New Release: Into The Odd by Chris McDowall

frontChris McDowall’s Into the Odd contains everything you need to create a character and explore an industrial world of cosmic meddlers and horrific hazards. This is a fast, simple game, to challenge your wits rather than your understanding of complex rules.

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You seek Arcana, strange devices hosting unnatural powers beyond technology. They range from the smallest ring to vast machines, with powers from petty to godlike. Beside these unnatural items that they may acquire, your characters remain grounded as mortals in constant danger.

The game is 48 pages, containing:

  • Original artwork from Jeremy Duncan, Levi Kornelsen, and others.
  • The fastest character creation out there, getting you playing as soon as possible
  • Player rules that fit on a single page, keeping a focus on exploration, problem solving, and fast, deadly combat.
  • The complete guide to running the game as Referee. From making the most of the rules to creating your own monsters and Arcana.
  • Sample monsters, arcanum, traps, and hazards.
  • Character advancement from Novice to Master.
  • Rules for running your own Company, and taking it to war with an original mass combat system.
  • Complete guide to the Odd World, from the cosmopolitan city of Bastion and its hidden Underground, through to backwards Deep Country, the unexplored Golden Lands.
  • The Iron Coral, sample expedition site to test the players’ survival skills.
  • The Fallen Marsh, a deadly wilderness to explore.
  • Hopesend Port, a settlement to regroup and sail on to further adventure.
  • Thirteen bonus pages of tools and random tables from the Oddpendium.

Into the Odd comes both in PDF and Print + PDF. The printed books will ship in January.

If the book is ready, why are you releasing now and shipping in January?

First of all, time. The book is ready but not printed. Printing and having them delivered here takes a while. And shipping anything in December and hope it arrives across the ocean before Christmas is not very reasonable.

Second, while the book is print-ready, additional eyes help.

Third, I’m more or less homeless for the next two-three weeks. Which makes fulfilment of print orders a problem.

Fourth, there’s going to be a major bungle up in how EU small businesses sell things online. I might have to stop selling PDFs to EU countries due to new regulations that make it too much of a burden. So, if you are in the EU and want a PDF, get it before 2015. More updates on this topic soon.

Pointcrawl City Generation (for both GMless and GMfull games)

Last time I made a first post about pointcrawls. Today we look at neighbourhoods and we assume a solo/gmless game.

Urban movement actions take a turn (same as shopping for weapons, bribing an officer of the law, etc, etc) and are either:

  • go to a neighbourhood you already know
  • explore

Last time we ended up with a simple exploration table. Roll 1d6 and spend a turn when you explore:

  1. waterfront
  2. market quarter
  3. slum
  4. other slum
  5. more slums? yes
  6. citadel

Butou can use the usual tricks to make the exploration more interesting. Like, for example:

  • Wrong turn last lane: of course to explore or go to a known neighbourhood takes a turn. And when exploring, you might roll a number of an already discovered neighbourhood. It’s OK, you immediately realize you took a wrong turn, and can reroll once, twice if you have a city map, a thief or ranger in the party. This is interesting in all situations where time is a resource: in a chase, or finding a cleric while someone is dying of poison, or finding a contact before they get shived, or finding the local friend before the local gangs knife you, and remember that in urban situations random encounters literally happen all the time, because city streets are always bustling. Random encounter chance at every roll, because PCs are actually basically trawling the streets a lot.
  • Lost: when moving to an already known neighbourhoods in a city you don’t know well, there’s a flat 1-in-6 chance of just getting lost and ending up in a neighbourhood at random 1d6 turns later.
  • Random People on the Streets: overnight random encounters are not as frequent, but it’s either criminals or the night watch. We covered this in Burgs & Bailiffs volume 1.
  • Let’s split: actually splitting the party might be an intelligent thing to do, except that both halves can end up in the same neighbourhood they’ve never previously been. And random encounters are riskier, because while 6 foreigners with weapons are safe, two are gonna be dead any time soon. Remember that nobody cares if a foreigner dies because you’re literally nobody there.

Oh, there’s that pub that’s really hard to find

There are some places hard to find. We’ll call them hidden spots. We need mechanics for these:

  • you actually find a hidden place the second time you get in the location
  • or when you spend a some time there
  • or when you spend a turn actually exploring the location like a dungeon room. I said it would be pointcrawls all the way down, and you did not believe me.
  • or every time you get lost, there’s a 1-in-6 chance of ending in one of the town’s hidden spots.
  • or you roll a die one or two steps smaller than the size of the table, and you only step up the dice size once you discover all the locations you can discover first. So if the city has 8 neighbourhoods, when you explore you roll a d6, but roll a d8 only when you found all the first six neighbourhoods, or when you get a reroll because you rolled an already known neighbourhood (per wrong turn rules), or when you get lost. Remember these random encounters. For example, roll 1d6 on the following table until all 1-6 neighbourhoods are found:
    1. waterfront
    2. market quarter
    3. slum
    4. other slum
    5. more slums? yes
    6. citadel
    7. that nice pub
    8. lotus den
  • or you can use a bigger die size, and every time you roll over the number of neighbourhoods you get lost and mark off the result. Eventually as they are all marked off only the base neighbourhood dice will be rolled. And if you get lost, you roll the base dice. So, for this example starts with a d10 but eventually will use a d6 as the lost locations are marked off:
    1. waterfront
    2. market quarter
    3. slum
    4. other slum
    5. more slums? yes
    6. citadel
    7. lost (1d6)
    8. lost (1d6)
    9. lost, plus attempted mugging (1d6 after encounter)
    10. lost, plus random encounter with very nasty people (1d6 if you survive the encounter)
  • or you can combine the two above, but “lost” entries after being crossed off are replaced with hidden spots, and you always use the same dice. So the first time you roll a 8 on the example table below you get lost, the second time you get to the black market. This is better than using a numeric modifier because you’re annotating the table already and requires less math. For this example, you always use a d10:
    1. waterfront
    2. market quarter
    3. slum
    4. other slum
    5. more slums? yes
    6. citadel
    7. lost (1d6) – hidden spot: incredibly cozy and friendly inn with great food and awesome locals that welcome the adventurers and befriends them.
    8. lost (1d6) – hidden spot: black market
    9. lost, plus attempted mugging (1d6 after encounter) – hidden spot: lotus den
    10. lost, plus random encounter with very nasty people (1d6 if you survive the encounter) – hidden spot: thief “guild”
  • You can also have extra hidden spots reveal in normal locations. Roll always 1d10:
    1. waterfront – hidden spot: smuggler
    2. market quarter – hidden spot: fencer
    3. slum – hidden spot: barn with a tunnel leading outside of the walls
    4. other slum – hidden spot: actually a small nice immigrant neighbourhood
    5. more slums? yes – hidden spot: smuggler
    6. citadel – hidden spot: poncy restaurant
    7. lost (1d6) – hidden spot: incredibly cozy and friendly inn with great food and awesome locals that welcome the adventurers and befriends them.
    8. lost (1d6) – hidden spot: black market
    9. lost, plus attempted mugging (1d6 after encounter) – hidden spot: lotus den
    10. lost, plus random encounter with very nasty people (1d6 if you survive the encounter) – hidden spot: thief “guild”
  • See entry #10 in the last table? you should totally have more than one thief guild in town, in different locations.
  • You can totally replace #10 with a second table full of weird and hard to find places.
  • And of course you can do the same for hex contents. What did I just say? Topic for next time.

Pointcrawls and Random Exploration: words plus a game mechanic supporting Solo gaming

There’s a lot of discussion going on about pointcrawls recently. Chris’s writings is what you want to read first. I did a thing too.

First, I want to say a couple of things about pointcrawling.

Pointcrawl is a technique for organizing spatial relationships between discrete campaign locations. All locations are separate and can connect to each other through a number of paths. If this sounds like graph theory, there’s a reason.

Why do we do this? Because:

  1. action in RPGs happen in a specific location. The stage of the mind’s eye theatre is a single place. It can move, and be big, and new can be created (for example for random encounters along a road), but we usually focus our attention to a discrete location.
  2. the links are super-immediate to convey where to go from a place. Adventures are often about travels, travel are about connections. Explicit connections convey this information faster, for the same reason roads in maps are depicted in weird colours like green and red, despite being covered in black tarmac. This does not mean that travel can happen only along these connections, or that more connections can’t be made.

For example:

hypogea

This map is the example map in the Chthonic Codex boxed set. It’s a network of caves and canyons. All important locations are marked by a dot; it’s possible to go from a location to another doing up and down the paths marked. This is somewhat an extreme case: it’s only possible to move between locations using the tunnels and canyons, digging or climbing to the surface and travelling overland is extremely unwise. A similar set-up can happen in a setting consisting of narrow valleys separated by high mountains, like the Uplands or the Slumbering Ursine Dunes.

Also, portals. A network of portals is best represented as portals and their links drawn over an existing map. The best example is Gorgonmilk’s Dolmenwood map, where the portal pointcrawl is imposed on a stylish hexcrawl map.

PAOLO, YOU MENTIONED GAME MECHANICS

Right. We are going to use villages, cities and neighbourhoods for examples. The game mechanic is this:

  • The locations on the pointcrawl are either simple or complex.
  • Simple locations, like a village, are small enough to show all apparent features after a modicum of exploration: roads going to places, shops, etc.
  • Complex locations are made of a number of simple locations in the same complex, for example a big city of different neighbourhoods. Their relationship is complex enough that when one explore in a complex location, they can only see/afford/interact with what’s inside the simple location, and the locations this is connected to. A pointcrawl in a pointcrawl, pointcrawlceptions, it’s pointcrawls all the way down. It’s possible to simply go to these neighbours as one would do normally in an RPG (the usual “we go to the waterfront” “you meet ill-meaning thugs on your way” “we set their hair on fire” etc etc),  or it’s possible to explore and create one or two of such links to internal neighbourhood at random.
  • At random from what? Cue table, roll 1d6:
    1. waterfront
    2. market quarter
    3. slum
    4. other slum
    5. more slums? yes
    6. citadel
  • You can have one such table for each city, or each city has a number of blank neighbourhoods and each time you find a new one, you randomize from a Grand Table of Neighbourhoods. They come in different flavours, from Crapsack to Fallen Empire to High Fantasy.
  • If you were told that there is a Market in a specific city, pencil in market with a question mark in one of the slots. When you actually get there, roll to find if the information was reliable and the market is in fact there, or erase the market and roll a new neighbourhood if you were told bullshit.
  • for solo play, start with cities full of blank slots. When you hear rumour about them, pencil them in with a question mark. In such cities, if you want to avoid actually making a graph, you can get by with only using the city table: neighbourhoods have no fixed neighbours so you can either explore or go to a known location.
  • if you ask the locals where a neighbourhood is, roll twice and pick the best result.

Status update

Hey y’all,
I haven’t been writing in a while. There are three main reasons:

  1. I’m getting evicted, and I spent way more time than expected to fix the issue. I found a place to stay but its going to be a bit problematic. But long term plans gears are moving. More details as soon as.
  2. my suppliers for box making and binding are taking longer than expected to fulfill their orders. This blows. And the festive season is a’coming.
  3. the next post on the landscape generator has been postponed because it needs a bunch of tiles. But given the relocation, I’ll have to wait until the relocation. So I’ll discuss it in general.
  4. Yale put lectures for some of their courses on Youtube. One that might be of immediate interest for the readers is “The Early Middle Ages, 284–1000 with Paul Freedman“.

DCC RPG and I (with a sizeable side of METAL)

TL;DR: I’ve been running DCC RPG for three sessions, killed 9 PCs and while initially being overwhelmed I’m now rolling with it and I homeruled it already.

Longform: Last year I saw DCC RPG in my FLGSes and I left it on the self because, well, AFG. AFG is a small game. AFG has very few tables. I can run it without using the handbook, and I’m supercomfortable with it. In part because I wrote it, but mostly because it’s tiny and designed to be nimble. It’s my OSR game, and does things the way I mean them to be.
DCC is an A4 book two inches thick. It’s full of tables. Spells take two pages each. Critical hits go on and on and on for pages. Compared to my usual fare, it’s incredibly baroque, and the characters have such a badass feeling, almost a comic-book aura of WRAAGHH to them.

But since it was reduced to 24 quid and I had store credit (because of FLGS AFG sales) I got myself a copy. I figured I could do worse with my money.

Anyway, I read it and I realized it was more or less an homeruled S&W. And i struggled a bit because the handbook is not well organized, and I needed to search for stuff, but now it has a bunch of bookmarks and it works much better.

But the homerules are all METAL. Like, EFFING METAL MAN.

IT’S OSR PLAYED REALLY LOUD.

So, yeah. For the non DCC-enabled, here’s a brief rundown about what’s different:

  • Casting and healing need a successful roll, but can be cast way more often. And depending on the casting roll, the effects can be more or less awesome. If you fail, bad shit happens. I like the strategic approach of spellcasting of D&D, but here METAAAAAL being potentially awesome or fucked up because you summon spells is good.
  • For the same reason, critical hits and fumbles in combat. Especially fumbles. Criticals are dope. METAAAAAAAAALLL
  • Fighters get to deal more damage and hit better, but instead of adding flat bonuses, they roll more dice. MORE SWINGY MELEE, MORE METAL.
  • You get to start with four lvl0 commoners. You can’t even pick a race. A cobbler, an elven falconer, a rutabaga farmer and an artisan? All really squishy with 1d4 HP, and 3d6 down the line for stats? And that if they manage to survive he first adventure, only then they become level 1? And that they die, like, a lot, because with 2 hp, even if you’re conservative, a bad initiative roll can fuck you up? BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD OF METAAAAALLL
  • Thieves when backstabbing deal automatically critical hits. Let me restate the supersweet concept in all caps:  BACKSTABS ARE AUTOMATICALLY CRITICAL. I think that no words mo’better than AUTOMATICALLY CRITICAL have ever been written in the history of RPG. So the thief after a backstab can roll on the critical hits table. THIS IS GOOD. THIS IS METAL.
  • There’s a spell that transforms stuff in SNAKES. You can’t control them and they slither away, but you can just TURN WEAPONS, BELTS, RINGS, ROPE, CROWNS, PANTS, IN SNAKES. EVEN ON OPPONENTS. SNAKES EVERYWHERE. METAL.

So, yeah, expect DCC content.

Procedural GM-less Terrain Generation for Crusaders in the Snow

I started writing a cooperative, umpireless wargame. All players are in the same team, a small chapter of knights of the Teutonic Order converting and fighting the pagans in the lands across the Eastern Baltic. A game of exploration and conversion. But it’s really about oppression and reprisal.

Why?

First, I had a few hours on a train going to an OSR-UK meetup.

Second, a while ago I started writing Crusaders in the Snow, an OSR domain game on the same topic. And the writer’s block on that is massive because of many reasons.

Third, cooperative wargames are interesting. You need rules for handling the fight without risking that any of the players will pick dumb choices for the opposition.

Fourth, I love terrain generation, and the terrain around the Eastern Baltic was awful.

Mires and forests and lack of roads made overland travel a pain. Horses drowned in swamps pulling down their riders. Travel times of five miles a day. And the locals knew the ground like their pockets. And you thought your DM was severe. This is high-level douchebaggery.

How did the Order wage war in such a place?

First, they had boats that could easily go up and down rivers. And there are plenty of rivers in the area, so, during the summer, river movement is easy-peasy, which is useful because the rest of the terrain is a big mire.

Second, during the winter the frozen landscape became a warpath. Rivers froze enough to allow knights to use them as roads, and battles were fought on them (sometimes going really badly for the Crusaders).

So, what do we have now? Randomly generated terrain, asymmetric wargame, difficult movement.

More next time, where I discuss the randomly generated terrain.