Why I Wrote Beyond Dread Portals

A guest post from Paul Mitchener (Liminal, Age of Arthur, Hunters of Alexandria, Tombs of the Necromancer to name a few author credits) explaining why he wrote our multi-dimensional Fantasy Adventure game, Beyond Dread Portals (now coming to Gamefound.com on 1st June).  Take it away Mitch! 

For me, it’s not usually a selling point when I hear that something was over 20 years in the making. So I’ll just say that Beyond Dread Portals is based on ideas I was playing with, and a fantasy campaign I ran about 20 years ago. The campaign was human-centric, without the usual elves and dwarves, world-hopping, and started the player characters off at high level, letting them rub against powerful enemies and make big changes to the setting.

As is the way of such things, I enjoyed it and then moved on to other things. But periodically I went back to it, sketching more things out in the setting, and started playing more with the mechanical side of things. It still wasn’t something I was aiming to publish, but it was something I was writing for fun.

It was only more recently, though still years ago now, that I started taking Beyond Dread Portals more seriously, thinking of it as something for other people to enjoy. This meant feedback, tightening up the writing, scrapping things which didn’t fit, and overall thinking about the design. Best of all, it meant more play, this time with a view to playtesting. It felt very natural to speak to Newt about this, as someone who likes and has published things of a similar nature and knows about tight game design.

Early feedback from Newt led to something simpler and better at the system end of things, and better presented and explained from the setting point of view. Best of all, he was engaged with it, clearly enjoying the setting and the concepts.

This is drifting away from the question, though… why did I write Beyond Dread Portals as something for publication? The short answer is that I needed to! But more specifically, it started to feel like it offered something a little different. Specifically.

  • Human-centric world-hopping fantasy. World-hopping is nothing new, but being more human-centric is rarer when combined with high magic world-hopping fantasy.
  • Military expansion of an empire and all its ills, while the core of the empire is thoroughly rotten.
  • Exploration of different places and cultures.
  • Political intrigue with competing factions and player characters absolutely changes the setting as a result.

As for the game system, it was a fun chance to design broadly in the OSR space, with all of its creativity, while still doing absolutely my own thing. Beyond Dread Portals began as an AD&D 2e setting but became something fresh and new. The inspiration there – things which effectively gave me permission – included rules sets which changed things to fit a concept, such as Newt’s own Crypts and Things – and systems I think of as post-OSR, which weren’t at all clones of the older D&D books, but changed things, sometimes radically. I won’t give a full ludography here, but some things I wanted from the design were.

  • A broadly familiar feel to the rules, as expected from the base. There are ability scores, classes, and levels – I’ve kept what I wanted for the game, and changed other things.
  • Rules elements that fit the setting along with simplicity. There are three broad classes – warrior, expert, and magician – and setting-appropriate abilities which customise these classes.
  • Less of an emphasis on looting and fighting, but more on exploration and intrigue. The combat rules are solid and streamlined, broadly as expected from the basis, but not everything is about combat. For instance, there are experience rewards for seeing new places, and firm guidance for the use of social abilities.

Taking the DIY ethos of OSR gaming on board, Beyond Dread Portals is my D&D, with my sensibilities. I can’t wait to see it out there, so that it’s no longer mine but ours.

Beyond Dread Portals is coming to crowdfunding via Gamefound.com on 1st June. 

The free artless preview edition is currently available via d101games.com. 

D&D vs OpenQuest

One of the things I’m trying to help with the upcoming OpenQuest Dungeons is the smooth transition of referees and players used to D&D to OpenQuest. This is an excerpt from a larger article OpenQuest for Dungeoneers, that directly addresses that

Here’s the cover by Jon Hodgson

Note the main OpenQuest rulebook is still 10% off in print over at Drivethrurpg.com until May 2nd.

OpenQuest 10% off in print until May 2nd

OpenQuest 3rd Edition is currently 10% off in print via Drivethrurpg.com as part of its Best In Print sale until May 2nd.

also available in print and pdf is the newly released OpenQuest Companion.

These titles and many other OpenQuest releases are also available directly from me via the D101 Web Store.


British Fantasy TV influences

As well as the standard gaming influences (Fighting Fantasy, White Dwarf etc.), there are various British TV series that have shaped my gaming habits over the years.

Mr Benn is a kids animation from the 70s where a mild-mannered banker called Mr Ben visits a magical costume shop and is given a costume by the Shop Keeper, who sends him through into the changing room from where he has an adventure. If that isn’t the very definition of Roleplaying, I don’t know what is 🙂

Chorlton and the Wheelies. Not going even to try to explain it. Here’s the music intro/outro, which does a bloody good job. Vibrant, imaginative and somewhat unsettling.

Finally, on the animation side of things is Trapdoor, a claymation epic of a master and overworked servant from the late 80s.

In modern times, we have Yonderland. It’s sort of a kid’s TV program, but in the good old tradition of British TV, it has lots of knowing references and depth for adults. By the same team who brought us Horrible Histories.

This is Jinsy, one of Sky’s first commissioned comedies, although the pilot was shown on BBC. Made by a duo, playing multiple parts, and based on a weird and wonderful fantasy version of Jersey. Each episode is a whos who of British Comedy actors in supporting roles.

Alas, they only did two series, which only seem to be available on DVD these days. But the creative duo behind it have continued making music, which was an integral part of the show, as the Jinsy Boys.

From back in the old days (the late 80s) comes ITV’s Knightmare. Basically D&D on TV if you wore a bucket on your head and relied on your mates to guide you.

And if I’m going to mention Knightmare, it would be amiss not to flag up the Adventure Game, and of course, the Crystal Maze.

Finally, good old Monty Python was an influence on many a British gaming table in the 80s, courtesy of the films and a well-timed repeat on BBC 2.  I know some groups who had a swear jar to avoid references to the show swamping actual gameplay. This scene, for some reason, comes to mind whenever I player RuneQuest 😀


The British Old School Review

#BOSR, you might have seen the hashtag on Twitter and wondered what the heck is it?

Must it be based on British Old School Roleplaying Games from the 70s and 80s?

I am beginning a personal research project where I revisit the games of my teenage years and a few that got away. I want to find out why I keep coming back to these games. Is it nostalgia, superior design, or simply because of cultural influences, these games have instant appeal and resonance with me?

I intend to revisit the following over the coming months.

Fighting Fantasy the Roleplaying Game, spawned off FF gamebooks.

UK TSR D&D Modules (All that Glitters, the Gauntlet, The Sentinel, etc.). There used to be a branch of TSR in the UK that put out a fine series of D&D Modules

Fiend Folio. This monster manual for AD&D 1st edition features a large selection of monsters by UK authors originally featured in White Dwarf’s Fiend Factory department.

White Dwarf magazine (up to issue 100) Games Workshop’s house organ and its fearsome legacy.

Imagine magazine. The house magazine for TSR UK had surprising gems amongst the adverts for games you’d already got.

Dragon Warriors. This RPG is a weird little game in a small paperback format built up through six books. I gazed for many hours in WH Smith, wondering whether I should take a chance on it or buy the latest Fighting Fantasy gamebook instead. By the time I decided I would, it had disappeared from the shelves. The one that got away now in my grubby mitts via eBay.

Maelstrom. Historical Fantasy roleplaying in the Tudor Age, again in gamebook format. Currently published by Arion Games.

Judge Dredd the RPG. Did you 2000AD’s famous lawman got his own RPG in the 80s courtesy of the same folks who brought you Warhammer? Despite being flawed rules-wise, it was a game that was a big draw at my table, due to a shared love of the comics.

What is Dungeons and Dragons? An 80s D&D and Dummies, with a much grimmer trade dress.

The Games Workshop editions of RuneQuest, Traveller and Call of Cthulhu. Along with D&D, these were the big four RPGs if you were growing up in the 80s. Game’s Workshop’s version of Stormbringer gets an honourable mention, and I’ve already covered my love for it previously.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition. In both size and appeal, it is a behemoth of a game that, for me, was the high point and the end of the British Old School.

Dragon Warriors Books 1 to 4

The original Dragon Warriors Books 1 to 4 from the 80s via the time machine that is eBay

Five Star Review of Crypts and Things Remastered over at Drivethrurpg.com

Although Crypts and Things has been out a good five years now, once in a while it gets a 4-5 star view over at DriveThruRpg.com. As quoted below, this one was especially useful since Patrick Y, the reviewer, had just finished a campaign.

I just concluded a six-month campaign, taking a party up through level five. Everyone had a blast and would have been happy to continue. My experiences track with the previous reviews. Crypts & Things is an excellent OSR game that captures everything I like about the Sword & Sorcery genre, without including tropes that more properly belong to high fantasy settings.

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

This essay is included with The Sorcerer Under the Mountain, a decidedly old school dungeoneering adventure for 5th Edition adventure. It details my own journey from died in the wool OSR DM, to confident 5th Edition DM.

I started playing in the mid-80s, with using the D&D Basic (Red Box) and Expert (blue box) sets, which were commonly available from UK toy shops at the time. After about two years I graduated to AD&D 1st ed which I bought from a friend’s brother. In the early 90s, I bought 2nd Ed but it never really gelled because it felt like too much of a rewrite which made the game bland in tone and execution, and I wasn’t keen on the endless player options books. I bought 3.5 multiple times, wanted to like it but too much like the Collectable Card Game of RPGs because of the way Feats worked for players. As I was raised on the much simpler B/X, it was all too much. So, I embraced the OSR in the early part of the last decade, because it’s what I know and even where it progresses it’s in a logical way that D&D would have gone if they had only done cleaned up versions.

I found 5th ed initially confusing. My initial assessment was that it was very much a museum piece to satisfy all fans of all editions.

But would it please me?

To find out, here’s the full essay.

Five Flavours of Fantasy D100 gaming

This is my personal take.

Even though I’m the author of OpenQuest, which being one of D101’s main gaming lines takes up a lot of my energy (writing, developing and promoting), I like to play different styles of D100 Fantasy gaming

RuneQuest is the grand-old standard of D100 gaming. It’s where D100 has its start.  RuneQuest 2 (now sold as RuneQuest Classic) is my white box.  The new version RuneQuest Glorantha is an updated version of RQ2, with new rules, Such as characters now have their own Runic associations, which provide the basis of their magic, and Passions that reflect their relationships with their communities and their enemies. It’s a perfect match for Glorantha, not only for nostalgia reasons but because it’s been designed for it. But it does come at the cost that some of its systems are a bit clunky and a bit old school that sometimes you question whether or not you should just house rule the damn thing. Strike Ranks come to mind directly. But as a long time Gloranthan fan since the 80s, it is lovely to have an edition of the game which is easy to share with the players, both in terms of presentation, playability and clarity of setting.

Mythras on the other hand is the slick generic system I would have died for during my early RQ 3 period, when I was making up my own settings, in the late 80s. Now it’s here, it’s no surprise that with a complete all in one rulebook – sans setting and adventure – its spawned a series of setting books, some of which move outside the genre of Mythic Fantasy, and with the release of Lyonesse last year, its own standalone games. I need to get more hours in running Mythrasm get my own Isle of Death adventure/setting book out there and a series of blog posts about the various supplements that are available for the game is in order.

OpenQuest is my take on Fantasy D100 gaming, pairing down the subsystems to an almost minimalist “one roll then meaningful effect”. I was a big fan of the all in one rulebooks that Games Workshop released Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer as in the 80s – effectively they were the main rules + the companion set, that were boxsets in those days collated into one book, with new art and colour plates.  Stormbringer is my Swords and Sorcery gold standard and in many ways my favourite BRP game, but not one I’d play on a regular basis because I think it’s not balanced in any way shape or form 😀  So OQ is a tribute to that format, in so far that the printed version had a section of colour plates. Its also allowed me to explore and give structure to the rather rambling campaign structure of other D100 games, something as a fan of Basic/Expert/Companion/Immortal D&D which had a very clear view of where the characters were heading has annoyed me previously.  Since OpenQuest is close to my heart, I ramble on about it on its own blog on openquestrpg.com.

Skypirates of the Floating Realms, IS the minimalist D100 game that I’ve designed from bottom-up, keeping only the rules that are completely necessary for this rather light-hearted (think post-Monty Python films, Jabberwocky, Time Bandits etc) fantasy game. It’s always a nagging thought in my mind when I play other D100 systems, that my GMing brain is overburdened by subsystems and magic effects that I simply do not need. If you are familiar with the Black Hack (which is d20 fantasy-based), this is my attempt to downsize d100 into a short 6 x 9 format book. I’ve been playtesting it since spring of 2021 and our party of Argyll the Dwarf and Boris the Bear, Priest of and I’m aiming to get the game out to crowdfunding later this year.

The fifth flavour which I often forget – because I’ve not played it since the late 80s – yet has an immense effect on me are Gamesworkshop’s Warhammer RPGs of the 80s. This is basically Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st, which is the ultimate doorstop of complete RPG, and their Judge Dredd RPG, which is very much Warhammer lite. Broadly speaking both games have percentile skills as characteristics and talents which add bonuses to skill rolls, or allow you to do new things with a skill. Warhammer Fantasy complicates matters with a career system, which sees sewer-rat zeros progress to high-level heroes. Although I never got to the high-level characters, I suspect they play more like AD&D 1st characters, where low-level characters are charmingly scummy and more akin to Call of Cthulhu characters. One of the writers of the Enemy Within Campaign said as much, saying that his direction on the early parts of the campaign was effectively along the lines of go write D&D adventures mixed with Call of Cthulhu.  As much as I liked the Old World setting, it vibed off familiar British Grimdark sensibilities and played a good chunk of the highly impressive Enemy Within Campaign. Like Warhammer FRP, GW Judge Dredd comes with an immersive world which the rules support fully, the crazy post-apocalyptic near-future sci-fi of 2000 AD comic’s most popular character. It has a much simpler character structure, effectively it has four career types (Street, Tech, Med, Psi Judges) which you stay within for the entire course of your game, but where it jumps into the deep end is a complex Action Point system for Combat. It looks good on paper but fails apart as a solution to everything in play. I had a recent re-read of GW Judge Dredd, and actually remembered that it was my first d100 game, before even Call of Cthulu and RuneQuest!


More Tales from the Sorcerer Under the Mountain

Before the Covid times, I ran a Kickstarter for the Game/Adventure of this Blog Tales from the Sorcerer Under the Mountain – available as an OSR rulebook with adventure and 5th Edition module.

As well as the headline adventure/rulebook the Kickstarter funded three adventure modules. The Curse of the Emerald Swan by Neil Shaw, Fires From Below by Paul “Age of Arthur/Liminal” Mitchener and Ruinous Jungles by Guy “Burn After Reading” Milner.   The ball was dropped ever so slightly during the first lockdown, but it’s been picked up very quickly over the last month. My plan is to have one or more out before Christmas, with the others following very quickly in the new year.

Here’s the cover of Guy’s Ruinous Jungles by Jon Hodgeson and Scott Purdy.