Saturday, May 21, 2016

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Cheapskates are Out There

This provocative article about cheapskate RPG buyers has been making the rounds lately and everyone's got an opinion. Including me, I guess. Here's how I see it.

Not an RPG enthusiast.
The cheapskate RPG buyer is a real creature. The one who goes on about how something is too expensive, when what he really means is that he would rather not pay for it. They text you and say things like, "Before I spend FIVE DOLLARS [on your 64-page full color game PDF with original art on every page], can you guarantee there are no typos and that the rules are extensively playtested? Why exactly should I buy this book?" I just get to a point in the back-and-forth where I tell them, "No one's ever found a typo in my work and I'd love to have your business, but I think we should break up because you're too flirty, baby."

I am fortunate not to have to sweat five dollars on a latte or on a PDF that looks interesting, but if I were that hard up, I wouldn't be spending it on RPGs. I would be spending it on booze and lottery tickets. If you're really strapped for cash, just buy a few used D&D hardcovers and stick with them as your rule system forever. Or find a free rules set. The Frugal GM compiles some of the best free or super-cheap stuff out there. The underlying reason why RPGs are a shitty retail category to start with is that you can play them for years without buying anything new. The real frugal types are the ones you don't hear from because they are making do with what they've got or taking the DIY route. God bless them for it.

Given the cheapskates and the buy-nothings, small-time game publishers can't expect to produce for such a niche market and make anything close to a living by it. The audience just isn't there. No one is owed a living through any entrepreneurial venture, including small-press publishing. Especially since you can publish with virtually zero overhead costs if you do print-on-demand of PDF. The only thing you need to pay for is artwork, and frankly most small publishers use public domain artwork or tacky PhotoShop collages, or like me, make do with their own artistic ability.

Fair pricing? If I tallied up the hundreds of hours I spent making Dungeonteller and wanted a modest return of $10/hr over a several-year-period of sales, I would have to price the PDF at $20 or more. My actual price for the whole game on Drivethrurpg is just $5 because that's where my desire for compensation meets my desire to actually have a substantial number of people play the game. People who buy my books are getting a goddam bargain and I'm okay with that as long as I get some love, some honest reviews of my work, and no one acting like they're being fleeced for something that I worked on for three years.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

[Adventure Design Tool] After Action Report

To help you design an adventure (any genre), pretend you're the leader of a party that just completed a mission or quest and that you're being interviewed or interrogated about what happened. Start from absolutely zero -- the plot of the adventure will suggest itself as you go along.

1. Tell me how Jones died. Don't spare any details.
2. Smith looks like she's aged about ten years in two days. How the hell does that happen?
3. You told me what you feared most going in there. Were you right? Tell me about the moment that froze your blood.
4. How'd you get that scar?
5. You're not telling me the whole truth. What are you hiding?
6. Did you get what you came for? Was it worth it?
7. What are they really like?
8. What happens now? There are bound to be repercussions.



Wednesday, April 20, 2016

[Dungeonteller Actual Play] Venture Hold

Our heroes: warrior, pixies, paladin, wizard.

Our snow-day D&D group realized that no more snow days would be forthcoming this year so we just picked a random day to continue our journey through the Venture Hold Dungeonteller module. The PCs left the cave troll they had befriended pining for company (and bacon and chocolate), and wended their way to a harpies' lair. The harpies were fended off by one of the pixie's briar patch spells long enough to arrive to the fight a scratched and bloody mess. The PCs dealt with them without too much trouble, just a few scratches and a lingering stench in the air. One of the harpies tried to snatch the warrior's flaming sword which was not the brightest idea.

Having cleared the dungeon level, they crawled down the interior of the huge centipede carapace that provides a link to the next level, and came out into a trading station run by revenants, managed by a high-level NPC who'd been reported missing -- oh, and he's now a revenant too. They saw that he was wearing two of the green-bejewelled rings that serve as MacGuffins in the adventure and was about to hand them off to the evil cult that needed the rings to incarnate their beastly spider god. Thinking fast, the pixies covered him in a swarm of mice, showered him with some baffling pixie dust, and managed to yoink both rings off his fingers before he knew what had happened. It didn't take long for him to notice, though. He sent his revenant guards after the PCs, who climbed back up the giant insect corpse and led them right to the cave troll, who blocked the revenants from further pursuing them. Victory!

Back at the surface, they presented the rings to their employer, Sir Whimsy Bonaventure, who let them keep his share of their plunder. The paladin in the party was made a full knight! Sir Whimsy has now tasked them with returning to Venture Hold to destroy the evil cult and smash the spider idol they venerate, to ensure it can never be brought to life again.

If you're wondering what Dungeonteller is, look here

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

[World Build Fun Time] Build Some Demihuman Cultures

Let's build some demihuman cultures. Choose one descriptor and apply it to one species. The descriptors describe the culture's role in its environment; the species define its history and proclivities.

DESCRIPTORS:
Green: Species with this descriptor are master manipulators of the world's flora. They live in the lushest biomes, like remote forests or steaming jungles, anywhere with a surfeit of growing things. Gardeners, stewards, perhaps, or when in a more sinister mood, letting their domain run riot, a biome that slowly strangles, throttles, overgrows. When provoked, green species retreat into the maze and let the land itself isolate, confuse, and exhaust interlopers.
Bane: Bane species have one eternal enemy that gives them their raison d'etre, stemming from an ancient feud or outrage that can never be wholly paid back. They are mad, bad, and dangerous to know, but as allies, can eliminate your common foe with extreme cruelty and relish. Join their cause, and they love you, providing you are just as fanatical and willing to compromise every core value you might possess to kill a few of "them." Anyone else is at best, irrelevant, and worst, a speed bump on their road to revenge.
Deep: A deep species lives below the floor of the world, either literally or figuratively. Many do live in the underworld or at the bottom of the sea, but some live in the underworld only the the social sense, a community apart and largely unseen, perhaps considered mythical by most surface dwellers. Deep races value privacy, carefully cultivate misinformation about themselves among other species, tend towards paranoia, consider banishment the ultimate punishment, and often labor on a huge project or scheme that cannot, in fact, must not, ever be realized, for if it were, their reason to be would cease to exist.
Iron: The role of a species with this descriptor is to gather and maintain strength without concern for the happiness, satisfaction, or freedom of its members. Something happened in the distant past that decimated them, and now their mantra is never again. Weakness is fatal, dirty, disgusting. Iron races generate vicious, bloody internal purges of the weak and unorthodox, fortify their borders, and prefer to plunder, steal, or do without resources rather than trade them. Tradition, lineage, and ritual matters dearly, a constant and severe orthodoxy. Leaders tend to be dictators or strongarms who rule by fear and force, always looking over their shoulders for the next bully.
High: A culture deemed "high" sees itself as the paragon of its species -- conservative, regal, yes, but also hidebound, perhaps inflexible. It may tolerate rustic or mongrel offshoots of its species as long as they don't question the supremacy of the "pure" strain, but more likely, they will look at other cultures of their kind as bumpkins, impure, somehow tainted. At their worst, they may seek to eliminate members of their species whom they deem faulty or subpar.
Feral: A feral species is often a "high" culture gone wild, or a group of renegades or escaped chattel living in the wild after escaping from captivity. This descriptor indicates a intimate relationship and encyclopedic knowledge of its territory, small-scale organization into bands, gangs, or tribes, and an imperfect or mythologized understanding of its own past. What little they preserve or remember about their formal existence may be revered and ritualized, including artifacts or keepsakes from times past.

2. Match your chosen descriptor to one of these species/races:

Elves: Elves made the living world and aren't happy with what the younger races have done with it, or else they were simply the first sentient race and believe that the other races can't possibly appreciate the beauty of it all as deeply as they do. Elves play the long game, being nearly immortal, and have trouble feeling the urgency of any issue that isn't an existential threat.

Dwarves: Dwarves see themselves as superior to elves because they made the very foundations of the world -- its mountains, valleys, and abysses. Elves just gussied it up with greenery. Like elves, they are long-lived. In some worlds, dwarves didn't just make the mountains; they are literal of the rock, either being born as natural stone formations in deep caves or carved out of stone by the elders of their clans, essentially golems made by golems.

Humans: Humans are notable for their adaptability and short memories. The elder species of the world would say that these two qualities are undoubtedly linked and in fact mutually beneficial to these prolific upstarts. Humans find niches everywhere, and compensate for their rather fragile, short-lived physical form with ingenious technological innovations, complex social fabric, and zest for procreation. As a consequence, they tend to fill any volume they are dropped into, then push out across the frontier to repeat the process. Other races tend to resent them even as they find themselves charmed by them.

Orcs: Orcs certainly didn't ask for the job of being the ugly, brutal race created as soldiers and laborers of an evil god. But it's all they're suited for, and they lack the imagination to reinvent themselves as anything else. Orc-only cultures are quite rare. It's hard-wired into their nature to serve an overlord who can do the thinking and planning for them, so they can focus on the enjoyable tasks of destroying, plundering, and enslaving. But occasionally a band of orcs finds itself between gigs for a few centuries, and may develop into an independent culture before being cowed into serving yet another brutal warlord or diabolical sorcerer. 

Gnomes: Little gnomes are secretive -- it's in the root of their very name. Contrary to common wisdom, they are nothing like dwarves, being of roughly human proportions, albeit much smaller, with pointed ears and somewhat outsize heads to accommodate their prodigious brains. They revel in secrets, schemes, and plots, being too small to confront or safely treat with other races openly. Like humans, they are prolific and adaptable to nearly any environment, even to some places that humans won't tread, like the deep abyss. Their technology puts the other races to shame and is on par with the most impressive elven magic or human sorcery.

Readers, let me know what other descriptors and races you come up with and how you use this stuff.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Bonsai Pets and Bottled Poltergeists for Sale


I run a weekly RPG session for some young people after school -- and we're now towards the end of our second year. We started with Holmes D&D because one of the players wanted to play D&D specifically (her big brother wouldn't let her play in his D&D game). So I wrote a few dungeons for them that went great, then introduced them to Keep on the Borderlands, which they walked away from after getting bored with fighting one goblinoid race after another. I can't say I blame them, it really did seem like an awful bore after a while. Today I grabbed the free Dungeonteller adventure Welcome to the Plunderdome (download the adventure and maps here and here). I'm running it as a basic D&D game, because I didn't want to re-stat their characters to Dungeonteller, and so far it's been a hoot. We spent most of the session hanging out at the Tides Inn ("Wait, is that a bad pun, Mr. Anderson?") buying odd trinkets from the list of goods for sale included in the adventure notes. I repost the list here:

Sellers dealing in odd artifacts and curiosities from the four corners of the world, ready to spread out their wares on the table and consider any offers. Their stock might include coral, pearls, other exotic gemstones; costume jewelry of copper, silver, and glass beads; silk scarves; fighting crickets, mantises, and scorpions in tiny cages; live songbirds, monkeys, snakes, and various cute furry rodents; truly odd items like carved talismans, amulets, and figures, the teeth and claws of rare monsters, potions of unknown provenance and power; perfumes; elaborate dwarf windup toys; novelty gadgets that combine innocent-looking gear with concealed knives or dart-throwers; candied fruits and other sweets; gloves and belts made from unusual materials, like dragon-scale or basilisk hide; rings and brooches with hidden compartments; hard-to-pick padlocks; haunted dice that rattle when danger is near; a mirror that flatters you when you look into it; a bonsai tree with tiny live birds in its branches; an assortment of thumb-sized bonsai cats, dogs, and other pets; a pocket handkerchief that can vanish a small item then be shaken to make it reappear; a wand that produces harmless clouds of phantom butterflies, flowers, or stars; a bottle that can catch a person’s words and repeat them when uncorked; a rope that can only be cut by superior or masterwork weapons; an assortment of ghosts and poltergeists in sealed flasks; a stylus that writes out extemporaneous odes to any subject of the owner’s choosing… 

Some curiosity seller names: Wink Haggler, Auntie Deadpan, Wheedle Armtwist.

One character pitted his pet garden gnome, Timbukten, in a cage match against a fighting mantis only to see the mantis behead the gnome. The curiosity sellers unloaded a bonsai tree and some bonsai dogs, two of the pocket handkerchiefs of holding, the repeating bottle, and a couple of poltergeists in flasks. I can't wait to see how those all come into play later.

Feel free to use this list for your own games, or just download the whole thing at the link above. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Rock Opera '79 -- Character Sheet

Rock Opera '79 continues apace. The dice-stacking mechanics are sound, the character classes are perfect, and I'm just writing up a gazetteer for Disctopia/Rock City. Who will YOU be in the distant future world of 1979? As one of the last rock bands standing, can you and your bandmates overthrow the evil Discocracy and bring down the rock?