Friday, November 17, 2017

Barebones Fantasy, Death in Middle Earth, and a weekend at the Con.


Barebones Fantasy

So I went to Con on the Cob over the weekend. There I met up with +Tim Shorts and +Chris C. on Friday Night. Because I just got off of work, I had just enough time to check in, unload my stuff and head to my first game. Which turned out to be a Barebone Fantasy adventure.

Barebones Fantasy is an RPG about as detailed as Swords and Wizardry Complete, Basic DnD 5e or Fantasy Age. It uses a d100 and very basic skill system. You crit (success or fail) when you roll doubles (11, 22, 66, etc). Interestingly 00 means 0 and not 100. And counts as a crit. Skills are grouped by profession. Each profession (Thief, Scout, etc) have a number of skills that the your rating applies too.

Overall the system has it own favor and the rulebook cover everything you need to get started with a fantasy campaign using it. My only issue is that I have a number of RPGs of similar complexity and ease of use. So it doesn't hold much appeal for me.While it sounding I am damning it with faint praise. I feel it quite good ... for another gamer. My own personal bias is towards 3d6 based system when not using Dungeons and Dragons. So I would use Fantasy Age over this.

However if you like to use a d100 then you should take a look at this. Like Fantasy Age, like Swords and Wizardry Complete, or the Basic Version of DnD 5th edition, it quick to read and leap into. Recommended.

Barebones Fantasy Character sheet.


I will have a followup on the result of the Adventures in Middle Earth game I ran at the convention.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Of to the Con and Middle Earth!


So around 3pm I will heading from work to Con on the Cob in Richfield (Cleveland) Ohio. There I will hang out with my friends +Tim Shorts and +Chris C.. and get in on some gaming action.


On Saturday at 1 pm,  I will be running a modified version of my Scourge of the Demon Wolf for Adventures in Middle Earth called Scourge of the Werewolf. Because it is a face to face session I can go all out with my Dwarven Forges, props, and minis.




Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A free Harn Kingdom sampler.

Columbia Games has released a free 60 page page article about one of the larger kingdoms of Harn, Kaldor. If you want to see what all the hoopla is about concerning Harn. You can go here to download a free copy. The only downside is that you will have to create a Columbia Games account. This is handled during checkout.

The PDF has the following excerpts

Kingdom of Kaldor, City of Tashal (the capital of Kaldor), The Town of  Kiban, Manor (a set of rules for running a medieval manor, similar in complexity to running a Mongoose Traveller starship), and the Manor of Roganter.



Monday, October 30, 2017

James Shields Fantasy Art Kickstarter


James Shield Fantasy Art Kickstarter has entered into it last 48 hours. He is a great artist with a strong black and white style that I like. For commercial use, he offering 50 images for $50 which is a great deal. And for lower pledge levels this kickstarter is a great way to get illustrations for paper standup miniatures.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Building a better thief (for me at least)

So over at Tenkar's Tavern, Erik wrote a thoughtful post on why he made the thief the way it is in Swords and Wizardry, Continual Light. I have a contrary view and figured the reasons why I hold it could be of use to others.

In the original game a 1st level fighter was considered a veteran a seasoned warrior. Not exceptional but not a just a newly made squire or somebody just out of training camp either. This stems from Chainmail man to man rules.

Judges Guild and Bob Bledsaw were a huge influence on how I conceived character levels. In the City-State of the Invincible Overlord and the Wilderlands of High Fantasy, leveled characters were a dime a dozen.

I evolved to consider level 1-2 to be apprentice level. Level 3 a full fledged professional. Level 6 a professional with responsibilities. Level 9 a leader among peers. Level 12 a renowned expert. And level 15 legendary. Level 1 meant that the character was trained and ready to do things on their own. Somebody just out of the academy so to speak. The other popular conception, and probably more common, is that anything beyond 1st level is special.

When I was using ADnD, the fact the thief only had 15% chance to Move Silently, 10% to Hide in Shadows, 30% to Pick Pocket seem very inconsistent with not only my view but view that leveled characters were special.

Think about it. In a setting where leveled characters are special that means the rest of the world is handled by zero level characters living out there lives. This means competent military and city guards doing their jobs, craftsmen working at their trade, and criminal types going about their business.

A good fix for this conundrum is consider the thief abilities to for special circumstances that allow a thief to go beyond what a ordinary person can do. But it is a fix as the none of the classic editions made this distinction. Starting with the Dungeoneer Survival Guide, the fix was to introduce proficiency as a skill system.

Then flashforward 30+ years and after reading the past decade worth of books about the DnD histories. I find that it that the original thief appears to be an afterthought. Something thrown into the Greyhawk supplement that made Gygax go "Neat!". Or equally likely thrown in to stop the folks who were bombarding him about why there were no burglars (Bilbo) or thieves (Grey Mouser) in the game.

So when it came to writing the Majestic Wilderlands supplement, I jettisoned the thief found in Swords and Wizardry as it was based on the original thief. But an important part of my setting that there were character types who where better at non-combat abilities than other characters types. So rather than come up with a unique set of mechanics for each class I opted to come up with a list of things that characters can do out of combat (abilities) and each of the Rogue classes would start off and process with different bonuses to these abilities.

When it came to the core books of the original roleplaying game it is apparent to me that outside of combat and spell any character to could attempt to do anything. So any character class could attempt to use these abilities. The various rogue classes were better.

I figured that at 1st level it was reasonable that the odds of success should be the same as a 1st level fighter hitting a moderately armored opponent, 30%.

There weren't really good example to draw from various classic editions. The various methods were either too stingy or too generous. Some of the one I read are:

  • Roll 1d100 under your attribute (too stingy)
  • Multiply your attribute by 5 and roll under with 1d100 (too generous)
  • Roll 1d20 under your attributes (too generous).
  • Roll 3d6 under your attributes (again too generous)

In Moldavy's Basic Dungeons and Dragons we have this. Which is too generous for me.

Page B60 Moldavy Basic
There's always a chance. The DM may want to base a character's chance of doing something on his or her ability scores (Strength, Dexterity, and so forth). To perform a difficult task (such as climbing up a rope or thinking of a forgotten clue), the player should roll the ability score or less on ld20. The DM may give a bonus or penalty to the roll, depending on the difficulty of the action (-4 for a simple task to +4 for a difficult one). A roll of 1 should always succeed, and a roll of 20 should always fail. 
I opted to make it a 1d20 roll high with the base chance being 15+ or 30%. Attributes could give a bonus ranging from -3 to +3.  A starting burglar could easily get a +6 to his stealth ability check. However keep in mind, that stealth is generally an opposed roll to the guard perception (wisdom based). That the base 15+ applies to ordinary circumstances, otherwise it would be 20+ or more recently the roll being made at a disadvantage.

Hopefully you find this useful in deciding how you will be dealing with this in your campaign.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Observations on what is Dungeons and Dragons

 After working with this stuff for a decade I observed that there are common elements in the RPGs that are consider compatible with one or more editions of DnD. I found it useful while working on my Majestic Fantasy Rules to keep these in mind as I develop various subsystem.  There is no right or wrong way of doing this but it is helpful to have a starting point. 

My view of what constitutes a minimum set of mechanic for a DnD related RPG are:
  • Six attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma generated on a 3 to 18 scale with 10 being human normal average.
  • Saving throws to avoid bad things.
  • Armor Class as a target or an index to a chart to see if damage is scored.
  • A d20 to-hit roll
  • Difference races/cultures that offer a package of attributes bonuses and abilities.
  • Experience is represented by higher levels. 
  • Classes that are a package of abilities arranged by levels.
  • A character's health is represented by Hit Point when brought to zero incapacitates or kills the character.
  • Creatures can have hit dice instead of levels.
  • Creatures at a minimum have hit dice, hit points, movement, armor class, and a list of special abilities including attacks.

Beyond this anything is fair game. As long the above list is implemented it will be highly likely that the game will be seen as DnD compatible.

The Numbers
The interplay of the numbers used for the to-hit roll, armor class, hit points, and damage is a large part of what gives a specific edition their flavor.

You need to keep this in mind because the numbers work out differently for ODnD, ODnD+Greyhawk, ADnD, ADnD+Unearthed Arcana, Holmes Basic DnD, B/X DnD, BECMI DnD, ADnD 2e, ADnD 2e + Skill n Powers, DnD 3.0, DnD 3.5, PathfinderDnD 4e, and DnD 5e.  The good news it is not rocket science. Just need to figure out what edition you want it to be like and go from there.

Simplifying things even further the above can be grouped into broad categories:

  • Classic DnD (ODnD to ADnD 2e)
  • DnD 3.X (DnD 3.0 to Pathfinder)
  • DnD 4e
  • DnD 5e

The Stuff
If you noticed I didn't mention anything about specific classes, spells, magic items, lists of monsters, etc. To me these are setting details, either specific settings like my Majestic Wilderlands, Tekumel, Blackmoor, or Forgotten Realms. Or the generic fantasy that the core books of most editions of DnD assume.

With stuff like Dark Sun, Spelljammer, Eberron, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Arrows of Indra, Spears at Dawn, and other worthy works, I think it been established a RPG can be considered DnD even if it depicts a radically different setting or different vision of the fantasy genre.

For most of these games this was accomplished by having a different set of class, items, monsters, and even different systems of magic.

Conclusion
The point of this post is to offer a useful starting point from which to develop your own take on the world's most popular roleplaying game.




Tuesday, October 24, 2017

D&D is back in the mainstream.


Well looks like D&D is back in the mainstream. An interesting article in the New Yorker.

Having grown up with the first video games like Pong, Space Invaders, and Atari. Then moving on to PC Gaming, then MMORPGs, etc, etc. It satisfying to see people balancing out things with a healthy does of face to face gaming. I have two sons, one is 20 and one is 13. There is a marked difference between the attitudes of how kids treated gaming when my eldest was 13 compared to what my youngest is experiencing now that he is 13. I am involved in Scouting and over the past five years there is a definite uptick in face to face gaming of all type including tabletop roleplaying.

Although to be fair, the people we owe the biggest thanks too are the euro-game companies who figured out first how to make face to face work in the internet era.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

A project I am working on

I was thinking of something I could do for Swords and Wizardry Continual Light. Then this came to me as an idea for a setting.

Far beyond the Borderlands,
Beneath the shadowed eaves,
The sighing wind blows,
And the elf maiden grieves.

In the sun, bright steel glints
War drums echos amid the dells.
The land stained red
Orc and Men alike fell.

In darkling fens
And vast caverns deep,
Shadows come alive
and death creeps.

Far beyond the Borderlands
There is no peace.
Will heroes march?
Will the maiden cease to weep?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Google maps arrives for the Solar System

Google Maps now covers many planets and moons in the Solar System. Before they had Mars and the Moon and now it been greatly expanded. Pretty good especially for those who run near future Expanse style science fiction campaigns.

They even have the International Space Station.


Friday, October 13, 2017

Is your D&D 5e Character Rare?

Five Thirty Eight niche is using statistics to analyze sports and politics. But occasionally they turn their attention other topics. This time was the different type of DnD 5e character made with DnD Beyond, the online tool officially licensed by Wizards of the Coast. Recently Curse, the company beyond DnD Beyond supplied Gus Wezerek of FiveThirtyEight with a breakdown of the combination of class and race people were making on the service.

Looks like there quite a few folks using the tool numbering in the tens of thousands. Below is the data presented in chart form. It look like the winner is the good old Human Fighter followed by the Elven Ranger.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

How much is having Initiative worth?

So here is an interesting combat question how much initiative is worth to the side having it in various editions of Dungeons and Dragons?

When I was mucking around with Fudge, I wrote a program that simulated two guys whacking the other with swords. I did this to see how the number worked out over thousands of fight. I coded up GURPS Basic Combat and classic DnD Combat to use as comparison.

One of the things I did was randomized starting initiative at the beginning of combat. Then alternated sides from that point on. So I was playing around with it today and I noticed something interesting. When two combatant have equal stats with random starting imitative the odds look like this for 10,000 fights.

Alex Wins 5060
Brian Wins 4940
Average Rds 4.1268


So when I gave Alex starting Initiative all the time. The result was this

Alex Wins 5575
Brian Wins 4425
Average Rds 4.08065
Then switched to Brian

Alex Wins 4512
Brian Wins 5488
Average Rds 4.0986


The implication is that having initiative all the time increases your odds of winning combat by 4.5%. This is especially relevant to DnD 5th edition where the default is to roll initiative once.

Note: Both Alex and Brian had AC 12, +1 to Hit, 1d8 damage, and had 10 hit points.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Lost Hall of Tyr

People who write and create RPG material have varied interests. One +Douglas Cole of Gaming Ballistic is focused a wee bit on grappling. First he came out with Dungeon Grappling a supplement to add easy to use grappling rules to various editions of Dungeons and Dragons. Now he has started a kickstarter to fund the art and final production of the Lost Hall of Tyr, an adventure showing off his setting and focused on, you guessed it, grappling.

The Kickstarter page is here.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

City State of the World Emperor

Right now I am running two campaigns, the first is on Wednesdays and is using Adventures in Middle Earth with +Tim Shorts and +Chris C.. The second is on Thursday nights and involves several friends I made back when I running boffer LARP events; Josh, Mark, Adam, and Jeremy. The second campaign is using Swords and Wizardry and my Majestic Wilderlands Rules.

It centered around the City State of the World Emperor or the City of Spices or Viridistan. Currently the year 4475 BCCC, (Judges Guild stuff was set in 4433 BCCC) the last Viridian Emperor is long dead, the civil war that broke out in the wake of his death had wound down a decade ago (in game time) thanks to the decisive action of the PCs in an earlier campaign. Viridistan is ruled by a council (formed by yet another PC group back in the mid 80s) and is basically a powerful merchant republic.

Our cast of character for the current campaign is


  • Tamaril Lenore - an aspiring merchant (Merchant Adventurer from the MW Supplement) and gifted singer and player of the lute. 
  • Alexander Hexation - one of the few surviving full Viridians (in hiding) and trained as a Artificer (can only cast ritual but can make magic items like scrolls for battle magic). 
  • Valgard Neuroth - a cleric of Hamakhis the god and judge of the dead. The party is damn lucky to have this guy as one of the possible adventure sites I seeded was +Greg Gillespie excellent Barrowmaze. The party just managed to shut down the Pit of Chaos so he even more potent in the megadungeon.
  • Rodney a Halfling trained as a knight and uses his stable of warboars as his steeds.
Right now the party averages about 5th level and just aquired a small merchant ship. It is because of this that I adapted the trade rules from Adventurer Conqueror King for the particulars of my Majestic Wilderlands. Once I get the kinks out I will be posting them for people to use. 

One of the prep I did for the campaign is started work on the Majestic Wilderlands version of Viridistan. 

The original map.

In the early 90s just before I started using CorelDRAW I worked on a hand drawn map of the above. The below is as far as I got.


One of the main differences is that due to how I presented the Viridian as a demonic race there were no temples in Viridistan when it was under control of the Emperor. The various temple in the present of 4475 are basically the equivalent of a storefront church that you see in the downtown of various communities.

Currently this is the status of the new map I been working.


Now that all the city blocks are in place next is to draw in the coastlines and transfer the numbered buildings from my original. Unlike many RPG cities, CSWE had the referee place all the building themselves. There was a little underscore where the assigned number could be written.

Once I transfer the number, I can start dividing up the various city blocks into individual buildings. The main difference between my take on the City State Invincible Overlord and the original CSIO is how each CSIO city block is divided up. The building sizes are more realistic and there are lot more alleys.

Hope you enjoy this little peek into what I do to run my campaigns. 


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Dungeons Fantasy RPG for GURPS has arrived at the Attic!

As long time readers of this blog know I been a fan of GURPS for thirty years. Believe it or not there was a time when GURPS was the fourth or fifth most popular RPG on the market back in 2004.

The Dungeon Fantasy RPG is designed to make it easy for people to get into playing and using GURPS for their campaigns. It does this by being presented as a traditional fantasy RPG. It tells you how to make characters, how to handle encounters and combat, gives you spells, monsters, and treasures to use. Plus there is an adventure included called I Smell a Rat!

It not a new edition of GURPS. Everything here works with the core books as is. But gone are things not relevant to the Dungeon Fantasy genre. Added are things that are useful for fantasy campaigns with GURPS.

So what do you get?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Bat in the Attic replies to Frank Mentzer

For those of you who haven't heard Frank Mentzer is hard at work organizing things to publish material for the Empyrea setting that is part of Oerth the world where Greyhawk can be found. Mr. Mentzer is the primary author of the BECMI edition of Dungeon and Dragons as well the author of numerous other works for TSR and Dungeons and Dragons.

Over on Tenkar's Tavern, Erik Tenker shares this interesting bit from a conversation he had with Frank Mentzer.
A common characteristic of most Old-School sites is adherence to one specific point in the Past, generally out-of-print game systems. Very cool. Nothing wrong with that, most systems have value to many. But of all the tabletop RPG fans, the OSR buys the fewest New Products. This is fine I want to give things away... strongly preferred in these circles of course. Culturally the OSR is unique and priceless, and I applaud it. But they have chosen to be irrelevant to the current market.
I am sure there are lot of people in this industry that would agree with Mr. Mentzer especially the last sentence. I am not one of them. Why? For several reasons.

The first thing that people need to keep in mind about what the Old School Renaissance is the reason why it exists. It is the interaction of several things. First a continuing interest in the classic editions of Dungeons and Dragons from the 1974 Boxed set to the ADnD 2nd Edition. Second the ability to leverage open content to support these classic editions with new works that can be shared or sold commercially. Third, a radical reduction in the cost of creating, and distributing written works and graphics (like maps).

These three facts are the foundation of everything that we see in the OSR today.

Of the three it is the use of open content that caused the diversity of the OSR to explode. Once Matt Finch, Stuart Marshall, and Chris Gonnerman demonstrated how the d20 SRD could be used to create near clones of classic D&D in the form of OSRIC and Basic Fantasy. The gates were flung open for anybody to realize their particular vision of what classic DnD can be.

Just as important this use of open content wasn't limited to specific editions of classic DnD. It also enabled the creation of hybrids or the adaptions of classic DnD mechanics to new genres. Freed from the artificial constraints on creativity imposed by intellectual property the use of open content flowered into full bloom in the publishing world of the OSR. Resulting in the bewildering range of works we see being shared and published.

What drives all this are the whims of the individuals involved. So in a sense Mr. Mentzer is right that there is a choice involved. A choice that for some doesn't take into account what is marketable but rather what one individual or a small group thinks ought to be published. And let the market be damned!

But note my use of some, because it not true for all. Many OSR publishers, including myself do take a hard look at what we think people and the market want. People like Kevin Crawford, James Raggi,  have put a lot of hours in publishing works that are not only have great content but a great presentation. And from conversations I had with both, they put considerable thought into how to make this happen. In short they each have a business plan for realizing their vision. And they both adjust things as circumstances change. There are others like Frog God Games, and Goodman Games. Some are individuals like my friend Tim Shorts at Gothridge Manor.

Doesn't sound much different than what traditional publishers do.

Keep in mind that the freedom of open content doesn't just mean that you get to realize your vision. It means that everybody gets to realize their vision. For some that means preservation. Places like Knights and Knaves, Aceaum, Piazza, Ruins of Mirkhill, ODnD Discussion Forum, and Dragonsfoot are devoted to preserving specific editions of classic DnD.

And while some criticism of these sites have merit, the one I find unfair is that they are backwards or resistant to new things. It easy to make material for these groups. You just have to target the exact editions they are interested in. Not something close, not some hybrid, but the exact edition as close as you legally can with whatever quirks and nuances it possesses. And if you are not willing or unable to do that then they are not your audience.

Last there been some recent drama associated with one of these sites in particular and Mr. Mentzer. It sad that it occurred but I am not interested in who is right or wrong. I will say that if you ever want to "win" an argument in the OSR the best reply is always to write your idea up, do the work to make it usable by others and release either to share or for sale.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Majestic Wilderlands Races for GURPS

With the release of the Dungeon Fantasy RPG PDFs during Gencon to the backers of the DF RPG kickstarter, my Thursday night group really wants to give GURPS a try. So I agreed to do a campaign later this year.

Most of the development of the Majestic Wilderlands was done using GURPS starting in 1987. So I accumulated  a lot of notes about how the setting works using GURPS. Some of which you can see here. But since then I did a lot of work on the Swords and Wizardry version of the Majestic Wilderlands. As well as ran a memorable 5th edition campaign in the Majestic Wilderlands. So I am updating my material and the first thing I got done was the Races.

You can download the races from here. Note that because GURPS doesn't have an open license I can't use the Open Game License. Steve Jackson does have a generous fan policy so I opted for a non-commercial Creative commons license for the text I wrote. For the details of various terms and abilities you will need to refer to the GURPS core books. Some of them can be found in the free GURPS Lite.

Majestic Wilderlands Races for GURPS.

Variant Character Creation Rule
There is a problem with GURPS Disadvantages and it is the same problem with DnD alignments. Either they are too static,  a source of arguments about proper roleplaying or they are not much of a hindrance.

I am sure folks are familiar with the first two but what is the third one about? Why it isn't hindrance to be honest or too have a code of honor? Well it is at first glance but then you realize that how you were going to play anyway. So in the end a 150 point campaign is really a 195 point campaign.

But not all disadvantages are the same. Some have immediate consequences for how the character plays especially the physical ones.  So what our group did over time was to stop counting most disadvantages. If you were bound and determined to play a one handed fighter than you could get the points for that as there were on-going game effects. But stuff like being poor or wealthy was discussed before the campaign started. And having a Code of honor was a written down as a note on the characters. Sometime Codes would factor in for specific aspects like clerical powers or paladins. But like when I ditched Alignment from then one, your character personality is however you played it.

Technically it not even against RAW as it clearly states that the campaign can set the total number of starting points AND the total number point cost of disadvantages. We just opt to set it to zero with a few exceptions.

So this brings me to the variant rule in the MW Races for GURPS. That is there is no cost charged for being of X race. Instead the traits of the race modify the base character attributes and the players proceed on from there.

Like for my Majestic Wilderlands supplement, a Elf or a Reptile Man has superior traits compared to a human. The thing to remember is that I emphasize roleplaying and the Majestic Wilderlands is human dominated. So for the most part characters of other races are treated as outsiders even those that are considered friendly. And if the party happens to be dominated by non-humans then there iare plenty of adventures to be found in the surrounding non-human cultures.

All this is not because I think the GURPS default is wrong, it just my changes reflect better how I present my setting as a living breathing world. If because of circumstance the player decides to act against type, I am cool with that if it make sense. I want to see that play out naturally and not have the player worry about the points on his character sheet.

So this document includes the option to treat characters as a fundamental modification of the base attributes rather than something else to be bought.





Wednesday, September 6, 2017

It not a Harn Day but a Ivinia Day

Harn is part of a larger world known as Kethira. The island of Harn lies off of the western shore of the continent of Lythia which is home to many cultures (mostly human dominated). Ivinia was the first of these to be develop back in the 80s. It is Harn's equivalent of Scandinavia and home to several viking kingdoms.

Columbia Games re-edited, and re-formatted the original Ivina module and it has been released. Like most Harn product it is pricey but the quality is top notch. One big change is that each Ivinian realm now has a page devoted to it compared to the original.

You can get it in Print or PDF.



Saturday, August 26, 2017

Vote Greyhawk! New D&D Survey up.

Wizards of the Coast has a new survey up and among the question it ask what DnD setting you are most interested in. While it not likely that there will be a Greyhawk revival in light of the Forgotten Realms juggernaut it is possible to get it listed as one of the approved settings on the DM's Guild. If that happen the fans can take it from there.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Harnworld Master Module only $5

Columbia Games has been running periodic discounts on the different PDFs for Harn. There is a particularly good deal on the Harnworld Master Module for $5.  Now what this is a series of articles that provides an overview of the Island of Harn and it's history. It's companion is the Harndex which is a mini-encyclopedia of one paragraph entries on the various locations described in the Master Module. Of course the articles, like this one for Peran, flesh these locations out in far greater detail.

Finally Harn articles are designed to be placed in three binders. So if you were to print the PDFs out and punch them, you would get what Columbia Games sends out in print.

Note that the City of Coranan, the largest city in Harn, has a discount as well. Finally if you want to use the linked to take advantage of the discounts make sure you go to the last post to get the latest. They generally expire in a week.


Friday, August 11, 2017

My Axioms of Sandbox Campaigns

My axioms of sandbox campaigns

First off a referee has to be willing to let his players trash his setting. If you are going to get bent about the players taking out the Emperor or the local tavern keeper then a sandbox campaign is not likely going to be enjoyable. Assuming that the players are exhibiting good sportmanship (i.e. good manners while playing a game), what is the worse thing you can imagine the players trying to do? If it occurs can be you remain fair, and will the campaign still be enjoyable for you? If the answer is yes then you will succeed at being a referee of a sandbox campaign.

I loosely sort what I do for my campaigns into several categories, the Initial Context, the Bag of Stuff, and a World in Motion.

The Bag of Stuff
This is where I do world building. For me, the three main items I need are geography, NPCs, and locales. Of the three locales wind up looking like a traditional adventure after it written. I have two broad grouping of the stuff; the specific (for example the City State of the Invincible Overlord), the generic (random castle town of 500 to 1000 people). For NPCs specific (Llewellyn the Blue, wizard of City-State), or generic (Tharian Horselord 6th level fight equivalent to a knight socially).

When I use something generic and it something that the players will continue to interact with then I will make notes , copy and paste the generic writeup and make something specific out of it.

In general I have a lot more generic material than I do specific. In addition I use material from other setting constantly notably Harn and Ars Magica altering to what I need. If players keep interacting with the place I will gradually replace it with something similar that my own original work. Although I usually do this between campaigns not during a campaign.

I wrote a series called How to build a Fantasy Sandbox to help people to jump start their Bag of Stuff. For me what happened is that I started out with the Wilderlands of High Fantasy and keep running campaign after campaign in the setting. Over the years it morphed into it own thing the Majestic Wilderlands. It is my experience that most referee do not stick with any one setting for long. However with the way I developed the Majestic Wilderlands, you can start small with a bare sketch of the larger world and keep adding to it as you run successive campaigns. The "How to make" series start off with making that larger sketch and then narrows down to a specific area with the things you need in order to build a toolkit to handle whatever direction the players opt to pursue.

World in Motion
This is about what you do during the sandbox campaign to bring it to life. For me there are several things I try to do.

First I view the current situation from the PCs perspective, I visualize in my mind what they would be seeing if they actually were standing there. Then I use what I know about their interests, goals, and motivation to filter that into something that hopefully fun and interesting. I also rely heavily on stereotypes and assumptions to cut down on the verbal bandwidth needed.

I have to stress if you want to use stereotypes and assumptions, then you have to make sure they are true MOST of the time. For example a common issue I see that many players won't interact with NPCs because they all got plots and plans that at the very least complicate the PCs lives if not direction hinder what they are trying to do. I make sure that I roleplay most of my NPCs as people just trying to get on with their lives. That by and large they will be somewhat friendly and helpful if there no other reason to dislike the PCs. Especially for merchants. Keep a running count on a notepad if you have trouble with this.

Next the setting has a life of it own and doesn't give two shits about what the players want to do. To handle this I list out goal and motivations of the NPCs most likely to effect the PCs' circumstances. It can range from the King to the local barkeeper. Then I construct a time line of what will happen as if the PCs didn't exist. This timeline is used as a Plan of Battle. A plan of battle is useful because it provided a military force a framework in order to achieve its objective. However history is full of example of generals who lost because they were rigid about executing their plan. A good general will change and adapt as the circumstance of the war changes. So it is with this timeline.

The timeline is a framework which is meant to be changed after and during a session in light of the PCs did or did not do as their characters. In a sandbox campaign this where most of the referee creativity will be focused. When the PCs do something there will be a lot of possible consequences. With one or two being most plausible. You do not have to pick the most plausible outcome. Rather pick the outcome that is both plausible and interesting to you and the players.

Like with the example of the NPCs above, be aware of your bias. At first keep a running count of how you decide things and if you are bias to a particular type of outcome then make a chart to roll on to change things up. Most people can spot consistent patterns especially in social interactions.

Initial Context
Most sandbox campaigns fail. Why? Because of the lack of a good initial context. Many mock character histories and background but if you going to get a sandbox campaign you are going to need a least a half page of specifics for each players and a half page of general information for the group as a whole.

Players who enjoy being plunked down in the middle of a blank map and told "Go forth and explore" are few and far between. About as common as players who enjoy playing GURPS with all the options in play at once. Most players want to feel their choices have meaning. Picking one of the six surrounding blank hexes is not a choice with meaning. So work on the initial situation so that it is interesting and give the players enough information to make some valid decision of what to do.

Conclusion
This is the tip of the iceberg about a topic I been writing about for the past decade, here is a link to all my blog posts on the topic.  The main problem with sandbox campaigns is the initial learning curve and getting comfortable with the free-form nature of how it flows. Once you are comfortable with this type of campaign it gets a lot easier.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Final edit of the Basic Rules Majestic Fantasy RPG

Thanks to the editing help given by Vance Atkins, the final version of the basic rules for the Majestic Fantasy RPG is done!. You can download it from here. If you purchased the Majestic Wilderlands PDF, you will find that this file has been added to the download on RPGNow.

This is my previous post which contains my design notes on why I am doing this. In a nutshell, I am planning to release my take on the classic editions as series of supplements instead of an all in one book. However in the process of setting this up I realized I will need some type of basic summary so people can understand how it fits with the overall system.

So enjoy and hope you find something useful.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A RPG Potpurri, Using Roll20 VTT, ICv2 News, and Adventures in Middle Earth

In the fall of 2016, life circumstance shifted and for the first time in years I had an extended period where I wasn't involved in a regular campaign as a player or referee. Since then things picked up and now I am refereeing two campaigns, and playing in a third. Along with refereeing at a local games once every other month or so.

The key for me is using Virtual Tabletops like Fantasy Grounds or Roll20. With the different work schedules and driving distances involved it hard together with my friends and other folks to game face to face. It started back in the early 2000s as a way for +Dwayne Gillingham+Tim Shorts, and I to continue to game together despite Dwayne moving from post to post while he was in the military.

Since then I met several good friends on-line like +Ken H, and +Chris C. who became regulars, Since they are scattered across the northeast of the United States the only way for all of us to game on a regular basis is by using a VTT.

Unlike MMORPGs, VTT or Virtual Tabletop compliments face to face tabletop roleplaying. By using Voice over Internet, text chat, built-in RPG utilities, and a whiteboard that anybody can draw on, the software successfully allows people play tabletop roleplaying using the internet. It does have issues but they are the same issues that accompany any use of the internet for group collaboration,  familiar to anybody who had to sit through a phone or internet conference at work.  But it does brings some advantages especially if you use miniatures like I do. The easiest to use is Fog of War where a map displayed and the referee can selectively reveal different sections. The key thing to remember is that VTTs work alongside face to face gaming. You can easily run a campaign that regularly uses Roll20 and then once in a while get together for a face to face session. You are using the same material, the same techniques, and for the most part the same prep for both.

Since I been using VTTs so long, I assembled a set of tools that help me during a session. First off I have a bit of an unusual setup for my computer where I have three monitors. The central one is oriented normally, while the outer two are in portrait modes. I do this primarily for writing where I can see an entire page at once on the right monitor. An entire page at one on the left, And have some other program running in the middle. Here what my setup looks like during a session of Roll20. This one is a slice of the Barrowmaze which the party stumbled on during my OD&D/Majestic Wilderlands campaign on Thursday.

I have a old D&D 3.X utility called DM Genie on the left because it time keeping utility is still very useful. I have NBos' the Keep on the right to keep notes on and keep things organized. And in the middle is the web browser on the Roll20 site. We are using a VoIP program called Discord which is my current goto app for this stuff.  You can see the fog of war in action in the area that look a darker gray compared to the rest of the map. Those areas are unrevealed and look black to the players.

Adventures in Middle Earth
While my Thursday campaign is using my Majestic Fantasy rules (based on Swords and Wizardry), Wednesday using Adventures in Middle Earth which is based on DnD 5th edition. It is perhaps the best 5th edition third party supplement out there and it been outstanding to play. Overall it is low fantasy take on the 5th edition rules and has a very different feel despite most of the mechanics being the same.

Periodically the ICv2 gaming news site does a survey and releases the top 5 rankings for retail stores. And lo and behold Adventures in Middle Earth popped in this spring at #4. Congrats to Cubicle 7 for their success.

The only downside is that the rules have the minimum for open content and uses "everything derived from the SRD is open content everything else is product identity" without clearly marking anything. But it does get the creatives juices going about the possibility of low fantasy gaming with classic editions of DnD and 5th edition.

For those interested Enworld keeps a  history of ICv2 rankings. All we need to get one of the many excellent OSR RPGs to pop up in there. Cubicle 7 has been giving AiME a lot of support as well as you can see from here. Also note that The One Ring sourcebooks have been proving useful as well. Although keep an eye on the AiME release schedule as the AiME book duplicate a lot of the ToR setting information. To Cubicle's credit the AiME version it not just the ToR version with 5e stat blocks but obviously a refined and often better organized than the original ToR verison.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

More Majestic Wilderlands maps.

I seem to be doing a lot of them recently. This is a result of me getting close to finishing the map of the Main Campaign Area. The players are establishing themselves as merchant and managed to buy a ship. So I made a map centered on the Trident Gulf to use to plan for voyage and to act as a reference. For good measure I also started a political map.

The Main map

 The Political Map

This is for my campaign circa 4475 BCCC. The Majestic Wilderlands supplement reference how things were in 4436 BCCC. Those with the book can see there been several changes. Mainly the Council of Viridstan and the Dragon Empire.  Both entities came into being as a result of PCs doing their thing during their respective campaigns. The Council of Viridstan originated from the Fantasy Hero campaign I ran in college during the late 80s. While the Dragon Empire resulted from a GURPS campaign I ran in the early 90s.

The odd extension of the Dragon Empire around the Tiethoir River was one of the last things we did in that campaign. I took GURPS 3rd edition Mass Combat rules and combined with a little bit of Harn for the logistics and cost. The last couple of sessions saw +Tim Shorts and +Dwayne Gillingham play William the Conqueror and the Normans. The whole thing was to allow Duke Draco-lindus (Tim's Character) and his allies to gain a power base outside of the thumb of the Invincible Overlord of City-State.

Proved useful when Duke Draco broke away from City-State and reestablished the Dragon Empire.

As an experiment I mapped the progression of the last phase of the war. I experimented using colored transparent fills instead of just using borders like I did with previous historical maps I made,




Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Don't buy the Scourge of the Demon Wolf! (Issue Resolved)

At least not from Noble Knight Games. Now some authors would be all up in arms about somebody obviously price gouging their own products. Especially when it still available for sale at it original price of $15 at Lulu and RPGNow.  I am enough of a libertarian that I support the right for Noble Knights to do this. But I will take advantage of my right to mock them for trying to rip off an unsuspecting buyer.

Poking around their site I find they are selling the Majestic Wilderlands for $30 ($12 from Lulu or RPGNow)

Looking at some of +James Raggi stuff is not passing the smell test in my opinion.

Again it Nobles Knight right to sell the material they have for whatever the market will bear and it our right to mock them for it when it get ridiculous. Especially when they have a shaky reputation due to the fact they don't post actual pictures of the high dollar collectibles they are selling.

UPDATE: After reading various comments, I want to stress rarely in life anybody is complete villain. Noble Knights has been in business a long time with a good reputation for service.  I placed several orders with them over the years with no issues except for one minor one where I got the wrong cover. But since it was the only one they had and I wanted the content as well, I was fine with it.

However for long time there been complaints about their refusal to post actual pictures and there been incidents with high dollar items that would have been adverted if they had. You can search the Acaeum forum to read about other collectors experiences.But for the most part they do verbally report the accurate condition of the product.  Then there is there pricing which always been on the high side. Although bargains are not hard to find over time.

However marking various readily available OSR product up at 100%? There no excuse for that. It is a decision that warrants mocking and criticism until it is addressed.

Finally I want to thank +Erik Tenkar for getting the word out about this on his blog.

FURTHER UPDATE: I had a nice exchange with Naomi from Noble Knights Sales. So the prices has been updated which you can see here. It is slightly higher but that in line from what I know about how vendor like Noble Knights operate. I don't know how much they paid for it but given their history of service I will take their word that what they need for a proper profit. So kudos to Naomi and Noble Knight Gams for responding promptly. Still need to use actual picture tho.

As for the rest of the OSR people need to make sure they are on their toes. If you have pertinent information or an OSR author of one the products list then contact Noble Knights at sales@nobleknight.com.  Be polite!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Thoughts on Tabletop Roleplaying, Complicating Sandbox Adventures

Last post I mentioned how I decided to complicate the Scourge of the Demon Wolf adventure. To do this, I decided to introduce a red herring,  some bandits who were faking wolf attacks. To tie them into the situation, I added the body of a local tinker that they robbed and killed. Then the bandits made it to look like a wolf attack.

Then I asked myself would there be anybody else involved with the bandits?  Having one of the Beggars clans in the area fencing the bandit's goods would be a good addition. To further tie this group in I decided that the Beggar Clan chief's son was killed by the Demon Wolf. Plus they have more information about the the mage's conclave than what the villagers know. From stuff I established in previous campaigns I also  noted that the villagers would not be on friendly terms with the Beggar Clan adding another complication to the situation. That where I stopped, I learned that once you get up to four or five distinct aspects to a situation the players get confused.

Now I was ready to plant rumors about wolf attacks. The day of the game arrived and sure enough the players went down the road. They stopped at a crossroads inn and heard about the attacks and decided to investigate. It wasn't the only rumor they heard but it was the one closest in geography.

When faced with multiple interesting choices players are more apt to pick something that closer than further away. It not an absolute however. They could and will opt to pursue something further away if think that would be better for their immediate goal.

I don't remember much about that first adventure other than the fact they encountered every group involved.  That they went from the summoning site to the conclave, talked to the mage at which point the final series of events started happening.

The thing to remember I did not write this in any amount of detail. I had two pages of note which you can download from here. And some paper character sheets with the NPCs and the Demon Wolf written up.

What filled in the details was my conception of what life in a medieval village was like, life in a bandit camp, etc, etc. This is part of what I call my bag of stuff. Nothing in there is as detailed as you find in a published work but I internalized it so I can pull stuff out of my memory and combine it with other stuff to create interesting situations for my players. Finally it has the virtue of being able to be done on the fly.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A new area of the Majestic Wilderlands mapped

Though out the history of the tabletop roleplaying the myth and legends of Japan has fascinated many hobbyists. For many there was a strong desire to player Samauri, and Ninjas. Have one's character wield a katana or throwing shurikens. Especially when I stated out in the late 70s and early 80s, I had numerous players wanting to play these types of character in my Majestic Wilderlands. So I carved a section called it the Karian Islands.

Flash forward 30 years, my friend +Dwayne Gillingham is running a campaign playtesting his RPG called the Crit System. He using his own take on the Majestic Wilderlands as the setting. As it so happens the campaign has taken a detour to the Karian Islands. So I thought to myself, I better make a map for it. Many characters were from there but I never had a campaign where the PCs visited it. So I looked at my notes and overview maps and started drawing.

First some background.

Karian Isles
Comprised of two archipelagos; the Silver Skein Islands to the south and the Isles of Dawn to the north. These islands were originally occupied by the Karians, humans with a culture similar to the early Japanese. They were contacted and incorporated into the Ghinorian Empire early in its expansion.

When the Empire collapsed one of the last pretenders to the title of the Imperial Prince of Ghinor fled to the islands to regroup. He married a local princess to win the loyalty of the Karian nobles. He left and was killed while trying to reclaim the throne. The princess was pregnant and gave birth to a son who was proclaimed as the new Imperial Prince.

Legends grew of the last pretender and some claimed he was the divine son of Mitra. His Karian successors adopted the legend as their own and assumed not only political leadership of the islands but religous leadership as well. Over the past thousand years their culture has grown more inward. They have developed an elaborate code of honor and social system.


Finally the main map itself. Remember each hex is 5 leagues with a league taking 1 hour to walk. A ship with average winds can make about 10 leagues (2 hexes) every four hours. Or 60 leagues (12 hexes) a day. Those of you with the Judges Guild will notices a lot of differences some due to the increased map size and other due to the different background I use.

Enjoy!


Monday, June 5, 2017

New Maps of the Majestic Wilderlands

So I been running a Thursday night game using my Majestic Wilderlands rules. The group is currently based in Viridistan, the largest city in my campaign.



They are stomping around the region, which prompted me to make a regional map. Note that it is the most densely populated areas of the Wilderlands hence the extensive amount of cropland. Which is marked as a textured yellow brown fill.


Each small hex is 2.5 miles or 1 league, the distance a person can walk in an hour.
Each large hex is 5 leagues. For comparison a ship with sails can travel 12 of the large hexes in 24 hours or 2 per four hours.

The larger view



The Legend Key


Enjoy today's map fix.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Joining the OSR Extravaganza with 15% off.

Normally I don't participate in OBS general sales events like GM Day because I found they don't generate any more sales over just leaving it up at list price. However the OSR Extravaganza is different as it targets you folks directly. But because I don't have my join sales option turned on, I am not listed by OBS.

Doesn't mean I can't run my own sales. So if you head over to RPGNow you will find the PDFs are marked off 40% individually and 15% off of the bundle price. So if you been wanting to pick up the Majestic Wilderlands or Scourge of the Demon Wolf, this is a pretty good price break.

As for Blackmarsh the PDF is free and the print copy is only a buck and change over cost at $5. So no discount on Blackmarsh.

Remember the Basic Rules for the Majestic Fantasy RPG if you want to see the rules I been using the past few years. They work with both the Majestic Wilderlands, Blackmarsh, and Scourge of the Demon Wolf

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Thoughts on Tabletop Roleplaying, Generating Sandbox Adventures

In the previous post I talked about how I developed Scourge of the Demon Wolf. How does one get started with this type of adventure?

Sourge of the Demon Wolf  was developed during the course of one of my GURPS campaigns around 2000. I knew the players were planning to travel along a specific road from the events of the last session. There was a small chance that something different would have occurred but given their goal the odds were high they were going to do. Remember that once a sandbox campaign gets going,it gets easier to predict the players are looking to do for the next session.

PC Route
What does it suggest to you?

Thinking of ideas I was inspired by a movie called the Brotherhood of the Wolf about the Beast of Gevaudan. Now I have a basic situation, a monster terrorizing the countryside. What the monster? A wolf of course, but abnormally powerful wolf. Where was the wolf doing this? That was easy for me as a lot of that region were medievalish manorial villages. So I picked one near the road the PCs were travelling on.

Why is the wolf on a ramage? Here I diverged from my source of inspiration and picked something more suited for my campaign. To make the wolf more powerful I elected to have the wolf possessed by a demon. How did get it possessed by a demon? By a botched summoning! Who botched the summoning? A mage's apprentice greedy for power. Where was the apprentice's master? He was one of several living in a mage's conclave in the wilderness.


Now I turned to who the demon wolf was terrorizing. I knew it was a fantasy medieval villages. So I came up wtih a reeve, a village priest, and added two characters for local color. A old guy who "minded" the local tavern and Yoluf a trapper that could act as a guide if the players hit it off with the Reeve.

To connect the village to the mage I had the apprentice be sloppy and left much of what she used for the botched summon out at a site in the wilderness to be found.

At this point I could have run it. But the situation would have been straight forward to resolve. If the PC elect to pursue the reports of wolf attack, they go to the village, do a bit of roleplaying, go out into the wilderness, maybe fight some wolves, find the summoning site, realize that mages are involved, find out about the local conclave and then head there. Another alternative they could just resolve it by main force and figure out a plan to kill every wolf in the area including the Demon Wolf.

So in the next post I will explain how I complicated it.

Friday, May 19, 2017

A world for only $5, Harnworld

Just a heads up, Columbia Games has been running a series of sales on their PDFs for Harn. The latest is $5 for the Harnworld PDF which you can get through this link. Note that it automatically adds it to your cart so if you don't get it make sure you remove it.

If you want to look at the product you can goto the normal RPGNow page through this link.

I am not using any type of affiliate ID the one on the first link is for Columbia Games.

There are other discounted PDFs that you can pick and you can see what are the latest by following this thread on the Lythia forum.

The individual articles, like Heru Castle, are often useful as resources for your campaign for when you need it a particular Locale and don't have time to generate one of your own from scratch.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Basic Rules for the Majestic Fantasy RPG

While writing the first book of my RPG project, The Lost Grimoire of Magic, I realized that too much of it was devoted to rules that will repeated among all the supplements. So I worked on a basic set of rules summarizing the system as a whole. So I got it down to 47 pages, and just as important should read as a coherent whole.

You can download it from the following link
Basic Rules for the Majestic Fantasy RPG.

Any comments and suggestions are appreciated, I have a forum thread opened up at this link.

Some highlights

  • Designed it be highly compatible with Swords and Wizardry
  • More generous with attribute bonuses but not as generous as the d20 SRD. Instead there a -1/+1 per three attribute points instead of per 2 like d20. 
  • Four Classses: Burglar, Cleric of Mitra, Fighter, Magic User.
  • Four Races: Dwarves, Elves, Halflings, and Man.
  • Man gets a +15% XP bonus on top of their prime requisite bonus. I played with the exact number over the years by gauging the reaction of players in choosing Man over the other races.
  • For abilities, and spells, I jettisoned situational bonuses for the most part in favor of 5th edition's advantage and disadvantage. My opinion that is much easier to grasp by players than remembering whether you get a -4, -2, +2, or +4 bonus that it worth including. Plus the original edition never been big on stacking up modifiers anyway so I feel the loss of having a +1, +2, or +4 bonus (or minus) is not a big deal.
  • Incorporated the ability system from the supplement. Basic resolution is still 15 or better on a roll of a d20.
  • Any character can do any ability just that some are better at certain abilities than others. All classes have ability bonuses they can use. Rogue classes like the Burglar are built around ability bonuses.
  • A short equipment but many pieces of equipment have one or two rules associated with their use. For example using a mace give you +1 to hit versus chainmail armor. The use of Shields have been fleshed out.
  • The ritual rule allowing clerics and magic user to cast spells as a ten minute ritual plus a cost component has been carried over from the supplement.
  • Magical Immunity works a bit differently from Magic Resistance. Basically Fireball, Lightning Bolt work as they do direct damage by creating something, Charm Person, Sleep, etc are effected by Magical Immunity. The resolution has been made into a d20 roll with the same odds as the original percentage based rolls.
  • Spells note whether they are effected by Magical Immunity or not. In addition all uses of percentages been changed to d20 rolls with the same odds. Just saying if it going to be in 5% increments make it a d20 roll. There been some tweaks to specific spells like Sleep effecting 4d4 hit dice of creature max 4 HD effected.
  • The combat system uses 1d6 individual imitative. A new wrinkle is that fighters get to add their to hit bonus.
  • I allow two actions per combat round which can be summed up as a half-move and an attack. As a side note this  is the oldest section of the rules dating all the way back form when I ran ADnD 1st in 1979, 1980. 
  • My stab at easy to use grappling rules. You successfully hit, your opponent is now grappled, if the opponent doesn't break free the next round, you have a number of options including damage.
  • Combat stunts, the general idea is that you can opt to do something else other than inflict damage with a successful to hit roll. However the downside the opponent gets a saving throw which means high level or high hit dice is likely going to save. But if you are desperate it may be the best option in that round. 
  • No Monsters or Magic Items which will be presented as part of the various supplements. However anything from any version of Swords and Wizardry will work with these rules.
  • Finally I kept an eye on how interdependent the rules are so you should be able to swap in how other handle things easily. For example initiative will work with group initiative, the combat system can be replaced with the one in the B/X rules. You can ignore my spell in favor the original edition text, etc, etc.
Hope you find this useful for your campaigns and appreciate hearing your thoughts on these rules.


Friday, May 12, 2017

Thoughts on Tabletop Roleplaying - Sandbox Adventures

In the last post I talked about my background in refereeing. As result of my experiences I found that I had to lot to write about sandbox campaigns. Stuff that people could get and use in their own campaigns like Points of Light and Blackmarsh. On my blog I worked on a series of posts about How to make a Fantasy Sandbox. One thing I didn't write about as much is what happens session to session, like the adventures I ran during a sandbox campaign.

Scourge of the Demon Wolf is an adventure that represent what players typically deal with in my campaigns. One that allowed me to publish Scourge was that it was self-contained enough to written up so it was useful for other campaigns. Most of my sandbox adventures are highly situational based on the circumstances of the PCs involved. But occasionally something like Scourge happens and I can set aside my notes for further development.

What makes Scourge a sandbox adventures? First off it is a situation that has the potential for adventure. The situation is driven by the interactions between the various NPCs. For Scourge it starts when an ambitious apprentice foolishly summons a demon. To the apprentice the ritual appeared not to have worked. So the apprentice returned the conclave where she was studying. But shortly after a weakened wrath demon from the Abyss emerged. Without the proper completion of the ritual, the Wrath Demon floated around as a spirit and possessed a nearby wolf pup. Thus the Demon Wolf was born.

The area in which this occurs is a typical rural fantasy medieval setting. There is a village owned by a Baron and has a Bailiff and Reeve that work together to manage it. There is a crossroad hamlet nearby with a inn. More unusual is a conclave of mages living in a small compound just half day into the wilderness. There are also bandits that prey on caravans and a group of wandering beggars that occasionally travel through the area to smuggle stolen goods. Finally there is itinerant tinker that wander the area making a few pennies by selling small goods and doing repairs.

The Demon Wolf goes on a murderous rampage, people die, the Baron sends his huntsman who is outwitted, and finally in a second round of attacks the baliff of the village dies. The villagers refuse to bring in the harvest until the creature is killed. The Baron can't have this so sends the PCs to deal with the situation once and for all. There also a number of other hooks including the thieves guild sending somebody to find out why the bandits or beggars are not paying a cut of what they steal.

This is the setup.

How did this get written up? Most of the time author get an idea; write, refine, edit, and then finally get laid out as a book or PDF and published. This works for a lot of published adventures. But they suffer from the same problem as a movie or a novel, it hit or miss whether the hobby winds up liking it. Sure experience helps but still a roll of dice whether something catches on?

Is there a better way of doing this? Or rather there is something we can do more. What I didn't mention above is playtesting. Because writing for RPGs is about writing for games, playtesting is part of the process. However how do you playtest? You get your draft into a semi-finished form and try it out a couple of times. Then use the feedback to tweak it from there.

The problem I have with that process is the initial draft especially for adventures. Normally people lay out a rough draft from start to finish and use that as a starting point. A lot of the structure of the adventure is baked in. What if you took advantage of the fact that RPGs are a active form of entertainment and just started with a initial situation. You have NO idea how the adventure is going to conclude when you start the process. Would it be a more useful adventure for others to use in their campaign?

By the time I decided to publish Scourge I ran it two times already. Once for GURPS and once for D&D 3.0. So I had a some information of on the things that PCs were likely going to do. But now I was going to publish it, I resolved that the final product would be in part a record of what the players do and not do in the various playtest sessions. And see if this really made for a better adventure.

By the end of the process I have ran it over 8 times through my home region centered NW Pennsylvania and twice in other locations in the United States notably Morningstar Games in Savannah Georgia. By the sixth time I ran it I started writing, and was incorporating notes from the 8th and last time I ran the adventure.

What did I wind up writing about? I wrote about the region, the locale, and the NPCs. The playtest helped pare down what I needed to write about. Then I consolidated common events caused by the PCs and wrote them up. I included notes about where things diverged. I made sure I included a one page summary to get the referee up to speed.

The stuff I pared away I reformatted into a sourcebook. I laid the book out into two sections, the adventure and a small regional sourcebook that fully fleshed out each of the locales in the adventures. You can run the adventure with what in the first half. Then use the second half as part of your ongoing campaign.

So how did sell? OK didn't burn down the RPG hobby by any means even by OSR standards. But creatively it was very sastifying and currently repeating the process for a couple of other adventures.

Any downside? Yes time, it is very time intensive to do this. Not good if you need regular cash flow as a business. You couldget a pipeline going where you are playtesting all the time so when the first adventure is finished there always one more behind it almost done. Then you have to think of travel expenses for face to face. The rise of vritual tabletop software should make this easier. You could schedule periodic sessions and really rack up the playtest hours. But you are still going to need to do face to face as not all hobbyists can be found on-line.

For me using my hobby time to develop this, it took me three years to rack up the eight playtests. Although in the third year, I slacked off the writing a bit too much I have to admit. Today I can probably do eight playtest in a year with two run face to face at a game store and/or convention and the others run on-line. 

Next time I will be talking about the creative process I used to develop the initial setup.