Thursday, 22 July 2021

Pie

This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

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I know, I've probably been talking about Magic: the Gathering too much this past week or so. But this time it actually applies to RPGs.

Scrap recently wrote a post about applying some of MTG's design philosophy to faction systems, and it's a great read. It got me thinking about it from a slightly different angle.

First I need to talk about an element of Magic's design that I haven't really touched on yet. The fabled Colour Pie that gives its five colours their identity, both thematic and mechanical. Red cards should feel a certain way, and Green cards should feel different, and then you might get a Red-Green card that feels like both. In addition, and some would argue more importantly, there are certain things that each colour of card absolutely should not be able to do. 



It's really a form of niche protection, and while that isn't something I focus in on too hard on the mechanical side of my games, I think it's something I'd like to explore more in terms of setting design.

While the five colours don't strictly represent factions in MTG (they're a different-but-related thing), there are a few ways I think approaching elements of your setting in the same way would have some positive effects. For this example we could be talking factions, but also key locations, deities in a pantheon, looming threats on the world. Any set of big elements in your world. 


1: Dividing attention evenly between elements.

Imagine a parallel universe where Games Workshop laid out their own colour pie equivalent for the factions of the WH40k universe. Let's say Imperium, Chaos, Xenos. It doesn't even have to be five. 

You could still explore specific factions within each slice of the pie, but they'd be united through a set of common thematic and mechanical elements. Maybe Chaos, being so closely tied to the warp, are the only pie-slice that can deep strike onto the battlefield. You can explore the space between the slices, so Genestealer Cults clearly exist between Imperium and Xenos. 

But even more appealing is the idea that equal development time would go on each faction. Is this whole thing an excuse for me to complain about there being no new Eldar or Tyranid models for years, while Marines are showered with new releases? Hmm. 

They sort of went this way with their Age of Sigmar factions, and while I don't love that setting I think it's spawned some interesting new ideas in among the questionable ones.

But we're not multinational corporations selling miniatures, so I think this is more of a way to challenge yourself to spread your creative energy between the different parts of your world, rather than leaving some lacking. Which leads to... 


2: Ensuring each element has a strength that makes them interesting.

I sort of default to making my world a bit rubbish, so I'd appreciate having a reminder that each of these elements should have their own strength. They should have weaknesses alongside them, of course, but if we're designing five cities then there should be something that makes each of them a compelling place to visit. It can be a total shithole, but if it's the only place that has any sort of magical healing then the players are going to end up there at some point.

And let that strength project out into the world and deny the other elements of your setting. If you're giving one faction a military focus, then consider trimming back or even outright removing military components from the other elements of your pie. It's one thing to make one city-state a strong military force, but another to combine that with the fact that half of your city-states don't have an army at all. 


3: Keeping the fans happy.

I'm not immersed enough in the fanbase to know if this is something that MTG manages more often than not.

But it sort of links in to that old Apocalypse World thing calling for the GM to "be a fan of the characters". 

But instead, be a fan of each element of your world, or at least imagine that each element has a set of fans that you want to please.

The MTG team has to design a new set so that there's something for every colour to be excited about. They can't really just release a set that focuses in on Blue and White, because the Red, Black, and Green players will be left out. Now, most players don't restrict themselves to one colour, but that actually means they have to try even harder to make every colour appealing. If Blue gets nothing good in this set then you're not just pissing off the Blue players, but the Blue-Red, Blue-Green, Blue-Black etc.

What's the point in all this? Think back to my earlier point about the WH40k setting. Of course it's vastly popular, but there's a lot of dissatisfaction where it feels like GW just doesn't care about huge chunks of their world. Eldar are an inconvenience to them, a faction that they think won't sell as well as a new type of Space Marine, but it's a faction that has its fans. Aside from making them unhappy, I feel like it has a negative effect even on those that aren't especially interested in Eldar. It makes the universe feel smaller, less diverse, with dusty old elements that feel out of place alongside the current areas of focus.   


There's merit to having blank space left on the map, but not when it's just because the ink has faded. 

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Porcine Bastionland (or d12 Deep Country Pigs)

Somewhen between our industrial renaissance and this electrical epoch, the pig was banned from Bastion.

Although this was never properly repealed, it is now actively unenforced. Those that don't deal with bestial law have forgotten about it entirely.

But the pigs have always remembered.

Perhaps this is why the creature is so ubiquitous in the rural sprawl of Deep Country. Generations of exiled swines were welcomed into the lives of those that would do anything to contradict Bastion. But if there's one thing country folk like more than going against the city, it's going against each other, and soon every town was boasting of their specialist breeds. 

Rivalries were roused, blood was drawn, towns were smashed aruin. Nowadays it's mostly arguments bellowed across streams, or a rare midnight walloping-raid. But the legacy lives on in the Pigs of Deep Country. Not those raised for slaughter, but those kept for more specialist purposes. 

I spent an agonising two weeks riding the battered roads and rusted rails so that I could bring to you a mere fragment of this porcine phenomenon. 


1. THE DRAFTON NULLITCH VOID BARMER


The densest living mass I have ever witnessed. Small animals are drawn into its gravity well, and even humans feel a gentle attraction. Can cause catastrophic scenes upon moving suddenly, so all efforts are made to keep them calm. 


2. THE GREAT TRAVELLING POLE PIGGY, SNOFFERELLA




I first thought this to be a sort of Mock Pig, but this breed is indeed a truly living beast, bred with a glossy hide and an organ arrangement that can withstand gentle impalement in the construction of a living carousel. They appear to enjoy the ride, but must be carefully rotated a few times each day to maintain internal equilibrium.


3. THE PUDINTRY CHOPPER



I had heard this creature called the Scapepig but locals found such references disrespectful to the sacrifice of this breed. When a crime goes unsolved for a period of four years, the sentence is passed on to one of the town's beloved pigs. A timid, lightly furred breed, they resist their eventual arrest with only token squirms and squeals, locals assuring me that the pigs see their inevitable execution as some fulfilment of their destiny. 


4. THE BOSTOLETS OF HUSHER'S BUSHLEY


Supposedly all descended from the most intelligent pig to ever have lived, the wise Bosto. This small breed are kept in the town's library, where patient trainers attempt to educate the beasts, hoping they will live up to the myth of their ancestor. So far the town claims to have trained pigs with some expertise in gambling games, weather forecasting, and matchmaking, but still not a scratching on the legendary Bosto. 


5. THE BURRYSOD CLIPPER


Lean, predatory hogs that attack the poor people of Burrysod at sunset every day, chewing on any bare legs they can find. By night they sneak into properties to gnaw on furniture and leave their mess in hidden places. The stories say that any attempt to fight back against these pests would only incur a greater wrath, so the locals try to make a game of it. I get the sense that their patience is beginning to wear thin. 


6. THE ABYSATHER GORING-BOAR


This carnivorous breed lives in a symbiosis with the town's more intelligent birds. They drag carrion to the pigs, and are paid in silver from a hidden trove. It's not clear where the pigs are getting their riches from, but they have thwarted every attempt to locate it through a combination of wits and ruthless violence. 


7. THE CASTLEFEGG CATTLEHOG


A truly gigantic hog, carrying itself with the lazy disinterest of a common cow. It possesses none of the noble snuffling or muckery of a pig, and something about it filled me with pure hatred. I have never felt such sudden desire to broadcast my distaste of a harmless creature, which the locals assured me was normal for the first time seeing the beast. Once a few days had passed I could no longer remember the cause of my animosity


8. THE WORKING SWINE OF URMINGSWORTH


Only one member of the Churltapp family remains, carrying a heavy burden to the people of Urmingsworth. She alone can speak to the swine, who follow her instructions diligently if somewhat over-literally. They are the sole workers of this town, the folk having fallen into indolence and sloth after benefiting from generations of free swine-labour.


9. OLD GRUNTER REBORN IN ASHER BREACON



Pig Mayors are so common in Deep Country that it's hardly worth reporting as news. However, Old Grunter represents something more than that. The people of Asher Beacon believe that their town has been ruled by the same pig reborn hundreds of times. I was welcomed to sit in on a mayoral address, and the people did appear to understand the creature's snorts and belches. If they are all playing along with a ruse it appears to be to the town's benefit, as things are truly thriving. 


10. EARL BAPCACKER OF TATER-UNDER-SORE


The rank of Earl was granted to this entire breed for military service, serving as mounts in some anecdotal war involving a cavalry charge on Bastion itself! Must be nonsense, as I was never taught about that at school. Now, this robust breed's fighting days are over, serving as honourary companions to the faded nobility of the Sorelands. They have developed suitably aristocratic tastes, not only in their diet but in decor and etiquette. I myself was corrected by one of the beasts multiple times during our shared banquet, with a gentle groan and a sideways glance directing me to adjust my posture or use the correct fork. 


11. THE BLESSED OEELEE OF FARLIND ROOK


I could not make sense of these things. They ate no swill, left no shit, made no sound. They were smooth as water, soft as bedding, and utterly passive in their behaviour. All they would do is occasionally move to smell some of the flowers left in their pen, the aroma appearing to inflate them ever so slightly. While they are never slaughtered, they are eaten when they die of natural causes, and such meat is rumoured to be the stuff of dreams. Upon asking if I could taste the meat, I was assured that it would never happen in my lifetime and promptly routed from town by armed militiamen. The high stone walls would keep the most persistent poachers at bay, but I wonder why they would permit me to glimpse at the promise of such succulence before casting me out. 


12. THE GUTMEDE STYBIRD



All your worst fears about this beast are true and worse. For those seeking to recreate my journey, this is one to pass by. 


Thursday, 15 July 2021

(The Other) Magic

 This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

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I wrote about Magic a couple of weeks ago, but this is about the other magic.

This all started when I saw some Discord chatter about the new D&D-themed set that was being released for Magic: the Gathering. The tie-in didn't especially excite me, but I was interested to see how the designers had implemented some D&D staples into an entirely different type of game. Some are clever and fun translations, others seem weirdly anti-thematic and clunky.

But it was too late. I was thinking about Magic again.

I won't recount the whole story again, as I did that in the video above, but the short version is very similar to that of my history with miniatures, albeit with a less intensive interest. Short version: Played as a teenager, enjoyed casual play, disliked more competitive styles, had a run of lacklustre experiences and moved onto other games.

But here I am, picking up a handful of Jumpstart booster packs that let you combine two pre-built deck-halves into a number of interesting combinations, and dipping into some casual play with whoever I can get to a table.

The experience has reminded me what I enjoy about this game. Absorbing little mouthfuls of flavour from the art and micro-fiction on each card. Picking up a new deck and losing, but having the "aha" moment of understanding how this particular deck works. The whole concept (if not entirely the execution) of the Colour Pie, which I'll gush about in another post. I'm definitely having fun with it.

But things are different this time around. We're always online, and now you can't avoid the money game.

In what is sure to go down in history as one of the most entitled paragraphs ever, I'm going to complain about being handed free money. Brace yourselves.

One of my packs randomly contained a rare card worth more than the entirety of what I had spent on these booster packs. I didn't go looking for valuations on these cards, but the internet told me. It always knows what to tell you. Now, my complaint isn't about this windfall. Of course I'm using that money to buy more cards and maybe a nice box to keep them in. The problem is that it got me looking at the value of some other cards, and the prices you can pay for a ready-made deck of select cards.

I guess I knew about all this. Magic cards are either common, uncommon, rare, or mythic, and with each increase in rarity there's usually a power shift too. A rare card costing 3 mana is sure to be more powerful than a common costing the same. So if you want to really make a powerful deck you'll want a lot of mythic and rare cards. The two options for this are to buy a lot of boosters or pay a premium for each card on the secondary market. A regular starter deck for this game might cost £30, but if you're buying a high-end bespoke deck on the secondary market you'll be adding at a zero or two to that number.

I'd largely made my peace with that. It's just a level of spending that's not for me. Plus, there are entire formats (specific rulesets for the game) based around only using common cards, which is certainly appealing. Other formats are Limited, meaning that you don't show up to the game with a preconstructed deck, but part of the game is building a deck from a common pool, commonly through drafting. These both go a good way to reducing the pay-to-win element of the game, but Pauper feels like you're not getting to play with some of the coolest parts of the game, and Limited relies on players having some deckbuilding experience, making it tricky for casual players.

Worse still, the game's now most-popular format, Commander, is all about having a giant deck filled with powerful cards. I appreciate it has elements that might temper this, but it really seems to rely on finding a group that are willing to lay down some sort of social contract before play. This sounds great to try out with friends, but makes me tentative about exploring the local MTG scene.

I don't really mind losing. What's more scary is the idea that this is a slippery slope that ends with me buying a deck of cards for more than I spent on miniatures last year.

Still, Pauper Commander is a thing. Maybe that will be my niche.

Maybe just allowing one rare or mythic card... and a few uncommons.

Oh no.

Monday, 12 July 2021

Primordial Spellbook - The Book of the Cosmic Serpent

Let's give our Primordial Wizard bookworm something to actually read.



The Book of the Cosmic Serpent

Compiled by Caller Ybrine Yvexius
[written in Grimnal script]



The Serpent


The Serpent is not a god, nor a demon, nor a being in any sense of our worldly measures. The Serpent is more akin to a force of reality, which gives shape and solidity to all things, especially those living.


The Serpent encoils the elements alike, and even those immaterial masses that give our thinkings, achings, and hungers.


The Serpent cannot be called upon, for remember it is not a god nor other ivocable power. But yes it can be manipulated if its ways are understood.



Known Practitioners


The Gods: Surely used to create the first life.

Vgreth in the Deep: Twisting new demonic forms for her captor-patrons. 

The Solar Harvest Temple: Suspected to account for the physical paragons that enforce their faith. 

High Craftsman Abigoris: His mechanical servitors were channeled into life through this power.

Ybrine Yvexius: A humble scholar experimenting with these boundless arts. 



Methods


The methods described herein are non-exhaustive, restricted by the scope of this single volume.



Serpentine Manipulations


Small changes can be manifested onto a body with a near instant effect. A ritual of one hour is performed in a warm, damp, exterior environment. Fresh bone marrow and dust of activated-lead are required. The latter is used in more progressive schools of alchemy. 


Of the Scales: The skin and bone bends into a familiar form as dictated by the manipulator. 

Of the Muscle: Their strength is doubled, to near an athletic peak, but the face is often buckled to an uncanny visage and foul hungers may rise. 

Of the Blood: Their bloodline is cut, severing all ancestral links, and splicing onto another. Of little use beyond vanity and obscure lineal curses.



Serpentine Splintering


A body can be commanded to change itself into something anew. 


Scarify the Urunic commands into the flesh of the being. The effect is slow at first, taking a week for there to be any perceived change. After a month, the effect fully takes hold. 


Envenomed: Their bodily fluids are at first poisonous, then venomous, then purely toxic and corrosive. The subject rarely outlives a few months under this splintering.

Empowered: An amplification of everything about the being, both their vices and virtues. Often leads to a critical mass of sorts.

Disassociated: The form warps to that of an entirely different being. Extreme changes may cause collapse into raw organoplasm of some material use. 



Serpentine Manifestations


These methods require Etheric motions that cannot be transcribed easily into a written text. My experimentations with accessing these powers through Urunic carvings have yielded only abominations.


If performed in the correct manner, a caller can manifest their own living being to their specific preferences, dependent on their expertise and raw materials at hand. 


No matter is created here, only redistributed, and freshly cut wood appears to create beings both sturdy and pliable. Dead flesh carries residue of its previous soul, and so has not performed well in my manifestations. Stone and metal form to rigid, uncreative beings incapable of bypassing anything but the most unambiguous obstacles.



Friday, 9 July 2021

Creation

 This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

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I've spent a lot of this week preparing for an upcoming webinar that I'm running. The pitch is "design an RPG in four hours" and the pressure is building as I see the attendee numbers climb.

In my previous career I designed and led a lot of staff training and instructional sessions for customers, and before that I was a schoolteacher, so I'm hoping the delivery won't be too much trouble. The part that really stumped me to begin with was "how do I actually teach somebody how to make an RPG?"

Like so many people, I pretty much started making games as soon as I realised rulebooks existed. I probably made my first rudimentary RPG before I'd even played something as thorough as D&D. I've learned a lot since then, but I'm not sure I was ever told how to make a game from scratch. It just... happened. 

RPG design exists in a very weird place compared to other creative activities. You've got to make up a decent amount of enticing creative content for your game, but you also need to make it a game. I know I've seen enough RPGs that only do one thing or the other. 

It's sort of like simultaneously teaching somebody how to fix a van's engine and airbrush a space-wizard onto the side. It's all working towards the same goal of "drive your wizard van around town" but you'd struggle to learn them at the same time.

For the webinar, I'm setting realistic goals right from the start. You're making the skeleton of a game, and a lot of that "engine tuning" only really happens later on. It's really more important that you get that space-wizard right. Make your game about something, not necessarily in an abstract way, but hone in on what this game is for.

When I was ten and hacking Warhammer Quest into something resembling an RPG, I knew what I wanted. To take those WHQ characters out onto epic journeys across a big overworld map, fighting monsters in the woods and swamps on the way. It was built out of desire for that game to exist on my bedroom floor, not through any sort of external draw. It was a desire that I couldn't fulfil elsewhere, with even D&D still firmly outside of my grasp. That limited my reference to this one hack and slash dungeon-crawler and the world it inhabited. 

In my own experience, that amalgam of Desire with Limitation is gunpowder for game design.

I won't go into the full scope of the Webinar, as some of you may actually be attending, but for any game design I see that as a good place to start. 

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Primordial Wizard

Think this will be the last Primordial class for a little while!

We've had the Reverent and the Fiendish. So what makes the original spellcaster different?

Coincidentally, I've been thinking about magic a bit recently, and I like the idea that it's a force that drenches the whole world, not something restricted to an elite few.

So yeah, magic is everywhere, but words have a special ability to be able to tap into it in a number of different ways.

This wizard is just a big nerd librarian, weaponising their reading age to spectacular results.

Bit of a cheat this time, as this class is really nothing without the specific spellbooks that they tap into, which will be coming next time. This is more about understanding the truths of the world surrounding word-magic, and an excuse to use some very silly wizard-words. 



Primordial Wizard

Magic is everywhere. All parts of the world conceal it, and all people tap into it without even realising. Just as stories can help us to understand complex matters, words have a special ability to connect with magic. 


The Mystical Languages

You know two of these confidently, two of them passably, and one just barely. 


Grimnal: A difficult script that predates any recorded history, often requiring an entire page to accurately record a single word. Doesn’t hold innate magical power itself, but used in foundational and instructional texts for all magical knowledge. If you can read Grimnal you can read any mundane language by extension. 


Primotonic: A language that is easily read, but requires much practice to pronounce correctly. Allows small bypasses of the innate rules of our world such as gravity, momentum, molecular stability. 


Urunic: Cannot be held in paper, only in heavy matter such as metal, stone, or particular woods. Must be touched to be read aloud, awakening power in the item it is carved on or channeling it to a willing vessel.


Etheric: A language that cannot be spoken or written, only mouthed, gestured, and felt from within. Calls upon worlds beyond our own to bring forth elemental energies and beings.  


Metalingual: Not so much a language, but a deeper understanding of the power of syntax. Two words can sound identical, but carry entirely different meanings based on the context of their use. As such, any language can become mystical if the correct context is applied. All texts reveal hidden truths to you that would pass others by. Used in the casting of charms and curses bound by rigid laws.


Spellbooks

Your repertoire of Spells grows as you explore the world, held in some record beyond this sheet, typically multiple Spellbooks. Some of these can represent Spells learned from a non-written source.


You begin with a single Spellbook of your choice.



Casting Spells

Choose one that you are particularly experienced with, and one that you find difficult. 


  • Recite: Reading a specific set of words, whether from your spellbook, an immovable tome, or an engraved object. Typically takes a long time, but is reliable if you know the language well enough. 

  • Enact: Performing a specific method to cast a spell more quickly, typically requiring some expertise in Etheric and carrying a greater risk in the case of failure. 

  • Discharge: This is typically a single word that “releases” a spell that was previously bound in some form. Often this is in a scroll or gem, which is destroyed in the process. This is also the method for dispelling ongoing spells, as long as you know the correct word. 


Implements

Choose one of the following implements.


  • Wand: Aids greatly in the casting of any spell that calls for Etheric methods, and the precision of any spells that require a target.

  • Staff: You can bind any spell you cast into your Staff, to be Discharged later on. Typically only one Spell can be stored in this way, but legendary staffs can hold more spells or even alter or combine them as they are Discharged.

  • Familiar: An intelligent animal that can act as a vessel or point of origin for any spell that you cast.


Cantrips

These small, simple spells are impressive to outsiders, but really they are a single spell bound by a clear set of restrictions, which Wizards can manipulate to a wide variety of effects. Certain articles of Arcane Paraphernalia can even allow certain cantrip restrictions to be loosened or even ignored.


  1. Ephemerality: The effects of a cantrip cannot last more than a few moments, during which you must be focused on the spell.

  2. Unreality: Anybody that suspects an effect of a cantrip to be magical can clearly see its mystical nature. 

  3. Modesty: Any force or matter conjured cannot exceed that of the caster’s physical form.


Thursday, 1 July 2021

Magic

This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

-----------------------------

With Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland I put most of what could be considered magic into the form of Arcana or Oddities, items granting weird abilities. The big inspirations were D&D's more memorable artifacts. Portable hole, immovable rod, decanter of endless water. Those are the sort that always stuck with me.

I wanted those weird abilities to be in the hands of every character, not just those that chose to be a wizard.

Generally I'm becoming less interested in magical characters, but more so in magical worlds. Stuff that isn't on your character sheet, you've got to go out and find it.

But I want to go further than just magic items.

And not just places explicitly rich with magic. Islands in the sky, talking mountains, the forest of living shadows. That's all fine. But rather than big splats of magical paint being thrown on the map, I'm enjoying settings that apply magic like a gentle wash over their world. It might pool here and there, but it soaks into everything.

Like a slightly altered source code to that of our own world. Different rules for for a different reality.

Undeath is a great example. Fantasy settings often have Necromancers, but aside from them there's a common assumption that the dead have a power that lasts beyond life. Spectres linger halfway between realities, vengeful spirits haunt those that wronged them in life, and those killed in a place rich with death can find themselves unable to rest.

It can be more subtle. Artisans so skilled that, despite no magical training, they can create goods with truly miraculous properties. Seasons that follow the mood of the realm, rather than a traditional calendar. Particularly stagnant pools serving as pockets of frozen time, where visions of the past can be caught by those with a strong enough stomach to dive below. And that old fairy tale favourite, where love is a force that can conquer anything, with rules and powers of its own.

Bastionland has elements of this. None of the parts of the world really hold up if you approach them through a mundane lens. The infinite, ever-changing city. The wilderness manifesting our shameful past. The tunnels beneath time and space.

This sort of magic appeals to me a lot more than a canon of spells sorted into levels.