Thursday, September 16, 2021

About Dying in Old-School Essentials and Other Old-School Rulesets

Like my other post about encounter balance, this article takes Old-School Essentials for reference, but can be applied to most retro-clones.

The standard rules of most OSR systems simply have characters die at 0 hp.

Many players and GMs feel that's too harsh, especially if you actually roll your class hit die to determine hit points at level 1, meaning you may very well start with 1 or 2 hit points.

That's as bad as it sounds, one hit and you're down... and yet it's very much in line with one failed save and you're dead, which is a constant threat (poison snakes, death spell, pietrification, and so on) even when you have enough hp to take a dozen arrows.

Adhering 100% to those rules is much less harsh if you use Retainers and/or each player plays two or three characters. After all, Old-School Essentials explicitly states it's designed for 6-8 characters, not 3-4. This is the best solution the book has to offer, and if you want to stay within the boundaries of the rules and experience the original gameplay, I suggest you try this route first. This probably is, by the way, where the DCC RPG four-characters-per-player funnel adventures originate from.

But most players prefer to play one character. I get it.

In my DMing career, I've often tweaked death and dying one way or another. Here's a few systems I've tried, plus some I've read around and liked, or not liked, presented to you in small modular bits. 

Maximum HP at level 1. That's probably the most common house rule! It has a large impact on character survivability for level 1-3, then evens out at higher levels. Simple, zero book-keeping involved, nothing to remember while playing.

"Roll the body" Save. When you reach 0 hp, you drop down and you might be dead. You make a final Save versus Death when (if) someone checks on you. You pass it, you're back on your feet with 1 hp and still have a chance to make it back from the dungeon. This type of rule can be found, for example, in Dungeon Crawl Classics. If you're left there, you're dead, eaten by monsters or just bled out. This is highly dramatic for sure! Allows for glorious TPKs where no one is there to check on fallen heroes, and works as a high tension final parachute. Because of Saves progression, higher level characters have better and better chances of avoiding Death's door at the very last minute. Starting characters, not so much. Also, some classes definitely have an advantage with this. I'm looking at you, dwarves. Anyway! This requires no book-keeping. The only thing you have to remember is "hey please check on me!" when you go down. A simpler variation is just immediately Save versus Death to, well, Cheat Death as soon as you hit 0 hp.

Negative HPs. As soon as your HPs reach zero or lower, you're "dying", or "bleeding out". You're out of combat, and might die unless helped. Negative HPs have been around since forever, often together with max hp at level 1. Lamentations of the Flame Princess has them. The big difference in implementation is what happens when you're out of HPs. In most cases, you have a maximum amount of negative HPs, which might be fixed (-10, for example, or half your Constitution score). Actual death can happen as a Save versus Death every round to avoid bleeding out until someone tends to your wounds. Nasty GMs might ask you to apply your negative HPs as a modifier to your Save roll, which scales well with higher level characters and their improved saves. Sometimes bleeding out is translated as suffering 1 hp of damage every round, until you hit -10 or another threshold, which means you're finally dead.
I completely, irrationally hate negative HPs. Anyway. You have a little extra book-keeping. Saving every round (or suffering -1 hp per round until -10) works as a clock for other players, forcing them to decide if they want to spend a round to try and save your life somehow.

Or, you know, just leave those HPs the way they are, and try something different if you're determined to increase survivability. Like...

Shields Shall Be Splintered. One of the most popular OSR house rules of all times. You sacrifice your shield and completely avoid damage from one blow. This simple rule originated here in 2008 and has been developed and built upon in many variations, also involving helms and other pieces of gear. If you use this rule, you must decide what happens to magic shields... and probably enforce a "can't carry more than one shield" rule. This rule leaves non-shield-using classes the way they are, though.

A possible variant: anything you are holding in your hands may save you from one blow and is destroyed in the process, but you must succeed in a roll (a Save versus Death, of course) to pull such a feat. Sounds silly? Think how many swords +1, wands, and holy symbols are going to get broken...

Injury/Death and Dismemberment Tables. Another OSR staple. When at 0 hp, instead of dropping down dead, you roll on a table and see what's happened. Sometimes you lose an eye or ear, some time a finger, toe, or limb. Some time you suffer no effect at all, or lose a point of Constitution or other score, and some time you're crushed to bits, adieu. Conceptually, this adds layers of intermediate results to the binary outcome of th Roll the Body/Cheat Death final Save. This post lists so many examples you may check to pick your favorite table or to create your own. Using such tables increases survivability, and may lead to character retirement! Which can be a nice outcome, for a change. Players must keep in mind that losing their sword arm was the alternative to losing their character altogether...

Also keep in mind that you can decide to have injuries and lost stat points to be permanent or temporary. Temporary effects may be recovered in a given amount of time (weeks for example), while the permanent ones may still be recovered with some magic effect: custom spells, rituals, or the obvious Wish solution.

Monday, September 13, 2021

10 QUESTIONS TO: Tony Vasinda

Tony Vasinda is a very active voice in the indie RPG community, and the founder of Plus One Experience, which “multiclasses in Beard & Skincare Alchemy, Game Design, & the Bardic Knowledge of Content Creation”.

He's one of the main voices in the RPG zines scene, networking and encouraging creators to make great stuff. You might have heard of him with regards to the Repugnant project during ZineQuest3, for example. And his enthusiasm certainly encouraged me with my Lands of Legends project!

He is currently crowdfunding Down We Go Infinite Edition, by Markus Linderum, on Gamefound.

He’s got an amazing beard, as you can imagine (and he's also written a game about that!), and he’s also a catholic missionary. Plenty to talk about here!

1 Hello Tony. First of all, tell us everything about Plus One Experience, from games to beards, as if you were trying to explain it to my aunt!
Hello auntie, I make beard balm (like a leave-in conditioner for beards) for a living and love sharing it with specific groups. So I made some that were RPG inspired because it’s something I love. As part of that I made a beard RPG called Beards & Beyond and started helping review and promote other folks' games on youtube. Folks love the balms, and the games, but most folks know us for reviewing other peoples games and promoting community conversations in the Indie RPG space. 

2 Let’s talk about Down We Go. How did it become a fully fledged KS multiple-contributors crowdfunding project from when it was a one page game? Are you the one to blame?

Yeah, it’s my fault. I saw a beautiful 1 page game that Markus Linderum made and asked him to run it on stream. He did and created some simple 1 page dungeons to go with it. I loved them and asked if he could make a city so we could print the game as a small zine. We kept playing the game on streams anytime we had an OSR module to feature and I and other folks fell in love with it.
So I worked with Markus to build a team, flesh out the content, and fill in the blanks on the project. 

3 Can you tell us more about the game as it is now?

So the core rules are still just 1 A5 page. We fleshed out the Ref (what we call game masters) page a bit, and built some simple procedures for helping folks make their own Dungeons. Currently we are playtesting our Faction, Event, Location, and Hexcrawl procedures that are getting added to the game. So the core rules fit on that 1 page, but you have a 10 more pages of option procedures to help the Ref have everything they need to run a session or a campaign with very low prep. The rest of the book is made up of and other support material for each of those procedures. The Dungeon section has 1 page of procedures and then 4 Dungeons. The Faction section has 1 page procedures and 10 Factions. Think of it as a toolkit that has everything you need in it to run an amazing game, but that you can ignore if it’s not a part of how you want to play.

4 Obvious question: why not Kickstarter? Why Gamefound?

Great question. In short it’s because we need to end the stranglehold Kickstarter has on the way we think about crowdfunding.

Kickstarter isn’t bad. I plan to use it for another project coming up. However, just having 1 good option for any process is never ideal.
Competition breeds innovation and the funding process needs lots of innovation to be healthier.
Kickstarter has a better reach and footprint, but I think Gamefound has a better toolkit for marketing and building the page you want to build. We are probably leaving money on the table by choosing Gamefound right now, but we can always sell more games. What we don’t always have the choice to do is to make a choice that improves the RPG scene for others. We chose Gamefound because I wanted to open the space up more for others who want to fund their games theer and prove small projects could thrive on the platform. 

I have been thoroughly impressed by Gamefound and the team. I can’t wait to finish the campaign and smoothly integrate their pledge manager into our process. 

5 Down We Go is the perfect example of what crowdfunding was originally designed for. Through the years, though, it has become more and more important even for the “big players” in the RPG industry.

Do you consider that unfair? Or is the presence of big publishers beneficial to the small ones? Do you see that changing anytime soon? How would YOU like things to change?

Look this may not be popular, but I love seeing bigger companies funding on the platform. There are two reasons:
1. It 100% brings people to the platform.
2. Producing games and printing books is a huge risk. WotC does not have to worry about a book not selling. Almost every single other publisher does.
A bad run at scale would ruin most publishers, or at least mean layoffs. I want us all to succeed, and believe it or not, I think we all can.
Competition breeds innovation, but it has to be healthy competition. We created Down We Go as a unitive game with a global team because I think the best thing we can do is be united as a community of players & designers. It’s the only type of success I am interested in. There will be bad actors who out themselves over time, and we need to be on the lookout for that, but not at the cost of our own dignity or mental health.
I work with publishers of all sizes who are interested in building up our community and speak out against those who act in self interest. That’s what I care about.

6 Inclusion and representation of minorities in RPGs are a hot topic. Considering the theme and size of it, I don’t expect Down We Go to address much of that within the game, am I wrong?

Great question. I don’t know because it’s a complex issue.
Down we go is about a dungeon crawling in and around a twisting dark hungry city that depends on the sacrifice of delvers to keep its economy operating.  We don’t have Races in the game, but we have had plenty of folks play different races, in our upcoming space hack Through the Void, I use Backgrounds that play a similar role.
Markus & I have never sat down and had a conversation about this, but from my perspective there are huge conversations about class, race, upward mobility, politics, religion that I expect every session to be able to touch on. For me games are about exploring the human experience in community with others. I think every designer needs to ask themselves, “Does this game encourage the players to have real conversations about moral, social, and political issues that humanize others?”
I think the answer should always be, “Yes”.
We built a diverse team so that these ideals would be baked into the game's DNA. I have never asked a single person on the team to make “inclusive content” because we picked a team who I never imagined would do anything else.
I really hope folks explore these issues when playing Down We Go. I hope they overthrow fascist bosses, and explore the injustice of unlimited wealth. However if they just go get weird mud for the Dirt Licker faction and fight a bunch of oozing slimes on the way, I want to hear about that also.

7 Let’s talk about other games now. What is the best game you’ve played in, say, the last two years?

Aaron King’s Patchwork World, Bloodfeud, or Gods of Metal Ragnarock are tied. Patchwork World is the best game. Bloodfeud had the best introspection, Gods of Metal… man Markeia McCarty is an amazing GM. 

8 Let’s talk about you as a catholic missionary. What does it mean, and do you put RPGs into that? Also a bit of a complex thing. In short, everything.

Let me start by stating I know tons of folks reading this might have some kind of religious trauma and that the Catholic Church might be the cause of that. Be kind to yourself if you need to stop reading here or skip this question. To make this easy I have asked to have the next section of my text spoilered so that you need to highlight it to read.

All the choices I make are guided by 38 years of being nurtured, fed, questioned, and challenged by my Catholic lens and imagination. I believe there is a God that exists outside of time who is love, goodness, and truth and from whom those things flow. I believe that He (and let’s acknowledge that pronouns fail to encapsulate a transcendent being) desires to be in a relationship with us. I also believe that I eat the flesh and drink the blood of this undying God every Sunday as a way to be in communion with him. Objectively, that’s pretty weird.
That impacts everything I do because, if someone says they believe these things and does not let it impact them totally... why believe it?
Here is a major thing though. What I believe is not what you believe. I don’t hold anyone besides other Catholics to believe what I believe, and the main group of folks I tend to disagree with are... other Catholics. 

For folks who are not Catholic all I want to do is to amplify what is most good and true and beautiful in your life. For most folks in the games community that means sitting down and playing amazing games, listening to others, but lots of times it means having real conversations and advocating for those in need. Lots of the time it means pushing back against toxic and harmful elements in the community.
Plus One is a diversity first channel and company. This means that we prioritize LGBTQ, PoC, and minority voices on stream and when choosing who to hire or support financially. A huge part of this comes from my faith, but I don’t promote this on channel because I understand the trauma that many folks have experienced around religion and I always put the needs of the person in front of me first. 

Like Jesus, I am here to comfort the afflicted, but to afflict the comforted. 

9 You’re not new to it, nevertheless I think I can say “KS Crowdfunding days are crazy days”. How are you coping?

Pretty fine. Gamefound actually makes running a campaign much easier in the middle. I am able to set up a number of items in advance that I normally have to manually schedule in which means I don’t have to look at the page if I don’t want to and everything runs really smoothly. I am playing more and doing a lot of press, but that’s the fun part. 

10 Please point us to a song you think we should listen to to get the feeling for Down We Go!

There is no better song to listen to than the Infected Tomb on the Down We Go Dungeon Synth album that you can get as part of the project. Loot the Body did an amazing job with it, and you can find it on the campaign page or right here.

Thank you Tony for your time, and best luck with Down We Go!

So folks, check out with Down We Go on Gamefound!

And stay tuned for more interviews!

Hit me on the Axian Spice Facebook pageon Twitter or even on Telegram to never miss one! Hit the comments if you want me to interview your favorite author, artist, or publisher!

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

Thursday, September 9, 2021

About Random Treasure in Old-School Essentials and Other Retro-Clones

 Like other posts, this article takes takes Old-School Essentials for reference, but can be applied to most retro-clones.

Random treasure generation is a staple of most early editions of D&D. Big emphasis on random! Those tables may as well create non-existent hoards or, at the other end of the spectrum, mountains of gold and jewels and magic items all in the same place.

The mechanical procedures for random treasure generation are really awful and long, and it is much better to use an online generator such as the one Necrotic Gnome offers on their site.

To some, that's a great feature, to others less so. A lot depends on your play-style, especially on how fast you game goes. If the group discovers a treasure hoard every three sessions, and it's 100 copper pieces because that's what you rolled, that's one thing; if in three sessions they put their hands on say, nine randomly rolled hoards, then things even out much better.

For Referees who don't like random (or too much random), the Old-School Essentials book lists average values for each treasure type, a simple feature which I had never found in other books and one that really helps as a starting point if you want to manually determine/adjust treasure.

Consequences of Random

Random treasure adds another level of thrill to the game, one that is definitely not there if you always go with the average treasure value! On a psychological level it may probably generate the same kind of addiction of instant lotteries: a lesson action RPG video games such as Diablo have learnt well.

A randomly rolled poor hoard is a disappointment for the players, true, and definitely, quite literally, adds nothing to the game, except a lesson learnt: if you want treasure, you should follow rumors about treasure, not rush into every goblin lair on the map.

At the other hand, a superb roll may mean two things: fast forward advancement for the PCs, and probably the introduction of some crazy magic item you wouldn't have put in there if you had manually chosen the treasure. Which is an awesome thing! It has a chance to inject the campaign with freshness and take the emergent story into wild new directions.

Even if you use the average value, adjusting it with a fast roll will still make things more thrilling. Something like roll a d6, if it's even the treasure is smaller than average, if it's odds it's larger, and a d100 to find out the percentage of the increased/decreased value. The really dramatic roll in those treasure tables is the chance for magic items (and their nature).

A Wider Perspective

Randomly rolled treasure are integral to the "by the book" game experience: the game where you follow all the rules has a chance for you to live the story of the outcast freak with no score above 11 who somehow got a sentient sword and a flying carpet during his second session. The more you exclude random from the game, the less chances it has to surprise and entertain you as a group.

And a Different Take: Random Treasure as a Story Tool

Rolling for treasure should never be done during play: the Referee really needs to know if the goblin king possesses potions or enchanted gear, because he sure is going to use them in battle.

So, rolling treasure and accepting the result can be an awesome starting point in designing your adventure or dungeon.

Zero treasure might mean a lot of things, and all of them can expand your scenario beyond what starting idea. 

Someone more powerful extorted it for protection: a dragon, for example! Or: a more powerful dragon!

Someone cleverer stole it (and poor goblin king might still be unaware of the theft!).

It was all spent to fuel a specific endeavor such as a war, crusade, journey, construction, ritual, peace treaty, or dowry.

In other words: the treasure isn't there because it's somewhere else! And finding out about it and getting there might very well be the party's next adventure.

What about lots of treasure? That might be the sign of a very clever creature. One that is not like the rest of its keen. Your goblin king has a businessman attitude, or powerful allies, or a generous patron, or is more powerful, or has studied magic! Or it might just be a bunch of gobbos who stole from their king and are now on the run. The big question here is: where has that treasure come from? Whose gold was it? What are they going to do about it? Here's a hook for a quest, or the input for adding a second faction of monsters in the scenario.

Magic items further shake things up. It is not just the old "give the gnoll boss the axe +2 you've rolled". The axe +2 is the type of item the gnolls get when you pick treasure manually.  Now consider this: you've just mapped and stocked your run of the mill orc lair. But then, boom, you roll treasure and they get an Elemental Summoning Device, Efreeti Bottle, Horn of Blasting, or Drums of Panic! That's no longer the raid-the-dungeon scenario you were designing: that's a cooler one, where those orcs are up to something bigger, subduing other humanoids and boldly raiding villages with their special toy!

The ogre who put the Helm of Alignment Changing on is now held prisoner by his clan, and might become an ally of the party.

What about a Sentient Sword popping into the kobolds' hoard you've prepared as your very first dungeon? Just remember that Bilbo got the One Ring from a bizarre random encounter while in a cave. Let the thing shape your campaign. Think of how it got there, what's its goal, and let the rest of the campaign surprise you*.

*works better if you have an actual campaign world outlined. I should make a post about that.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

10 QUESTIONS TO: Gavriel Quiroga

Gavriel Quiroga is a game designer and self-publisher from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

He has written and published Neurocity (which I’ve reviewed here) and Warpland (which I can’t wait to receive!), and he’s currently crowdfunding Ascet on Kickstarter, not a RPG but a “minimalist playing card game with roleplaying overtones”.

His games, in my eyes, share a sombre (if not straight on dark) view of the world, or at least offer a bleak view of their worlds. Let’s find out if Gavriel is a gloomy person too!

1 Hello Gavriel. Let’s talk about Ascet straight away. It’s a card game ok, so tell us how it works!

Hello Giuseppe. Well, Ascet is a card game with RPG characteristics. In it players take turns to interpret ascetic monks seeking enlightenment while the rest of the players play the part of demons which will lure them with temptations. It has a minimal character creation and it uses a d8 and a d10, each temptation comes with a small beautiful short description to set the mood of the game. During each turn, the player playing the ¨Ascet¨ needs to choose one of the offered Temptation and roll a result equal or below the Virtue being affected (there are four) if he is successful he will ascend one step in the Stairway towards Enlightenment. Whoever ascends the five steps first wins the game. 

2 Now I want to know how role-play gets into the game!

The game requires that you make a very minimal character creation distributing 20 points between your four Virtues (Temperance, Humility, Faith and Compassion) and each Temptation comes with a small descriptive story about how the conflict occurs, so you really get the feeling of being a protagonist. There are also unique special effects cards which cause unpredictable consequences in the game like ¨Lost in the Desert¨ which makes you lose a round or ¨Darkness¨ which allows Demons to play their cards upside down. Furthermore, interpreting Demons is also mechanically appropriate and suitable for scheming and plotting, there is a lot of diplomacy involved in the game. Each player is essentially handling two opposite characters that act as two sides of the same coin.

3 Let’s talk about your published RPGs. Both Neurocity and Warpland share the same basic rules system. Would you explain the core of it for our readers? Can we expect more games with the same system?

Sure! It basically is a 2d6 roll under the stat which creates a complication if you roll 1/1 or 6/6 and is considered a critical success for any successful roll of 8 and above. It also has a damage within the attack roll included (highest rolled number + weapon damage) and I stole Black Hack´s initiative system. That is it. No classes, just skills, you get a negative modifier if you try to do something you are not skilled at and 4 attributes: Might, Agility, Wits and Lore. You also have Willpower that acts as something that enables a single dice reroll and is similar to heroic feats.

I think the beauty of the system is both its simplicity and flexibility. I am perfectly aware that learning a new system is something that few players want to do. Many are just looking for a setting to use with their systems. So I consciously made an effort to design something that was super easy to understand and present it as optional, use it if you like it! I was surprised to find out that our playtesters are effectively including it for their own setting.

4 One thing that struck me in particular with Neurocity is that the book offers more than one possible reason for the game world being what it is. I think that’s the first game that offers such a possibility for the GM to actually choose the true, secret nature and the founding event of the game world. This intrigues me to no end. How did you come to think of that? Did you first think of one “official” version, but weren’t satisfied with it, or what?

Neurociy offers 6 possibilities as to what is its origins and Warpland presents 3 possible different ways in which that setting is tied with Neurocity. 

Truth is nobody knows what Warpland is, is it earth? is it another planet? Who are the Eloi? The book is filled with queues and hints that stir curiosity. I think I am very influenced by Gene Wolfe and Raymond Carver, both authors from different genres, but who were masters of the craft of leaving space for mystery to brood. This causes the reader to be involved with the world, and it creates a creative communion, he is now naturally and effortlessly obliged to make his own theories and presumptions about it and that makes the setting so much richer and personal. We all know that always happens with RPGs, we know that my Dragonlance or Mork Borg won´t be the same as yours. So instead of struggling to be painfully specific with details I decided I wanted to embrace that collaborative aspect of RPGs and just concentrate on feeling and aesthetics circulating around powerful themes. Show, not tell. I think that is more or less the ideology behind it. 

5 You have two games published and one being funded these days, all of them financed on Kickstarter. Crowdfunding has become more and more important for RPGs. Do you see that changing anytime soon? How would YOU like things to change?

Crowdfunding allows me to live doing what I love. It is a great tool. My only criticism is I wish the community was more conscious that it is a platform for independent creators, artists and small companies. Personally, I feel embarrassed when I see huge corporations launching campaigns for their products and people jumping to finance something that does not need financing. I think we need to draw a line there. Still I feel the schism between mainstream RPGs and, let's call it indie RPGs or the new OSR movement, is bigger and greater than ever, and I think the approach to gaming is so different that both scenes might eventually become considered different things entirely. 

6 I know you are currently working on several games. I heard you are working on a game with motorbikes, demons and stoner rock. What can you tell us about it?

It will be called Hell Night and we are having a blast playing it with my playgroup! The project will be presented immediately after Ascet is done. I wanted to make an original premise in an original setting. Hell Night will be inspired by Mandy from Panos Cosmatos and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas from Hunter Thompson, and yes, it will be about demonic bikers hunting other fugitive demons on a brutal night in 1992. The aesthetics relies heavily on doom metal cover albums from the 90s and we are already working on the art.

7 What are the inspirations for your worlds? And for your rules? What games would you consider to be influential to your design? 

I think we creators need to be a sponge for whatever catches our interest and we need to try to be in contact with whatever it is the Zeitgeist of our time. RPGs give me a chance to express myself and I need to be absolutely critical of everything I do if I want to mingle with sensible, contemporary issues. It is not escapism for me. Roleplaying is an artform, and like many artforms it is linked with entertainment (like theater, music, comics or cinema) but that should not be forcefully associated with banality. On the contrary, games have always been instruments of learning about the world and about ourselves. 

I remember Fischer creating Fischer Random chess in order to turn it into a game about logical thinking and creativity instead of memory. Any game you play ends up being influential if you love game mechanics. From Catan to Magic The Gathering, Rising Sun or Risk, I love them all and I enjoy tearing them apart. 

If you are open and pay attention you can find inspiration behind anything from a lame talk in a grocery store to an awfully bad B-movie. Stephen King said you can learn more from bad writers than from good ones, and that is the case for almost anything. I think new RPGs like Mork Borg, Troika, Blacksun Deathcrawl and Mothership have also inspired many of us to do our own thing and that is how art should work. Just like the way the Sex Pistols inspired Joy Division, right?

8 If you could buy any franchise/IP for an RPG, which would it be? Tell us about the franchise and the game you’d make.

I would have a hard time owning an established franchise and not ripping it apart and changing it entirely. I had some offers to become part of the writing team for some cool franchises which I have played and admired since childhood, but the truth is that they are not my worlds. I cannot make concessions in my creative process, I cannot respect canon. I would just use what I like about it and shred what I dislike, maybe even change names or events. It would never work and the fans would rightfully hate me!

9 You have published your games with your own independent label. You never considered submitting your stuff to an established publisher?

That might happen in the future. I had some talks with Exalted Funeral and we are pending on a definition on that. Always looking to go beyond drivethrurpg which at the moment is still convenient. Between creation and promotion I do not have the time or energy to deal with the logistics of living in the farthest country in the world (Argentina) and having a warehouse and taking care of the shipping. But I am working on it, it will definitely happen because I want my books to improve and look better. 

10 When I interviewed Diogo Niogueira, I wrote that he was the only game designer that I knew from South America. Well, here’s you now. Do you think your origin has affected your games? Have you ever felt as an outsider in the rpg community at large (in a good or bad way)?

Of course any life experience we have affects our creativity. I used to work for a leather distributing company and thus had the chance to travel around the world for 15 years, mainly shoe factories in Asia and the Middle-east. Now I live in a quiet neighborhood in the Buenos Aires suburbs and I do not miss planes one bit.

I have always felt as an outsider in the Argentine RPG community. It is too mainstream focused. I presented some local organizers with an idea to make a monthly fanzine and they just could not understand the appeal behind it. When I published the first version of Neurocity, they were like "Huh, we play lotr". It was honestly discouraging for me. My own playgroup were originally hardcore Pathfinders players until I managed to make them sit down and help me develop my games just as a favor. Now they cannot believe they used to take 30 min to resolve a combat situation, they are never looking back. I wish there was a scene like in Brazil, I see the stuff Diogo posts about Brazilian creators and it is rad. But we do not get that here, hopefully someday! 

I have only words of gratitude for the help and interest I have received from the english speaking RPG community. Even with Neurocity, a game I released without a professional proofreader or editor, all I got was words of encouragement. This is the best community ever, period!

11 As usual, they were supposed to be 10, but I have one more question before we say goodbye. Please point us to a song you think we should listen to.

That's easy! The Untouchables, Ennio Morricone's soundtrack. It is a song that speaks about defiance despite overwhelming odds, quite appropriate for these times. 

Thank you Gavriel!

Thank you, Giuseppe, for the interview!

So folks, check out Ascet on Kickstarter, and Graviel’s web page.

Stay tuned for more interviews! Hit me on the Axian Spice Facebook pageon Twitter or even on Telegram to never miss one! Hit the comments if you want me to interview your favorite author, artist, or publisher!

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

Friday, September 3, 2021

About Balanced Encounters in Old-School Essentials

How do you balance encounters? That's a very frequent question from people who try Old-School Essentials or other OSR rulesets and retro-clones coming from more recent RPGs.

A very frequent answer is: you don't. Let players learn when to run.

That's a bit harsh, and not exactly what's in the rules. I took the OSE Rules Tome PDF and checked this stuff for you. The same conclusions may as well apply to most other retro-clones of B/X, BECMI, OD&D and similar early editions, but I'm tackling this with the Old-School Essentials pdf at hand.

Let's go.

As far as the written rules go, this is how it is:

1. The game assumes a group of 6-8 PCs.

That's explicit at page 100 in the Classic Fantasy Rules Tome. Note it also recommends a variety of all classes in the group. A party of 8 without a cleric will have a harder time against the undead, for example.

2. The PCs are supposed to venture into a "dungeon level" equal to their character level (average), if they want a "balanced" adventure. Nevertheless, a level 1 party is absolutely welcome to venture into dungeon level 2, if they want to increase both risk and reward.

3. The Dungeon Encounters tables in the book are based on 1. and 2., and tell you what the group might/should encounter. It is roughly based on HDs (creatures for dungeon level 1 roughly have 1 HD, and so on). Page 139 and 204. Also note this is engrained in the dungeon creation system, page 225, which connects dungeon level with both monster encounters and treasure found.

So there’s that for "balance"!

As you can see, given the wild variance in the roll for the number of monsters encountered, the game doesn't assume fair fights at all! Some will be very easy, some will be a bloodbath.

In the wider OSR scene, this has been described as combat as war, in contrast with the combat as sport that you get in more "balanced" games (from d&d 3.x on, with a refined Challenge Raring system).

Combat as war means it can be deadly, and you can and should avoid it when it's too dangerous, and use all you can to your advantage (terrain, scouting, setting up traps and ambushes, using oil, etc).

So how are PCs supposed to survive this game?

1. Reaction rolls.

2. Morale rolls.

3. Information & consequent player agency.

They may make the difference between a memorable campaign and a frustrating streak of TPKs (which might be memorable too).

Reaction rolls are awesome.

Seriously. Strange alliances in the dungeon are a lot of fun, a great opportunity for role-playing (how do you befriend Gnolls? And a Manticore?) And a Wight?), and introduce a whole new level of strategy to the game. With the exception of (most) constructs and undead, creatures prefer to live, and should only engage in combat when they believe they can and will win, or they feel they have no other choice (and so should players). Even when they believe they can win, monsters may prefer to make pacts and/or try to fool or intimidate the adventurers into doing something for them.

Reaction rolls should also be made (and adapted) for non-sentient beasts such as lions, giant spiders and the ever-threatening, save-or-die venomous snakes. They too want to live, and it is hard to believe they attack everything that comes into sight.

Morale rolls are awesome AND necessary.

They are the only way a 1st level group survives repeated encounters with 4d4 kobolds or 1d10 giant shrews. Copy-pasting from previous paragraph: With the exception of (most) constructs and undead, creatures prefer to live, and should only engage in combat when they believe they can win, or they feel they have no other choice (and so should players). Morale rolls are there to reassess the situation once combat has begun and blood has been spilt.

Information makes the game engaging.

This is not in the rules, but is part of the shared wisdom of the OSR. Adventures, scenarios and sandboxes should always include rumors and clues to inform players about what to expect. Maybe not everything, but definitely some of the threats of your Crypt of Damnation should be known or knowable before getting in there, and some other clues about threats might be available once inside, for smart players, before they run into those threats. Footprints, corpses, that kind of things. The end result should be: allowing players to pick their fights. Again, not all of them, but most.

What if I have 3-4 players?

You can:

1. Allow each player to play two characters (hey, even three would be ok!). A game that's as simple as OSE really allows this without much trouble. Plus, if one of your PCs dies, the adventure goes on and you don't have to roll a new character to join the game again! This is the best option, in my view.

2. Use Retainers rules, page 126. That's almost the same as 1. above, you know? To some players it might make a lot of difference, though.

3. Change the number of monsters encountered proportionately, of course. 3-4 PCs means you halve the number of monsters. If you do that, though, you should cut treasure by the same amount! That's if you want to stay true to the "game balance", which connects players' level,  risk and reward.

Final Note: Do What You Want

Everything written in this post is how things are in the book. I'm not saying you HAVE to do it like this. I don't always play like this! I'm just saying these are the answers found in the book, and I suggest you give it try before changing things.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

About Lands of Legends!

Lands of Legends is a series of five zines designed to assist you in both prepping and running hexcrawl, sandbox, open world campaigns with classic fantasy OSR games such as Old-School Essentials, Labyrinth Lord, Sword & Wizardry and the various simulacra of the Original, BECMI and B/X editions of the classic fantasy role-playing game.

It was successfully funded in February 2021 as part of ZineQuest3 on Kickstarter, with over 200 backers in two weeks.


Each zine contains 100 Special Areas and 100 Unique Encounters, with both categories sorted by terrain type (forests, mountains, cities, swamps and so on) and organized as d10 tables.

Special Areas are designed to help you create an engaging sandbox setting, where every mountain, swamp, island, forest, city, desert etc is unique and interesting.

Unique Encounters are designed to be used straight away while playing, and offer interesting and story-enhancing situations. No more boring random monsters! Have your group face unforeseen hazards, interesting NPCs, and puzzling situations during their travels!

Five Zines?

The Lands of Legends series includes five volumes:

Lands of Legends - Mundane focuses on the commonplace situations and everyday accidents, imbuing your campaign with the fresh breath of a living world! It suited for low magic settings, and can be used with just about anything you want to run.

Lands of Legends - Grim focuses on the darker, grittier nuances of fantasy games, and is the perfect fit for campaigns that explore grimdark, gothic, horror themes.

Lands of Legends - Fairy is the perfect book to enrich your campaign with the enchanted prodigies of the fae, bringing back the sense of wonder into the game, with magical places and events that are true to the spirit of the fairytales and folktales roots of the fantasy genre.

Lands of Legends - Holy makes the Gods -benevolent, whimsical, indifferent or cruel- an active power in your campaign world, along with their priests and prophets, crusaders and champions, and a whole lot of omens and portents to challenge your players.

Lands of Legends - Primeval is the tool to unleash the raw, prehuman, tumultuous forces of primeval civilizations and antediluvian elemental chaos into your campaign, enhancing a brutal Sword & Sorcery vibe! 

The five zines series totals at 500 Special Areas and 500 Unique Encounters!

The PDF version features:

  • Full color, bookmarked PDF
  • Printer-friendly/improved accessibility version via layers that can be turned off

Each volume is also available in a Print-on-Demand version:

  • 6x9" reversible book so that you have Areas on one end, and Encounters on the other, which is printed upside-down!

Some Reviews:

"Whether your adventurers are traveling to civilizations, deserts, forests, fresh waters, jungles, mountains, hills, plains, valleys, seas, islands, swamps, marshes, or wastelands there’s plenty to find and experience among the Lands of Legends!" - Cannibal Halfling Gaming

"Lands of Legends – Mundane is plain and simple in appearance, but its content is anything but. For the Game Master wanting ideas or inspiration, there can be no denying that Lands of Legends – Mundane is rich in both. Plus the fact that it can do both inspire world building and encounters gives Lands of Legends – Mundane a pleasing versatility to both the inspiration and the ideas." - Reviews from R'lyeh

"Do you like random charts? Then these books are for you. These entries are unique and engaging" - Thac0 blog

"The sheer level of creativity that went into these zines is staggering. Beautifully designed and incredibly well-executed" - Welcome to the Deathtrap blog, reviewing Lands of Legends Mundane & Grim 

"I have been amazed with just how much creativity goes into these zines; they always stun me. But this one has been a cut above. If you are looking for new locations, cool encounters, and want a divine twist on them, this will gave a few things you will want to steal." - Welcome to the Deathtrap blob, reviewing Lands of Legends Holy

"Incredible creativity. I have said this of the previous volumes of Lands of Legends, but I am again staggered by the level of creativity that has gone into the creation of Lands of Legends: Fairy." - Welcome to the Deathtrap blog, reviewing Lands of Legends Fairy

"If you like running sandboxes, hex crawls, or need some inspiration for the setting you are prepping, you really can't go wrong with Lands of Legend” - Tenkar's Tavern

Sounds good? Check it out on Drivethru!

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