Saturday, 15 September 2018

The Slow Creep of Night

There is a world tidally locked to its sun. One side faces the sun; it is warm, lush. The other side is permanently dark.

Tidally locked except—not quite. Some precession of the world's core imparts a tiny rotation. It does have a day, but it's two thousand years long.

Each year, 20 leagues of dawnlands are touched by the rays of the sun. Behind them, 20 leagues are claimed by twilight.

Beacuse of this, every living thing slowly migrates. Moving east is an instinct in the soul of every rodent, bird, and people. The giant trees, lichens, and the seething legion of insects beneath the soil stay where they are, but everything else gradually resettles.

It goes on like this for billions of years. The early people were by necessity nomadic, following the dawn. Early tribes would sometimes flourish and expand, taking over swaths of territory and building permanent settlements.

These early kingdoms would appear successful (and through the development of writing would contribute disproportionately to the myths of the world), but each would end in disaster. Torn apart by civil war and chaos as twilight upended their short-sighted arrangements, or sailing stubbornly into the night to be devoured by the things of the dark.

Adventures in the World of Creeping Dark

1. The east is a frenzy of exploration and settlement. Lush new lands are opening up, and the dawnland kingdoms are competing for control of the islands, new trade routes, and a defensible positions for fortresses. There is good money for adventurers, mercenaries.

2. For the truly desperate, ranging far into the pre-dawn nightlands offers the possibility of a precious discovery that could be sold as information, or perhaps even claimed and fortified.

3. Some of these footholds in the pre-dawn night take hold, but to stay viable they must be supplied with news, food, medicines, and specialists.

4. Fighting the vestiges of night. Day comes last to the the valleys, crevices and ravines of the dawnlands. For decades they are inky pools of shadow, and the terrors of the night-side lurk there. Before the lands can be safely settled, these must be made safe.

5. Some of these cannot be disloged, but must be bargained with, placated—or sated.

6. In the far west, the inevitable abandonment of settlements happens unevenly. The day-dwellers rarely give up before they have to, as there are resources that are hard to give up. Mines, fertile lagoons, a final harvest or two of the century crops—all would bring much-needed cash and supplies for the great migration eastwards. But sometimes the dark surges forward - waves of monsters, or lone horrors come soon. These must be fought off, chased back into the night, or at kept at bay while people evacuate.

7. Some things simply cannot be moved, and forays into the darkness to reach them are sometimes necessary. The great fortress of Ing, where the life-giving fountain splashes. It may be a hundred miles into the darklands, but it is the only known cure for the Duke's white palsy.

8. Though they don't like to speak of it, sages have figured out that the daylands are getting narrower. (Court administrators have noticed this too, for that matter.) According to legend, it was once half the world, as you might expect if the world was a sphere. Now, geographers agree: it's a narrow strip, scarcely 800 leagues across. The useful period of human settlements is now barely 40 years! If this waning continues, the people of the day might soon be completely eclipsed.

Sooths from nine kingdoms all claim the same vision—there is a sorcerous cabal in the darklands, the princes of night. Their great working is shrinking the day. They must be stopped, if they can be reached at all.

9. The Duke believes that they have agents on the day-side, moving among us, but this is obviously just the ravings of a man stricken with the white palsy.


This is apparently a recurring idea in fantasy, so there are more resources if you're interested in this.

Scott Charlton was apparently developing the idea at exactly the same day as I was..

Dave McGrogan's The City Standing like a Candle in the Night.

Jahmal Brown has written a full setting based on this idea, apparently to be published through Evil Hat.

Gareth Wilson points out that there's a (non-fantasy) book by Dave Duncan, 'West of January' that is based on a similar idea.

Monday, 3 September 2018

The Sorcerer's Feast

For a late-empire Seree sorcerer, a secluded forest vale must have seemed like the perfect place for a home away from home. Build a hall to entertain your guests, have some quiet evenings with your fiancée. Hunt boar, finally catch up on those endless Lycaeum periodicals. Maybe turn the servants into goo to showcase your automaton-building skills?

After all, you've got to keep the mind busy.
Download PDF

I missed my self-imposed August deadline with this one—mostly because I spent so long modelling the Lycaeum. As I worked, it became clearer and clearer that there was no way I could do justice to that place in two pages, so I was going to have to break it up.

The Sorcerer's Feast is actually a location within the Lycaeum's garden quarter, but you could easily plop it down in any otherwise pleasant, lush location. The more pleasant the better, probably.

There are a few things to beware of. First of all, Seree wizards don't publicly showcase their most useful magical items; their esteem is based on the deadly, cursed stuff that they've managed to bring under control. Too venemous to get within thirty paces of it? That will look great on the mantle, everyone will be so impressed.

If you're using this as a one shot, consider making retrieval of the cursed item the actual objective. Otherwise, consider sprinkling some surviving scrolls amid the library detritus, and some gold in the destroyed bedroom.

Other than this, the main danger is the boars. If you're playing a super-heroic fantasy, then this will be a low-level adventure. If you're playing something grittier, it's potentially quite dangerous. Play up the signs of boars before adventurers get inside—facing multiple, pony-sized boars in an enclosed location is a great way to come to a sticky end.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

2G2BT: Cracker Jack Run

I ran a playtest session of 2G2BT tonight, with a reduced group: two players, Tim playing the Rigger, and Stephen playing the Prodigy.

We continued with the Darnan Offensive campaign (the one in the PDF)—this time, they were given a "short notice" mission to go and hit an apparently stranded convoy of Fiedan tanks.

Playtesting a game that I've had on the back burner makes things feel a lot less emotionally charged for me, which is a welcome relief. I'm not delivering a newborn up for judgement, I'm showing my friends this thing I have in the garage so we can kick the tires together.

A number of things went well:

I really like the NPC group traits table, that was useful. The players' mercenary company has recently come into possession of a Troll dropship, which has four slots, and they immediately tried to press some Republic tanks into riding along with their mission.

Rolling on the table got me, 'Favored' and 'Green', which naturally translated into them having dragged long some Republic general's children on a show tour. Woops!

Later, after all the action, the players had some prisoners. The question came up as to whether the prisoners would try to escape, or what. Rolling on the NPC table got me: Locals, Vengeful. Obviously they will!

Also, the establishing roll, SNAFU, all felt very natural in play. Despite the adventure being literally a two-sentence description, it was enough to generate a nice setup. The Prodigy's weird plans move also worked out nicely.

Too Tough!

Less successful was incoming fire—the PC mechs are waaay too tough for the fire that was coming their way, and there was a lot of it. 2-armor means that the Prodigy in his Angel can basically shrug off 4d Direct fire, which isn't right.

All in all, I think this miscalibration comes from me treating mechs in the game like main battle tanks. In The Regiment, troops are mostly unarmored (they only get armor late in the game). They're going to die quickly if they take the full brunt of enemy weapons. They need to really make use of the battlefield cover, the squad's heavy weapons, and suppression fire to achieve their goals.

The way I've written up the mechs, they're like tanks, but better all around. I think they make more sense as a high-tech way to protect very highly trained elite infantry; tough, compact, responsive, and deadly. But still, they'd definitely avoid head-on shootouts with heavy tanks.

So, I think I need to reduce armor (tough mechs should have a few more damage boxes, with 1-armor being pretty rare).

Theatre of the—wait, where was group B?

The other thing is subtler, and may involve more extensive changes. Tim's fondness for the Firefight mechanic from Burning Empires is starting to rub off on me, and I think building out the moves so they are creating battlefield terrain would be sensible. Spotting useful positions (and naming them), sites of tactical advantages, that sort of thing gives a very concrete context for the ground-taking moves like assault. If I can do that without making the battlefield overly player-authored, I think it's worth exploring.

Similarly, doing damage to large number of NPC vehicles feels unsatisfying. They're anonymous, and individually not that fictionally interesting.. when they don't have a concrete position. I suppose a chess pawn is a useful analogy: all of its tactical significance comes from its exact placement.

This makes me think that the weapon systems in PC hands can be simplified a bit. There's no need to obsess over the precise AOF and cover damage dice all to find out you do 3 points of damage to tank #2 out of 6. The player engagement and fictional payoffs don't seem that great. (I remember feeling this way about The Regiment.)

I'm wondering if weapons systems could be reduced to much simpler things, mechanically. I may actually take a page from Fortnite, which I think does a nice job of making its weapons feel distinct, yet balanced. It's really handy to have a shotgun (great damage at short range, but it falls off very quickly) vs. an SMG (also deadly at short range, but the recoil makes them no use at range), vs. assault rifles (modest ROF, but accurate enough to dish it out at medium range), vs. sniper weapons (slow, awkward, require aiming, but highly damaging and able to reach at long ranges).

Also, the current damage mechanics don't do much in terms of letting players engage with the salvage rules. Salvage is important to the grind (earning cash, buying upgrades). Taking enemies relatively intact with careful disabling shots seems a thing to bring into the game.

Much thinking to do!

Friday, 24 August 2018

Lost Lair of Lorethain Sharr

I wanted to support the One Page Dungeon Contest this year, and Luka Reject hit upon the perfect method—offer an illustration as a prize!

It was a bunch of work to comb through the entries to find one that could benefit from a map, but yet was clear enough—and interesting enough—to illustrate well. It made me respect the judges all the more, as they had a mighty pile to go through indeed!

In the end, I selected Jeremy DS Marshall's Lost Lair of Lorethain Sharr, mainly because of its clarity and richness—it's chock full of things to draw. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

His Eternal Progress

Emperor tortoises have walked the earth since before the rocks were cool; each is followed by a train of pilgrims hoping to glimpse the wisdom of the gods. No wizard has ever managed to capture one, not even the Seree—until Nauz, Lycaeum head necromancer found a horrid way to breach the ancient shell. But now what?

Link to PDF

Okay, I admit it, this is a weird one!

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Tips for Patreon Campaigns

This is an edit of an old G+ post I'm republishing here for posterity.

1. Explain what your project is immediately—ideally, the very first sentence. Every paragraph between the start of your Patreon pitch and that will cost you 75% of your remaining readers.

2. Describe the value that your Patrons are getting. So many pitches explain how the money will be useful to the creator, or try to bank on our fondness for the creator as a person.

You might be a lovable rogue who's been playing RPGs since you were 8, and feeling a little shy about putting up this campaign.. but if so, welcome to the club. Instead, say what you're doing plainly and tell us how it's awesome.  We'll be interested in your biography once you're famous.

3. Seriously consider releasing your content for free, so it can become part of your marketing effort. Patreon's user interface makes a terrible storefront, so if you don't already have a huge user base, locking down your stuff is a guarantee nobody will see it.

4. Structure your rewards to match Patreon's revenue model. Patrons come and go, they set monthly maximums, they sign up for one month and see everything, and sometimes their payment doesn't go through.

5. Don't create rewards that up the ante beyond what you're willing to do.  As people back you, it can be tempting to respond to their enthusiasm by giving away more, making it easy to cross the thin line between enthusiasm and exhaustion. But for many creators, free time is the limiting factor, and money doesn't translate into more time very smoothly.

6. Make sure your rewards scale with the campaign. What makes sense to do when you have 5 patrons might be impossible when you have 50.  Also, make sure your rewards are more profitable than the base campaign. It makes no sense to blow your profit margin on some custom, labour-intensive physical good that nets you only a few extra bucks when your base campaign is a digital good with fixed production costs.

7. Work-in-progress posts seem to be especially popular. I'm not sure why this is, but I think it's because it makes what you're doing accessible. It's easier for people to imagine themselves doing what you're doing when they can see the intermediate stages.

(Stolen from others)

7. Make your campaign something that you'd be doing anyway, without Patreon.  The money isn't going to be enough of a motivator for some time.

8. Start early. There's no need to wait until you've got a backlog of content built up. This is especially true if you're giving away content for free.

You will sweat over the wording, the images, etc. All of this can be revised after you launch. Pull the trigger and start revising.

9. Make sure your content points back to your Patreon campaign. Your images will get pinned on Pintrest without attribution, your videos will get copied to Vimeo. Make sure your images, videos, or whatever else is all clearly labelled as yours, and has a URL to wherever you want people to go.

Speaking of which, mine is!

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Do it for the Beast

Then the strange man, still holding my wrist, drew his knife across the palm of my hand. Before the pain could set in, the most wondrous thing happened! A red serpent, bright as blood slithered from the wound, and rose in my hand. I was transfixed, but the strange man seemed unsurprised. "You can stay with us," he said, "or you can leave and return home. But whichever you do, you must do it for the beast."

This is a creepy cult lair, but it's not a self-sufficient community. To survive, the cult must have tendrils into a neighboring community (or several)—this is the easiest way to hook adventurers into it.

  1. On her death bed, a wealthy widow confesses that her entire life has been lived 'for the beast'. This causes a great stir among her relatives, who are divided between wanting the matter investigated and hushed up completely.
  2. The cult is straight-up kidnapping people. The town guard has been turning a blind eye, but the cult's bribes are a bit thin, and 
  3. A scholar turns up a roadside tavern, distraught and without possessions. He is telling a tale of being forced to entertain a 'talking lizard' for months by a clan of brothers.
  4. Old Seree documents reveal a cave up in the hills as the the location of the 'Column of Red Might', reputed to be inscribed with a half-dozen magical incantations.
  5. A pair of monks were caught stealing whiskey from a public house. The publican's sons gave them a sound thrashing, upon which one of the "monks" fell clean into two pieces, or so it's said.
  6. Weird-looking brothers have been asking around for trappers with experience with large game—extremely large game.

As always, thanks to my patrons for supporting this project. Because of your generosity, all of the text and imagery is free for non-commercial use under CC-BY-NC 4.0.

I'm also thrilled to bits when anyone helps spread the word on Twitter, Facebook, G+, or wherever you hang out!