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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
Old school Old School Essentials Tabletop RPGs

X-in-6: one of my favorite tools when GMing old-school games

My kiddo and I started an OSE campaign set in Godsbarrow in November, and I’ve been making lots of little rulings on the fly during our sessions — which I love! There’s a default flowchart my brain automatically follows:

  1. Is there a rule? Cool, use it.
  2. If not, can something adjacent be adapted to it? In old-school D&D, I usually fall back on “Can this be an ability check or a saving throw?”
  3. If not, make it an X-in-6 roll.

Lots of things in Old School Essentials [affiliate link] are already X-in-6 rolls; this is a core element of the game. It’s a great, simple tool, and I love it. It’s quick, the odds are immediately evident, a +1 or -1 to the roll makes a meaningful difference, and it gets the job done with a minimum of fuss.

Lots, yes, but how many is that?

I was curious how many general situations in OSE are already covered by X-in-6 rolls, and what their breakdown of X values was like, so I made a list:

  • Listening at doors: 1-in-6 to hear stuff; 2-in-6 for dwarves, elves, halflings
  • Searching a 10’x10′ area: 1-in-6 to find something
  • Triggering a trap (if you do something relevant): 2-in-6
  • Wandering monsters: 1-in-6 per turn in the dungeon; 1 in 6 for city, clear, grasslands, settled; 2-in-6 for aerial, barren, desert, forest, hills; 3-in-6 for jungle, mountains, swamp
  • Foraging: 1-in-6, while traveling, to find food for 1d6 people
  • Hunting: 1-in-6 per day
  • Getting lost: 1-in-6 in grasslands; 2-in-6 in barren, hills, mountains, woods; 3-in-6 in desert, jungle, swamp; 2-in-6 in coastal waters; 1-in-6 in sea with a navigator (6-in-6, AKA 100%, without one)
  • Surprise: 2-in-6
  • Open doors: Varies according to STR score, from 1-in-6 to 5-in-6
  • Detect construction tricks (dwarves): 2-in-6
  • Detect traps (dwarves): 2-in-6
  • Detect secret doors (elves): 2-in-6
  • Hiding (halflings): 2-in-6
  • Using a tinder box: 2-in-6 per round
  • Boarding actions: 2-in-6 to get in position
  • Finding safe harbor in a storm when at sea: 2-in-6
  • Will a monster stop to pick up treasure you drop?: 3-in-6
  • Will a monster stop pursuing if you drop food?: 3-in-6

Handy defaults

I haven’t poked the Advanced rules yet, just the Basic ones, but even so seeing it all in a list like that makes a few things jump out at me:

  • When in doubt, the default chance should be 1-in-6.
  • If you’re pretty good at it, or it’s relatively easy, or it’s notably dangerous, it’s 2-in-6.
  • 3-in-6 is rare, and really emphasizes the situation — like just how much more dangerous the jungle is than the grasslands.
  • 4-in-6 and 5-in-6 are vanishingly rare, and never used outside of tying strength to opening doors.

This is pretty much the approach I’ve been using with Lark: 1-in-6 or 2-in-6 if it’s worth rolling at all, with a +1 or -1 depending on the circumstances, roleplaying, clever tactics, etc. I’ve absorbed enough B/X, Labyrinth Lord, and now OSE over the years that I’m sure I intuited that approach based on their rules. I’m not a genius inventing the wheel, I just like poking things to see how they work.

It’s really neat to see all these X-in-6 examples in one place, and to see how clearly the design intent comes through.

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
Old school Old School Essentials Tabletop RPGs

OSE monster: 3rd instar giant mantis

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!

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

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
Comics Miscellaneous geekery Tabletop RPGs

From pulp to pixels (and sometimes back again)

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.

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.
Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Getting back into publishing: Halfbeard Press

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!

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 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.

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.