Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Hero's Journey update

Alright, I've got all the charts into the draft of The Hero's Journey. Currently the page count is at 210. I'm working on a very loose campaign map and a long introductory adventure to help round it out.

I spent all day doing chart formatting and I'm brain fried.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Here's the official release announcement for Hero's Journey. I'm ridiculously excited for this game that began as a pet project and grew in the creating.

Hero's Journey is a fantasy roleplaying game written by James M. Spahn and published by Barrel Rider Games. Inspired by Swords & Wizardry White Box, this complete game features six races, fourteen classes and is the result of years of game design. Combining and updating material found in Swords & Wizardry White Box, the White Box Omnibus, and introducing new rules for character races, character classes, character professions, new magic spells, new magic items, new rules for magic item creation, new combat mechanics and new rules for character progression, Hero's Journey is a refinement of Swords & Wizardry White Box that includes influences from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, AD&D 2nd Edition, and other classic fantasy roleplaying games.
At over 200 pages, this single-volume book will include everything players and referees need to play. It will be available in PDF and 6" x 9" digest format through One Bookshelf. Print on Demand copies will be available in both black and white interior and full color premium interiors.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Hero's Journey Logo

So my layout and editting partner this go around is the amazing +Michael Herrmann and here's the amazing logo he's developed for Hero's Journey. If you like this, just wait till you see the cover. I swear, I must have been blessed by the Layout Gods, because between Michael working on HJ and +Jason Paul McCartan on White Star, I somehow found the best guys in the business.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hero's Journey: Legendary Artifacts

Well, I'm about 190 pages into the first draft of Hero's Journey. Now, before you say "Holy crap! This guy's writing like a madman," let me say that it is built on the frame work found in Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox by +Matt Finch and draws a lot of text from the third printing of it. That's not to say I haven't been writing like a crazy person - just its important to remember that Hero's Journey began as and still is my house ruled version of S&W WB - even if there's a plethora of house rules.

Speak of house rules - let's talk magic weapons. And by talk I mean "Here, look at the first draft of magic weapon rules for Hero's Journey..."

Legendary Artifacts
Magical weapons, enchanted armor, empowered garments, and arcane trinkets are extraordinarily rare in Hero's Journey - more so than in most fantasy roleplaying games. Most normal people are lucky to see one such amazing object in their lifetime. This is because such items cannot be crafted by the hands of mortal men and women who now walk the earth. In the ancient days wizards and clerics may have been able to call upon the primordial powers of the universe to make such amazing items - but those days are something that is now part of history and myth.

Instead, characters hoping to wield such long-lost power must perform heroic deeds worthy of legend. Swords must slay great monsters. Shields must be raised against a thousand arrows. Dark cloaks must aid in efforts of mercurial stealth and jewelry must be given under oath or curse to those who would bear them.

Magic Weapons
All magic weapons begin as mundane tools of warfare. But if a hero is able to perform amazing feats of valor on the battlefield and still live to tell the tale, magic may be born in that moment. Whenever a player character succeeds in rolling an unmodified ("natural") 20 on a "to-hit" roll, that weapon gains a Myth Point.
When a weapon accumulates three Myth Points it ceases to be a mundane weapon and becomes a +1 magical weapon. If any of those Myth Points were earned achieving the killing blow on a monster, the weapon becomes a "bane" to that type of creature. This could mean goblin-bane, dragon-bane, spider-bane, or any other type of appropriate creature. The referee has the final say over whether the creature type is appropriate to the weapon or not. Weapons with the Bane quality ignore the Reduction Value against that type of creature. At the referee's discretion a different enchanment may be substituted instead of the "bane" effect.
If a weapon earns three additional Myth Points it becomes a +2 weapon and gains a minor magical ability. This is typically the ability to detect a specific kind of creature within 120 feet or allow the wielder to cast a 1st-level Wizard or Cleric spell once per day.
Finally, if a weapon manages to earn a total of nine Myth Points it becomes a +3 weapon and gains an additional quality, depending on the race or class of the wielder. This can include exceptionally powerful abilities like extra attacks in a combat round, an increase to Reduction Value or Armor Class, immunity to both magical and mundane fire or a bonus to Saving Throws against broad effects like "magic spells."
The referee is encouraged to develop specific abilities based on the events of their individual campaign and the personality of the wielder. Examples might include a Barbarian's axe that provides an additional attack each combat rounds on the condition that he has already struck a killing blow that round or a Thief's dagger that doubles triple damage when performing a backstab. Perhaps a halfling has a sling that can richochet stones, allowing them to ignore a target's armor class bonus provided by a shield or a dwarf whose war hammer automatically returns to their hand when thrown - the possibilities are endless and should be tailored to both the character and the campaign.
Finally, all weapons must be given a name by their wielder upon becoming +1 weapons - by this name they will be recalled in song and deed for all time.
Ammunition cannot earn Myth Points, but any magical properties gained through Myth Points remain present forever - even if a new wielder takes up arms with the weapon. These blades and bows are a part of legend, now and forever.

So that gives you a sense of how magic items will be handled in Hero's Journey. I'll leave you with my favorite line from favorite book. The line that inspired this mechanic.

"I shall give you a name and I shall call you Sting."

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Hero's Journey: An Excerpt from the Rough Draft

So I'm almost 120 pages into the first draft of Hero's Journey and wanted to share an excerpt from Chapter 7: Running the Game:

     Player characters explore lost dungeons, brave abandoned crypts and traverse dark woodlands. In short, they go on adventures. Referees are encouraged to design adventures that challenge the players and force them to think creatively. Hero's Journey is built around a few core themes that should be present during the adventures of the player characters.

Exploration of the Unknown: Player characters will be traveling to the wild, dangerous places of the world. As a referee, try to describe these places with a sense of mystery, wonder and danger. The ruins of an abandon castle aren't just “creepy,” but long shadows of broken towards cast shadowed claws across a courtyard littered with the remnants of long forgotten glory. Often times the player characters may be the first beings to set foot in a location in one hundred or even one thousand years. These amazing locales have existed since time out of memory and have a rich history that began long before they arrived. While the referee doesn't need to know the entire history of every place the characters visit, they should strive evoke a sense of the legendary and ancient in these places.

Heroic Characters: The player characters are the heroes of their age – or they will be, with a bit of experience under their belt. They are a cut above most normal folks. Soldiers are mundane protectors of a village or castle, but fighters and duelists are masterful warriors with intense training or untapped natural talent. Moreover, the player characters are the active forces for good in the world. Buried deep in the heart of a thief is a spark of roguish nobility and while he may offer no quarter to a dark beastie in combat and slit his throat without a moment's hesitation, he's not likely rob a goodly church aiding the community – unless of course he discovers the high priest is fleecing the good faith of the local congregation.

Danger: The world of Hero's Journey is one riddled with danger. Combat is deadly and even the most powerful barbarian lord can find himself near death after a few lucky spear thrusts from a pack of goblins. Battle is not entered lightly and whenever a sword is drawn, it could mean the end of that warrior's life.

Wonder: Magic is not just a resource to be expended. Magic spells are something that draws power from the fabric of reality or the blessings of the gods. Even a “simple” first-level spell is a miracle or powerful incantation to most in the world. Magic items are not bought and sold in shops, for they are not easily crafted and often require exotic and rare components or incantations to create. The most powerful magic items are those wielded by heroes and empowered by the very legends which they were a part of. They are not cast aside lightly by their wielders because they often grow in power along side them. As a hero's legend becomes more renowned, so too does the artifact grow more powerful.
     Non-human player characters are regarded as exotic and rare, immediately noticed in a world dominated by the mundane ways of the human race. Elves are rare, wondrous and exotic. Halflings are a curiosity. Their homelands exist in places far from most known settlements and their presence is a portent of stranger things to come.
     Even the weakest monster is something to fear. Goblins are sallow eyed beasts with leering smiles who titter madly as they cry for blood. Skeletons and zombies are unholy abominations who evoke fear and revulsion from all who see them. Greater beasts are things of legend and song. Giants, dragons and other terrible creatures inspire pure awe when seen, as if myth has stepped from the voice of a fireside story and into reality. Those few who claim to have seen such beasts are regarded as mad or at the very least liars – and those who provide proof are suddenly treated with awe and reverence.
 Anyway, I hope that gives you a sense of what kind of game I'm constructing on top of the Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox engine block. I'm having a helluva a good time with this project, that's for sure.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Hero's Journey RPG Update

OK, so I've been writing like a fiend so far. I've decided to be pretty public with what's going to be in Hero's Journey, since it's really just a vanity project. It is built upon the core concepts and mechanics of Swords & Wizardry White Box. After one weekend of compiling notes, orgaizing and writing like a fiend, I'm 70 pages into the first draft. That includes:

Attributes: HJ will use the traditional six attributes from D&D and other retro-clones, but I am tweaking Wisdom a bit and retitling it Willpower. Two additional attributes will also be added. Attributes will run the standard range of 3 to 18, though modifiers will be slightly more variable than +1 or -1 for extraordinarily low or high attributes.

Secondary Skills: I'm not a fan of proficencies, but I do like the broad applicability of secondary skills, so HJ will feature a secondary skills chart. Your secondary skill will establish a broad set of skills described very loosely in which your character was trained before becoming an adventurer. Your secondary skill will also determine some of your starting gear and how much gold you begin play with.

Races: I'm keeping with the classics: Dwarf, elf, half-elf, halfling, half-orc and human. A character's race will determine what classes are available to them and to what level they can progress in their chosen class. Race will also provide more abilities to the character than traditionally found in OSR games. Finally, race will determine how your attributes are rolled. So, for example, a halfling will roll 2d6+6 for Dexterity, instead of simply receiving a modifier applied on top of the traditional 3d6.

Classes: There are 14 (yes, 14) classes in Hero's Journey. These are all classes previously published in White Box Omnibus or White Box Companion II, tweaked to suit the changes present in Hero's Journey. Clerics and Magic-Users (now called Wizards) are more difficult to qualify for in the hopes of keeping them rare and exotic.

Equipment: Equipment is, for the most part, as S&W WhiteBox, with some minor changes to weapon damage - everything is still d6-based though - so don't worry too much. Oh, and I added "lance" as a weapon, because damnit I like lances. Armor and shields work differently than White Box, and anyone who's been following this blog can likely guess at what kind of updates I'm making on that front.

Oh, and I have cover art - it's currently in layout and when I have it available I'll show it off here on the blog. I have to say, I'm having a helluva good time writing this game. Though it is based on WhiteBox, it will not require any other products to play the game. Hell, who knows? If it does well at all, maybe I'll even do a supplement or two somewhere down the line - but for now, I'm hyper-focused on getting this badboy done.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Fantasy Heartbreaker Design - So it begins

So, based on how much fun I'm having organizing it and the positive response I got to yesterday's post, I've decided to move forward with my fantasy heartbreaker. I've even got a title... Hero's Journey.

I've got six races and fourteen classes. It's a Race + Class build, with races having a bit more impact than traditional OSR games - but nothing hugely overwhelming. I'm finding myself influenced by White Box, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and AD&D 2nd Edition more than other products - but I'm having a helluva a time writing it.

It'll have full color cover art, but the interior will be black and white with a very simple layout. I plan on releasing the PDF at a low cost and making it available as a digest sized hardcover.

Stay tuned, The Hero's Journey has just begun!

Friday, January 22, 2016

To Write or Not to Write: The Fantasy Heartbreaker

Ahh, the Fantasy Heartbreaker. Most game designers I know have one in their head, and I realized today that I do too. This is a bit annoying, but as I think more and more on it I want to write it more and more. Not necessarily the "perfect" fantasy RPG - because I think that's a subjective concept and impossible to accomplish. But what a game that is ideal for me.

So, I'm considering actually taking a crack at writing one. I've got an outline and am basing it heavily on Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox - including using a lot of material from my previously published work, along with several house rules I don't think are broad or substantial enough to publish publically.

More over, in writing such a thing should I keep it a kind of private game or actually put it up for sale through Barrel Rider Games? Am I foolish? A madman? Is this a fool's errand? What are your thoughts and feeling, my dear blog-readers?

Shields in D&D and Retro-Clones

In fantasy RPGs the shield is almost as iconic as the sword. The image of a hero raising his shield to protect themselves is something that breaks genre, regardless of how feasible the actual use of a shield in combat seems to be. From the medieval knight the modern superhero to the sci-fi soldier, they're an intrinsic part of the mythic symbolism that is at the root of fantasy roleplaying.
Plus, they make you look so bad ass.
Shields are a key part of a warrior's defense. Essentially they're portable walls that offer a something for the combatant to hide behind. They quite literally make you harder to hit. But in most D&D and its derivative systems shields rarely offer more than a minor bonus to armor class. I understand this is done for the sake of balance and that realism isn't something that is of prime importance when it comes to fantasy RPGs - but this method always struck me as... well... wrong.

Similarly, armor does not make you harder to hit. It makes you less likely to suffer damage from an attack by the protective garments deflecting or absorbing the force of the blow. From padded gambisons to boiled leather to advanced composite armor, it all serves the purpose of preventing a damage from a successful attack.
Some armor is more effective than others...
Instead, D&D gives us a system where both shield and armor provide the exact same statistical effect. For speed of play, this is fine - but when I sat down to think about it some time ago it really started to gnaw at my thought process. So, I got to thinking about how to make something more accurate to the true purpose of armor and shields and, to make shields that were something that players actually had an interest in taking. A majority of gamers I've played with over the years will choose a two-handed weapon for its high damage output or an off-hand weapon in order to make multiple attacks instead of a paltry one or two point bonus to their Armor Class. Shields, for all their mythology and glory, get regulated to a tertiary choice at best. Sure, they're stylish - but when it comes down to hard numbers, they're not a choice if you really want to survive.

So, I propose a different idea for both shields and armor. Armor does not provide a bonus to a character's AC. Instead, it provides a reduction in damage. Depending on how heavy the armor is, it provides more of a reduction. This Reduction Value is subtracted from the damage inflicted by every successful attack made against the character.

Shields, on the other hand, do provide an Armor Class bonus - and a huge one. The combination of the two makes for your classic juggernaut knight type of character, while someone wielding just a shield can easily mimic the agility and tactical movement of a hoplite or spartan. 

So, if I were to implement this mechanic for Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox or White Star I'd do it up something like this.

Protective Item
AC/AAC Bonus
Reduction Value
Light Armor
Medium Armor
Heavy Armor
Shield (buckler, target, round)
-4 [+4]
Shield (kite, tower, energy)
-6 [+6]

This means that a character with a high Dexterity can rely on a shield and the idea that with such a high Armor Class they're planning to not get hit in the first place. Meanwhile, it leaves those wearing heavy armor open to the likelihood of getting hit, but they can take more punishment before going down.

Or you can say "America, fuck yeah!" and throw your shield.
Anyway, just a few thoughts of Armor, Shields, and defense in D&D and its retro-clones. Something I've been mulling over in my head for a bit and that always gets me thinking.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

White Star in 2016

I said in my previous post that White Star certainly had a banner inaugural year. Since it's release in May Barrel Rider Games has only put out two short-form PDFs for the line. I hope no one takes that as me not having any future interest or love for the game - far from it. If anything I'm more in love with the game than when I released it. 

That fact has mostly to do with the amazing community of gamers and publishers that have sprung up around the White Star. This is exactly what I had hoped would happen when White Star was released. An open source OSR sci-fi game that could be used as a launching pad for all manner of starfaring adventures. From Space Monkeys to Star Sailors, One-Shot Adventures to Expanded Rules, I've watched folks grab this game by its Faster-than-Light Drive and go to the edge of the galaxy and back. 

What has surprised me most is that folks are actually developing some pretty large-scale print-on-demand products. +Jason Paul McCartan's The Graveyard at Lus brings space-based hex crawling to the game, while +Kirt Dankmyer boldy goes on a Five Year Mission. Meanwhile, +Matthew Skail takes readers Between Star & Void with his Star Knight supplement*.

I wanted to highlight these three products because they're all things that I never had any intention of doing myself, and they're all wonderful directions to take a sci-fi RPG campaign. Hex crawling has never been something I'm particularly interested in running or detailing, but Jason does it masterfully and brings a helluva a lot more to the table than simple random encounters on a hex grid. Kirt Dankmyer brings classic sci-fi exploration and diplomacy to White Star and is inspired by a type of sci-fi that never quite grabbed me but still appeals to a massive audience. Matt took the Star Knight and gave them his own energy and feel that's something I never would have thought of. The original inspiration for Star Knights in the White Star core rules is evident, but Matt gave them a kind of cosmic feel akin to classic comics - something I hadn't even considered. I've got print copies of all three en route and am very much looking forward to reading through them in the coming weeks.

I love, love, love it. I love watching this game take on a life of its own. I love watching creators and gamers take it in new and unimagined directions. I love that the game belongs to the community and that the community has embraced that.

So, what's in store at Barrel Rider Games this year for White Star? Well, the White Star Companion will be coming very, very soon. New classes, new aliens, new creatures. Rules for skills and a lifepath system. Random planet generators, random encounter tables. New weapons and armor. Basically a collection of options to use at your gaming table if you so choose.

Several more PDF supplements are planned as well. They'll introduce new classes, new gear, new ships and new options to the game - each focused on the anchoring class.

Also in the earliest stages is a grand gazetteer/mega-adventure inspired by formats found in The Temple of Elemental Evil and other classic OSR modules.

It's going to be a great year and the White Star is burning bright.

*I am credited as a co-author in this book, but my contribution was minimal. A variant class, some Star Sword rules and a ship. Matt was kind enough to give me a byline like he did.