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. 

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.

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.

Under Dark Spires, Character Generation

And so it begins, our run through Under Dark Spires, my mini-campaign for Crypts and Things starting with 1st level characters.

It’s been a while since I’ve played C&T and an eternity since I’ve run an ongoing campaign of it. In between, I’ve been on a steady diet of D100 games (OpenQuest mainly) and new modern D&D variants like 5th Ed and 13th Age. So it was a shock at first going back to C&T’s very old school OD&D base + tweaks from 80s White Dwarf/Fighting fantasy. Any doubts that I would not enjoy this style of play anymore were quickly dispelled. The players are certainly very enthusiastic about playing it 🙂

The Crypt Keeper awaits you in the Room of Zoom!

The Crypt Keeper awaits you in the Room of Zoom!

I explained a bit about the dying world of Zarth, the demonic Others who have come to feed. We discussed that it has elements that require maturity due to themes of violence and oppression and the safety tools we would use if the game moved outside of what people were comfortable with.

The immediate set-up is that the characters are 1st Level and are many treasure hunters who have gone to a region called the Ash Plains. Where the Gods buried an Empire under volcanic debris for their hubris hundreds of years ago, hence in places, you can literally trip over the treasure that was left behind (or so they say).

We did character generation pretty much as written in the rulebook, the exception being that we used 3d6, rerolling 1s and 2s, which leads to more heroic characters. Part of me thinks I should make this the default for Crypts and Things.

The characters are:

  • Bodak Slashingspear (male fighter) played by Tony.
  • Xara (female Theif) played by Al.
  • Torsten Dagsson (Female Disciple) -played by Ginger Matt

We’ve also had another player, Jason, join us since the character generation session, and he’s currently considering a Sorcerer for his character.

I’ll post more about these characters, including starting character sheets, once I’ve got Jason’s character in a future blog post.

Under Dark Spires is currently in development. This run-through is meant as a final playtest of a set of adventures that were previously run individually as convention games. As well as making sure there aren’t any places where there are unavoidable Total Pary Kills, I’m also seeing how experience point allocation and levelling up works when the adventures are run together as a campaign.

We are playing again in just under two weeks when we get stuck into an adventure called Blood of the Dragon.

Look, it’s us rolling up characters!

Lucky Friday 13th!

Who said Friday 13th is unlucky?

Glynn Seal of Monkey Blood Design has just announced another Handy Maps Kickstarter.

Pelgrane Press has just put out a new 13th Age Quickstart rules.

Peter Regan has just started a very quick, nine-day long Kickstarter to fund a 2nd Printing of the Black Hack 2nd edition. If you missed it the first time around, or want the deluxe box sets with lots of extras, like foil-stamped covers, mugs etc, now’s your chance.

This is a fine award-winning British OSR rules set, that I personally highly recommend. I liked it so much that I used it for the base for a self-contained Crypts and Things reimagining.

Why I like Original D&D, even though it wasn’t my first D&D

I like Original D&D (aka OD&D or Zero Edition D&D) with all the supplements, as gathered together in the Swords and Wizardry retroclone. It’s nice and simple, so I can easily hold its rulings in my head and easily expandable. It was also the system that all my favourite adventures from White Dwarf used originally. Adventures like the Lichway and The Halls of Tizun Thane. Although I encountered them in the Best of White Dwarf reprints in the late 80s, when they had been updated to AD&D 1st with a rather embarrassed note from the editor that they had only done it to keep up with the current rules.

My own gaming history is that I got B/EX D&D first, picked up AD&D 1st next. So when I got S&W in the early 2000s that was my first exposure to OD&D the game my inspirations (Ian Livingstone, Steve Jackson, Albie Florie, Graham Davis, Graham Morris etc) were playing and being inspired by.

OD&D inspires and guides, not directs like later editions, which I think is important.

My  haul from the Swords and Wizardry Kickstarter

Revisiting AD&D 1st Edition Players Handbook

Shush I am reading AD&D 1st Edition Player’s Handbook Here is my impressions 

My copy (6th Printing 1980) for a 41-year-old book is in very good condition, as bombproof as I remember it from my teens, and smells kinda funny (sort of musky)

The text is very small and gets even smaller on tables. The book while epic in scope is a nice and tidy 128 pages long. It is sparsely illustrated, mainly filler pieces and a hand full of full pagers. The front page Gnome on the dice is my favourite with the fighter on p23

You can hire Assasins to kill people! There’s a table on p29. This one of the wacky almost stream of consciousness rulings made for character classes and their subclasses (remember them).

Talking of rules, subsystems rule the day. There’s a sort of consistent pattern that emerges from the text, but there’s a lot of noise and we are very very far from the unified rulings of D20 let alone 5th Ed. In fact, the book cuts out with a proper set of rules for combat.

I have an official AD&D Fighting Wheel (that has all the data for weapons) SO FIGHT ME ! 😀