Sunday, 1 October 2017

Extra Little Worldbuilding Questions

Because my On the Edge of Exile campaign has had to be delayed for a few weeks, I've been going 'round in circles thinking about it. What this tends to mean is I write far too much about it, realise I don't want to plan/plot everything out, and then perform a cull. I'll add stuff, then trim it back, over and over again.

During this process, I've been thinking about some worldbuilding questions that rarely come up in guides to flesh out a settlement. These are pretty minor things, and not every settlement needs them all answered, but having an idea of them will help you stretch the verisimilitude of wherever the PCs go. Also note that for larger settlements - towns and cities - you can answer these per district or neighbourhood.

  1. Who cuts the people's hair? 
    1. A barber; 
    2. The lord's ex-manservant; 
    3. A communal hair-cutting circle; 
    4. Everyone's Nan?
  2. Who pulls teeth when they break or hurt? 
    1. A barber-surgeon; 
    2. The bartender (because they have a heavy door and string); 
    3. They get in a brawl at the tavern; 
    4. The local priest of the healing god?
  3. Who maintains the well? 
    1. A young chap with nothing better to do; 
    2. A chartered guild of well-workers; 
    3. The guards; 
    4. A retired mason?
  4. Who settles disputes? 
    1. A travelling judge; 
    2. Whichever outsider merchants are in town; 
    3. A Mafioso; 
    4. The lord's children, learning their command?
  5. Where do people go when they want to relax? 
    1. A back-alley dice game; 
    2. A local pub; 
    3. A drug den; 
    4. A serene garden?
  6. Who do people turn to when they have a problem? 
    1. A local crime boss; 
    2. The constable; 
    3. A wise village elder; 
    4. A kindly priest?
  7. Who does everyone know you can rely on and trust? 
    1. An honest bar fly; 
    2. The bouncer at the pub; 
    3. The sergeant of the guard; 
    4. The Robin Hood-esque local pick-pocket?
  8. Who does everyone revile or make fun of? 
    1. A known thief; 
    2. A disgraced ex-guardsman; 
    3. The noble lord; 
    4. The opportunistic mayor?

As a general rule of thumb, think about the things you do every day, and how the people in your world would fill those same roles. Every time you're out and about, think about how someone in your world would do the same. Where do you buy groceries, or do you grow your own? Who do you turn to when a button falls off your shirt, or do you stitch it back on? Where is everyone getting the thread, and the needles, if everyone sows their own buttons?

As I say, these aren't necessary questions to answer - but they are a useful tool, and they can make boring errands in your everyday life less boring! 

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

On the Edge of Exile: GM Tools

Now it's time to discuss the tools I'll be using to run this campaign. I'm a huge fan of tools, and I find their inclusion in a game drastically changes the flavour of its play. That's what I'm hoping from each and every one of these tools!

There are three categories of GM Tools that I'm using for On the Edge of Exile: Org Tools, Prep Tools, and Play Tools. There aren't many of them, so I'll be talking about all of them here. This discussion will be about what I'm using, and why I'm not using alternatives.

Let's begin at the top:


Org Tools

Org Tools are those that help me organise the campaign, both internally and externally. They help me frame my notes, and communicate to my players.

Game Bible

Previously, I have recorded my notes in so many different formats, that I've pretty much seen every format of this (at least, every format that I'm aware of). Put simply, a Game Bible is a document that contains all the information that it's pertinent not to forget. That doesn't mean it contains literally everything, but that it contains the main stuff. Little details are lost at the table, and to memory, and that's fine. Big stuff goes in here.

So what does it look like? At the moment it has three sections: The Valley which discusses any important locations, and the regions in terms of their tags, Threats which holds all of my Apocalypse World style complications and story threads (discussed more in Prep Tools), and Dramatis Personae which holds records of all the major NPCs and custom monsters or groups.

Now, why did I go this route? Previously I've used wikis or a curious program called MyInfo to plan campaigns and host their notes, but I find with that structure it leads to waffling - it becomes difficult to use the information at the table. With a single document, I am forced into brevity, otherwise it becomes impossible to use during play. No more than a page per Threat. No more than a stat-block and tags for NPCs.

Facebook & Messenger Groups

Whilst in the past I have used Trello, a wiki, and Obsidian Portal to host the player's hang-out area, I have found each has its problems. Trello isn't well suited to interactions in the way I'm looking for - discussions and banter, planning for future sessions, etc. and Obsidian Portal is, well... Let's just say it took them 2 years to respond to a support ticket, and then after I cancelled my subscription charged me for the following 2 years anyway. There's some history there! Wikis are also a little too dispersed, and they only really work if everyone is keen on filling them out. I no longer believe in giving my players homework, so I'll be avoiding that.

That leaves me with Facebook and Messenger. All my players are already on the platform, and we can now customise them pretty extensively. The Messenger thread is being used for short form discussions, and the group is used more like a forum. Simple!


Prep Tools

Prep Tool are those that help me prepare for the next session, naturally.

Threats

I have made a list of Threats, ala Apocalypse World which will be the main impetus behind the campaign. The idea is that each area or potential story in the game has a Threat, made up of a name, a type, a drive, several moves with some preferred moves, a description, and progress markers. The moves are ways for me to have the Threat act, and the progress markers are what will happen if the PCs don't intervene. I can't give you an example of one without fear of my players seeing it, so I'll make a fake one here:

The Evil Child
Craves mastery.
Will the Evil Child corrupt the town?
Moves:
  • Do something evil.
  • Kill someone.
  • Make someone take the fall for badness.
Progress:
  • The Evil Child tricks someone in town into adopting them.
  • That person's business - a tavern - starts to boom with the greatest beer on tap.
  • A few people have gone missing, but most people in town are in such a drunken stupor for most of the time that they don't notice.
  • The Evil Child uses the missing towns folk as a sacrifice to become even eviler!
The idea is that, when I need to know the next thing to have happen, I just look at whatever Threat seems to be interesting the players the most, and I tick it forward until they intervene.

Goals

I will be requiring my players to tell me what they intend to do before the following session. This won't be a blow-by-blow, but a general "We're heading to Seidenstopp to find out what the go is with this residue" vibe. I want them to form something like goals ala Burning Wheel but not as strictly. I will be awarding XP based on if they meaningfully work towards their goals, rather than for any other reason, so it's in their best interests to have a think about them!


Play Tools

Play Tools are those which will be used in situ in play - the ones which I will have printed either behind the screen, or in front of the players.

In-Game Calendar

I'm far from a Gygaxian GM, and I believe almost the opposite of this little nugget:
YOU CANNOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.
But for this campaign, I am using an in-game calendar. This is part Org, part Prep, but mostly Play. I want the players to be the ones writing in this thing, noting when events will occur, and planning their travel around that. I'm not going to be too cruel on the GM side of things, and (as mentioned with Threats) I won't have things scripted purely by a clock. I will reveal dates when it is interesting to reveal them, and it's then up to the players to record and follow them.

Speaking of which, I intend to jump forward the calendar by 2-month chunks every milestone of play (the players will be in control of when this is, but it will be guided by me on the basis of something significant happened). Sometimes these will be longer jumps, depending on how many sessions it has been since the last jump. Each jump will constitute a settlement phase.

This Fantastic Character Sheet

I love character sheets, and often hate the standard sheets that come with most games. I don't know what it is, but almost universally, official character sheets suck. Indie games are usually the exception to this. *shrug*

So, for WFRP, many years ago I discovered this sheet! This is the one the players will be using.

A Bunch of PDFs

I also have a bunch of old PDFs from my hey-day of WFRP play, most of which I don't know where they came from, and some whose origins are now lost to the void of the Internet. Strike to Stun, Winds of Chaos, and Liber Fanatica were definitely the sources of many...

Empire Weather for determining weather during travel phases - bad results will incur penalties to condition when they are travelled.

The Book of Imperial Names for many of my naming and settlement shop needs.

The Appearance of Morrslieb which I will roll in advance, which will count as an out-of-the-players-hands encounter generator - bad moon = bad luck!

And Total War a fan made supplement for mass combat which is (sadly) pretty poorly edited, but the core is great. It's inspired by Legend of the Five Rings's mass combat system, which was one of the greater parts of that system.

And that's it! It's a lot of tools, but together, they'll largely automate the running of this campaign. Next time, well, I guess the game will have started!

Monday, 21 August 2017

On the Edge of Exile: House Rules #2

Last time we talked settlement management, and faction rules, this time 'round we're talking about travel mechanics. There are some travel mechanics in other WFRP products, but they tend to fall into a broad type of mechanics which can only be classified as either hand-wavey or accountancy. I find myself either a) having to come up with how long it takes on the fly, and for cool things to happen, or b) having to crunch numbers and figure out lots of crap that way.

I wanted neither of those things. I wanted to combine the feel of Blades in the Dark downtime with Darkest Dungeon's camp phases. I wanted a simple system that could be run through, quickly, that would also force dynamic change on play.


This is what I came up with:


Here we get the ground work. You need provisions, and you need to manage your condition. That's it in terms of resource drain for the PCs - provisions, however, are pretty expensive, so it's going to be a lot of tax if they want to mobile larger forces. This was vital. I didn't want the PCs being able to raise bands of warriors without it costing them a lot.


Here we get some of the strategic choices of the PCs. Where, how, and what are they doing during. This section mentions Weather, but that's a GM tool that I'll go into at a later date. For now (unless one of them decides to play as a Jade Magister) they have no way of affecting the Weather rules, except to get a forecast.


The first half of the Travel Actions. I wrote them in a very Apocalypse World manner so that they gave breadth without slowing down play too much. I'm imagining this to play out rather quickly in practice, with each player choosing an action (or to help an action), and then them playing out in order.


And the second half of the Travel Actions. Perhaps the most interesting part here is the Scout action, which as you can see, takes the place of an encounter check. I struggled with this, for a while, because I thought it might not make sense, but given almost always, the PCs would be attempting to evade enemies during their travel, that it worked. This also means PC Skill is more important than the randomness of the GM's dice.


And lastly we have camping. This essentially allows PCs to extend their resources, and (hopefully) recover. There are some more tactical options here, because, depending on the party, it might be safer for them to keep on the move (if they have better results with Navigate and Scout) or to try to camp as much as possible (if they have a high Perception).

The last thing to note is the tags, like Safe, Wild, Infested, etc. These are applied to Regions on the map, which are not exposed to the PCs until they go there, or gather information about a Region.

Now... That's a lot of talk about Regions. But... Huh? Here's the area map for the Valley of Blood I posted a few days back:


See those chunks formed from orange dashed lines? Each one of them is a Region, and each one has a name (like Vale of Disappointment or The Gamble). Each one also has tags on the GM's side of the screen, which tells me how many days it takes to cross, how dangerous, open, accessible it is, and also what the sources of danger and adventure there are. This allows me to run the above rules straight from the map and a list of short notes!

For the purposes of the campaign (and because some of my players read this), I can't yet expose all those notes. But, if there's interest down the line, I'd be happy to post it all here.

You can grab the full version of the above rules here:

Player Travel Sheet Download

So we've got setting, and our mechanics sorted... Next up we'll talk about some of the GM Tools being used to better run On the Edge of Exile!

Saturday, 19 August 2017

On the Edge of Exile: House Rules #1

Now, we've talked about setting, so let's talk about house rules for my newest Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition campaign: On the Edge of Exile.

First up, my rule with books in WFRP is everything official is fair game, but it's your job to find it. In my experience, this means that the main books that get used are the Core, Realms of Sorcery, Tome of Corruption, Tome of Salvation, and the Career Compendium. Given we're playing in the Border Princes, I would be surprised if no one bug into Renegade Crowns, as well... But, honestly, my players won't need to do any reading if they don't want to - there's enough in the Core to keep most of them happy!

When thinking about house rules, I like to perform the following three tests:
  1. Do I know the rules well enough to understand what I'm changing?
    I've run WFRP, in all, for about 6.5-7 years of weekly sessions, over the years. Not consecutively, but frequent enough that I know the rules probably better than any other system I've ever read (apart from those I've made myself). I feel confident that I know what I'm changing.
  2. What don't the rules model well?
    Travel and resource scarcity. For a game all about famine, pestilence, and the wild places of the world, there isn't really mechanics for modelling these things. I've always thought it was weird, but I could ignore those gaps. Most of my WFRP games are enclosed city-campaigns, where there's little travel, and the PCs have a home base. Whilst this campaign definitely has a home base, it is far from safe. I'm going to need some more meat. I'm also going to need something to can handle Faction turns, and settlement management!
  3. Do any systems do that in a good and transferable way?
    Well... Kinda. There's some cool travel mechanics in Ryuutama which have been inspirational, but they're altogether too nice. Then there's some interesting ideas in Dungeon World that can be transferred in some ways. Factions I can source from Blades in the Dark and Stars Without Number, so I have a lot to work with, but nothing that does exactly what I want... Which means I pass my three tests and can move onto hacking!
This is a lot, so I'm going to break it into two articles. Part #1 will deal with the Faction Turns & Settlement Management mechanics. Part #2 will focus on the Travel Mechanics.

Faction Turns & Settlement Management


Let's begin with what I am most keen on - the PCs running a settlement! Now, I don't want this to dominate play, but I want it to be the impetus for player action. I want this to fill the same niche as the Crew in Blades in the Dark - it is the character that the game is ultimately about, and the PCs are facilitators for that shared character.

However, I want the settlement - Dunkeldorf - to be its own thing. It has problems and people within it that the PCs don't control (yet). So I've mixed in a little Sagas of the Icelanders and Apocalypse World hardholds... Here's what I came up with:


Sooo, as you can see, the settlement is getting the literal character treatment. Dunkeldorf has stats, and those stats advance as the PCs perform actions that would make them advance. I am keeping the Adventure Phase pretty loose... It's everything that isn't the Settlement Phase, basically. Speaking of:


Here you can see there are specific actions to take during the Phase. I wanted to give it some structure and mechanical weight, but not go overboard. I took a large leaf out of Torchbearer's book for this one! Now, the meddling of outside forces:


Cool cool, so we have some Stars Without Numbers / Blades in the Dark style factions going on. I'm actually going to run them like Apocalypse World Threats, but we'll get to that in a later article about GM tools. Now, the finishing touches:


This is basically my edge-cases, and ways for me to introduce the teachings of the Fate Core fractal: everything can be added as an Extra, if needs be.

Both this, and the Settlement Sheet I created to hold this stuff, is free to use and hack, provided below!



I hope this goes a bit further to explaining what On the Edge of Exile will be like! Next time round, I'll discuss the Travel Mechanics I've been brewing up...

Friday, 18 August 2017

On the Edge of Exile: The Setting

It's time to talk about the setting of my newest Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition campaign: On the Edge of Exile.

Now, it's already been established that the game is taking place in the Border Princes (the companion splat book being Renegade Crowns), but a) what does that mean, b) it's a big place, so where exactly, and c) why is it being set there? 

I'm going to leave the first point to other articles, because it'd be regurgitating a lot of the same. These two (1, 2) do a good job of explaining the majority of it, but here are some key points to remember:
  1. It's not a nation, but a frontier.
  2. The rulers hold little to know legitimacy, and are little more than thugs controlling small stretches of land through force.
  3. The land is mostly barren, arid, and brutal. Badlands, crags, scrub land, marshes, and thorns.
  4. Think Wild West meets the Balkans.
Let's dive in, shall we?

Where Exactly?

Let's have a look at the map:
See? It's big. We've got a lot to work with, here. Lots of terrain types, lots of points of interest, and lots of cool words to spark play.

For those who aren't Warhammer nuts, here's the wider map of the Old World, so you can get an idea for context:
And a quick guide (remember that all this is fake-Renaissance!):
  • The Empire (the place with Nordland, Middenland, Reikland, etc.) is based on Germany,
  • Kislev is based on Russia,
  • Bretonnia (the place with Bastonne, Quenelles, Carcassonne, etc.) is based on France/Arthurian England,
  • Estalia (the place with Obregon, Magritta, Cantonia, etc.) is based on Spain,
  • and Tilea (the place with Niragliano, Trantio, Remas, etc.) is based on Italy.
Cool, so we're south of the Empire and Bretonnia, and east of Tilea. To the south of the Border Princes is the Badlands, a horrible place infested with Greenskins, and to the south of that we have Nehekhara (fake Egypt) which is filled with undead, and to the west of THAT human lands begin again with Araby (*sigh*, I probably don't have to tell you what that is based on - sadly, much of the Warhammer lore is pretty racist, though I try my best to remove those parts and give them justice).

Ok, back to the Border Princes. Let's zoom in on the section I chose:
A valley dominated by the Blood River. Why this valley? Well, let's look at what's surrounding it!
  • Barak Varr is the largest city in the Border Princes, and is controlled by the Dwarves. It is the only port in the region, and super well defended. The Dwarves here jealously guard their stranglehold on the Black Gulf, and don't really care about the rest of the valley so long as ore keeps flowing in from the mountains.
  • The Old Silk Road is the longest road in the world, and goes all the way through the Worlds Edge Mountains, across the Dark Lands, to Cathay (*sigh*). It is a major trade route, where untold riches flow, and where lots of illegal things occur. Bandits, smuggling, extortion, and heretical magics traded.
  • The Iron Rock is a huge Greenskin stronghold held by the Iron Claw Orcs, which are (or were, at least) led by one of the most terrible Greenskin Warbosses of all time, Gorbad Ironclaw. This is a great, impenetrable, super dungeon, which I can use to cool effect.
  • The Black Crag is another Greenskin stronghold that used to be a Dwarf Hold. The Dwarves want it back, and it likely has lots of cool treasure in it sealed away from the Orcs. Even more fodder for adventure! Also, the Red Fang Tribe that controls it apparently hates the Iron Claw Orcs, so there's room for playing enemy factions off each other, and working for the Dwarves to help take back the Hold.
  • The Badlands are on the doorstep. That means we can use the very shittiest parts of the Border Princes terrain - all that useless arid land - as a set piece. This is the Wild West. People here have hard lives, and they can barely scratch a living out of the dust. The very land they travel through will be an enemy of the PCs!
This section of land is also 200km to a side, which, if the land was perfectly flat (which it isn't), and was easy to cross (which it isn't), it would take just under a week to traverse from side to side. That's PLENTY of room to work with!

So, I snipped this area out, and got to work. Here are the results, so far:
Pay no attention to the orange regional markers - that's a mechanical thing which I hope to write about later... The PCs will be controlling the terrible little hamlet of Dunkeldorf, and I added in four major towns controlled by four other Princes: Sumpfstadt, Montagne, Collina, and Seidenstopp.

...but WHY?

Well, that's a big question. There are many reasons.

The first is that, many years ago (over a decade ago, now), I began reading an Actual Play report on RPG.net called The Shadow of the Sun. Now, if you know this campaign, or you choose to go and read it (I encourage that, as it's awesome, but beware that it was never finished), you're going to see a lot of similar themes. Hell, the entire framework of the game has been adapted over to here. I loved that idea, and more than any other I've ever seen for a campaign, it has stuck with me.

Secondly, this is not the first time I have tried to run this campaign. Previously, I ran two sessions, many years ago, of what this campaign started out as before the group fell apart due to external reasons. (Well, actually severely internal reasons - I got cancer and had to go to hospital for nearly a year, but that's another story!) I then attempted to adapt this game to Dark Heresy 1st Edition a few years ago as a campaign called Into the Expanse, but my group weren't really keen on it, and frankly, it wouldn't have worked at the time. Now, it very well could work!

Third, the Border Princes are open. They are Warhammery, but they are undefined. I love defined settings to explore, but I chafe against them to run. I love the openness of Blades in the Dark, the suggestion of a setting. That's what Renegade Crowns gives you, and I find prepping for the Border Princes, and the mini-games it offers, almost as fun as running the damn game.

Fourth, and most of all, the Border Princes are perhaps the best place in the Warhammer world to talk about my favourite and most closely held theme within my games: anti-fascism. The Empire is a fascist state, if ever there was one, and in the Border Princes, you have the chance to work under that system, or go against it. Given the campaign question of On the Edge of Exile, it is a perfect proving ground.

I hope this gave you a bit more insight into why I chose the Border Princes for this campaign! Next up, I think I'll talk house rules and custom mechanics...

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Introducing: On the Edge of Exile

Hey folks, I've been a bit quiet recently, what with releasing my first commercial game and beginning production of two other games (All Shall Fade and Astrorotica, both of which I hope to talk more about soon), but I thought it was time to give a bit of an update.

I've been running two campaigns recently: Curse of Strahd using Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and Ameshirel: A World Reforged using my own playtest Do or Dice. The former is going very well, but the latter has hit a bit of a slump. Things need to change - system reworkings, campaign re-scoping, etc. I'm putting it on indefinite hiatus, and will work on something else whilst those changes percolate in my brain.

That means, in the meantime, I have a free fortnightly slot! Last night, I pitched a few campaign ideas I had to the players of that slot, and between the three ideas, one shone out. In the interest of curiosity, the other two ideas were Short Straws using Firefly RPG (Cortex Plus), and Stockholm Syndrome using Part-Time Gods of Fate.

The idea that won out? Let me introduce to you On the Edge of Exile, a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition campaign. (Yes, that's right, I'm returning to my favourite system/setting!)

I'm hopeful to post many article about this game, in the coming months, featuring the character creation notes, my changes to the mechanics to handle various things the original Core didn't do great, my mix of GM tools I'll be using, campaign notes, and so on. For now, I'll leave you with the blurb of the campaign, and the overarching campaign question I'm using to steer this ship:

Blurb

On a far frontier, at the start of Spring – Nachexen 17th, 2524 IE – a settlement comes into view. It is a dreary place – tiny, diminished, and left to ruin. Little more than an outpost, Dunkeldorf is nonetheless suddenly very important. The reason? A porous stone found only at the bottom of the village's old well. Known as Morr's Blood, when ground and mixed with mordant, it produces a black dye that never fades. For Reikland, capitol province of the Empire – whose colours are black and white – and for a growing noble class that favours fashionable blacks, this is of the highest priority...

But not so high that they'd travel all the way out here, into the Border Principalities, to collect it themselves. No: this is a backwater.

This is a frontier haunted by every danger and horror imaginable. This is no place for folks of a finer lot. No: this is a place for folks like you.

You were something back in the Empire. You were a star pupil, a promising young cadet, a prodigy of the Colleges of Magic, a well-bred noble ready for courtly life... And then something happened – or rather, someone happened to you. You pissed someone off. Was it something you did, something you said, some consequence of your birth, or just wrong-place-wrong-time? It doesn't matter, now. You've been exiled – you've been given this highly important but inglorious position.

But at least it's yours. Your fates are now intrinsically tied. It's just a shame you can't trust anyone in Dunkeldorf – at least, not yet. With everything out here arrayed against you – the depredations of wicked cults, the foul Greenskins, and the greedy eyes of other Princes and worse – you have your work cut out for you.


Campaign Question

What will it take for our heroes to betray the Empire?
My prediction? Very very little.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Dirty Aces is on DriveThruRPG!

Today, as of 00:38 AEST, I became a published roleplaying game designer. Imma-need-a-minute, folks!

Dirty Aces is finally live on DriveThruRPG!

Check out Dirty Aces now!

(Mobile Link)



Dirty Aces is a tabletop roleplaying game about a group of wanderers, vagabonds, ne'er-do-wells, and unlikely heroes who are bound together by fate/Karma/ka - whatever you call it. They only have each other to trust, with the whims of the world set against them.

Who are these wanderers? Where are they passing through? What is biting at their heels? Dirty Aces is built for any situation that fits into the above - from Joss Whedon's Firefly, to Stephen King's The Dark Tower, or anything in between.

Inside you'll find:
  • A diceless engine utilising regular playing cards to resolve conflicts,
  • A simple character creation system so you can make your party and play all in a single session,
  • Fiction-first, success-with-consequences mechanics, so there's never a question about what comes next,
  • Tables for campaign creation seeds for you to create your own unique setting in the style of its many Touchstones.
Game Information:
Number of Players: 5 (4 + 1 Dealer)
Length: 2-6 hours
Pages: 19

Lastly, I'd just like to take this time to thank everyone involved in the production, playtesting, and support of Dirty Aces thus far. You're all amazing, and this work wouldn't have been possible without you. Love you, folks!