Return to the Furnace

Just finished a very raw, very rough draft of The Furnace, one of the scenarios that is going to be the scenario book The Tournaments of Madness and Death, for my mate and esteemed Crypt Keeper Julian Hayley who will be running it on Sunday afternoon at UK Games Expo.

Its been a hard process, taking a scenario I ran as my return to D&D a good seven years ago. Pulling out of my brain, looking at the scraps of notes and scans of maps (which I dumped entirely as too fiddly), and trying to make something that to be honest ran much better in reality due to some cracking players (Tony Murray-Clay and the Leicester Lads) than the mess that was on the paper.

I’ve no doubt Jules will makes it his own and rock it hard, and I’ve learnt a lot from writing it up, with lots of ideas about what makes a Crypts and Things scenario tick and different from all the other dungeon crawl games out there. Ideas that will make it into The Tournaments of Madness and Death which is meant to have an article about writing/running C&T adventures for one shot conventions.

Glad to get it done, but man does it need a very hard edit before I let it loose on you uncivilized savages 🙂

If you too are feeling nostligic here’s the series of posts I wrote about the Furnace when I ran it at Furnace Convention (hence the name) in 2010.

Of Dragons Old & Original

Tim Kask writes on his blog of his involvement in the early days of Original D&D (Three Book) and how that transitioned to AD&D.  The following really struck home with me:

We all as DM’s created our own worlds in which things worked in certain ways. Don’t like psionics? Fine, they don’t exist in your world. Think that vampires as presented are too tough or not tough enough? OK, make them fit your world. Think something ought to work a certain way, or not work a certain way? No problem, they worked the way you felt “right” in your world.

I love this, I was an B/X & AD&D 1st kid brought up on early White Dwarf whose articles were originally written for OD&D (with the rather embarrassed note about how they had been updated for the new AD&D books), so it always struck me the early D&D stuff was a riot of fun, calmed down by the ‘you must do it this way’ attitude of AD&D. This article confirms that.

Read the full article here.

Old School Call of Cthulhu

The comes a time in any Old School Renaissance blogger’s career when one fondly looks at Call of Cthulhu. Especially relevant to me as a UK OSR blogger since back in the 80s it was one of the Big Four – D&D, Traveller, RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu. Those were the games that got regular coverage in White Dwarf, and I remember reading fantastic scenarios like the Watchers of Wablerswick.

I first picked up CoC courtesy of Games Workshop, who did a very nice hardcover which like their version of Stormbringer collated both the contents of the 2nd Edition Box Set and the Keeper’s Companion. This meant that it was absolutely chock block full of content. The rules themselves only took up 100 pages, the rest was all scenarios (about five including my favourite The Secret of Castanegro) and supplementary material (such as the section about tying the Lovecraftian Mythos to Mesoamerican deities).

I jumped right in playing it and that perhaps was my downfall. Inspired by author Sandy Petersen Keeper’s advice I created a series of scenarios which could at best be described as Old One in A Cave. This style of play has the characters turn up in a remote town/village/abandoned house, find out something is a bit wrong very quickly from the creepy atmosphere, then ask questions of the locals (Fast talk roll), consult the local Libary (Libary Use roll) before heading off to confront the monster with or without the required banishing spell. My players at the time being 15 and used to solving problems with violence would either die or run away 🙂 It was a fun and atmospheric play style which unfortunately didn’t go the distance. In all fairness we discovered RuneQuest next, which suited this style of play down to the ground.

Looking forward not back

The announcement of the  RuneQuest 6 Bundle of Holding really got me excited about running a RQ6 campaign. In fact everytime RQ6 gets a big burst of publicity I’m there notebook in hand scribbling away and dreaming up my ultimate RQ project. As an RQ fan boy I’d love to have an RQ Gateway project out there.  Ultimately I’d have to clone myself with the number of projects I’ve already got on the go. As a publisher if I do anything in the D100 arena I have to push OpenQuest and its spin off games.

Also there’s a dull thud of realisation that I would simply be retreading old ground. Because as much as RQ6 is a new iteration of the game, its RuneQuest. All the familiar structures are there, Cults, tactical combat, the four types of magic (even mysticism reminds me of the KI powers from Sandy Petersen’s RQ3 era Land of Ninja).   That to get the most out of it me and my players would have to commit to along weekly campaign, which due to my personal circumstances just isn’t going to happen. I get the same feeling from mainstream D&D, 5th Ed and vanilla Retro-clones (like Labyrinth Lord). Its a sinking feeling that it will be a long learning curve, working out that certain rules don’t work for us as a group, and involving heavy prep for me personally. These days I’m happier with rules light iterations of these games, which take me and my group in new directions at a much faster pace.

So sorry RQ6 you are going back on the shelf next to your old and glorious forebears. Nothing personal (you are a damn sexy game) just a bit too heavy and involved for my tastes these days.

Sandboxes

Double posted from the oringal thread over at the Tavern.

I used to be all over this style of play in my teen years. Mainly when I was playing Basic/Expert D&D and AD&D 1st ed. Heck I even wrote a three levels of megadungeon, which is imho the ultimate sandbox. Happy hours playing through Isle of Dread. Here’s a piece of hexpaper and off you go.

Problem was that I always felt the players missed all the good stuff. I started getting peevish about it. Ok so you are going to miss the Ancient Red Dragon in the Volcano which I’ve put in plan sight, I’ll put five in your way on my latest hex crawl :P Playing Griffin Island during the generic pre-Glorantha Games Workshop RuneQuest years was probably my last hurrah for Old School Sandbox play.

So eventually I tired of that and suddenly its the late 80s and we’ve gone all Railroady story telling. Rapidly got disillusioned with that and struggled through a Narrative wilderness (HeroQuest etc) in the early 2000s. Now blissfully back running more open ended adventures, with lots of potiential plot hooks and big cast list of interesting npcs. Are they Sandboxes? Not in the classic Old School sense (Hexcrawls/Megadungeons) and in comparison they are smaller and more tightly controlled in the sense I don’t put boring stuff in. Its all made of win because these days with my limited gaming time its time to GO LARGE OR GO HOME every session ;)

My current game FAE Cowboys & Dinosaurs is a Sandbox, that takes in the whole Hollow Earth, but the players are unaware of it. They are just hitting the trail and having fun times :)  Also I’ve got unfinished business with the Spires, the setting of which I revealled but a small corner of it the Blood of the Dragon for Crypts & Things (watch this space).

Lonewolf kickstarter

So John Dever and Cubicle 7 have teamed up to bring a new version of the Lonewolf RPG to market and they have a Kickstarter to bring it into being.  The initial goal, long pasted, was to create a box set suitable for beginning players, with subsquent supplements (already in the pipeline and available in the reward levels or as add ons) building on that for the more mature gamers.

The Lone Wolf game books were a big part of my gaming teens in the 80s, and while more story orientated than Fighting Fantasy they had a unique feel and tone to them which really set them apart.

An here’s one of the jaw dropping gorgeous maps that Cubicle 7 commissioned for the game.

RuneQuest and me

So last post was me & D&D, so where do I stand as far as the game that I probably reverer more in the Old School stakes?

RuneQuest 2 is where the story starts for me. In Pavis in Glorantha sometime in the mid 80s. A one on one session with my friend I rolled up a simple character who could just about wield a sword and was a couple of thousand of lunars in debt to the Fighting Guild as a result. His name lost to me know, but I remember he had aspirations to be an initiate of Humkat (the Gloranthan Warrior god of Death and Gloom). So off on a trip to Troll Town, a Troll strong hold established by the Hero Arkat in the Dawn Age. With me so far… don’t worry it was all new to me and a good three quarters of the game was my GM friend explaining the background to Glorantha and all its associated workings (Cults, HeroQuesting, Myths as a way of changing reality). Solid foundations which I’ve built on still, but still a huge learning curve that fortunately I fascinated with.

RuneQuest 3 is where it all took off. The Games Workshop Hard covers (RuneQuest, Advanced RuneQuest and RuneQuest Monsters) at pocket money prices made the game accessible to all in the UK, and when they chucked them in the bargain bin during the Great Betrayal (when they dumped all their RPG support around White Dwarf 100 at the end of the 80s) everybody and his brother had a copy. This time I was in a proper group of about five playing in a generic setting, possibly Griffin Island, fighting off zombies with a young twenty something Civilised Peasant Farmer whose claim to fame was he was OK with a Pike (about 40% from memory). Next session I wanted more so with the GMs OK I rolled up a Sorcerer called Tel-Kar-Nath who new the sum total of one spell, Venom (“I shall turn your blood to poison!”).  Next session I had grabbed the reins of GMing and huge files of notes were produced.

Stormbringer 1st Edition (a slight detour). Also in the same bargain bin as a result of the Great Betrayal. I’ve gone about this game before, but this was a revelation in terms of scope of what the game could do and how you could modify the D100 engine to produce a very different style of game. A very lethal style of game 😉

Then at University having access to a student grant and making a solid investment in the future I got all the Glorantha Boxsets  from the newly opened Travelling Man (up in Headingley Leeds for those who could remember it). Que the 10 years long campaign set there that one day I WILL PUBLISH the setting for. During this time we kept on striping out the crunch until the system resembled what OpenQuest is today. These were my glory years running RQ set in Glorantha – both at home and at at cons. RQ 3 for me was story gaming done right, a post for another day.

The wilderness years came for me in the late 90s when we gradually drifted away from our regular RQ3 Glorantha game due to entering the wacky world of employment. Then there was the case of mistaken identity that was HeroWars (effectively 1st edition HeroQuest), a wonderfully epic narrative game which is nothing like RQ.

Mongoose RuneQuest – The return!  Well sort of. Bad editing and shonky rules take the sheen off what should have been a fine version of the great and glorious game. But the release of a SRD did lead to the following …

OpenQuest is my RuneQuest (with a bit of Stormbringer thrown , which is why its got so many demons). Originally designed to be a small fantasy interpretation of my favourite bits of BRP/RQ with my own common sense house rulings. Its kinda grown into OpenQuest Deluxe (a open tribute to the collected RQ3 Deluxe of the 1990s produced under Ken Rolston’s time as RuneCzar during the so called RQ Renaissance) and then be paired back to the slim and slender version of OpenQuest Basics. Its been a great journey which started at lunch in my office in 2007 and continues to this day.

MRQ2 Lawrence Whitaker’s and Pete Nash’s go at refreshing MRQ, and a damn fine one too.  I never got to play this one because my group at the time would have none of it, and Greg Stafford pulled the license from Mongoose a year or so into the license.

RuneQuest 6  Loz and Pete now working together as the Design Mechanism revised and expanded version of MRQ2 which is the ultimate big book RuneQuest dwarfing all its prediscesors. A fine version of the game and a worthy inherittor of the name RUNEQUEST 🙂

Too much D&D

So the free version of D&D 5th Edition is out, and I fell strangely underwhelmed. Reason why? Well its probably because in the last four years or so I’ve picked up a small bookshelf worth of D&D Variants.

First D&D in its OSR forms was explored in great detail. Then after that was exhausted I moved onto modern forms; Pathfinder, Dungeon World (a story telling game not 100% mechanically related but definitely in spirit) and recently 13th Age was purchased.  Pedants beware this not an exhaustive list of D&D variants, just one coloured by my personal experience.

The Originals

D&D Cyclopedia: I started off with red box Molday and quickly moved onto blue box expert so this has it all in one book (sans the illustrations, examples and solo tutorial) + the bits from Companion/Masters that I never got round to buying (because I’d moved to AD&D land by then). This is the book I wish Wizards of the Coast had republished even as a limited run, because my copy threatens to disintegrate every time I lovingly touch it.

AD&D 1st Ed: If D&D was my early teens AD&D was my mid-late teens and was still being occasionally played into my early 20s. So lots of memories here, and even though I probably use OSRIC (see below) at the game table, the core three books of AD&D have a lot of nostalgic power.

Straight Retro-clones

OSRIC (=AD&D) I love this big hardcover book. Its the AD&D 2nd ed I wanted back in the day, a simple reorganisation of the rules into one coherent whole. The combat chapter makes sense! Its strangely humble, saying its merely a rules index so modern publishers can put out AD&D compatible adventures under the Open Gaming License (which it is published under in its entirety), but I’d use it any day of the week as my AD&D at the gaming table.

Labyrinth Lord (=B/X).  A very clever clone of Basic/Expert in one slim volume. Made me realise that I’m not interested in that style of play however.  Also available is the Adv. Labyrinth Lord supplement which works on the premise that back in the day we learnt with basic/expert and then simply added the bits (Classes, Monsters, Magic items etc.) we liked from AD&D. Which is certainly how I did it.

Swords and Wizardry (=OD&D).  The premise from this one is that its based of the Original white box D&D  from the 70s with its supplements added, cleaned up and made comprehensible, I love this stripped down back to basics approach presented here. Finally a version of D&D that I can keep in my head! The S&W complete crams in a complete comprehensive version of D&D that is comparable to later big three book versions of D&D in one slim volume.

Basic Fantasy (=B/X with bits of AD&D). Notable for two things. A more straightforward and clear interpretation based on the idea that you use D20 Systems Resource Document (the Open Gaming version of D&D 3rd Ed released by Wizard’s of the Coast) more closely, keeping its clarity of rules but building in the Old School flavour. Secondly if you see OSR rule sets as an almost Linux expression of D&D, Basic Fantasy is a distro that keeps most actively to that idea of it being free and community supported (yes I know S&W does but for me BF does it slightly better).

Retro-clone inspired

These games use one of the above clones as a base and then takes it from there.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess: LotFP is basically a  Horror and Weird take on D&D, using Basic Fantasy as a base. I’ve seen this one grow up from its initial incarnation , with some very dodgy photo shop art, through its Grindhouse box set incarnation, were that art was largely replaced by the cream of OSR Artists old and new and the game was focused to razor sharp proportions, to the current high quality two book format Rules & Magic (available now) and Referee’s book (crowdfunded but still in production).  I think its a classic game that takes the premise of old school D&D and runs out of the park with it, while cunningly never forgetting where it comes from.

Woodland Warriors: Uses the Swords & Wizardry as a base, simplifies it and only uses D6s, and gives it a child friendly setting all in one small slim book. Its genius makes me weep.

Crypts and Things: My own take on OD&D using Swords and Wizardry as a base and putting it in the blender with early White Dwarf D&D, Fighting Fantasy, 80s UK FRP & inspiration from the Howard/Lovecraft/Ashton-Smith/Michael Moorcock. The result a gleefully dark Swords and Sorcery game, where the players get to play Elric, Grey Mouser, Fafhrd and Conan, in a game referred by Clark Ashton Smith 🙂

Modern D&D

Pathfinder: I love Pathfinder, it does big book D&D and is clear and expressive while it does it. For me it comes packed with a big friendly DM I call “Bob” an impressive bear of a man, with a big bush beard and a deep friendly US accent that calmly guides me through the 1000s of pages. The online PRD was revelation when I sat there GMing it for the best part of the year in 2012 (and the reason I’ll be doing an online SRD for OpenQuest soon).  Its just not the D&D that comes anywhere my preferred playing style (rules lite and pacy) and there’s no way that  I’m memorising all the moving parts. But perhaps one day Bob will quietly persuade me to have another go, and it was certainly a variant of D&D that my players, all self proclaimed Kings of D20, highly respected.

Dungeon World: I accidentally blundered into the Dungeon World Kickstarter one bored hot afternoon at work and a year later ended up with a hardback and a T-shirt. Its a version of D&D completely rewritten from base using the Apocalypse World storytelling game engine. I love it. Once I got my head round its terminology and structure its the fast pacey flexible game of D&D that I want to run and it errs on the side of Mega Gaming Fun for the players ( the sub-classes especially get a big up in the fun stakes).

13th Age: To be honest I’ve not read too far into it, but I like what I see so far. Like DW its a more story orientated game, but its not so much a rewrite from the ground up being based on the existing D&D 3rd edition SRD,  simplified with storygaming mechanics/assumptions.

Torchbearer: Make no mistake about it this is a cleaver and very focused book by the same people who bought you Burning Wheel and Mouse Guard. Presentation wise it reminds me fondly of  AD&D 1st. However its fallen down the cracks because for me it asks me to think about Dungeon Crawling far too hard to be taken seriously. When its designer Thor Olavsrud says “This is a hard game” early on in the first chapter I started loosing interest in this book. Baz King of RPG Treehouse fame kept with it and his read through can be read on UKRoleplayers.com.

If I was to have to keep on from each category (which to be honest given the mess my office has descended into may have to be the case) these would be my winners.

  • Original: D&D Cyclopaedia
  • Retro clone: Swords and Wizardry
  • Retro clone inspired: Lamentations of the Flame Princess (I’m taking it as given I get to keep copies of my own games so C&T survives the cull 😉 ).
  • Modern: Dungeon World.