term projects that I can 1) work on every single day, no exceptions, and 2) just “check the box” if I don’t have the energy today. That means projects with lots of variety in their components, and which can survive banking the fires — basically only working on them in the most technical sense, like a dab of paint or writing a single name — while I recharge my creative juices or deal with life’s curveballs.

This is how Godsbarrow got created, and how I’ve worked on it daily since March 2021. It’s how I wrote and published The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link]. It’s how I work on my 40k miniatures. It prioritizes continuation, completion, and realistic expectations — and it’s baked right into #dungeon23. There’s tons of variety (365 rooms!), and writing “Empty room” is a 100% valid and necessary component of any megadungeon.

Sean’s longer write-up makes that explicit, and it’s what really sealed the deal for me. After many past false starts, I’m going to take a run at creating my first megadungeon: the Black Furnace, my favorite dungeon that I’ve mentioned in my Godsbarrow material.

My WIP simple spreadsheet, as of December 10, 2022

My approach

I get the appeal of working on #dungeon23 in a physical notebook with hand-drawn maps; that will produce a lovely artifact at the end of the year, and it hearkens back to the origins of the hobby. But my handwriting is terrible, I won’t always have that notebook handy, I know drawing dungeon maps is a roadblock for me (I always get too deep in the weeds and then abandon the project), and ultimately whatever I produce is likely to be something I want to publish — so why make more work for myself by doing it by hand?

Once I knew that, the rest of my path became pretty clear. Here it is in rough form, as it stands now:

  • Google Sheets: I’ll be creating my megadungeon in Google Sheets. Easily updateable and editable, always available, and already digital.
  • Dyson Logos’ maps: I’m going to use some of the wonderful maps created by Dyson Logos — specifically, the ones Dyson has generously released with a royalty-free commercial license. If I finish my dungeon and like it enough to publish it, this makes that possible.
  • OSE: Old School Essentials is my old-school system of choice, and the game I’d most likely use to run a megadungeon, so that’s sorted. And OSE has a third-party license for published products that looks entirely reasonable, so I’m covered there as well.
  • Dungeon stocking: That also means I can use the OSE rules for random dungeon stocking, which I quite like. That breaks down to 1/3 empty rooms, 1/3 monster, 1/6 special, and 1/6 trap.
    • I might also use the method from AD&D 1e, which comes up in Courtney’s PDF (the next bullet).
  • Random generators: I love random generators, and with 365 rooms to write (even if 122 of them are empty!) I’m going to need plenty of inspiration. There are a billion tools for this, but I’ll start with two.
  • A snazzy logo: Lone Archivist created a free #dungeon23 logo pack (as well as one for sci-fi projects) with a CC BY 4.0 license.

That’s the how, but what about the what?

The Black Furnace

I created the Black Furnace when I was designing the Unlucky Isles, and I like how it turned out. Even though it’s only a region-level sketch, that’s plenty to get me rolling on room-by-room creation (which is one of the things I love about region-level sketches!):

This black stone kiln the size of a large house, its soot-covered iron door always warm to the touch, rises from the earth during times of great strife. It was thought to have receded from the world centuries ago, but in recent days trappers and woodcutters who work the Hulawe Hills claim to have seen this fell edifice, and those who have gone to look for it have not returned. Folk tales say that it’s the entrance to a sprawling subterranean maze, or to the realm of a long-forgotten god, or a maw which releases ancient monstrosities into the world. In truth, the Black Furnace is all three of those things, and its reappearance bodes ill for Brundir.

From The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link]

That’s got all the bones I need for #dungeon23: A sprawling subterranean maze: check. The realm of a long-forgotten god, which hearkens back to one of my favorite modules, Tomb of the Iron God [affiliate link]: check. A maw that spews monsters, which is already giving me all sorts of ideas: check. And potential region-level, world-shaking implications, which I love in a dungeon: check.

In the spirit of drawing from my first Godsbarrow and proto-Godsbarrow ideas for worldbuilding, I’m going to reuse, remix, and draw from the megadungeon I started designing back in 2016, Marrowdark. (I’ll likely use that name for something else in Godsbarrow — maybe even a dungeon; it’s the ideas I’m after here.) Some of the rough clay in those notes has already made its way into wider Godsbarrow, notably the null slimes of Middenglum, and I want to explore more of its themes.

Many thanks to Sean McCoy for kicking this off, and for posting about it well in advance of the start date! I needed that time to get my ducks in a row and think things over, and now I’m excited to get rolling in January.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

The Unlucky Isles [affiliate link], the first system-neutral guidebook for my Godsbarrow fantasy campaign setting, is now on DriveThruRPG.
Categories
D&D Old school Tabletop RPGs

Quickly carve out dungeon maps with Gridmapper

Alex Schroeder‘s Gridmapper is a free, online dungeon mapping tool. That’s a pretty crowded space these days, but Gridmapper stands out. Gridmpapper is a fantastic mapping tool, easy enough to use that I get my ideas down as fast as possible, but not so simple that it lacks options.

I’ve experimented with lots of different dungeon mapping options, and Gridmapper is my sweet spot. One of my favorite things about it is that instead of adding rooms to a blank grid, which sometimes paralyzes me (so many choices!), you carve gridded dungeon rooms out of a blank canvas. That shouldn’t feel different, but it does.

Here’s the screen you’ll see when you first access Gridmapper:

All you need is your keyboard and mouse, and no drawing skills are required. Which is good for me, because I’m not good at drawing dungeons.

The learning curve is shallow. Fiddle around for 10 minutes, and you’ll be set.

Unlike some other map-creation options, Gridmapper gives you angle corridors, round rooms, a host of symbols that will be familiar to anyone who’s cracked open an old TSR module, and an expandable canvas/mapping area.

Here’s a dungeon (approximately 37 rooms) I knocked out in about an hour (including time spent thinking about what might inhabit it, etc.):

You can save your maps, export them as images, share them as links, and generally do what you need to do to make further use of a map you’ve created online. Anytime you save a map, it gets added to the Gridmapper wiki (so be aware of that, if you don’t want others to see it).

It even offers the option to use a map in an online game: Everyone loads Gridmapper, accesses the same (presumably sparse) map, and then a designated mapper adds to it live. Every 20 seconds, it saves and the rest of the group can see it.

Lastly, Gridmapper is fun to use. Maps sometimes feel like a chore to me, but making them with Gridmapper falls squarely into the category of play.

Go make one, and you’ll see what I mean.

Out now: The Unlucky Isles

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