Monday, October 15, 2018

My Barrowmaze Campaign: The Overworld

I figured it was high time got around to posting this.

My weekly, Saturday-afternoon Barrowmaze campaign is now in the middle of it's tenth month of real time (and its second year of game time). Party members' levels range from 1st to 6th, with the higher level characters all in the hands of the most frequent and longest running players.

But I also wanted to put up a map that I'd just finished recently, depicting how I slot the Barrowmoor into Eastern Karameikos:

(It's a very large image, which should hopefully counteract the sloppy handwriting and make at least some of the landmarks' names legible.)

I figured that I'd need a wider map soon, as the player characters (although still having only explored the tiniest fraction of crypts under the barrow mounds) are starting to grow in wealth and influence to the point where they might wind up traveling further afield. They've heard rumors of monsters massing the far north, and the Castellan Keep (you know, the one on the borderlands); and they've even had a couple of run-ins with Bargle, evil wizard extraordinaire, and cruel lackey to Baron Ludwig Black Eagle (whose lands are still off the western edge of this map, but which the PCs might very well travel to before this campaign wraps up).

Setting this campaign in Karameikos has been, on the whole, a positive thing. It does sometimes take the focus off the local area and the back-and-forth between town and dungeon; but players crave that variety. Same thing every game, week in and week out, would inevitably wear thin. That said, I'm still leaving the pace of this game, and where they go and what they do, entire up to the players. I've no idea how long the campaign will continue to run, where they'll eventually visit, or what they're going to do.

And, tellingly, I myself can feel the first stirrings of gamer ADD setting in. Ideas for other campaigns, for big dungeons with more depth and variety than a big crypt full of undead. A strong desire to back to playing one of my own systems, particularly Engines & Empires. The life of the campaign at this point, if I'm being honest, probably depends entirely on how long I can stay interested in it. So far… I'm holding on. But it's touch and go.

The Final Boss

Submitted for your consideration:

Chaos, King of All Devils
HD: 40 (140 hp; Acc +12; RS 10)
VN: −4
XP: [hp + 40] × 1.5 (avg 270)
MV: 4
DG: 15d
AP: 10
The “final boss” of a Retro Phaze VI campaign is usually some kind of terrible arch-devil. Chaos is but one example of such a monster, since each campaign world must naturally have its own ultimate villain. Chaos resembles a gigantic, gold-scaled fiend with clawed hands, cloven hooves for feet, and bat-like wings. He is the manifest embodiment of evil, hatred, and destruction, the very antithesis of life, order, and weal in physical form.
Terrain Affinity: Flying.
Master of Magic: Chaos has a unique level of spell ability, being able to cast every single spell in the game (black, white, and reversed white) twice per day each.
Summoning: Chaos can use an action to conjure two demons, two devils, or one of each, both of which will stay and fight for Chaos for the remainder of the battle. This costs Chaos 1 Action Point.
Withering Demon Breath: Chaos has a terrible breath weapon with range 1–3 that inflicts 24d damage on all targets, who may resist at −2 for half. The breath weapon has spread 1 if Chaos spends 1 AP to activate it, or spread 2 if he spends 2 AP. The damage inflicted is magical, Dark, and non-elemental, like the reversed white magic spell Unholy.
Immunities: Chaos is immune to all forms in instant death magic (Banish, Death, Kill, and Scourge), poison, and petrification.

(And because Chaos is a boss monster, marked with "•" and a title, it's explained in the rules that he has two actions per initiative cycle, each and every round… nasty. You're going to need a large party of high-level characters to take this guy down!)

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sigh. Bandwagons.

A questionnaire worthy of a BuzzFeed clickbait listicle is spreading like a virus through the OSR blogosphere yet again. Isn't that just so very typically hivemindey? (And quelle surprise where it comes from, mais non?) But I just can't help myself, either. Fully aware that this is a grotesque exercise in masturbatory pablum, here's the list, and here we go:

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:

Grognardia. J.M. discussing Dwimmermount. He drove home that long stretches of empty rooms drive tension, which is awesome; that sometimes, whole sessions go by with no treasure found and no XP earned, and that's okay; and that a mega-dungeon should have the seeds planted early on of puzzles that can't be solved for a long, long time, only after lots of exploration (his example being a solid stone wall that became a door only under a very specific phase of the moon). That's still just plain fucking badass.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Retro Phaze VI and Monster Stats

Right now, I'm deep in the weeds revising monsters, and expanding the monster list to add some tactically interesting beasties, as well some classic critters that should be very familiar to 8-bit and 16-bit console fans. I'm reminded of when I was slogging through E&E's huge monster chapter, and just how much I love monster lore. It's fun as hell, tweaking these iconic bits of mythology and folklore to suit the specific purposes of each game.

But on that note, I also thought that I'd post a quick note here on how I'm going about making the monsters easier to run during the game. First, an example of the old Retro Phaze stat block. For the sake of comparison, I'll use the basilisk as my example:

Clean and simple, sure, but it does make the typical rookie mistake of mixing flavor text with mechanics. In the revised edition of Engines & Empires, I made damned sure to split those up, having each monster entry consist of the stat-line, the description, and then bullet-pointed mechanics.  The revised basilisk does the same (keeping in mind that the below text is as-yet unformatted for publication, so the stat-line is more of a "stat-column" at the moment; so far, I haven't quite decided how I'll make it pretty whet it comes time to do the formatting):

HD: 7 (24 hp; Acc +3; RS 6)
VN: 4
MV: 3
DG: 2d + poison 2
A basilisk is a huge, gray lizard that looks like a giant chameleon covered in feathers made of stone. This creature is slow to move and act, but it is still widely feared for its petrifying gaze and venomous bite.
Terrain Affinity: Caverns.
Petrifying Gaze: Instead of attacking, the basilisk can gaze at a target at range 1–2; the target must roll resistance or be turned to stone.
Poisonous Bite: Any creature bitten by a basilisk must roll resistance or else become poisoned (strength 2).

This time around, the monster's tactical capabilities are clearly marked, and they use codified language that applies uniformly across all monsters, fitting of a tactical skirmish RPG. "Poison 2" for any monster that has it means a poison that deals 2 damage per round (or turn or day, depending on whether the party is in battle, in the dungeon, or on the overworld) to the victim. "Terrain Affinity: Caverns" also has a clear definition shared with all other cave-favoring monsters, that rugged terrain in caves hinders basilisks less than other creatures (specifically downgrading rough terrain and difficult terrain in caves, ordinarily costing 1.5 and 2 points of movement respectively, to 1 and 1.5 for a creature with the affinity), allowing a basilisk to still make 3 squares per round across a field of pebbles and scree, or 2 squares over boulders and talus and low stalagmites.

Note also that the gaze mechanic (and this is also going to be true of lots of awkward, holdover-from-D&D mechanics) has been seriously simplified. Now it's just a special attack on the part of the monster, and it uses the monster's action if it's activated. No quibbling about who's looking where, or what the penalties are for fighting while averting one's eyes. That matters in D&D, but it doesn't matter in RP6. Driving home, again and again, that this is a "combat as sport" game where you win by engaging with the mechanics rather than subverting them.

Old-school D&D, as many have said, is "combat as war". You beat a basilisk in D&D by bringing a mirror along and making it gaze at itself, so that you never have to fight it fairly in the first place. If I wanted another game like that—well, I'd just play D&D, and then I wouldn't need Retro Phaze in the first place, now would I? Rather, Retro Phaze is supposed to work like a slick, simplified, and hugely streamlined 4e, only with no sign of anything like a character "build" for a thousand mile radius. (Hence the elimination of the Rogue Talents class feature; they were only put in the old edition to cover up some dead levels, but they were always a betrayal of my "I hate feats!" principles.) You beat a basilisk in this game by making sure that all of your characters are carrying SOFT potions, and laying sufficient smack-down to make the monster run out of hit points before it petrifies all of you. Simple as that.

Next time—if I don't come up with another monster-related post, that is—I should be discussing the latter half of chapter three, which is magical relics. This is another area where the old editions of Retro Phaze were severely lacking in two areas: variety of items available; and a dire, dire need for selling prices. More on that soon.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Retro Phaze VI Update: Chapter Two Draft

Wow, this is exciting. I'm actually making progress here. When I should be studying for mid-terms, but whatever. Apparently I become a productive dynamo of creativity through the selective application of procrastination. Who knew?

Cover Art Mockup
Chapter One Draft
Chapter Two Draft

So chapter two is pretty much the rules of the game. It covers weapons, armor, and other equipment (a much expanded section, now that different weapons have different tactical properties for damage and range), travel, encounters, dungeons, and battles.

Basically, with the first two chapters in hand, you could pretty much play RP6 now, if you're willing to ad hoc the monsters and use the old magic item tables.

Well, that's it for now. I need to get back to prepping for Nuke Con tomorrow, where I'll be running B3: Palace of the Silver Princess using the white box and Holmes Basic! Fun times!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Retro Phaze VI: Chapter One Draft

Well, here it is. Took me long enough, eh?

This should, at least, give my readers (it's a small, highly exclusive club, I'm given to understand) a good idea where things are going. 

The major changes to the rules can be summed up as follows:

• The spell and weapon ranges have been seriously reigned in, to make things work more like Shining Force or Fire Emblem; spell areas and creature movements are scaled down to match.

• The game now features Land Effect, with an impact on both movement and character defense, just like a real tactical RPG! (The final chapter will have lots of advice on making tactical maps with varied terrain using "drop dice"—drop some dice on the table, those tell you where forests and mountains and rivers go—on the fly.)

• The core mechanic is now rolling low on 1d12 (under base TN + modifiers) rather than rolling high on 2d6 (+ modifiers vs. a TN). This makes probabilities way, way easier to deal with. The game still only features d6s for everything else; but the awkward "roll and keep" mechanics are pretty much gone, replaced with plus or minus fixed numbers of pips. These are otherwise still the only dice in the game: 1d12 for task resolution, Xd6±Y for everything else.

• Some of the stats have been re-named, just to make things fit together a little better. The core attributes reflect what each class mainly wants out of them: Fighters and Monks depend on Strength and Discipline, Rogues and Wizards on Finesse and Cunning. And, since the primary task resolution has been flipped around, the "Defense" score is now called "Vulnerability," and it works just like descending AC in OSR games (i.e. no armor is VN 6, leather armor is VN 5, chain is VN 4, etc.).

• And, of course, with the Scholar class made standard and moved into the front of the book, the alternative campaign options are going to have all of those weird Shining Force races and extra Final Fantasy style classes: the alternative promotions for each base class remain Dragoon (Fighter), Geomancer (Monk), Machinist (Rogue), Bard (Scholar), and Summoner (Wizard).

• Finally, there is now an Action Point mechanic that governs all use of multiple attacks in a round. Fighters get lots of them; Monks and Scholars get fewer, but Monks can spend them on counter-attacks, and high-level Scholars on extra spell-casting. Monsters now generally make just one attack per round, but particularly vicious monsters will get Action Points to spend—and certain Boss monsters may have so much Cunning that they act twice per initiative cycle!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Quick RP6 Update

Two things happened the other day that haven't happened in a long time. I don't know if they're related, but I think it's entirely possible that they are.

First, I bought some new pants. They were comfy. Better than the raggedy old bluejeans I'm used to wearing, anyway.

Then, that same day—maybe it was the pants, maybe it wasn't, who the heck even knows—I noticed that I didn't have any writer's block, and I got back into revising Retro Phaze.

To the point where the first chapter of the book (the original version of the game had four chapters; the new one will need five) only needs to have the spell descriptions updated, and then I can say that I've arrived at 20% done with drafting the body text.

Yeah, sure, the artwork is going to be a different matter entirely, since this time around I am actually going to illustrate the book properly (I know, right?). But so far it's actually been the trepidation over actually going through the rules and re-writing all the descriptions which has been the actual barrier here. Well, that and re-playing as many of the inspirational video games as I can manage in what little free time I have. (Damn, the Shining Force Gaiden trilogy on the Sega Game Gear and Sega CD was astoundingly good once I really got into it.)

So in the next day or two, I'll go ahead and post the revised Chapter One (with the basic races, classes, spells, and leveling rules) right here on this blog for my readers' consideration.

The new Fighter class is pretty badass now. Took me a while to get this one right.

Until next time, sláinte.