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.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Morvna and Blue Bear

[The following is an "origin story" of sorts for the Revoca Hill Cantons Book and a fatherly love letter to my son, Sammy, who is the original Blue Bear creator. If you find this blog helpful and most of all want to help me get a new Hill Cantons book out please consider backing my Patreon.]

The Revoca Chant of Morvna and Blue Bear (Modrý Medvěd)
So it came to pass in the lands of Morvna the Callipygian, first and last Petty-King of Revoca, that the lord felt lonely and ill at ease both in his heart and viscera.

“I feel jejune,” said the crapulous monarch. “Send onto word to my hirsute brother-in-arms in many a quest, the mighty and semi-divine master of the Dunes, Medved, that we can make merry again and find pleasures in the struggles of man versus antagonist.”

A fortnight passed and in reply, the godling in much apology said: “Oh but great and puissant friend. I am but busy this decade with my vexing war with the race of newts, I will send onto you in my stead my nephew, Modrý Medvěd (Blue Bear), so that he can attend in your hall.”

And lo before him stood a great bear. And his color was of deepest blue and his axe poled. “I come onto you as a friend and bearer of arms in your household,” said Blue Bear. And Morvna embraced him mightily and welcomed him to his hall and many oaths were sworn under the shadow of the house-sabre.

Their adventures were many and many a foe fell. [The Stuzika Cycle, undoubtedly of later origin in the Revocan oral folk tradition, accounts for the many travails and deeds the duo had in their struggle in that the ancient forest.]

And so it was on the fifth year that Ute the Great King of the Nemec came with his immeasurable host to the hill-border of Revoca. “Send homage to me and ye shall keep your lands in my service. For I must must have my army feed and cross your lands to that of Marlinkh.”

In reply Morvna and Blue Bear sent terse and cryptic word, “deese nuts”

As so a great battle ensued. The arrows fell dark in clouds so that our beloved Sun Lord was not seen. The host of Revoca, mighty in elan but not in numbers, fell. Only Morvna and Blue Bear stood weakened on the field.

Thus strode Ute in his breastplate golden to them. With a mighty swing Morvna was laid low.

Woeful Blue Bear wept. The Sun Lord moved in his own grief and finally he spoke, “oh Ute, great lord of all you see, today a man dies and I am verklempt.”

Ute's glory became grief. He wept and embraced the body of the fallen. “Heroic Morvna will find rest under the leaves of the ancient beech. His body will lie adorned with gilded orb, trident mighty, and many a stone precious to guide his husk-spirit to the heavenly firmament. Come Blue Bear, ye shall be Het-Bear of my realm and Morvna's sons shall rule as vassals in fair Revoca eternal.”

With great and rueful shake of cobolt head Blue Bear said “preved.” And with that vanished beneath the soaring trunks of the Stuz.

Friday, June 7, 2019

The Five Stupidest Weapons of the Hill Cantons

[Pandering note: if you find this blog helpful and most of all want to help me get a new Hill Cantons book out please consider backing my Patreon.]

Hear ye, hear ye! For this month-only the Hill Cantons only semi-nomadic weaponsmithery, Zikmund and Sons, will be making its cutting-edge devices of things martial available in its silk-canopied booth in Revoca Town's Trhove. Come for the free kolaches, stay for the marvels of tools of harm both wondrous and jealousy-producing. Near complete satisfaction or your gold suns back*!

Lucernaštít (Lantern-Shield)
+1 AC and d4+1 damage, 140 gold. Right-handed nocturnal duelists, murderhole specialists, and compulsive self-lovers fear not, Zikmund and Sons has you covered. This state-of-the-arm steel buckler fitted with both external and internal lantern brackets allows you to be protected, illuminated, and weaponized all while keeping a free hand. But wait there is more, each shield comes with built-in dirk, steel gauntlet, and gratuitous buckler-spike allowing the wielder to make a single strike per round. With a mere 1 in 20 chance of a trifling left arm break on being struck (say if you want to quantify on a randomized 20-scale a 'natural 20') this is an essential must buy!

Lantern sold separately.

Spring Dagger
d4+1 damage, 70 gold. Get an edge on your enemies with this nasty surprise of a sticker. Simply press a button on the hilt and ho, you have three blades for one. Buy our special silver-plated model at a mere 210 gold for dealing with that stubborn lycanthrope or finanical advisor problem in your life.

+1 AC, d4-2 damage, 25 gold. Stay protected while you penetrate your enemies from up to 30 feet away. This amazing steel buckler combined with central holder/blowgun is available on clearance: buy one get another free. Zikmund and Sons is practically giving them away! (Inquiries regarding the addition of paralytic, lethal, and passive-aggressive poison applications should discreetly seek out the Guild of Slayers and Bloodletters in Marlinko).

D6 damage plus special, 75 gold. Designed for the discriminating footman, the Tabat-kopi (also referred to “the grabber” or “groper” by the vulgar of tongue) is an eight-foot polearm fitted with a razor-edged, grasping-hand mechanism that can dismount a man-sized foe a full 40 percent of the time. Afraid of being in the frontline? Soil your metal breeches not, this product allows you to strike from the second rank!

Tabat-Kopi, Giant
2,000 gold. Need something a little heaftier for your grabbing needs? We have it. The Tabat-Kopi now comes in a 50-foot-long model weighing a convenient single ton. Act now while supplies last.

*All Zikmund and Sons products are not available in Himyar, core provinces of the Overkingdom, or other realms overly valuing the rule of law. All refund guarantees include a modest restocking/reprocessing fee of 39 gold suns and an additional cantonal inspector-graft fee of 26.5 gold suns. Zikmund and Sons assumes no liability for the mangling of limbs in its products. Before using any Zikmund and Sons product, users should seek out the advice of masters of games for appropriate class restrictions. Dual-weapon-use prohibited while employing products except where permitted by ludic law.