Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Free Quality RPG Products?

This morning in a fit of procrasti-tasking—really nothing spurs my hobby writing more than having to complete a large real-world writing project--I started compiling a big old master list of the free DIY rpg products (PDF and printed) that I love to post blogside here.

There is a bewildering amount of free, quality stuff out there and the minds of the crowd I hear outweigh the mind of this individual, so this here's an all-call for adventures, settings, compilations, games, monster collections or whatever you love of freebies. Drop me a link and maybe a little motivation regarding that little piece of the gift economy near and dear.

Klallam potlatch
Why do you enjoy it? Do you use it at the table? Enquiring minds want to know.  

Monday, April 7, 2014

Slumbering Ursine Dunes and The Myth of Arctolatry

For years all my dungeon and wilderness keys have been nothing but the most ephemeral of affairs: a small, semi-organized mountain of stained and terse random bits of paper. My games for the most part seem to run fine with the occasional, jarring bit of discontinuity as the price.

At any rate, something has moved in me (all vain and seductive) to try and write all the various adventure sites I have run here in the last 5-6 years as something more publicly presentable. The Golden Barge adventure locale came easy and with that momentum I started fleshing out the surrounding mini-sandbox area of the Slumbering Ursine Dunes and related sites as a pointcrawl.

Punchline is that in a month's time I will most likely have the whole package out as some kind of cheap for-charity pdf (or bundle it up with the never-ending Live Weird or Die blog compilation booklet project).

So at any rate, this all has me feeling especially fine so to celebrate I wrote another eminently silly Hill Cantons myth.
It so came to pass that Marzana tired of her second life among the Foreign Gods. “My lover is feckless and my poses grow affected and languid,” the Queen of Winter exclaimed with a great sigh. “I shall cover Zem in the bitterness of my cold and start anew.”

And so the great mountains of ice drove Pahr and his family from the fields of paradise. With horse and wagon Pahr's clan divided amongst the three elder sons and wandered Zem. Stanko, the youngest and most broke in the head of the three, reasoned that the cold of the Northlands must be like the darkness before dawn and must surely give out to warm lands of milk and honey. Thus his followers made great coracles from udders shorn from Velesh's cattle herd and crossed the World Canal.

But neither warmth nor milk nor honey was to be found. For one hundred years they fought the blueskins of the North and the fell creatures of the boreal forest until at one great battle Stanko and all his kin but one were slain.

Sad and strong the boy Mirko was left alone and he said to himself, “I make peace with having no milk but warmth and honey perhaps are found with our kin to the south.”

And Mirko wandered and wandered the hills of the south enacting great acts along the way. Finally he came to the shores of the sweet-smelling sea and made content he rested.

Sleeping upon the sand he was visited by Old Bear. Old Bear had a great hunger and seized upon Mirko's leg swallowing it in a mighty bite. Mirko awakened and crying in pain “Sweet Svat” did battle with Old Bear kicking up great mounds of sand in the struggle.

With his spear he pierced Old Bear and laid him down. Hungered Mirko began to eat Old Bear. His belly full but saddened by having consumed such a noble foe he was approached by Younger Bear. “Why have you eaten the flesh of Old Bear?” Younger Bear asked. “He is not unlike you in that he yearns for honey.”

“Sometimes you eat the bear,” Mirko replied. “And sometimes the bear eats you.”

“Is that some kind of Northern thing?” Younger Bear asked, but Mirko only shrugged in answer.

Mirko was made sad again and though he had eaten and beaten Old Bear decided he would share what remained of his life with him as one.

So Mirko and Old Bear became Medved, the seeker of honey, ruling all bears and bearlings from the dunes thrown up in their battle until the world-dialectic turns again.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Found Objects

Wayne of Wayne's Books fame posted a rather nice found object the other day, a hand-drawn and inked city map folded up in a second-hand rpg product. 

There is something bittersweet in stumbling over these finds. The sad fact that someone took their imagination seriously enough to have poured creative effort into them at one time—and then later in life that it mattered so little that they tossed them away.

One of the silver lining sides of having lost track of many of my own gaming books coupled with a “fishing trip” lunch-hour obsession with Half Price Books is that I too have ended up with a burgeoning collection of these found objects.

To be sure most of them fall into the category of the junk Wayne mentions, a small mountain of filled-out character sheets. Even then there is some fleeting interest in a glance at these snapshots from the early 80s, the graceless awkward tween boy handwriting, the goofy character names, the dramatic scribbling over of an obviously dead character and the like.

But a good fifth of the time I find something more interesting: a dream stronghold illustration, a castle map, a letter-code key (from my own brother's Players Handbook and likely to be for one of my dickish ciphers), an AD&D combat slide ruler (totally useful), a page of a dungeon key (my own Tree Maze), etc.

I love the fragmented, divorced-from-context nature of them, it spurs my imagination. Was that stronghold the culmination and reward for a long-arc of play by a particular character? How large was that dungeon? Was that drawn by another kid like me?

Yesterday in the mail came a boxed Runequest Vikings set, I had what I consider a huge find: five solid dense handwritten pages of an adventure. Though written for Runequest likely somewhere in the mid-1980s it has all the classic features of a D&D dungeon homebrewed by an early teen of that period. The room descriptions are wonderfully goofy and unbalanced.
Take the hilarious entry door description: “2 levers, 1 says pull, 1 says don't pull. If you pull the the one that says don't pull, the passage behind you collapses...”

Or this room description: “30 small humanoid creatures. They cower and offer no resistance. There is a stockpile of food and water. If the food is taken the creatures will get all riled up and 300 more will pour of the caves and attack.”

Take that encounter level!

I know the rest of you are uncovering your own flotsam and jetsam of gaming past. Land any big ones?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I Am A Golden God. Again.

Detective Cohle had the right of it. Time is indeed a flat circle.

And lest you think I am (again) ragging on the forum-warriors who Vahalla-style arise to fight the same butthurt-battles, I am aiming closer to home.

Mulling over last night's Hill Cantons game, one of those strangely enjoyable “town” sessions that just meanders around, my brain went back to one of the big-ticket PC and high-ranking NPC goals in the campaign: apotheosis.

The punchline here is that I sat down this morning to write a post about that drive to divine ascension in the campaign, ripped the Robert Plant/Almost Famous classic phrase—and realized I had not only written a post on that subject a few years back but gave it the very same header


Let's break with the quantum skein of the Norns and take it a different direction. Let's talk about the specifics on how one becomes a god.

Let's take that little tucked-away and sadly dry as sand section on the subject in the AD&D's Deities and Demigods book (page 11) as a baseline. In that version to become a god you must meet four criteria:
1. the character has to have surpassed the average level of all NPCs in the campaign (being something like 25-30th level in one that 15th is the average).

2. His ability scores have to be magically raised to beyond human levels on par with the vaguely-defined “lesser demigods.”

3. He must have sincere followers.

4. He must have been a faithful true follower of his patron deity and alignment.

I can live with one as an objective marker of personal power (though the rather low power range of NPCs in the Hill Cantons sets the bar around 11-13th level). Point two to me seems both a bit dull and munchkin like. Four is just a terrible fit for the tone of my campaign. In fact, I am not even sure who many of the PCs worship as a patron god (if any) and alignment is more about the vague cosmic team you identify with than the codified belief system of AD&D.

Three I like the best as it points to something I believe is more important than just accumulating enough personal mojo, it's more about an open-ended goal that can be played out in the course of the game. It's about the doing. It also sets out the rather interesting gameable and well rooted literary idea that deities power fluctuates with the size and deeds of their following.
Coming to the point here's my rough idea of what you need to do to become a godling in the Hill Cantons:
1. The character has to be personally powerful (at least 12th level or whatever the class level max is) and known by repute to be powerful.

2. The player has to be able to push their way into the cosmology of the setting. Whether that's stealing/usurping the portfolio of an existing (and perhaps downwardly mobile) god, destroying or consuming their life force, recreating a lost mythic pattern, starting a state cult, being absorbed by a godhead, creating a whole new religious framework, or whatever. There just has to be someway of fitting into it all. In the Hill Cantons where my cosmology is funkier and more hidden than the D&D multiverse, it also means that the player has figured out by the hard work of play at least some of what the hell is going on behind the cosmological mysteries.

3. You must pull around you a real sincere group of followers by hook or crook (the latter seems popular to the party right now). Hoodwink them, dazzle them, whatever but you have to a sizeable group of NPCs believing in your dance. Quantifiable? Dunno.

4. Those followers must have some infrastructure and organization. You have to have temples, shrines, groves, clergy and accountants all the outward trappings of a cult.

5. Finally you have to accomplished several Herculean “great acts” in this world and the others. I like the idea that it the PC has to have successfully undertaken a truly epic mythopoeic “heroquest” (or two, I do so love Glorantha). Fortunately Barry Blatt has already laid out a lovely scheme for in-game heroquesting (in a pointcrawl format no less) that may be portable to a D&D framework. 

6. Importantly it means the player is ready to hang it up at least for that character. It means retiring in the ultimate End Game.

Still want to be a golden god?