Saturday, October 31, 2020

About My First Carcassonne

 My First Carcassonne is the current board game hit with my son!

It is the simplified, kid-friendly version of the well-known classic Carcassonne. The box says 2-4 players, age 4+, 30 minutes.

It is a super easy game, with a lot of luck influencing the outcome, but with some room for clever (or less than clever) decisions.

Like the standard Carcassonne, you randomly draw tiles and connect them together, but all tiles always connect. Each tile has one or two kids printed on it, colored blue, yellow, red or purple.

Each player has 8 meeples of the chosen color, and is allowed to place them on the tiles when the road they are printed on is closed. So you need luck in drawing tiles with kids of your color, but you also need strategy in putting tiles with other players' kids in the worst places, so their roads are harder to close (i.e. take more tiles).

While very simple, it's nice for me to play, too.

So how is it faring with my boy?

In short, WONDERFULLY. It is the very first game my kid plays with all the rules in place, and actual strategic thinking, after just two games. And he is loving it.

Federico is five, so he's just above the minimum recommended age. I'm not sure he would have grasped the whole thing with the same depth of understanding if he had played it at four. At five he's actually capable of mastering all there is, and he seems well aware of it!

Fun fact: we've played seven games so far, and I haven't won a single game yet!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

About The Crypt of Doom

The Crypt of Doom is a Savage Worlds Adventure Edition dungeon adventure for 3-5 Novice characters, written by me.

The evil count has kidnapped lady Marianne, and it's up to you to rescue her!

This simple premise gets you right into the adventure, a fantasy/horror scenario which can easily be dropped into your regular campaign, or be played as an easygoing one-shot.

So what's cool about it? Several things, actually!

  • It's FREE. Click the link and there you are.
  • It's got LOTS OF RANDOM! Every time you play, things are always different.
  • It's easy to use for solo or GMLess play. Just make your character(s) and follow the instructions on the page.
  • It's got a simple back story that can be literally explained in four words (go rescue Lady Marianne), meaning it's perfect for games that focus on learning the rules, or just want a couple hours of fun bashing monsters in a gothic dungeon.
  • It's a testament to the trappings concept when applied to creatures, with several monsters being simple reskin of stat blocks found in the core Savage Worlds book.

It is a horror/fantasy rescue mission with a strong Castlevania vibe, including several items that you can find which change how you interact with some of the monsters and traps.

It can be used with the full Gold & Glory book, or just with the core Savage Worlds rules.

At a personal level, I'm very happy with this little project because I was able to code a bit of html (with close to no experience before this!), and translate the random generation mechanics of Gold & Glory into an electronic thing.

This "translation" was not "literal". The electronic random generation lacks all the subtle intricacies of using a deck of cards like the tabletop version... because I wasn't able to code those, of course. When using the actual Gold & Glory dungeon deck system, you can't get the same result twice in the same room, for example, nor can you encounter the same hazard two times before consuming the whole deck and shuffling it again.

But what is lacking in subtlety is made up for in variety: I was able to put way more hazards, treasures and features than what I could usually fit into a regular pen and paper G&G dungeon: a huge amount of horrors and wonders, and several chained events and McGuffins that interact with each other.

So if you're curious, check it out!

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

About the "Deadly Dungeon Hosts" Adventures

This post is the follow-up to the one dedicated to the Gold & Glory - Seven Deadly Dungeons book and its basic supplements

This time we'll take a look at the line of "deadly dungeon hosts" adventures: dungeon scenarios designed by special guest authors, based on the Gold & Glory Dungeon Template. Let's see who they are and what they've come up with!

Diogo Nogueira: Garden of Bones

The Garden of Bones was created by a powerful necromancer to be given as a present to a love interest of theirs. Once the gift was rejected, the necromancer turned the garden into a place of nightmares and horrific creations they built to externalize their frustration. It fell into obscurity after the ages passed away, and it became a myth.
Now, a scholar with sinister interests has located a map they believe to lead to this mythical garden and desires to be taken there to admire the garden and possibly collect the legendary Ghost Lotus.

The Garden of Bones is a legendary place covered in mystery and peril, full of dark wonders and incredible treasures. Sages have talked about it for centuries but very few have ever discovered its location. But now an expedition to this mystic place is being organized.
This Gold & Glory dungeon adventure features unique rewards and a very dangerous environment, a worthy challenge for truly Heroic characters!

Diogo Nogueira is the acclaimed author of neo-OSR games such as Dark Streets & Darker Secrets, Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells, and Lost in the Fantasy World.

Due to its theme and features, The Garden of Bones can be dropped into any fantasy, grimdark, or sword & sorcery campaign, including settings such as Lankhmar or Beasts & Barbarians.

The art for this one was made by Matteo Ceresa, who tried to homage Mike Mignola's style.

Richard Woolcock: Hightree Warren

Families of grubby little goblins frequently make their homes in the mountains to the west, where they breed like vermin, and hoard stolen treasure in their deep, dark caves. Brave adventures sometimes seek out these underground warrens, purging the goblin infestation and reclaiming their ill-gotten riches.
Several weeks ago, the famous paladin Molgrim Silverblade led his companions on a holy mission to root out a large band of goblins. Only one survivor returned from the doomed expedition, and he had been hideously mutilated and driven half-mad.

Hightree Warren is a perilous dungeon, populated by vicious goblins, and filled with traps and other nasty surprises. Set in the world of Saga of the Goblin Horde and written by Savage Worlds guru Richard Woolcock.

Richard Woolcock: Ebenezer's Gold

“It’s my gold, I tell you! All mine! I will never give it up! Never! Bah, humbug!”
—Ebenezer’s last words.

The cruel, wealthy money-lender Ebenezer has passed away. Somewhere inside his mansion, or below it, there must be treasure beyond imagination! Who cares if people speak of ghostly apparitions and other strange events...
Ebenezer’s Gold is a festive-special dungeon adventure, and the second written by Richard Woolcock!

Andrea Mollica: The Halls of the Damned

Don’t you dare to walk alone
in that ghastly, cursed dome.
Family blood drops down the tree,
tears are there where hope should be.
Be life spurned, be light banned
from within the Halls of the Damned!

A fallen Strider, a shameful secret left buried for centuries, and a party of heroes who dare enter a long-forlorn castle on a solitary mountain peak in search of the fabled Ring Of Yore and, maybe, the truth.

The Halls of the Damned is a Castlevania inspired dungeon adventure written by game designer and novelist Andrea Mollica, the same author of Guardians of Sol-TauThe adventure has a strong horror/gothic theme, and can be adapted to any Gothic Horror setting where you may have heroes storming a castle infested with goulish monsters, werewolves, ghosts and vampires!

Courtney Campbell: Cravenpeter's Dream Auction

Maximillian Ernesto Cravenpeter Esquire the Mediocre, a powerful archmage, is publicly retiring and is holding an auction for his eclectic and exotic items. Maximillian, a powerful wizard in no way overcome with paranoia and petty concerns, has always had little trust or respect for anyone who would covet his things. As a security measure he has contacted the Green Feather agents—fae mesmerists, who have agreed to hold the auction in a dream within Maximillian’s psyche. This works flawlessly, protecting both the clients and the auctioned objects, as long as no deep psychic disturbances exist. A renowned wizard named Max the Mediocre has no psychogenic trauma, obviously.

Cravenpeter's Dream Auction is a special adventure written by OSR master Courtney Campbell that can be played as an alternative to the usual Carousing, Magic Research, and Offerings to Solis... assuming the heroes have enough gold to make bids at Cravenpeter’s Dream Auction!

For those who don't know, Courtney Campbell runs one of the most interesting OSR blogs out there: Hack & Slash, and is also the author of the cool Megadungeon 'zine.

The art in this one is by Courtney Campbell himself, with some coloring by our usual layout artist Matteo Ceresa!

Saturday, October 17, 2020

About Jurassic Snack

 Jurassic Snack is a board game by acclaimed designer Bruno Cathala, for 2 players, age 7+ (some editions have "8+" on the box, but I think 7 really is ok), with a 15-20 minutes duration.

And I love it!

I bought it about ten months ago at my FLGS. My son was not really old enough to play, at the time, but fell in love with the theme, of course, because DINOSAURS.

We've recently given it another try, and to my surprise he is now (5.5 YO) more than capable of handling all the rules, even though he's not yet competitive in the way he plays... but I assume he'll become better at it soon.

So what's cool about the game?

The materials are awesome. Nice plastic dinosaurs, big, sturdy and funny to look at, with painted eyes.

The game is simple enough for six/seven years old kids, but deep enough to keep adults engaged. It's got a nice mix of strategic decision (planning your moves to eat efficiently, decide if you want to eat a lot of leaves or try to scare all your opponent's dinosaurs away from the board), and random factor represented by the downside of the leaves counters, which introduce several effects.

One thing that's very good with young players is that you don't really know who's winning until the game ends and you count the points on the downsides of the leaves tokens each player has collected. This is good with kids who still struggle with losing...

Saturday, October 10, 2020

10 QUESTIONS TO: Massimiliano Caracristi

Massimiliano Caracristi is the lead designer of Against the Darkmaster ("VsD"), the recently crowdfunded RPG of “Epic High Fantasy and Heavy Metal Combat”, and currently going strong on DriveThruRPG.

But who is Massimiliano? Massimiliano is a cat lover and a metalhead, and he strikes me as an introverted but resolute person.

1 Hello Massimiliano. Tell us about Against the Darkmaster as if you were trying to sell it to my aunt!

Ever wanted to be the protagonist of your very own novel? To leave the world behind for a few hours and live an exciting adventure, while comfortably sitting at home, sipping wine with your friends? With Against the Darkmaster you can!

You’ll take the role of a mighty hero, the last hope of the world against the threat of an immensely powerful being of pure evil: the Darkmaster.

You’ll travel to distant lands, face terrible dangers, uncover ancient items of power, and gather the armies of the world under your banner, in an epic fight against the ultimate evil. And all this without ever leaving your living room!

Come on, it’s your chance to finally get an answer to your “who’s winning?” question! 

2 Tell us about your job as lead designer, what’s the story of the development, and what are the rules that make VsD unique?

Against the Darkmaster is very much a group effort. Open Ended Games, our company, started as a simple group of friends on the internet. We would chat, play, and share house rules and “hacks” for the games we were playing. That’s how VsD started, too. We were talking about collecting all of our house rules for MERP, one of our all-time favorite games, and realized we could have made a completely new game out of them.

As the lead designer for this project, besides writing the bulk of the rules, my job is to make sure they fit together and support the theme of the game. Also, keeping track of the playtesters’ feedback is of primary importance, since it’s the only way to know if the rules work as intended!

Speaking of rules, I’d say that what makes VsD unique is that it emulates a very specific sub-genre of fantasy. You’re not going to play a party of simple adventurers or treasure-hunters but as a group of true heroes fighting the evil overlord threatening their world. So we’ve got a Passions and Drive system, designed to bring your characters’ motivations and goals into play and to help you spotlighting their heroic nature.

Detailed rules for long, epic journeys. Dangerous magic. Kins, cultures, and background options tightly tied to the genre’s tropes.

And, of course, rules for creating your very own Darkmaster, from his name and origins to his favored minions and his influence on the campaign setting.

3 So… what’s up with heavy metal?

Heavy metal is the law! For us, heavy metal and roleplaying always went hand in hand. Back in high school, we’d listen to Maiden or Priest while waiting to meet our friends for a session, named our PCs after band members, stole our adventures’ plots from the lyrics of Dio or Blind Guardian.

Against the Darkmaster is our homage to those days. We wanted it to have the same energy, strike the same chords.

Our art is heavily inspired by the Power Metal aesthetics and the combat system is fast and brutal like a Speed Metal solo. We even give you guidelines for turning the lyrics of your favorite metal anthem into your hero’s motivation!

4 Are you satisfied with the reception the game got so far?

We’re overwhelmed! We’d never expected such a positive reaction. I mean, we’re a tiny little company and the Core Rules have been out for what, three weeks? And yet we’ve been in DrivethruRPG top ten since then, together with giants like Onyx Path and Cubicle 7! You people are truly amazing!

5 Let’s talk about the Kickstarter that launched Against the Darkmaster. How do you rate this experience? What have you learned?

We’ve got mixed feelings about Kickstarter. We’re probably still too close to the campaign to give a completely objective answer. Running a KS campaign is an emotional rollercoaster. People will amaze and surprise you. One minute you’re on the top of the world, the next one it’ll feel as you’ll never make it. Be prepared!

6 Kickstarters have become more and more important for RPGs. Do you see that changing anytime soon? Would YOU like things to change somehow?

I think the trend is going to stay for quite a long time, can’t really see it changing in the near future. I’d like to see small indie creators be given more opportunities than big companies. On the other hand, those companies bring lots of people to KS, so it’s kinda a necessary evil.

7 You mentioned MERP before, can you tell us more about VsD's relationship with that game?

Sure. As I’ve said, Against the Darkmaster started out as a simple fan-made revision of MERP, ICE’s classic game based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. However, we soon realized that our project was growing on its own, and becoming something completely different. We had changed and rewritten so many things that we now had in our hands a new game.

Some have called VsD a retro-clone, but I’d say it’s more of a love-letter. MERP fans will find the VsD somewhat familiar, yet ultimately different from the game they remember.

But you don’t have to be a MERP fan to enjoy VsD! New players will have just as much fun as old grognards in joining the fight Against the Darkmaster!

8 Excluding Against the Darkmaster, what are your Top Three RPGs?

I’m currently pretty excited about Mörk Borg and the upcoming Flames of Freedom, but if I have to choose my all-time favorites I’d say MERP, The Burning Wheel, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

9 What are you working on now? Are you considering new projects?

We’ve got a few adventures and rules supplements planned, and we’re working on a third party license and community content agreement, that’ll allow anyone to publish their own Against the Darkmaster creations!

10 One last question before we say goodbye. Please point us to a song you think we should listen to.

You can’t go more VsD than Time Stands Still (at the Iron Hill) by Blind Guardian.

Thank you for your time Massimiliano! Bye!!

Stay tuned for more interviews! Hit me on the Axian Spice Facebook pageon Twitter or even on Telegram to never miss one! 

If you want to support this blog, check my OSR and Savage Worlds stuff, or simply shop on DriveTrhuRPG (affiliate link).

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Guardians of Sol-Tau POD is available, and on sale for a week!

The proof copies of Guardians of Sol-Tau have just arrived, and they are awesome!

We decided to activate the Print on Demand option after considering all the available print formats on DriveThruRPG, and we settled for saddle stitched, comic-book size book. The pictures show the result.

The printed format perfectly matches the comic-book style of the cover, and you can enjoy the wonderful layout made by Matteo Ceresa with a book that you can actually spread open flat on the table.

The book is 48 pages and it feels really solid. It also looks neat because the cover sheet includes a section that functions as a spine, very much like a perfect bound book.

So we are completely satisfied with the proof copies... so much that we decided to have the print on demand version on sale for a week!

Until next Tuesday, you can get the printed adventure + PDF for $9.90.

We even set up a Print bundle with the GoST print + PDF and the Aces High PDF, priced $16.90... until next Tuesday!

Monday, October 5, 2020

About M. R. James's Ghost Stories, and Investigation RPGs

 I'm stuck home with a cold, and I've been reading an old book I found in my library, probably belonging to a friend who left me a several boxes of books about eight years ago, as he hurriedly left town to pursue a career opportunity in Denmark.*

It's a collection of M. R. James's ghost stories, which I had never read before (I know, shame on me!).

Mine is a cheap edition and probably not the best translation around (or at least I hope there's a better one!), but still decent for a few evenings' entertainment. It also gets (dubious) bonus points for being yellowed, old and stinky, like the ancient manuscripts featured in most of its stories...

I'm finding the stories quite enjoyable, and a perfect match for the early autumn weather.

I'm also finding they are very good for reaping ideas for certain types of horror RPGs!

Eldritch Tales is one of many intriguing alternatives to the obvious Call of Cthulhu...

Each story has a mystery going on, and such mystery involves a cursed object, manuscript, book, piece of furniture, architectural element, etc, and the background of the thing is discovered by the protagonists by investigating ancient libraries, diaries, letters, archives and local superstitions. In most cases, the protagonists are professors, antiquarians, scholars who discover (and occasionally re-awaken!) horrors that took place one or two centuries before. Does that sound familiar?

Several stories even include some kind of puzzle (the most famous probably is the FUR FLA FLE BIS latin gimmick on a templars' dogwhistle) ready to be stolen by GMs.

What got me thinking they could be good inspiration for horror RPGs is that the stories are simple. To the point that they occasionally are too simple to really be an interesting read.

But playing horror/investigation RPGs for years has taught me something: you don't need complex mysteries, you need simple ones. Your players aren't detectives, they are just your players!

Two pieces of advice for horror GMs I read years ago have stuck in my head (I'm sorry to say I have no idea who should be credited). EDIT: a reader pointed me to the source of the following "rule of three", this post from The Alexandrian blog.

The first is the rule of three: prepare three different ways for the players to find a clue. They are not detectives, they are probably going to miss one, and misinterpret another. Having a third one should be enough... So for example if the players should investigate the missing person's uncle, you should have his name pop up into three different ways, not just one.

The second advice is, well, good for when even the rule of three fails! If players are stuck and don't know how to proceed with their investigation, that's the time for the bad guys (or the supernatural thing) to strike... and leave a new clue behind. To continue the example: they missed uncle Bob? The next day, he's on the news as he's disappeared too, in similar circumstances!

Both these tricks seem to be at work for M. R. James's protagonists. They are not detectives themselves. They are just curious people who stumble upon some inexplicable events, and spend some time investigating documents and places and making questions... sometimes to their own demise.

I can certainly recommend James's stories to any horror fan who's never read them, and even more to GMs of horror/investigation games in need of fresh ideas.

Readers have pointed me to Casting the Runes, a role playing game based on the GUMSHOE engine and "set in the worlds of M. R. James", developed by The Design Mechanism.

It has been successfully funded on Kickstarter and is available for preorder, and a free preview is up on DriveThruRPG!

*I just realized with amusement, rereading the post, that this incipit itself sounds quite Jamesy!

Friday, October 2, 2020

Guardians of Sol-Tau: After the Adventure

Several players and GMs who have enjoyed Guardians of Sol-Tau have asked for possible follow-up adventures for the player characters, so I turned the question to Andrea Mollica, who wrote the story. This is what he had to say!

The conclusion of Guardians Of Sol-Tau leaves the heroes with a sense of accomplishment and fulfilling (assuming everything goes well and they defeat the Iods!), yet this does not mean their adventures are necessarily over.

If you want to see the shabby crew of the Astrid tackling new adventures, the finale of Guardians of Sol-Tau definitely offers room for further development.

Warning! Spoilers ahead! If you still haven't played GoST yet, I suggest you not to read on. Have fun with the adventure and check back here after that!

The Iod's defeat doesn't imply the entire destruction of their race. As described in the last chapter, several Iods die, but many of them still have the chance to start a new life in the Sol-Tau system - and they have no means to reach another solar system, anyway. How will the fare? Will they try to peacefully find a place to live, or their martial culture will cause violent conflicts? And how will the peoples of Sol-Tau react, now that the Iods have lost their military supremacy? It's entirely possible the surviving Iods will have to face distrust, hostility, or hate.

In both cases, our Heroes may be called upon to help. They may be regarded as the ones who can tell whether the Iods deserve a second chance, or where to deploy them. If the Iods behave aggressively, the PCs will be surely called to action, since they're the ones who destroyed their empire. Or, in an interesting turn of events, the group might be called for help by a group of Iods facing threats by people of Sol-Tau who don't want them as neighbors.

An entirely different lines of story development regards the new political assets of Sol-Tau system after the Iods' defeat. Most likely, a power vacuum occurs, and there may be someone who wants to exploit the situation in their favor, be they a criminal organization, a former rebel brigade, an entire people of one of Sol-Tau's planets or one of their governments.

Again, the heroes may be involved in several ways. Did they risk their lives against the Iods for nothing, just to see another dictatorship arise?

Since the PCs have acquired a huge fame within Sol-Tau, they are now considered an elite crew (even if their gaming stats may say otherwise...). There are many people willing to hire them for any sort of mission: transport, escort, smuggling, planetary research, body-guarding etc. Remember that, despite the dark years of the Iods, all the inhabited planets thrive with bristling life; many cities are huge and full of mystery and intrigue.

And, don't forget the Pilgrims. Who are they, after all? Whence the prophecy come from? What exactly was the supernatural power wielded by Hope? You can answer these questions in many different ways, and introduce more mysteries and conflict to involve the heroes.

But perhaps, the most interesting lead for a follow-up scenario would be answering the question: what's up with the Hrax? An impossible machine made of metal and dark energy, capable of killing suns! What's happened to it? Where has all that energy gone? What about the technology? What if a new villain of your choice found a way to tap into that energy and try to become the new ruler of Sol-Tau?

And all of those ideas could of course be mixed together into one scenario, of course. A Pilgrim gone rogue might trick the heroes into getting for him the means to use the residual energy from the Hrax, and the surviving Iods might become useful allies for another desperate battle against all odds!

All I can say to sum it up is, keep the Astrid flying!

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