Descent: Forgotten Souls Review

We were supposed to get our internet upgraded up this week (as well as many previous weeks), but apparently Outreach has a pretty lax attitude about doing things.

Of course when you're the only ISP that won't charge someone over $130 per month for a tenuous satellite signal with a monthly 20Gb download cap, you can get away with some pretty abysmal "customer" "service".

This is why you haven't seen a play report for a role-playing game (or any game, really) in over a month: our internet speed is so slow that it cannot support a Hangout game. So, being about an hour away from the closest approximation of civilization and itching to roll some dice (even "normal" six-siders), we decided to give Forgotten Souls a shot.

This is billed as a "fully cooperative expansion" for Descent, but it's not really an expansion so much as a single, massive quest with all the parts necessary to run it cooperatively (and only cooperatively): you get a deck of Exploration, Activation, and Peril cards, as well as a "track sheet" that is used to, well, track your Fate, Doom, and Loot.

To setup the quest you pull out the starting and three numbered main encounters from the Exploration deck, divide the rest of the deck into three smaller decks, shuffle one of the main encounters into each of them, then finally stack them so that each encounter will be drawn in order from one to three.

You then build the starting room with tiles, and—as with "normal" Descent—populate it with monsters and search tokens based on the number of players, and from there it's anyone's guess. Basically the goal is to clear the encounter, open the door, draw another Exploration card, build the room, clear the new encounter, and rinse and repeat until you either finish the third main encounter...or die trying.

Each Exploration card tells you what room you need to build, which like the starting room also determines what monsters and Search tokens are present, if any, based on the number of heroes present: since it was just the two of us, we basically only ever had to deal with two monsters at a time (a master and a minion).

There is also encounter text that tells you what has to be done to clear it—which can have both good and bad conditions—or the card might just keep smacking you with something bad until you clear it. Sometimes it'll be something simple like "kill all the monsters", and other times you'll have to catch a Search token before it gets to the exit of the room.


Once the encounter is cleared you can then head over and open the door (doors cannot be opened while the card is still in play), after which you draw a new Exploration card, build and populate the room, check the encounter text, etc. You gotta be quick, because if the Overlord phase starts and there is no active encounter, you get to draw a Peril card and advance the Fate token by one.

But wait, you're obviously thinking at this point in time (as opposed to what the hell are Peril cards, or Fate/Doom tokens): if there's no Overlord, why does he still get a phase? I'm glad/assuming you thought that: during the "Overlord" phase you check the encounter card, and run through all the things in the red section. Sometimes this is as simple as advancing the Doom or Fate token, or resolving a Peril card, and sometimes it has you roll a die to spawn more monsters.

Monster activation is also part of the Overlord phase: once you're done with the encounter text you draw an Activation card, find whatever monster is on the board, and run through the steps.


Obviously they aren't going to be tactical geniuses: generally they just move until they can hit a hero and then attack. Some will specify the most or least wounded hero, some will have the monster use a special attack. The rulebook pdf specifies how to spend surges so that they'll always do something (no spending a surge on Disease if you won't take any damage, for example).

Maybe to account for that, as well as the lack of an Overlord playing Overlord cards, a lot of the Activation cards give them bonuses. Sometimes it's something minor like +3 range or +1 wound per hit, but there's one that gives barghests +5 speed and another attack action. Oh, the encounters can also add bonuses, too: last night the encounter and Activation card combined to give the flesh moulders we ran into +6 range. Plus. Six. Yeah, they didn't need to spend surges to bump that.

The last thing I should cover is that whole Fate/Doom/Loot thing (band name?).


On the left side you have the Overlord track. You put a Hero token on both ends, with the number of heroes determining where the Doom token starts at (there are spots that indicate 2, 3, and 4 heroes). Some encounters will have you advance the Fate/Doom token if you take too long/fuck up too much, but if you do a good job the Fate token can be reset or moved back. The Doom token never goes back, and if both tokens end up on the same spot you immediately lose.

The loot track allows you to gain Act-whatever shop cards, which is good because you don't get a chance to stop and shop in this game. Whenever you kill a monster, you put a heart token on the loot track for each space it occupied, and once it hits the number of heroes you are running you draw a number of cards based on the location of a fatigue token next to it. The fatigue token starts at 1 card, but every time you kill a master monster you bump it up by one. So, the more master monsters you take down first, the more cards you get to draw.

Conclusion
So, did we like it? Well, yeah. It still plays and feels like Descent, just with some mechanics taken from (or that at least reminded us of) Castle Ravenloft/Wrath of Ashardalon, Mice & Mystics,  and Super Dungeon Explore (all other board games we own and enjoy): randomly created rooms, random game duration based on luck of the draw, monsters with programmed actions, treasure drops, killing things to bump up a loot track, etc.

You can also gain XP from some encounters that you can spend to buy more skills cards (which is good because the game transitions to Act II after the second main encounter).

The only downsides, for me, are that it's just one quest, the main encounters are always the same and encountered in the same order, and you only get to use four types of monsters throughout the entire thing. Also, the rules (which are also necessary to know what tiles and monsters are needed for each room) are only available online.

The upside is that thanks to all of the other exploration cards and shuffling it's unlikely to go down the same way twice. Plus the activation deck keeps you on your toes: unlike the Dungeons & Dragons board games or Zombicide!, you can't just learn what the monsters are going to do and exploit the pattern.

I think this is great if you don't have a lot of players, if one or more players are way more tactically adept than the others in your group (like mine), or if you're more of a fan of fully coop games. Here's hoping they keep making more quests like this. It would also be great if, down the line, you could combine various coop quests to really get crazy with it.

Actual Play Image Dump





September 12, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Super Dungeon Explore: Meet the Heroes, Part 2

It's been quite some time since I talked about (and unfortunately even played) Super Dungeon Explore, but I finally found and unpacked all of the board games at our new place, which means...

...we just have to wait for our internet service provider to actually get out here, and upgrade our internet to a speed that allows us to play Hangout games (or even do something as simple as watch a YouTube video without constant buffering).

So until that happens (supposed to be this week they swear, again), I figure I might as well talk about another set of heroes, this time the guys and gals from the expansions, plus Candy & Cola and Nyan Nyan because why the hell not?

Candy & Cola
I'm honestly not a huge fan of Candy & Cola (despite owning two of them), but I think that's because I usually play in 2-3 hero games and she seems like the kind of hero that is intended for a larger party (especially if you have someone making attacks with red dice, like the Claw Tribe Barbarian).

Her Attack sucks (2B), and while her Will is nice (2R) that's only really going to be useful if you don't already have a spellcaster on tap; in a small party you might not, but in a big party where she'd really shine you probably will.

The big thing she's got going on is Sugar Rush (costs three potions and gives whoever downs them all +2 action points), Soothing Soda (immune to all status effects), Cola (roll a blue die for potions), and Luck (turn any hearts she rolls into potions, assuming she even hurts what she's attacking).

As with other "supporting" heroes I'd pass on her in smaller games: in a big party where more potions are being rolled, she can dash around cracking chests (Luck also lets her draw two and choose which to keep), and dole out potions as they roll in. That's actually the best tactic I can think of for her, as by the time all the chests have been opened she'll hopefully be geared up enough to make her actually useful in a fight.

Celestial Herald
I love her sooo much more than the Glimmerdusk Ranger: her Missile range is a bit lower (6 instead of 8), but her Speed is the same and she has Fly, has immunity to Knockdown, her Will is a bit better (nice if you don't have any spellcasters to help out with initiative rolls), her potion is fucking awesome (area-effect armor buff), and Arrow Storm can hit nearly twice as many targets as Sparkle Burst can. Yeah, you have to get close, but again she can fly.

She's pretty straightforward (just hang back and shoot everything), but whenever possible try and keep lava, walls, difficult terrain, or other allies between you and the baddies.

Deeproot Scout
This Link clone has a Speed of 7, 1B1R for both Attack and Dexterity, and like the original character comes equipped with a variety of tools that make him fairly versatile: a Bow (missile attack), Acorn Grenades (area-effect ranged attack with Knockdown), a Boomerang (lets you snag treasure chests), and a potion that gives you +1 action point.

His Boomerang is a neat gimmick, but it's not seen much use in our games since he can usually just walk over to a chest and open it with 1 action point, instead of burning two of them for the same results.

I generally chug his potion before using Acorn Grenade against clumbs up mobs, especially if they are crowded around a spawn point. You might get lucky and roll another potion, which can potentially allow you to keep chaining grenades.

I've also had a good amount of success continuously throwing his potions at the Claw Tribe Barbarian (or anyone else that's rolling lots of red dice).

Nyan Nyan
She is just a shitload of fun. Her stats are fine for a melee character: Speed 7, and base Attack and Armor are both 3B (not that her Armor matters since she has Dodge and a Dexterity of 2R), but none of that is why she's awesome.

Her main special (Teeth & Fur) let's her fly and make an attack with +1R and Knockdown. It costs two action points, but it is great for closing the distance and hitting hard. Hell, you can use it to do hit and run tactics, smashing into a mini-boss or boss and scampering away. If nothing else, the Knockdown will still shave off an action point.

Even if she can't get away she still has 9 Lives: when she dies, roll a red die and remove one wound for each star that pops up. There's no limit to how many times she can do this so long as she doesn't roll a blank or potion.

Purr is a Wave 1, Compel 2 (move 'em two spaces in any direction you want) that costs one action point and is a special ability, so there's no roll required. This is great for getting enemies off of her back, grouping them up for an impending area-effect, or even forcing them to take a dip in lava.

Finally, Catnip Bomb is an area-effect Pacify potion. No roll or action point cost required; just drop it on a group of enemies with annoying special attacks. You can also use Purr to group more things together before "setting them up the bomb".

Princess Ruby
I'm really not a fan of this one, less so than even Candy & Cola, which again might just be the fact that we tend to play Dungeon Delves and Crawls.

Her Will is okay and Dodge lets her rely on her 2B1R Dexterity, which means that as long as you keep her from getting hit with Slow, Immobile, or Knockdown she'll be passably durable (just hope that no one else wants Dex loot for fighting).

The only thing decent about her are the Magic attack and special actions, which let her hand out Attack and Will buffs, as well as heal someone for all of one heart if they're really close.

The problem is that in a smaller party her healing just can't keep pace with the punishment being dealt out: more than once I've seen Melissa waste turn after turn vainly trying to keep the other guy alive, only to finally succumb to a wave of monsters because the Princess isn't helping to stop the problem at the source.

Normally I'd recommend her for Dungeon Sieges, except...

Sister of Light
Why the hell would you want Princess Ruby when you can have the Sister? Her default attack has Cross and Push 1, meaning that she can hit up to four things at once, and you can push them into lava. Plus it only costs 1 action point, so there's really never a reason to not use it.

Even her heal ability is objectively better: it's Cross 2, so can feasibly hit multiple allies with minimal setup, and it even adds Remedy (ie, goodbye all status effects). Oh, did I mention it also costs only 1 action point?

While her potion doesn't let you redraw a loot or treasure card (yawn), it does cause an affected hero's normal attack to gain Cross 1, Holy, and Fire. Drop that on the Claw Tribe Barbarian and watch the fireworks.

Yeah, she lacks range but her Attack and Armor are better, so if you want healing support that can also lay down the hurt and just won't quit, go with her.

Star Guild Sapper
Another dwarf that, aside from being just a bit less durable than the Hearthsworn Fighter (1B1R Armor instead of 2R), is identical stat-wise. He does however have Reach 2, which can be handy, but his real strengths are Astral Hammer and POW!.

Astral Hammer has a Cross 2 area and adds Knockdown, which can make him better at dealing with crowds than the Hearthsworn Fighter since it hits more squares and it's not Dangerous. If you wanna really lay into just one target, POW! both adds +1R and has Massive Damage (and only costs 2 action points to boot).

Rounding him out is Star Shine, a special ability that makes him immune to all status effects, and Burning Bloom, a potion that gives you a ranged attack that adds Fire.

All in all he's a solid, versatile melee type if you're looking for something a bit different from the usual fare (or just want to bring another dwarf into the mix).

Von Wildling/Von Wilder
So...this guy is interesting. Probably not the one for you if you're looking for something straightforward and simple, but for a more tactical-minded player he's got a lot going on.

In his human form he has Reach 2, a special attack that adds +1B and Pacify (too bad it costs 2 action points), a special ability that is auto-Compel 2, and he can transform into Von Wilder (making him the only other hero with shapeshift).

What I like most about his human form are the potions: one lets you slam a bunch of enemies with Holy vulnerability, and the other is an attack potion that has both Holy and Fire. So, if you can get your hands on a pair of potion tokens you can use them both in sequence (each costs an action point to use), and light up a group of mobs.

His shapeshift form is easier to work with, and is honestly where I spend most of my time once I'm out of potions. The only downside is that it starts with Vulnerable: Magic. If the Consul isn't using anything with Magic or someone in your party can remove status effects, then you're set.

That said, this form has Tough (heal one wound each activation), and a 1 action point special attack that adds 1R and is Sweep 1, which means it can hit up to four mobs at a time. That's a good deal of crowd control, just watch out for your allies since it's Dangerous.

Final Verdict
Celestial Herald, Nyan Nyan, Sister of Light, Star Guild Sapper, and Von Wildling are great in a party of any size.
Deeproot Scout is decent enough, though I usually only pick him for a Dungeon Crawl or Siege. He is kind of flexible, but leans more towards wanting Attack since that's what Acorn Grenade relies on.
I'd only let Candy & Cola and Princess Ruby tag along for a Dungeon Siege. Well, not so much Princess Ruby; maybe if someone else took the Sister of Light and there wasn't already another spellcaster in the mix.
September 09, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Nomad Preview

So, kept forgetting that this thing needed to get done (despite the fact that I mention nomads being useful for navigating the astral and getting away from corpse stars).

The high concept is that this is a space-folding psychic type, based in large part on the psychoportation discipline from from 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons (in fact, psions that specialized in this discipline were even called nomads).

Look
Choose one for each from here or your race:
Distant Stare, Piercing Eyes, or Longing Eyes
Messy Hair, Close-Cropped Hair, or Wide-Brimmed Hat
Tightly-Bound Clothing, Constantly Shifting Articles, or Lots of Assorted Trinkets
Flawless Skin, Missing Finger, or Imperfect Form

(Since any race can be any class, you can opt to choose things from your race instead. Also, each race gets a move, or gets to choose one, and you can choose from your race when you level up.)

Stats
Your maximum HP is 6+Constitution.
Your base damage is d6.

Questions
  • What does it feel like to slip through the folds in space? 
  • What’s the strangest place you’ve been to?
  • Where do you hope to never return?
  • Who have you slighted during your travels?
  • What’s your most prized possession?

(This is a new feature of races and classes: they'll have some questions you can answer to help flesh them out.)

Starting Moves
Choose what event triggered your psionic powers:

Accident
You survived a teleporter or gate accident. Mostly. What did you lose? When you spend fold to defy danger against a nearby attacker, on a 12+ you also take something from them.

Lost in Astral Space
You were stranded in the depths of astral space, but were able to instinctively find your way back. When you use wrinkles in space, on a miss the next time you use it a miss counts as a 7-9.

Reconstituted
You were utterly obliterated, but were able to reconstruct your body bit by bit. How were you destroyed? How long did it take you to return? When you teleport, regain 1d4 hit points.

You start with these moves:

Wrinkles in Space
When you examine the fabric of reality for cracks and folds, roll+INT. *On a 10+, hold 3 fold. *On a 7-9, hold 2 fold. *On a miss, hold 1 fold in addition to whatever else the GM tells you. Spend fold, 1 for 1, to do one of the following:
  • Teleport to a nearby location.
  • Act against a nearby creature or object, as if you were there.
  • Use INT to defy danger against an attack.

Memory Map
As long as you can recall a detail, you always unerringly know the exact distance and direction to any location you have been to before, no matter how big or small it is. If an external force is messing with the fabric of space, the GM will tell you.

Sensory Projection
With a few moments of concentration, you can extend one or more of your senses to a nearby point that you can see. You can see, hear, smell, taste, or touch as if you were standing in that spot. You cannot affect or be affected by anything in that location, though.

Spatial Ripples
When you discern realities, you can ask the GM what here has recently changed.

Alignment
Lawful
Use your powers with precision and timing.

Neutral
Get someone where they need to go.

Chaotic
Don't remain in one place for too long.

Gear
Your Load is 9+STR. You start with a trinket that has some sort of sentimental value for you (0 weight), and dungeon rations (5 uses, 1 weight). Choose your defenses:
  • Rugged leathers (1 armor, 1 weight)
  • A sturdy shield (+1 armor, 2 weight)
Choose your weapon:
  • A short sword (close, 1 weight) and dagger (hand, 1 weight)
  • A longsword (close, +1 damage, 2 weight)
Choose one:
  • Adventuring gear (5 uses, 1 weight)
  • A bag of books that you’ve accumulated over time (5 uses, 2 weight)
  • 8 coins

Bonds
Fill in the name of one of your companions in at least one:
I’ve traveled far and wide with ___________.
I don’t know what I’d do without ___________.
I like to keep my distance from ___________.

Advanced Moves
When you gain a level from 2-5, choose from these moves.

Along for the Ride
When you teleport, you can take someone within arm's reach with you.

Eye in the Sky
When you discern realities while your sight is extended high above, you can ask the GM one additional question, and on a miss you can still ask one.

Frequent Flier
When you teleport, take +1 forward to use wrinkles in space.

Friendly Fire, Isn't
When you spend fold to defy danger against an attack, on a 12+ you can redirect it into another nearby target.

Going the Distance
When you teleport, you can teleport to any location you can see.

Item Space
You can spend 1 fold to produce anything that you could from a bag of adventuring gear.

Switcheroo
After you teleport, you can pull or push a creature within arm’s reach in, causing them to appear where you just were.

Warping Space
When you act as a trailblazer, you can roll+INT instead of +WIS, and a miss counts as a 7-9.

(Considering changing this so that you get an automatic 10+, similar to the ranger's Elf move.)
September 06, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeon World: When You Want to Write a Class...

Melissa and I have a fair share of Dungeon World classes—or playbooks—under our belt, so in an effort to help other people see what goes into this kind of thing (and hopefully better make your own), I figured I'd write a post both detailing our creative process, as well as our own personal do's and dont's.

At the high-level view class creation can be summed up as a three step process: think of a concept, then think of a bunch of shit that it can do, and then build mechanics to properly convey them in the game. Note that this is not an absolute, scientific process: it's just what we (usually) do.

Step 1: The Concept
First things first, it is totally okay to re-visit a class that's already been done, "official" or otherwise. Just because someone was the first to try their hand at something does not mean they did it "the best", or even particularly well at all.

I mean, right now I'm working on a new bard that I feel actually makes sense from a narrative/fiction perspective, I've already made a new wizard for Sundered World, and plan on doing a fighter that is more about fighting styles than just having a nifty weapon.

I've seen a number of pretty poor quality classes, but even if the class is done well chances are it's not going to line up with what you want, especially if it's for a fairly generic concept like a warrior or wizard type.

On the subject of concepts, something else to consider is that while a lot of classes assume you're playing a living, breathing humanoid—like a human, elf, dwarf, etc—that doesn't have to be the case: we've written several undead classes, as well as a fucking giant spider. Of course this is not to say that any old monster is going to work (I haven't found one, yet, but I'm sure they are out there), and some (like The Skeleton) will take more...creative liberties than others.

Example: For this article I'm just going to go through how we handled The Witch as best I can remember it, which is to say not particularly well, but it's more conventional and recent than The Spider.

Step 2: Brainstorming
Once you have an idea, just start brainstorming shit that you think it can do and write it all down.

All of it.

Yes, even the stuff that you might not be sure what the fuck to do with. Actually, while you're at it try not to think of them in terms of rules, mechanics, or even really "balance" at this point: you'll get to that next. For now, just imagine what sort of shit it can do purely from a story perspective; think "it's flesh can harden into steel" without appending "you gain +1 armor". Yet, anyway.

The absolute minimum a class could get away with is 24 moves: 1 race move (barbarian), 3 starting moves (fighter), and 20 advanced moves (10 2-5's, and 10 6-10's). I say the more the merrier/it's better to be safe than sorry; since you will probably end up dropping, merging, and/or changing some, I think a safe minimum is 30 move ideas.

If your concept is based on a common archetype or monster, then do some research: you might be surprised what you discover, like that mythological ghouls are actually shapeshifting demons that can turn into animals, and also assume the appearance of the most recent person they ate. This gave me a whole new angle (two, really) to work with when I wrote The Ghoul.

Example: For The Witch, Melissa started out by mining Wikipedia and a handful of other (often unintentionally hilarious) sites for as much information as she could dig up—including various cultural depictions and abilities of witches—to figure out the sort of stuff that they were purportedly able to do: curse people (hex/evil eye), knowledge of plants, mess with the weather, use divination (which included chopping things up and scoping out the entrails), brew potions, make amulets, speak to the dead, change their shape, and so on.

In the end she had way more than 30 moves, which was good because some did indeed end up getting dropped (like one that added +1 armor and a few that let hex do some very specific things), or merged with others (like one that let you craft amulets).

If you run into a wall there are a couple of things you could try:

  • The first thing I'd do is show others what you've got going on so far; they might be able to suggest some more stuff, or give you some ideas on how you can tweak or chop other moves apart. Of course, they also might point out why some moves suck, leaving you "worse off" than you were before.
  • Do more research: maybe you missed something, or an idea that you didn't think you'd use or need might fill in the gap.
  • Consider expanding your concept. This might open up a whole new swath of ideas to incorporate and explore.
  • Look at moves that you can split into two or more other moves.
  • If all else fails, you can fallback to one or two multiclass moves to help round it out.

Keep in mind that not all concepts are necessarily going to work, though you might be surprised (again, giant spider). But, if after everything else you can't think of at least 25 things for it to do, then it's a good sign it's just not strong enough. Even so, if you end up with a good deal of content you could try building a compendium class or two out of your material.

Step 3: Make Your Move(s)
Now that you've got around 30, but preferably many more move ideas cooked up, here comes the hard part: dressing them up with mechanics. It might sound cliche, but this is really more of an art than a science (otherwise making classes would be easy and they'd all be awesome). Content-wise, the typical number of moves by category is:

  • 2-3 race moves (3 seems to be the standard)
  • 3-5 starting moves
  • 20 advanced moves (though I've seen some have 19, and written at least one with 21)

Before you get started there're some things you should keep in mind:

  • A move that gives you +1 when trying to do something is perfectly acceptable. Some people might tell you that they're objectively boring, and they're wrong. That being said it doesn't mean that they're necessarily the best way to convey whatever it is you're trying to do, which I'll get to in a bit.
  • Multiclassing moves are also perfectly fine as long as you don't have anything more interesting to add to the mix. The default version of the move lets you pick another move from any other class as if you were one level lower, but you can restrict it to one or more classes or even a kind of theme (like a move related to fighting). For example the druid has a pair of moves—Hunter's Brother and Stalker's Sister—that let you choose something from the ranger's list.
  • Not all moves require a roll. If your class is always supposed to be able to do something with a set return or effect, then likewise it should not have to make a roll: the Paladin's Human move lets her always know what is evil in an area, while the Thief's Shoot First advanced move prevents her from being ambushed. Just be careful about creating certain kinds of fictional absolutes.

So with that all out of the way, let's start with, well, starting moves.

You're going to want 3-5 of them, and whatever your concept is it should be fully realized with just the starting moves. Say you're working on a spellsword, a kind of fighter/wizard combination; it should be able to fight and cast spells competently enough without having to hit 2nd-level and pick the "right" advanced move.

Almost every starting move is it's own block of rules (which usually makes them individually harder to write), though some can improve and/or modify an existing move.

Think about the fiction you've written for your concept, and check out other classes (maybe even talk to other people) to best determine how it gets triggered (does the player need to declare it, or does something else trigger it, like an action or a condition), how you determine what the move does or can do (no roll, preset result, roll, hold and spend, make choices, etc), and finally what the move actually does.

Try not to fret about "balance" too much (though avoid making a class that can do everything another class can do and then some), instead relying on the fiction you've developed beforehand. This is, for example, why our mummy cannot die: fiction, yo.

Example: We knew the witch had to be able to curse people. I mean, that's just the standard witch-y thing to do. But, other common skills and abilities were cooking up potions, fortune-telling/divination, knowing a lot about plants (goes with the potion thing), crafting amulets, mucking up the weather, having familiars, flying brooms, and weaving other nasty forms of magic.

That's nine things right there: in the end we kept hex, plant-lore, and divination as their own thing, merged potion brewing, crafting amulets, miscellaneous magic, and even arguably weather effects into thaumaturgy (similar to the wizard's Ritual Magic), familiars became an advanced move (since not all witches have them), and flying brooms became a magic item.

This left us with four solid starting moves that we felt were absolutely core to the class's identity: Hex, Divination, Apothecary, and Thaumaturgy:

  • Hex is pretty flexible: you just impose a curse on someone until the sun rises. You still have to roll, though, with a 7-9 forcing you to choose how it can end sooner. This is because in the fiction curses are not always going to work as expected, and often there are ways to end them.
  • Divination has you ask the GM a question and then roll. If you get a 7+ you get an answer, and if you get a 10+ you can ask a followup question. Like cursing people, fortune-telling is not always going to tell you everything you want (sometimes the future is murky and unclear).
  • Apothecary requires no roll: if you have the time and materials you can just make a variety of healing items. We originally considered requiring a check to determine how many things you could make, but since the thief lets you whip up poisons figured we'd waive the roll and just have you pick what and how many.
  • Thaumaturgy has you tell the GM what you want to do, and the GM tells you what you have to do to make it work. Also no roll on this one, as we were basing it in part on the wizard's Ritual Magic move.

Once you got the starting moves out of the way, advanced moves are next. Well...not exactly, and not always. Sometimes you'll get a few starting moves done and then start working on advanced moves, and sometimes you'll shuffle starting and advanced moves about (this has happened with the bard already). Sometimes you'll do this several times, plus inventing new ones and ditching others. Did I mention this isn't a science, yet?

At any rate, while most are not going to be as complex as the basic or starting moves, they're probably going to take even longer to write and fine-tune just because you're making more of them. Like starting moves, advanced moves either improve and/or modify an existing move (whether a basic or starting move unique to the class), or give you something else to do (usually something related but not essential to the class's core concept).

Improving/being more reliable with an existing move can mean taking +1 when doing something specific, after doing something else, or if you meet other criteria, but as I mentioned above this may not be the best way to convey what you're actually trying to do. Yeah, taking +1 means that your overall odds improve, but you can still miss and can't do anything else with the move.

Here are some other ways you can emphasize that a class is better/more reliable at doing something:

  • Remove the roll. You either no longer need to roll when making a move, or you automatically get a preset result, like how the ranger's Elf move has you get a 10+ every time you are the trailblazer. As with no-roll moves, be careful about creating certain kinds of fictional absolutes, like "you never let go of something unless you want to".
  • You never miss. When trying to do something, a miss counts as a 7-9. Your odds of getting a 10+ are the same, but you aren't guaranteed to get the best possible outcome. Having a 9- count as a 10+ is basically the same thing as removing the roll, unless there is some kind of 12+ benefit to be had.
  • Hold or make choices, even on a miss. Defend and Discern Realities don't let you hold anything or ask any questions on a miss, but maybe even on a miss you can still get something out of it (see the paladin's Staunch Defender or the thief's Cautious). This can get rolled into...
  • Hold more or make more decisions. Staunch Defender and Cautious not only let you hold 1 on a miss, they let you hold +1. I've also seen moves that let you hold more than usual on a 12+. On that note...
  • On a 12+... The thief's Evasion kicks up defy danger a notch when you get a 12+. You not only avoid whatever the problem is, you transcend it. You could use this with hold/choice moves to boost what they do, too.

Example: Aurpsicina allows a witch to take +1 forward when using the starting move Divination, so long as you study the entrails of a recently slain creature. Blood Magic both lets you take +1 forward when using magic against a creature if you have their blood on hand, as well as make it easier to use Thaumaturgy if you wound yourself.

Modifying an existing move lets you use an existing move (whether a basic or starting move) in a new way, makes it do something else, or makes it do something else when you get a certain result. This is can be used in combination with improving an existing move. The bard's A Little Help From My Friends lets you take +1 forward after successfully aiding someone, Duelist's Parry has you take +1 armor forward after using Hack & Slash, and Bamboozle lets you take +1 forward when you parley and get a 7+.

Example: Formsculpting Hex lets a witch use Hex to turn someone into an animal, while Moment of Foresight lets a witch use discern realities to ask any question you want if you roll a 10+. A few of the other moves let her heal someone after making camp.

Giving you something entirely new to do is giving the class yet another move, similar to most starting moves (which might require a roll, or might just be automatic): the bard's Reputation, the ranger's Wild Empathy, and the thief's Escape Route are just a handful of examples of this.

Example: Weather-Worker let's a witch stir up a storm in just a few minutes. You hold storm, which you can spend to deal damage, negate ranged attacks, or hinder an enemy (spending storm represents it running out). Skinchanger lets you change your shape into an animal (and is required for Formsculpting Hex and has no roll). Necromancy lets you talk to the spirits of the dead and ask them questions.

I tend to do the race moves last, because often I have them work with a starting move or give you immediate access to an advanced move. Plus, when I am thinking of a concept race rarely enters the equation. Actually, I haven't used race in my classes because I dislike the idea of classes limiting what races can choose them.

I get why this is a thing: the game is deliberately trying to model "old-school" Dungeons & Dragons, back when classes often restricted races in some way. I also think it's a pointless, antiquated mechanic, and honestly for a lot of concepts it just won't work (a lot of people just create alternate race moves, anyway).

Instead, I opt for backgrounds. They're mechanically identical to races (they give you a move or modify another one), but instead of thinking of 2-3 races that arbitrarily fit the class, just think of 2-3 ways for you to get into the class or tweak the concept a bit.

Example: As a witch you could learn your magic by being a member of a coven (and go to them for aid or support), make a deal with the devil (which starts you off with the familiar move), or be taught by another witch one on one (which makes you better at identifying potions and plants).

Step 4: The Easy Part(s)
You'll probably get all of this done (or at least part of it) during the course of developing the rest of the class, but if not no biggie: it's really easy.

For the look I just envision three different appearances and chop them apart, sometimes changing one if something more interesting or compelling pops into my head (usually this happens while designing the moves).

Stats are even easier: find the closest class combat wise and go with it. You generally can't go wrong, here. The base hit points and damage die don't need to match up, either.

Alignments can be a bit trickier. I've seen some people try and replace this with Drives, but after hearing the explanation as to why it became apparent that it's entirely based on someone's very narrow interpretation of what Alignment can mean, so I just don't roll that way.

Just think of three general personalities or things that the class will often want to do, like free others from bondage, protect someone from harm, or forge a magic item, incite chaos, and then attach an alignment that best matches it.

Example: We figured that witches could be a kind and helpful (a white witch), cruel and wicked, or more..."playful", which resulted in Good, Evil, and Chaotic respectively.

Step 5+: Rinse, Refine, and Repeat
Once you think you're done...you probably aren't.

Especially if you are planning to try and charge money for your work, show your class to at least a handful of people and listen to what they have to say. They may not be right, but be prepared to admit when they are, even if it means taking a hefty portion of it back to the drawing board. Having someone who thinks differently than you do might not only improve the class, but might give you an entirely new way of thinking and approaching their design (someone else pitched the idea of the unkillable mummy).

Also, if possible run it through at least a few sessions to see how it works in actual play, as that's a better barometer for determining what does and doesn't work. It might also give you ideas for other moves.

Keep doing this until no one has any real/major complaints, at which point it's probably decent.
September 05, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

#RPGADAY: Most Memorable Encounter

The most memorable campaign I ever ran was A Sundered World, which was also my last full-on 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign (though, I'd like to change that). Overall I'd say that the campaign had a lot of high points, but I managed to whittle them down to two choices. I'll let you be the judge.

The first encounter would be when the party actually fought Autocthon (what I have since renamed as Antikythera). The players had traveled to Moradin's Forge looking for a weapon to use against the fomorians on the Feywild, and ideally something that would help them fight off the clockwork horrors that were starting to pop up everywhere. 

Since their ship couldn't fly inside the dominion, they ended up climbing it on foot, dodged a dragon, and found both the Axe of the Dwarven Lords and something that I based on a slaughterstone behemoth from 3rd Edition: it basically had a cube form that it used when recharging it's internal battery, but could unfold into a quadruped, stone statue thing capable of ferrying the party around.

Everything was going fine until they tried to leave, which was when they saw Autocthon enter the dominion and begin floating towards the mountain. Once it noticed them, it started barfing out swarms of clockwork horrors. They tried to fight them off and escape but were quickly surrounded; before Autocthon could crush them the dragon showed up, blasted it with it's lightning breath, snatched up the characters, and flew away to the other side of the mountain to buy them some time.

They talked to the dragon until Autocthon vaporized the top part of the mountain with energy cannons built into its arms, after which the dragon threw them into it's mouth so that they could destroy it from inside while it went dragon-e-primordial. After all, it worked for the Autobots in the Transformers movie with Unicron (which was also noteworthy for having no product placement, dick jokes, or Shia LaBeouf).

Inside they ended up fighting off a bunch of clockwork horrors as they painstakingly make their way to what they assumed was it's heart, a process made more difficult by the fact that the dragon kept knocking Autocthon around, which meant that they and the horrors they were fighting were also getting thrown about. Eventually they destroyed the power core, leaped out of it's mouth, crashed in the ocean hundreds of feet below, and fought off what was left of Autocthon's upper half the next day when it crawled to shore.

As for the second encounter, this one was entirely about inadvertently perfectly timed character dialogue, as opposed to a highly dynamic fight-scape.

The party arriveed at Horizon, because the warlord claimed to know a guy that could help out in the fight against the clockwork horrors. When they got there they discovered that floating, eye-like spheres and clockwork horrors were already laying waste to the city. They helped out until a floating cathedral warped in via Angel Gate and destroyed them all, and then took the fight to the city streets to clean up the stragglers. Once the dust was more or less settled the shaman realized that he could feel a fragment of the World Serpent's spirit form nearby, and dashed off to look for it.

He entered a building, but when he tried to head underground was stopped by an angel. The angel apparently knew the warlord from before (do illegal things along the Golden Road, you're gonna run into angels at some point), and as they argued and eventually got into a fist fight the shaman slipped by. He ran through labyrinthine passages until he found a door covered in seals and wards. The angel couldn't find him because A) labyrinthine passages and B) the shaman was drawn to a specific place by the fragment.

This also gave the shaman ample time to open himself up to the spirit world so that he could communicate with the fragment. While the angel is continued to search for him, the warlord asked him what the place was for. The angel explained that it was used to contain evil artifacts deemed to dangerous to destroy. The warlord then angrily accused him (and other angels) of thinking they "always know what's best or right", and just how he "knows it's evil".

Now, over the course of the campaign the shaman had gathered up various "pieces" of the World Serpent, and I decided to give them personalities: he'd already found one that was wise and benevolent, as well as one that was a stalwart warrior. This one I figured would be all about destructive fury (and corrupted, either from nearby evil artifacts, or maybe aberrant forces), so unlike the other ones he'd have to actually fight it.

Knowing this, I had the angel just look at him and ask, "How do you know it's not?"

I then cut back to the shaman in the spirit world, with the World Serpent appearing as an oily black, serpent-like creature with horns and glowing red eyes. It thanked the shaman for bringing the other fragments, and explained that once it is whole it will be free to devour the rest of creation. Aaand that's where I stopped the session, figuring that I'd let them stew on that until the next week.
September 01, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Sundered World: A Primer

There are a lot of strange things in a Sundered World, but even the stuff that sounds familiar probably isn't.

Before you get started hopping islands, treading the astral—either through sheer willpower or (ideally) aboard an elemental vessel—or exploring the crumbling dominions of dead gods, there are some things you are going to need to know if you want to survive.

Angels
Without the backing of their gods, most of the Host died or went insane, and even the ones that didn't were substantially diminished in power.
—Iron Jack

Angel Gates
These stone rings mark entrances to the Angel Roads, a lattice of golden paths that were said to have spanned the heavens and connect the godly kingdoms to each other. Many were damaged or destroyed during the Sundering, but enough remain that they are the preferred mode of travel, since they instantly transport you from one place to another.

Activating one requires a period of sustained prayer, a divine ritual, the will of an angel...or the heart of one. Generally if a steading has an Angel Gate there is someone willing to open it on your behalf if you can't, but they usually charge a fairly steep price. Of course some steadings consider them holy relics, and only allow their use if you're a member of the faith or have something really important to do. Good luck convincing them of that.
—Iron Jack

Arcane Magic
Arcane magic is a combination of enforcing your will upon the mutable nature of the astral, and speaking a sequence of words derived from one the original languages spoken by the gods, primordials, or dragons. It is both physically and mentally taxing, and can have unexpected side effects, especially when there is cold iron nearby.
—Lothelle

Cold Iron
Seeing as they're made of the stuff, this is basically the only arguably good reason anyone with any sense would deliberately visit an aberrant star. It works wonders against elves, elf-like things, and wizard magic: if you got a weapon made of it, it cuts through either of them like nothing, and if you're wearing it then neither of them can touch you.

Just, again, you have to go to an aberrant star to get it, or cough up a lot of coin. Word to the wise: if you do get it second hand make sure that any psychic residue was thoroughly scrubbed from it. Otherwise, as a vendor once told me, prolonged use can cause nightmares, hallucinations, and even insanity.
—Iron Jack

Death
Not everything in a Sundered World is alive in the strictest sense. When most living things die their soul manifests nearby, and is usually quickly drawn away by some unknown force. Some manage to linger for a time, and for better or worse others are so emotionally attached to something or willful that they can stick around for quite a while.
—Danh

Divine Magic
The gods might be dead, but their worshipers can still draw power from their corpses or angels, the astral itself, or even themselves to enact miracles. Many clerics and paladins worship and serve angels respectively, who continue to teach the dogma of their fallen masters.
—Lothelle

Dragons
Dragons are rare—though not rare enough—engines of destruction, "born" from the concentration of fear and fury given form by the intertwining of astral and elemental material. They are terrible sights to behold, composed of any combination of rock, fire, ice, smoke, and more. Born from the elements, their ancient tongue allows them to easily bend the astral to their will. Thankfully most do not often venture far from their place of “birth”. But, when they do, they leave nothing in their wake.
—Lothelle

Flying
It used to be that you needed wings or magic to fly. Now it merely requires an effort of will. It is a common sight in most steadings to see people drifting slowly through the sky. With enough practice you can hone your mind, allowing you to fly much faster than normal. Despite the speed a lot of steadings and dungeons can have strange geography—owing to the world's lack of reliable physics—so it can still save time.
—Lothelle

Gods
No one knows from whence the gods came. Were they always there, or were they created by some other force or happenstance? If something else created them, what happened to it? What is known is that they were: the angels that served them, their decaying kingdoms, and shattered bodies are all a testament to their deeds and power. Power that still lingers.
—Lothelle

Gravity as Guidelines
Not only can most anyone—and thing—fly, but with a bit of mental re-orientation you can also walk on any surface of an object; as with drifting, it is commonplace to see people walking about on the walls and ceilings of buildings as they go from place to place.

Objects are still drawn to each other until they reach a certain distance, but follow the gravitational "rules" of whoever is nearby: they'll stick to walls that people commonly walk on, but if you place two things side-by-side on what most consider the ground they'll fall. Some people learn to will objects to move without touching them, and those with particularly strong minds can "lock" them in place, causing them to continue to float without even being around for a period of time.
—Lothelle

Ley Lines
These are like angel roads, but were spun by the Weaver, an old primal spirit. Spirits, fey, and those otherwise attuned to the spirit world can sense them, making them useful for navigating the often featureless expanses of the astral—especially for dryarks—but they can also be tapped to empower primal magic.

Both the fey and spirits are often found near leylines, and islands located along one are more prolific. Where two ley lines intersect it creates a nexus of energy, which is often marked in some way: a towering tree, a mighty mountain, a ring of standing stones, or the castle of a mighty fey creature.
—Danh

Primal Magic
This is the breath and pulse of the natural world. It gives birth to animals and causes plants to grow. Druids and spirits draw upon it to change skins and command the elements. Like "word" magic, drawing upon it is exhausting for those of bone and blood, though they can also call upon spirits or ley lines to fuel it. Given the prevalence of spirits, primal magic is commonplace throughout the world, either as a way to better coexist with or control them.
—Danh

Primordials
As mysterious as the gods are the primordials are even more shrouded in mystery, as the closest thing to angels that they had are the cthon and kytherans, and if they know anything about them they certainly aren't telling anyone.

They predate the dwarves by an unfathomable span of time, possibly even the gods, and it is said that they could raise and level mountains with a gesture, and breathe forth hurricanes so great that they could tear down even the walls of Hammerhold. Their remains, when they can be found, constantly produce whatever element or elements that they embodied, which also means elemental cores and monsters.
—Lothelle

Psionics
Where divine magic draws upon the latent power of the gods, angels, and faith, and arcane magic is effected through a sheer force of will tempered by ancient languages, psionic magic is all about using your head, and only your head, to reshape reality. Or yourself.

Psionics are commonly the domain of aberrant entities from beyond the boundaries of space and time established by both god and primordial, though some mortals have a knack for it. Unfortunately, some steadings view psionic gifts as an ill omen.
—Lothelle

Spirits
Spirits can be found everywhere, from rocks to trees, to weapons and armor, even ships, houses, and people. Most are comparatively weak, with tiny physical forms and capable of channeling prayers to perform only the smallest miracles. Stronger spirits can manifest larger, more powerful forms, and when properly supplicated are capable of nourishing entire islands and wiping out entire armies or villages.
—Danh

Stars
It's said that long ago these things spawned all manner of nightmare-inducing, sanity consuming horrors, but near as anyone can tell they're dead now. Well, at least the ones that people claim to have both discovered and escaped from, because even the broken husks that are floating about out there are still plenty dangerous.

For starters when you get too close to one, space and time don't play by the rules, and as a rule of thumb if you can see one you’re already too close. Another problem is that they are made entirely out of cold iron, which wreaks havoc on magic—you know, the kind that makes your collider collide (or your anima reactor digest souls if you're one of the cambions—so even if you can escape you’d better hope that your engine doesn't break down.

The only surefire way to get away is to protect yourself is with psychic shielding, a very skilled nomad, and strong winds.
—Iron Jack

The Astral Is Mutable
The astral responds to the wills and desiresand sometimes even the wordsof intelligent creatures. Most are only capable of conjuring small, temporary objects, while those with strong wills can create larger, more complex, and longer-lasting objects. This is how the gods were able to call entire kingdoms into existence, and such was their might that even countless millenia later they still linger.
—Lothelle

The Astral Resonates With Thought And Emotion
Though the astral responds to thought, in most cases an individual mind is either not sufficiently powerful to effect any major, lasting changes, or it is simply drowned out by conflicting desires.

If enough people desire the same thing however, the astral can respond, and when enough people desire for the same thing long enough it can create psychic ripples or echos. This effect is known as resonance, which can make some things easier or more difficult, and in some cases make things possible or impossible.

For example, if you try to heal someone while standing atop the corpse of a god of life and renewal, the task is easier because ambient resonance bolsters what you want to happen. Conversely, if you try to peacefully negotiate with some bandits in an area where ambushes and slaughter routinely occur, it can be more difficult since the resonance is tilted towards conflict and bloodshed.

Psychics and some devices can detect resonance patterns, and in the case of particularly powerful minds they can enhance it, nullify it, or even reverse it.
—Lothelle

Living in a Sundered World
A Sundered World differs greatly from your usual campaign setting. For starters there is a lack of land, oceans, sunlight, a day and night cycle, weather patterns, and universal gravity, but it is important to note that no one even questions these differences because to almost everyone this is how it has always been.

They do not wonder why plants grow without a sun or water, because they have never lived in a world with a sun or clouds. They also do not wonder where water comes from, because they have never lived in a world with oceans or rain.

If anything it would be more shocking to them if they suddenly became bound to the earth, because from an early age they learn to walk on any surface they like, and even slowly fly about as they please.

The closest things get to normal—as interpreted by us—are the dominions of gods. There the laws of reality adhere to the desires of whichever god created it. Many possess gravity, some have a sun (or even a day and night), and still others have actual weather patterns.

Currency
Coins are all well and good among the so-called civilized islands, though what they look like, what they’re made of, and what they’re worth varies from place to place: dwarves, as well as most scions and cambions will take gold. Cambions will also take gold, because they know others are all too willing to part with other, more...immaterial things if you offer enough of it, but they also deal in favors, soul contracts, and black iron disks.

When it comes to metal, fey prefer silver and will at the least take offense to iron of any sort, and the further you get from Hammerhold, Asmodeus, and all of the other big cities the less likely people are going to accept metal that they cannot do anything with, no matter how intricate the designs or “precious” it is: gold isn't going to feed anyone, and it's certainly not going to ward off bands of orcs or kytherans.

And that’s not even considering all of the valuable materials, services, and substances that aren't coin-shaped: cold-iron (scrubbed or non-scrubbed), angel hearts, uncharged gems, illuminated prisms, soulcages, elemental cores, black ice bricks, godstone, tending to the sick or wounded, good old-fashioned labor, and so on. The most successful merchants have long lists of who wants what.

As a rule of thumb, if a steading accepts coins, then nearby steadings, as well as any other steadings connected by trade routes or instantaneous transit probably do as well. Otherwise, you’ll have to give them more or pony up something else.

Flora
Plant-life can be found in abundance on many islands, even islands without sunlight or water. This is because they are nourished either by spirits, divine prayers, or even the very essence of the astral itself, especially if there are nearby god- or primordial-corpses that radiate a powerful life-giving resonance.

Of course, these and other resonances can affect it's physical appearance and features. Does it bear edible fruit? Is it covered in thorns? Does it crave flesh and blood? In the case of primordials and elemental forces, the plant might be made of stone, appear to be a burnt out husk, or constantly produce water.

Gravity
Since gravity is subjective at best, children learn from an early age how to drift or swim through the astral, often making games of it. Keep this in mind when designing a steading: buildings can extend in a variety of directions, numerous islands might be linked with bridges, and that Undercity district? You might have to actually walk across the outside of an island to get to it. Important structures are built with this in mind so, for example, windows on keeps are fortified to prevent thieves and assassins from simply trotting up and walking in.

Languages
There are a number of different languages spoken throughout a Sundered World, though given that most races were created largely by two forces, maybe not as many as you would expect.

  • Clangslang: Kytherans. Most kytherans can emulate the words of other races, but they can also communicate using a series of mechanical clicks. 
  • Draconic: Dragons, some wizards. Dragons have existed at least since the world and heavens were divided, and have their own language. Written draconic is exceedingly rare, because dragons had little reason to write anything down, and when they do they use their claws.
  • Elven: Elves, other feyfolk. The elven language is sibilant and fluid. 
  • Primordial: Cthon, tarchons, elemental beings, some wizards. There are four dialects of primordial based on the four primary elements: air, earth, fire, and water. Similarly, the written forms also vary in form.
  • Supernal: Dwarves, scions, angels, devils. A language instinctively known by angels, who were created by the gods, devils, who are corrupted angels, and scions, who were born from their blood. Over time tribes and clans of scions on individual islands and island nations developed their own dialects and slang, but they are still able to more or less understand each other. 
  • Sylvan: Kobolds, spirits. The bubbling of streams, the rustle of grass and leaves, and the whisper of wind. This is the language of spirits and their kin. Spirits that dwell near mortal communities often end up learning Supernal, most will respect you more if you take the time to learn their tongue.

Magic
Magic can be found everywhere in one form or other. Most can shape small, temporary objects out of raw astral. It is not unusual to see spirit forms manifest and move about, providing gifts in exchange for sacrifices or prayers. Runes are inscribed on servitor constructs and golems, elemental vessels, tanks to store elemental cores, and even many weapons and armor (especially if spirit bound). Angel gates instantly transport ships across vast distances.

In other words it comes many forms, and almost everyone has been exposed to it in one way or another. What is rare is the individual capable of wielding it to create more than a minor effect.

Invokers and wizards can easily unleash bolts of lightning or gouts of flame, clerics can instantly heal grievous wounds, battleminds can transform their arms into razor-sharp blades, shamans contain and bind spirits, nomads can fold space as easily as one folds a sheet of paper. They are regarded with a measure of respect and sometimes concern, not just because of what they might do, but because their way of life depends on what they have done.

Society
Customs, rules, and traditions vary from island chain to island chain, sometimes even from island to island. When answering the following questions, keep in mind the island’s dominant race (or races) and regional location.

  • How does the island view other races? 
  • What do natives of the island value? This could range from materials to attitudes to beliefs. 
  • Do they find any forms of magic acceptable? Do they find any forms unacceptable?
  • What foods, materials, substances, icons, and actions, if any, are taboo? 
  • Do they revere anything? This could be a creature, place, or thing.
  • If they track time, when it one considered an adult? If not, how to they determine when you are an adult?
  • Do they practice any special rituals or ceremonies?
  • What do they do for fun?

Technology
Generally the overall technology level is what you would expect for your "typical” fantasy world: people use swords and bows, wear armor, and carry shields, wagons and ships are used to convey people and goods from place to place over long periods of time, and farmers have to harvest crops.

However the gods created many wondrous devices in their time, some of which the dwarves and scions have been able to either duplicate with similar results, and sometimes employ in unexpected ways. Angels, various forms of magic, spirits, and spirit bound items can also make things easier and faster.

Constructs of stone and metal are commonplace, serving as vehicles or even substituting beasts of burden. Though, to be fair, even the beasts aren't always what you'd expect: elemental horses—or rather, horse-like creatures—plod along, moving slower than your normal horse, but able to do so for much longer and while carrying more.

Elemental cores are pure elemental essence that have crystallized into a physical shape. This process happens naturally given a heavy enough concentration, but wizards have created elemental catalyzers that speed up the process. The only drawback is the extreme amount of material and energy makes them viable near a vortex.

Cores are used in a variety of ways: fire and lightning cores can be used to power devices, machines and vessels, and water cores can be used to cool machines or supply water for an island for quite some time. A broken earth core can instantly create an island, or can be drawn from at a steady rate to conjure blocks of stone.

The larger the core, the more it can do...and the more devastating the effects if broken.

Though they can be pushed along by astral winds, many vessels are outfitted with magical engines for increased, reliable speed. The most common engines are elemental colliders and anima reactors:

  • Elemental colliders smash conflicting elemental matter together to create an explosive reaction. They are the most common type of engine, easy to run (a wizard can just use her will to create some in a pinch), and very swift, but are also the most unreliable: if not properly monitored they can break down or even explode.
  • Anima reactors were of course the results of fiendish and scion, well, "ingenuity". They operate by consuming the souls of the dead that have been stored in special tanks. While most find the constant wails of agony to be unnerving, fiends take a disturbing comfort from it.

Unleashing blasts of elemental energy used to be the sole purview of wizards, mass-produced, rune-scribed rods allow anyone with a core to also pull it off. Size matters, so larger variants called bombards are a common site on ships (especially ships transporting valuable materials or people), and truly massive cannons can be found along the walls of larger cities and keeps.

Time
Most islands do not have a system of measuring time, because there is rarely any environmental constant by which to track it. If they do, you can bet that unless two or more islands are nearby none of them track it the same way. It is because of this that there are no days, months, or years. People do not even have ages or birthdays. Instead, some islands might have customs by which they test their youth to determine when they are adults, and hold celebrations based on events.

Some islands might have some way of tracking time in various units of length, like a mechanical clock, a steady fluctuation of astral ambiance, the slowly, still-beating heart of a primordial, or the passing of Zaradica. It does not have to be precisely regular: each crop harvest might simply count as a harvest, each fishing voyage survived is a voyage, each time an angel gathers the villagers for a sermon, upon its completion it is counted as a dismissal.

Weather
A steady, ambient light can be found in most regions of the Astral, with some areas being brighter or darker than others, especially near the edges. Other areas experience a fluctuation, and in still others the light is of a different color: the Iron Circle is particularly noteworthy with its black clouds and dark, crimson ambient light, while the ambient light within the Golden Road is brighter and the clouds are golden.

The only weather phenomena everyone is familiar with is wind, fog, and clouds, and most are familiar with rain, or what passes for rain given that there is rarely any gravity.

Wind can be found everywhere, but is particularly strong near the Maelstrom, elemental vortices, and primordial corpses, where elemental forces and matter can cause massive temperature fluctuations, often with explosive results. It can also be conjured with magic, especially by wizards serving on vessels.

Unless conjured magically or within a dominion, passing clouds might leave behind droplets of water suspended in the air. Some steadings have raintowers, designed so that when clouds pass through the openings any water left behind trickles down due to subjective gravity. Other steadings have teams drift up into the sky and use specially designed sheets to gather water.
August 29, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

#RPGADAY: Scariest Game You've Ever Played

When Paranormal Activity came out a lot of my then co-workers didn't really like it; nothing happened, not enough happened, not enough blood, gore, and/or jump scares, you didn't get to see what the demon-thing look liked at the end, etc.

Personally I always chalked this up to their viewing environment, by which I mean they all watched it in the theater, probably with one or more friends, and at the least definitely surrounded by a bunch of people.

As for myself I ended up watching it at night, in the dark, alone, in an apartment where the neighbors upstairs would randomly what I could only assume knock their refrigerator over. There was never a predictable time, frequency, or explanation for this, which might have made it somewhat more tolerable, but I guess you could say that it still added some "atmosphere" to my experience that those "4D" seats at some theaters certainly don't.

Basically, I was inadvertently immersed in the perfect setting for it, so it made a more...lasting impression, I guess you could say.

But as tricky as horror can be in films (which has the added effect of visuals, audio, and a budget), it's even trickier for tabletop games: you're almost always in a well-lit area (gotta see your sheets, dice, maps, and/or minis), at a familiar table, surrounded by familiar faces. Plus, people often fuck up the mood with jokes, getting up to get soda, asking where it is, nuking a pizza, going to take a shit, and generally making it very obvious that you are in fact not, say, an ill-equipped mortal delving into a ghost-haunted castle.

Another problem is that, even in with the right lighting and location, horror is still hard to pull off. Some people confuse horror with gore and just describe the most fucked up thing they can think of, not realizing that in most cases it's better to leave out some details and let the player's mind fill in the blanks. The horrible, horrible blanks. Oh, you also gotta give it time to build and grow in their minds, so you hopefully you're good with that whole pacing thing (and no one farts). And probably some other stuff I'm not thinking of right now.

Anyway, what I'm getting at is that I've never played a roleplaying game that was scary, and even other games like Dead Space only hit me with the occasional jump scare before I learned to just shoot every "dead" body I found (though the ending still got me, as I was up at 3am, in the dark, etc, etc).

Sooo unfortunately there's no scary story here, and a big part of me really wishes that there was. Instead I'm going to take the time to pimp Fright Night again since horror is what it's intended for, it's keeping in the spirit of this RPG-a-Day post, and has definitely come closer than other roleplaying games I've played. If you haven't already check out the preview pdf, and even if you don't think it's the right game for you we'd still appreciate spreading the word!
August 28, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

#RPGADAY: Game You'd Like to See a New/Improved Edition Of...

If you've been following this blog at all, then you know what I think of 5th Edition, but just in case you haven't here's a very succinct recap: 5th Edition is not only more than a few steps back from 4th, but they failed to address problems that have been plaguing Dungeons & Dragons from the start.

So, that's what I'd like to see a new and improved edition of: Dungeons & Dragons.

Something that allows for more meaningful customization than picking a race, picking a class, picking something at 1st- to 3rd-level, and then every now and then being able to boost a stat or pick a feat (that can for some reason provide instant and absolute mastery of something).

Something that is not afraid to look at the older traditions and lore, and discard it in favor of something that makes sense, or is just more inspiring or imaginative. I'm not just talking about the pseudo-Vancian magic that pervades almost every single spellcaster out there, but even stuff like the cosmology: the World-Axis was so much more accessible and felt more mythological than the artificial, fill-in-all-the-blanks Great Wheel.

Something that makes it easy to create even complex monsters and encounters, without having to reference another book, while still making them precisely as difficult as I want them to be.

Ultimately, something that would actually justify spending around a hundred or so dollars on (I don't care if the art is arbitrarily considered "inclusive" or whatever the Social Justice Warriors are going on about nowadays). This? This is something anyone could have done in a fraction of the time.

Also, the universal proficiency bonus is pointless and sucks balls.

Fright Night Kickstarter


That's what we're trying to Kickstart: more art like that. Burney is pretty spendy, but Melissa, Ben, and myself think he's worth every penny. If you haven't heard me talk about it before, here's the "plot synopsis" from the Kickstarter page:

"Fright Night is a lightweight, easy to learn and quick to play tabletop role-playing game intended to evoke the feel of b-movies, slasher flicks, horror films, and even dark comedies. The players take on the role of typical, everyday people that somehow cross paths with a variety of malevolent entities that they must either defeat, escape from, or contain.

Or die trying.

The rules are minimal and flexible, using a simple dice pool mechanic that relies entirely on six-siders: when you try to do something, you roll a number of dice equal to your stat, and each 5 or 6 is a success.

You normally only need one success to pass a check, but sometimes you'll want more (especially when it comes to attacking or evading the monster). Tools, weapons, vehicles, extras (NPCs), and environmental factors can grant you assets or impose complications, which add or remove dice to your pool.

While the players work with the Director to set the scene, and cast their characters and the extras, both the monster's nature and course of the story are randomized through a series of tables. This means that even the Director has no idea exactly what you will face or what’s going to happen next. 

Not only does this provide a kind of story framework useful for new Game Masters to work with (especially those not used to winging it), it also prevents you from learning the trends and habits of the guy your group normally ropes into the job of running your games."

You can get a stripped down pdf of the final rules here, and if you want to read up on a couple of our play reports, you can find them here and here.

If you're a fan of the horror genre and/or rules-lite games, then we think you'll enjoy this game. If you don't or even just can't support it (possibly because of GenCon or other Kickstarters going on), we'd still appreciate it if you could spread the word around.

Thanks in advance!

Quinnspiracy, Integrity, & Yes More Inverse World

It was either fight their way through
undead-infested catacombs, or
give a 5-star rating to a shitty game.
Ever since I got into the whole indie-publishing scene just over a year ago, it's always been my practice to write a draft of something, put out a call for anyone that wants to take a look at it, get feedback, and rinse and repeat until it's done. I do this because not everything that comes out of my head is awesome or even written in the best way (certainly not at first), and the only way to either confirm that it is good or (more likely) improve it is to have other people tell me where I done fucked up.

Well, that and I have to be willing to listen: I've been kind of surprised at how often someone tells me that it's nice that I don't get offended when they constructively-yet-negatively criticize something I've done.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, not everyone feels that way.

If you're into the gaming scene at all you've probably heard about Zoe Quinn, who I guess cheated on her boyfriend with a series of journalists in order to get her game, Depression Quest, better reviews. Or maybe it was so that it could get greenlit on Steam. I dunno, but what I've also heard is that she absolutely did do it, which makes her a horrible person, that it's just drama bullshit because she's a woman, that anyone criticizing her is for some reason a coward, and that that's just the way the industry is: if you professionally review games, you'd better kiss and/or suck ass no matter what the quality is if you want to keep getting more freebies.

It's that last one I want to talk about, partially because I agree with that statement, partially because it's also not just limited to "professional" "reviewers" for video games, and partially because I've dealt with that shit in some capacity.

I did several paid reviews over five years ago. Unfortunately all but one game was incredibly bad, so I wasn't surprised when the company just stopped contacting me (honestly I was surprised that they did contact me after my Blue Dragon Plus review). I had another, much better paying job, so I didn't really care, and that's probably part of the problem: some reviewers kind of need that job (or they at least want it), and if they don't do it a certain way then they get axed, or you lose out on a potential source, and if that guy knows a guy it could be even worse than that.

Thankfully video games are widespread enough to the point where if you do even a little searching, you can cut through the bullshit and get a more honest opinion, or enough opinions to get a pretty accurate general reception.

Tabletop games, though? Well...not so much, and that goes double for indie games since they tend to lack the widespread attention that something like, say, Dungeons & Dragons gets. This is a problem because if you can't trust the author to back up his claims or promises, the handful of people bothering to give it a review (or even a star-rating), or the vocal minority blindly praising anything and everything the creator shits out no matter how polished of a turd it is (which in all likelihood are the ones giving star-ratings or "reviews"), then who can you trust?

Normally I'd say people that don't know the author and have no vested interest in remaining on the author's good side, but in my experience any negative criticism, no matter how justified, gets drowned out in a chorus of the aforementioned blind praise, dismissed with comments about how much money it makes and/or how popular they perceive it to be (I get this a lot with the 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons crowd), or—probably the "best case" scenario—simply ignored.

Another common tactic is—depending on how much control the person can exercise—to mark your comments as spam, delete them, and ultimately remove you from the conversation completely (with or without an ultimatum). In my experience I've had it be all of the above, in sequence, though I guess I got off kind of easy: a G+ buddy of mine got a pretty aggressive reaction from Jacob (of Inverse World infamy) and crew for the audacity of wanting to know why Jacob had gone two months without saying anything about his already very late project.

I've seen a lot of things get blind, undeserved praise. This almost always comes from a friend of the author, a friend of a friend, and/or from a vocal member of a particular gaming/social community with some clout just trying to remain popular (or maybe trying to get popular). I mean, they don't even have to see any iteration of the product: they just say "So and so is doing this thing, and you should support it". There's no conditional "if you like this sort of thing", it's just "fucking dooo it!", as if you owe the guy something.

If you want an excellent case in point, just check out everything having to do with Inverse World. It has a handful of what could laughably be considered reviews over on Drivethrurpg: three out of four give it 4-5 stars, including one that tries to claim that "it has at least as much content as a $40 release from a big publisher". To put it nicely, I'm guessing this guy hasn't actually seen the kind of books that come from the big guys. Another person has even boldly stated that it is a thing that objectively "deserves your money".

It doesn't stop there, either: Gamer-XP, a kind of online gaming magazine that you probably haven't heard about, wrote a very glowing review in which they simultaneously lauded it for features and content that it objectively doesn't possess, and find absolutely nothing bad to say about it, not even the most minor of nitpicks. I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that their Patreon is being funded in part by both Jacob and Andri (whose Mounted Combat rules were used for vehicles and mounts in Inverse World, and is also a friend of Jacob's)?

Nah: according to their About Us page, they're not backed by a publisher or faceless corporate entity. Of course, maybe if they were they could afford to be actually honest with their reviews?

I recall a thread on G+ where a guy was praising it up and down for anything and everything. Since he posted it online I just assumed he was prepared to have an actual discussion about it. Boy was I wrong: apparently some people just like to say things and expect you to either agree with them or just let it slide unchallenged. Who knew, right? Seriously, here's a tip: if that's the kind of thing you like to do, then maybe you should make a circle called Echo Chamber, Yes Crew, or something similar and fill it with people that will just agree with you no matter how baseless your statements are.

Anywho, I tried pointing out that it only had two magic items, a couple of pages for each region, no actual description for any of the sample locations (not even NPCs or steading tags), super cheap airships (despite them being billed as really expensive), no rules on anyone else using a robot suit, the races lacked magical/amazing features, the monsters were just bog-standard stuff like flying fish, a flying jellyfish, and a devil (and they weren't even statted correctly), that hollow worlds have been done before (apparently with suns in the middle), moves that didn't make much sense, and so on.

The only thing anyone actually responded to was my issue with the page dimensions: apparently to them 300-something pages is 300-something pages, no matter how small (though to be fair Andri seems to think that 300-something pages is actually 500 pages). In regards to everything else, all I got was a dismissive "whatever". I found it telling that he didn't have anything to say about anything else, and though I was prepared to keep going was quickly uncircled and blocked by the original poster...

...so I turned to the one place where I could say what I wanted and not be silenced by rapid fans that are too insecure to handle a dissenting voice and/or be bothered to actually address the criticisms: here!

Surprise surprise, though not really, when his fans and supporters couldn't just stamp out what I was saying, people started opening up and saying that they actually agreed with me: it was lackluster, it wasn't original or imaginative, and despite being very, very late failed to fulfill what it claimed to do. The guy that had been attacked even thanked me for being bold enough to let everyone publicly know about my dissatisfaction.

I know some of his fans have seen the posts, as they were linked on a Twitter thread by a supporter, where a handful of them chose to predictably continue and focus on the page count issue. Only one of them actually messaged me directly, but only to try and...shame me, I guess for reviewing his stuff that I bought. Of course, we all know he wouldn't have cared if my review had been positive: I guess it's only arbitrarily "unprofessional" if you make negative yet legitimate criticisms against someone's work?

Obviously I don't think it's possible to get honest opinions all the time, whether it's because it's somebody's meal ticket, their buddy's pet project and they don't have the heart to tell him about how bad it is (or even what particular parts are bad), or they just want other people to like them. That kind of sucks, because if more people were honest I think we'd have better indie products out there, they'd be selling a lot faster, and maybe for more.

If something sucks, tell people what and why. If the creator and/or fans try and drown you out, take it somewhere where they can't. Not all of us can't handle criticism, mind you; as I said at the top hearing even the bad let's me know where I really need to improve. Also, when it comes to reviews and comments I guess my best "rule of thumb" is that if it doesn't mention anything negative (not even nitpicks), it's probably bullshit, especially if the person is friends with the creator (who honestly should not be the one posting reviews).

On a related note one of Jacob's friends is running a Kickstarter right now under his company's banner, which I found over at Gamer-XP while looking for their "totally unbiased" Inverse World "review". I think what I love most about this one is how Paul claims that the Mythos is a "little overdone" (ironic?), there have been "more than enough Mythos games already" (very ironic), and that "a lot of them don't really 'get' it" (wow, stay humble).

As with Inverse World it makes a bunch of claims and promises, but despite the rules being allegedly done there's no preview to be found. I did see mention of promises that there will be previews at some point, though I'm guessing that won't be until the campaign ends so your money is locked in. There's also no mention of a budget, which is interesting given that the artist looks...well, not bad, but not good, as well as the fact that they are pushing the cost of printing and shipping entirely onto you, the backer.

This would be fine if the pdf was cheap, but it's not: $10 for the pdf (the price of, say, Dungeon World), $15 for the softcover (or about $25 to have it actually printed and mailed to you), and the hardcover costs something like $35+ in the end (or, about what you'd pay for the 5th Edition Player's Handbook on Amazon). Of course that's not all: if you toss them $50 or more, you get the "privilege" of choosing what a picture looks like, or having them make a monster or NPC for you.

If you've ever read Fate Accelerated Edition, that's not terribly hard to do.

But, who knows? Paul authored the Fate Accelerated Edition version of Inverse World, which was still anemic and fulfilled none of the project's promises, but maybe he was just in charge of the mechanics? Maybe they were even good? It's already been funded, and that's not going to change because they collectively know enough people willing to throw money at them for any reason, no matter how shitty their publishing history is.

No, this is more for the people who're on the fence and/or don't really know the guy. Obviously I'm not going to back it: I've been burned by Jacob already (and seen how he reacts even to his supporters that ask questions and/or criticize him), and I can't trust the crew he runs with or even knows to give me anything remotely approaching an honest opinion...

...which might explain why there're no previews available.

UPDATE: Still no preview pdf available (shock!), and despite the KS stating that the book is mostly done, Paul has stated that he is getting four other writers to help write the book (s-shock?). One of them is Bruce Baugh, who is one of the guys that dismissed my Inverse World criticisms. Considering that the softcover book is going to run you about $25 in the end, I still love how he claims that the "do-it-yourself" model is cheaper for you.

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