Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Slumbering Ursine Dunes Is A-Comin'

I've jibber jabbered here and there about the Slumbering Ursine Dunes, the Mythical Wilderness sub-region of the campaign that I have been slowly, slowly, slowly turning into a mini-sandbox for public consumption.

Longtime readers will have probably noticed that I have also spent a good chunk of time here on the blog and on Google Plus raising criticisms of the excesses of the rpg crowd-funding way and the commercialization of our hobby. As I gear up for horror of horrors a modest Kickstarter in early September I also gear up for not being a complete ass of a hypocrite.

So here's what you can expect as counter-measures against douchery in the Kickstarter:
1. That when it goes live the manuscript will be in a “pre-print” done state. It is currently in its fifth round of aggressive editing and the two tireless editors, Robert Parker and Anthony Picaro, have done the Lord's work in whipping my lazy, indulgent 50-plus digest-sized pages of text into some coherence. There will be no getting stuck in the hard-to-maintain cycle of motivating, writing, playtesting--and avoiding your collective wrath as a result.

2. A bottom $1 or 2 “test drive” tier where you can get the artless PDF immediately (all tiers will get this but I wanted to give folks something my cheap and picky self would want.)

3. A lot of thought has gone into the project not getting bogged down in the usual morass of crowdsourcing delays (and excuses). Higher backer-tiers and stretch goals have been kept modest with an eye on being able to be put together at a reasonably quick pace. Importantly the print publication will be done through RPG Now/RPG Drive-Thru's print-on-demand with an at-cost coupon being sent to backers thus reducing the major delaying woes of printing and fulfillment. (It also means that UK backers can get domestic shipping rates.)

4. That a sizable chunk of the budget is going to pay first the talented David Lewis Johnson (who has also played in the campaign) for gorgeous art and cartography. Another quarter-percentage chunk is going to pay for the editing and layout (yay Mike Davison). While KS's skimpy restrictions don't allow you to directly fund-raise most if not all of what I take all the end of that pie will be going to pay for the filing and legal costs of reviving Hydra, my hippy-ideal game design cooperative, as a worker-owned company (more about that later in the week).
The Golden Barge cover (adventurers likely to disappear)
But enough about the hand-wringing, here are the fun things you can expect from the Dune:
A pointcrawl of the otherwordly Dunes region. Beyond the big ticket adventure sites you will find along the way include a Polevik-haunted rye field, a Zardoz head-living hermit (that scraggly fellar above), bearling pilgrimage site and other assorted madness. 

Two separate “dungeon” sites, the biomechanical, lost-in-time Golden Barge and the warring demi-gods Glittering Tower, with enough detail and portability to be slotted into an existing campaign (as can many of the adventure nodes).

A subsystem for modeling the mythic weirdness of the Dunes in the Chaos Index, a dynamic events systems. Actions of the players in the sandbox will escalate or deescalate the levels of events from blood-rain thunderstorms to an aerial invasion of magictech bubble cars.

Four competing factions operating inside the Dunes, plus guidelines for their mutual interactions.

Unique, “unlockable” player classes, spells and magic items compatible with Labyrinth Lord or really any other oldish D&D game.

15 new and unique monsters, many drawn from Slavic mythology (with a twist or three, naturally).

Some flipping great cover and interior art by David. Check out some of the early sketches.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mythical Wilderness

“Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish...It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention.”
Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness

One of the enduring themes of neo-oldish D&D in the past five years has been the notion of dungeon as a “mythic underworld.” Philotomy the originator of the phrase stated it quite succinctly: “a mega dungeon should have a certain amount of verisimilitude and internal consistency, but it is an underworld: a place where the normal laws of reality may not apply, and may be bent, warped, or broken.”

Inexplicably the theme hasn't extended itself as thoroughly to the ancient realm of the mythic: wilderness. Projecting our dreams and ideas into the wilds is a timeless thing that changes with our own times. It is nature as giver, supernatural evil, challenge, peaceful refuge, antidote to civilized decadence or whatever. The theme endures and deserves some gaming love as a motif for adventure sites.

Of course in fantasy gaming almost all wilderness is mythical in the sense that human civilization has a weak hold and things monstrous or magical often live in their bounds. But I'm talking here about the cranked up high version. The kind of wilderness that is truly otherworldly, the enchanted wood, divine mountain, sacred grove or magic garden gone feral.

Mythical Wilderness is a major running theme in the eponymous campaign. Where going into the wilds—crossing into the Weird--is going into a different physical reality. Characters can feel an electric undercurrent as they pass out of the human realm and can expect just about anything.

Not surprisingly as it comes straight out of that broken line of reasoning and play, Mythical Wilderness plays a huge role in the soon-to-be published mini-sandbox Slumbering Ursine Dunes (now in its fifth editing iteration and being run again on Google Plus if you'd like to come out and play).

The Dunes incorporates most of the following laundry list: an internal ecology and weather climate distinct from the surrounding “real world”, impossibly large dunes; magical fields; mythical demi-god guardians, and a random "weird" events system, a chaos index, that dynamically changes the sandbox with player actions.

Common Features
Internal Dynamics Trump Ecology. It may have beasts going through the motions of such things as predation or a climate cycle or the like or it may have nothing at all like that (no mundane animals, nothing consumed/shat etc). The internal logic and dynamics of the place trumps all and it is not beholden to the regular rules of either the mundane natural world or human civilization.

Unhooked from Time and Space. Time is completely relative inside it and may have any number of effects. It may work like the Faerie mounds or realms of Northwestern European folklore with years passing in the outside world for a matter of days inside. Or it may preserve residents of an ancient past or border/open into another plane of existence altogether.

Inimical or Supernatural Terrain. Trees may grow to fantasic heights or widths. Whole forests of giant gnome red cap mushrooms may bloom. Miniature mountain ranges rise, amnesia-producing rivers spring or seas of lava spread. The terrain itself may even be actively hostile to outsiders, twisted trees and vines may trip or attack.

Bends Outside Magic. Spell effects will often be different. Certain spells may be amplified, dulled or neglected in effect. Certain areas may be magically fertile or completely barren. Endless fun for the GM.

Layers of Mystery. Part of the great fun of having this kind of funhouse wilderness is that what
makes it all tick—the why and how of the whole thing-- is often something wholly inexplicable at first. Like a great dungeon or adventure site those layers get peeled away in exploration. Think of the Island in Lost here.

Powerful, Semi-Divine Boss/Force. Invariably the strange, weird, mysterious and fantastical nature of the Mythic Wilderness is due to a force or master. A terribly powerful being-- the Horned Master of the Wild Hunt, Green Man, Faerie Queen, Demonic Tree-Spirit, Batshit Archmage or what have you—that the PCs run from/parlay/barter/fight.

Anything else you think should make this list? War stories of your own creations?