Wednesday 21 February 2024

Mining the Pit

Fifteen years ago this month I wrote a post about Out of the Pit, the Fighting Fantasy monster manual and my first ever RPG book. In particular, I wanted to see what lessons I could take from that beloved book. 

I was still finding my feet with that blogpost, and I continue to do so today, so I can't say it's really worth revisiting. 

But what about the monsters of Fighting Fantasy?

A few years ago I saw Beyond the Pit and Return to the Pit on the shelf of my local game shop, both follow-ups to Out of the Pit, compiling a new selection of monsters from the Fighting Fantasy books. 

Any gems in there? Let's pick a few and see what we get. 

Beyond the Pit

So for context all(?) of these monsters have appeared in a Fighting Fantasy book before, compiled here for the first time. While they're all from books set within the world of Titan they're interesting because they've all seen some form of action. 

I'll go through the first few spreads of the book and pick the monster I like most from each.

Angaroc 

The first line of this entry has me hooked.

"[Angarocs] exist only in the dream world - until some sorcerer discovers how to bring them through to the real world!"

It looks like a snake with four spider legs, which is kind of disappointing but also sort of fitting for a native of the dream world.


They have no weapons because their mere presence is poisonous (in both the dream world and reality). It drains life force through a janky, arbitrary mechanic which belies its gamebook roots, so it's kind of a quintessential Fighting Fantasy monster. 

Ape-Dog and Dog-Ape

I haven't even read the description yet and I know I'm choosing this one. 

One is an ape with a dog head, the other is... well, work it out.


They guard the gate to a demi-sorcerer's tower and offer some sort of riddle. Again, the gamebook vibes are strong with this one. It also notes that "the race of Blogs from central Allansia is very similar to the Dog-Ape in particular, though this just may be pure coincidence".

Are "Blogs" detailed in this book?

They are!

Blog

Okay, I'm done laughing at the name. 

They're jungle-dwelling pot-bellied humanoids with dog heads, hated by the local humans who hunt them tirelessly for the sins of head-hunting and eating human flesh.


Alarm bells are going off in my head, but I'll continue. 

The shoot poison darts, which paralyse victims for long enough to take them to their huge cooking pots. 

Blogs first appeared in a 1988 gamebook and if I'm being generous I'd say they feel very much of their time... or maybe of a time before. 

Annoyingly they don't even look that much like the Dog-Ape who sent us here!

Right, onto a random spread. 

Dinosaurs

I was all ready to flick past this page, as I'm met with a bunch of real-world dinosaurs, but I'm glad I stuck around.

It's noted that "there has been speculation of late that they are not originally from this world. For example, they have no recognised deity in the pantheon of the Animal Court."

That's a fantastic little bite of worldbuilding.

It goes on to suggest that dinosaur eggs were brought to this world through portals, prized as beasts of war. Again, that's a lovely touch.

Onwards.

Pool Beast

Wait, isn't this just a Bloodbeast?


No, it's a different "big monster stuck in a gross pond". 

I suppose that's handy for a gamebook. It keeps the monster in one place, ensuring you get to encounter it within its signature lair. 

This one also has a large violet gem in its head, presumably to serve as treasure. 

All very Fighting Fantasy but not all that inspiring for me right now.

One more random flick then I'll go to the final spread.

Toolfish


Wait, no.


Apparently, Merfolk have difficulty making tools underwater, so have bred special fish to serve as tools. Flintstones of the sea, I guess. 

They're small when kept on the rack, but magically grow when taken out for use. It even details some of the special varieties, from axefish to glowfish to the obvious sawfish (the only one that will fight on their own).

You can buy them from a Merfolk, but when used by non-Merfolk they swim away after one use. Classic old school fuck-you to the players.

This is all very dumb but I don't hate it. 

Onto the final spread.

Zoalinth

This is the most "fantasy RPG monster book" monster I've ever seen.

Let's check these off.

  • Two croc heads
  • Bear body
  • Bird legs
  • Stegosaurus tail
  • Eight-fingered claws
  • Acid vomit attack
  • Lives in dungeons
  • Made by a wizard

I can't say there's much interesting to actually do with this. It speaks common and has average intelligence, but is still mostly described like a guard animal. It specifies that it can be trained to recognise a badge or symbol...

Oh wait, that'll be something from the gamebook that it was used in, right? The player will need to find the badge that lets them pass through without fighting this thing.

Right. 

LESSONS?

I'll level with you, I did this just because after finishing up the writing on Mythic Bastionland I wanted to dig into warm, familiar world and look at some silly monsters. There are examples of nice worldbuilding but also lots of stuff that shows its gamebook roots a little too strongly for use in a TTRPG.

Next time I'll dig into Return to the Pit and see if that fares any better. 

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

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

Wednesday 14 February 2024

Dealing with the Council

What happens when a player Knight in Mythic Bastionland actually gets to rule their own Holding?

First you have a bunch of entitled jerks to deal with.

PLAY

Ref: Okay, Tal, now that you’re the rightful ruler of Raider’s Gate you’ll want to assemble a Council. 

Ref outlines the positions of Steward, Marshall, Sheriff, and Envoy.

Tal: Okay, Moss, are you up for being the Marshall? Getting the soldiers into shape?

Moss: Yeah, of course.

Ref: Yeah that works. Now even though you proved the previous ruler, the Chain Knight, as an enemy of the Realm, the Steward that served under him is still here. She’s Medryn, very formal and professional. You can kick her out of her seat or keep her on.

Tal: Let’s keep her on for now, but we’ll keep a close eye on her. I’ll go and talk to her properly a little later.

Ref: Well security is also part of the Sheriff’s job, watching for threats inside and outside your walls. Who are you appointing there?

Tal: Needs to be somebody we trust. 

Moss: I don’t think I trust anybody around here anymore.

Tal: Okay… can we leave the seat vacant just for now while we decide?

Ref: Well we can talk about it some more, but I definitely wouldn't leave you Realm without a Sheriff unless you want to invite trouble!

Tal: Argh, okay. Hey, what about that guy who was guarding the tower we found?

Moss: Yeah, he helped us out.

Tal: Okay, he was over here, right?

Tal points at a landmark a few Hexes away.

Tal: Can I like… send a rider out to summon  him or something?

Ref: Of course, you’re the ruler now!


THOUGHTS

Like so many other parts of the game, ruling a Holding is at its best when the players have enough information to prompt difficult decisions with impactful consequences. 

Assembling the Council is a good opportunity for this. As we see here it’s a chance to introduce new characters or elevate previously encountered people into a more prominent role.

Focusing Holding management on the Council has a few beneficial effects. Firstly it keeps the spotlight on interactions with characters rather than the fine details of economics and infrastructure. You can decide that you want to collect more taxes, or change the armament of your warbands, but doing so requires going through your Steward or Marshall respectively, keeping those relationships at the forefront. 

This is most effective when a ruler’s Council and Court are both populated by a dynamic cast of characters. Here a Referee can create a messy web of ambitions and quarrels for the ruler to attempt to keep in order. A combination of Spark Tables and Luck Rolls can give some useful prompts for this. 

If one of the Knights ends up ruling a Seat of Power, then the rulers of each Holding become an additional layer of relationships to manage on top of this. 

Still, I like to ensure that the ruler still gets a chance to go out and be a Knight, letting their Council manage things in their absence. This can be encouraged by reassuring the player that Knights are expected to delegate rule to their Steward in order to continue fulfilling their Oath. If a Knight gets too bogged down in politicking from their castle then word begins to spread that they’ve grown soft or renounced their Oath to “seek the Myths”. That should give them a nudge toward adventure. 

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

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

Wednesday 7 February 2024

Unwelcome Omens

Mythic Bastionland pre-orders are now open for late backers!

Backers will receive their survey within the next few days, so far I've just sent out a test to a lucky 5%.

Now onto the post. 

What do you do when an Omen doesn't quite fit your current location?

PLAY

The Company are travelling through a barren tundra during winter, facing dire weather at every turn. Ref makes a Wilderness Roll and gets a 1, rolling for a random Myth from elsewhere in the Realm. They roll the Forest, which the Company have already encountered the first five Omens from. This means they’ll encounter the sixth and Omen.

Ref: Okay… hm…

Ref fumbles slightly, as the previous omens had all been encountered in areas with plenty of trees, an easy fit for the Forest.

Ref: A bitter mist rolls over the tundra again, chilling your faces. Through the mist you can see shapes. It looks like a forest.

Moss: I thought this whole area was a sort of frozen wasteland?

Ref: Yeah, it was. 

Tal: Oh, I bet this is something to do with the Forest, right?

Moss: Yeah, shall we go in?

Tal: I think we should! We’re meant to be “seeking the Myths” after all.

Moss: Okay, let’s carefully go in.

Ref: As you enter the mist begins to clear. The air even feels warmer. Looking around, you feel like you’re in the middle of a deep forest, despite having only walked a few paces into the trees. 

Moss: At least it’s warm.

Ref: A towering figure stands boldly between the trees. Their body is thick, writhing wood, knotted and gnarled. Their hands are like great clawed roots. The imposing creature looms over you. What do you do?

THOUGHTS

Remember that Myths operate under their own rules, and they don’t need to follow the usual laws of reality.

This means situations like this one, where a Myth’s Omen feels an odd fit for the current situation, can easily be woven into the ongoing story. 

It helps that, in general, the players want to find Omens and resolve Myths, as this is the main way that they gain Glory. Besides, the nature of Omens is that they’re all going to happen eventually, so being caught off-guard by one isn’t a huge problem.

I like that Ref doesn’t try to contradict their previous description of the area. The wasteland was just as frozen and inhospitable as they had previously described, and now it’s miraculously transformed into a thick forest. 

One of the reasons that Knights tend not to have magical-feeling abilities is that I want the world to feel more magical than the people within it. 

You’ll be exploring a mystical land, and while you’ll sometimes benefit or suffer at the hands of its magic, you’ll never quite understand or control it yourself. 

This is perfect for handling these moments, but should never be done at the cost of the previously established fiction of the game.

When they enter the woods, Ref jumps straight into the encounter with the Fearmonger in their true form. This is fine, but there was also an opportunity to have the players explore this strange place a little before the Fearmonger shows themselves. It would give a little more weight to the fact that the Forest manifested so suddenly, allowing the players to take that in for a moment before thrusting them into a high-stakes situation. 

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

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