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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