My next face to face gaming weekend is fast approaching. It is a chance to both play my Lay Healer and to run my Forgotten Realms based RMC campaign.
At the end of last session the characters had killed an evil witch but not before she had opened a portal to another realm, think Stargate SG1, a big mirror showing rippling water and then out of it came giant octopus tentacles trying to drag characters into the mirror’s surface.
That was the climactic final fight scene.
Everyone survived and no one was seriously hurt.
Over the past dozen weekends I have slowly loaded the characters up with life-preserving and in two cases life-giving magics.
This is originally a D&D setting so there is an expectation that there will be clerics to hand to cast Raise Dead in the parts of lift from published modules. In the previous session I had expected someone to die. I wasn’t going to bend any rolls to save them. I had done my part by making sure they had the magics needed to survive death.
I will confess that I was a little disappointed that no one died. I wasn’t out to kill them but they are not a high-level party, averaging around 6th level. The big bad monster should have been able to kill them and on any other day, it probably would have killed someone. If he had killed a PC it would have made more of a statement of just how dangerous the beast was. As it happened I have thrown a troll at them in the past and it has given them more trouble.
My mission in this coming weekend is to kill someone, kill them heroically and then bring them back. That may seem mean but when we play only a few times a year I want to make these sessions stand out. To pack in all the RPG experiences. Death does need to be part of those experiences. If death isn’t a real threat then victories are not real victories. It all gets devalued slightly.
The last session involved a lot of incompetent goons, a witch and a horror from another plane. Before that was real ghosts in a haunted house and before that was an evil wizard in his hidden lair.
There have been a lot of magical opponents and my group is magically very strong, a sorcerer, warrior mage, elemental warrior, mystic and cleric. I am thinking of doing a session of unrelenting combat, they are in the first dungeon level of a castle. I can activate some Golems, motivated by the witch’s death and see if the characters will fight their way out or head into the dungeons deeper levels. Either work for me. It would be most sensible for them to try and fight their way out immediately but then this group doesn’t always do the sensible thing.
I do not believe I have ever actively set out to kill a character before so that will be an experience in itself. NPCs I will happily kill like flies if I get bored of them or they have served their purpose but never a player character.
Looking over their character sheets the characters have the capability to raise three characters from dead. My action will take one of those ‘three strikes’ out.
Now I wonder how many Brass Golems it will take to kill on character and only one?
So this has nothing to do with Rolemaster, at all or in any shape or form. Devil’s Staircase [DS] is about as far away from the crunch and simulationism of RM as you can get, without playing FATE.
So why am I writing about it?
Well, I wrote the game two years ago now and it spent a year in playtesting, Spectre771 proved to be the lead playtester. I did all the layout, with loads of help from twitter followers giving free advice, in August and finally this week I have launched the crowdfunding campaign for the game.
I am trying three different approaches side by side at the moment.
Strand 1 is Navigator RPG. That is offered for sale as PWYW for the playtest. The money from the playtest all goes back to funding the development of the game. The approach means you need to be able to work with a drip-feed of money. We are talking very small amounts and regardless of when the books are bought you get your funds at the same date each money.
Strand 2 is DS:Wild West. This game had a year’s playtesting, there is a free quickstart on DTRPG and now crowdfunding.
Strand 3 is Plague, Famine & War. These adventures can easily be a vehicle for new professions, new monsters, new spell lists. I can remember really enjoying buying modules and they had all sorts of new things to add into my game (B/X D&D back in those days). I am extremely careful not to use any ICE intellectual property in these adventures, which makes using new monsters and magic items and all that jazz even more useful. Creating all that stuff is fun as well. Why? Because ICE released the original companions at a rate of about one a year. An adventure takes less than two weeks to create. Seven fully-featured adventures like this could contain seven new professions, seven or more spell lists, seven new monsters, and magical items. That pretty much sounds like a companion right there but you also got seven full adventures as well.
Rolemaster fans deserve new things, new toys, and new challenges. On top of that having a flow of new releases for RM makes the system seem more alive and vibrant for potential players. It is also easier, especially for new younger gamers, to find $3 every few weeks than it is to find $20-$30 for a full-on companion.
So, supporting DS:Wild West even just by sharing the link anywhere and everywhere will indirectly help Rolemaster, past, present and future.
I was unexpectedly busy this week, so this is a little late.
Plague, Famine & War II was released on Sunday. This is another low level adventure and rather than being set in the port, where the first episode was placed, this one takes the characters up a mountain.
I recently saw this tweet…
I’m increasingly convinced rpg settings should consist of 3 things:
Random tables of details for anything that might come up With the first 2 being as short as possible and the third being the majority of the presentation.
I like that philosophy and judging by the range of supporting comments that the original poster received many other people do as well.
I can see more of a balance between 2. and 3. but the principles hold true. This is basically what I have done with the Fanzine adventures. A few of the barest maps, lots of random tables and but a strong sense of style.
With these PF&W adventures we are getting the same sort of thing again. They were originally intended as drop in adventures, drop the first one on any port and you are ready to go.
Once you have two or three, the third episode is being written, one almost has enough to create a foothold in an entirely new setting, in the same way that Waterdeep was the default jumping off point for Forgotten Realms.
It begs the questions of what would make this setting unique? What is the rest of the world like?
Do those questions need answering? I think that PF&W will only be three or possibly four episodes long. A mini campaign of sorts. So far we have had a sea adventure, a mountain top battle against the elements and part three is going to be a low-ish level dungeon crawl. I think a fourth part with a city-wide threat, a bit like the end of one of the Avengers movies would be quite cool.
I don’t really want to map an entire city, although Dyson Logos has some good city maps. I am thinking of a hybrid approach where a nice map is provided for the GM and pre-, post- adventure but during the actual high intensity action sequences a random table is used to detail the rat runs of cross alleys and side streets, the shops and businesses on those streets.
I am thinking that I create a d10 grid, the first column gives a quick glance down the street to say whether it is a terrace of small cottages, a small public square, a cluster of shops, a junction with side roads and so on. Then another column to tell you what kind of shop or business, if the player asks, then further columns for the owner name, the quality of the place and so on.
An organised GM that loves prep could use the random tables to map out entire city blocks. A GM that doesn’t do prep could generate the city on the fly. I dislike obviously rolling dice in front of the players to determine world facts. I like to appear that everything was plotted well in advance. So I would use a table of random 1-10 numbers to achieve the same effect but without the dice rolling. A simple glance at a row of numbers would tell me that the next stand out building is a cheap bakery, run by Hamish Goodfellow. If the PCs run past then I don’t need to know any more, if they try and hide in the bakery or burst in, asking if there is a rear exit, I know enough that the chap behind the counter is probably chubby (being both a baker and anyone called Goodfellow must be chubby and happy looking).
So I was contemplating at what point do these adventures constitute a setting? I think the defining feature would be do I want to keep on writing for the same world? If the answer is yes, then I am building a setting one adventure at a time. Every little fact or reference adds to the fabric of the setting.
If the answer is no, I have written a series of adventures and now I want to move on so something different then no this was not a setting but a drop-in mini series.
I am tending towards the latter. The adventures in the fanzine are all set in impenetrable jungle with strong asian influences with a little dash of ninjas and shoguns. PF&W are set in a euro-centric medieval fantasy world. I don’t know where I want to go with the next series but I do have a particular monster in mind and that will probably limit my terrain types and suggest a setting.
Right now I have more ideas for adventure concepts than I have time to write.
This is part one of the series of adventures I was talking about last week.
It is my hope to put out an adventure every few weeks. Unlike the installments of the RMu Adventure Path in the fanzine each month I want to hop about a bit more with these. Also I have specified that these adventures are for RMC/RM2 and RMFRP/RMSS.
As RMu Creature Law is being split into two parts I am not entirely sure what will make the cut and what won’t. So just to be safe I am only supporting the currently available games.
Plague Famine & War II should be out by Monday (14th Oct) and I expect there to be three chapters in the entire series. I can then move on to something different.
I laughingly said to someone that I wanted to write 200 adventures in 2020, based upon 1 a day. That was based upon the premise that I could write some viable adventure design tools that would take most of the burden off of me. Adding in a healthy dose of reality check I would hope to write 20 adventures in 2020. That is a bit of a climb down but I also want to support 10 to 12 systems. From my perspective that is still 200 product releases and each one is unique in its own way.
I expect each adventure to be an evolution on a journey towards a mix of automation and hand crafted adventures. Automation is not a bad thing whether it is using random weather tables or encounter tables, these are all forms of automation.
Of course it is easy to sit here at my desk and think, oh, I will just write 20 adventures, no problem. The reality could be rather different. From where I am sitting right now, it feels easier to write 20 fully developed adventures to be released when each is good and ready than it is to produce on a month on a fixed deadline as I do with the fanzine or to write 25 brief ones as we did for the 50in50 adventures.
Hopefully some of you noticed the Rolemasterblog blog has a bit of a technical wobble this week.
Our host moved the site to bigger and better servers and in the process managed to break the site.
I was offered the option of them fixing it or as I have a power user account I could fix it myself and in return get 5 years free hosting and domain renewals.
I took the free hosting option and then learned that I am not as good as I would like to think I am.
It has taken me 2 days to fix everything that was broken, half of it just finding out which files were corrupted and which I could safely just overwrite.
All that remains to restore the backups of all the file downloads. and images etc.
This will be rather incremental as my net connection is about the speed of dialup at times and the backup I need to upload is 291MB. I have tried twice already and my connection has dropped out killing the upload.
In November I am moving to a new place and there I will have a fixed line and proper 21st century broadband. If the worst comes to the worst I will wait until the beginning of Nov to do the big restore.
This time last month I was talking about 2 page adventures. My thinking was that a book on how to random adventures may be more useful to GMs needing an instant, low prep adventure than try to sell written adventures.
I have described adventure writing as a fool errand and a thankless task in the past.
Over the past month I have taken the tables in one of the adventure writing books and automated them.
The basic version spits out text intended to be read by someone about to use them to write an adventure. I have edited them to spit out text intended to be read by the GM at the table. This is a mammoth task. There are 19 tables, of a typical 10 entries each and in the original wording said things like this.
Number 1 on the Adventure Hooks table says:
Dying Delivery On some occasion when the hero is out wandering the streets or is otherwise all alone, a dying man bumps into him, hands him something, says a few words, and dies. The deliverer can be dying of a curse, poison, a wound from a weapon, malnutrition caused by his long captivity, or from some bizarre and inexplicable cause. The dagger still protruding from his back is the most common cause of death among dying deliverers. The object given to the hero can be a famous weapon or artifact which has long been missing and presumed destroyed, an object which could not possibly have found its way into this wretch’s hands (such as the king’s crown or the most holy talisman of the local church). or a sheaf of papers. If it’s a sheaf of papers, it can signify any number of things; it can be a certificate of birth, proving that some nobody is actually the heir to the kingdom (naturally, agents of the current “heir” will kill anyone who possesses it ); it can be proof that an upstanding citizen is really the head of !he city’s criminal syndicate (of course, said upstanding citizen is very anxious to get his hands on the papers, and on the heart of anyone who’s read them); it can be a duplicate sc roll describing a ritual of monstrous demon summoning whose elements are suspiciously reminiscent of events going on right now in the city. And the man’s dying words are the real hook. In general. they should tell the hero where to look next. If he names his killer, the hero will know to go take a look at the accused. If he describes where he was attacked, the hero will probably go there. If he tells the hero where to take this maguffin, then the hero will probably go there (even if he isn’t necessarily inclined to hand over the goods). If he says something inexplicable, like “Emerald eyes of the ram;’ before dying, then the hero will be baffled until later, when he hears of the golden statue of a ram with emerald eyes being commissioned by some famous personage.
You can see how that is all useful advice but what I am doing to breaking that down into yet more random options and then presenting one of them as the actual plot hook. A combination of separating out all the possibles and a change in emphasis in the way the plot hook is presented.
The intention was, past tense, to build this huge sophisticated tool that when you click a button presents a nearly complete adventure. You just needed to incorporate Setting, NPC and monster stats and the adventure would be good to go.
Taking the idea one step further it would be to have a goal of producing an adventure a day. If one had a tool, similar to JDales NPC generator that, for example took an option for level and biome and would select suitable monsters for you complete with stats or at least book references.
Copy and paste all these elements into a single document and all you would need is a couple of hours of proofreading and tweaking before the adventure was ready to publish. I was aiming for a sort of 1 a day production schedule.
When adventures are that ‘disposable’ it doesn’t really matter if they don’t make much money individually. They will sit on DriveThruRPG in perpetuity providing a trickle of income.
But my mind doesn’t often let ideas just lie there. It would have taken months of work to build the finished tool. Then you would still have the odd grammatical problem. I have build tools like this before and you always get an occasional mismatch when you are trying to build natural sounding sentences programmatically.
I want to add in another piece of information.
I released and adventure called something along the lines of The Jungle Collection. I am a bit vague about the name as I released two versions with slightly different names, one for RM and one for Zweihander. In total the adventure has earned me $96, $62 for the Zwei version and $34 for the RM version.
What I didn’t want to do is spend months creating a piece of software and then discover that the adventures it creates are crap. So I thought why not run it once. Look at the quality of the output and make one edit to it to improve the output. Then take what I have and write it up as an adventure, put it on sale and then rinse and repeat.
So I did that. I ran the programme, took the output and it took me 5 days to turn it into a viable adventure. I then put it on sale. The way I had set the book up was with all the adventure stuff at the beginning and then an NPC Rosta and monster stats in the last three pages.
So I thought why not just create some new NPCs and get some different monster stats and target a different system? This is what I had done with the Jungle Collection.
So I made the setting a spaceship and released it for Traveller, Stars Without Number, OpenD6 Space and White Star. Then changing the ship from a spaceship to a merchant ship I released it for Zweihander and this week I will make a Rolemaster version, an OSR D&D version and probably a handful of other fantasy systems.
The goal being to have released possibly 10 versions within the 2 weeks since running the script. So far I have made a little over $26. The Jungle adventures made $96 since mid-March so about 6 months or so.
So why so many versions?
My logic goes like this. Rolemaster is pretty niche, but has a loyal following. You cannot make a rolemaster adventure pay for itself as there are just not enough players and GMs who buy adventures.
Zwei on the other hand has sold in the hundreds of thousands of copies in the past 2 years. How many of those get played is a different question but the game is current and has a following. Traveller has a long history and strong following, it is nearly as old as D&D, and talking of which D&D has a pretty big following. Ultimately for a ‘drop in’ adventure that has no hard setting the bigger the audience the more you are going to sell.
There are diminishing returns when it comes to audience size. I could make the adventure suitably unique and sell it on DMs Guild but there are tens of new releases every day and the chances of yours getting noticed is slim to non-existent. The 0D&D/OSR community is smaller than the 5e community but still massive by Rolemaster standard. The rate of releases is somewhat less and the chances of getting some attention are somewhat higher.
All of these variations will then give a massive total audience size and make the project financially worth while, or so I hope.
I idea of nirvana for this is to have a piece of software that will turn out a print quality adventure in an hour. Whether that will ever happen I cannot say.
What you will see is a new Rolemaster adventure released this week called Plague, Famine & War I. That will be the first product of this plan.
I will let you know how I get on.
I have had so much feedback for Navigator RPG that it is taking a while to get a new version of the playtest done. When the PDF gets updated this week it will be the third version. The document has already grown by 3 or 4 pages which is cool. It gets prettier by the day as well.
The playtest is two weeks old and as of this morning there had been 224 downloads and the PWYW donations have totalled $39.17 of which I get $27.42. That is from 13 paid purchases.
So far I am extremely happy with the results. By the end of the week I will be uploading an even better version of the game. I cannot remember if you have seen this version of the cover?
This weeks release also has the starting adventure to help get people going. The previous versions had playtesters using the original White Star beginning adventure.