Yet another list of links to blog posts I liked, inspired by the read through of @jmettraux’s End of Week Links 16. Like John, I get my links from the RPG Planet. Please join us, if you haven’t already.
“A thousand miles and a thousand years. That’s the Middle Ages as a setting for popular fiction and reference frame for Fantasy. Compared to many popular fantasy settings, that’s tiny. But there’s so much stuff in this little box. More space than you could ever possibly need to tell your stories” How large does a setting have to be?, by Spriggan’s Den. I often wonder about that when reading some adventure or setting background. On the one hand, we barely remember what happened one thousand years ago. Think about it. When was the last time you saw ruins that were 1,000 years old? 2,000 years? And yet, there are settings with back history going back several thousand years (the Wilderlands of High Fantasy being the one I remember right now). Totally unnecessary, I think. And yet… Thinking about the longevity of elves: even if they are not immortal and just live to a thousand years, two thousand years is something their grandparents might have been involved in, like my grandfather’s involvement in the second world war. It’s not something I know much about, but I certainly read about the war. And I know how to read the signs: I recognise the bunkers and tank barriers that dot our landscape. So perhaps we need to add more history than makes sense on the human scale? And yet, think about it. The bronze age was 3,000 years ago or so? City states 5,000 years ago? Agriculture 10,000 years ago? I’m hazy on the details. Modern humans about 300,000 years ago? I guess you could go all the way with Robert E. Howard’s The Hyborian Age, but I think that’d be weird. Either you wanted to link it up with the present in which case great, use the Hyborian Age, or you don’t, in which case you can simply posit your world as-is without having to trace a history through the millennia, or only as far as you actually need it to provide some texture. For example, my setting “an orc settlement style unchanged ever since the War of the Landgrab”, “a relic from the Old Lizard Wars”, “forged in Asgard by Ábria Proudaxe during the Vampire Wars”, etc. Who knows what else happened back then? Nobody cares unless it affects their magic items, I’m sure.
More about deep time: “Today their culture is old, proud, hide bound, jaded and decadent. You cannot tell them anything they have not seen before. Novelty is a precious thing.” Still Here: Lizardfolk culture post, by Seed of Worlds. I love such posts about culture and time. I first thought about this in a game with some elves played by @oliof, if I remember correctly. They basically told us: “Why fight? Let’s wait for 50 years and they are all dead anyway…” 🧝🧝 Well, if you put it that way…
“Some people look for epic battles – I look for epic ambushes. I try to scout and prepare so that the enemy is totally surprised and totally overwhelmed, all die or surrender in the first round.” Game design: life experiences, by the Viking Hat GM. This is my thinking exactly. And this is why I like my fights to be over in two rounds (at least that’s the goal). The last round is the most interesting one, so it’s more exiting if every round could be the last one. And if my players are well prepared, their plans just work, not much die rolling required. Some people might thing that anticlimactic, but as far as I am concerned, the planning was part of the game, and if the plan was well thought ought, we don’t need to roll to figure out whether it worked, unless there is some surprise change circumstances.
“How do you judge what was an important early influence? This is my (undoubtedly shoddy) rubric: if you look at it now, you still feel a visceral reaction to the possibilities it hints at.” (a repost from 2013) A Visual Tour of Boyhood Influences, but Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque. “If I’d been called on to run a D&D campaign at age 10 or 12, these are the images and plots I would have drawn on to provide the inspiration for my game. … What were your earliest childhood fantasy inspirations? What did your fantasy world look like back then?” My Earliest Childhood Fantasy Inspirations, by DIY and Dragons. As for myself, I don’t know. I read Perry Rhodan, Darkover, Dragonriders of Pern, Karl May, and Jules Verne as a teenager. I’m not sure whether these influenced me in my gaming: there’s precious little of a fantastic science-fiction universe in my games, nor psychic redheads, not a lot of sexual themes, no riding of dragons, no bonding with huge creatures, no adventures in Kurdistan or North America, and precious little of strange submarines and descents into the centre of the earth.
“They’re a sub crew, piloting a demon-powered submarine through an eldritch, haunted water-world called the Bathosphere. To help capture the feeling of a crew with titles and jobs … I’ve made a menu of party roles for them. … what the player is in charge of calling and what their duties are. … The duties are an ad hoc mixture of notes you might be in charge of taking, and just a fun little flavor thing.” An OSR experiment: Party roles, by Seventy-Seven Vicious Princes. I guess this is something I’d like to see but that I never get to see: players taking on the roles of diplomat, pilot, quartermaster, dungeoneer, fireteam leader, ritualist, scrapmaster, epicure, jailer, divemaster… Inspiring! Perhaps I should think of it in terms of inspiring names and cool privileges instead of thinking of it in terms of duty: not who must draw the map, but who gets to decide which corridors to pick and what the marching order is going to be, for example.
Something I’ve brought up a few times in discussions on Mastodon was this: “I suspect that the reason the D&D campaigns go on for so long are built into the system. Spell levels structure D&D gameplay: on the one hand, every new spell level attained changes the gameplay itself (suddenly you can fly, or fireball large groups of kobolds), and it also advertises that change ahead of time in the rules: if you play until you get to level so and so, you’ll be able to do this and that. And immediately, people start dreaming.” Changing Gameplay Over Time.
“… maybe make a double attack and if both succeed you perform the maneuver, … utilize a contested strength roll. You then give the enemy who has suffered under the technique a disadvantage – next strike gets a bonus to hit them, … they degrade their armor class. You start thinking of how to balance this, … what class restrictions lay around it, and ask how will you rectify this maneuver with weapons that aren’t blade or blade-like. I recommend by default: don’t do this.” Less Rules To Do More: Combat Maneuvers, by Aboleth Overlords. I agree! At the time, I phrased it as “nobody gets to push Conan around, trip him or disarm him, unless he’s out of hit-points.” Combat Maneuvers.
“… there are tons of issues that come up when how we use rules conflicts with why rules were written that way. A gamer who’s looking forward to delight but is handed an elaborate fairness engine? Boring! A GM who’s excited to share their knowledge and has to work with a bunch of inspirational-but-goofy tables? Ugh! And so on. Pick any mismatch, you’ve probably seen it play out in the world.” The Many Utilities of Rules, by The Indie Game Reading Club. So true. That reminds me of my take on thieves: Originally, I wanted to get rid of them. Anybody who steals is a thief, I would say. But my wife did not agree, and she was playing a thief. So I left them in the Halberds and Helmets rules and just added: “Since thieves don’t cast spells and don’t wear a lot of armor, playing a thief is a bit like playing on skill level Hurt Me Plenty. You have been warned.”