Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Weapon Specialization (Pits & Perils)...

So after months of work on Stalkers of the Elder Dark, we're hankering for a world where cosmic abominations aren't seeking our doom, and Pits & Perils fits the bill nicely!  So here's
a little something for your fighters (and elven fighters)...

It's a new combat maneuver called specialization, and it works like this:


SPECIALIZATION can only be taken at 6th level (and beyond), once the character has developed their fighting skills.  This grants an attack bonus of +1 with any specific weapon chosen by the player in coordination with the referee, noting that this applies to a specific variety; i.e., hand axes instead of just axes as per the following:  

Axe (hand), bow (long), bow (short), mace, spear, sword (long), sword (short)

Note also that certain two-handed melee weapons and/or polearms are excluded, for these benefit from distance and momentum instead of finesse, although the referee can make exceptions as they so wish.  This reflects the greater skill that comes with practice, especially after six levels of battling monsters!  An optional addition to the maneuvers.     


And here it is.  If you'd like to see your characters (the combatants, at least) improve their fighting ability with level, this option makes it all possible.  Specialization puts a party on parity against their enemies, who will improve, although magical weapons obviously remain an important part of their advancement.  Now hit those pits and master those perils...

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Stalkers of the Elder Dark (Lovecraftian Horror Minus Cthulhu) Is Here Because the Stars Are Right...

Tremble humanity, for the stars are right!  Those who know me well know that I love the horror genre and actually prefer it (the good stuff, anyway) as a literary medium.  So why did it take so long to release a horror-themed RPG?  I don't know...

But as if to make up for lost time, we introduce Stalkers of the Elder Dark!

Stalkers is a game of cosmic horror.  It's Lovecraftian in aspect, but not built around the Cthulhu mythos specifically.  There's ancient Elder Ones, of course.  Foul things from beyond the Void and terrible Servitor Races with horrific designs.  Lovecraft and his followers were really on to something.  But they got many details wrong, perhaps on purpose, to protect us from the terrible truth of which only they knew.  Hey, it could happen...

Who knows?  Maybe the writers of pulp fiction are non-players in your game!  It's an idea we dabble in because play is set in the 1920s; the perfect time for horror.  Think about it for a minute.  The world was at a crossroads.  The Great War was over, and science was revealing wonders and making life better.  Even so, a fever could still be deadly, and there was no shortage of old-world challenges lurking just beneath the surface.  Humanity was feeling its oats while facing the same old evils - it's a treasure trove of the gameable!


But Stalkers is a rules light (and d6-based) system that nonetheless goes deeper than our previous offerings.  It dabbles in classes (backgrounds complete with specialization options) and skills (with ranks and opportunities to advance over time).  Combat is (very) fast and furious.  However, the narrative elements work hand-in-hand with the flow of play, and clever players can ask about their surroundings and take timely cover behind a nearby desk to avoid greater injury.  Firearms figure prominently (and with greater technical realism), but don't expect to have to count every bullet, either.  Play shouldn't be hard.

Ultimately, this is a game of stodgy professors, famous opera singers, rough-and-tumble moonshiners, and bush pilots coming together against the dark.  And all against the backdrop of the real 1920s; because the real world is unmatched for its depth and cruelty. 

Dark things fill the skies and lurk in the dark...

Fear figures prominently as well.  Read At the Mountains of Madness.  The protagonists weren't reduced to quivering, suicidal jellies.  They were hopped up on fear and had to work through it.  Stalkers adopts this "you gotta roll with it" approach.  At character creation, players learn their darkest fear (or phobia) and can even "trade" fears for skills.  During play,  they can decide whether damage is physical (wounds) or mental (trauma).  The latter can save your life.  But now you have to actively resist your fears or flee in terror (or freeze up) in critical situations.  Fear isn't death.  It's more like a faithful companion...

And leave it to Robyn to come up with the defining "theme" of the game.  The Servitors threaten our humanity, and herein lies a way to incorporate Lovecraft's morbid fear of mixed blood minus his apparently racist and xenophobic leanings.  For despite its supernatural pretensions, Stalkers is largely naturalistic, something we're pretty sure the old master would have approved of.  Oh, and fans of Blood of Pangea will appreciate the game's narrative connection to Opherian Scrolls (although not mechanically).  It's a shared cosmos...

Finally, Stalkers breaks with our crappy rulebook design strategy, trading manual type for something more period-appropriate and featuring original art in homage to the dark and grainy silent films of the decade.  We're proud of how it all turned out.  Oh, and check out the Deluxe Character Record Sheets to get you started!  They're free, of course.  

Stalkers of the Elder Dark is a digital download on OneBookShelf (all sites), although a physical version is planned for the (very) near future.  We hope it brings you enjoyment and delicious fear, because cosmic horror is scary enough already without also being hard...

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Woodwyrm (Pits & Perils)...

Merry Christmas (and Happy New year), everyone!  We're getting ready for the coming holidays and probably won't be back until after the new year.  But in the meantime, here's a little something for Pits & Perils easily convertible to the OSR at large. 

It's the mysterious (and deadly) woodwyrm; a little something Robyn came up with to terrorize an unsuspecting party and get them killed.  Damn, sweetheart, but you're monsters can be downright deadly!  Anyway, we worked out the details and offer it here.  It's our Christmas gift to P&P fans, and maybe an idea for everyone else...

Just click on the following link for the PDF version - and try not to kill the party!



Who are we kidding?  Let 'em fry if they aren't prepared!  But if you do that, do it in the spirit of good fun.  And more importantly, wish everyone you know a safe and happy holiday...

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

In Defense of the Railroad (or the Dungeon as "Bounded Sandbox", Whichever You Prefer)...

Choo!  Choo!  Time to ride the railroad, everyone...

There seems to be (at least) two approaches to a campaign.  First, there's the so-called sandbox.  A vast, open world reduced to a hex map and reliant on random tables.  This has the advantage of freedom and a certain "realism".  The characters can go where they will and deal with whatever they must.  Life's like that.  Shit happens, and the "story" of our day (or week or whatever) arises organically in the heat of battle.  For instance, the party approaches a pastureland and the GM rolls an ankheg.  Battle ensues, and the fighter ends up tossing the badly wounded Halfling to the cleric for healing!  You can't script this stuff...

Later, the characters stagger into the nearby village, where they're hailed as heroes (the ankheg was terrorizing their pastures for months).  And so it goes.

What could be more open?  Or more free?  But all's not well in Hexland.  Ever read The Hobbit?  Or Lord of the Rings?  Or anything else along those lines?  These don't read like a hex crawl.  They read like a railroad.  The fact is, the narrative flow of our favorite literature (ostensibly, a major inspiration for our games) simply cannot be reduced to an assemblage of random encounters.  And just how long could we be entertained by endless battles with wandering orcs anyway?  But I understand, it's different in a game.  Games are about what we do, and it's impossible not to get caught up in our battles - or our characters.  

Now, in truth, many GMs steer a middle course, superimposing sandbox elements over an overarching storyline.  I'd argue this is best.  But "best" is subjective, and who am I to tell anyone they're not having the right kind of fun?  Still, for sandbox purists, modules and other scripted adventures are (sometimes) derided as uninspired railroading.

Nothing linear about this dungeon...

So, about the railroad.  The GM writes a quest (often, a dungeon), and the players ride its single rail to whatever the scenario dictates.  They have no option to decline.  Or to leave.  Or to wander off and do something else.  And I've experienced the worst this approach has to offer.  You see, I knew this guy back in the 80's.  I won't name names, but we called him "The Conductor" because his adventures were (quite literally) a straight line corridor through a dungeon with a linear progression of encounters.  This was the worst version of the style, and we avoided his games.  No offense to him if he's reading this!  We were kids...

But, again, most GMs steer a middle course.  Moreover, the dungeon is (or can be) a bounded sandbox complete with abundant choices combined with a quest-like atmosphere and an overarching storyline to tie the characters to something bigger.  Once Bilbo agreed to accompany the dwarves, it became a (sort-of) railroad.  But there were also many random encounters to season its otherwise linear flow.  For instance, while the dwarves were seeking the Misty Mountains, they could choose where to rest.  And if they'd passed up the goblins' back porch in favor of something else, there'd be no riddles and no ring.

This is randomness superimposed over an overarching storyline.  Better still, it's a bounded sandbox - and something worth exploiting in a game.  A tool for the old toolkit.

The town is a bounded sandbox.  There are multiple locations.  The blacksmith (who runs a secret gambling den in his basement), the cleric (who fears an infiltration of undead in the catacombs beneath his chapel), and the innkeeper and his (magic-using) wife (both members of a druidic cult keeping vigil against a demon lord).  The players can go where they wish, and in any order.  And they're free to deal with these NPCs however they wish and decline their offered quests in the process.  But there are quests.  Several.  Because, realistically, the world is full of location-specific quests.  And more importantly, everything encountered (or undertaken) is fleshed out in a way that random encounters can never be...

The best ones are like this, I think.

But the dungeon is also a bounded sandbox.  At least it can be.   Let's say the entrance is a massive (50' x 50') vault with a door on each wall.  Each, in turn, opens to a passageway bisecting many more - not to mention numerous chambers along their path.  And the players are free to go where they please and in any order, perhaps taking the western door, going north, and encountering area #27 before anything else!  This matters, trust me.  Taking on the bugbear garrison in area 12 is a different thing entirely if you've already gotten the wand of fireballs from area 21!  And not all choices are spatial either.  The players are free to react as they wish, perhaps leading an uprising of kobold slaves against their bugbear masters or whatnot.  There's a thousand stories in the dungeon - no exaggeration 

No, the dungeon doesn't have to be a railroad.  It can be more like the street plan of a metropolitan city, complete with busy intersections and neighborhoods.  And superimposed over its scripted encounters are many random happenings.  It's the best of both worlds underground!  But also in terms of strategic choices, for even an individual encounter is a sandbox of sorts with many strategic choices ready to exploit...

Ditto for the local wilderness.  And there's an overarching storyline and fleshed-out encounters that benefit from being prepared in advance.  Remember that demon lord?  He commands the bugbears from afar and has seduced a local necromancer to stir up an undead army beneath the cleric's chapel.  And the more successful the party is at thwarting his servants, the more aggressive he'll become towards the characters.  Nope, this isn't railroading.  This is consequences.  But even then, the players have choices, whether joining the demon or converting the bugbears to the "one true faith" and making them give up their evil ways.  The possibilities are endless for a clever and creative group...

And all because the GM has "scaled down" their sandbox to a manageable town, local wilderness, and one or two dungeons.  Again, it's the best of both worlds and something to keep in mind when preparing your own games.  So all aboard!  And tickets, please...