Sunday 27 January 2019

After the Lords of Memory

Google Plus is shutting down, and so the tiny discussion/playtest community for After the Lords of Memory is going to fall off a cliff like so much eroding shoreline.

ALM is a fantasy RPG; it's far from finished, and I think it still has an ungainly puberty ahead of it before it actually does what I want it to do.

This is a much ado about nothing post, because I'm doing my best to avoid putting out a new revision of ALM, even though I want to. I'm focusing on the adventure compilation instead.

My design goals are written up in the first post about it. If you want to follow along ALM development (when it resumes), I will post revisions here, and tag them so you can find just the ALM posts if you want.

For now, the latest revision is v0.19. The core works, it's been playtested in a home game over a period of years--you can make characters, take them places, adventure, fight, advance, get injured and so on.

However, the whole point of writing this game was to enable a particular campaign style, and that hasn't emerged organically from my playtest campaign. If you read the design goals post, essentially what you get is a fairly simple, theatre-of-the-mind game where grubby villagers go forth and either die or become heroes. You don't get geographic advancement.

I have much more work to do there, in particular I think I need to lay out the way the campaign is supposed to work in a way that's obvious to everyone (GM, players) so that's the default mode of play.

By way of inspiration, B/X D&D laid out this very mechanistic, almost boardgame-like turn procedure for how you do a dungeon crawl. You don't have to use it - if you meet up with a posse of hirelings you sent in as advance scouts, presumably rolling initiative and then a reaction roll (hostile!) might seem weirdly out of place, but it's a good set of training wheels (a path, to use my own terminology) to get started with.

Anyways, as I said, no news is no news, but here is where news will eventually appear!

Friday 25 January 2019

PbtA Design - The Purpose of Moves

This is a 2014 G+ post, liberated before it dies. I would write this slightly differently now, and the consensus at the time was that the questions at the bottom were the best part of it.

My brain keeps coming around to this question: what are moves for? By which I mean, why should my PbtA game include move 'x'? What am I trying to accomplish?

Here's what I've got as a tentative list of move 'natures':

Arbiter moves that resolve something contentious, settling a potential disagreement over an outcome or the fiction.  (Example: hack and slash)

Montage moves that skip play past something you don't want to focus on (example: Regiment's downtime move)

Scene-framing moves that plop you into situations with potential (example: Regiment's engagement move). These can flip past time (like montages), but they focus on what's next, rather than quickly resolving a bunch of time.

Opinion moves that inject ideas for genre-relevant outcomes that the participants might not think of (e.g. Go Aggro)

Moves that imply the key factors in genre-relevant situations [or trade-offs!] (e.g. Regiment's Assault move) - whether by making them mechanically relevant, or alternately implying that this is what the unstructured conversation should be about (the 'fruitful void').

Prompt moves that give players ideas for what their characters could do (e.g. Regiment's Petition move), or differentiating characters with things nobody else can do (e.g. Battlebabe's dangerous & sexy)

Moves that serve up meaningful choices (Seduce or Manipulate being one of many)

Moves can of course do several of these things (I notice that one of my favorite moves, Regiment's Engagement move, falls into several of these categories).

* * *

Two slightly problematic move natures pop to mind, where an interesting fictional situation is reduced to a mechanical modifier, or worse, made irrelevant by a resolution move that discounts preceding fiction, thereby discouraging it.

* * *

If this is a useful list, then these might be useful questions:

  • What will participants (players, perhaps including the GM) disagree on?
  • What will they get bogged down on?
  • What won't they think of doing?
  • What won't they realize might occur?
  • What are the key factors in the important situations of the game?
  • What should participants be nudged into talking about?
  • What meaningful choices or trade-offs should be highlighted?

Thursday 24 January 2019

The Raindrinkers

When clear skies suddenly turn stormy, people look for the strange wagons of the Raindrinkers sliding over the mud, collecting the rain as they go. These nomadic peoples know a terrible truth: the earth’s waters are tainted.

The Raindrinkers is a wandering encounter-style two-pager written by a longtime friend, guest writer Tim Groth. Tim locked in on the strange weapons of the Martoi*—the terrible poisons unleashed on the living by the echoes of ancient conquerors.

What would a people be like if they had made peace with the danger?

Raindrinkers PDF
The Raindrinkers revolves around the five elders of the raindrinker clans. While the clans share a way of life and often travel together in their long, mud-sled caravans, each of the elders has different goals for their people, and a different attitudes towards visitors that would try to ingratiate themselves with the nomads.

If you're integrating the Raindrinkers into your own setting, you have a few options, mostly answers to the question, "What are they avoiding?"

In nightmarish or apocalyptic settings, they can fit in more or less directly. If your world is a little lower key, the Raindrinkers' habits might be religious observances, meant to keep them spiritually pure rather than physically safe.

In the world of Trilemma Adventures, I'm situating them in Haverlow on the big map. I see them travelling a sparsely populated land, visiting a series of towns and villages high enough up in the various watersheds that they're safe from the worst of the weapons—as long as there's rain.

* * *

This isn't an adventure, exactly, but a roving community, or a network of communities. They're a potential source of safety, replacement characters (if it comes to that!) and because of their mobility, possible allies against mutual enemies, if they can be made to see the common threat.

On the other hand, if you cross them (or if there should be an unfortunate misunderstanding), you'll have to go a long way to get out of their sphere of influence.

(I've never done this, but it's cool to imagine taking a replacement character from some allied raindrinkers, but they've said they'll hunt you down and kill you if so-and-so gets hurt.)

Hell, under the right circumstances, the elders themselves could be PCs.

Thanks again to all of my patrons for supporting the project. More in on the way very soon!

* For more on the Martoi, see The Unmended Way, Task of Zeichus, and Veil of the Once-Queen.

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Sky-Blind Spreadsheet

This is fun, Goblins Henchman has converted the Sky-Blind Spire into one of his "Spreadsheet Adventure Modules."

He's done four now, including the Halls Untoward. He's also got a bunch of templates for other adventures that aren't yet filled in (including Keep on the Borderlands), so that's fun.

This seems like such a useful format, I wonder why we don't see it more, especially in this age of online play (when the GM is going to be sitting in front of a computer anyways).

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.