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. 

Beyond Dread Portals Art Preview

Its been a while since I’ve posted anything about Paul Mitchener’s Beyond Dread Portals.

We are currently gearing up for a Kickstarter, tentatively scheduled for April.

As part of the preview art for that Kickstarter, and the Preview Edition that backers of the From the Shroud KS are getting,  I asked Peter Frain of 77 Studios (who did the art for Monkey, the cover for Hunters of Alexandria, and the art for 2nd Edition Barbarians of Lemuria) to do a picture of one of the iconic fashions of the Empire of Ys, the Dandy. Apart from my quick “think Lord Flasheart from Blackadder II” I gave him Paul’s text:

Dandies & High Culture Fashion
When outsiders consider Ysian fashions, the first thing which comes to mind is the Ysian Dandy, with his, or more recently her, brightly coloured trousers, shirt, and complimentary hat. Precisely which colours are “in” varies from season to season, and the truly fashion-conscious manage to subvert it. Others try and fail to go against the trends. One recent subversion is moving away from bright colours to dress entirely in black, which was deliciously shocking at first in fashion circles, but as it spreads is starting to be considered crass. In fact, the style of the dandy only belongs to the High Culture. More typically, both genders wear shirts and trousers. The shirts are still brightly coloured, though more typically just one colour rather than the gaudy combinations of the fashion-conscious. Rich women have another option to them on formal occasions, namely the ball gown, which can be a work of art- though even there, the dandyish fashions are replacing it. Jewellery, when worn, is usually simple, taking the form of brooches for both genders, and earrings for women.

And this is what he came up with (click on images for larger version)

From the Shroud #2 Kickstarter now funding Beyond Dread Portals Preview Edition

The From the Shroud #2 Kickstarter is nearly over, with less than 48 hours to go. Four stretch goals funded which include two additional a5 books (Crypts & Things Black Hacked and The Lost Lands of Grungamesh) and now we are funding a preview version of Paul Mitchener’s Beyond Dread Portals; an A5 version with adventure playable up to 5th Level. This is your chance for as low as £3 (the pdf level) to get a playable sneak peek of this game of fantastic multidimensional exploration.

Beyond Dread Portals at Furnace 2018

If you are following the progress of Beyond Dread Portals, the upcoming game of post-D&D Multi-dimensional Fantasy Adventuring by Paul Mitchener, Mitch is running the following game at Furnace in October.

The Wizard’s Staff

By Paul Mitchener

Ys. A folded dimension filled with a vast city ruled by the undead Autarch and his vampiric agents. A city where the guilds and noble houses which once governed the city are fierce rivals, the Autarch stirring up the strife so his own rule goes unchallenged. Ys has portals to several different worlds, and is the capital of an empire with territories on each.

Nespo. A dead world, full of undead monsters where Ysian army and Guild of the Arcane has a tenuous presence. Explorations in the wrong places awoke the Autarch sixty years ago, and Ys has been his ever since.

You. You’re a group from the Guild of Explorers with a treasure map, seeking a magical staff which once belonged to a wizard who came remarkably close to defeating the Autarch. A staff which still, it is said, contains much of his power. You’re being paid very well to retrieve the staff, but when the time comes, if you succeed, if the rumours are true, will you give it up?

Beyond Dread Portals cover by Jon Hodgson

Beyond Dread Portals part 2 – Beyond d20 System

Beyond Dread Portals cover by Jon Hodgson

Yesterday I looked at the Empire of Ys which is the setting for Beyond Dread Portals.

Today I jump right in and look at the system that powers the game.

Beyond D20, The System
A D20 fantasy system, significantly more straightforward than D20 D&D.

The basic rule: Roll d20 add modifiers over a target number.

Modifiers can come from

  • Ability modifiers
  • Backgrounds
  • Skill Rank (for Skill Tests)
  • Attack bonus (for combat)

So for example

Organo the Sly, a 5th Level Expert, doing a flying tumble over a large number of Mage-Guards of the Arcane Guild, rolls d20 with +5 for her Skill Rank, +8 for her background of being a member of a travelling circus and +3 for her Dexterity Modifier, for a whopping + 16 in total.

If Hargvard the Brute, a 5th level Warrior, is trying to do the same thing he doesn’t have any backgrounds that help acrobatics, so he would only get a + 1 from his Dex modifier. As a result, his player is far more likely to barge through the group of warriors, which allows Hargvard to bring in his background as a street thug and skills as a warrior into play for a much higher modifier. 

The target number is assigned by the Referee and starts at 10, +5 for each complication involved in the test.  Rolls can be opposed, so the target number can be a d20 roll generated by the opposition. So, in the above example, the Referee could roll a skill test for the Guards collectively and use the result as the target number.

Finally, if you can bring into play one of your character’s drives, which are written on the character sheet as short descriptions of what motivates the character, you get to roll twice picking the more favourable roll. However, if you fail, despite rolling twice, you land your character at great risk.

So in the above example, Organo’s player invokes her drive of “To live life to the full” and the Referee warns them that if Organo fails she will end up tumbling gracefully right into the middle of the crowd of Mage-Guards ready to pound her with their poleaxes.

Your character also has special class-based abilities. Such as fighting styles for warriors, spell casting and magic for magicians, various tricks of the trade for Experts. Some of these are expected D&D abilities, and some are from the setting.

Spell casting uses a familiar spell list, but casters have Magic Points, so it’s not the usual fire and forget system. All the spells from regular D&D that break a magic point system, such as Sleep and Charm Person, have either been removed or rewritten to fit in.

Beyond Dread Portals part 1 -The Empire of Ys

Beyond Dread Portals cover by Jon Hodgson

This is the first of a two-part “Beyond Dread Portals in a Nutshell”, looking at the setting.  Part 2 (coming tomorrow) looks at the system.

If you’ve not come across mention of Beyond Dread Portals before, its a completely self-contained game by Paul Mitchener, a burgeoning powerhouse of British RPG writing (partial credits Hunters of Alexandria, Age of Arthur, Starfall, Mythic Britain: Logres). Currently standing at 250+ pages sans art-work this is Dr Mitch’s post-D&D take on multidimensional fantasy adventure gaming.

Hoping to Kickstart this one, once I’ve cleared the decks of some outstanding work, probably either by the end of this year or at the start of next year. I’ve got a full draft of the game, which initially started off as Paul’s homage to Planescape, but mutated into its own thing. It’s a large fantasy setting, where a magical city-state of Ys sits at the centre of an empire of other worlds connected by magic portals (hence the title). Its also a ruleset – which I’m tagging as post-D&D. It takes D&D as its starting point and then cuts and adds to it to make the ruleset match the setting. The nearest analogy is I can make if that second wave of AD&D 1st edition settings (Planescape, Dark Sun, Ravenloft etc.) had been self-contained games with modified D&D based rulesets. Bear in mind Paul also takes into consideration 30 years of games design on top of that, although he does so in a way that isn’t jarring to the starting point.

So here’s a quick look at the setting: The Empire of Ys

What is the Empire of Ys?

Ys is a city on a ringworld. Although it has well-defined districts, these magically shift and change from time to time. It used to be human ruled Empire which aggressively conquered and colonised other worlds, using magical portals (the Dread Portals of the game’s title). Recently, Ys was invaded by the undead mega-fiend the Autarch, who now sits uncaring in the imperial palace, occasionally enforcing its will through the Guilds and the Noble Families, but otherwise allowing the empire to function as it did before without much interference.

The other worlds are:

  • A fallen colony world, whose portal is officially closed. A dark world of endless caverns, rich in minerals and metals (which initially drew the Ysians) but inhabited by monsters (which is why they left).
  • A well-established colony, the source of much of Ys’s food, controlled by playing off rival Kingdoms against each other.
  • At first contact a dead desert world full of ancient ruins rich with treasure. This is the world the undead Autarch came from.
  • Another colony world dominated by two factions, The Empire of the Lion and the Three Kingdoms.
  • An ocean world dotted with islands.

There is a system of Guilds that run various functions of the Empire.

  • The Guild of the Arcane.
  • The Army.
  • The Temples of the Six.
  • The Guilds of Headsman (Assassins).
  • The Society of Crafters.
  • The League of Explorers, who mount expeditions through the portals to the other worlds. All the player characters are members of this Guild by default, as well as one other.
  • The Black Rose. A merchants’ league.
  • The Steel Hand. An organisation of thugs, enforcers, bodyguards, general henchmen.
  • The Emerald Hand. Once a diplomatic and spy service, now stripped of its powers by the Autarch it appears a motley crew of knowledge-hungry scholars and performers.
  • The Five Noble Families:
    • The Acarni – as their name suggests they consider themselves to have a monopoly on magical matters. They are decadent powermongers who pretty much run the Guild of the Arcane.
    • The Lantari. Followers of the Goddess of Love and War they are practical and militaristic. They have a close association with the Army.
    • The Solari. Some say they are a house in deep decline after the banishment of their patron goddess Solaria (or Dawn) by the Autarch. Other say they are just plotting in the shadows.
    • The Telani. A rich house of merchants who prosper through the activities of the Black Rose.
    • The Valerii. Sinister and Machiavellian, they openly back the Autarch.

Overall the setting is a fantasy renaissance setting, where instead of ocean-borne trade the city-state of Ys profits from its business with the worlds it is in contact with through the magical portals. Without the regular edicts of the human Empire and the vague but fearful orders that occasionally come from Autarch, there is much political infighting between the Guilds and their agents.  There is a patronage system, and the player characters like everyone else will have a patron who will help them in return for support.

Next: Beyond D20 (the system that powers Beyond Dread Portals).