My Freebooters game got cancelled for the second week in a row, sadly.

My Freebooters game got cancelled for the second week in a row, sadly.

My Freebooters game got cancelled for the second week in a row, sadly. But I was just telling Johnstone Metzger how much fun a Metamorphosis Alpha-inspired hack of Freebooters would be. For example, you could generate random modern characters who would wake up frozen in pods thousands of years in the future with few memories and no idea how they got there, forced to gradually explore some long-abandoned high-tech facility full of malfunctioning robots and deadly security systems (I’m not super into mutants myself, but you could have them if you liked). You could use something like the dungeon rules to generate different buildings or floors and then use something like the overland/journey rules for traveling between different buildings in the complex, discovering all sorts of things in your effort to survive and figure things out about your situation.

Session 3 of Jason Lutes Freebooters on the Frontier last night and it was quite a doozy, though maybe not as fighty…

Session 3 of Jason Lutes Freebooters on the Frontier last night and it was quite a doozy, though maybe not as fighty…

Session 3 of Jason Lutes Freebooters on the Frontier last night and it was quite a doozy, though maybe not as fighty as it should have been, since I ran out of time to read-up on the rules for dungeons beforehand, due to managing family stuff. Oh well.

When we left off last time, while making an effort to cross the desert to the sand-buried ruins of the First City, Ariel Cayce’s Holt (chaotic human thief) had just been bitten by a dog-sized white poisonous spider swarm, but he and Johnstone Metzger’s Garsian (evil dark elf cleric) managed to abandon their NPC followers to their deaths, find their spooked horse, and ride the heck out of there.

First thing, I asked Holt to roll Luck for how bad the poison was. Failed it, so I read the description that Vandel J. Arden had whipped up, which was that the spider venom renders you immobile and slows down your heart, essentially rendering you in a kind of hibernation. So that’s exactly what happened to poor Holt.

Then Garsian, wanting some way to press on, beseeched his deity (the dark elf multi-formed god/ess of darkness) to intervene on Holt’s behalf, rolling an amazing result on a Bless move. So the deity replaced the spider venom in Holt’s veins with invigorating darkness (filling a countdown clock to 3), which I said would gradually dissipate whenever Holt did anything strenuous.

Next came the Perilous Journeys roll to finish their travel to the necropolis of the First City, which earned them a success on Scouting Ahead (to they got the drop on what they found) and a mixed result on Navigation (which meant they encountered a random Discovery). I won’t give the results I rolled up here, because it could still matter in the game, but Garsian discovered an outpost a ways out from the ancient city walls where a huge magical bird stopped to rest (they noticed the bird and its landing place when it crossed in front of the moon) before vanishing into the air by turning sideways and becoming 2-dimensional. Garsian decided not to report this to Holt and they avoided the outpost on their way to the city.

Arriving in the city around morning, they found a couple of other adventurers hauling a rope through some pulleys, dangling down into the worn-away opening that now gaped in the top of what was once a towering spire, now mostly buried beneath the desert sands. Garsian walked up to charm these guys (nailing the roll) while Holt snuck around behind them (also nailing the roll), so once they got a bit chummy they straight up took these guys out, dealing 6 damage a piece. Then Garsian started pulling up their rope, while Holt peeked over the edge to see what they were hauling up. Turned out that it was a large cow-sized golden statue of a dog and the other member of the adventurer’s team who was holding on to the side of the statue. Once the statue was most of the way up, Garsian couldn’t pull it any further (mixed result on strength save) so they just let it drop, complete with the other guy still hanging on. I rolled a d12 “fate die”-style (from World of Dungeons) to see how things worked out for the poor adventurer. He got a 1, so somehow he ended up underneath the statue and was completely crushed.

Garsian and Holt tied off the line at the top and slid down the rope, since it was anchored at the bottom by the statue. They got mixed results on Dex checks, so I ruled they had bad rope burn and got -1 forward on their next hands-based action. They found a couple of candles that the other team had left down here, and followed the drag marks from where the other folks had moved the dog statue down the western corridor (the building was shaped like a cross). I rolled up a random dungeon on the online generators that Steve Christensen was nice enough to point out last time, getting “small, stronghold/sanctuary, overrun by monsters, themes of corruption, survival, and chaos.” I rolled up the monster that it was overrun with and got “jellyfishes, returning home.” Remembering the small floating luminescent creatures last session (the ones Garsian snuffed out with a darkness curse), who were also returning home, I decided that it was them. Maybe they’re native to these ancient ruins, like they were to the abandoned lighthouse on the coast?

In any case, as they went down the corridor, I described them reaching the place that the other team had hauled the gold dog statue from, an alcove formed by a stone sculpture coming out of the wall that took the form of eight giant hands that formed a kind of halo around where the dog statue had been. Looking at the wall frescos above it, which depicted these abstract eyes-and-hands ancient gods creating the animals, it seemed like the statue + hands was a depiction of the creation of the first dog. Right next to the hands-alcove, however, was the dead body of one of the other adventurers, with half of his neck dissolved by one of the floating jellies, which also lay dead next to the adventurer’s corpse with the adventurer’s knife stuck into it and the guy’s hand partially dissolved. Pretty gruesome.

As they moved further down the western corridor, they noticed that the adventurer’s blood was pooling in this strange, unnatural way, forming a perfect circle on the floor in front of another alcove formed by sculpted stone hands that encircled a golden statue of an animal that Garsian and Holt didn’t recognize, a fish-like creature with legs and horns. The corridor dead-ended here, right in front of a fresco that showed an ancient god ripping this animal apart (perhaps explaining why they’d never seen it).

Curious about the blood puddle, Holt checked around and noticed that he could hear the blood dripping down into a room below this area, so he dug his knife into the puddle and opened up an even larger hole, causing the blood to drain completely down into the darkened room below them. Rather than trying to fit down this tiny hole or rip up the floor some more, Garsian suggested they check the other corridors for another way down.

Heading to the eastern part of the cross-shaped sanctuary, they found two more alcoves made of giant sculpted stone hands, the first containing the statue of a large eagle-like bird. As they approached the second alcove, though, they saw that it was surrounded by a swarm of the luminescent jellies, so they kept their distance and quickly backed away as the jellies began slowly drifting toward the candlelight they were carrying. They could see, however, that this corridor was symmetrical with the other one, deadending in a fresco showing an ancient god ripping another unfamiliar animal apart, presumably the animal depicted in the alcove that they weren’t able to approach.

Frustrated that their only loot had been off the bodies of the dead adventurers, they headed down the north corridor to find a giant set of scales that formed a kind of archway across the corridor. The left/west scale was on the ground while the right/east scale was hanging up about neck-high. Passing through without touching it, they came to an alter standing before a depiction of some of the ancient gods partially merged together into a single tri-part entity. There were some offerings before this alter: a creepy stack of silver-plated finger-bones and then some gold “bars” in the shape of little boats (inspired by the shapes used traditionally in China to mint valuable metals).

Garsian was still looking for a secret way to the rooms below, so he first tried pulling down the scale that was neck high, but, in response, the scale on the opposite side started filling with blood, weighing it down in equal measure to however much Garsian pulled. So then he tried emptying that blood out, but it just ran endlessly back down the corridor in the direction that they’d come. When I asked Johnstone if Garsian wanted to check to see where the blood was flowing, he said: “I know where it’s flowing.” He was probably right!

In any event, Garsian finally nailed a Perceive roll (by spending some Luck to turn a 9 into a 10) and used three questions to discover a loose stone panel on the floor, which he smashed open, semi-accidentally, when trying to pry it up with his warhammer. Garsian also found some pictographic depictions on the wall that indicated that this was a sanctuary honoring the creation of the first animals, including some animals that were later unmade by the gods and entombed beneath the temple. Holt and Garsian then descended into another mini-dungeon below, which I rolled up as “made by elves, tomb/crypt, depleted resources, themes of growth/expansion, factions of war, and creation.” Hard to think of a result that would have been more appropriate!

So I describe the first room as containing this massive fountain still filled with a few inches of water, but the fountain part in the middle is in the form of this massive, immaculately-sculpted jellyfish creature that forms a kind of umbrella over the entire room. In general, the craftsmanship in this lower dungeon looks completely different and much more higher quality than the human-built rooms upstairs, indicating that the sanctuary above was built later, on top of these tombs below. Also, they could see where blood was running from one of the two side corridors (the one beneath where they’d already created that opening above, in the puddle of blood) and beginning to flower across the surface of one side of the fountain, dripping into one edge of it.

They chose to go down the other corridor, the one beneath the statue of the animal that they hadn’t been able to see because of the jellies. As they walked down, they passed by these incredibly elaborate multi-layer stone sculptures of this unfamiliar animal leading the other animals in a war against the creator gods (like it was some kind of animal version of Lucifer) while a crowd of elves stood passively in the background, watching this unfold. Eventually they got to the sarcophagus of this animal, which was built kind of like a huge stone butter dish, with a massive heavy lid of stone encasing whatever was beneath it, thought the mysterious animal’s features were carved on the lid.

Holt looted the tomb goods around the outside of the sarcophagus and then, on Garsian’s suggestion, used his knife to create a small opening into the inside of the sarcophagus. Garsian then prayed to his god again, asking if the dark elf god/ess (in her form as the queen mother of vampires) was interested in resurrecting this beast in some kind of unlife. He rolled a 14, so she was very much interested in this idea! The newly undead beast first sucked all the remaining invigorating darkness out of Holt, replacing it with some of its own primordial vigor (the significance of which we’ll figure out next time) and then exploded forth from the sarcophagus and down the tomb corridor to confront another creature emerging from the opposite corridor making bloody, wet, crunching noises.

And that’s where we stopped.

I feel like I probably didn’t do the best job of presenting the dungeon as being “overrun with monsters” but with the setup I started with, it seemed weird to have jellies everywhere if the other team had been able to operate a bit and pull the dog statue out before being attacked. Maybe it I had rolled up the mini-dungeon before they descended into it, I could have had the place swarming with jellies when they landed. Oh well.

In the end, though, I really liked how I was able to use the two-layer dungeon to tell a kind of impromptu and totally unexpected story about the ancient past, including this rebellion against the gods led by two animals who were then ripped apart and essentially uncreated as punishment, meaning that those animals didn’t end up being a part of the world. Not sure where things are going to go now, with both of these animals brought back in monstrous ways, but I guess we’ll find out next session.

Session 2 of FotF last night. Continues to be great.

Session 2 of FotF last night. Continues to be great.

Session 2 of FotF last night. Continues to be great.

Originally shared by J. Walton

Session 2 of Jason Lutes Freebooters on the Frontier last night, with Johnstone Metzger and Ariel Cayce. This game continues to be super fun to run, and hopefully it’s fun to play too.

One thing I definitely noticed: We decided to start over with new characters, since Johnstone thought his last character was kind of a dick. And there’s this thing where you roll up these random people and their random setting and the random inhabitants of that setting (and in this case: random flotsom and jetsom you washed up with in a random location on the coast), but if you forget to actually spend some time giving them real emotions and real goals and real interactions with each other, you don’t end up really caring about any of it and it becomes hard to roleplay or make choices because you don’t have enough context to do that.

So there were these few awkward moments in the beginning when I turned to Ariel and was like: “So what do you do?” way before we’d set up enough context for him to really know how to make that decision. So then we back-peddled a little bit and I spent more time actually describing the setting and the context and what the other characters were doing and how his character’s leather armor had been stiffened into a board by the saltwater. And after all that we finally had enough context to start making decisions that felt meaningful and made sense. And that was true for me-as-GM in addition to the players. There’s a certain degree of detail and context that you have to establish, even in the richness of things that come out of Jason’s excellent tables, before you can really play effectively, particularly in a game where the fiction provides the foundation for everything else (such as making moves). And I found myself, once my attention was drawn to this, having to do it over and over in this game in each new location or situation that we encountered. So that got me thinking about the role of description and detail (“i.e. make the world seem real”) even in old-school-inspired play. No huge revelations yet, though.

With that out of the way: Johnstone played an evil dark elf priest of darkness named Garsian (and he was worried his previous character was a dick?) and Ariel played a chaotic human thief named Holt Caden. Their starting followers were the human Ardith, a war-profiteer who sold overpriced goods to armies, and Devan, a semi-retired human scoundrel who had some past beef with Holt. They had all been linked to King Edlyn’s Crusade to take back the Citadel (where the world was born) from monsters, but the entire fleet was wrecked against the Cape of Chaos (a bit like the Spanish Armada or the Mongol invasion of Japan) leaving the survivors washed up as unwelcome intruders on an unfamiliar shore.

Garsian had been fished from the water by two caretakers of this semi-abandoned semi-ruined lighthouse, where the signal fire was now lit most for the local fisherman to find their way safely home. The lighthouse (and the spiders later on), I pulled from Vandel J. Arden’s “Pallid Dunes” entry in Perilous Almanacs, which turned out to be very helpful, though I swapped the order of paladins there for a couple of local fisherfolk, as per Garsian’s starting circumstances. Garsian also somehow ended up with a horse that swam ashore from the crusaders’ ships, so he rode down the beach to look for other survivors and found Holt, Ardith, and Devan. Garsian already had a plan to leave the lighthouse and push toward the Bahazirian Necropolis across the desert to search for loot, wanting to leave right away, but he failed his CHA role to rouse the group into action, since they were so bedraggled from just making it to shore alive.

Consequently, the ended up spending the night in the lighthouse as semi-welcome guests. During the watch that night, Garsian put out the beacon fire just to be a jerk and also because he was the cleric of a god of darkness, but then they failed their watch roll, so a swarming school of tiny florescent flying semi-magical creatures moved toward the lighthouse (I rolled their motivation as “going home”), circling the spire at the top. The locals said that the signal fire had previously kept them away. Rather than confront them directly, Garsian cursed them with darkness and all the lights were extinguished in a shower of sparks. Then everyone went back to bed, after relighting the beacon.

The next day, everyone set off across the desert. Garsian failed his scout roll and Holt got a mixed result on navigation, so they end up walking right into a host of “bear/ape/gorilla droppings” (rolled on the Discovery table!) which stuck to their shoes and smelled bad. Plus, they found somebody’s finger bone (complete with ring still on it) in the poop as they were rubbing it off.

Then, after finishing the day of walking, it was time to make camp for the night. Holt failed the roll for distributing rations, so I ruled that he’d let Ardith carry all of his rations and they she, for some reason, didn’t have them anymore (she ate them or lost them or buried them, something; though I probably just said she’d gotten sand in them and they were ruined). Holt berated Ardith and she went off to sulk and sleep separately from the rest of the group (as a result of a followers roll). Garsian, in turn, lectured everyone as he regretfully passed out his own rations to the group. Devan complained that it wasn’t his fault for an hour before everyone went to bed (another roll for followers).

After all that, then they failed their watch roll and got an immediate Danger with no warning. So I picked the dog-sized poisonous white spiders from Vandel’s almanac, rolling on “no. appearing” and getting 4 of them, one for each sleeper. They woke up to find themselves partially wrapped in spider-silk as the giant creatures prepared to drag them back into their collective lair (“spiders hunt in groups?” Ariel questioned), a large hole in one of the nearby outcroppings.

The fight went well at first: Holt stabbed his spider through the middle, killing it in one blow. Garsian cursed his spider with being drained of all warmth and then shattered it to pieces. The spider wrapping up a still-sleeping Devan then got spooked and started running away, partially thanks to Garsian screaming loudly at everyone. So then Holt and Garsian ran off toward the somewhat-distant spot where Ardith was sleeping. Holt got a mediocre roll on trying to make it to her in time, so I ruled that she was unconscious from the poison and wrapped up, but the spider was only beginning to drag her toward its lair. Holt stabbed at the thing’s pincers but rolled a miss, which I turned into a successful stab but dealt damage as the pincers closed around Holt’s wrist (making his hand start to go numb).

Garsian arrived, banging his long hammer on the ground to try to intimidate the spiders, but rolling a fail despite having a great CHA score. I ruled that the banging got the attention of more spiders underground, so a few more began poking their heads out of the lair entrance. Now worried about being outnumbered, Garsian and Holt seized Ardith’s unconscious/wrapped body from the spiders and began running back towards their own campfire. Devan by this point was finally awake and had worked his way out of the partial spider webbing.

In rolling to carry her back and maintain speed, Garsian failed a DEX roll and tripped on his long robes, dropping his half of Ardith. Sensing the way things were going, Holt dropped his half of Ardith and abandoned Garsian as well, booking it back to camp, away from the spiders. Getting to his feet, Garsian abandoned Ardith as well and ordered an approaching Devan to go fight the monsters, getting a mixed result. Consequently, Devan went to fight them, but in a fearful and kind-of half-assed way, taking the attention of two of the spiders, but clearly not holding his own very well and leaving the other two spiders to scurry after Holt and Garsian.

In the meantime, the two PCs finally located Garsian’s slightly-spooked horse (wish I’d had them roll LUCK for this, but oh well) and rode off to the sound of Devan’s screams. And that’s where we stopped for the night.

Pretty brutal! This game doesn’t mess around.

A couple things I’m thinking about now:

1. So far I’m liking the Journey + Make Camp + Journey + Make Camp sequence of wilderness travel, and I’m hoping that it stays fun and doesn’t get repetitive in the long run. I can see the benefits of recording each encounter in different hexes or other units of a map, though, so you can either go back to the same places or make an effort to avoid them. Otherwise, it seems like travel stays this black box where you never know what to expect, even in well-travelled routes, though I guess you get to stop rolling for familiar routes after a while. Mapping things might help determine when a route counts as familiar, though.It might still be fun to have a move that updates what’s happened in a previously-visited location, though, to ensure that things aren’t always the same as when you left them.

2. It does take a lot of gametime to roll up a new Discovery, Danger, or NPC from scratch, since you have to roll like 10d12 across different tables. I started just rolling 10d12 in an app and then going through the necessary tables all at once, which sped things up. I like the feel of rolling, but it might be easier to have some Abulafia thing that would just generate them for you. It does really show the benefit of using Almanacs, Deeps, or pre-genned adventures, even if you don’t necessarily end up using any of that content straight-up, without alteration, because it means some smart folks have effectively rolled up random stuff for you and thought about how those random traits fit together. So you can just drop those locations, situations, NPCs, or monsters right into the game. Have to say, though I really REALLY like having them broken down by location type and being relatively short rather than being in a long-form format in an alphabetized beastiary, because they’re much easier to find on the fly. Thankfully, even Jason’s Book of Beasts is arranged by terrain type.

3. In this session, it was clearer to me that Make a Saving’s Throw (FoTF’s version of Defy Danger, going appropriately back to that move’s original name in early DW drafts) is the core of what makes the game work, with the other moves not being supplemental moves or rulings per say but helpfully fleshing out types of actions that need a little more to them than what a Saving’s Throw roll would provide. Consequently, I think the other moves could be potentially open to some tweaking for different campaigns or groups (building on the concept from A Storm Eternal that all moves are basically rulings at heart), even though I think they’re some of the best moves that have ever been written for DW and provide an excellent foundation. Though maybe that’s just my biases from playing World of Dungeons talking.

In any event, great game, fun session, lots of failures, but hopefully the players aren’t too disheartened. Excited to see what happens when we maybe face some dungeons next time, at the Necropolis.

John Marron asked me if I would share this write-up here, of my long-overdue first Freebooters session.

John Marron asked me if I would share this write-up here, of my long-overdue first Freebooters session.

John Marron asked me if I would share this write-up here, of my long-overdue first Freebooters session. Jason had some good suggestions in the comments, which we can probably repost if they don’t show up in this share.

Originally shared by J. Walton

Actual Play: Freebooters on the Frontier by Jason Lutes 

SESSION 1 of “The Cape of Chaos” (REALLY LONG)

Last night, Johnstone Metzger and I (having lost the rest of our players due to scheduling issues and real-life stuff) started playing the adventure I’m designing for FotF, based on a long-overdue Kickstarter stretch goal. This AP doesn’t really reveal any spoilers for that adventure (and it’s kinda hard to spoil a DW adventure anyway, since it’s so different for different groups), but is more a documentation of the game so that I can remember what stuff I need to include in the adventure and so Jason can see what I’m up to. Also, it’s nice to have a record of play.

First, this is one of the first really table-centric games I’ve played in a long time, since I’ve missed out on DCC and Kevin Crawford games so far. Gotta say: I love it. It’s definitely way less exhausting to GM than some other AW hacks where a lot of the creative burden for coming up with fictional content falls on the GM (though having the option to ask the players questions always helps in that regard). Just being able to roll on tables and have it generate totally awesome and appropriate content for the game was amazing (see also: Fiasco), and it also showed me how I need to consolidate, modify, and incorporate certain tables directly into the adventure, so the GM doesn’t have to keep flipping back and forth between FotF, Perilous Wilds, the adventure, and whatever other stuff they’re using.

In any event, we decided to start with Johnstone’s character and a couple of random followers (NPC retainers) shipwrecked on the so-called Cape of Chaos. Starting him with a couple followers was basically our way of making up for it being a solo game. Plus, if he perished early on, FotF has a move for graduating a follower to full PC status, so they’re kinda like extra lives in that way.

Johnstone randomly rolled up Alzabar the 1st-level male human wizard, with 2 HP, who had a skullcap and a disfigured face, some pretty mediocre stats, was chaotic but with a strong (twisted?) sense of justice, with the vices of merciless and lustful, a magical staff, healing potion, spell components (dried newts and salamanders), and the spells of “life aura” and “fearsome door” (the spells are also randomly generated in this game, which is AWESOME).

The first randomly rolled follower was Dawn the young female commoner and cartographer, who was meek from a lifetime of servitude/oppression, an addict, had a tendency to slack off, and whose cost (for her continued service) was lucre. We decided that Dawn was the daughter of the overbearing ship’s captain (now perished in the wreck), who served as the navigator for the ship but really wanted to earn enough money to run away from her father and do her own thing. But she was sick of serving under her asshole dad, leading to the laziness and alcoholism (both also just common vices on sailing vessels).

The second follower was Calden the young male sage/scholar/wizard who was warty, envious/covetous/greedy, and had an unremarkable background, a tendency to give into temptation, and whose cost (for his continued service) was affection. We decided that Calden was Alzabar’s apprentice, traveling with him to the Cape of Chaos to research ancient magics connected with the Navel of the World, the ancient wellspring from which the entire universe was formed, which is supposedly located within an abandoned citadel on the tip of the cape.

The random character tables seem pretty awesome on first use. Yeah, we did some work to have the characters make sense, but it wasn’t that difficult and we ended up with a pretty interesting crew, even for a semi-OSR-style game where character personalities sometimes don’t matter that much. Navigating the tables took a little practice, though I think we’d gain speed and fluency with greater familiarity.

To simulate starting with the shipwreck, rather than beginning with some starting gold and buying equipment, I quickly hacked together a table to generate random mundane items and had Alzabar roll three times (a throwing knife, lamp oil, and a lantern) and each follower roll once (a hearty meal for Dawn and a short bow, with no arrows, for Calden). For the real adventure, I’ll invent a better table to generate random starting loot you pulled from the shipwreck.

We also rolled randomly, after I wrote some numbers on different spots along the coast, to generate where the characters started out on the Cape. Hilariously, Johnstone rolled a starting location halfway between two of the terrain types I had marked on the map, a blank spot in between the Blood Lagoon and a series of inlets known as The Teeth. Consequently, I wasn’t quite sure how to use the tables that I’d pre-generated (since it wasn’t really within either of those locations), so I decided to use it as an opportunity to roll up a random region using the Perilous Wilds rules. This was actually great, as it gave me an opportunity to try them out in play.

I’d already suggested that the area might be a coastline of red-colored rocky cliffs and crags, since it lay between the Blood Lagoon (colored red by algae or the local earth) and the rocky inlets of The Teeth. And, of all the possibilities, the region I rolled was called Devil + Red + Uplands or, as we decided to call them, the Red Devil Hills. I described the storm-tossed characters as waking up amidst some wreckage at the base of a set of towered red cliffs that rose in weird Badlands-style formations high above them. They weren’t easy to climb up, so Alzabar led the group down the beach to try to find a way up.

One of the coolest things about the FotF/Perilous Wilds rules is that it’s actually totally viable to just wander and see what you encounter, because the game guarantees, through it’s Discovery Tables, that whatever you encounter will be something cool that changes the fictional situation that you’re working with. In this case, I rolled that the group discovered a hovel/hut, so I described a dwelling made mostly of dirftwood and flotsom that was dug into the face of the cliff itself. I randomly rolled its occupant as Nyle (though his name never came up in play), a criminal dealer/fence with an overbite who was frugal and lewd. I interpreted this as someone who collected wreckage and storm-tossed goods from the beach and then sold them to passersby and tradesmen, but who would be stingy and unlikely to offer any help for free.

The group met Nyle outside his hut, as he was dragging wreckage from their ship up the beach and sorting it into piles. Alzabar confronted Nyle about “stealing” items from their ship, but Nyle didn’t seem bothered about that. When asked about a way up the cliffs, Nyle mentioned that he had very laboriously dug a tunnel through his dwelling up to the top of the cliffs, but that he expected something in return for allowing passage. Specifically he asked for Alzabar’s lamp oil (after a Negotiation roll of 7-9), which the wizard was reluctant to give up. Johnstone decided that Alzabar grew frustrated with this exchange and invoked his merciless trait as a reason to cast “fearsome door” on Nyle instead.

Earlier we had discussed “fearsome door” as maybe opening a portal to a terrible other place, but to a place that was unknown to Alzabar, who had definitely never tried going through the portal himself. So basically Alzabar was intending for the door to swallow Nyle and send him to some hellish place. The spell worked on a 7-9, so I had Johnstone roll a magical mishap, which ended up being the spell being more powerful than intended. I interpreted this as the doorway being larger than intended, so I asked Johnstone which of the followers would also be swallowed by the door (though maybe we should have randomly rolled, since that’s more the style of the game?). Johnstone chose for Calden to be swallowed, so I described the fearsome door opening on the ground beneath both Nyle and Calden, Calden falling in Boba Fett-style, grasping at the edges, and then the door sealing behind them both to leave one of Calden’s severed hands and a molten glassy patch of red sand behind.

Alzabar, being a wizard, pocketed his apprentice’s severed hand without too much agonizing (though, to be fair, we didn’t really build up his relationship with Calden at all, so it was hard to put too much emphasis on his demise) and Dawn freaked out, running into Nyle’s hovel and kind of barricading herself in against Alzabar and whatever the heck just happened on the beach. However, Alzabar eventually managed to talk her down, specifically by promising that he would relearn the spell (he’d forgotten it as a result of the misfire) and would open the portal tomorrow to bring Calden back and reattach his hand, because that’s the kind of thing you can do as a wizard. Dawn believed him, with some skepticism, and together they searched the hovel for anything useful, finding a two-handed warhammer marked with religious symbols that neither of them recognized (I had them roll on the random shipwreck items for this, and also roll randomly to see if the item was 10+ without complications, 7-9, with complications, or 6- not sure what move I would have made on a failure). This was a 7-9 item, with the complications being the unknown religious ties. Of course, after I invented the warhammer, I then found the random loot table in Perilous Wilds (p. 43), which I had somehow failed to find earlier. Oh well.

They then made it through the tunnel and out into the top of the Red Devil Hills, looking out over the cliffs at the ocean far below. Thanks to Dawn’s cartographic background, they were pretty sure that there was a village to the south of them, in among the inlets of The Teeth, so they set off in that direction, making the Perilous Journey move. Despite her still being a bit terrified from the magic portal, Alzabar ordered Dawn to scout ahead, rolling a 7-9 on the follower more, so I had her never stray too far ahead and thus had the journey take way longer than it otherwise would. Eventually, though, they rolled another Discovery, so I described them stumbling upon an ancient abandoned village built into the cliffs themselves (a bit like Mesa Verde, but built at ground-level, into a number of Badlands-style spires and red rock formations). I said there were several dried-out bodies of expired adventurers in some of the empty rooms of the village (thinking about the bodies of perished climbers on Everest), who had camped there or been left there by their companions. And there were a few odds and ends, but everything of value seemed to have long-ago been taken.

Since they weren’t going to make it much further today, they decided to Make Camp for the night. They didn’t really set up a watch, so I had them roll the watch move but then basically have no warning for whatever happened. They rolled a result where I got to pick a Danger, so I randomly rolled something pretty bizarre: a horde of 21 half-elves silently ambushing them. We’d already mentioned that there was a massive forest to the east, so (not being able to come with anyone else it could be) I decided that the very long-lived part-elf people who long ago built this village had for some reason decided to leave the forest and return to the village during the night, which is why they moved in such a large group. Consequently, Alzabar and Dawn woke up to find themselves tied up in a previously unknown cellar beneath one of the rooms of the village, with voices speaking in an unfamiliar dialect of elvish above them. And that’s where we stopped.

Wow. So it was pretty fun and also bizarre so far, though in kind of the best way. The random tables and high-degree of random fictional input into the game actually works really well, which is partially a tribute to how good Jason’s tables are in generating content that’s appropriate for this kind of game/setting. Even in this event, when I needed to generate stuff for a region where it didn’t feel right to use my own tables, the basic stuff in Perilous Wilds seemed to do just fine. Next time, though, I’m going to try to break out the more specialized regional tables and make sure they work too.

Also, for my money, playing FotF seems way more fun than just playing old school D&D, because the kinds of questions and moves that it invokes are more fictionally interesting to me. Plus, I actually care about the characters enough to be interested in what happens to them and the relationships between them. That said, it still feels a lot like an old-school game, despite being a DW hack.

The only thing that might be missing is a search/scrounge move that doesn’t generate food (as the existing move does) but allows you to search an area for loot or random items that might or might not be useful. It could honestly just be a sub-move within scrounge, maybe? Otherwise, it seems like it’s up to the GM’s discretion if you’re in a place where you can roll for random loot and just get it, rather than making a move to look for it. But you can imagine a search move that lets you discover loot, traps, random clues, items, information, etc. but often with complications (like setting off a trap or finding trouble instead, etc.). But it’s possible that there’s a good reason for this move not to exist or that you’re supposed to do things a different way (like Defy Danger with WIS or DEX). There’s actually a lot of moves in FotF, helpfully categorized by when you’re likely to use them, but it’ll take a while to become fully fluent in them, I think.

Anyway, that’s all until next time.

Hey Planarchs!

Hey Planarchs!

Hey Planarchs! Time for a basic update on official Planarch stuff, I think. After talking with a ton of smart, experienced game publishers (including Luke “Burning Wheel” Crane who edits the games section of Kickstarter and also handles publishing responsibilities for Dungeon World now), I’ve been gradually and painfully convinced that it makes a lot more sense to publish new Planarch stuff as a 6×9″ book (same size as Dungeon World) rather than a plastic box full of mini-booklets, mostly because of (1) it simplifies the logistics and costs immensely and (2) even more importantly, it enables me to publish additional Planarch stuff in the future without having to launch a separate Kickstarter every time for the $4,000+ it takes to do a print run of three Scoutbooks in a box. All those facts make total sense, but it’s taken me some time to make peace with it, since I love the original mini-booklet format (as I’m sure a lot of you do too).

In the meantime, I’ve been exploring a bunch of other options and even had some sample books printed to see how a different format would work (see the attached image of a 120+ page Planarch hardcover). I don’t know the exact details yet, but I’m getting excited about how this may also give me a chance to revisit the stuff in Dark Heart and flesh it out with more examples, more tables, more support, and the extensive experience I’ve had running and playing Planarch since I originally wrote it. The book could even include some more specific suggestions for running Planarch with DW, World of Dungeons, and a few other related AW hacks like John Harper’s upcoming Blades in the Dark. I often switch between DW and WoDu myself, depending on the number of sessions and tone of the game we’re trying to create.

In any event, the bad news in all this is that it’s probably going to take a little more time to put the Kickstarter together, despite my promises to have it done this summer. There’s a possibility we could Kickstart in September, say, for a delivery by late December, but it might also make more sense to Kickstart in January for stupid U.S. tax reasons.

In the meantime, since people have been patiently waiting for this, I think I might end up just going ahead and releasing some of the Planarch material that I already have finished, since it seems kind of silly to keep holding onto it for the next 3-6 months. So you may see some new Planarch stuff pop up in the meantime, in addition to some other small weird games by me.

In any event, thanks for being understanding as I’ve tried to work through all these details. I care about Planarch and its fans a lot and want to do it in a way that’s sustainable in the future, so both me and other folks (like you!) can keep publishing Planarch stuff for years to come. I have a lot of other weird urban planar fantasy ideas that I’d like to continue to play around with and I hope you do too.

I’m playtesting Johnstone’s next project right now (this amazing nightmare-fighting urban dungeony thing), but in…

I’m playtesting Johnstone’s next project right now (this amazing nightmare-fighting urban dungeony thing), but in…

I’m playtesting Johnstone’s next project right now (this amazing nightmare-fighting urban dungeony thing), but in the meantime he’s released his weird space fantasy masterpiece for Dungeon World. Probably of interest to folks here. Definitely great inspiration for Planarch stuff.

Originally shared by Johnstone Metzger

Space Wurm vs. Moonicorn is a stretch goal I wrote for Jackson Tegu’s Second Skins kickstarter. It takes those extra Monsterhearts skins and puts them in the world of Adventures on Dungeon Planet, which means it’s a Dungeon World supplement. There’s also quick play rules which are similar to (and compatible with) the ones in Battle Between the Worlds.

It’s 368 pages, full colour. I did 50 full-page illos and over a hundred smaller ones, plus I got some even better art by Chiara Di Francia, George Cotronis, Iolanda Zanfardino, Jakub Rebelka, James Fenner, Jon Cairns, Nate Marcel, and Taylor Winder.

It’s also now available for purchase.

Pondering what a high-level Sets 4 & 5 / Exalted / Nobilis style game for Planarch might look like.

Pondering what a high-level Sets 4 & 5 / Exalted / Nobilis style game for Planarch might look like.

Pondering what a high-level Sets 4 & 5 / Exalted / Nobilis style game for Planarch might look like.

Originally shared by J. Walton

Random thoughts on Exalted/Nobilis-inspired thing for the Planarch Codex

Every plane in existence has, at its heart, a fountain: a place or object or being that serves as its metaphysical fulcrum and the outpouring font from which the shape and life of the plane bubbles forth. If a mortal being takes possession of this fountain – whether by being given charge of it or seizing it by force – they become a demigod-like champion of that plane, embodying its traits and bound to safeguard the plane against threats both internal and external. Such demigods are known as Planarchs, as they are often considered to be the monarchs of their respective planes.

Historically, the Planarchs schemed and romanced among themselves and with the most powerful mortals and immortals of their planes, playing a grand game of their own devising. But that was before the Ravenous City began consuming their planes one by one. Of course, Dis doesn’t completely digest the planes it devours but rather remakes them in the city’s own image, creating new districts and neighborhoods and welcoming refugees by the millions. The fountains also remain, for the most part, as it takes Dis millennia to slowly absorb the core essence of a plane into itself. Consequently, there are still Planarchs and they are now much more likely to be close neighbors, staring across at each other from the windows of Dis’s alleyways.

The grand game of the Planarchs has changed too. Those devoted to wild planes mostly untouched by Dis’s tendrils hope to maintain their independence and resist the city’s encroachment. Sometimes they even find allies among the Planarchs of the city, who know all too well what its like to watch their homeland be colonized and torn apart. However, the old grudges and suspicions die hard. Has your ally cut a deal with the Sultana to temporarily protect their plane at the cost of your own? Either way, Planarchs often scour the multiverse for information about Dis’s weaknesses, its origins, and the means for resisting or even destroying it. At the same time, they are beholden to the inhabitants and lands of their plane, even if it has been already fully consumed by Dis: they may be called on to deal with crises, to perform important ceremonial tasks, and to ensure that whatever’s left of their plane survives as long as it can.

Of course, there are also the Planarchs who’ve won demigodhood through treachery, deceit, or violence, who conduct their role through tyranny and demand much more from their inhabitants than they give back in return. And there are others who may have originally had noble goals in mind but – confronted with the unstoppable might of Dis – decide that extreme measures need to be taken, ones that may ultimately inflict as much as or even more harm than the city. Others may have decided, for better or worse, that the city’s advance cannot be stopped and submission is the only way to preserve as much as possible. And don’t forget that there may be a vast number of mortals who are just waiting for a Planarch to stumble so that they can take their place as the new demigod of the plane, returning their predecessor to the humble station from when they came or even disposing of them entirely.

In any event, things should be interesting.

New Planarch stuff is coming soon, as you hopefully know by now.

New Planarch stuff is coming soon, as you hopefully know by now.

New Planarch stuff is coming soon, as you hopefully know by now. In the meantime, here’s a little Star Wars-inspired game I made for May 4th, based on the throne room scene in ROTJ but turned into a weird fantasy + Greek mythology + patriarchy thing. Check out that amazing art!

Originally shared by J. Walton

My new micro-game Elektra Before the Throne, with art by Nate Marcel, is now available on DriveThru. Enjoy! #MayTheFourth

Nate Marcel is doing some illustrations of the City of Dis for the Kickstarter. Pretty exciting!

Nate Marcel is doing some illustrations of the City of Dis for the Kickstarter. Pretty exciting!

Nate Marcel is doing some illustrations of the City of Dis for the Kickstarter. Pretty exciting!