Moving, Flu, Editing, Layout and Proof

I went through all the titular experiences in the past 10 days or so. On top the new flat doesn’t have an internet connection, so my Internet presence is minimal.

The AFG proof is being printed right now. The softcover will be printed on A4, 100gsm paper and perfect-bound. I expected to have it staple bound but the new printer prefers perfect binding for 60 pages and up.

Another very welcome bit of news is that “The Temple Beneath the¬†Harga Volcano”, the sandbox-adventure at the back of the manual, will sport a colour map in an otherwise black and white book. The local printer shop is awesome.

In the meantime my local AFG group swelled up to 8 people. While I think big groups are awesome, some of my players want more of my attention, so from this week I’ll start running two weekly games. One in my flat and the other, every Saturday night, at Spellbound Games, just off Victoria road, Glasgow. The latter is a drop-in, everybody-is-welcome game, and is great fun.

By the way, this Saturday is Free RPG Day. I’ll be at Spellbound Games from 2PM running AFG until I drop dead from caffeine overdose or the Cthulhu Idol is recovered from beneath the Harga Volcano. Drop by and join us! ūüôā

Forbidden Castle – Stephan Poag Cover Art for Adventure Fantasy Game

Stephan Poag is my favourite OSR illustrator. I contacted him, asked if he’d like to draw a cover for AFG, details were supplied, then he quickly produced an early sketch, feedback was exchanged and acted on.

Then, delivery of what can be only described as “100% faithful to actual game content”:

There’s something about purchasing original art for your game that makes it more real: probably the fact that your pet-project starts to have a material cost, I’m not sure. Working with Stephan has been a pleasure and I hope to do more of the same in the future.

Oh, I almost forgot: AFG will be available soon in two formats: digital and print+digital bundle.

The Digital format will be 4.50£ and will give you early access not only to the PDF of the final version and the early versions, but also to the LaTeX source files in case you want to annotate or modify it. Yes, you get the source files. And on top a 4.50£ discount on the Print+Digital version, so when you decide to upgrade you will pay only the difference.

The Print+Digital bundle details are yet to be perfectly finalized, but will set you off 12£ + s/h for a softcover version of the final release of AFG, an A4 64-pages staple-bound book with colour cover and b/w interiors.

In both cases you get to have an early view of the game, test it and give feedback. I’ve been at the same time writing and playtesting AFG for more than a year now, but I can always use more feedback. You deserve not less than the best. ūüôā

AFG is done, and OGL-free

Yes, done. Not complete or perfect, just done.

I wanted to have some early version copies before my spring trip to see family in Milan and I wanted some copies to give to my players there. My plane is next wednesday so I wanted to send the copies before thursday start of business hours.

But the book was a mess. The holdings chapter needed a monster generator and treasure tables, no rules for teaching and for development of Secret Weapon Techniques, lots of spells still missing, sparse illustrations, not many notes on how to create a campaign and run a sandbox/pointcrawl/megadungeon.

But I had enough feedback and momentum, and I’ve been developing the system for the past year or so. Play a bit, ask for feedback, tweak the rules, play a it more, ask for feedback, tweak, lather, rinse, repeat. Repeat. Repeat a bit more. Do math to verify that, no, the system it’s not going to break in weird places. Play again, endure the spells when you can’t muster enough players, enjoy when you can, be thrilled when players rediscover the thrill of adventure gaming and are forced to make hard, interesting decisions. At some point stop working on it because, hey, if I deliver it people might not like it.

So a while ago I kind of froze. Post-postgrad school depression and dissertation burnout really knocked me out for a few months.

Then play it a bit more to realize that, despite still very rough on some edges, testers really like it. And that making expensive armours and firearms available makes financing critical from level 1.

So in the past few days I just went into “software project management” mode and cut features from the first release. No religion chapter, no example dungeon or setting, keep the magical items to the bare AFG essentials. Cut the unfinished spells and campaign development notes. Add the illos you have to get in, and don’t worry if they don’t look perfect. Stop freaking out about typos, bad grammar and remember that, while a couple of sections might not have been perfectly proofread, proofreaders have done a good jobs of being nitpickers.

Then discover that you’ve written a game stat-compatible with most OSR material without using any non-original game mechanic (except stuff written by Sham). That you’ve done away with experience points, spell memorization, the way combat works, clerics, the pain of single-classing and the meh of multiclassing. You’ve written 30 original spells, new magic item concepts, completely new combat rules and that, since the whole manual has been made through¬†clean room development, it’s OGL-free. Because I want people to play the Original Fantasy Adventure Game and I don’t think that it needs to rely on specific rules, giant fire-breathing flying monsters or underground fortifications, much less on the good will of WotC.

This early morning at half past five I sent the final revised file to Lulu. Some parts are terrible, some are good, some need more work. But it’s done.

Done is the drug that makes you feel Great, Done is the ingredient to More.

OSR Conservation Process: New Licence

After listening to authors feedback the OSR Conservation Process licence agreement for new uploads changed.

While the positive feedback is not worth mentioning (but always appreciated), the negative feedback is important because it might highlight problems that need to be fixed. Negative feedback revolves mostly arount two terms of the licence: irrevocability and modification.

Licence irrevocability means that a copyright holder can not unilaterally terminate the licence and take a document offline, making it unavaiable. The reason of the OSR Conservation Process is to stop this kind of loss to happen, without caring if the loss is accidental or deliberate. I believe allowing copyright holders to remove work is counterproductive to the aim of OCP and, well, there are plenty of websites ready to host your free RPGs (like RPGNow!) so authors can vote with their feet.

The modification termn, enabling OCP to change the uploaded documents, is a completely different matter. This¬†clause made uncomfortable a number of authors, and rightly so. It’s been included to allow OCP to¬†transform files from a format to another (allowing creation of ebooks) but it can also mean that in¬†theory OCP could replace all copyright and author notices and entitle them to some “Odo the Bishop of Bayeux”. Or swap all¬†interior illustrations.

Well, that’s not going to happen.

And it’s been countering the OCP growth.

So it’s been dropped. The “core” concept of the conservation process is to keep our gaming culture from vanishing. Automatic ebook support, while fancy, is not “core” and therefore it’s been dropped along the way. Finding out what’s important and what’s not is critical during critical times.

KU1: The King of the Unsergarten

The best work is the one that is never completed, let alone started. Such work lives, no, thrives and shines in our collective imagination, like the kingdoms explored by our younger selves, delving in big gardens, no adults around. Just the shadows of old, mighty trees, paths, stones and desire for adventure.

I might have a stab at this. I’m not sure where I should start with it, the kind of stance to keep regarding violence, what to do with the dogs and with other kids. Heck, I might make it ultraviolent and slap a fat “18+” on its cover. And I couldn’t even publish it before July 2013 anyway.

I’m not sure. Design decisions bring the matter of dreams down to earth, where it has to cope with limitations, inability,¬†laziness, lack of interest and derision. Failure does not bother ideas. They’re just there, over the Hyperuranius, carefree, unfazed, timeless.

Well, I can’t even find the first volume of “The University Bookshelf”, which is supposed to hold the story. I have no idea about who the author is, or what the story is about. It might be an excellent exercise anyway.

And yeah, I wish the title was about “Undergarden” but, sadly for you all grognards, it’s not: “Unsergarten” means “our garden” in German, and from my daft speculations it’s a tale of a kid becoming the king of his house’s garden, exploring it with his dogs.

A bit of introspection and typing told me that my feeling of being unimpressed by reality is probably caused by my new job and trying to finish A Fantasy Game: both endeavours show interesting unexpected developments, but keeping the helm in the correct direction while seeing the boat drifting can be a bit daunting. No, scratch that: I’m afraid of ¬†being afraid. I guess everything will be fine. ūüôā

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! ūüėÄ
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.

Giving Up, Giving In

It’s been a while since my last post.

I haven’t posted because I stopped finding roleplaying games interesting. Now and then I opened the RPG folder in my feed reader but nothing really captured my attention (except a few things). Eager to play, my attempts of forming a new group unsuccessful, I ran a couple of games of AFG for two different groups (once with people i’ve never met at a convention), but the sessions never really ‘clicked’, mostly due to me not being a good M.C.. This happened in a period where I had to face the fact that I never had chance to be a PhD student, had horrible problems with girlfriends (polyamory is complicated) and, after I accepted a very good job offer, the employer changed his mind: despite having some savings and living on a small budget life, this was really the last straw and really broke my spirit and sapped my will to do pretty much anything. Weeks went by, eating frozen pizza and brooding in a wee dark room.

Then, at a vegan dinner party I spent a couple of hours cooking for, a couple of guests mentioned that they wanted to play D&D, and that they liked it; a close friend, knowing well I wanted to run some good Old School, starts telling them that D&D is garbage, all the rules are horrible and, all the times he had fun paying D&D, was “despite” of the game, then proceeded to enumerate the virtues of Forge-bourne games. I was trying to have a good time and decided not to challenge him (I really couldn’t be bothered challenging his dogmatic perspective, knowing too well that I’m not bias-free), but I noticed that one of the maybe-players (which as sitting on the couch next to me) started to answer with arguments that were uncannily close to those of the OSR orthodox perspective, despite the very, very scarce experience and exposure to tabletop fantasy gaming of said player (whom I never met before). Note that said friend also¬†spontaneously¬†offered to run AFG, and despite facing my way he completely ignored me for all the lengthy discussion: the whole really, really soured me and, when my friend decided it was time to pull me in the discussion, I just walked off. And given up RPGs.

So I started playing Magic again. Elder Dragon Highlander is terribly funny and a very, very different game from the macho, ultra-competitive standard, legacy and vintage scenes, where your opponent shouts angrily at you when you make tactical errors. I also manage to play a lot of Innovation, Le Havre, Sit Gloria Romae, Automobilism, Once Upon a Time, 7 Wonders, Dominion and the new¬†Civilization¬†boardgame (they’re all strongly recommended, by the way). Turns out that, surprisingly, the Germans have enough oomph to win a conquer game fighting on two fronts, and it tastes even better when the other players spend half of the game reminding you that we all know what happened the last two times Germany tried that. Deutschland √úber Alles, my dear readers.¬†I thought I was going to give up on roleplaying games, but a group of friends in Milan wanted to play so, on my 32nd birthday (the day after James’s Raggi, I recently discovered), I ran AFG, and we all had a good time. Also not only PC died, but they all gained a level! And a friend that rolled 7,8 and 9 on 3d6 for is now kinda bragging about getting to level 2 with stats so low. We are going to play again tomorrow, after a pizza (om nom nom).

This morning I realized that, yes, I have given up on RPGs after all. This doesn’t stop me from, now and then, indulging again in the vice, like the occasional drag from a cigarette ex-smokers are either really longing for or really familiar with. There are a few things I want to do, such as finishing the writeup of AFG, working on the OSR Conservation Project (I wrote more code this morning) and submitting my One Page Dungeon entry. I’m not sure what I’ll make of this blog, but unless I’ll grow ashamed of it I’m not going to delete it.

Oh, in the meantime I was awarded a Master in Research. The scroll says I’m now a¬†Magister Inquisitorum¬†or something similar. ūüôā

What’s in a blog name?

I might shut down this blog. The reason? Its name.

This blog, as many of you imagine, got its name out of a Gygax+Kuntz module called “Lost Cavern of Tsojcanth” and a bit of wordplay. I enjoyed running the module for my now-completed Greyhawk20 campaign so much that I started using Tsojcanth as online handle about 8-10 years ago.

Nowadays I feel like I should stop using it: not only because of the 3E¬†re-adaptation¬†of the module, but because legally it doesn’t belong to me, which leads to a vague feeling of anxiety (here used in a quasi-kierkeg√•rdian sense) whenever I type it.

So, as soon as I’ll come up with a decent name and make up my mind the blog provider, I’ll stop writing here and go somewhere else.

Quick Unique Spellcasters

New developments in the OSR are looking quite interesting. I’m not referring to the whole YDIS/Kellri shenanigans (I don;t care much about YDIS, I consider his blog to be a fun satirical self-referential OSR pastiche) but to what Roger the GS is doing with game presentation and rules, taking the one-page approach a step too far toward awesome.

In particular I’m really happy about his Wizard rules: we had a productive discussion on spell levels, memorization and the like and, despite I initially had quite different ideas on the topic (having spent a while researching magic systems for fantasy games got me some possibly clever insights), I think his approach is different but superior due to being fun.

The planning aspect of the magic user, instead being of centered on daily memorization and resource control, is based on individual spell scarcity (more and diverse spells will see play) and long term research (Fireball isn’t enough when you can cast one, so you want to research more and diverse offensive spells). I believe, furthermore, that uninformed choices are less fun and interesting than informed ones: memorizing in advance, while supporting some interesting kind of gameplay, for me appears less interesting than deciding, on the spot, which spell I should cast now and save the party, at the price of not having the spell available until the next day. We’ll playtest it later on tonight. ūüôā

This makes also easy to generate  spellbooks for magic user NPCs:

  1. Give the wizard LEVELd2 spells (more expert wizards will have researched or obtained more spells).
  2. That’s it really. No memorization faff.

There is also the more awesome method:

  1. Go to the previously covered Dying Earth Spell Generator.
  2. Take the first LEVELd2 entries and put them in the MU’s spellbook. Look ma no studying I don’t need to do homework today I swear.
  3. Improvise spell effects. Be awesome. Reward the few surviving PCs with an awesome spellbook.

This kind of casting also introduces new possibilities for minor magic item crafting. I’ll cover them in the future.