Sombering Setback in Print/Publishing

TL;DR: I had to fire my printer because he proved to be unreliable in delivering what agreed and in time. I should receive proofs from other places. Until then the shop only sells PDFs. If you want a 100% refund on your existing orders, write me. Handbound codexes look pretty. Pergamini still ship.2014-07-19 14.07.56

Longform and Extra Explanations

I’m picky with books. While there are some factors I have scarce control on, and impact negatively on the final quality of what I release, I try to be as nails as I can for the rest.

This means being picky with:

  • illustrations
  • paper type and weight
  • print quality
  • layout
  • content – which is why I take ages to release the stupidest thing.

I’m not good at any of the above, but I try hard. You know that Ira Glass quote about taste?

Ira-Glass-ForBeginners

This is the background of my computer desktop. It’s been there for a long while. I stare at it. It stares at me. Makes me find motivation. It tells me:

Paolo, you’re failing.

You’re not as good as you want.

Try harder.

This might be is quite horribly self-abusive. But it keeps me motivated. It also keeps me borderline burnout. Also, note that this is not impostor syndrome… it’s just that I’m not where I want to be.

Now, from now “Codex” means the Chthonic Codex project, “booklets” are the three booklets for the boxed set and “codex” is the collection of the three, pictured above.

So, this spring I spent a godawful amount of time on the booklets, getting them ready for press. A really complicated thing that mostly had to be written and laid out at the same time. No days off for weeks at time. Burning out. And then I brought it to the printer, and after a bit the proofs came and were good. So I asked for the files to go to press, while I prepared the layout for the codex. And there were problems with a university burning and machines breaking and people being off and so it was pushed back a bit, but the codex proofs came back (and they were OK except for a silly thing), and in the meantime the pergamini scrolls got printed, but I still wasn’t seeing the books.

The order was for a print run of everything I ever released:

  • Adventure Fantasy Game R9
  • Pergamino Barocco – paperback
  • Kefitzah Haderach
  • the three booklets
  • the signatures for the codex

The proofs came and were how I wanted them to be.

But the print run has not been delivered, and now the print shop is closed for weeks because of holidays. Even when they’re back, I rightfully came to consider supplying from them some kind of liability… an Enchanted Liability of Slaying.

Now, how to cope with this?

First of all, I’m happy to refund any order.

Second, I’ve been doing things.

Strategies - what I’m doing to fix the awful

  • Find a new printer – I contacted a few printers, local and not. More developments soon.
  • I’m also preparing to do everything through Lulu – in fact I put all the above on Lulu, and ordered a copy for each thing (except the codex). It’s going to be way more expensive but it’s ok.
  • I’m still looking for a print shop for the codex that can print on natural white 100gsm without exploding a bomb in my wallet.

So, yeah. If everything does wrong I’ll have Lulu print all the booklets for the boxed sets, have them shipped here in one massive order, box them then post them onward them onto you.

The morale of all the above is that this stop the way I’m operating and expected to operate. Not having a reliable print-shop means going through Lulu and RPGNow for POD, with all the nags that you expect.

I’m growing really tired of the setbacks that this project is having. Most probably I’m doing a bunch of things wrong, and I start to feel I’m not really cut for this. Bah.

D&D 5E Free resources

D&D fifth edition is out, and I’ve seen some interesting free resources around:

Go and have fun now :)

Need for Speech: words have power, Hodor, OG and a new word/rune-based magic system

I started watching Game of Thrones recently, and Hodor got me thinking about magic. In some oblique ways.

RPGs are mostly a discussion. Speech and writing, in their tabletop and PBM incarnations, are almost inherent to the form. This happens because there are not enough physical game tokens to allow expression of all the subtleties of what happens in the game world. For a NON RPG, like the DND 3E miniatures game, the need for speech is absent: it’s possible to move tokens and roll dice and point at tokens, and that’s enough to resolve the game.

Note that this has nothing to do with system completeness: it’s possible to have an incomplete system needing arbitration, where the referee resolves combats by moving, changing, adding and subtracting “bits” from the table, not a word spoken.

Speech at this level is about the world. Players make statements about the world and roll dice, which are about the world. The referee adjudicates and reports the results. So, we are playing, and this is the nature of the game: making statements about the world.

There is another level of need for speech, which is the speech that happens in game: characters talk to each other. The player of Hodor has problems with that. I played a speech-impaired character once and it was funny and challenging (the system was Fate though, which was the only negative note, because all players and the GM did a brilliant job).

At any rate, Hodor can’t speak. Hodor can act though. Which would be incredibly interesting if Hodor was in a game of Diplomacy.

Hodor is a bit extreme though. Let’s talk about Robin Law’s OG.

Og-Cover

OG is a gem. In OG you character knows how to use 3-8 words. You can unleash the very full panoplia of your extensive vocabulary when interacting with the Referee, but with other players? Stick to your own 3-8 words! If you know only “small”, “stick” and “you” you can’t say many things that do not insult virility. And that’s kind of cool because it’s a game made fun by its special player interaction.

It would be interesting if RPG magic was the same. Incidentally the first fantasy novel I read was A Wizard of Earthsea by U.K. le Guin, which has a system that is basically UG-Magic-University. You learn words for things, so that you can command them. And humans get baptized, so if you don’t know their real secret name you have to use their “common name”, which is what they use in daily life, or just use “dude”.

So, if you want a flexible rulelight magic system, one that is a bit crazy but completely not playtested, enjoy this one:

You MU begins the game knowing INT/3 names for generic things and 1 mana. When a new level is gained,  one new name is learnt and 1 mana per level is gained. You might want to use a foreign language (French? Italian? Lithuanian? Japanese? Kurdish? Finnish? Tsolyáni?) for the special names to stop your character from using them in play. They become game tokens, so you to avoid messups you want to be specific when referring to them. Or you can trace runes mid-air or pronounce the rune names. Whatever. Words have power.

To cast a spell, tell to the Referee ALL the words you are using this round. For example for Fireball would maybe be “big powerful fire blast there”, while Create Fire would be “fire”. Then, using the 5MORE system or rolling under INT or under CHA or trying to SAVE, roll once for every word you pronounce in the round. Consider every word as a different TASK for 5MORE EXPERT purposes.

You need to succeed at every word check to cast the spell. If you fail a roll, spend 1 mana to convert it to a success. If you elect not to spend the mana, all the words you are speaking in the same round get messed up and are all counted as failures. So yes you can take time casting a spell.

When you are done with words, something happens. The Referee will let you know what happens depending on the words that failed. As a yardstick, consider that a comparable D&D spell should have (2 x level) – 1 words. The referee and players are encouraged to write down combination of words of power, and the referee is encouraged to have the same combination of words have the same effect every time. Players should record combination and effects only if their characters have writing implements.

Now, this seems eminently more powerful than D&D. Surely it’s more flexible, and if you’re lucky it gives you infinite free spells at level 1.

But.

Failures.

Bite.

There are two consequences for failures.

The first one is that the caster gets burnt.

  • For each word failed, the caster can’t use that word for 1d6 turns.
  • For each three words failed, the caster takes 1d6 damage OR the caster can spend one mana OR the caster can get stunned. The caster can choose which as they know how to fend off magic power. Stun duration is 1d6 rounds if chosen once, 1d6 turns if chosen twice, 1d6 hours if chosen 3 times, then days, weeks, months, seasons.
  • For each six words failed, something awful happens. Maybe the caster gets whisked away by a gate for a while, or they develop a horrible mutation. I’ll let your Referee adjudicate.

So if a caster fails seven words, they can’t use any of them for 1d6 turns, takes three times a mixture of 1d6 damage or 1 mana damage or stunned for 1d6 rounds/turns/hours, and something horrible happens.

Plus, there is the second consequence. Magic happens regardless. Referee, consider that magic has a personality. And that words have personalities. And that some words don’t like being used close to each other. Let them play. You might even have the words make reaction rolls against each other and the MU to determine if the play nice. Mispronounced words will most probably misbehave at some level, and the caster might even pronounce other words instead of the failed one.

Note that if a spell targets someone, using a generic name (like “human”) grants an additional save, while using the Secret Name forces the victim to reroll 1 succeeded save.

You can learn new words from other people

Note that you can totally use this system as rune magic too.

Enter the Dungeon Fuck Yeah

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a multiplyer online RPG for a while. It’s something I was really into ten years ago, but then I started studying again, and had to work full time too, so I really didn’t have much time to spare. Then Lost Pages arrived, and I definitely kept on not having much free time.
Anyway, today I went out for a coffee and took some notes. And now I’ll try to make some sense out of it:
Enter The Dungeon Fuck Yeah is going to be a browser game. The technoloy will be node.js for the server and a browser supporting canvas and websockets for the client. I have experience with this kind of setup (I prototyped an RTS using the same solution for 7DRTS last year), it works fine.
It’s going to be free to play. Even if I introduce donations, I don’t want to let people buy their swanky equipment with real monies.
Gameplay will be hexcrawly for the ovverland map and room-based for the dungeons. By “room based” I mean that a movement ation brings a character from a room to one of the next rooms: inside a room there’s no finer location (except in combat, described later). Basically, a pointcrawl with a location per each room. Characters can move individually but it’s possible to form a group: this way, when the leader moves, everybody follows.
The game will be the typical OSR fare: go in with your group, steal treasures from the dungeon, try to get back alive. Experience will be granted in part for killing monsters, but most of it for liberating treasure. Treasure will be a special type of object that needs to be brought out, but it will slow down the character (as does armour), which with this kind of abstract pointcrawly movement means moving less frequently. And, of course, less chances of outrunning pursuers.
Combat happens when characters stumble into monsters. At this point a mockup would be ideal, but I have nothing to show. At any rate, all participants get an action every round. The actions at the moment are:
RANK: switch between front rank and back rank. Back rank can melee only with polearms but can’t easily be attacked in melee either. If the front rank is all gone, the back rank becomes the front rank. And that would be a TPK waiting to happen.
MELEE: attack an opponent in the front rank.
MISSILE: attack any opponent. From the front rank only throwing weapons are usable for a missile attack. No bows in melee. Flaming oil will be there.
MAGIC: do magic stuff. Mechanics TBD but probably will be something similar to either Empire of the Petal Throne or something mana-based. Or both.
BACKSTAB: thieves can risk doing that thing that makes daggers appear from the chests of enemies. Or die trying.
FLEE: run away from combat. If someone is still fighting it has greater chances of working. Less encumbrance helps.

Now, the dungeon: i’ll start with something minimal. A goblin den. The den has many rooms and a bucket of goblins inside. And traps. And there are two special rooms: the LAIR where goblins spawn and the BOSS ROOM where the goblin king and its treasure is.
Now, if the king is alive, the goblins fight better. But if there are many goblins and the king dies, there’s a big chance that a new king will rise. So if players want to kill goblins and take the treasure, they are better off maybe killing some goblins to weaken the tribe, then kill the king and take its treasure, so that no other king will chase as they try to leave the dungeon. A goblin den with a king will also increase the chances of meeting goblins in the hexcrawl map.

Now, the goblin cast:
GOB: a normal stinky, flimsy goblin
SLINGOB: a goblin with a sling, second rank fighter. They attack characters at random.
HUNGOB: a goblin with a bow. They attack either the character with less HP or the less armoured.
FIREGOB: a goblin with a big jar of flaming oil. Boom.
GOBARD: a goblin bard. very lewd songs. better fighting chances for goblins.
DOGOB: a worg. chases fleeing characters and bark attracting goblins
MAGOB: a goblin mage. Uses a magic box or a magic die. Random effects are always amazing.
GOBRE: a big deformed goblin. big fists and big maws.
HOLYGOBARCH: does some holy magic, can sacrifice goblins to create cool effects
KINGOB: the king. Sits on the treasure. Bigger than other goblins, makes them more motivated.

Casters in “Wizards” – the game about the movie

Part of the “Casters In” Series (previously Empire of the Petal throne, Quest of the Ancients, DSA).

Spellcasting in wizards uses two scores: spirit (some kind of magic energy) and Magic (which is a willpower-based skill).

Wizards is the game about the movie with the same name. It has some interesting mechanics. And Nazis. It feels positively Carcosan.

sorry, no source :(

sorry, no source :(

At any rate: players are supposed to make their own spells, and there are a handful in the book.

To cast the spell the magic user must roll under magic with a d20 and:

  • if the result is under the difference between magic and the spell difficulty, the caster loses spirit equal to the die roll.
  • if the result is above that, but under magic, the caster loses spirit equal to the spell cost.
  • if the result is above that but under double the magic skill, the spell fails and the caster spends 1 spirit point.
  • if above twice the magic skill, the caster loses spirit equal to the cost of the spell.
  • on a critical failure, there’s an optional fumble. No table, but “fumbled fireball leads to pants on fire” is the example in the book. Which is appropriate and awesome.

It’s also possible to practice and get more experience in a given spell at a cost of a fifth of raising the magic skill.

Casting spell on other people requires, in addition, a contest of Spirit: the same roll for the magic check is used for the caster, and is compared to the amount of spirit the caster had before casting the spell, while the target rolls 1d20 against their spirit. Spirit is fully regained in 30 hours, but sleeping counts as double time, so 18 hours of wake and 6 hours of sleep are enough.

As additional weird thing, it’s possible to try an Evocation just pumping magic: a spirit roll is made, and if successful the caster spends spirit points equal to the d20 and SOMETHING GOOD HAPPENS. If the caster fails, they spend points equal to the failure margin and SOMETHING AWFUL HAPPENS.

Why I like Wizards’s magic:

  • if you’re good at a spell, you can cast it cheap
  • mana points used as both “raw power” and “energy left”. The more you cast the least effective your spells become.
  • that whole Evocation “just dump mana” mechanic is simple yet amazing.

Casters in Das Schwarze Auge

Third episode of my “Casters In…” serie. Previous episodes about Empire of the Petal Throne and Quest of the Ancients.

The king of the hill of the German RPG scene is Das Schwarze Auge. Translated to English as “The Dark Eye”. This commentary on the magic system is based on my memories of the Italian translation of the first edition, both basic and advanced rules.

The review of DSA starts with the effectiveness of mages in combat, and a small commentary on the game mechanics is needed.

Each PC starts from 35 to 20 HP. The mage starts with 20, plus 30 mana (Astral Points in the Italian translation), while the Elf (race as class? yes) has 25 and 25. At each level a character raises a stat by one and either HP or mana by 1d6. Simplifying combat, every character might deal something like 1d6+3 on each hit (once every two or three round accounting for parries), but armour reduces damage. Mages can only wear padded armour (damage reduction 1) while RD 3 is common for adventurers.

Now, every magic user and elf knows a spell that deals 3d6+level, ignoring armour, and costs the same amount of mana. Consequences are left as an exercise for the reader. Back to the rest of the magic system now.

Elves and Mages are the spellcasters of the basic rules. They share a spell list of about half a dozen spells, with mages being able to cast about as many more. All spells in the handbook are known and usable from level one, except the ones found later. The caster pays the mana cost (2/round for a spell that grants protection 2, 15 or so for polymorph other, 1/HP for healing) and the spell goes off. This means that a caster can cast quite a lot, but not incredibly much less than higher-level casters. Some spells have a save, but the mechanics are mostly spell-specific. Sleep is a bit OP against weak opponents, as tradition. ;)

This is a pretty vanilla mana magic system. But the cool thing about DSA is the mage’s staff.

The staff is a normal quarterstaff. Except it’s indestructible. This is a big deal as it’s possible to break weapons on a successful parry.

At any rate, before every adventure, the mage can try to cast an Enchantment on the staff. It costs some mana, so the magic user starts the adventure with less than the maximum amount of mana, but the effects are brilliant. If failed, the MU can try again before the next adventure. Enchantments can be cast from level 2 onwards:

First enchantment: all spell costs are reduced by -2 mana per spell. This means that it’s possible to heal 2 hit points per round for free. In the next editions this was changed so that the spell cost must be at least one, which still allows to cast a number of healing spells that head 3HP for 1 mana. 3HP is not a small amount.

Second enchantment: the mage can set his staff on fire, as a neverending torch.

Third enchantment: the staff can be transformed in a 10 metres rope, controllable by the mage.

Fourth enchantment: the staff can be transformed in a flaming sword that deals 1d6 + mage level damage. The problem is that the mage can lose control of the sword: at that point the staff will try to destroy the group and then selfdestruct.

Fifth enchantment: the staff can become a nearly undetectable salamander controlled by the mage, and the mage can transfer his spirit in the salamander and perceive the world through its senses.

Staff enchantments and being able to cast a lot of different spells are what’s cool about DSA magic. In three words: “TOYS, TOYS, TOYS”.

There are also more caster classes: the game mechanics are the same (sans enchantments), but the spell list vary:

  • the wood elves (not sure about their original name, in Italian they were translated as “halflings”, but they are wood elves) cast some D&D druid spells.
  • the druids cast incredibly creepy voodoo spells (dolls? dolls!) and curses and soul-stealing shenanigans. They need an athame made of volcanic glass. Humans can change class and become druids.
  • initiates (cleric) have a common short list, plus three spells for each god. They need to pass an “invocation check” to cast spells. DSA gods are pretty awesome and shenanigan-prone.

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