Friday, November 25, 2022

Black Friday

Every year the Black Friday comes. The crowds throng true places of worship, the lands called strips and malls that run without limit through zones our cities. The long stares start in the morning and extend through the day to a 1000 yards. In the backs of lines children howl and squirm. Black Friday will come again.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Mauve Plague, Gravy Urns, and Batlace Frills: News from the Hill Cantons

And now the News...
In a statement beamed from the Oracular Society today Morafans the Rickmaster, the Psychosocial Health Minister of the Overking, has issued guidelines for the “mauve plague” of crowned micro-psychonauts sweeping the borderlands this season. Hill Cantoners are advised to stay underground for extended periods of time preferably in small armed groups of 4-12 to avoid mauve plague infection.

Morafans also clarified a recent statement from Our Dear Overking Adaulf II that his people should “embrace chaos—we have the greatest chaos, the best chaos--and prepare for the End of All Things” as “poetic license that in fact means quite the opposite, all other interpretations are nuncupatory.” Construction of the Great Ziggarut will continue in order as part of the royal stimulus package.

Panic buying of white gravy and halushky has created severe shortages throughout the Cantons. Lady Draga, her most serene boyaress of Revoca Canton, is offering a cold hard cash bounty of 5,000 gold suns for the procurement of the Great Gravy Urn of Svat the Four-Faced from a nearly murderhole.

In equally important news “Little Szara”, the newly-arrived Marlinko high society bon vivant, has introduced mandiblar-bat frills into local fashion. Everyone who is anyone is wearing them, really darling.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Regimental Goats, Bounties, and Free Pasturage for All: News from the Hill Cantons Returns

We return to our regularly scheduled program of fortnightly updates from the Hill Cantons campaign.

And Now the News...

Agents of Koza the Regimental Goat have been spreading the political gospel of the horned exile through the Cantons this month. The Weal-and-Chaos platform of Koza has great if subversive appeal to the enlisted Black Army ranks and rural lesser classes especially the newly rolled out Free Pasturage for All plank.

Last month's horrific murders and cannibalistic debasement of Pilof, the second son of Subgraf Androj the Unsubtle, in the wilds of Upper Marlinko Canton during a routine investigation into unlicensed witchery has produced suspects after a Seers and Wainwrights Guild consultation. A bounty of 7,500 gold sun has been issued for the restorative justice deaths of the so-called Revoca Seven. The Brothers of the Other Mother are however extending an 7,257 weregild price (base weregild plus oracular reimbursement and a “stocking fee”) has been generously extended to the perpetrators.

Widespread pig-rustling and petty warfare has broken out in the Translittoral Canton of Heimbutboch (spelling variable by monthly whim of the editor). Local sources say breaking with recent tradition this round of conflict is more of a “card-driven affair.”

Hisfytla the newly-crowned queen of the Amazons (western branch) is holding a lavish contest in which outlanders are invited to captain large combat barges “long-term leased” from the Eld in a battle of wits and valor. Qualified contestants will be supplied with a barge and crew of male-helots. The winners are promised a 2,500 silver “balsaccs” (extremely-large Amazonian coins worth 5 of your masculine tainted gold suns) and magical accouterments worthy of your ranked status. Losers will be granted special lifetime entry-level positions in the Regal Torture-Harem. 

Long live the Vy-Queen!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Radegast Speaks: Ask Me Anything about the Hill Cantons

I've been fielding a lot of questions by email and DM on the various books of the Hill Cantons (Slumbering Ursine Dunes, Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, Misty Isles of the Eld) and the setting in general. Its been fun digging out old dog-eared notebooks, coffee-stained maps and the like to remember what exactly went down in Lady Szara's Bathe in the Blood of Servants charity ball, what lies across the World Canal, where the kuduks live, etc.

(Ten-Minute Guide to the Hill Cantons here.)

So how about we open up the floor for a few days. Is there anything you'd like to know about the Hill Cantons? Any elaborations or clarifications from the books, setting, or blog?  Projects old and new?

Any idle words of mine to pounce on?

crappy players map from the campaign

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Branching Mysteries of Revoca

[A new Revoca Hill Cantons book chapter, featuring the Tarn Tomb of Morvna (a dungeon), is about done. If you would like to help support that project and/or find this blog helpful, please consider backing my Patreon right here.]

One of the things as a budding GM that I dug about my fave classic Traveller supplement, 76 Patrons, was that each patron encounter/mission/hook came with a d6 chart that made each of them variable in nature. Even better most of the higher rolled entries became progressively more of a twist—often more dangerous or messed up.

So an eloped couple of aristocrats on a roll of one are in fact just being paranoid, no one is following them. On a roll of two agents of the woman will try and kidnap her, and on a six agents of both families will try kill the opposite members of the family and kidnap their own!

It's an elegant, creative-GM-friendly way to bake in not just replayability and non-linear feeling choice but also scenarios to keep players on their toes. I used to love how it would like any great random table introduce a layer of self-surprise for you as a GM. That oh wow moment and malicious little chuckle.

So that gets me to the new tentatively-titled book Ground Down in Revoca Town. One of the reasons the Hill Cantons books always end up considerably longer than I originally anticipated is that the broken brain DIY tinker in me can't just write the damn books straight—inevitably I always want to explore something whether its pointcrawls, chaos indexes, or how to present urban adventures, etc.

Revoca has been no exception and one of the things I've been currently obsessing about is presenting 76 Patrons-like variability when it comes to some of the mysteries of Revoca Town, the mythical wilderness and Great Aviary (big dungeon) nearby.

Example, one of the abiding mysteries for more than a year was why the local ruling family (the Morvnas) has had only female heirs for 17 generations. The party in the original campaign became quite tight with the teenaged current Lady of the castle, living under her staircase and tempted by the tripled locked steel door leading down into the underworks.

That's how it worked in the campaign but in the published manuscript I am working to weave in “but wait it get's worse” scenarios (and a few better). So on a roll or DM choice of say one it's just a simple run of incredibly improbable bad luck, the males die in childbirth with an escalation up the “oh it's getting worse” scale to a very dark and dangerous roll on the six. Each “mystery path” in turn has some effect on the adventure locales so a party going to the Tarn Tomb of Morvna (small dungeon in the lake) will encounter a few markedly different rooms/themes.

It's a fun way to play with things and I am enjoying its execution. I have a feeling that it will be used more and more at my own table as I develop new material.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

And Now the News Draft Download on Patreon

It's self-styled Throwback Thursday and having just released the 34-page draft booklet of Hill Cantons news to my Patreon backers I am going to indulge my summer whims and re-post an old post (with small updates) I put together on the use of campaign news to cohere and maintain a longstanding campaign (part of my old series on building dynamic sandboxes that you can find here). 

News as Campaign Glue, the Hill Cantons Method

Seven of the ten years of the Hill Cantons existence has been spent weekly online. One of the biggest hurdles with running games online—or hell even face to face with adult schedule--is social cohesion. There is just something about the lack of direct human contact that ratchets up the flake factor beyond the usual range of adult scheduling issues: players drop out of games within minutes of kickoff; gamemasters cancel sessions with wild abandon, campaigns fizzle after a single game; the video hangout freezes/drops/freaks the fuck out etc.

One coping mechanism is that you have to be a lot more conscious and deliberate about engaging players between sessions. Creating a campaign rhythm and rapport because vital. At the low end of the effort poll is creating a community page or other discussion and information hub, but I have found that it helps for a gamemaster to be proactive and create certain regular entry points for the players to be able to plug into and feel the dynamism of a campaign.

Beyond the weekly “take,” a combined After Action Report and loot/exp haul, I have churned out with on again/off again regularity a weekly news report as a “campaign cohesion linchpin.” Mirroring the exact style of 50-word news briefs I had to churn out each and every day for a while as a news editor, the reports invariably feature 3-4 points (that rarely go over three sentences) and an image. You can see examples hereand here.

My campaign news briefs come in at least several recognizable stripes (often combining two or more):
Obvious Adventure Hook. The incredibly not-subtle, bang-you-over-the-head “here be adventure” hook. Usually involving a discernible mission, macguffin and/or defined bounty. This is always either an announcement that I have designed a new area or to a tease a site they may have missed in their sandbox explorations (hate wasting material).

Example: For five long centuries the sleepy Kezmaroki-ruled island of Ptuj has tolerated with a resigned shrug its sister isle, Tolmin, lost to the Weird. Last year alas Smok, a youngish offspring of the great wyrm Zirnitra herself, descended on great wings onto the House of the Axe, a shunned temple of the cthonic goddess called the Mistress of the Mountains. Terrified Ptujians, whose rural residents have become the favored snack of the great beast, are offering a substantive bounty for the slaying of the dragon: gender-appropriate nubile concubines, a small mountain of the island's vintage corn liquor, a local latifundia estate, and 10,000 suns of cold hard cash.

The Subtle Hook. Perhaps only subtle relative to the above is a mixed item (from the list below) that may contain a line signifying that an actionable adventure or geographic place may be interesting enough to warrant in-session exploration. The actual site or mission will often be obscured.

Example: Vatek son of Vatek, is claiming to have unearthed a 500-stone beet from his tenant farmer's field in the hamlet of Ctyri Ctvrt. Most strange of all is the twisted face-like blemish near the giant beet's crown. A local shepherd claims to have heard a booming voice emanate from the storage hut where it is currently housed two nights ago. 

Oblique Background. The Hill Cantons has developed firmly in the bottom-up worldbuilding camp, accreting levels of detail as the campaign rolls on (really starting just as a wilderness map of a very small bounded area). I have a strong preference for presenting small interesting little bites than dumping large reams of setting info.

Example: The Blood Rains have swept into Kezmarok leaving syrupy, sticky puddles and residues throughout the city. The Patriarch has declared the ritual sympathetic mourning period to commiserate with our most holy Sun Lord as he suffers his silver-chained beating from his spurned former wife, the Celestial Lady. On pain of a hefty fine, all residents of the city must wear the customary mustard yellow through this period.

The Big Ticket Event. Most all long campaigns start to generate dramatic large-scale events; the bloody wars and earth-shattering cataclysms that make our world so lovable. Some of these truly huge events sculpt the world the players have to negotiate, others are significant and dramatic but may be actionable of the party (the latter here).

Example: Two weeks of inexplicable, furious flurry of activity in the Turko-Fey siege camps have been followed by an even more ominous development--a fusillade of shelling by the dreaded dragonne-cannons. While bonders have braced pikes-awaiting for the usual half-hearted sortie following the bombardment, the guns seem to have not abated in their fury. In the first time in the five centuries of the Kezmaroksiege the outer of the three massive wall seems dangerously close to a breach.

The Whimsy. Quite often the last news item is an example of “I write whatever the fuck I want.” These on self-indulgent ocassion run over long from my usual “keep it quick” format. Shockingly also often these tend to morph into Subtle Adventure Hooks.

Example: Of the many family-dominated usury guilds to escape the collapse of last decade, the Frazas were among the most infamous in deftly transferring their massive debts back to the public treasuries of the cantonal councils. But long before this, they had accrued notoriety far and wide for another feat: the weaving of the Tapestry of Xvikz. A full two centuries ago, then Frazas family head, Franzoht Fair-Breeched, called on his dark powers to summon and bind the Xvikz, a demon from the darkest, deepest hell of high finance.

A great lover of petty humiliation Franzoht tormented the creature by refusing to put the dreaded demon's powers to appropriate use instead compelling him to weave a great commemorative tapestry from the velvety firmament of the domed heavens. That the required scene was both cloying and derivative only added to the sulk of the demon who plodded away needle point in hand. Years stretched into decades as the demon passively-aggressively refused to finish in a timely manner—and each successive generation of bull-headed Frazas refusing to release the demon in turn led to impasse.

Inexplicably fourteen years ago, Xvikz declared his last stitch sewn. Though the resulting tapestry was horrifically underwhelming, its unveiling was heralded as a major cultural achievement in Overkingdom aesthete circles and became a much-sought fixture of upper crust soirees in the borderlands.