Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Master Treasure Seeker: A Dungeon23 MegaDungeon - Introduction

Sean McCoy, author of Mothership, posted an article on his substack titled Dungeon23 and it's taken the indie RPG scene by storm. So, I'm throwing my hat in the ring. I'll likely peter out and not complete it, but this is for the fun of it, right? Basically, the idea is that you get a journal and make one level of a megadungeon each month, doing the write-up for one room each day. By the end of the year you've got a 12-level, 356 toom megadungeon pretty much done.

So for my Dungeon23 I'm going to design Master Treasure Seeker - not gonna stat it for anything, I think. Just keep it narrative and descriptive. So, what's my hook? I guess if the adventure had opening box text it'd go something like this.

Bandoras Fortunefoot was once the most renowned halfling adventurer across the land. In ages past stories were told of his uncanny exploits and daring adventures. A master treasure seeker, he traveled east of east, over the great mountains and beyond the endless forests, returning with countless stories and wealth beyond measure. For years he went to the wild places of the world, returning with a smile, a story, and a new treasure. Finally, one day, he retired to a luxurious burrow home that is the style among his people. But no one quite knows where his estate, Fortune Hole, is located. At least not until now. A long-abandoned halfling community was recently discovered far from the foot trails and roads of the world, left behind for unknown reasons. 

Well, you my dear adventurers, have been fortunate enough to somehow acquire the Key of Fortune that is able to open the door to Fortune Hall. It is said that buried in hidden alcoves and deep pantries are all the wealth that Master Fortunefoot accumulated on his countless adventures - but until now his home has been lost and his treasure abandoned. With this key you will be the first in generations to across the threshold of Fortune Hall, lay eyes upon Bandoras's most excellent tea room, see exactly what he kept in his larders (that time did not claim over the centuries) and maybe, just maybe, find that endless wealth that lay in secret tunnels beneath this luxury estate...

The Levels will be themed like this:

Level One: Burrow and Grounds: This is the ground floor of Fortune Hall. Bedrooms, kitchens, parlors, the greenhouse, garden, patio, and living area will be found here.

Level Two: Grand Pantry: This is the primary food storage area, including cold storage. Cheeses, meats, and barreled beer will be found here, along with a few surprises.

Level Three: Wine Cellar and Mushroom Garden: Deep beneath Fortune Hall is Bandoras's beloved wine collection and private mushroom garden where he grows excellent delicacies known to half lings across the land.

Level Four: Museum of Treasures: Accessible only by those who know the secret passages and have the grand Key of Fortune, Bandoras keeps several treasures and oddities he has recovered in his many adventures on display in this private collection.

Level Five: Natural Tunnels: These organic caverns appear to have been intentionally connected to the level above for some unknown reason. They are winding, tight, dangerous, and still inhabited by wild creatures.

Level Six: Grand Falls: This very deep chamber is a massive hole descending downward with narrow, wet stairways and tiny nooks and alcoves, all splashed by great underground waterfalls that descend into a great pool at the bottom.

Level Seven: Mushroom/Mycanoid Cave: At the bottom of the level above is a great pool of sparkling water and a very humid chamber where magnificent mushrooms grow and strange mushroom-like creatures that secretly dwell there.

Level Eight: Mad Arcanist's Lair: Deep within the earth, a hermetic wizard has carved out an underground space for all manner of strange experiments, often capturing both Mycanoids, Goblins, and Kobolds to use as test subjects.

Level Nine: Trap Factory: Great and dangerous contraptions are built, tested, and go haywire on this level, where Goblins and their cult masters prepare to go to war with the Arcanist above and then storm the tunnels above in a quest for gold.

Level Ten: Goblin City: This massive cavern is tensely packed with ramshackle buildings, narrow winding streets, and endless hoards of chaotic goblins going about their business.

Level Eleven: Cult of the Dragon Worshipers: An elite cotiere of goblins infused by ancient draconic magic lives and worships here, casting down treasure and other offerings to the level below. Zealot and infused with magical energy, they will do whatever is necessary to protect their masters below.

Level Twelve: Clutch's Lair: This is the lair of a clutch of six dragons who were the children of the ancient dragon that Fortunefoot robbed for the majority of his treasure. They are working slowly and surely to rise up and reclaim their ancestral wealth.

Monday, October 10, 2022

The Forest - A Free Kriegsspiel Revival Roleplaying Game

 Hey - long time no blog, right? Right. Life is busy like you wouldn't believe. Or maybe you would. I dunno. Anyway, with things so busy I'm always looking for RPGs that are more and more streamlined, more and more simple. That's how I stumbled onto the Free Kriegsspiel Revival, or FKR. Basically, it's an ultra rules lite form of roleplaying game design that relies more on what fits the nature of the world and less the rules, with players trusting the GM to fiat most situations in a reasonable fashion. Most FKR games I've discovered are under 5 pages, with some being a single page.

Just google "Free Kriegsspiel Revival" or "FKR" and you're in for quite the rabbit hole of a journey.

So, naturally, I decided to write one. Linked in the picture is The Forest, an FKR roleplaying game where players take up the role of villages who journey into the dangerous domain of the Fairie Folk that looms over their community. Hope ya'll like it.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Strange, Dangerous, and Inhuman: The Fey and Fairie

When I was a boy I loved fairy tales. Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss in Boots, Rumpelstiltskin - I devoured all of it. My fascination that there was a strange and magical world full of fantastic creatures just beyond my senses drove the imagination of a young boy who was forced to stay inside due to childhood illness. It was no wonder that I would later develop what has become a lifelong passion for fantasy, mythology, and role-playing games.

As I grew older, I became more interested in fairy tales - but in their original forms. The truly strange and unnerving fairie stories of the Brothers Grimm and the like. This lead to an interest in the mythology of the British Isles and what are sometimes called the Fair Folk. They were magical and powerful, beautiful and terrible, and above all they enchanting. It was only natural that the Fey would feature prominently in The Hero's Journey 2e.
Tesh, Changeling Warrior

Because of its roots in British folklore and Celtic mythology, the Fey are more present in The Hero's Journey than in more traditional fantasy role-playing games. In fact, right from character creation, players have the opportunity to take up the role of a Fey character through the Changeling lineage. But make no mistake, this lineage is no shapeshifter. A Changeling in The Hero's Journey is a strange being that has been left behind from the realm of Fairie in place of a mortal child stolen long ago. Though life in the mundane world has muted their strange nature, it is still ever-present and they are almost always regarded as vagabonds, miscreants, or cursed by most "civilized" people. But their Fey nature grants them some unique benefits which range from being ever so slightly out of touch with the flow of time to the ability to remain unnoticed and ignored by mortal eyes.

In addition, The Hero's Journey features a myriad of Fey creatures in Chapter Eight: Menagerie. Each of these creatures is designed to cleave very lose to the folklore that inspired the game. Kobolds are not cowardly trap-smithing lizard-dogs. They are tiny wizened men that dwell in the deep places of the earth, guiding and condemning underworld travelers with their strange knocking. Fey Cats are not panthers that cast strange illusions, but innocent seeming felines that will suck the soul from a mortal body as it sleeps. And a Fey Queen is as beautiful and terrible as the season she commands and all who comes into her presence know only fear and awe.
A kobold, passing between the deep places of the earth
 as it returns to its hidden city of stone. 

Magic itself is also infused with the energy of Fairie, particularly illusions and phantasms. All deceptive magic has ties to the realm of Fairie, for they are the masters of power and perception with little heed for the constants of the Mortal Realm. Wizards and bards that dare to dabble in the magic of the Fair Folk may find themselves making promises to fairy ladies and fey lords in return for magical knowledge, only to be bound forever by the unintended consequences of a promise.

By the same token, the strong presence of fairies and their ilk by no means mandates their inclusion in a Narrator's legendarium. They are simply tool in the wardrobe to color the adventures being told. That being said, it is my firm belief that the strong presence of the Fey in The Hero's Journey 2e can create a gaming that is both at once familiar and deeply unsettling -  just like any good fairy story.

The Hero's Journey, Second Edition goes live on Kickstarter on January 7th, 2020. All art in this blog post is by Nic Giacondino and appears in the game's core rule book. Art is owned by Barrel Rider Games, Copyright 2019.
A Fey Queen, vain and glorious, entertaining the affections of
a Fairie Dragon.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Bonds of Fellowship: The Importance of the Group

Tabletop role-playing games are a group activity. It's a group of (usually) three or more people sitting around a table, working together to collaboratively share an experience that all present will enjoy. Often this experience involves overcoming an adversary or accomplishing a difficult task. More importantly, most folks who sit down to play RPGs together are friends - and if they're not, after a few sessions of play, they're likely to become friends. That's one of my favorite things about tabletop RPGs. It creates a shared experience for all involved, a shared memory, and often a shared sense of victory and accomplishment.

In the case of The Hero's Journey 2e, many of the sources which inspired the game are stories about a group of friends. Whether it's the classic Company of the Ring from The Lord of the Rings, the brotherly bond of Pug and Thomas in Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Saga, the unlikely friendship of Willow Ufgood and Madmartigan in Willow, or the iconic Companions of the Dragonlance series, none of these stories would resonate as they do without those bonds of friendship. As such, The Hero's Journey 2e has several rules to reinforce this theme.

Tucker, Human Yeoman, protecting
a dear friend in battle

One of its new Archetypes, the Yeoman, is entirely built around this concept. Mechanically speaking, a Yeoman is a supporting Archetype and functions primarily to empower other characters. Thematically, this is done through the use of their Promise ability. At the beginning of each day, the Yeoman declares a promise to one (or more, at higher levels) other player characters (or important NPC) and as long as the two remain within close proximity, the character (or characters) which have been chosen as the beneficiary of the Promise ability receive bonuses. In addition, should a character under a Yeoman's Promise ability become injured or wounded, the Yeoman becomes a truly fierce opponent, gaining Advantage on attack rolls and other abilities. In short, a Yeoman is the heart of an adventuring company.
Tucker, Willow, Flynn, Bandoras, Evelyn, Tesh,
Puckstone, and Kara relaxing around the campfire.

Secondly, while traveling on the road or resting at an Inn, the group can choose to Relax Around the Campfire. This action allows characters to enjoy the company of their fellow heroes and draw upon the strength of those shared good times to find strength of heart in dark times. In short, successfully Relaxing Around the Campfire grants a character Advantage to any one Saving Throw of their choice the next day. The bonds of friendship are strong indeed and can see heroes through the darkest times.

Finally, Chapter Seven: Running the Game features a section on creating player characters that begin play with a reason for those characters to be bound together in their adventures. There is little place for the "lone wolf" character in The Hero's Journey 2e and no one is an island. In short, it is our friends who will give us the strength to survive the horrors we must confront - and that is a theme that has resonated in legends through to the modern day because it is as timeless and universal as friendship itself.

The Hero's Journey, Second Edition
 goes live on Kickstarter on January 7th, 2020. All art in this blog post is by Nic Giacondino and appears in the game's core rule book. Art is owned by Barrel Rider Games, Copyright 2019.
Heroes standing together against the evils of the world

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Courage is There For the Taking: Despair in The Hero's Journey 2e

In most fairy tales and high fantasy stories that inspired The Hero's Journey, all the protagonists had one thing in common: They were afraid. They had moments of doubt and terror. They stood against terrible, impossible foes and (at least at first), they felt helpless or outright ran away. In The Lord of the Rings we see it over and over again. It's a key plot point in what makes dragons dangerous in the Dragonlance novels. And fairy tales, well they're just full of fearful things. After all, many of them where written specifically to frighten children into behaving!

To that end, The Hero's Journey 2e has a mechanic called Despair and characters will sometimes be called upon to make a Despair Saving Throw. But Despair is more than just a "It's a big scary monster, run away" mechanic. Fear and weariness are often part of any great journey worthy of tale or song. Whether it's crossing a Blighted Land or suffering the terrible heartache that comes with the death of an dear friend and boon companion. All of these are part of Despair and all of them play a role in The Hero's Journey 2e.

In addition, every fantastic creature in The Hero's Journey 2e has a Despair Rating. Typically this ranges from 1 to as high as 15, though it can be higher. The more fantastic, more powerful, more overwhelmingly evil such a creature is, the higher its Despair Rating. So, a goblin might only have a Despair Rating of 1, while a horrific Death Knight has a 13. Some creatures have extraordinarily high Despair Ratings not because they inspire fear, but because they inspire awe. None more beautiful and terrible than they Fey Queen with her Despair Rating of 15.
Behold the majestic terror that is the Death Knight.

When the player characters encounter a creature with a Despair Rating five higher than their level, they must make a Despair Saving Throw. Certain Lineages or Heirlooms may grant bonuses or penalties to this Saving Throw. If the Saving Throw fails, the character suffers Disadvantage on all Saving Throws and attack rolls made while in the presence of the source generating the Despair. They are literally crippled by fear.
Tesh, Bandoras, and Willow cross a desolate realm bereft of hope.

But dangerous creatures aren't the only thing that causes Despair. If a character is travelling across a blasted landscape of unnatural evil, it can take its toll and may impose a Despair Saving Throw after an extended period of time. The sheer evil that infuses that Blighted Land seeps into their soul and begins to drain away hope and valor.

Finally, if a player character witnesses the death of a loved one or another player character, they must also make a Despair Saving Throw. Adventures sometimes have dire costs and witnesses the violent or tragic end of dear friend can weaken the resolve of even the most hardy warrior, after all.

Surrounded by death and carnage, Tucker tends to
his wounded friend Tesh.

The Despair rules are present for two reasons. They reinforce that fear is a part of any hero's journey and that, more importantly, it can be overcome. From a mechanical standpoint, a creature's Despair Rating can be used as a measure by Narrator's as to how dangerous a foe is against a group of player characters - though some dangerous beasties that specialize in fear may have surprisingly high Despair Ratings compared to their actual threat level.

Most importantly, fear and Despair never actually remove character agency. Players are at a literal Disadvantage when under the effects of Despair, but they are never unable to act -- no matter how impossible the odds may be. Completely removing player agency is something I as a game designer try to avoid whenever possible. The challenge faced by a player character may seem overwhelming and impossible to overcome, but they should always be given the chance to try...
Kara, with no more than courage of heart and a blade of steel
faces off against a Lord of Flame and Shadow.

The Hero's Journey, Second Edition
 goes live on Kickstarter on January 7th, 2020. All art in this blog post is by Nic Giacondino and appears in the game's core rule book. Art is owned by Barrel Rider Games, Copyright 2019.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Forged in Legends: Magical Items in The Hero's Journey 2e

One of my biggest pet peeves in so many fantasy roleplaying games is the "upgrade factor" of magical items. In traditional D&D-style roleplaying games, characters are pretty excited to find a magic item - at least at first. A +1 Sword is awesome and they're thrilled to find it! That is... until they find a +2 Sword. Then the once coveted magical blade gets cast by the wayside as little more than obsolete technology that's either sold off for gold or simply left by the wayside. Perhaps worse is that when a weapon is described in mere terms of being a "+1" or "+2" weapon, it loses all sense of mystic. It's simply a mathematical improvement over its predictor. In essence, these two factors make magical items the worst thing they could possibly be: Mundane.

Magic items should be part of a character's mystique, part of who they are. They shouldn't be a tool to be discarded when a better one comes along. That mindset undercuts the very nature of magic by removing the fantastic and the sense of wonder. Yet, as characters grow in power they're going to want magic equipment that is more able to handle the challenges they face.

The Hero's Journey attempts to avoid this problem through the use of Myth Points, Aspects, and Heirlooms. Myth Points are earned each time a character gains a level. Every level earned means the character earns one new Myth Point. So at second level, the character earns their first Myth Point, at third they earn their second Myth Point, and so on. Additional Myth Points can be earned by specifically questing for them and performing heroic feats that are... well... worthy of myth.

Aspects are descriptors applied to weapons, armor, and shields. So you might have a Feycraft sword, a Valiant shield, and a Renowned set of armor. An item earns its Aspect or Aspects by the owner spending any Myth Points they've earned to permanently infuse the item with that Aspect. But characters can't select any old Aspect. They have to earn, through play, the Aspect they want. So if a character slew a Goblin King and saved a village, they could choose to apply the Aspect of Goblin Bane to their axe. Or if their shield saved them from the grievous blow of that same Goblin King, they might choose to apply Goblin Bane to their shield. Want a Dwarf-Forged weapon? Well, find a dwarf to reforge your sword. Itching for a Feycrafted shield? Well, you might have to cut a deal with the Fey...
Some example Aspects

Heirlooms are a bit more miscellaneous in nature. The Hero's Journey, Second Edition core book includes over thirty Heirlooms to serve as examples for creating your own to suit your legendarium. It is a magical item that is neither a weapon, a shield, nor a suit of armor that has gained magical properties through legendary deeds committed by an individual using the item or by a its valued place within a Lineage's culture and/or history. So, for example, dwarves as a people may know the secret of crafting Fireworks, but Bingo's Book of Rhymes and Riddles was written by a famous halfling adventurer and its pages sometimes contain surprising answers to fit just the puzzler perplexing perturbed player characters. Using these Heirlooms as guidelines, player characters and Narrators are free to create new and unique items to suit their own legendariums as the story unfolds!

This also means that every magical item a player character finds has a rich history and is not something simply to be disposed of. Magic is rare, fantastic, and flows through the history of The Hero's Journey - it's something far greater than simple "pluses" to a stat.
An example Heirloom

The Hero's Journey, Second Edition goes live on Kickstarter on January 7th, 2020. All art in this blog post is by Nic Giacondino and appears in the game's core rule book. Art is owned by Barrel Rider Games, Copyright 2019.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Keeping Wizards Magical: Wizards in The Hero's Journey 2e

Evelyn, Human Wizard
Wizards as portrayed in the the works that inspired The Hero's Journey are characters like Merlin, Gandalf, Raistlin, and Pug. When a wizard enters a room, people notice. People slink back a bit. People are in awe of the magic they wield. But the reality of playing most traditional fantasy roleplaying games always fell short of that for me. Sure, on paper they were described that way - but when it came time to play the character itself you often found (particularly at low levels of play), that you were more of a liability than an asset. You were no fearsome arcanist walked from legend into reality - you were a fragile glass cannon who might be useful if you happened to have prepared just the right spell for just the right moment. Creative and experienced players learned to work around this through clever use of spells, often in ways they weren't intended. But the truth of the matter was that playing an arcane spellcaster usually was an exercise in patience and (often) frustration. That being said, those who did remain patient (and alive) would rise to become earth-shattering masters of magic capable of shaping reality to their will. But until then, hide behind the guy with the biggest shield and hope for the best.

I wanted to take a minute to talk about Wizards and magic spells in The Hero's Journey 2e. They do find their basis in the traditional spellcasters depicted above, but there are significant and important changes. First and foremost, a Wizard either knows a spell or does not know a spell. End of story. It's not memorized, nor does it require a book from which it must be prepared. Instead, a Wizard is limited in the number of spells they can cast each day before needing to rest - at least in most cases.

The spells that a wizard casts are also different from traditional fantasy RPGs, though many elements are familiar. As an example, this is the spell known as Errant Pilgrim.

When a character casts Errant Pilgrim, they choose one of the three effects described above at the time they cast the spell. So, even if Errant Pilgrim is the only spell they know, there is still flexibility in that single spell. Each spell in The Hero's Journey 2e is linked thematically. Errant Pilgrim has obvious nature themes, particularly those that relate to travel and observation. Stand Against the Adversary is themed around protection from and the defeat of evil foes. Breathed in Silver is centered around illusion and fey enchantment. By binding the spells in this thematic fashion, it allows players to create a character who's Archetype is Wizard, but select spells to give them a more thematic flavor without creating additional Archetypes. So if you want to play a nature-focused Wizard who calls themselves a druid, you might select Errant Pilgrim, Harkening of the High Hawk, and Friend of Birch and Beast for your spells.

Evelyn taps the essence to
cast Fire Both Bright & Sacred
Moreover, Wizards are not without options once they've expended their daily allotment of spell by Tapping the Essence. Tapping the Essence to cast an Apprentice Level spell inflicts 2d6 points of damage on a Wizard - a serious risk that can kill them. They're literally ripping their own essence apart to draw the magical energy necessary to cast a spell. But, even if it does kill the Wizard, the spell is successfully cast - because going out in a blaze of glory is cool. Wizard can always choose to cast any spell they know after they've expended their daily allotment of spells by Tapping the Essence - whether it's an Apprentice, Journeyman, or Master spell

Also, because each Lineage offers a character a few additional weapon choices Wizards are not limited to the traditional "staff and dagger" weapon restrictions - but nor are they martial masters by any stretch of the imagination.

Finally, and most importantly I think, to keep Wizards rare in The Hero's Journey 2e, a character must have an Insight of 15 to even qualify for the class. Few have the mental discipline to wield the arcane arts masterfully. A Bard may occasionally dabble in Apprentice-level spells, but only Wizards ever learn Journeyman or Master level spells. They are the true artisans of enchantment -- feared and awed, as they should be.

The Hero's Journey, Second Edition goes live on Kickstarter on January 7th, 2020. All art in this blog post is by Nic Giacondino and appears in the game's core rule book. Art is owned by Barrel Rider Games, Copyright 2019.