Thursday, 17 December 2020

The Great Game-Book Dig

I love scouring old game books, or even books only loosely related to RPGs, and finding nuggets of thought that are useful in running and designing games.

Sometimes a passage just makes me laugh, which I'm holding in equal value for this post.

Let's pick out some assorted thoughts from recent reads.

Pan Book of Party Games (1958) and The Second Pan Book of Party Games (1963) - Joseph Edmundson

The name and dates of publication give you a pretty good idea what to expect here. There's not much I've found that can be mined for current tastes, except for some truly brutal rules for a series of beach-based wrestling games that would be a great fit for Electric Bastionland.

This was my favourite, especially when I thought the "clasping hands around the neck" was a choking motion, rather than something more like slow-dancing. 

Also I'll present this without further comment.


Maelstrom (1984) - Alexander Scott 

I find this whole book fascinating. It predates Advanced Fighting Fantasy but shares some of its presentation, even including a FF-style solo adventure in the book. It's almost a straight-up historical game, but has a punishing magic system. It's relatively light on rules but has that classic minutiae of the era with distinctions between musician, minstrel, and actor training times, and descriptions of five different types of fraudulent beggars. And, of course, critical wound tables. 

But there's one bit of weird-detail that got me thinking. There aren't stats for a sword, there are stats for seven different swords.

BUT it's not the usual D&D thing of having falchions and sabres and rapiers all function slightly differently. Instead, you can just buy better quality swords that are significantly better (and more expensive) than the inferior options.

D&D has its Masterwork swords, but I like the solid, grounding feel of being able to kit yourself out with just a really good sword, and knowing that an opponent with an even more finely crafted weapon is a real threat.  


Playing Politics (1997) - Michael Laver

This book contains a number of games, I guess varying from "party games" to "strategy games", that aim to reveal something about the political process. 

I stumbled onto this while I was reading about Nomic games, which is a rabbit-hole I'd be interested to spend proper time diving into. 

The part I find interesting here is that each game is presented in three sections.

Section 1: The Rules. Just the hard essentials.
Section 2: Playing the Game. Tips for how to play the game, some of the tough decisions that come up, peeking into some of the depths.
Section 3: Real Games. Insight from the designer based on the actual games that they've played and parallels to real political scenarios (from national government to selling a car).

I feel like there's merit in the idea of an RPG with an extensive "play report" section that breaks down some of the designers own experiences playing the game. We're so used to stilted examples of play, but why not draw on the reality of your game as it hits the table?


One Hour Wargames (2014) - Neil Thomas 

This book is a solid example of a phrase I keep parroting: Put the Core to Work. Basically, I like the approach of giving a game a solid core that needs little explanation, then exploring that core both in breadth of possibilities and ensuring that the player gets the best use out of that compact nucleus. N++ is a great example that I've spoken about at length.

The rules are simple and fast, as the name suggests, fitting on three A5 pages with spacious layout. I reckon you could easily get them down to a single reference sheet.

Then the game repeats these same rules across 9 different eras from Classical to WW2, each like a small, self-contained hack of the original. Each era has just four types of unit. Most eras tweak a rule here or there, so pivoting a unit is more difficult in the tight formations of the Medieval Era than the looser squads of the Machine Age. Some luxuriate in adding in a special rule, like Indirect Fire for Mortars in WW2, but every decision is outlined in a small article prefacing the rules, explaining why the changes were made in order to reflect the warfare of that period. It feels like additions were only made when the designer felt it justified even the smallest increase in rules complexity. 

Then it gives you 30 Scenarios that can be used for each eras, describing some historical battles that influenced it. 

I haven't even tried the game out, and I'm not entirely sold on the specific mechanics and scenarios, but there's something about the approach here that inspires me.


Top Ten Games You Can Play In Your Head By Yourself (2019) - Sam Gorski and D.F. Lovett

So this game is pitched in a sort of "found footage" way that might be the most exciting thing about it. 

The story goes that this book contains 6 volumes from an out-of-print series of games from the 80s/90s. Like Choose your own Adventure but replace all rules with IMAGINE IT and most content with IMAGININE HARDER.

There's a bit of structure to get you started but... I'm not actually going to try and explain how these games are meant to work. There are better write-ups elsewhere and I'm actually more interested in the presentation than the content.

Reading it for the first time is one of those "is this real?" moments that creates quite a unique experience. It's like those lucky few that saw the Blair Witch Project believing it to be genuine footage.

If this was presented as a new book written by the actual authors it would feel awkward and incomplete. If it was presented as an open pastiche it would feel toothless and trivial. But instead, if you allow yourself to embrace the fiction of this being a lost treasure from the past... it has a life of its own.

Some RPGs touch on this idea, but I've never seen it taken to this depth. I'm not even sure it could be done to this extent in an area that has been so rigorously documented over the years, but there's some power here. I just don't know how you'd tap into it yet.


The Complete Book of Card Games (2001) - Peter Arnold

I wanted to read about some card games to see a set of mechanics that are all based on the same limited set of components. It's that old Put the Core to Work thing again, right?

Well, I enjoy a card game, but I think I've learned more about what I dislike in games from reading their rules. 

I'm calling this section "Arbitrary Bullshit" and card games love this sort of thing.

There are dozens of examples, but just one:

"A short pack of 32 cards is used. Removed form the standard pack are the 8s, 5s, 4s, 3s, and 2s. The cards rank in the order 7, 6, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9"

Now I'm sure these little fiddly rules exist for a reason, and removing them makes the game worse, or maybe just not work at all. There must be a reason why 6 outranks 9, but not 7. Well maybe that's a sign something else could be changed in this game? 

Stay tuned for my Kickstarter campaign for a book of ultra-streamlined card games coming 2029.


The Matrix Games Handbook (2018) - John Curry

Matrix Games are big, multiplayer, somewhat free-form wargames that rely a lot on adjudication over hard rules. I find this whole area of games fascinating. I'd like to write in more detail at a later date, but for now there's one thing I like from here.

Their approach to objectives got me thinking. One of the example games is based on Iraq in 2014 and has players taking on roles of the US, ISIS, The Iraqi Government, The Iraqi Opposition, Kurdish Regional Government, Iran. Obviously they've all got vastly different resources they can deploy.

(sidenote: I have no idea how accurately or appropriately any of these are represented, but just using it for an example here)

Each faction also has one or two situational advantages/disadvantages intended to abstract another aspect of the larger political situation. Some factions are just outright better or worse than others if you judge them on these alone.

But at the end of the game, the only thing that matters is your set of three or four unique Objectives.  These are often down to self-assessment at the end of the game. You have to just look at them and discuss with the other player "Have I discouraged Kurdish separatism?" or "Have I avoided US Ground Troops being deployed?".

Asymmetry is nothing new, but I like the looseness of their objectives. I've seen similar systems in place for XP systems in RPGs, but again I feel like there's more that can be taken from this idea.


Zach-Like: A Game Design History (2019) - Zach Barth

The Zachtronics games are a series of problem-solving games that often draw on principles of programming and optimisation.

Note that I say problem-solving, not puzzle games. They present you with a task and the games are usually about solving it in various ways that might optimise speed, simplicity, or efficiency. 

This four-hundred page book is snippets from the design documents of various Zachtronics games going all the way back to the designer's school days. There are hex-based wargames scrawled in pencil and half-baked RPG systems, all the way up to prototype level sketches for their most recent games.

I've hidden from some of my old game designs in shame, telling myself that they're just relics from before I knew better. But Zach appears to revel in his old ideas, often revisiting them as inspiration for the next big, polished release. It's inspired me to rethink how I treat my poor, abandoned old creations. 


Monday, 14 December 2020

Ask the Stars - A Minimal Solo RPG

So I'm going through a real phase of just chopping existing games to bits and seeing if the remains still twitch. Maybe that's all I've ever really done.

Next in line was Ironsworn by Shawn Tomkin. 

There's lots to like in here, especially if you like a game with lots of moving parts and PBTA-style moves. The solo/coop stuff is what's really notable here, and there are loads of videos and written reports of the fun people have had using this game in that way.

Me, Myself and Die is a particularly polished example

So obviously my dream is to be able to tap into those useful solo/coop tools but see how many of the systems I can jettison in the process without the entire thing falling apart.

I also dipped back into some of my experiments with Intergalactic Bastionland, which continues to warp and morph in my head. The thing that I've been most happy with is the use of 2d12 rolls as a sort of oracle to discover truths about the world.

As I pressed on, I reached a point in the design that I always enjoy. A point where I looked at the document and thought "wait... there isn't really any Ironsworn left in here".

So we have a new thing! But I think it's fun to share the origin of these experiments. 

BEFORE PLAYING

Download all the free stuff for Ironsworn or buy it in print. Read through it and absorb its guidance for running a solo/coop game. It's really good, and I'm not going to regurgitate it word-for-word here, and as it's free I feel like anybody interested in trying solo games should go and give them a read. 

Done? Okay, onto how to play this game.

ASK THE STARS - A Minimal Solo RPG

Most of the game comes down to two things:

  1. Asking the Stars
  2. Your Notes



Getting Inspiration: Roll 2d12 and consult the Symbols and Position columns. Inspiration could be symbolic or literal. The Cage might represent Protection or Obligation or just a physical cage. 
Use this to create characters and give them descriptive Strengths and Weaknesses until they feel interesting. This method also generates locations, events, and anything else you need.

Yes/No Questions: Ask and roll d12 and consult the Answer column. If more/less likely to be true, roll 2d12 and discard the lower/higher respectively. Consult your Notes to decide whether an action is likely/unlikely in this way. 

What Else: For anything else you need, Ask the Stars in one of the two ways above.

Wait what about: Yes, just ask the Stars.


YOUR NOTES

Your notes are a record of what's real in the game. Things you narrate out loud or in your head are real to a degree, but writing them down sort of locks them in. The goal is to make them interesting.

I'd recommend boxing off a few different sections for your notes, or maybe a page for each if you're settling in.

Character: Note down some details about your character. Give them a Strength and a Weakness that are both relatively broad. Add to and modify these as the story progresses.

Assets: These are beneficial things your character acquires to help in their journey. They might make you more likely to succeed in certain actions, or open up new actions that were not previously possible.

Debilities: When you would take direct harm to your character, note a specific Debility that occurs as a result. They might make you less likely to succeed in certain actions, or prevent actions that were previously possible.

In general taking a third Debility of the same type (ie a physical wound) should have permanent consequences.

Challenges: Note down the challenge and keep a list of steps you’ve made towards completing it. Not everything is a Challenge, and it's mainly for significant multi-stage tasks. 

As a general rule, Challenges require three steps to complete and may require a final roll if the outcome is still uncertain. 

World: Use this section to keep any other notes you think will be useful, especially characters and locations. Here maps are especially useful. Before play, try to sum up the core of your setting in three bullet points and make an instigating situation that throws your character into making tough choices. 

WAIT, THAT'S IT?

Yep, that's all you're getting. 

Now when I was talking about Risus I mentioned that I preferred games to come with some flavour of their own, but here you've got the Stars to assist you in creating that flavour for yourself. So let's say I sit down not even knowing what sort of setting I want to run in. I know nothing.

Stars, hit me with some straight-up inspiration for a setting.

I roll 2d12 and get 11/5, so that's the Council, Rooted.

I could take this very literally. The setting features a council that's literally rooted in place. Do they live in a tree? Have they been turned to stone? Are they buried in a warren of tunnels? Each of those could be the spark of a setting, but they'd need work.

Or we could do with the less literal approach. We've got Opposition/Cycles and Stability/Plenty. 

Opposition and Stability could pair up to represent some sort of uprising. A world in the midst of a revolution against the status quo. Cycles/Plenty makes me think of harvest. Maybe the harvest is ruined this year, which triggers the aforementioned revolution.

Let's augment all this with some Yes/No questions asked to the stars.

Is this a pseudo-medieval setting?
I feel like this is likely, given some of the things we've touched on (agriculture, being turned to stone) so we roll 2d12 and keep the highest.

Roll is 5/5: No.

Even taking the highest die we're not in that era. Is is drawing from further back in history?

Roll is 8: Yes.

Okay. So I'm going to make a call here and say we're drawing on pre-medieval themes, more like late-classical, fall of Rome. I could keep asking yes/no questions to narrow things down, but you've also got to leap into inspiration when you feel it.

Are there many supernatural elements in this setting?

I'm going to say this is likely, based on my gut feeling. 

Roll is 1/4: No. 

Again the dice surprise us. This is what I like about this process. As it wasn't a hard no, I'm going to say there are hints of supernatural, but nothing openly fantastical. Right at the bottom end of low-fantasy.

Are the Council the holders of what little supernatural power there is?

Roll is 3: Hard No.

So perhaps the Council have worked to supress a supernatural element in this setting.

Maybe we can draw on all those ideas and do a classic three-bullet setting, or at least enough to start running a game. 

The World
  • The harvest has failed for the first time in a century, the once thriving Empire is burning in the flames of rebellion.
  • The Council has descended into the warren of tunnels and caves beneath the capital, cowering while their city burns.
  • Without the Council holding them back, whispers tell of things emerging from the shadows, preying on the desperate and hungry citizens.
Gives us enough to get started! Let's use the same system to generate a character.

2d12 gives us The Mask (Persuasion/Shame), Bowed (Submission/Mercy).

Let's ask some more questions to hone in on this.

Do we work for the Council?

1: Hard No.

Sounds like we oppose the council. Maybe we're part of this rebellion that's been brewing for years.

Let's use Persuasion/Bowed to make our character a sort of sleeper agent. Maybe we're within the Council, but have been working against them all along. Now, in their moment of weakness, we need to aid the rebellion from within while also keeping our identity secret. 

Now we need a Strength and a Weakness.

4/2 gives us the Hand (Creation/Misdirection) Entombed (Memory/Death).

Being a spy, Misdirection would be sort of obvious as a Strength, so let's go away from that. We'll use Creation/Death to make ourselves an Engineer, used by the council to create weapons. 

That leaves us with Misdirection and Memory to determine our weakness. Or we could take a more literal approach with the Hand Entombed. Maybe in the uprising we got caught in a  skirmish and lost our hand. That's why we were dragged underground by the other Council members. We wanted to slink away, but they were trying to protect us, unknowing that we were working against them.

And for a name we'll just warp one of the words we didn't use. Memory becomes Morie. Feel like we need one more little physical or behavioural detail so let's do a final roll. 

8/4: The Traveller (wandering/chance), Waning (hunger/decay). 

I like chance + hunger to make us a a keen gambler, perhaps compulsive. 

Character

Morie - Rebellion Sleeper Agent
  • Engineer, specialising in weapons.
  • Recently maimed from scuffle with the Rebellion.
  • Compulsive gambler, always carries a set of dice.

Have fun, and let me know if you try this out for yourself.

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

TROIKUS - A Troika/Risus Hack

I like mashing things together and seeing if something interesting forms from the reaction. Generally I pick ingredients that I like individually, and see something a bit special in them. Like how putting chilli and chocolate together brings out elements of each that you might not have noticed before. 

I wrote about a similar process before.

So the two games I've been thinking about are...


RISUS

What do I like?

  • One of the great examples of having a simple core and then putting the core to work, especially if you pick up the Risus Companion, which I'd recommend as a great read even if you don't love the system. 
  • Low barrier to entry. Here are your four(ish) things you need to know about your character. When you do that thing you roll that many dice and add them up. Let's go. 
  • It took me a long time to realise that the "Inappropriate Cliche" rule is sort of the MVP of this game. It means that players are encouraged to twist their characters into situations they shouldn't really be in, and come up with creative and entertaining solutions. It's not how I want every game I ever play to work, but in the right context it's a lot of fun. 


TROIKA!

What do I like?

  • The flavour is just pouring out of this thing. It's like when you eat something so tasty that you just can't shake the aromas from your head for the rest of the day. 
  • The Backgrounds are perhaps the most famous example of the above, but I think the monsters are up there alongside them. 
  • I don't normally think Skill systems add much to a game, but here many of the skills are so flavourful and specific that they serve a similar niche to the weird bits of equipment that I like to give characters in Electric Bastionland. You've got the usual candidates like Swordfighting, Locks, Sneaking, but then things like Gastrology and Vengeance. I really wish there was more of the second type in the original book, but the wealth of additional backgrounds available make up for that. 


What common links are already there?

  • Comedic elements, albeit from different angles
  • Squeezing flavour into those Cliches/Advanced Skills
  • Encouraging creative use of Cliches/Skills that might not be an obvious fit


Where do they differ?
  • Troika has a lot of fancy little mechanical systems (initiative, damage tables, luck) compared to Risus, which is essentially a unified-mechanic system. I'm going to lean more towards Risus on this one, though there's some interesting stuff in Troika. 
  • Risus is "the anything RPG" so is generic by design, but Troika is all about its own specific tone and flavour. This is a case of "opposites attract" for the purposes of this experiment.
  • In Risus every character starts with the same number of points to spend on Cliches, but Risus can have fluctuating character power levels straight out of creation. I'm happy with the imbalance here, but I can also see the appeal of less quantitative imbalance (Troika) ad more qualitative imbalance (Risus). Like if you have Skill 4 and you have Skill 6 that's not especially interesting, but if you have Talentless Imposter (4) and I have Genius Rocket Scientist (4) that's a more interesting type of power-variance.


What could be gained from this union?

  • I understand that Risus is deliberately generic, but personally I don't like the "blank slate" method of character creation. Blending some of the looseness of Cliches with the strange specifics of Troika's backgrounds and advanced skills could yield fun results.
  • Similarly, I feel like Troika's skills could benefit from Risus' attitude towards Cliche creation. Make each one work for you in an interesting way and drench your character in flavour. 
  • Annoy a whole bunch of people that think these games are untouchable, I guess. 




TROIKUS - The Anything Spheres

Rule 1: Go get both games because they're great and you'll need them. 

Character Creation

  • Roll d66 to get a Troika background, or take one from a supplement if you like.
  • Note down your Advanced Skills and their score, but you have to go through and make each one more unique and interesting, drawing on their description if possible. So the Ardent Giant of Corda has Strength but you might change that to Display of Strength to lean in on their storytelling side, or Mournful Strength if you prefer the tragic side of this background. 
  • Get creative when doing the above, and any amount of rewriting feels right as long as the end result is more interesting, rather than just more powerful. 
  • Note down gear, but don't worry too much about specific mechanics.
  • Spells are just a really specific Skill. Again, ignore specific mechanics and just write down the spell effect as if you were writing a proper spell book.

Playing the Game

Basically play Risus with Skills replacing Cliches. 

BUT because I can't help myself I'm going to mess with the core of Risus while nobody is watching. 

I never liked the way Target Numbers are assigned in Risus, and simply totalling die pools gives more of a middle-weighted probability curve than I like in this sort of light-hearted game. So run the game with the following tweaks:

  • When you roll your die pool, discard all dice showing 4-6 and total the remaining dice. 
  • For opposed rolls follow the rules of Risus after this point. 
  • When you would normally make a Target Number Roll, instead use this 1-2-3 scale based on the result of the roll.
    • 0: Failure
    • 1: You scrape through. The bare minimum of what could be considered a success while making a real mess of it. 
    • 2: Success with a minor setback or complication. 
    • 3: A clear success.

Run everything else by-the-book from Risus, especially the Inappropriate Cliche and Proper Rools rules. Up to you if you want to use double-pumps and other fancy stuff but I'd personally keep it down to the core.


What about Difficulty Modifiers?

What about that Risus Death Spiral?
Leaving that in there. I don't see Troika as a setting where you grind away on dungeon crawls or settle in for big boss fights, so having to surrender or flee from combat and find somewhere to recover seems like it would lead to some fun interactions with weird characters. 

Monsters
Use Troika monsters but split their Skill points between two or three skills as appropriate, drawing on their special abilities and description. So a Troll might get Regenerate (4) and Abuse of Power (3) while a Dragon gets Wanton Slaughter (5), Wealth Accumulation (4), Forbidden Knowledge (4), and Soaring Between Worlds (3). 

Make sure to use their Mien from Troika, because it's a great mechanic with an awful name. 

So there you have it. Raw, untested chemistry in action. Enjoy. 

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

d20 Foods of Bastion

Bastion has everything, so whatever food you're craving is just around the corner. Maybe a quick jump on a tram, or actually you might need to change at the ice factory and use one of those hire-bikes... well I can smell it, so it can't be far. Wait, how are we supposed to get across that new canal?

Forget it, let's just see what's on offer around here.



Roll d20

  1. Neep Cakes (£1 each): Dense pancakes of various root vegetables. One fills you up for the day, two sees you through tomorrow as well. Halve your DEX (rounded up) for this duration. 
  2. Miscie Pies (£2 each): Short for Miscellaneous, but the actual recipe is closely guarded. Immediately lessens the effect of any alcohol in your system, but in a few hours you're Deprived unless you're laid down on a comfortable bed.
  3. Tyre Bread (£3 for one, large enough for two to share): Chewy black bred served in a ring. Pass a STR Save to even be able to eat it, but doing so generally impresses anybody that's familiar with this challenging food. 
  4. Stuffy Pufflers (£1 for a portion of 6): Aerated pastries filled with gluey mashed potato and dipped in saltwater. Once they go cold the mashed potato hardens like a super-adhesive clay. 
  5. Buckbirds (£2, condiments sold extra): Salty sardines crammed into hollowed-out bread. Always attracts seagulls, no matter where you go. 
  6. Bean Boomers (£1 each): Refried beans wrapped in a pancake and super-fried at temperatures previously thought to be impossible. Freshly cooked they can be thrown for d6 blast damage. 
  7. Edibowls (£3 each): Watery soup served in a bowl of edible porcelain. The bowl isn't good at holding soup or as a food. 
  8. Crisp Boxes (£1 each): Various flavours of fried potato crisps topped with onion, mustard powder, and relishes, before being shaken up in a cardboard box. Anybody ordering this without knowing how bad it is loses d6 CHA upon opening the box. 
  9. Noodle Bricks (50p each): The latest trend, just a brick of dried noodles. So much effort to eat that you don't actually receive the benefits of a meal.
  10. Fatty Branches (50p each): Actual tree branches coated in a thin lair of meat drippings and flecks of salt. Regular consumers will insist you can eat the branch. If it's your first time doing this you're Deprived for the rest of the day with an upset stomach, but by next time your body is used to it.
  11. Hog Paste (£1 each): Meat-free salty spread, slathered onto cheap sliced bread, toasting optional. Don't ask how they make it so meaty. Afterward you are Deprived until you drink at least a pint of water.
  12. Mushy Jar (£1 for one serving that can comfortably serve two people): Glass jar of various beans and vegetables cooked down and pureed, traditionally garnished with a softened rib bone to use as a spoon and crunch up at the end. Rumoured to improve your eyesight, and actually grants a mild darkvision for the rest of the day. 
  13. Dead Dogs (£5 on a plate with side salad): Actually half a roast bird with an aggressive spice rub. No, they don't know what the name is all about. Anybody eating must pass a CHA Save to see if they're especially susceptible to the spices. Those that fail are Deprived until they consume a large amount of milk, cheese, or similar, to quell the heat. 
  14. Three-Lunch Handy (£1 each): Battered vegetables in a stodgy bun, then battered and fried again. After eating this your hands are oily for the rest of the day no matter what you try. 
  15. Sweaty Rice (£3): Rice sticky with the cooking juices of whatever is being served in the next stall or cart and pepped up with a special hyper-addictive ketchup. You are sweaty and  Deprived for the rest of the week unless you eat another portion (with ketchup of course).
  16. Broiler Baps (£2 each): Gravy soaked sandwiches filled with melting cheese. Something happens to them when they go cold, and they develop a sickening stench. You couldn't possibly eat a cold one. 
  17. Bagger's Mix (£4 for a portion): Cold salad of squid and stuff that can pass as squid. Works great as fish bait. 
  18. Bodybags (£2 each): Long griddle-seared dumplings filled with a whole cooked animal (whatever fits in there really, commonly a small bird or rodent). Eating one is seen as a test of bravery among local students. 
  19. Slobbery Boys (£3 each): Small steamed sponge puddings filled with a rich, spicy gravy. No way to eat it with dignity. Anybody that sees you eat one will never quite be able to take you seriously again. 
  20. Slammed Egg (50p each): Smash an egg down whole onto a flat griddle and cook it up, shell and all. Can be served in a sweet bun (50p extra) or wafer cone (20p extra). The seller offers you a seemingly endless selection of up-sell toppings (£15 extra if you go for everything), and is working on commission. 

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

d100 Chess Scenarios

So like everybody in the world I'm trying to play Chess again.


I've done this every six months or so for the last decade, and the pattern generally goes like this:

  • I'm in a pub or waiting room or ferry crossing with my partner and there's a chess board. We play it and have fun. She beats me, but she used to play at school, so I'm just glad if I can make it a challenge for her.
  • "I enjoy games. Chess is like... the game. I should be all over this."
  • Play some online Chess and lose by blundering away my Queen to an attack I didn't see because I'm not great at spotting things.
  • Go and read up on principles, methods to avoid blundering.. Decide to really concentrate this time. I refuse to learn openings or memorise sequences.
  • Play some more online, or maybe even just a low-level computer this time. Maybe I win as much as I lose, but only when it feels like the other player makes a huge mistake.
  • Try some "creative" play thinking I'm a swashbuckling maverick, getting thrashed in return. 
  • Abandon the cause until the next time we're in that pub or waiting room or ferry crossing again. 
BUT this time we're in lockdown, so I naturally have a little more time to be able to sneak in a game each day. I think the regular practice really helps. 

Maybe this is the time I break the cycle... I'm still giving away stupid pieces, but it's happening later into the game, so I feel more like I've been outplayed and less like I've just thrown it away myself. 

So I'm sticking with it for a bit longer. 

Chess Variants are fun too, but I wanted to see if I could create a list of Scenarios that maintain the fundamentals of standard chess but add a single twist to the game, ideally not requiring any additional pieces or more than a single rules change. 

There are already a million chess variants out there, so full disclosure that this list is going to be stealing from them liberally and even the ideas I'm pulling out of my own head are sure to have discussed somewhere else before now. The d100 format is by design, as the intent is that you use a different scenario for each match, so that you're always exploring something new based around that existing core.

Unless noted, all existing rules of Chess apply to these scenarios, including but not limited to:
  • Put your opponent in checkmate to win.
  • You cannot end your turn with yourself in check.
  • Stalemate results in a draw. 
In terms of balance... ha! They're more a set of experiments to try out, and I suspect over half of them are fundamentally broken if you dig into them too deeply. I'd advise playing with them in a casual environment. 

Nomenclature
This seems to be not entirely consistent, so for the purposes of these rules:
Adjacent: In a neighbouring square in any orthogonal or diagonal direction. 
Centre Four Squares: D4, D5, E4, and E5. 
Centre Line: The line between ranks D and E. 
Minor Piece: Bishops and Knights.
Major Piece: Queens and Rooks.
Piece: Any of the 6 types of piece.
Protected: A piece occupying a square threatened by one of their own pieces. 
Threatened: A piece is threatened by a piece that is in a position to capture them on their next turn. 


Roll d100
  1. Warrior Queen: Queens can also move like a Knight.
  2. Archbishops: Bishops can also move like a King.
  3. Cataphracts: Knights can also move like a Rook.
  4. Watchtowers: Rooks can also capture like a Pawn.
  5. Sentries: Pawns can also capture like a King.
  6. Excalibur: Kings can Capture as Knights.
  7. Phalanx: Pawns capture as normal but do not move from their original space.
  8. Horse Archers: Knights capture as normal but do not move from their original space.
  9. Holy Spear: Bishops capture as normal but do not move from their original space.
  10. Artillery: Rooks capture as normal but do not move from their original space.
  11. Mountain: Place all Rooks in the centre four squares of the board. They cannot move or be captured. 
  12. Fortresses: Remove all Rooks. On their first turn each player places a Rook in an empty space on their half of the board. On their second turn each player places a Rook in an empty space on the opponent's half of the board. Rooks cannot move or be captured. 
  13. Angels: Place Bishops aside. Instead of a normal move a player can move either of their Bishops from off-board to any empty space.
  14. Archangel: Place Queens aside. Instead of a normal move a player can move their Queen from off-board to any empty space.
  15. Pope: Remove Kings and one Bishop from each side. Place the remaining Bishop in the King's space. You win when you place the opposing Bishop in mate. 
  16. Trenches: Start the pawns rank 4 and 5. 
  17. Barbarians: When a pawn captures they must capture again if able, repeating as many times as possible.
  18. Slaughter: Immediately lose if you have no pawns remaining.
  19. Scouts: You can only move Knights until a piece is captured or a piece enters check.
  20. Infantry: You can only move Pawns until a piece is captured or a piece enters check.
  21. Throne: The King cannot move unless they are capturing.
  22. Cathedral: When a Rook is adjacent to a friendly Bishop either piece can choose to move in the matter of the other instead of their normal movement. 
  23. Panic: When the first piece is captured all pawns on their starting rank are captured.
  24. Skirmishers: Pawns may also move backwards as if you were playing on the other side of the board.
  25. Honour: Non-pawns cannot capture pawns.
  26. Assassin: The Queen can only capture and be captured by the King. 
  27. Elitism: Pawns cannot capture non-pawns.
  28. Sunrise: Place a barrier between both player's halves of the board so that neither player can see the other half. You can only move into spaces you can see. Lift this barrier when a piece enters a space adjacent to it. 
  29. Hill: Move your King into one of the centre four spaces to win.
  30. Betrayal: You can capture your own pieces.
  31. Ghosts: Bishops can move to any empty space on the board. They cannot capture or be captured.
  32. Torpedo: Pawns can always perform their double move as if they were on their starting space.
  33. Strikes: Win by putting your opponent in Check three times.
  34. Combined Arms: On your turn you must move a pawn if able and then must move a non-pawn if able.
  35. Princess: The Queen can only move as a King.
  36. Lancer: Knights leap three spaces in any direction instead of their normal movement.
  37. Flankers: Pawns in the A and H file begin on ranks 4 and 5.
  38. Civilians: Pawns cannot capture or be captured. 
  39. Order: No castling or en passant. Pawns can only move a single space forward, capturing only in this way too. 
  40. Coronation: Win when you promote a pawn. 
  41. Holy War: Bishops can only move a single space diagonally. Capture both enemy Bishops to win. Normal Checkmate does not apply. 
  42. Blessing: Pieces protected by a Bishop cannot be captured.
  43. Deserters: When you move into Check, capture any one opposing Pawn.
  44. Arthur: Remove both Kings from the board. When a player has one Pawn remaining, replace it with their King. 
  45. Dragoons: Rooks and Knights that begin their turn adjacent to each other may move in the manner of the other piece. 
  46. Summer: When a pawn crosses the centre line all pawns can move as Rooks for the rest of the game. 
  47. Winter: When a pawn crosses the centre line all pawns are removed from the game. 
  48. Revolt: Pawns can also move or capture one space in any direction as long as they move closer to the enemy King.
  49. Extinction: Capture all pieces of one type to win. 
  50. Scholars: A pawn can move in the manner of any friendly piece it is orthogonally adjacent to at the start of its turn. 
  51. Revenge: If your opponent captured one of your pawns their last turn your Pawns can capture as a Queen for this turn. 
  52. Warrior King: Kings can perform a second move if it results in a capture. 
  53. Vampire: Win if your Queen captures three pieces. 
  54. Chivalry: Knights can only be captured by other Knights or the King. 
  55. Turncoat: After three moves, swap sides.
  56. Shieldmaiden: Pieces orthogonally adjacent to their Queen cannot be captured. The King cannot be protected in this way. 
  57. Outgun: Instead of performing a normal move you can capture a piece that is threatened by two or more of your own pieces.
  58. Dragon: When you capture with a Knight you may move that Knight again as a King. This effect does not stack. 
  59. Isolation: Win by having your opponent end a turn with their King having no adjacent friendly pieces.
  60. Tanks: Rooks can only be captured by Rooks, but can only move as part of a capture. 
  61. Monks: Pawns can capture as Bishops.
  62. Chasm: Pieces can only cross the centre line of the board by capturing. 
  63. Squires: Pawns can capture as Knights.
  64. Arena: Pieces in the centre four squares can only be captured by pieces in another of the centre four squares.
  65. Priestess: Queens move as Bishops and cannot be taken.
  66. Bloodbath: The first player to capture 6 pieces wins.
  67. Invasion: Win if your King crosses the centre line.
  68. Spears: Pawns cannot be captured by non-adjacent pieces. 
  69. Queen of Hearts: When either Queen is captured, pawns can no longer move for the rest of the game. 
  70. Duet: After the white player's first turn, each player move two different pieces each turn. If they only their King remaining then they move the King twice. 
  71. Formation: At the end of your turn lose all pieces that are not adjacent to another friendly piece. The King ignores this rule. 
  72. Ice Queen: When either Queen captures, pawns can no longer move for the rest of the game. 
  73. Gorgon: Pieces that are threatened by the Queen cannot move. Kings are not affected by this. 
  74. Mad King: Kings can capture all pieces (of either colour) adjacent to them in place of a normal move.
  75. Knighthood: If one or more of your Knights are currently captured, when you capture with a Pawn you may replace that Pawn with the captured Knight.
  76. Snipers: Pawns that move into a position where they are not protected by another piece are captured.
  77. Blood Sacrifice: On any turn you may sacrifice one of your pawns to have a major or minor piece move as a queen. 
  78. Menagerie: Win by capturing at least one each of Pawn, Knight, Bishop, Rook, and Queen. 
  79. Border: Pieces cannot capture across the centre line of the board. 
  80. Dethrone: If you end your turn with your King not protected by another piece then you lose. Normal checkmate does not apply but Kings cannot be captured.
  81. Royal Guard: Pawns can also move like a King.
  82. Great Wall: Rooks cannot be captured if they are protected by another Rook. 
  83. Apathy: If your opponent did not capture on their last turn, your Pawns cannot capture or be captured.
  84. Fatigue: You cannot move the same piece in two simultaneous turns. Stalemate counts as a loss for the player that cannot move.
  85. Schism: Both players swap starting position of their Queen Side Knight and Bishop.
  86. Etiquette: Queens cannot be taken, but must end their move on a square of their own colour.
  87. Royal Guard: Pawns that are adjacent to the King cannot be taken. 
  88. Runners: Pawns can move as Queens but can only capture by their normal method.
  89. Politician: A Bishop cannot capture as normal, but can sacrifice itself to remove any one Pawn from the board.
  90. Plague: When you capture a pawn, immediately lose the capturing piece.
  91. Diplomatic Immunity: Pieces in the same File as their king cannot be captured. 
  92. Vizier: If the King begin their turn adjacent to their Queen they can move as a Queen.
  93. DMZ: Pieces in the centre four squares cannot be captured until at least one Queen is captured.
  94. Populism: Your King cannot be captured while you have at least four pawns on the board.
  95. Conscripts: Pawns cannot double-move and are captured if they perform a capture themselves. 
  96. Stealth: When you move a piece without capturing, that piece cannot be captured on your opponent's next turn.
  97. Werewolf: Remove both Queens. At the start of any turn a player may replace any of their pieces (except the King) with the Queen, who they must then use to capture another piece. 
  98. Duel: While both Queens are alive, Queens can only capture and be captured by the other Queen.
  99. Deployment: Start with only Kings on the board. Instead of a normal turn a player can place any of their pieces on any space on their back rank.
  100. Deathray: When two of your rooks are adjacent and occupy the same file, or your queen and bishop are adjacent and occupy the same diagonal, you capture all enemy pieces on that file or diagonal respectively.

Monday, 23 November 2020

The Twelve Failed Careers of Oddmas

Did you enjoy all of the weird stuff and silly references in Electric Bastionland's Failed Careers?

Feeling festive?

The Twelve Failed Careers of Oddmas is now on sale!

(also on DrivethruRPG but Itch takes a smaller cut)




Twelve more Failed Careers for your seasonal Electric Bastionland game, focusing on the council-endorsed winter conglomerated-festival of Oddmas. A 30 page PDF. 

Featuring (in reverse order):

12: Drumbelleer

11: Primal Piper

10: Lady/Lad-a-Loopin

9: Layman Duncer

8: Malady Milker

7: Sworn Swimmer

6: Goose Allayer

5: Gold Ring Grappler

4: Coalie Bird

3: Fancy Poulterer

2: Turtle Devotee

and

1: Apprentice to a Paired Tree




Monday, 16 November 2020

d6 Urban Monstrosities

It's easy to think that you're only likely to encounter monstrosities in the darkest corners of the Underground, out in the wilderness of Deep Country, or if you draw too much attention from the Living Stars. 

Fact is, Bastion has everything, including its fair share of terrors, each specially adapted to urban life.


1: Ur-Urchin
5hp, Stony Body (Armour 1), Choking Hands (d8) and Thrown Rocks (d6)
  • Emerge from, or disappear into, any stone building at will.
  • Encourage others to perform acts of escalating mischief against adults, the older the better. Turns hostile if you refuse.
  • On Critical melee Damage the victim is dragged into a wall and becomes a stone gargoyle until the Ur-Urchin agrees to release them.



2: Spirit of Surveillance
10hp, Shapeless Body (normal physical attacks are Impaired). 
  • Has no means of attack, but knows everything about you and knows people that would like those secrets. 
  • Wants you to acknowledge that the Spirit's existence makes everybody safer, and spread that word around.
  • Slips into a stupor if given an opportunity to view a particularly juicy secret. 



3: Portraitor
No physical presence.
  • Shows up in place of another person in a particularly beloved photograph or painting, with a mocking expression.
  • If you go a day without returning to look at the image, he takes something valuable from the image for himself. It is also stolen in reality.
  • If you destroy the image then everything in the image is also destroyed. 



4: Hospitalliteth
STR 16, 10hp, Huge Body (Armour 1), Trample (d6 Blast) or Chew (d12). 
  • Rumoured to appear if restaurant staff are treated poorly by gluttonous patrons. 
  • Only wants to devour those that have over-eaten their fill of delicious food.
  • Gives victims one final chance to make amends with their scorned hosts.


5:Fleetlamp
STR 18, 10hp, Huge Metal Body (Armour 3), Colossal Claw Swipe (d10 Blast).
  • Can disguise itself as a regular streetlamp before unfolding into its true form.
  • Carries out disproportionate justice against those causing petty vandalism, seeking them down until killed.
  • Each Fleetlamp has varying standards for what qualifies as vandalism, but they all lack any tolerance for people dropping chewing-gum. 

6:Detritan
STR 18, 10hp, Hefty Body (Armour 1), Fists (2x8).

  • Born out of a waste heap that has been left for too long, now defending it so that other Detritans may be born. 
  • Incredibly sensitive about their appearance and smell, seeing themselves as noble knights, swiftly avenging any perceived slight.
  • Any melee attacks that roll a 1 have their weapon absorbed into the Detritan. They regain 1pt of lost Strength and can use the weapon in addition to their Fists. 

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Upcoming Electric Bastionland Live Play with TPKRoleplay

This Friday I'm running four players through the Prison of the Worm Queen.

And I'm told there are some surprises waiting for me .


You can watch on TPK Roleplay's stream at Midnight GMT on Friday night. 

I'll also be hosting the channel on my stream, so you can follow the usual link too. 

Friday, 6 November 2020

Mark of the Odd Licence and SRD

Want to use Into the Odd as a basis for your game or adventure?

Now you can give it the Mark of the Odd and use content from the MOTO SRD.

Follow this link for the full details and the logos you can use. 



Thursday, 29 October 2020

Kitbash Attitude

Working on GRIMLITE keeps me thinking about the connection between RPGs (especially the type that I enjoy and make) and miniature wargames. 

I'm especially interested in looking at ideas that might seem out of place in a miniature game. It feels like the design space is much tighter than that of RPGs, and I'm only really interested in making a game if it does something different to what's already out there. How far outside that typical space can we push?

How much RPG-stuff can be crossed over? What must be left aside?

I wrote a list of the key strengths of RPGs for me, and gave some thought to their place in GRIMLITE as a miniature wargame. There's lots of blurring between these topics, so think of it more as a series of prompts then an analytical breakdown of each one in order. 

Rulings Not Rules

Perhaps the biggest difference I've encountered between miniature games and roleplaying games is the desire, almost need, for watertight rules. Some RPG players like these too, but here it's right at the forefront. Can you ditch this rules-focus for more expectation that rulings will be made as needed?

There's a long history of wargames that have one player acting as GM or Referee, making ruling calls for the two or more opposing players. This is even more precarious than the GM-Player relationship of RPGs, as you've got to be firm but fair and make sure both sides feel they are being treated equally.

To be honest, it's never really appealed to me. I like miniature games to focus on the relationship between the players, typically one-on-one, and the idea of inserting a neutral party in the middle doesn't feel right for what I enjoy at the table.

But that really makes the next point a problem...

Tactical Infinity

For me, the core selling point of an RPG when talking to prospective players is "you can try anything!". This is perhaps inseparable from the point above, and a folly to consider allowing it in a competitive game without a GM. 

And yet...

The idealist in me believes that two players could be trusted to make judgement calls for actions outside of the rules. For solo and coop this is easy, but when we're also trying to beat each other? I feel like I could do it when I'm playing with somebody I trust. I mean I have done it during GRIMLITE games on both the physical and virtual tabletop. 

Perhaps the difference is that those battles were always framed as a playtest. We all wanted to win, but we were having fun toying around with the system too. Would that spirit disappear if we were playing a finished game where the rules were cast in ink? Is it unthinkable to hope for this attitude in a pick-up game with a stranger at the local club?

I think it's possible with the right framing...

Play to Find Out

This is a line originally from Apocalypse World, and it's been interpreted in numerous ways. Regardless of any of these, I like it as an alternative to play to win or even play to have fun. You should definitely play too win to make any victories feel earned, and fun for me is really an outcome rather than a process. But ahead of all that, I'd urge anybody playing GRIMLITE to adopt the Play to Find Out attitude. 

This is the story of your warbands. For miniature games I'll always favour an exciting, memorable story over a perfectly balanced tactical contest. I don't want to remember the time I triggered a powerful synergy of three different special rules to mathematically crush your army. I want to remember that time we had three Greater Horrors appear on three successive rounds and ended up just trying to get off the board alive. 

There are ways to encourage this, but it's a balancing act. You want to reward victory and have consequences for failure, but too much and the players will only be thinking of those carrots and sticks instead of what's unfolding in the miniature reality on your table. 

For GRIMLITE it sucks to end the battle with most of your Warband dead and no Glory to show for it, but if even those casualties can give you advantages in the next game. Getting lots of Glory is great, but if you can scrape even one or two Glory then you'll have some good options for rewards. 

I've previously looked down on campaign-based wargames that had permanent death be an impossible or very unlikely result. I thought they were overly precious and concerned with maintaining balance, but I'm starting to see the error of my ways. Characters dying makes for memorable moments, but it comes with a hefty dose of punishment that can leave more of a mechanical sting than a dramatic one. So in GRIMLITE it's now quite rare, and often avoidable entirely if you have a Glory or two to spend. 

But isn't this all contradicted by...

Big Impact

This is when you make a tough decision, then get to see massive consequences sweep across the game. Tabletop RPGs aren't like some old CRPG where you can't fight the King's advisor that's secretly the villain until the designated moment. Want to stab them right here and now? Sure, but this decision will drastically alter the course of the narrative. It's a great feeling!

I'm working on some systems for GRIMLITE now that will ramp this up. At the moment battles feel quite separate from each other, with the thin campaign layer draped on top. 

Horrors are especially ripe for exploration in this area. At the moment there are only a few Scenarios that reward killing Horrors, but what if leaving them alive meant they were more likely to reappear later? What if killing the Horror was actually the risky choice, with that warband member suddenly facing the wrath of those that worshipped the monstrosity? 

These touches are tricky to include without adding in lots of elements to track, so I'm exploring a number of approaches, none of which I've been entirely happy with so far. Stay tuned.

On Balance

Originally, I really wanted to fully embrace the ideas in this brilliant post. Fully narrative wargaming, no points, no army composition limits. That OSR attitude of putting a Purple Worm on the first level of your dungeon or rolling 3d6 down the line for your Ability Scores. Or, as Emmy suggests in that post, just making the character you want, to hell with costs and restrictions. We're all reasonable here, right?

Truth is I just can't hack it. Not yet, at least.

I like picking things from a menu with certain restrictions. Maybe I need to work on my own attitudes here, but building warbands completely freeform feels like I'm cheating, and not in a good way. I didn't feel the same sense of ownership and permanence to the miniatures as when I built them within some sort of mechanical framework. 

Random generation would help with this, but it's not worked for me so far. I tried warband advancement that was purely random (roll d66 on this big table of stuff after each battle) and while it was fun to spin the wheel of fortune, I did miss the feeling of being able to steer the direction of my warband. If my theme is "small, elite squad of Exiles" then randomly recruiting some 1pt grunt feels like it's working against that. In moderation it's a fun "restriction breeds creativity" thing, but I don't want it happening between every game. 

Joseph McCullough spoke about how Frostgrave was designed as a both way to use his dust-gathering monster miniatures, and an excuse to buy new ones. I hate the idea of somebody getting excited about adding a new miniature to their warband and having to wait for the right roll to come up. As it stands now your options are restricted, but you can at least work toward getting that new creation onto the table.

Again, Horrors are where I really get to go wild with things, and encourage players to do the same. 

Horrors break the rules. They should be horrifying. Some Scenarios require a warband to kill them, so you shouldn't make them all entirely invulnerable, but other than that it's a free-for-all. As the neutral enemy of both warbands I'd always lean towards making them too scary rather than too weak, but the best balance is to have both options. Not all Horrors are created equal, and I like the idea that some encounters are especially bad, rather than aiming for some ultra consistent experience.

Fear and Laughter

When I think about the two things I expect to see in a particularly good RPG session, I think of Fear and Laughter.

Not every game needs to have Horror elements, but even the standard dungeon-crawling fear of death is rocket fuel for any table. We've got to work together here or we're all dead. Tread carefully, watch the darkness... wait, what do you mean I hear breathing from around the corner?

And of course laughter is almost inevitable when you're having a good time, even when your game is playing it straight. In fact, I've always enjoyed the idea of the game that takes itself fully seriously while the players have fun laughing at the shocking consequences, unexpected twists, and of course the unceremonious PC deaths.

I'm glad to say this is one of the RPG strengths that's super easy to translate to Miniature Games. The Scene Events and Shock tables were basically designed to create those moments. Your prestigious fighter getting mauled by an overgrown rat and crawling away in panic, your Grav Gun pushing a nasty Horror right into the middle of my warband, or both leaders simultaneously stabbing each other to death through a nasty roll on the Shock table. You're horrified at what might happen to your precious warband, but when it happens you can't help but laugh. 

But now onto what I feel is the strongest connection between these two styles of game for me:

Kitbash Attitude

The first miniatures I bought at the start of my 2020 revisit of the hobby were a box each of Genestealer Neophytes and Adeptus Mechanicus Skitarii and assorted bits from bitzbox. As far as I can tell I didn't build a single miniature from those sets using the proper instructions. 

In fact, the idea of having a miniature that already exists on somebody else's table genuinely saddens me. When I look at other people's creations from the incredibly versatile Frostgrave sets, I cringe when I see that somebody chose the same combination of parts as me. I want my miniatures to feel like my own. I can't make miniatures that look amazing, but I want them to look like my own unique creations.

Work-in-progress with bits from six kits across three model lines. They're janky, but they're mine.
They don't have names or a proper identity yet, but they'll get them when they're ready for the table.

It's sort of adjacent to the idea of anti-canon. This is a creative endeavour. Don't look for permission from above to carry out your ideas. If you want to do something, do it. Make the thing you want that doesn't exist. 

In the OSR there's a joke that everybody ends up making their own Frankenstein's Monster of a system by chopping bits off existing games and stitching them together. I love this spirit of not being satisfied with what's out there. Not waiting for permission to become a game designer, or in this case not waiting for Games Workshop to release that creature you're imagining. Get some sprues from different miniature lines and slam them together. Make something weird and put it in your game. 

You made a bunch of bug-men with big guns? Give them some names and get thinking of how to get them on the table.

Let your Horrors emerge as a mess of plastic and putty, painted in whatever way you like. Throw away that official painting guide. I've never felt like my painting was good, but I felt a real sense of achievement when Grant mentioned that my painting style said something about the game. 

I'd never thought of it that way before, but he might be onto something. 

Of course you can be creative within the official Warhammer 40,000 or Age of Sigmar Canon, but those games sit under the shadow of a greater authority. You can't bring your Imperial Guard to the table in a Games Workshop if you've used the Frostgrave Soldiers 2 set to make an all-female Valhallans squad. You can't show up and run your own Inq28 system, even if you're using all GW miniatures. 

I understand it from a business perspective, but it certainly sets the tone of what's permitted here. It's a different focus. 

But I want that untamed creative spirit. I want to feel like we can do anything on our tables. That RPG spirit of "you can try anything", whether we're talking about rules or modelling or painting. 

Chop up the bits you like.

Stick them together.

Get it to the table.

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Intergalactic Bastionland - The Sprawl

The Sprawl

While the Stars themselves appear to be infinite in number, most reckoners would say the vast majority of stuff going on in the Living Stars is happening in the vast network of floating places and people that string the stars together. Out of the restrictive light of the Stars, but pushing back the lurking claws of the Dark. This in-between world is where you'll likely spend the majority of your time up here. 

Yes there's a Star in this picture, but I wanted to wear this particular influence on my sleeve.

Key Principles of the Sprawl

  • Things are strangely familiar.
  • Everybody is on a Journey.
  • Everybody needs something.

How does this Work?

Yes, it's literally a galaxy-wide scattering of wandering planets, artificial outposts, and orphan moons. Anything but Stars (maybe some dead Stars drift out here without disrupting things too much). 

Remember, it's helpful to move away from thinking of the Living Stars as "Space as we know it". There are pockets of gravity, air, moisture, even warmth. It's still dangerous and difficult, but nothing compared to the lifeless vacuum of our own skies. 

Your Journey

I spoke a bit about Journeying through the Stars a while ago. Let's deal with the vague and then some specifics.

The Sprawl keeps its inhabitants moving. Even those trying to establish a stable life find that their life begins to drift even without their input. Most people embrace this as a way of Sprawl Life, romanticising their own particular Journey.

A physical destination isn't essential, some folk get really abstract. 

And what happens when you reach the end of your Journey? Well it really goes one of two ways. You're either in a position to discover that a new Journey now lies ahead of you, or you aren't. The latter is rarely a happy outcome. 

Riding the Sprawl

Look, this is a hard truth to accept at first, so make sure you're sitting down.

You probably don't own a ship.

Disappointing I'm sure, but look at the opportunities! The real joy of riding the sprawl is getting tangled up in it. You aren't bound to your home ship, doors locked to the outside world. You've got to get stuck in. Meet people, earn favours, hitch hike, stow away, hijack, whatever it takes. Much better than worrying about the fuel gauge on your own shuttle, right?

d8 Sprawl Locations

1: Slab

  • Resembles a flat square of city that was lifted from its home and left drifting in space. 
  • All life is gone, all salvage stripped, even the air has been taken. Only a hazy glow remains.
  • Al pack of colossal war engines (STR 18, 12hp, Armour 3) roam the ruins, blasting any intruders with Black Light (d10 Blast). Rumoured to be built out of old ship parts, so that thing you need is probably in there somewhere.


2: Prismurk

  • A jump gate in parts. It's been under reconstruction for some time but one worker has insisted on performing the work alone, with only their machine assistant.
  • The worker, Gellan, will viciously refuse any help with the task, but does have a bunch of other errands you can do to help free up his schedule. 
  • Gellan's machine assistant, Bisi, appears mostly to check Gellan's work and fix any errors he's made. 



3: The Silver Slumber

  • Kindly-appearing simian-aliens offer you free transport on their incredibly slow, uncomfortable, boring ship.
  • Once you're on the way they offer to put you into Slumber for as unreasonable a price as they think you'll pay. 
  • If they hit trouble they'll wake up their slumbering passengers to help, but anybody woken from this sleep is disoriented for their first waking hour. 

4: Ovard's Ovules

  • Experimental Engineer Ovard Flax will boast of his rental ships having a near 100% safety record, but cannot provide any sort of proof of this.
  • Each Ovule is a one-person vessel with enough thrust to ride bumpily onto the next closest place in the Spawl.
  • For an additional fee Ovard will launch you from the Thruster Cannon, giving you a boost to a further location. He stresses beforehand that this cannon isn't subject to the near-100% safety record, but it'll probably be fine. 1-in-20 chance that you get blasted to the wrong location. 


5: Mess Street

  • Might appear like a mini-Bastion at first. Shops, bars, hotels, and every type of Alien you can imagine, all in a ring-like structure. 
  • When you enter one of the buildings you soon discover they're all selling the same overpriced, low quality goods, and their individuality is all a front for one company that owns the whole street. 
  • If you ask around you can get to the lower-street, which is where all the really interesting places are. 



6: Big-Rutt the Cleanser

  • An open-topped outpost shrouded in rain clouds.
  • A huge, tentacled creature called Big-Rutt will writhe into every nook of your ship, cleaning it and giving it a general service while it's in there. This is something to do with organic fluids and thousands of tiny mouths but you're better off not knowing. 
  • The mostly human staff here are charged with feeding and tending to Big Rutt between jobs, but while they wait they run a little gambling den on the side and have a small shop selling "things that Big-Rutt ate and were not claimed". 


7: Uglow

  • A lovely, lush little planet eternally under the calming glow of its multiple luminous moons. 
  • Anybody sleeping here rests so well that any other sort of sleep just doesn't cut it. They are Deprived for the next week unless they return for more sleep at Uglow.
  • Helpful birds seem to know when to wake you up. 



8: Little Dreg

  • A chunk of planet, blasted out from whatever Star is previously orbited. 
  • Its ruins are popular with travellers, especially those looking for other open-minded travellers wanting to consume the psychotropic fungus that grows in the darkest corners of the ruins.
  • The largest ruins are sealed up, and other travellers will warn you away from them.