21 September 2015

Review: Star Gods Help Us

Sometimes, your gaming table just needs to take a break from the relentless grimdark.

Peter Spahn of Small Niche Games has released Star Gods Help Us, a collection of humorous new classes for the White Star science fiction companion to the Swords and Wizardry RPG.

Observers of pop culture from the 60s, 70s and 80s should recognize the inspiration for the twelve new classes contained within. Some of these go together thematically very well, like the zombie-like Zeddines and the butler like Gurches. For those players less concerned with achieving missions and more interested in silliness, a party of Radiobuddies, Gloops and Giltors will have trouble just getting organized to leave their own ship.

This collection strongly evokes a lot of the sci-fi silliness found in abundance within the pages of Dragon magazine and TSR's early catalog. The content and illustrations within this supplement are pitch-perfect. At $2.99, the PDF is a non-brainer. It would not be too much of stretch to adapt these classes into NPC monsters for fantasy settings, like Labyrinth Lord.

Don't wait for P/S-900 robot to make you do it; get a copy of Star Gods Help Us today.

16 September 2015

Review: The Necromancer's Wish

Here is a good reason to support an artist through Patreon.

Michel Prescott's super-tasty 1+ page adventure The Necromancer's Wish is a stripped-down, location-based adventure that packs a substantial punch of characterful details in a system-neutral way that all content generators should envy. Here's what you get:

  • a gorgeous, isometric map
  • a rich, multi-textured backstore
  • new creatures
  • a rumor table
  • new magic items

This adventure details the ritualistic happening occurring inside a multilevel cavern system. The caves are under the control of goblin-like creatures called the Ricalu who are lead by an aged necromancer named Nandoleeb. The great work of Nandoleeb will be discovered by clever players who do not tarry long in these storied caves. More details of what can be found within this adventure might spoil the surprises for players. The tone of the setting is dark and foreboding. The PCs will be at risk at all times while exploring this area, but not in an artificially hokey way.

As a short, self-contained location, this adventure can be easily dropped into an existing campaign, or even combined with other short cave-based adventures to create a multi-layered campaign setting that lasts many game nights.

As a free resource, it is well worth the time to download and read this surprisingly dense work. It is gems like this that make DIY publishing in the OSR community so exciting to be apart of. Since the adventure is not ruleset-specific, the game master will have to spend to some time providing appropriate stats to monsters, magic and traps. This is a small price to pay for the wonderful content contained within.

You can find more of Prescott's work (and become his patron) on Patreon

Review: The Cliff-Lair of Heeter

Small is beautiful.

Corey Ryan Walden's twelve page The Cliff-Lair of Heeter is small, location-based adventure written in a system-neutral way that demands to be dropped into an existing campaign at the first appropriate moment. As the title implies, this adventure details the working home of the curious entity named Heeter, who is of a species apart from those traditionally found in Old School rules. Part tyrant, part child, Heeter is surrounded by "manlings" that recall the Oompa Loompa's of Willie Wonka. And he has a weird, fanged cat-thing to boot.

The cliff-lair could be used a throw-away, low-level encounter, but that would be a waste of a good, characterful NPC. Heeter seems like a natural fit to be a source of adventure lore or a quest-giver. One could trim some of the friendlier eccentricities away from Heeter and his home to create a darker, more dangerous encounter with an alien thing, whose desires are quite unintelligible to the party.

It should be noted that this work is vague on game mechanics, so be prepared to fill in those blanks with specifics from your preferred ruleset.

At under $2, this PDF provides a solid value of RPG content and is a solid resource for those game masters who enjoy cobbling together adventures from various bits.

02 September 2015

Think of the Children!

The written word is a powerful thing. Books have motivated people to revolution, to explore the moon, the find a little happiness in the brief time between birth and death. I am firmly and proudly in the pro-book camp.

Somewhat paradoxically, some books, perhaps most books, are uninteresting to me. I don't read romance novels, spy thrillers or celebrity gossip, to name a few of my least favorite things. When I see those sorts of books, I use an ancient technique taught to me by my parents. It is called ignoring. Since this seems to be an increasingly lost art, I thought I might give a quick primer about it.

To ignore something, you willfully stop thinking about the thing. You don't look at it. You don't talk about it. You do not engage in it. Simple, right? But wait, it does require determination and discipline on the your part to make it work.

The good news is that ignoring books is really easy! Books are inanimate and very few of them talk.

Sometimes, you will find yourself in a bookstore. The store will try to group books by subject for the express purpose of helping you ignore subjects of your choosing. Pretty sweet, right?

Sometimes, you will find yourself at an online book-selling website and it will show you books that you want to ignore. Now, I will admit that ignoring a thing when it is right in front of you is more difficult. You may have to quickly find a link to click that takes to a different page. Or, more drastically, you may have to avoid that website all together.

You have the responsibility of curating the information you want to process.  You cannot offload that duty to others. That is not fair.

In conversation, it is only polite to avoid topics that any participant finds distressing. 

If the mere mention of rape in book title is more than you can bear, you have my sincerest empathy. I do not take past trauma lightly. No one should force you to engage with the topic is your pain against your will. But you have no right to tell me what topics I can engage in.

When I think of the children, I realize: the kids are alright.

02 August 2015

New Creature: The Jackdaw


No. Enc: 1
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 180' (flying)
Armor Class: 2
Hit Dice: 7
Attacks: 3 (bite/claw/claw) or special
Damage: 2d4/1d4/1d4 or special
Save: F7
Morale: 6
Hoard Class: VII

The giant jackdaw is a member of crow family, clocked deep black feathers and eyes featuring penetrating clear-blue iris. This bird with a 12' wingspan is sentient and can speak the Common Tongue as well as up to three more, the selection of which is up to the Labyrinth Lord.

Like their normal-sized cousins, Jackdaws are inveterate thieves. Shiney items, like jewelry or ornate weapons or armor, will attract the jackdaw. If the object is not worn or otherwise restricted by the party, the jackdaw will swoop down and steal it (no saving throw). If the object is carried externally (like a sword), the jackdaw will still try to steal it, but the owner may save against petrification to thwart the theft.

75% of all giant jackdaws have stolen magic tomes and can perform 2 first-level and 1 second-level magic-user spells each day. The Labyrinth Lord should determine these.

Jackdaws are also somewhat lazy. A common tactic of theirs is to trick a party into a quest to retrieve something shiney for them. In return, the jackdaw may award them a random scroll, wand or potion (to be randomly determined). Or, 50% of the time, the jackdaw will renege on its promise and attempt to flee with the proffered item.

In combat, the jackdaw will fight with its sharp beak and claws. If the jackdaw can cast spells, it will do so first.

See the Jackdaw of Rheims for a folkloric reference.

02 July 2015

More nonstandard wilderness rules

More hexcrawl confusion from TSR can be found in I5 The Lost Tomb of Martek. 

Wilderness hexes are 2 miles. 

The module rules: 12" movement rate = 1 hex per hour.  Only 10 hours of movement per day.

Unpacking that, you get 10 hexes of movement per day, which is 20 miles. 

B/X rules that a 12" movement rate should yield 24 miles per day,  but desert travel is only 2/3 of that, yielding a 16 mile travel day.

Random encounters, in I5, are checked every four hours, which sounds like 6 checks per day. That is significantly more frequent than my reading of the rules. We're I play testing this module, I would have asked Hickman if this was necessary. 

Now, Hickman's module rules are not far off from the canonical rules, but why bother writing new rules at all? Standardizing wilderness rules makes it far easier for experienced GMs to use the work. I feel the hobby is still groping toward this kind of standardization.

Does this mean every module must follow the standard rules? Of course not. However, rule deviations should be used only when there is a compelling design motivation to do so.

13 June 2015

New edition of Manse on Murder Hill now available

If you have never picked up The Manse on Murder Hill, a low-level adventure for Labyrinth Lord RPG, then now is a fantastic time to do so.

Featuring additional art by David Guyll, new cartography by Tim Hardin and a stunning layout from Matt Hildebrand, this edition of Manse is available as a PDF download and softcover print version.

From the inside:

«One night fifteen years ago during the harvest night festival, wild screams and sardonic laughter were heard coming from the lone mansion perched atop Farview Knoll, ten miles north of the village center. Unaccountable lights and high winds worried the knoll. The lightning was fierce and odd-colored.

In the morning, the last sod who had my job found the remains of the occupants, a well-respected cleric and his staff, slaughtered by an unknown adversary. The mansion has remained empty since then.

Most people in the village now avoid talking about what happened that night, except for calling Farview Knoll 'Murder Hill.'»

One reviewer has said of the new edition:

I am serious. It's amazing. The layout, artwork and the writing are top notch. From now on this is one of the modules I am going to go to when I'm designing my own.

Pick up a copy today!

09 June 2015

Visualizing distance in your fantasy wilderness

[This is post a cross-post from G+, since I hope it will be of use to others in the future.]

Figuring out wilderness map scales is tricky -- particularly so for hexcrawls. In fiction, characters move at the speed of plot, but in RPGs and wargaming, better precision is needed.

So, use the real world to help you visualize distances that you are already familiar with. That may help you understand how your wilderness map should look.

PROTIP: Google maps is a great tool for this exercise.

Recall that wilderness hexes in B/X "default" to 24 miles. That's because it aligns with PC movement rates well. An unencumbered PC travels one hex per day.

But a map scaled out to 24 mile hexes loses a lot of detail.

A more useful hex size, at least for hex crawling, is 6 mile hexes.

Above is a map of my beloved Bay State. The google map scale here is 5 miles per inch (there is no 6 mile zoom option). Each square is an inch (I could not get any hex grip plugins to work on gimp tonight).

That gives us roughly a 4 square per day movement rate.

As the crow flies, I live about 5 squares away from Boston. Were I a PC, it would take me some part of two days to get to Beantown, if I met with no encounters. A traveler from Boston would need a full two days to get to Worcester (not shown, but east of the map). Hyannis (a town roughly in the middle of Cape Cod) is about 3 days travel. New York City (43 squares)? About 11 days travel (actually 12, since the rules say that PCs travel for 6 days, but must rest on the 7th).

Try this exercise with a location familiar to you. I hope this makes sense and helps make your wilderness maps even awesomer, although I already see a lot of sweet, sweet maps in the OSR community.

01 June 2015

Producing games at taskboy

To be clear, this post is about how I get my content in the form of a product, rather than how I write manuscripts, which is a process that should be emulated by no one.

Producing quality content in an attractive format is not easy at all. Some of you might have already noticed this. I cannot do it alone (although a few OSR folks seem to be able to). Luckily, there are scads of talented people lurking about on Google+ (that much maligned social network) who have helped me bring my little diversions to market. Although these people are credited in each publication, I would like to spotlight a few here so that you may hire them to en-awesome-ize your stuff too.

This list is in no particular order.

Illustration: Stuart Robertson

Stuart provided the initial graphics and cover art for Manse on Murder Hill. Not only that, he gave me a ton of early encouragement that I will always be grateful. His work still knocks my socks off and he was a joy to work with.

Illustration: David Guyll

David's high contrast/low detail style unabashedly recalls the mind-blowing work of comic artist Mike Mignola. David's work grabbed me when I first saw it and I was thrilled that I got to work with him. He was very patient with me as we worked through several iterations of the Tranzar's Redoubtcover. I expect even better things from him in the future.

Cartography: Dyson Logos

Dyson is well-known in the OSR community and it took me several tries to finally catch him with availability for a project. His work has become a style others imitate, but he is sui generis.

Cartography: Tim Hardin

I was blown about by Tim's maps even before I knew about Dyson's work. Tim's work shows a reverence for the past while still being innovative and fresh. So glad I could use him to replace my schlocky interior maps in Manse.

Layout: Matt Hildebrand

A lot of DIY publishers layout their own work. Some of them do a great job. I am not one of them. Matt actually approached me, but I foolishly thought at the time, I would go it alone. Eventually, I realized the depths of my mistake. Matt is responsible for breathing new life and professionalism into Taskboy Games. His design aesthetic of clean minimalism matches my own leanings.

Editing: Aaron Beck

Like layout, a lot of DIY folks think they can edit their own work. I know that I cannot. Luckily, Aaron Beck does. He has been my goto editor for Manse and Tranzar. I plan to continue working with him as long as he continues to be available. He goes the extra mile beyond copy editing to ensuring a consistent style and even tone to the manuscript -- almost like a fabled content editor of yesteryear.

That is the Taskboy Games, ad-hoc production team. Assembled on the Internet to do great justice.

There is another future post I will make about the extraordinary generosity of those that have volunteered to read and critique my work. You might download the publication for the pretty pictures, but the content has been sand-blasted clean by reviewers. Whatever faults are left in the final work are mine alone.

13 May 2015

New adventure: Tranzar's Redoubt

A new, mid-level adventure for Labyrinth Lord is now available from Taskboy Games: Tranzar's Redoubt. From the blurb on the front:

Every fool knows that a cornered conjurer is the most dangerous foe. But a truly wise wizard will always have a fallback plan to use when victory eludes him. A secret place cached with treasure, filled with monsters and guarded by dweomercraft most subtle is the defeated magician's best friend. It is also a juicy plum for professional adventurers. Care to take a bite?

While it can be used on its own, TR was always designed to be dropped into existing campaigns and dungeons to provide unexpected, extended play.

Featuring a roster of pre-generated players, a new gambling mini-game, copious interior illustrations and cartography by Dyson Logo, this location-based adventure is so Old School, you'll want to break out your walkman and go Footloose.

Tranzar's Redoubt is available in PDF and softcover print formats.

01 May 2015

Interactive Fiction: You Wake Up in a Puddle

Hey, let's be honest: you want to burn 10 minutes or so playing a CYOA-style of IF.

I am here to help.

Valnwall Kickstater

I am involved with the The Guidebook to Valnwall Kickstarter, which is a supplement to help flesh out the regions of the Known World suggested in the Labyrinth Lord core rulebook.

I need your help.

If the project reaches $2,000 dollars, I will contribute a hexcrawl adventure that will appear in the special hardcover edition of the guidebook, along with all the other mini-adventures that have been unlocked by the kickstarter. Fun stuff, indeed!

As I write this, the project is less than $100 from unlocking the mini-adventure from me. Let me provide a teaser for this adventure.

It takes a lot to part gold from a merchant's clammy fingers, however the road to Dolmvay provides strong inducement. Bandits, ghouls, werewolves and Gods know what else stand between these merchants and their customers. Your party has been hired to lead a group of such traders through the wilds of Valnwall safely and quickly. Their gold is plentiful, but is it worth your skin?

Please check out the Kickstarter page and back this project, if you can.

Thank you!

08 March 2015

Guide: How to Hexcrawl

You have heard of hexcrawls, those wilderness adventures described in the expert ruleset of the world's most popular fantasy roleplaying game, but you probably aren't quite sure how to run them. You are in great company.

But now, there's help from Taskboy Games:

How to Hexcrawl

This Labyrinth Lord supplemental breaks down exactly what the referee needs, what the players can do and how each game day of the journey should be resolve in easy to follow, bullet point style.

How to Hexcrawl is available now through RPGNow.com.

06 March 2015

Request for comments: How to Hexcrawl

Hexcrawling, that style of RPG play in which the players trek overland for many miles, is a tradition going back to the earliest days of the hobby. However, when I read the rules governing wilderness adventures in Cook's 1981 Expert ruleset, I could figure out how this actually was supposed to work at the game table.

Dan Proctor's Labyrinth Lord retro-clone of these B/X rules does a better job of presenting the material, but still fails to deliver a set of concise instructions on how a DM would run this type of adventure.

I have taken a stab at this.

How to Hexcrawl

This document outlines how to setup and run a hexcrawl using the standard LL rules. I approached the organization of this document as if I were writing rules for a board game to reduce ambiguity.

Right now, this document is in a "public beta" phase, where you can make comments directly on the document about anything you'd like. In a few days, I will close the beta and publish a free PDF of this content on RPGNow. All of the content therein is OGL and will always be free.

Go get your trek on.