Friday, 11 January 2019

Five Years of Free Adventures

As I published my most recent adventure, I realized that I've been doing this for five years. Stellarium of the Vinteralf was published in January 2014! There are now 48 illustrated adventures in total.

This wouldn't have been possible without your help and support—your encouragement, generous donations, and not least spreading the word on social media and forums. These have all made this project grow way past what I imagined when I started.

Hitting the five year mark means it's time for some reflection!

Making everything freely available was a leap of faith, but in hindsight it was absolutely the right call. The adventures do a much better job at marketing themselves than I would have done trying to sell them.

The other thing was that I've kept things pretty lean and mean. Like Kickstarter projects, it's so tempting to load up with stretch goals and produce Patreon tiers that become a burden and collapse under their own weight. This project has been like a Kickstarter without stretch goals.

Everything is free; there's no forum, no t-shirts, or stickers, no physical perks. That stuff is fun, and I'd love to do it, but I know it would jeopardize what's been working so well: every month I publish the best adventure I can come up with, straight from the core of my inspiration.

This means I've only really had one tier on Patreon this whole time, other than a couple of experiments. Even so, a bunch of people decided to make up their own amounts. After years of this, I'd like to make my pledge tiers match what people are actually doing, and recognize them properly for it.


I've been wrestling with this for some time. I don't want to load up with extras that are going to spread me too thin, but there's no way I want to go all paywall on you.

Anyways, I think I got it sorted out, and the new tiers are now in effect!

My adventures will continue to be free here, along with the CC-BY-NC art and illustrations—courtesy of all of you pledging on Patreon.

For people who want earlier sneak peeks, there's a $2/adventure tier.

If you want to throw $3 or $5 per adventure (as some of you have been!), there are tiers for that too, and you have my extra special thanks.

Special Thanks

Several people jumped on the new tiers immediately—here they are:

"Alex" has been here for almost a year now, and with him is Frank Reding. They are both nuss envoys, so be careful!

Nick Stamelos joined last summer, and Gill Garcia, 28 months ago! A different "Nick" joined a week ago, but it was actually his email that finally prodded me to do the revisions. You were right!

To everyone, thanks so much for your support, whether in dollars, kind words, questions, your play reports, tips for improvement, typo-shooting, or spreading the word! It's been fantastic.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

The Wagoner's Table

The echoes of the feasting songs are fading, but winter still has many cold months in store. In the highlands villages, winter's bite is most cruel. Still, legend has it that even the most desperate can find mercy at the wagoner's table.

Wagoner's Table PDF
This wandering encounter-type adventure gave me a chance to show off a little bit more Seree infrastructure, in this case the towering tribute wagons they used to collect delicacies from outlying areas of their dominion.

You can use it for that, or you can just take this as the holiday-themed fantasy encounter that it is—a benevolent soul in a dangerous landscape provides for the destitute as best he can.

This adventure also marks a personal milestone: Stellarium of the Vinteralf was published in January 2014, which means that The Wagoner's Table bookends five years of publishing an illustrated adventure nearly every month. It's nice to do that on an up note.

If you like this adventure or want more like it, consider throwing me a buck on Patreon. Because of my patrons' generosity, all of these adventures are released under CC-BY-NC, so feel free to remix the text and imagery into your own non-commercial projects.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Regimancy: Dynastic Magic

This is a design post—not immediately gameable, but a half-formed idea I'm putting here while I finish other things. This is fodder for the cultures of the Tristhmus, which are on my mind as I write supplementary material for the compilation.

The basic idea is this: a class of magic whose ritual steps are the workings of states.


Regimantic rituals are really, really long rituals whose steps take months or years to unfold. They are concerned with the progress of polities—petty kingdoms, empires, city-states, dynastic succession.

Performing regimancy always involves politically significant acts such as:
  • giving bank-breakingly lavish gifts
  • having bastards, marrying people with the wrong background
  • breaking the succession to a seat of power
  • oaths of fealty, breaking great oaths and treaties
  • declaring wars, winning battles, dying in battle
The stakes are similarly grand, and involve things like:
  • Cutting reigns short, or protecting them for three centuries
  • Succession stability, breaking dynasties
  • Ending wars, starting them
  • Internal strife, sowing dissent among advisors, fracturing polities into factions or outright civil war
  • Inverting the dominant power and their vassals
  • Major environmental effects: farming boons, plagues, ice ages, droughts
Regimantic rituals always look like bone-headed maneuvers or political blunders, because that's the price you pay to take a short-cuts to greater heights.

Ambushing an inferior army and sacking their capital city isn't regimancy, that's just common sense. Having your only heir slain in battle while leading a foolish war against a superior foe, and then gifting the entire royal treasury to a neutral nearby kingdom, now that's a start!

* * *

Rituals that take years to pull off aren't obvious gaming fodder, but there are a few dimensions I think are pretty useful.

1. Dusty old books are now really, really useful.

In my setting, magic isn't formulaic. Rituals are revealed by flashes of insight, or are discovered accidentally. For this reason, there's no way to invent a new regimantic ritual, and no practical way to discover them through deliberate experimentation.

Learning new regimantic rituals looks identical to the study of history.

Regimancers comb through treatises, accounts, records and tomes trying to find patterns that explain sudden rises to power, remarkable victories from behind, and victorious underdogs. What ritual price was accidentally paid?

Even reasonably well-understood regimantic rituals merit continued study. Does Vassal's Gambit only work when the enacting kingdom has a green flag? All three examples of the gambit from history have been carried out by rulers whose houses had green flags. Is that a coincidence, or meaningful?

Even the histories of dead empires, so remote to the present in distance and time, could be treasure troves of regimantic clues.

2. Court vipers can be really vicious

Regimancers sometimes look like dusty advisors to the king, but the most successful ones would be skilled manipulators—people who get their hands dirty to bring about the necessary political maneuvers to make the ritual work.

Few kings are going to have the only heir killed in a foolish battle, on purpose. That takes someone with vision, courage, and the necessary detachment to stomach the price.

3. Omens are signs that the spell is working

"Dude, we're really not sure about the green flag thing but Clansit IV was determined to go ahead, so we need you to ride top the top of Mt. Ranian to see if you can find a white crow. If you can't find one in three days, get back to the capital as fast as you possibly can to tell me."

3. Multi-generational regimancy looks like prophecy

Regimancers make great quest-givers, because now there's a reason to investigate the perpetuators of prophecies. What are they trying to accomplish? Is it a cultural or religious expression, or is there a hidden logic to it that could be discerned and used elsewhere?

4. Ancient regimancy looks like culture

Why do the heads of the great Grinvolt families all give goats to the poorest clan in celebration of the ascendancy of Clansit I? Why do clan leaders ride out to battle unarmored? (And why is it considered bad luck to strike at them?)

Both situations are interesting: successful regimancy has left a cultural legacy in its wake, or it actually works at a smaller scale. The king's regimantic gambit paid off and now the head of every household carries it out in the small.

5. Rituals in progress create weird quests

This one is self explanatory, but either carrying out or interfering with the steps of regimantic rituals can lead to some weird and interesting quests. Perhaps the prince must be guarded, but only until the solstice. After that, his assassins must be allowed to succeed. Or perhaps an enemy figure of note must be protected from allied military action, because his death will move the enemy ritual further along.

6. Who carries regimantic knowledge?

The manner in which regimancy is carried forward to the next generation is also interesting. Is it a successful of scabrous court advisors, each choosing a successor? Are there region-spanning noble families marrying into other dynasties, working their magic behind the scenes? Wandering wizards dispensing frightful advice to those made enough to pay the price?

Striking directly at the regimancer, or an opposing culture's regimantic store of knowledge is also a well of possible quests. "A tiny pricedom had attacked us, and the heir died immediately in the battle.  We have called a truce, but we suspect regimancy. If they are attempting Vassal's Gambit, then we know they know a lot more than they are letting on. Infiltrate the enemy court, find out whose idea this was, and bring their secret library to me. Do not tell our king."


Monday, 17 December 2018

WIP: Holiday Adventure

Another post showing how these things tend to go together.

Because of the way my brain works, it's handy to be able to switch back and forth between writing and illustrating. For this reason (and also because the layouts mean I need to edit down to the letter), I tend to do a layout quite early on while assembling adventures.


Here I have the Sketchup maquette of the tribute wagon, a photobash I made as a reference for the accompanying illustration, and a bunch of placeholder text so I can get a sense of how much room I have for each topic.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

WIP: Seree Tribute Wagon


The holiday season is upon me, and despite everything being ridiculously busy, the anticipation is growing.

(Actually, the anticipation is pretty much everything. The idea of mulled wine is quite a lot better than actual mulled wine. Opening a big box of chocolates and poring over the little legend card to find the good one is quite a lot better than lying on the sofa with furry teeth, etc. I digress.)

I'm working on an adventure that both does a bit of world-building, but also will serve as a holiday-themed adventure location.

The idea is simple enough: the Seree used to bring food to their cities using a network of gigantic, automated collection wagons. The wagons are gone (along with the Seree), but at least one is still operational, winding its way through snowy mountain passes and along ley lines.



It's totally not driven by Santa.

EDIT: Here's a quick model in Sketchup to help me get the perspective right.



Friday, 14 December 2018

No Samite For You

You've done it—you've won the favor of the Powers. Called to collect your reward, you wade into the shallows of the hidden pool to draw out the holy weapon of the land. What smiting you will do!

But being a humble land, no shimmering samite awaits you. Sorry!

Roll d6Holy weapon of this place..
A wide-bladed sword, so corroded that the edge is a jagged crumble. It carries the weight of aeons, so any attempt to sharpen it is blasphemous. Anyone who tries just cuts their hand, and the blade will get no sharper. Still, hitting someone with it just feels so right.
The pitch-fork of the oppressed. The handle is slick with lake-slime, but the tines gleam with the righteousness of class warfare. The balance is shit, but it goes through plate armor like butter—especially the good stuff.
The living cudgel of the lake-keepers has had a marvelous fucking time in the lake these last three hundred years, let me tell you. It's now a sizeable tree, and pretty happy where it is. An intelligent weapon, it will happily talk your ear off about what it feels like having algae nibbled off your nethers by fish. (Amaaazing.) Every swish of the breeze makes its branches hum with vorpal potential. Hmmmr. Wrrrrm. Wait—you wanna what? Who are you, again?
A sturdy hat pin. Different ages call for different heroes.
The ancient world's most wicked sorcerer was smothered in this chamber pot. It was full at the time, of course. Refilling it is an exercise left to you.
A heavy rock, covered in algae and kinda slippery. It takes two hands to even pick up, let alone heft around. Don't even think about throwing it. This is a weapon straight from the earth, a legend in the first age of men. In fairness, that was a long time ago.. it makes more sense in context.


Saturday, 1 December 2018

The Man From Before

A mountain village grows wealthy selling a strange and magical oil. But its prosperity is tied up in the legacy of a fateful war. Only the children know the cost of the work they do—at the bidding of the Man from Before.
Man From Before PDF

I can't even explain this one. On the surface, it's a pastoral mystery, suitable for low-level adventurers. Scratch that surface and there's an extremely powerful NPC, possibly an ally or mentor. Or, maybe the players will see the dynamic as monstrously exploitative and view him as a villain. Push a little harder, and there's a campaign-wrecking bomb, just waiting to go off.

Sorry, kids!

As always, because of my generous Patrons, all the text and imagery is free for non-commercial use! If you like, sling a buck at me!