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
Godsbarrow Old school Old School Essentials Tabletop RPGs

An awesome day: Starting an OSE Godsbarrow campaign with Lark

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.)

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 Tabletop RPGs

The Unlucky Isles is now available in print

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.

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 Tabletop RPGs

Now on sale: The Unlucky Isles, Godsbarrow Guidebook 1

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!

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 Miscellaneous geekery Tabletop RPGs

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

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!

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 Tabletop RPGs

Making good progress on the manuscript for The Unlucky Isles

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.

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.