Saturday, April 29, 2017

Keep on the Borderlands: Game of Thrones Edition

So I started running the classic B2: Keep on the Borderlands using Labyrinth Lord last night. We had two players absent, so were down to three. A nature-worshiping cleric named Bjeorn and his war dog Fenris, a crude dwarf named Stonefuch, and a wily Magic-User named Castian.

They came up to the Keep, made their entry and began poking around the outer keep for news and adventure hooks. It wasn't long before they tried to get an audience w/ Baron Castilleian, Lord of the Keep. They were given a cold shoulder by the guard, who said he'd pass on their request for an audience. The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the outer keep.



At the chapel they encountered the Curate, Brother Cort of the Cudgel. He is a robust, but zealous cleric of St. Cuthbert. Bjeorn was particularly interested in Cort and the faith of St. Cuthbert. Cort expressed to them his concerns about the nearby Caves of Chaos and that the Baron wouldn't risk his own men to deal with the growing threat.

At the Tavern and Traveller's Inn they hired the services of Hammish, a mute man-at-arms who was (by coincidence of random rolls) also a worshiper of Cuthbert, but no cleric. Hammish was a survivor of the dreaded Barrowmaze, a legendary tomb far, far away. He had been a non-beleiver and when a Cuthbertian saved his life and told him to never again blaspheme against the Cudgel, Hamish cut out his own tongue to show his conversion.

The PCs spent the rest of the evening negotiating with a pair of musicians, hoping to hire them as retainers - but that didn't really go anywhere, beyond good roleplaying. They retired for the evening at the Traveller's Inn - sleeping in the common room. Castian noticed one of the inn's residents was an elf and through good RP and reaction rolls, they traded spells - though the Elf got the better of the deal.

While Castian was doing that, Bjeorn wandered back to the chapel and after much discussion with Cort and asking about the Church of St. Cuthbert he actually converted to the faith - unbeknownst to the rest of the party.

Stonefuch and Castian continued to explore the keep, meeting with the Priest who lives in the large house inside the outer keep, whom I named on the fly Friar Duck. Duck claimed to be a worshipper of the God of Knowledge, and Castian immediately began to angle him to see if he had any magic-user scrolls. Duck did not, being a cleric, but did give Castian a book that would help him learn to speak and read/write Elvish.

As Bjeorn took oaths to St. Cuthbert, Stone and Cas learned the history of the Keep from Duck - the Baron was a weak man with Lizard Men threatening the keep to the south and the Caves of Chaos in the north. Duck believed he needed to be overthrown, and that Duck himself had even loaned the Baron 10,000 gold pieces to bolster the garrion several months ago - but other than hiring more troops the Baron had taken no action. Clearly, he needed to be replaced with a new Baron - a strong ruler, a wise ruler...

Cas and Stone were actually taken in by this and the three of them decided to go to the inner bailey and do just that. They were going to literally go commit a coup. Their plans were stymied when they saw Bjeorn exiting the chapel wearing the vestments of St. Cuthbert. They couldn't tell the newly Lawful Cleric they were going to overthrow the rightful ruler. So they told him they were going to go speak with the Baron and asked him to come along.

Duck, using his leverage from lending the Baron money, managed to talk their way into an audience. As the four of them, and two guards, sat in the Baron's chambers the PCs discovered a shocking revelation.

Baron Castellian was a 15 year old boy who had inherited the Keep after his father was assassinated 18 months ago. He was good intentioned, but indecisive and still mourning the loss of his father. He had no advisors and was burdened with indesision. But the Baron showed some steel in his spine. He told Duck, Cas, and Stone to leave before they could speak much, tired of Duck's machinations. Because the Baron trusted Cort, he allowed Bjeorn to stay and explained his situation to the Cudgelite. Bjeorn was clearly sympathetic and came out, and explained the truth of the situation to the party.

Cas and Stone immediately grew suspicious of Duck, who told them that he simply wanted a strong leader because if the Keep were attacked EVERYONE would die. It has a hard deed, but someone with strength needed to be in charge.

The PCs asked about the Lizard Men, who they knew nothing of. They learned the there is a loose agreement between Keep residents and the tribe. If the humans cross the river into the swamp the lizard men kill them, while if lizard men come north of the river they are slain by the humans. A harsh arrangement set forth by the Baron's father - but it has maintained a fragile peace.

The PCs get the idea that if they can somehow ally with the Lizard Men and get them to aid in defeating the Caves of Chaos, then two threats might be eliminated in one blow - but the Lizard Men are distrustful of humans and do not care for their affairs.

So as the session ends, the PCs are setting out to do some recon on the Caves and evaluate the threat, while Duck remains behind in the Keep to get a sense of how the locals feel about the whole affair.

The PCs are suspicious of Duck, of course - but have no idea he is a spy for the cultists in the Cave. Now as they head out to the Caves of Chaos (with Hamish in tow), Duck has sent messenger birds to the cultists in the Caves, and is considering traveling in secret to agitate the Lizard Men and break that easy peace - forcing the Baron to act (and hopefully fail), to make him look weak and position himself to take control of the Keep while the PCs are absent...

Not a single combat was had, but the entire session was tense and engaging for everyone at the table. The players love the intrigue and are invested in the moral complexity and the lives of the many NPCs they met. A fantastic opening session.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day 2017

I can say, without hyperbole, that Swords & Wizardry changed my life. I know that's a dramatic statement, but it's true.

You see, Swords & Wizardry is more than just a game. Somehow between the pages, the charts, the dice, the TPKs, and the critical hits, there really is a kind of magic - a kind of wizardry. I've read, and written, for most retro-clones on the market currently - heck, I even managed to publish one of my own. These are all great games in their own right, but there's something transcendent about Swords & Wizardry.

I can't explain how +Matt Finch and the folks at Frog God Games did it. When books get cracked, dice get rolled, and adventures are shared a bond gets formed. Something more than just "gaming buddies." Something more than even friendship. Swords & Wizardry is the foundation upon which the OSR community is built. My own company, Barrel Rider Games, wouldn't be what it was without Swords & Wizardry. Tenkar's Tavern, the local bar in this small town of grognards, would be just another bar without Swords & Wizardry. This singular game, and our love of both it, and the hobby, serve as the basis for much of our community. And like this community of ours, Swords & Wizardry is limitless.

With that in mind, I'd like to make an announcement...


White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying Galaxy Edition
ADVENTURE ACROSS THE GALAXY
Ace Pilots, dead-eyed Gunslingers, and irrepressible Star Squirrels blast off across the stars to save the galaxy from the horrors of the Void! Hellfire Mecha march across the battlefield, leaving carnage in their wake! From the galactic center of Omega Consor to the Marnash System on the edge of the universe, the galaxy needs heroes!

Endless galactic adventure awaits you in White Star: Galaxy Edition! Integrated and updated to include material from White Star and White Star Companion, White Star: Galaxy Edition integrates new rules, new options, and expands the original game. Now more than just a tool box, White Star Galaxy Edition offers you a universe full of thrilling adventure!

White Star: Galaxy Edition is set to be released in the Spring of 2017 in PDF, with softcover digest and hardcover digest formats to follow. The digital release will be available on RPGNow and DriveThruRPG, while the print editions will be available on RPGNow, DriveThruRPG, and Lulu.

It will integrate material from the original White Star core rules and the White Star Companion, as well as cleaning up and clarifying some rules, and adding a plethora of new material. This new material will include the following:




  • A total of twenty-five character classes!
  • Clarified rules for starships and vehicles, as well as new starships!
  • Complete rules for mecha - including customizing your own mecha and even transforming mecha!
  • Expanded options for mysticism, including Meditations, Gifts, Chitterings, and Etchings!
  • New Cybernetics, Advanced Technology, and Gear!
  • New rules, including Drawing Down the Void and Daring Deeds!
  • An expansion of the implied White Star setting introduced in the core rules and Companion.

White Star: Galaxy Edition is currently in layout. It's looking to be about 275 pages, all said and done. Credits include:


In order to maintain a thriving White Star community, I will also begin publishing the official White Star 'zine in the Summer of 2017 -


STAR SWORD
The Official White Star Magazine 

Star Sword will be a quarterly 'zine, available in both print and PDF formats on RPGNow and DriveThruRPG. Submissions will be accepted beginning with the second issue. Contributors will be paid for their work as well as retaining the rights to any material submitted. This is, first and foremost, a magazine for and by the White Star community.

The future of both Swords & Wizardry and White Star are as bright as a sun that's gone nova, so please join me as we blast off to adventures filled with swords, stars, heroes, villains, and most of all - fun!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Reaver's Reef: An Experiment

So, I'm building a city to serve as an adventure springboard for a Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign, and when it comes to DCC my attitude is to be as over the top as possible. I've always liked the idea of a castle built from the skull of a dragon. But then I thought to myself, "No, let's go bigger."

So I came up with Reaver's Reef.

Reaver's Reef was created when a massive dragon crashed into the sea. Some say it fell from the stars. Some say it fell through ten thousand realities before crashing on this world. Others say Hell itself spat the beast up because it was too vile. When the dragon fell into the ocean waters, the seas began to boil and hurricanes formed around it. This lasted for days, weeks, or even years - depending on who you ask. When the seas calmed and the cloud parted all that remained were the creature's bones. A great, gaping maw. Sea water ran over the jaw bone, crashing against the towered fangs.

It was eventually discovered and explored by pirates, who began to use it as a cache to hide their plunder. The fear and superstition surrounding Reaver's Reef kept honest seamen and merchants from coming near. As more pirates came to the Reef, there were skirmishes between warring fleets and feuding captains. Eventually the worst came to pass: Laws were established and order began to take hold.

Fast-forward several hundred years and you've got a bustling city. Streets and stairs are carved into the great beast's bones. Its teeth have been turned into wizards' towers and multi-floor marketplaces. Rope and wood ladders criss-cross the city at various points. At its center is a massive harbor with all manner of trading vessels coming and going.

Now, I think this is freakin' cool. But, I don't really feel like establishing much more about Reaver's Reef. Its a bustling trade port out in the middle of a massive ocean. It's got all manner of seedy residents and transient ne'er-do-wells. That's really about it. I imagine there are all kinds of factions running around. From cults who worship the long-dead dragon-beast whose corpse serves as home, to pirate gangs, to mercenary companies, to some form of government. But, to be frank, I don't feel like fleshing the thing out.

So, I had the idea of intentionally leaving the details of the Reef as pretty much a blank slate. Make a map, but don't detail it. Instead, fill it out as the campaign unfolds. Base what's in Reaver's Reef on the actions of my players and their desires in the campaign.

Has anyone else tried this method of location "construction," and if so what were your results? I've never done it like this before and it makes me a little nervous, so I'm looking to the OSR community for their insight.

Thanks in advance, and watch your back. I hear the Fang Pirates have taken hold of the western docks and are press-ganging unwary fools into service...

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Breaking of the Fellowship: When Fun becomes Stressful

So, I disbanded my local tabletop group today.

After writing that, I immediately though "What gives me the authority to do so?" But I can answer that pretty easily. In two years of regular, weekly games, and almost five years of periods where there was a regular game I was always the GM. Not only that, I was the logistic coordinator, the diplomat, and even the financier.

I ran every game. When I asked others to take up the mantle because I was burnt out (a few months ago), I was given the rebuff.

I coordinated where and when the game was run based on everyone's schedule, though another gamer was kind enough to always provide a location. I re-scheduled when things came up or life intervened. But "life" seemed to intervene too often - sometimes legitimately and sometimes under suspect circumstances and what felt like weak excuses.

I purchased books, dice, and materials for my players. Regularly. Hundreds of dollars over the past two years. My hope was this would motivate them to read the game books and learn the game - or perhaps even decide to run a game themselves. Nope. All it served as was a reference book they pulled out at the table during game time only. Purchases included copies of DCC, Star Wars (Fantasy Flight) core books, Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game, Labyrinth Lord, often along with dice and even dice bags. I also purchased or made custom tokens for many games.

Yet, it only got more stressful. Certain games with mildly political elements (Shadowrun Anarchy) couldn't be run because there would inevitably be real world political arguments between players. People grew uncomfortable around one another talking about anything other than the game specifically. Then everyone involved would put me in the middle because they didn't want to confront the situation like adults. People even left the group over things like this, or over gamer ego rearing its head regularly at the table.

 In spite of playing campaigns over the long term I heard again and again "What do I roll again?" or "What's the rule for that?" - often while they held the very book containing that information in their hand that I had purchased for them.

Absences often came up at the last minute with little notice. I get that, to an extent, but sometimes it felt ridiculous. How long before you're allowed to call bullshit?

And yet, I kept trying.

I think I finally disbanded things because I felt like the others at the table didn't recognize the amount of effort it takes to organize, plan, learn, and run these things. Or worse, if they did, they didn't care. Maybe I take my hobby too seriously - but I feel like  I wasn't asking too much. It reached the people where the frustrations outweighed the enjoyment. But in my area, there are very few gamers so I kept sticking with it. Also, when shit did finally come together, it came together very, very well. All of the players, when everything else was set aside, are FANTASTIC roleplayers and genuinely enjoy gaming.

But, I guess sometimes that just isn't enough.

(Sorry if this sounds egocentric or bitchy, but I needed to vent.)

Monday, February 20, 2017

State of the Halfling

So, I've been quiet for the past ten weeks or so. The reasons are many and varied, and don't really matter. I'm still around, still gaming, and still plugging away on projects for Barrel Rider Games.

I won't give any specifics away, but I'm working on something big for BRG. Really big. It's the biggest project to date for my little one-man show. It's so big, that I can't do it as a one man show. I've put together a crack team to help me bring this super secret project to life. +Jason Paul McCartan is bringing his keen eye to the Layout and Editing. +Art Braune is serving as a Proof Editor and Adviser. +James Shields (of +JEStockArt) is serving as both Art Director and Lead Artist. I haven't been this excited about a project in a long time and it's been almost a year in the making. I really hope those who are kind enough to purchase it enjoy it.

What is it? Well, that's a secret. I'll make the public reveal in a few weeks, and I've put a few teases in the Google Plus. My Patreon supporters will get the announcement a bit earlier than the rest, but all will be revealed soon enough.

I'll tell you this: It's looking at around 250-275 pages. It'll be available as both PDF and later in print (both hardcover and softcover). And, just to frustrate +Jason Paul McCartan, squirrels will be involved in some capacity.

Soon, my friends. Soon.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Box Set Day!

Today is December 26th, known in many nations as Boxing Day. Today, I'm starting a new tradition in the OSR gaming community. With that I wish you a happy...

That's right, Box Set Day. How does one celebrate Box Set Day? Well for me, that means giving away an RPG Box Set. This won't necessarily be an OSR game, but it will always be an RPG Box Set. So, this year I'm giving away a complete Pathfinder Beginner Box. While I'm not a fan of Pathfinder's endless supplement glut, the core game is a great RPG and the Beginner Box has more than enough to keep a campaign going for quite some time. Rule book, adventure, color cardstock minis, maps, four pre-gen characters with rules for taking them to 5th level, and a set of dice. It's very open-and-play.

This Pathfinder Beginner Box is VERY SLIGHTLY used. I took the shrink off, looking through the contents, and then shelved it. It can be yours, but you have to comment today, December 26th, and tell me your favorite RPG box set. I'll select a winner on the 27th. The contest is open to all US residents, and it will be shipped media mail.

I encourage you to participate either this year, or next year. Let's cap off 12 Days of OSR Christmas with a little extra punch. As for next year, who knows? Maybe a Star Wars Introductory Adventure Box Set? A D&D Adveture Game Box Set (circa '91 or '94)? Shadowrun Alphaware Box Set? Who knows? Heck, you could even put together your own "box set." Next year I might throw together a copy of +Charlie Mason's White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game, along with Referee Screen inserts (and a universal screen), a few printed character sheets, and a set of dice - all in a plain white box. It's all about sharing the games and sharing the love.



Tuesday, December 13, 2016

12 Days of OSR Christmas


Today is the first day of The 12 Days of OSR Christmas. Simply leave a comment below (on this post only!) and I'll select one commenter each day to win a single random prize. Only one commenter per person, please.

But, there's a catch: You have to tell me why squirrels are awesome. If your comment doesn't include that, you're disqualified.

All prizes will be shipped via media mail and I ask that those who enter be residents of the U.S. 48, simply because I can't afford the insane international shipping rates.

This year I'm offering up the following prizes:
1st Day: Saddle-stitch copy of Blueholme Prentice Roleplaying Game (WINNER: +Frank Turfler!)
2nd Day: Hardcover copy of Swords & Wizardry White Box (WINNER: +Christopher Bishop) 
3rd Day: Softcover copy of Swords & Wizardry White Box (WINNER: +Jeff Scifert)
4th Day: Softcover Tunnels & Trolls Deluxe, 7th ed (WINNER: +Jim Cox)
5th Day: DC Universe RPG Roleplaying Box Set (D6 System) (WINNER: +Ragnar Hill)
6th Day: Smallville Roleplaying Game Hardcover (WINNER: +Edward Fadigan)
7th Day: Coil-Bound Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea Player's Manual (1st ed) (WINNER: +Dak Ultimak)
8th Day: Coil-Bound Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea Player's Manual (1st ed) (WINNER: +Vincent Florio)
9th Day: Hardcover copy of The Hero's Journey Fantasy Roleplaying (WINNER: +Jason Vines)
10th Day: Hardcover copy of White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying (WINNER: +Dale Houston)
11th Day: Hardcover copy of White Box Omnibus (WINNER: +William Dowie)
12th Day: Labyrinth Lord Revised Hardcover & Labyrinth Lord AEC Hardcover (my personal copies with unique Tolkien-themed covers) ( +R.J. Thompson)