Tournaments of Madness and Death cover

I’m so close to getting this one finished. Waiting for the last illustration and a quick layout check then it will be available for pre-order.

In the meantime, I’ve redone the cover – so its less TSR tribute and shows more of David M. Wright’s awesome art ūüôā

Tournaments of Madness and Death cover by David M. Wright

Tournaments of Madness and Death in Layout

The next Crypts and Things release, Tournaments of Madness and Death, is currently in layout.

I’m waiting on the last couple of pieces of art from Daniel Barker, who is doing a marvellous job of catching the Swords & Sorcery feel of the game, without being tedious and predictable.

Here’s the introduction to The Furnace, the first of the two adventures in the book, which feature’s Dan’s illustration of the sorcerer Arksal.

Introduction to The Furnace adventure, art by Daniel Barker

ETA Pre-order should open within the next week or so. with a general release mid-late August.

Tournaments of Madness and Death – Coming Soon

If this adventure book was an old school metal release from the 80s, on some creaky little independent label it would be one of those quirky split singles, were two bands would each have a side of the vinyl record.

On Side A is The Furnace. The first convention adventure that I ran when I decided to run an Old School D&D adventure, initially using Labyrinth Lord, and was named after the convention it was run at, namely, Furnace which is held every October in Sheffield UK. I ran it on Saturday night, which is now my annual slot for running OSR games, and despite the naysayers at the bar beforehand, who seemed threatened by my decision to run a game using a system they had left behind years ago, and the my own almost paralysing bout stage fright we had a fantastic time. It was at this point I decided that it was well worth my time returning to the games of my formative years in the hobby. The precise details of the scenario have changed with time, and it’s a more compact and polished-up Crypts and Things write up that is presented here.

Tearing up side B is The Tomb of the Evil Emperor. This was one of my final outings with Crypts and Things as a convention game in my first phase of running the game at conventions, just after the release of the game in 2012. A slightly boozy game at Continuum, a summer affair held bi-annually at Leicester University, which saw the bold adventurers race across the ruins of the Grand Debris, through the buried Imperial Complex, to a final confrontation with the shocking surprise of the true form of the Evil Emperor.

Two sides of the Crypts & Things convention experience. Madness both in the sense that the locations that make up the adventures aren‚Äôt your typical garden dungeon. The Furnace takes place on an artificial iron moon held up in the sky by magic, while Tomb is in a city crushed by a vengeful god using a meteor. Death because it was what faced the doomed world of Zarth if the adventurers failed in their mission to stop the Ultimate Evil that threatened the world, and because it was a genuine possibility given the cast of horrors they faced. All ‚Äúgood friendly violent fun in store for all‚ÄĚ as the thrash metal band Exodus once sang on their song Toxic Waltz.

Finally Dark, Delicious and Deadly is an insert, cunningly placed between the two adventures, that explains the method behind the madness about how I run convention games of Crypts and Things.

For 3-6 characters levels 4th-5th, explicitly written for Crypts and Things but usable with a host of retro-clones based on the early editions of the Worlds Favourite Fantasy Game, and heck even the modern 3rd to 5th Editions if you can be bothered to put the work in adapting the monster blocks.

ETA Sometime in July, pre-order soon.

Tournaments of Madness and Death cover by David M.Wright

That Black Hack Thing

So here’s a post that is long overdue, an appreciation of David Black’s The Black Hack.

Like Dungeon World this was a game that I blindly stumbled into on Kickstarter, following a bit of a buzz online. In fact, if I was thinking critically it should have been a big nope. The pitch for the game was a bit meh “this is my version of D&D I run at cons, and people have asked me to make a printed version” and list of changes/features. But what sold me was its logo:

How badass and metal is that ūüôā

So What is it?

In short, it’s David’s Rules for running no-nonsense D&D games at conventions and short online games. You can spin campaign games with it since it still has level progression, but beware the experience rules amount to “characters gain levels when the DM says they do”. Which I like, as a middle-aged dad I’ve not got time to run the old week in week out experience point grinds of my teenage years.

Its roots are firmly in the old school, with four OSR four classes, each of which gets a page listing their¬†restrictions and special abilities in the A5 booklet. Then it expands and refines the rules base with cool bits from other modern derivatives ( such as Dungeon World’s GM doesn’t roll, 5th Edition’s Advantage roll) and bits of the author’s devising (such as usage dice for keeping track of expendable items, the initiative system where you test against Dexterity on a D20 and if you fail you go after the monsters). Monsters and spells are no-nonsense, a short paragraph with essential¬†stats. that fit in a couple of tables over two or so pages. For example, monsters are presented as Armour, Hit Dice, and quick special abilities.¬† And that’s the big thing about the Black Hack, it really presents the game in a very clean bare-bones fashion, with no unnecessary¬†padding.¬† Apart from the game’s logo which also acts as the cover image, there is no art, just a very clean and effective graphic design and typography (are you beginning to see a theme here?) At the time it had me scratching my head thinking “is this actually an RPG?”.

What its good for

Using the Black Hack at Furnace 2016

I got to test the rules out at Furnace 2016 where I had initially offered to run a 5th Edition game but had failed miserably to get my head around the three books in the time that I had pitched the game and I was due to run it. So instead of panicking,¬†I thought “why bring three heavy thick hardcovers to the table, when I can bring one slim a5 booklet” ūüôā So I ran a playtest with my home group, who as fans of various editions of D&D had it under a stern gaze, and it passed with flying colours! Same when I ran it at the convention, with a group of players of varying experience¬†with D&D. It just worked and delivered Maximum Gaming Fun.

Which is the win with any role-playing game, and the point where the Black Hack became one of my “you’ll pry this from my cold dead fingers” games.

Hacking the Black Hack

But this wasn’t the end of my adventures with the Black Hack. The game’s text is completely Open Gaming Content and comes with its own Open Gaming License. It encourages you to remix and remake it in whatever image you want. So I’ve done this myself a couple of times. Once for a Dark Sun tribute called Black Sun (get it ūüėČ ) and more seriously¬†for a British Post Apocalyptic Game set in the 70s, called Un-United Kingdom. Both these remain unpublished because they need polish and playtesting. But they were both fun to build and write, and Un-United Kingdom has had an entertaining trip out as a Convention game, and worked out of the box first time ūüôā

Polished games out there

While I may not have got my efforts out there, there is a dizzying array of free and low-cost games and supplements for the Black Hack. DriveThruRpg.com lists 386 at present.

Three that come to mind that are a bit more developed and standalone games in their own right:

Cthulhu Hack by Paul Baldowski (Just Crunch Games).  Cthulhu done lo-fat style using the Black Hack. Fully suppported with a range of adventures and supplements.

Heroic Fantasy by Graham Spearing (Wordplay Games). If you want more classes, such as the Barbarian and the Bard, more monsters, races (Dwarf, Elf etc) a bit more guidance and a full adventure, this 89-page game delivers.

Kaigaku by Jacob DC Ross (Thunder Egg Productions). A slimline take on Samurai Roleplaying, that has all the flavour of the 90s classics that inspired it but none of the rules bloat.

Second Edition now on Kickstarter

Author David Black has decided to do a 2nd edition packed with more examples, art, and other cool stuff to make the game even cooler than it already is.¬† It’s currently on Kickstarter now, and its legions of fans have pushed it over the 500% funded mark already.

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‚Äôs player invokes her drive of ‚ÄúTo live life to the full‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôve cleared the decks of some outstanding work, probably either by the end of this year or at the start of next year.¬†I‚Äôve got a full draft of the game, which initially¬†started off as Paul‚Äôs homage to Planescape, but mutated into its own thing. It‚Äôs 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 ‚Äď which I‚Äôm 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‚Äôt 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‚Äôs 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‚Äô 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 ‚Äď 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).

May is D&D Sale month

DriveThruRpg.com are having a 33% off sale for D&D products of all editions, and Crypts and Things and all its releases are available in pdf until the end of May.

Since its pdf only, I’m matching that 33% discount on the print with free pdf bundles I sell on the D101 Games web store on items I currently have in stock until the end of May.

So at the moment, that is

  • Crypts and Things Softcover ¬£13/$17.5 (normally ¬£20/$27).
  • Tombs of the Necromancer ¬£4/$5 (normally ¬£6/$8).
  • Life and Death ¬£9/$12 (normally ¬£14/$19).

Shipping is free to UK addresses on orders over £10.

Dark, Deadly and Delicious part 5: Pre-made characters

In this the last of a series of excerpts from an article about running and creating Crypts and Things convention games, I exhort you, nay implore you to use pre-made characters.

Use Pre-made Characters

Pre-made characters are a must for convention games. Two reasons why:

  1. They save time. No matter how quick you think, Crypts and Things character generation are, at the start of a convention game it will eat up valuable game time, while impatient players twiddle their thumbs and unexpected roadblocks in the process get thrown up.
  2. The adventure can be tailor-made to make the most of their abilities. You want happy, engaged players who are having fun. The primary way that you can pre-destine this is by having characters who have the potential to be fun in play. While Crypts and Things use Class/Level based characters, so every character is going to have its own niche, make sure that the composition of your adventuring party is made up of characters who will all have a role to play in the adventure. Fighters always have a place, and Barbarians are good all-rounders. Magicians need to thrive in environments rich in magic and mystery, where their magic detecting abilities make them useful for explaining what is going on and detecting magical threats. Thieves are good sneaking through the shadows, taking out enemies using stealth, but are much more useful in combat than their Swords and Wizardry counterparts. For a four-player game merely make one of the core character classes, and you’ll have enough variation amongst the characters. If you have six players, add another fighter and sorcerer, with different fighter specialities and spells in their books than the others.

It’s often joked that part of the style of old-school play is having a pile or replacement characters and it is worth having at least two additional characters in case of impending character death.

An Excerpt from the upcoming Crypts and Things book ‚ÄúTournament of Madness and Death.‚ÄĚ

Tournaments of Madness and Death cover by David M.Wright

Dark, Deadly and Delicious part 4: Be the Monster Manager

In the penultimate part of this series of posts about Crypts and Things convention games, I look at an important role of the referee.

Be the Monster Manager

Don’t overwhelm the players with streams of monsters, unless that’s the point of the fight scene is that they can never overcome the flood of monsters and should run away!

Don’s mistake combat for automatic-fun. Make sure that you combat encounters are like scenes from a fun film, where the director has placed enemies and scenery in an exciting way, so the combat can play out with lots of unexpected turns and twists.

For example, don’t just throw 1d6+2 Men at Arms at the player characters who are strolling aimlessly through the palace. If you need a couple of men at arms to show up and challenge the characters about there right to be there, do so. It might lead into a fight (in which case they run away to the next courtyard where the rest of the palace guard is hanging out, with the court sorcerer and the King’s assassins who are practicing on various trampolines etc.), but it might also lead to an entertaining moment of role-playing as the players blag their way past the guards.

Next part 5: Pre-made characters.

An Excerpt from the upcoming Crypts and Things book ‚ÄúTournament of Madness and Death.‚ÄĚ

Tournaments of Madness and Death cover by David M.Wright