Thursday, 18 July 2019

Spiral Isles Review

Spiral Isles is an OSR pointcrawl adventure successfully kickstarted at the beginning of April this year. It was co-written by Jere Hart and Lazy Litch (Shane Walshe), the latter of which also created Woodfall. Given I also backed Woodfall back in August last year, and was pleasantly surprised with what was delivered, I was more than happy to put down the money to get my hands on this new project!

Let’s take a look at what got delivered…

The Product

Like Woodfall, Spiral Isles was delivered as a PDF, with an at-cost print on demand code (for hardback or paperback) from Drive Thru RPG. I opted for the hardback, so I cannot speak for the paperback but, as is expected of POD, the quality isn’t “premium” to put it lightly. It's perfectly serviceable, and Spiral Isles does make use of coloured printing which is one minor improvement over Woodfall.

I've tried to make it look as pretty as possible!

As you can tell from the pictures, the book has a landscape format. This is an odd choice for a book intended for use at the table. I much prefer my novel size supplements that are compact enough to carry around and easy to flip through when I'm running them. There is no practical way to “flip” through this without laying it flat on a fairly large table. What makes this choice even more frustrating is that the layout doesn't even take advantage of this in any way! And no, the “Die drop tables” don’t count, we will be discussing those later…

It would have been nice to see a project from Lazy Lich delivered as a more bespoke product. It's perfectly serviceable don’t get me wrong, I'm just not filled with glee upon opening it like I am with other OSR adventures on the market. Having said that, this is far cheaper than those fancy games! At $22/£17.50, it's cheaper than your standard WotC affair, which aren't really any better quality…

The Content

Moving on, the content is really where this adventure shines. The basic concept behind the Spiral Isles is that they are a location you can take your players after a TPK, when they want to bring someone back from the dead without magic, or otherwise visit the afterlife. It's a great adventure to have in your back pocket so that a session (or even a campaign) does not have to end at a party wipe. Certainly it’s something I have not seen explored before.

The Rules

Lets kick off with the rules that this supplement provides. As advertised on the kickstarter, the whole module is compatible with both the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (5e) and Swords and Wizardry (S&W) rules sets. What this really means is that Monster/NPC stat blocks are written with all the details required for a 5e monster, which as far as I can tell, means they are also compatible with S&W.  It also means that the ghost conversion rules are written for both systems. Ah yes, ghost conversion!

Going Ghostal

So the core conceit within this adventure is that players are ghosts while in the Spiral Isles. What this means is that players basically file away their character sheets, and role up a blue ghost. A blue ghost is basically a level 0 character, with all Ability scores at 9, no skills no abilities and just 1 hit dice. What you do get are a special new Power and a new pool of points to keep track of on top of HP; Life points. There are 4 “ghost levels” you have access to. In ascending order they are Blue, Green, Red and Purple and are basically levels 1-4, except you have no class, and you will only ever have at most 2 special Powers. You get some skill bonuses, proficiency bonuses and get to add a few points to your abilities, but your always going to be under powered, low level characters.

Re-rolling by another name

Before we get into what the Life Points and Powers are and if they are any good, lets first address this conversion idea as a concept. It's kind of weird. On the one hand it's quite clever, because it allows the designer to basically write a mod for the game your group is already playing. If your running 5e, you use all the 5e rules, your just playing with slightly different character rules. The same goes for S&W. On the other hand, there is very little that connects this new character, to your previous one that is supposed to have died. Nothing in the rules actually links them in any way other than their name. They are a class-less blank slate that your free to progress in an entirely different direction to your original character.

While this does give a sense of disconnection with the original characters, perhaps this is intentional! In a sense, perhaps these spirits the players now control, are the most basic distillation of their original character. The only thing that remains are their memories and personalities. It's kind of poetic I guess, and it’s at least thematic. If I were to use these rules at my table, I would probably add my own on top, only allowing players to raise ability scores to the values of their original character, or allowing them to regain spell casting abilities in place of powers. I do largely like the idea though. It allows this portion of the game to play out potentially faster than the original game. Certainly, simpler characters will hopefully encourage more inventive play, and stop players looking for answers on their character sheets in true OSR fashion! It's probably a good way to gently introduce players unfamiliar with the OSR to its ideas and playstyle. Neet.

HP 2.0

So the new stuff you get is basically two new systems that feed off each other. Life points are a revamped version of HP, and Powers are spells you cast using these new fangled Life points. The Powers themselves are fairly mediocre. D&D spells by another name for the most part, nothing really very interesting. From what I can tell at higher levels they can be cast at different Power levels like in regular spells in 5e, but this isn’t actually made clear in the rules. There are about 3 paragraphs about how the Powers work, and two of those are how they work in 5e vs S&W. I’d probably come up with my own.

So while the game asks you to do away with all your original abilities and spells from the original game, it provides you with a little replacement system, and a new number to track. It's a little more complex than that, but that’s the basic gist. The new Life Points are also a universal currency throughout the Spiral Isles. They can be transferred between characters (and monsters for that matter), and they are also used in place of XP to level up through the ghost colours.

This is… cool… sort of. I dunno, I can't help feel the designers have only gone half hog with this idea. Why do we still have HP? I get it, I guess. They probably don't want damage to remove Life points, but still, it's kind of frustrating that you now have two HP-like point pools, that if either are depleted you die for good. I really like the idea of a universal resource for buying stuff, leveling up and using cool abilities. I think this will lead to lots of really difficult decisions on the part of the players, balancing buying cool gear, using cool abilities, and gaining enough to level up. It’s something I would love to steal for a micro-RPG project.

What’s even more interesting is the whole political landscape of the setting revolves around them as well. Characters judge you based on your colour, which is effectively how rich you are. Fantastic! There are even certain areas and events in the Isles where your colour affects what NPC attitudes and if you’ll be shunned or accepted without question. I can already see a mountain of potential drama setup with this mechanic. Very nice.

So in summary, I think the rules are pretty cool if a little half baked. I think they are a clever way to invoke some old school play in a new school game, and I think the life points add a really interesting new resource management mini-game I think would add new dynamic to your 5e game.

The Setting

Moving on, let's look at what the majority of the book focuses on; locations, NPCs and Monsters.

Colourful Locations

The Spiral Isles are split into 4 regions; Blue, Green, Red and Purple quadrants. There are 22 individual islands, each with 2 - 4 locations.

The writing is fairly matter of fact. There is very little in the way of flowery descriptions. In some ways im actually a fan of this style. I wouldn't say I prefer it to more evocative writing, but it serves a very different purpose to me as a GM. Instead of inspiring fantastic visions and unique atmosphere, it provides you with a wealth of specific details with which you can rely on while running. This frees up your GM muscles, allowing you to focus more on setting tone and detailing the landscape yourself.

And when I say a wealth of specifics, I mean it. Every location has a treasure to find, a trap to trigger, an NPC to exploit or an adventure seed to follow. Often a combination of multiple of these. While the treasure is often meager (I think it caught that disease from 5th Edition), the NPCs are dynamic with clear motivations. Often the author will explicitly explain what the NPC would want from the players, and how they may go about getting it. They may have different attitudes towards the players depending on what information they have uncovered, making the world feel reactive.

Not only are these locations brimming with great content, but its very varied and often quite unique. Your standard fantasy adventure bread and butter is here too, with plenty of caves, ruins, cities and hideouts, but some of my favourites are the really weird and wacky locations. There is a roman casino island with greasy loan sharks, various dice games and a fighting pit where players can gamble, fight and get into debt. One island is a geode filled with crystal amphitheatres hosting theatre toups where players can buy masks and props and try their talents in their own shows. Another is a huge tree hotel constantly celebrating a different festival from creepy cult ritual to drug fueled party. Amazing!

The Bad Ghosts

The Monsters are a variety of weird ghosties and fairly standard guards/bandits/cultists. I like the weird monsters, they have some interesting abilities and unique flavour, but they aren't revolutionary. Nothing would be out of place in a vanilla 5e Monster Manual. The rival NPC party provided is especially uninspired. I feel like the art portrays far more interesting characters than the stat blocks portray, another symptom of the 5e-itis that this whole book suffers from. I like the idea though, the rival party slowly stalks the player characters the more they uncover the Spiral Isles’ secrets.

Functional, and handy to have if your running 5e and don't want to thumb through another book i guess. However these monsters are nothing terribly special.

The NPCs and factions are another story however. We see the return of the faction table which was used in Woodfall. This time, it's also provided for the major NPCs as well. This is incredibly useful, and really helps a GM should the players want to get involved in some political manipulation and intrigue. Im generally quite impressed by the details provided for the NPCs, and I do get a good sense of their unique personalities from their descriptions.

Anyway, we have said far too many positive things for a review, it's about time we tackled the unfortunate elephant in the room with this adventure...

The Layout

To put it bluntly, it's awful. I would even argue it isn't even a taste thing, it’s genuinely, objectively, poorly laid out. Its difficult to reference, it's often hard to follow where the text flows when reading, and it's near impossible to work out some sort of hierarchy of sections in paragraphs. Just to really drive home the volume and severity of these problems, here is a vicious list of blunders and the issues they cause when using the book:

Font size is inconsistent. 

This in itself is not usually a problem. Plenty of books do this to differentiate sections, tables or on a map text. However the text size here has no rhyme nor reason I can see, other than to ensure all the desired text fits on the page? It just creates confusion when determining the context of a paragraph. Take this How to Use page as an example. The table text is a different size, fine, but its not the same size in all other tables in the book, that varies considerably. The text at the top is slightly larger than the text below. Why? It makes me think the texts might are unrelated, but they aren't!

Also why is the spacing between text and table not the same above and below? It just looks bad.

Table formatting and implementation is inconsistent. 

Sometimes information is presented in a table, but sometimes it's just a numbered list, and sometimes that numbered list is in a paragraph of text! Some tables are numbered, others are not, some provide a dice size to roll in the header, others are just numbered. The formatting is woefully inconsistent. Font size varies, text alignment doesn't fully make sense, and some column headers don’t seem to align properly. This makes using them often more difficult than it needs to be. The rules for how to use one table are different from the last. Having to read through a paragraph of text to find a list to roll on is just not practical at the table, but putting that aside, it's not even a consistent feature I know to look out for.

Just a brief selection of the various table heading formats...

Also, on a related note, the treasure table is split into 4 seperate d20 tables. They don't seem to be in any way split in a logical fashion, just randomly. Why? Is it so that the basically pointless drawing of a generic treasure chest chat fit in? Could the designers not come up with another 20 entries for a d100 table? It's just shoddy, and causes more inconvenience.

Paragraph columns are inconsistent. 

The book broadly follows a three column layout for text. I say broadly because it's in no way consistent. These columns vary in size and position page to page. Some pages only have two, or one. I’m also not counting where text sometimes spills over multiple columns, which is fine, but still looks bad in my opinion. Especially where the text lasts for only one or two lines. This is what causes you to get lost on pages. The Quadrant summaries are a great example of this. They are intended to be the first things you read but are often found half way down the page with a title smaller than the one for the island titles! This confused me for at least the first 3 quadrants.

This layout is egregious!

There is even on instance of a list just slapped bang in the middle of the page, and it just looks out of place. They have tried to make up for it by providing a border (something which we see nowhere else in the book) but it doesn't help, it just makes the page look too busy.

Its ok, this column follows no rules, its in a box!

The art positioning is awkward.

A lot of it gets cut off at the borders or by text. Some of it overlaps with other elements of text or tables. This largely has no practical problems, it just looks bad. One thing that is a problem are the map labels. All of which are nearly indistinguishable from section titles, making navigating the location pages especially painful.

The die drop table is largely useless. 

This one is a huge shame because its contents are great, and each has their own piece of art as well. However as a “Die Drop” table it's basically useless. Firstly, it's not a “Die” drop table because you don't in any way require dice. You could drop anything, you don't use the number, so what is the point exactly? Why not just a rollable table which would be infinitely more useful. Also, because this thing is POD, its NEVER gonna sit flat. So im never going to be able to use it. Just look at that bow…

Yea useless. Also, its across 4 pages, which is worse! I cant even roll for everything at once. The real nail in the coffin for this, is that they aren't even numbered, so I can't roll even if I wanted to! What if I only have the PDF?!?!? It's a horrible oversight that really throws the at the table value of this book out the window.

The Mirrored Isle Dungeon Description.

Most of the dungeon description is provided in a numbered list on one page. The last two rooms are awkwardly half in and half outside the map, some of it squashed between the border and map. What possessed them to do this? It looks bad and is really hard to read. It just looks unprofessional.

The maps are basically pointless.

They are just coloured blobs. Why don't they have even simple icons and routes or any details at all? They just look out of place on the locations pages.They may as well not be there. All they do is clog up the pages, and push the text around making it even harder to read. I don't mind a simple map, but a simple map slapped in my face every time I turn the page is not helpful when im running a game.

What does this really achieve?

But does that mean it's bad?

I don't want this to come across as a negative review, because it isn’t! I’m not unhappy with the Spiral Isles. I will certainly keep it ready to go should I ever kill my players. I'm also really keen to try out the Life Points system of linking HP/XP/Money/Powers to see how that plays out. I think it will be really cool. I'm also going to mine some of it’s coolest locations for other games for sure.

The biggest issue is obviously the layout, which basically makes it something I simply can't use at the table. It will require me to either memorise bits or make my own notes if I’m gonna run it. Combine this with the relentless infection of D&D 5th edition-ims that flavour all its monsters, powers and treasure a very generic and bland flavour of standard fantasy +1’s to boring numbers, means the adventure would require work from me to get it into a state where id be happy to run it. Not much work, but more work than im usually willing to do!

This is a shame because I really like the content, the weird ideas that can be found throughout the adventure and the really fascinating mechanics that the authors have baked into it. Not to mention the substantial amount of NPC and faction guidance to help GMs like me who struggle with intrigue and politics in their games. Its especially frustrating because a lot of these problems, are not problems in Woodfall! Perhaps its to do with the odd choice of dimensions, but whatever it is, I know Lazy Litch can do better.

I want to love it more than I do, and I think with a rethink of its layout, I would be able to for sure. If your not bothered by the layout, or are willing to put in some effort, there is a great setting and adventure to pull out of this supplement for sure.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Silent Titans Review

Silent Titans is the latest adventure module written by Patrick Stuart, delightfully illustrated by Dirk Detweiler Leichty and published by Jacob Hurst.

The game was Kickstarted in December last year (2018), and is now available in print and pdf. I backed this as soon as it became available. I’d like to think I backed it based on the prestige of its creators in the OSR community, but if I’m honest I think it’s the art that sold me. Rightly so I’d say, I mean just look at it…

Digital images don't easily convey how bold and colourful this is in person.

This stuff would not be out of place hanging in on my wall or in an art gallery, even the maps look this good! Before we get into the content though, let’s start with a quick overview of the physical product that was delivered..

The Product

The book is near identical to the mock-ups displayed on the Kickstarter page, which in itself is an impressive feat. This is even more impressive because the book is just such a beautiful object to behold. Jacob has spared no expense in making this thing top quality, and it pays off in spades with the bright and bold colours in Dirk’s work.

The book sits flat on the table, uses thick, high quality paper, and fully utilises its inside covers. Even the dust jacket has a search the body table and a gorgeous map of one of the dungeons of Wir-Heal on the inside.

If your splashing out on the book, I would recommend getting the bonus pack too if you can. It includes a map book and a booklet of cut-out minis (yes a battle maps and minis in an OSR artsy game). Also a bunch of index card character sheets for the Into the Odd rules, a bookmark with most of those rules on it, and some stickers, all as good a quality as the book itself. The minis are very thick cardstock, the battle maps are thick glossy paper and everything is as vibrantly colourful as the book itself. Absolutely A+ job from Jacob here, I cannot praise it enough.

Everyone likes a few goodies!

What little I can fault is fairly nit-picky. The front map appears to be missing some labels. I’m unsure if this is intentional as something of a player map, but as the pdf isn’t missing those labels I suspect it may be a mistake. Not a huge issue, but it is slightly inconvenient when these things are referenced in the text. The Map book is staple bound, and while will sit flat with a little bending, it's not perfect for using with paper minis. What may have been nicer is simply each map printed as a poster, and folded together. The bonus pack comes in an envelope anyway to hold it all. But none of this can take away from the shear beauty of what has been produced here.

The Content

Now let's take a look at what’s inside. At time of writing, I haven’t run Silent Titans as is. I have run one of its dungeons as a one shot however, so I have a feel for the game.

The Rules & Characters

The game is pitched as “…a bizarre nightmare adventure setting … built to run on the ultra-light Into The Odd rules”. What this means is the game provides stats, challenges and effects for the Into the Odd rules by Chris McDowell. These  “ultra-light” rules are based largely on D&D so converting everything  to something like 5th Edition D&D could be done on the fly without much trouble, though your mileage may vary.

What wouldn’t be such a simple job would be converting it’s pre-generated characters. These are a part of the Into the Odd rules, whereby a character’s randomly rolled stats determine what equipment and abilities they get. Silent Titans takes this one step further and this also determines your name and rough personality. This is an interesting choice, one that certainly helps fit player characters neatly into the setting. Each character is very distinct, and Patrick states; “Anything not specified you can make up yourself.”

This is the first of many design choices that run contrary to conventional OSR wisdom, but I like it. I think is speeds up an element of the game that is usually quite slow and challenging for some players. This does make Silent Titans much harder to drop in to an existing campaign however, though considering how the rest of this game is written, I think that’s probably intentional.  We will get into this later, but suffice to say for now, If you’re going to run a Silent Titans game, it’s certainly most effective to use all the included rules.

The rest of these rules are presented in the mechanics of the dungeons, environments and NPC factions. They mostly consist of telling you which stat to use for saves, something a GM could make a judgment call on themselves, should they be using another system.

Everything else comes in the form of narrative or roleplay effects. Things that affect a character’s senses, damage over time effects or things that affect character memory. None of these are really defined explicitly by Into the Odd, which makes the majority of the supplement fairly system agnostic. Whole dungeon’s, locations and factions could be pulled out and run in any system without much trouble. A lot of the mechanics are neat, and I can certainly see them producing some pretty fun situations to play out. Certainly the ones I came across in the dungeon I ran were great.

In summary, what rules exist in Silent Titans fit nicely, and tend to get out of the way, allowing the GM to focus on why we are all really here, the fiction!

The Fiction

With the fiction, I feel like i have about as much criticism as I do praise.

Firstly, Patrick’s writing reads like GM notes. Lists of things and ideas, with sub-points branching down as you read. They do a great job of sparking ideas, and imagination, but are pretty poor at conveying a scene at a glance. At the table, I like to be able to flip to a page, read a thing and get a good sense for the situation, but that is pretty impossible for the most part in this book. You really do have to read the whole thing, and only then does the world coalesce from Patrick’s flowery descriptions and Dirks abstract drawings. To be clear, the rooms are well described, often with inspiring details that can help you describe these bizarre location to your players. However, they are not very descriptive of the activity within, nor of their connection to wider whole. To really get a sense for what is going on in this bizarre place, you need to read the lot.

This seems to be a step back as well for both Patrick and Jacob, both of which have produce two of the most gameable books that exist! (Maze of the Blue Medusa & Hot Springs Island respectively) Silent Titans does use the repeated information trick used in both previous works, one short summary on a general dungeon map, and another in a more detailed description on a following page. However, unlike the previous books, these summaries are rarely anything other than description. No wider interweaving narrative is conveyed between the moving parts, everything feels independent until you have a picture of the whole in your head.

Also, it's really quite hard to parse. On many occasions, I would read a passage, totally not understand it, read it several more times, look at the art, still not get it and move on, only later to discover a key piece of information that made the whole thing clear. Patricks advice at the start of the book of “Like all my stuff, read it front to back first” needs to be taken quite literally, and even then will take multiple re-reads and flicks through to really solidify in your mind.
On top of all this, once you do get to grips with what is going on it’s... kind of a railroad. It reminds me a lot of the “choices” in many modern open world video games. A multitude of mostly unrelated side quests are available along with the main “plot” quests (the dungeons) available to be done in any order, but you still have to hit all those same beats. The conclusion is going to be mostly the same for everyone. I would even argue that in all likelihood your going to do the dungeons in order, because they are laid out on after the other on the map!

One of the dungeons for even takes this to the next degree. It's all about players waking up from dreams, and Patrick advises you to use unfair rules, scene shifts and “naked railroading” to keep the players on track. I think I get what Patrick is going for here, the idea behind this dungeon about going mad, and imprisoning the characters in these dream scenes until they go along with them. The problem with this  is that it ends up making any player choice pretty meaningless and I can see players getting frustrated when they have to replay through the scenes if they mess up. This does not seem fun to me. The first time they encounter each scene I think would be a fun roleplaying exercise, but once you have figured out how to “beat” the scene and navigate around it, it become more of a mundainity than something enjoyable.

This seems very odd when looking at MotBM and Hot Springs Island, both very much open world adventure settings that really can be explored any which way, and produce exciting unforeseen situations as a result. This is another element of the game that goes contrary of common wisdom in the OSR. A defined and pre-determined story just feels dirty to me. I suspect this is intended, but one quote from the dungeon described above makes me question this, when speaking about the “naked railroading” in the dungeon, Patrick writes; “This [Dungeon] is completely different to the rest of the game, where you should absolutely not do this.”

One of the battle maps provided in the booklet.

So is this intentional? The front of the book does state that this game is about loops, about time travel and the player characters almost having a “do over” of their previous mistakes. I really don't know. However, what I do know is that this, all of it, the art, the fiction, the mechanics, they WORK. They work really well. They are effective at conveying a very particular and compelling aesthetic and this is...

Why Silent Titans Is Actually Incredible

What makes Silent Titans special is how seamlessly the art, the fiction and the rules interweave. To the point where I cannot fathom what inspired what, and I’m starting to question if there is even such a distinction to be made.

While fascinating, this is a marvel to behold in game. Mechanics, art, and rules align perfectly into what i can only describe an an Aesthetic, with a capital A. What Patrick asks you as a GM to portray and what your players to envision, match toe to toe with what Dirk has drawn.
In fact, at first glance, Dirk’s illustrations seem chaotic and meaningless, like abstract doodles. However, once you read Patricks writing they come to life, you recognise characters, monsters, even “architecture” so to speak.

The reason I would recommend the bonus pack so strongly is that this game presents a GM and their player a very distinct, and pervasive aesthetic to the game. It's really what I think makes Silent Titans a groundbreaking supplement. Everything works so well together in creating a very unique and immediately recognisable look and feel. One that doesn’t rely on fantasy tropes and a common understanding on what a dungeon, medieval village or even person is!. As Patrick has done in his previous works, he takes the limitations of the tabletop RPG as a medium, and instead of fighting them, embraces them and builds them into his setting and game.

The clearest example of this is the nature of Wir-Heal (the name of the land in Silent Titans) itself. The idea being that this land is distorted and nonsensical. Space doesn't totally make sense here, and it's difficult for characters to get a clear sense of space while exploring these bizarre lands. That is exactly how it can feel to a player when exploring imaginary spaces. Everyone has their own internal model of a scene, no two of which are going to align perfectly. Thus, Patrick has worked this natural limitation into the fiction of his world. This is again complemented by Dirk’s abstract isometric art style. The art provides exactly as much spatial information as is important in the rules, no more and no less. Patrick's room descriptions provide the GM with high level details and more descriptive information for the GM to riff on. Dirks room drawings provide the players with visual analogues to those key elements. The minis then provide visual reference for the player characters and enemies for combat and navigation, where exact distance is unimportant, only relative positioning and distance matter. This is true both fictionally, and mechanically!

I have yet to be brave enough to take scissors to the minis...

In play this is perfect. Showing the whole dungeon map to the players doesn't spoil anything, because the art is so abstract that its nonsensical to them at first glance anyway, it serves only to tease them with possibility. Then, when they enter the room and those elements are described, they pop out. Suddenly they can see, “Oh, that mass of tubes there is the Cephalopod Prime!”, “All those red circles are Face Crab Keys!”, “That pillar is a GUN?!?!”.

This marriage of mechanics, fiction and art is something I don't think has been done so fully in a supplement before, and I doubt will happen for a long while yet. All that Silent Titans provides, pushes a GM into using them in a certain way, a way which is emphasised by the fiction, codified in the rules, and conveyed in the art. Total unity, something modern game designers both in digital and tabletop struggle with consistently.

I truly think Silent Titans is something special. It has its flaws, yes. As mentioned earlier, it's going to take a certain kind of GM to be able to use what Patrick writes, and a skilled one at that. It also requires players be willing to not necessarily be railroaded, but certainly guided in a certain direction, and have compatible motivations with the setting. I would argue this is true for almost every adventure anyway, but I don't think its something OSR players will be so keen on. Push past those initial reservation though, and I think its aesthetic, outshines all of them.

I’ll certainly be bringing Silent Titans to my Table at the next available opportunity.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

The Forgotten Abbey

For the past year I've been toying with ideas for using decks of cards in RPGs, but none of them have ended up condensing into anything usable. That is until this years One Page Dungeon Contest roused me into putting my ideas into action!

The Forgotten Abbey aims to provide a GM with a simple procedure for tracking four core components to a good dungeon delve; the map, random encounters, treasure and time.

The idea is to use the physical properties of the cards to track these elements mechanically. The club cards can be laid out on the table to map the rooms. Discarding the spades keeps track of what monsters have already been dealt with. A hand of hearts and diamonds that the players pick from at random simulates rummaging amongst the ruins, revealing treasures or simply wasting time.

A perfect excuse to show off your fancy decks of cards.

To ensure the time wasted has consequences, the dungeon itself reshuffles if the players dawdle for too long. This has an additional benefit of providing the players with a difficult choice. The deeper they go into the abbey, the more treasure they may find, but the more likely it is that the dungeon resets and the dangers they faced on the way in ressurect.

It has a couple other cool things going for it I hope! The dungeon is broken into three levels, each getting progressively more spooky, dangerous and lucrative. I think the magic items are pretty neat, if nothing else!

The whole idea kind spawned from putting the three decks along the right edge there.

This this was a layout challenge for me, having a lot of idea and very little space! I'm trying to get better at it, but i'm pretty happy with the final result. The page is busy, but the intent is that all the information is just there, and hopefully it's clear where to look for the bits you need as you need them. Feedback from better minds that mine is always appreciated!

I feel like this system might lay the groundwork for a dungeon delving card system. I'm keen to experiment with this idea on another dungeon and see if it works outside of this specific theme.

As mentioned above, I have entered this into this year's One Page Dungeon Contest. The contest is still open until Midnight on the 1st of May, so get writing and you can still get that entry in the door!

Otherwise keep an eye on their site or Twitter for when they release all the entries into a compilation, it always produces a mountain of fantastic material for your game!

P.S. I'm trying to become more active on Twitter following the death of G+. I have even written a little bot that tweets out the latest blog posts from across the OSR blogosphere if that sounds useful!

Saturday, 2 February 2019

The Will of Rot

As part of a campaign i'm currently running, I needed a forest to house Mother Mohln of the Mohln race from my very first post on this blog. 

I thought about using Dolmenwood which there is a lot of content for. However, a lot of it is split up between a lot of the Wormskin Zine Issues and I wanted something I could bring along to every session for reference. Plus, its fae aesthetic wasn’t exactly how I envisaged the home of the Mohln.

So, in true OSR fashion, I decided to do it myself! I’ve been wanting to put time into producing another one page adventure location since the One Page Dungeon Competition as I found it so much fun. I’ve also been eating up all the amazing content from Michael Prescott of Trilemma Adventures as i find his stuff so useful at the table its incredible.

I ended up creating The Will of Rot - small hexcrawl adventure set the the Forests of Mohln. I have put it up for pay what you want on, so click the button below to download it for free.

If you like it, throw me a buck! If your from the UK like me, that’s like 76p! I’ve seen chocolate bars more expensive than that! It ended up being 3 pages, mostly because I have little self control, but also because I created some Maps and a couple tables for use in play. It definitely wears its inspirations on its sleeves, as i've been consuming a large amount of community content lately! Can you name all the OSR creators that I have unashamedly ripped off here? If you end up running it, let me know! Its already inspired viscous hatred of the townspeople of Timberwick and casued the forced adoption of a young Vash in my games. What will happen in yours?

While we are on the topic of self promotion, I’m currently writing an article for a Kickstarter Silver Swords: An RPG fanzine as part of Kickstarter’s Zine Quest initiative. If you like RPGs, especially DIY, OSR and Indie stuff, check out Silver Swords and the other projects that will be running this month!