Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Only Dungeon Video You'll Ever Need


From the desk of science fiction writer and wargamer Jon Mollison comes this penetrating analysis of dungeon design. It some ways it goes over some well-worn ground, the tension between the "Mythic Underworld" model and the "Gygaxian Naturalist" model of worldbuilding; but Jon really takes it to a higher level (no pun intended) with a surprising argument that the Mythic Underworld is the most realistic dungeon of all. Highly recommended.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Building a Setting in Four Images

Concept stolen from Twitter. Originally presented devoid of context, since this is not Twitter I can unpack my thought process somewhat.

What would we do without Frank Frazetta? I like this particular picture because it's not (as far as I can tell) one of his cover paintings for an established figure. The juxtaposition between the Old World knight and the New World visible on Earth is interesting, as is the fact that the moon seems to have a breathable atmosphere. Some sort of alternate-history cosmology, perhaps? 

Yeah, that sounds about right. This image I got from a post on What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse . . . , where it illustrated a great idea about a tidally-locked planet that feels like the Land of Faerie in the habitable band - a world of eternal twilight, sandwiched between an endless frozen night and an eternal scorching desert. Since we're doing a sword-and-planet style solar system, this is going to replace either Mars or Venus, and I think the latter works a bit better. 

So how are we going to get our premodern heroes off to these strange new worlds? Long-time readers may recall my thoughts about a pulpy dungeon-crawl setting riffing off Stargate, and I think a similar riff works here. This picture gives the gate idea more of a Stonehenge vibe, and the vaguely North American landscape (and the explorer's hat) imply a very interesting Colonial period.

Well, we started this post with a knight, let's end with one, too. Artist Shaun Keenan has a bunch of historical-warriors-riding-dinosaurs pieces scattered across the internet, any one of which could spark a whole campaign idea. What I like about this is that it implies that the gates from Earth to the rest of the solar system are not one-way. Sure, Sir Knight could have picked him up in the twilight jungles of not-Venus, but why not in Africa or the Amazon?

To sum up, then, we have a version of Earth that connects via megalithic portals to other bodies in the solar system that are weirdly different, in a way that encourages exploration. The inhabitants of these other bodies, which include dinosaurs and at least one kind of humanoid monster can also use these portals to visit Earth.

I like it.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Wacky Campaign Concepts: Adventurer School!

The idea of a campaign where the players are students at a School for Adventurers is one that I have occasionally pondered, usually concurrent to my being reminded that the Harry Potter franchise exists. Its full implementation would be necessarily somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as it depends on the idea of The Adventurer as a recognized societal role necessary enough in quantity to support a familiar education structure. That is, of course, where the fun lies, in the intersection of the expectations of a dungeon-fantasy type universe, and the players' own educational experience.

As this idea percolates around a number of elements - Xcrawl style dungeon-courts as practical exams is always a winner - one area that's always come up short is the actual sitting in class part of going to school. Happily, Skerples over at Coins and Scrolls has recently been thinking along similar lines, and recently posted some thoughts about a similar conceit using his Magical Industrial Revolution* setting. Of course, his version is a little more collegiate, but the system of a pass/fail roll that varies in difficulty based on the difficulty of the course is really quite intriguing. My only modification would be to encourage players to take the more difficult courses by offering small perks upon successful completion - perhaps  a +1 or advantage on checks against getting lost for those who've passed "Unusual Cartography", for example. It's very tempting to rebuild the whole course list with requirements for various classes - can you really be an Assassin if you fail to pass "History of Poisons"?

On the other hand, the whole 1d100 course list is such a fine example of the kind of style this concepts requires it would be a shame to mess with it. "Nonessential Salts" indeed.

Friday, September 11, 2020

One Day Left For Latest ACKS Crowdfund


Being the sort of person who usually prefers fighters and thieves to spellcasters in D&D-type games, I had initially not paid much attention to the latest Adventurer, Conqueror, King System* supplement to be crowdfunded by Autarch. I'm glad I finally did, though, because the magic of the Almanac of Unusual Magic is very unusual indeed.

The 56-page book covers four new ACKS classes, three of which - gnomish alchemists, dwarven geomancers, and warlords - slot in well to a fantasy milieu. The fourth, however, is the Terran Engineer - apparently riffing on a character option in Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu* for lost spacemen who, if the illustrations are any guide, basically hail from Starfleet. The Engineer class, then, reflavors magic to be the "jury-rigging" ability of an engineer like Scotty to create fantastic devices, albeit not necessarily temporary ones. Of course, being an ACKS product, this new class (as well as the others) is broken down into its component parts for further customization, in a very Engineer-like manner now that I think of it.

Still needing about $450 to fund at the time of this writing, the GameOnTabletop campaign for the Almanac also offers an opportunity to add on ACKS rulebooks at a discounted price. I've backed an Autarch project on this platform before, and for not being Kickstarter or IndieGoGo it worked very smoothly. I highly recommend giving the pitch a look if it tweaks your interest at all.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Sol Survivors

The terms "OSR" and "Hard Sci-FI" may not seem especially congruent at first glance, but they combine like peanut butter and chocolate in Termination Shock, a nascent setting from Niklas Wistedt, aka Paths Peculiar.

Set in the early 22nd century, Termination Shock is the story of the recovery of Earth's space infrastructure after a passing particle wave put all the ships and stations on the fritz. It's a constrained setting in some ways - mankind has yet to leave the solar system - and yet there's enough planets, moons, asteroids, and stranded ships to keep a group of space adventurers busy, and that's before they inevitably land on Orcus.

Although he hasn't yet written a lot for the setting - just the initial pitch and a description of a typical outpost - was is there is very evocative. It helps when the premise can be illustrated with such cool maps as this one, and there are several like it on the original post. Not to mention the occasional spaceship:

It'll definitely be worth keeping an eye on the Paths Peculiar blog to see how this setting develops. I'm especially keen to see what's on Orcus . . .

Monday, April 13, 2020

The AD&D That Wasn't Quite

Last week, Eric Fabiaschi of Swords & Stitchery pointed me at some fantastic cover mock-ups by author James Panarella, in the style of AD&D's Oriental Adventures*:

Most, like Oriental Adventures, focus on a particular ancient-to-medieval culture such as the Norse, the Aztecs, the Celts, or the Egyptians, although a few go further afield, including a couple posted a few days later that take their inspiration from the Wilderness Survival Guide*:


Thus inspired, Eric wrote up a few alt-history posts speculating about the series of events that might have led to TSR actually writing and publishing some of these. I, on the other hand, look at some of these and wonder why the themes they represent haven't been picked up by the OSR crowd. Some have, I know - there's a couple of powerhouse sci-fi rulesets, a smattering of pirate-themed content - but most of the most well-known OSR stuff seems to me to be some combination of Howardian sword-and-sorcery, Tolkienesque high fantasy, or Vancian dying-earth gonzo. Which is too bad - some of these covers are far too good to not have a book inside them.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Questing for OSR News

Ever since G+ went offline, the Old School RPG scene has been somewhat fragmentary, with different subgroups congregating at different places on the web. Ben Milton, author of Maze Rats* and Knave* as well as the Questing Beast YouTube channel, has announced his intention to try to alleviate this with a free newsletter:

To be named The Glatisant (top marks for consistent branding)the first issue has yet to be released, but can be signed up for here.