On divination: writing original spells for AFG. Also featuring “a yellowish shade of mauve”

I’m still working on AFG. I want to get a “reasonably complete draft” before the end of next week. AFG has a non-Vancian magical system  that’s still 100% compatible with your retroclone of choice, but I’m not wanting to release anything under the OGL, so I’m writing down a bunch of new spells.

At the moment I’m feeling all happy because I achieved something I feel brings very close narrative, magic tradition, spell effects and weirdness: spells in AFG are not only a tool to change game mechanics, but something that tries a bit harder. Something that stuck me about divination spells in RPGs is that they’re mostly teleological: designers need some result and bend over backwards to motivate it. I think that 3E and Type 4 are, in this respect, much worse than anything that before. As a skeptic with a substantial background in occultism this annoys the heck out of me.

I am not satisfied. I want more.

Moreover, divination is opten seen as some kind of lame, non flashy, ineffective type of magic. My perception of the problem is that most players that would be interested can’t be bothered anymore because GMs do their best of making “spells that break the plot” ineffective. Because, somehow, using a spell to understand whuddonit “breaks the plot/campaign/style/trope/balance” where using a fireball to toast the fuck out of the big baddie doesn’t.

I give my players divination spells because, if they don’t, they’ll die a horrible and surprising death instead of  being able to just about survive.

End of rant. Here comes my last baby (you happy, JOESKY?):

Opening the Third Eye Level 1

Range: self. Casting time: 1 turn. Duration: until next dawn.

An eyelid will form will open on the caster’s forehead, to reveal an eye. The caster will be able, through the third eye, not only to see normally (and have better awareness) but also to perceive auras. The spell does not give any indication of the aura type, but the caster will be able to associate various aura “colours” to different type of auras: for example arcane items emanate something that’s been described in the literature as a “yellowish shade of mauve”.

Also, I got to write “a yellowish shade of mauve”.

First illustration sketch for AFG

As A Fantasy Game is coalescing towards a more concrete form and slowly inches toward completion and eventually a printer and possibly your and your fellow players hands and games, I’ve contacted Claire, a local artist, to do some work.

I like where this is going.

Apparently the drawing was powered by listening to Blind Guardian, something I totally approve of. Here, have some:

DM Questionnaire

Zak put out a questionnaire for DMs. My answers follow in italic.

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be? In AFG players decide how their PC will gain the next level. No XPs, just action. Sham did really important previous work tho, and I’d never managed without him.

2. When was the last time you GMed? My last evening in Italy before coming back to Britain, December 17.
3. When was the last time you played? I can’t remember. Sometime in spring. A FATE fantasy game.
4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven’t run but would like to. Keep that trade route open! 
5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things? I listen and take notes.
6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play? Crisps or chocolates, as I rarely run games at mine. I know, it’s terrible for my health, but they’re TASTY.
7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting? Yes. But I can go on for a while.
8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing? My halfling thief, Pappo il Grande, was attacked by 6 or 7 oozes in a session. And survived them all. I’m really proud of Pappo.
9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither? Both! 😀
10. What do you do with goblins? Pathfinder really opened my mind about goblins. Jeff with Cinder broke a gaping hole in what was left of the walls. Plus a lot of them roll on the “goblin mutation table” I wrote for Xmas Santicore 2011.  Semi-nasty comedy value is FUN!
11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)? The first volume of Crusader Castles of the Teutonic Knights, Osprey. I’m throwing together an historical AFG supplement.
12. What’s the funniest table moment you can remember right now? In Cinder, “what are the goblin up to?” came up with “they’re preparing for a bunny eating contest”. Hilarity ensues. Some of the bunnies ended up as pets, other ended up being sacrificed to K’Z’K (Thanks Jeff!).
13. What was the last game book you looked at–aside from things you referenced in a game–why were you looking at it? I was looking at D20 Past. D20 Modern has a structured way of presenting its mini-settings and i was trying to understand it better.
14. Who’s your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator? Da Vinci, Dali, Beardsley and Clarke are both dead and never have illustrated any RPG. I’ll settle for DiTerlizzi.
15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid? I’m not sure. Surely they were concerned about their PCs. I gave one nightmares tho. Really funny nightmares.
16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn’t write? (If ever) Rod of the Seven Parts. The last three sessions put the word end to a d20 campaign lasted 9 years. Big, big closure. It’s also been my only campaign that ended successfully, despite a funcional TPK happening. After the Rod hit Miska everybody died except the mage. I thought “Chaos wins!”, but the MU snapped his Staff of Power, vaporizing himself and Miska. There goes Miska and the last standing party member. Somehow a priest  left for dead in the back was merely stunned from Miska’s Power Word, so after a while just he woke up, put the corpses in a portable hole and planeshifted himself everybody’s remains home. The End.
17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in? Long table, DM sitting alone on a long side, players on the other side. Yep, like exams. 
18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be? something to properly trade goods and a single volume book containing all the OSR tables. ALL OF THEM.
19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be? Being exposed to a lot of medieval art and architecture traveling as a kid and left-wing anarcho-communist politics.
20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table? Active players, I want them to do stuff with my sandbox.
21. What’s a real life experience you’ve translated into game terms? Being disempowered by authority acting without its powers. Mostly being translated to town watch being nasty as fuck in my games.
22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn’t? Vornheim Hinterland & Beyond.
23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn’t play? How do those conversations go? My flatmate used to play, and my lover used to play LARP, and I end up stopping because I perceive they don’t care, while understanding that, hey, not everybody does, and it’s fine. There’s this disconnection I can’t always bridge. It kinda annoys me that they don’t have the same passion as I do for games, but through exposure they’re getting slowly more involved. Very slowly.

OSR Conservation Process goes live!

Some of you might have noticed that the OSR Conservation Process went finally live a few days ago.

UPDATE: the server hosting the site is running from my desk, using my home connection. The unexpected surge of usage makes it really, really slow when many users download files.

I started rambling about OSR conservation a while ago and, after pondering and trying and procrastinating and writing a dissertation, I finally built a prototype and asked people to try it. The site looks a bit janky, not only because you’re probably reading it on a Windows computer that uses Arial instead of high-browsed Helvetica (yes, I’m a typo freak), but also because I’m a lazy web designer.

The tests went fine, the code has been cleaned and secured and now it’s live, accepting submissions and serving files. In the past 6 days 17 files have been submitted and they’ve been downloaded more than 700 times. Leading the download counts is the never enough praised Miscellaneum of Cinder by Jeff Rients, while the latest addiction is the first issue of Fight On!, the other issues available through the official channel, as always.

There’s plenty of work to be done on the side. I’m working on inappropriate content notifications, user comments and “bookshelves”, and tinkering with crowdsourced tagging. I also badly need to talk with a IP lawyer to better define the poor excuse of a licence agreement that OCP uses at the moment. Feedback is, of course, always welcome.

In the future I’d really like to be able to offer deadtree versions of the files using print-on-demand, without of course turning a profit. To be honest I’d like copyright holders to release their free works with a licence that enabled everybody to print them and sell them, like it happens with software, public domain books and most Creative Commons content: there’s work involved in both writing and manufacturing and delivering books, but I really hope to be able to set up an automatic, markup-free POD integration at some point in the future.

Well, I hope this works. We can afford to lose retroclones and  as much as we could afford to lose the original games.