Friday, August 24, 2012

It's all in the Moves

Time to make a Move
Daniel Perez asked a simple question of me prompted by my previous post about playing Dungeon World: did the game mechanics facilitate the experience you describe?

To which I answered:

...the mechanics faded into the background.

Daniel called BS and asked again:

How did your Moves and other mechanical parts help to achieve the experience?

After giving it some more thought, here is how I answer that question:

When you go to dice in Dungeon World, something always happens.

Actions in DW are described as Moves in the rules. When you make a Move roll 2d6 + modifier. On a 10+ you make your move; you hit the Orc and roll damage. On a 7-9 you still make the Move, but there will generally be some fallout, backlash or a hard choice; you hit the Orc, but the Orc hits back. On a 6 or less the GM decides what happens. Based on the moves available to the GM, something is going to happen. A good GM ties this something into the fiction of the current Move. Perhaps I over-extend my sword thrust and the Orc sends my weapon flying across the chamber. The fiction moves forward in a very satisfying way.

So the rules put everything on the shoulders of the GM, right? Well, yes and no. While a lot rides on those shoulders there are a lot of Moves for the characters to make. The choice of Moves has a big impact on play. There are Basic and Special Moves that affect all characters. These represent things that happen often in the fiction regardless of the character's class. But each class also has Custom Moves.

Custom Moves are what a class is all about. Sure, my Cleric can Hack and Slash, but that is nowhere near as effective as Casting a Spell. These Custom Moves are where a class really shines. They direct play through player choice.

There are not a lot of Custom Moves at 1st level. This keeps the character focused and puts the player squarely in the driver's seat though their power of choice. As a Cleric I was looking for every opportunity I could find to use my Custom Moves. This is the primary way of interacting with the fiction. If I roll poorly the fiction may not go the way I was hoping or planning, but it will certainly keep moving forward.

A final incentive for encouraging characters to make a Move: XP. If a character should fail in a Move - roll 6 or less - they get one XP. So even when they fail, characters are still moving forward toward the next level.

Circling back around to Daniel's question, the short answer is something always happens when you go to dice in Dungeon World and that makes for very dynamic and satisfying play.

Follow your bliss,

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Perfect Storm

Dungeon World
I love Dungeon World.

This is not a review of Dungeon World, this is a love letter. Few, if any, gaming sessions have moved me as this one did, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Yesterday was the last day of GenCon 2012. My sons and I had only one scheduled event that day: a 4 hour slot of Dungeon World run by co-creator Adam Koebel. My sons and I sat down to play with two other players and a very tired Adam. Being the last day of the con, with it's melancholy mix of joy and sadness, energy was low as we began.

I have played several sessions of Apocalypse World, the game on which DW is based, so I thought I knew what to expect:

  • Classes & Moves
  • 2d6 resolution mechanic
  • Collaborative story and setting creation
  • Dungeons & Dragons tropes
What was unexpected was the magic that was created at that table: the perfect storm.

I'm not going to go into the details of the setting and our characters because that was part of the magic of that moment; magic always loses something in the translation. I will say that as character creation took place the shared world we explored began to grow with a seeming will of its own. It was a product of no one person, everyone added elements which quickly added up to be something more than any one of us could produce on our own. The storm clouds gathered.

As the world and characters took shape, Adam and all the players became energized. Adam led us through the world we were creating with the simplest of techniques: he asked us questions; lots and lots of questions. Play continued as world and characters became more defined by player choices. Thunder rumbled in the distance.

As we moved on and up, we heard and saw lightning in the distance. We were well aware of the frailty of our protagonists. I could tell by the look in the players' eyes that there was doubt that the characters would complete their quest. And a quest it became as dark deals were made and specters of the past were disturbed. The storm was here.

In the final moments lightning struck, the barrier between life and death was crossed and a grieving heart was set to rest with one merciful stroke. The perfect storm passed and healing rain washed over the world like a cool panacea.

This is not a review of Dungeon World. I love what this game can do. I know I can't recreate the magic of that perfect storm, but I now have the tools to make my own.

I love Dungeon World.


Follow Your Bliss,

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What's in a Name? Redux Part 1

Way back when I started this blog I wrote a post about names. Now I get to revisit that topic thanks to the next in Ray Winninger's Dungeoncraft series of articles. Ray has great advice for naming things (PCs, NPCs & places) in a campaign. I thought I'd take a minute to go back through and put a name to things that I've been talking about to flesh out the setting a little more and examine the choices I made. I've organized these by post in chronological order.

So you want to be a GM? Part 1
This is the first of the Dungeoncraft posts detailing my setting creation. Although I came up the the name of the setting before I started this series, it is worth mentioning the origin of the name Icosa. There is nothing mystical here, and most folks may have already figured it out, but Icosa is a root part of the word icosahedron, also known as the twenty-sided die (d20). Since this world is divided into 20 triangular regions, it seems like a good fit.

In the beginning there was only Chaos
In this post I mention Law and Chaos as primal forces constantly doing battle. This struggle impacts the nature of Icosa. I don't need any fancy names here as Law and Chaos have a long history in the fantasy RPG genre.

There's no place like Home
Here I mention a few names and give reference to a few more that will or should be named. This first the the PCs home base of operations which is named in a later post as Dragonsgate.

Next is the name of the human-controlled lands surrounding Dragonsgate. At first I only mention this as a league of city-states and don't really name it. This form of government is inspired by the Ancient Greeks and the League of Corinth. I'd like to give this government its own name, although stealing the name Corinth has its pluses. Since the humans of the setting have thrown off the chains of their oppressors I think they will refer to themselves as Fremen (free men). Both the Fremen League and League of Fremen has a nice ring to it. It can always be referred to as The League for short.

I make mention of three major poleis (city-states) that form the core of The League, but I do not name them. Time to  hit the books and see what I can come up with. One of these is martially focused much like Sparta. Why not call it Martialis and say it is named after the founder. Lo and behold, there was a Roman by that name so it sounds like a winner. The ruling members of this poleis and others under its direct control are know as Marshals.

The second major poleis has a more ecclesiastical focus. I'm sticking with the Greek influence since all these poleis would have formed around the same time. I find a Greek work that is a form of cleric: Kleriki. The ruling members of this poleis are know as Ministers and are added by their appointed Clerks.

The last major poleis is a center of trade and scholarly learning. Here I'm going to depart a little from the names I've taken so far. I found the word that works well for the original name of this city-state: Scholasticus. However, I want this city to have more of an Italian feel, so the new name is Scola. The ruling members of this poleis are known as Magistrates.

The race that had formally enslaved the Fremen are known as the Archons. Again, this comes from Greek and means the 'rulers' or 'lords'. You can tell how much the Archons think of themselves.

Arche is the name given to this region of Icosa. Since it is the first such region I'm developing and since I'm already borrowing a lot from the Greeks I call it Arche which means 'the first'.

More names continued in next post.


Follow Your Bliss,

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Let us pray, Part 3

William Blake's "Ancient of Days"
It's time to wrap up this series of posts detailing the major faith of the realm of Arche on the world of Icosa. I'll tackle the last two steps outlined by Ray Winninger in his Dungeoncraft article.

4. Create (at least) Two Myths

Myths help ground the characters in a world that seems more real. They also gives players ways to immerse themselves in the imaginary game world and better embrace their game personas. I gave some thought to the Trinity and came up with the following mythical explanations of worldly phenomenon. Keeping the First Rule of Dungeoncraft in mind, I won't develop too many myths for now. I have created one major myth and two minor ones.

It is believed that once two great orbs of light graced the skies as the father sent his eyes circling the world to see all that transpired. The light was cold and distant and the people of the land cried out for warmth and a respite from the endless day so they might rest from their ceaseless toiling.

The son took to heart the plight of the mortals and put out one of the father's eyes by stealing the flame within and gifting it to men so that they may warm their hearth. As a result, night was born. The darkness caused mortals to grow weary and and afraid as they huddled around their fires. Darkness also allowed Chaos to enter the minds of mortals.

To help light the darkness, the mother carried her shimmering shield across the night sky. Alas, the shadow of Chaos chased her through the darkness, threatening to cause her to lose her way and be consumed. Her son, shamed at the sorrow his deed had caused, pinned the glowing souls of fallen warriors to the dome of night, but even this was not nearly enough to hold back Chaos.

The father, fearing for his wife, took the twinkling points of light placed by his son and arranged them in a ward to banish Chaos. His power diminished by the blinding of one eye, the ward could not completely thwart Chaos, but it was able to hold it at bay. The sun now warms the land during the day and the shadow of Chaos still chases the moon and swallows it once a cycle, but the stars in the heavens help guide the moon out from under the shadow to continue the race another night.

As punishment for the crime against his father, the son is tasked with eternally stoking the fires warming the earth to ensure that they never go out. Earthquakes and volcanos are signs of the son's anger while performing his penance.

Souls of the just are gathered by the father's angels and placed in the heavens to keep Chaos at bay, while the unjust are gathered by the son to work the world furnace for all eternity.

Storms are believed to happen when the father and son are arguing, the rainbow after the storm is a sign from the mother that peace has been made between the two. When disputes are settled, peace is signified by the opposing sides clasping hands and a colorful ribbon wrapped around the joined hands.

Madness is believed to be a curse from the mother upon those who try to avoid the fate she has allotted them. As a result, many temples of the mother house the mad (for the proper donation, of course) in efforts to place them once again on their fated path.

5. Imagine Other Faiths

The final detail suggested by Ray is to consider other faiths of the land. In his article this is targeted at non-human races and the deities they worship. After giving it due consideration, I have decided (for now) to shy away from the traditional fantasy races included in the Lamentation of the Flame Princess core rules. I'm not, strictly speaking, using Tolkien as part of the inspiration for this setting. So what about the classes of elf, dwarf and halfling? Instead I give you the arcadians, homunculi and beast men, all of whom are offshoots of the human race.

Aracadians are the result of the unions between the chaos-worshiping Archons and humans. They worship no gods, but venerate their ancestors that first escaped the clutches of their sorcerous masters. They are represented by the elf class.

The homunculi were created when the Archons infused humans with spirits of the earth. As such, there were well suited to build the great Archon fortresses carved into towering mountain walls. They are represented by the dwarf class.

The beast men are the stunted and tortured remains of the humans twisted by magic to serve as feral hounds to their masters. Outside Archon lands they roam wild in warring pack-like clans, surviving off the land. They are represented by the halfling class.

Then there are the oft-mentioned Archons. While not a player class (at least for now) it is worth mentioning that they pay homage to the various chaotic beings. These beings have even found worship by small cults of humans seeking earthly power.

So I'm off to create a few GM secrets for these facts that I've laid out (Second Rule of Dungeoncraft) and look forward to tackling the next of Ray's Dungeoncraft articles.

Follow Your Bliss,

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Let us pray, Part 2

Clerics of the Trinity
Let's pick up where I left off on detailing the major faith in the Arche realm of my setting, Icosa. I'm stepping through Ray Winninger's recommended approach to detailing the gods and myths of a typical fanatasy RPG campaign based on his series of Dungeoncraft articles. This will help give background to the cleric class from Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotPF).

3. Describe the Faith and Worshippers

Ray spends a good deal of time talking about ways to take the deities created in the previous steps and creating unique AD&D 2nd edition priests. He does an excellent job describing how to best balance the abilities granted by these deities. This was a pretty big deal in the day. Prior to 2nd Ed. there was only one choice: the cleric. Using LotFP, a close relation of the Old School Renaissance, the cleric in Arche will be closer to that of Basic D&D - one size fits all deities. That's ok by me.

Let me digress for a second here to elaborate on why this approach doesn't bother me, especially because of LotFP. When I started playing D&D all the fighters had the same abilities. What set them apart was their choice of weapons and armor. Also, there was generally no restrictions to background so a player could make their fighter as unique as they wanted even though he had the same chances to hit and saving throws. One fighter really did fit all (or at least most) players.

The same is true of clerics. Most clerics were carbon copies of each other except for their holy symbol. They had a very limited selection of armor and weapons. But what did set them apart was their choice in spells. Even though all clerics used the same spell list, there was nothing preventing a player from selecting only spells that helped further the character's connection to their deity. And really that sort of flexibility is great.

LotFP takes it one step further - no weapon restrictions. There is nothing preventing a cleric from using a sword, which has always been the realm of them fighter types. Now, clerics can chose a suitable weapon to represent their deity. This freedom in an OSR game (as you should hopefully see) gives me enough room to make are essential the same, but have their own flavor. Ok, back from the digression...

So, even though I don't need to come up with a portfolio for each of the gods, this step will certainly help 'flesh' them out. These portfolios will certainly have an impact on many levels of the cleric as well as give some depth to the world.

The Father is the primary god of this trio. He is the law-giver and the light-bringer that nourishes the world.  His role is that of leader and judge, ruling from his heavenly throne with golden spear in hand. He is the blind god, yet all-seeing and all-knowing. His light reveals the truth and little can stay hidden from him for long. He is patient and brooding as ponders the great mysteries of the cosmos.

The son is heir to the heavenly kingdom. He is the war-maker and death-bringer. He is the oath-maker and vengeance-seeker. He is the war-leader and right hand to his father, meting out justice at his father's decree. His flaming sword strikes as quick as lightning and never fails to find its mark. The heavens sparkle with the souls of the honored fallen in battle.

The mother sits at the left hand of the father. She is the clever crafter and thing-maker. She is explorer and seeker. Her silver bow fells enemies from afar and is said to weave the fate of the living and guide them on their course. Fortune and prosperity follow her, but she may just as easily curse the wicked with madness.

With that taken care of, Ray next discusses selecting the correct Alignment for each deity and their followers. Here again, LotFP comes to my rescue. All clerics must be Lawful (which begs the question, why is there a reversed version of certain spells? That is a topic for another day).

The last thing Ray discussed for this step is to establish some ceremonies and restrictions for the faith. Because I'd like to get some variety between the clerical orders devoted to each member of the trio, I want to get at least a few defined before play.

Common duties and services performed by those worshiping this Lawful Trinity include:
  • Clerics of the father act as advisers to the ruling class, are seen as philosophers, and oversee the courts and ceremonies marriage and baptism with services taking place at the beginning of the year, each month and at dawn.
  • Clerics of the son work with the militia and oversee the ceremonies of the dead taking place at dusk as well as ceremonies taking place at the end of each month as well as the end of the year.
  • Clerics of the mother oversee the guilds as well as travel between cities and rites of passage ceremonies taking place on nights of the full moon.
  • Oaths are made while holding the blade of a sword.
  • Evil is warded by making the sign of the Trinity - touching forehead, then right shoulder, then left shoulder or, in a less pronounced manner, by drawing a triangle over the heart.
Originally I had planned for specific restrictions to be associated with each of the three aspects of the Trinity. However, while thinking of it from a player's point of view I decided to create a list of restrictions. All clerics of the faith must tithe a portion (10%) of all money earned to the church. They must also take one of the three vows:
  • Honesty- to always speak the truth (father)
  • Chastity - to never marry or have romantic relations (mother)
  • Service - to always offer their services to the marshal/magistrate of a town or city (son)
I've included which aspect of the Trinity each of these vows is normally associated, however, players can choose to ignore that if they wish as followers of the faith as a whole rather than just one aspect.

That's it for now, I hope to wrap up the Trinity in the next post.


Follow Your Bliss,

Monday, April 30, 2012

Let us pray, Part 1

Representation of a Templar
(Duinenabdij, Koksijde, Belgium)
Next on Ray Winninger's Dungeoncraft hit parade is how to create the gods and myths of your setting in 5 easy steps. Here I'll develop some background for clerics in the Arche realm of Icosa. Since I will be using Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) as my game engine for this campaign, I will let the rules for that system guide me in making my decisions. Also, in keeping with the First Rule of Dungeoncraft*, I will stay focused on the major faith in the setting as it would relate to the player characters (PCs).

1. Choose Polytheism or Monotheism

This seems like a simple question at first, most fantasy settings are Polytheistic. There exist great pantheons of gods to be worshiped for all manner of reasons. This is great if you have a character class that supports varying faiths with unique abilities. LotFP has only a single cleric class to cover this option for players. 

I'm not saying this is a bad thing about LotFP, I love the fact that the game takes a simplified approach. It does make my life a little bit easier when it comes to making this decision. Even if there are multiple deities, they grant the same abilities to their clerics. So, no need for a huge pantheon, a pantheon of three will suffice (bonus points to readers who guessed the correct number) - a divine trio.

This, and my catholic upbringing, puts the Christian Trinity to mind. This also resonates with Lotfp. While the game does not imply a particular type of religion, much of the artwork associated with the game includes images of crucifix-wearing priests and adventurers. The historical old school prototype for the cleric are the Knights Templar, which is a very cool image for the clerics of Arche

So, for my first step I pick monotheistic religion with different entities that are considered as one.

2. Determine the Nature of the Major Gods

Here Ray suggests determining if the gods are personifications or not, use a few adjectives to describe personality and demeanor of each, and define their relationships and interactions with each other. I think in keeping with the divine trio approach, these deities will be personified as follows:

  • Father - noble, stern leader; aloof and distant; wise, all seeing, all knowing.
  • Son - swift to anger, vengeful; strong and powerful; frightening in visage.
  • Mother - inventive and quick witted; practical and pragmatic; caring and kind.
The father and son will be seen as being at odds at times, with the son ignoring the council of his father. The mother is the peacekeeper between the two.

That's all for this time. We'll pick up next time with the remaining steps to fleshing out the faith of Arche.


Follow Your Bliss,

* "Never force yourself to create more than you must."
** By JoJan (Own work - own photo) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What is a level?

A recent post by Mike Mearls regarding character levels in D&D Next has me thinking about what a level means as it applies the players' avatars in the game. I've been playing so long that this concept of level is just one of those things that I take for granted, never giving it another thought. Now I want to look at it again and see if I've chosen the right game for my setting.

At it's most basic, a level is a measurement. It is a benchmark that can be used to compare things. In this case, it is used to compare player characters (PCs) in the game to each other and to the setting and all elements therein. There is an assumption that all elements of the same level (classes, monsters, dungeons) are the same in relative power and effectiveness.

What that means is that every aspect of what makes a character tick is assigned a particular value. Increased combat ability is worth X and additional spell-casting ability is worth Y. If this is equally balanced, each character class uses the same scale and, as is the case in most current d20 games - D&D 3.5, 4 & Pathfinder, progresses at the same pace. The granular unit used for measuring this pace is the experience point, an abstraction of learning and interaction with the setting. The granularity of this unit varies from the extremely coarse (original D&D) to the micro-fine (most MMOs).

It never occurred to me how odd it is when a party of characters that is adventuring together all sudden becomes eligible for a level increase at the same time because they've they've been earning experience at the same rate - they've fought the same monsters together, divided treasure equally and overcome the same obstacles.

This 'party leveling' no doubt came as a response to the earlier approach where each class had a different cost for progressing to the next level - most original and old school d20 games including Lamentations of the Flame Princess. This approach is messy. Some character advance more quickly than others. It takes longer to get to the 'good stuff' in the character class. Being an old school player, I like messy, it feels right.

And then we have the idea of maximum level. How high should the class levels go? But what really got me thinking was the idea presented in Mike's article, that, even if there are infinite levels, he's trying to figure out when the game changes and what that change should be based on level. This has precedent in D&D in which certain classes are able to build a keep, castle or tower, or attract a large body of followers. This acquisition intrinsically changes the dynamics of play.

My feeling is that basing when a campaign should evolve based on level is silly. This assumption is based on a play style that may not be universally adopted. Why couldn't a campaign be based around the idea that PCs start with a keep, or are in charge of a large body of followers? The shift of game play should be organic. The PCs could be given control of a small area of the kingdom at a very low level.

LotFP de-couples the rules for ownership and followers from the concept of level. Just another reason why I'll be using this game for Icosa.


Follow Your Bliss,

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Money, money, money

Dragon's Blood Wine*
After hammering out some details about the character's starting  home base and government it's time to look at the economy, or, to put in terms Ray Winninger uses, the Ways and Means of the town. First, the means.


By means, Ray is asking GMs to define the driving element in the economy of the PC's home base. How do people get what they need and want: food, necessities, and luxuries. The town needs something that it can produce or use for trade, or, at the very least, be a place where goods are gathered from different sources and shipped elsewhere.

I've already mentioned that the home base will be a shadow of it's former self. Long gone are the days where the town was bustling with visitors and commerce; now it's a town fighting to survive. This wilderness town is located on a lake at the mouth of a river and suggests to me a few things: fresh-water fish, animal pelts and tolls.

Perhaps there are not many large fresh-water lakes in the area. Fishing could sustain the town at a modest level as it tries to improve its way of life. Fish could be harvested, prepared, packed and then shipped down river to the larger towns and city-states in the more civilized areas of the League - remember, this is a frontier town.

Being a frontier area, it may also prove excellent for trapping and hunting. This could provide another source of food in addition to fishing and farming. The pelts and skins could be brought into town and prepared for shipment down river to be made into other finished products. Boy, fisheries and a tanneries in the same town. This place will have an odor all it's own!

Ok, so fishing and leather may seem pretty obvious, but tolls? Well, I see the lake and town being in the foothills. As the river runs towards the sea it is most likely travelling down hill, which may make it difficult for boats to move up stream. Maybe the town build a set of locks to raise the boats up to the level of the lake and back down again. The dock master could charge a toll for that, a portion of which would make into the Marshal's coffers, but that certainly doesn't seem like it could be very profitable. Not many people are in a hurry to head out beyond the borders of civilization.

Perhaps the locks are linked to the town's previous prosperity. So what would warrant a lot of traffic up and town the river? Since the town is in the foothills, that could mean lumber and mining. But if this traffic was the former source of the town's prosperity, what happened to all the logging and mining? A great question and one that is best answered by turning it into a secret (Second Rule of Dungeoncraft). This also servers as an excellent source for adventure locals - abandoned mines and lumberjack ghost towns!

I don't need to go into much more detail than what I have so far (First Rule of Dungeoncraft), so it's off to our second point: the way.


Ways refers to an interesting custom or aspect that makes this place unique in the realm of Arche. This will help solidify the town in the player's minds (and hopefully keep their minds off the smell from upwind). This could be something the town does or makes, a legend, a scandal...almost anything.

I like the sound of a legend, but that doesn't seem to be enough. Maybe if the legend is behind something produced in the town to help magnify it's value? Ok, try this on for size:

Legend has it that as the humans fought for their freedom from their former masters, the Archons, these vile sorcerers summoned an evil and powerful dragon to expunge the troublesome mortals from the land. A pitched battle was fought and only a great sacrifice was able to bring the dragon low. The dragon plumeted into the lake and sank below it's cold water.** Soon the lake water ran red with dragon's blood, giving rise to the lake's new name: Limno Drakos in Low Archean or Dragon's Blood Lake in the trade tongue. To this day, the lake retains its red hue.

But it doesn't stop there. Soon after the town was settled, the Marshal of the town, a soldier who fancied himself a vintner, discovered a bush of bright red grapes. He cultivated this bush, dubbed it's fruit Blood Grapes and experimented with it to produce a cask of exceptionally spicy wine. Given the dark red color and fiery flavor of the wine, the name seemed obvious: Dragon's Blood. The crest the Marshal soon adopted for him family quickly adorned every bottle of wine produced from his vineyard - a green dragon on a field of red with crossed  spear, sword and staff.

This little fact sparks another idea. Perhaps the salmon of this region have scales and flesh of a rich red color, supposedly stained by the dragon's blood. Perhaps they are known throughout Arche as Dragonfish. The river that leads from the lake to the sea could wind through the foothills for many miles, its course providing its name - The Serpentine. And finally, the name for the town seems obvious:

Welcome, weary traveler, to the town of Dragonsgate, ruby in the wilderness.


Follow Your Bliss,

*Image By Greg Wagoner [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
**Yeah, I know, this just screams The Hobbit, doesn't it? Well, that's ok by me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

LotFP Hardcover and Adventures Project LotFP

I've talked about using Lamentations of the Flame Princess as the rule set for my Icosa campaign, so I'm very excited to see that James has a
new IndieGoGo campaign to fund the publication of the Rules & Magic book as a hardcover. James talks about this new campaign on his blog. I've contributed and am spreading the word to see this campaign succeed.

Follow Your bliss,

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, April 23, 2012

There's no place like Home

Home Base, that is. The next in Ray Winninger's series of Dungeoncraft articles deals with two topics: Government and Economy. So I will now turn my eye to these arenas of development for my Icosa setting. This post will focus on the Player Character's home base and government while a future post will delve into economics.

Ray gives a nice breakdown of the possible configurations for the PC's home base as well as the format that principality's, and, by extent, the campaign at large's, governing body. According to the First Rule of Dungeoncraft, I should only develop what I need to get started. Ray goes on to say that the PCs will eventually outgrow and, therefore, move on from this locale so there is no point in putting extra effort into details.

I beg to differ on this second point based on aspects of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the system I've chosen to run my games in Icosa. One very important aspect for both the magic-user and cleric classes is their ability to create magical items: scrolls of spells and protection, potions, wands, staves, and holy water. In order to produce these items efficiently and economically a spell caster needs access to a library or temple, respectively, of the appropriate size. Unless there is already one in the area (which there most likely will not be the case, see below) most PCs will need to build one of their own. Once built, players are reluctant to move elsewhere. For this reason I may spend a little bit more time on it to get the most bang for my buck.

Of the types of home bases Ray mentions, the one I'm choosing to go with is a somewhere between stronghold and a town. I could go with the stronghold and riff on that Keep-on-the-Borderlands-vibe that seems to run strong in those of us that first rolled dice in the module of the same name, but because I want to make it a little more substantial I'm going to beef it up.

It's a town that's seen better days. It is on the fringe of civilized lands and a shadow of it's former self. The dilapidated state of the town will be perfect for the PCs to inject some life into it with their adventures. Because things are bad now, they can only get better, right?

The town will be situated in the foothills of one the foreboding barrier peaks (wink, wink) at the northern mouth of a large lake where it narrows into a river. There will be small well-kept areas of town on either river bank and a keep in a strategic position to guard passage between river and lake. These will be surrounded by the less well-cared-for areas of town and several farms. Because the town is the gateway to the unknown and fords a river near a lake, the name will be something like Riverford, Rivergate, Gateford, Lakegate...I'll figure it out.

The town is part of a larger League of city-states. These city-states form the core of humanity in this realm. The (predominantly) human and (scattered) demi-human tribes have banded together once they threw off the chains of their former masters, the Archons, a race of nigh-immortal, chaos-worshiping sorcerers. Over the centuries since their freedom, the city-states have coalesced into three major powers: martial, clerical and scholarly/mercantile (the number 3 will be a recurring theme in this campaign).

Each of the major city-states have passed from anarchy, through monarchy into a comfortable oligarchy. This has allowed them to achieve a state of renaissance and expand their control over neighboring tribes to consolidate their power. The flavor for this form of government is certainly inspired by ancient Greece culture. I think this fact will influence many aspects of the upcoming design. For this reason I call this first realm of Icosa: Arche.

The League must work together to stave off the threats that surround them: the remnants of the power-mad Archons to the west, the barbaric tribes of Beastmen from the blasted lands to the east, and the marauding sea barons to the north. The PC's home base is on the southernmost edge of the League and staving off Archon slavers, Beastmen pillagers, and falls under the jurisdiction of the martial city-state and is therefore ruled by an appointed Marshal.*

In keeping with the Second Rule of Dungeoncraft I must now create at least one secret to go along with each of these points that I've developed. While I won't put the actual secrets here, I will say the secrets will deal with the origins of the Archons, the town, and the League.


Follow Your Bliss,

*If it seems like this came together rather quickly, it didn't. This has been percolating in the far reaches of my mind for some time now; I've finally committed to giving it form.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Icosa Inspirations

In an effort of full disclosure I want to list some of my sources of inspiration for environmental aspects this particular vision of Icosa. I've posted before about the inspiration of oppositionsituation elements, so no need to reiterate here.

Well World

While I've never read this series of books by Jack L. Chalker, the premise has always stuck with me. I remember hearing about these books when a role-playing game based on the first book was released in 1985. The world, an experiment of a long lost race of advanced beings, is divided up into 1500+ hexes. Each hex is a self-contained world with unique life forms that would be used to seed life on new planets throughout the universe. This idea of a 'world full of worlds' has been lurking in the recesses of my mind ever since.

Campaign idea

A fellow gamer and friend from high school, Don, once proposed a campaign setting in which the mountain walls were impassible and that life was limited to the valleys formed within these granite 'bowls'. Here, the dwarves held sway over any passage between valleys, but have long since closed their doors, cutting off each valley from it's neighbors. This, probably more than anything else, was the seed that is developing into Icosa.


The parallels between the dwarven retreat in Icosa and those in Tolkien's Moria are intentional. Moria, as James Maliszewski points out, is probably the best example of a megadungeon in fantasy literature.


The reclusive dwarves of the Dragonlance setting are yet a further refinement of the archetypal image created by their Moria cousins.

Rose of the Prophet

These books by Hickman & Weis detail a fantasy setting where there are 20 deities who are actually facets of one greater deity. The organization of these deities around a vertex of a icosahedron are more support for the faceted aspects of Icosa. While I don't plan to have exactly 20 deities (I'm actually not sure how many deities there will be), I would like to play with the idea that the aspects of the lines and vertexes Icosa's mountain ranges can add thematic spice to each of the 20 regions. In this way, neighboring regions may have particular themes in common.

And last, but certainly not least...


The humble and instantly recognizable d20 is a symbol long associated with fantasy role-playing games. 'Nuff Said.

And there you have it. This, along with my earlier posts, should give a clearer picture of where Icosa, as I see it, originated.


Follow Your Bliss,

Monday, April 16, 2012

In the beginning there was only Chaos

I've posted before some of my thoughts about Icosa, but these were primarily musings as I toyed with the idea and theme of the setting that I was looking to create. Now I begin the development of this setting in earnest. Continuing from my last two posts, I'll use the next in Ray Winninger's Dungeoncraft series of articles to plan my first steps. We'll see if it helps to go into this process with some idea of what I want to do.

Before beginning, it is worth mentioning Ray's First Rule of Dungeoncraft:

Never force yourself to create more than you must.

To begin with Ray suggests developing the hook for your setting; what is it that makes this setting unique among all the settings already out there? He goes on to show the five possible categories for setting hooks: culture, environment, class/race, opposition, and situations.* Icosa will be a combination of environmental and situation hooks with a fair amount of the opposition hook thrown in for good measure.

The main environmental hook is that the world is divided into 20 separate regions (so now the image in these posts should make a little more sense). Each region is segregated from the others by a ridge of high, impassible mountains. Each region is isolated and has developed it's own unique cultural elements. I'll start with one region and expand from there. This patchwork approach to the world will allow me to have a variety of settings within one framework.

Unpacking this idea a little further, the isolation wasn't always this way. I imagine that the dwarves once had extensive roads and tunnels connecting each of the regions. However, this is no longer the case as they've long since closed their doors, leaving their surface dwelling brethren stranded. This is also an excellent source of dungeons to explore.

So, isolation is part of the situation, the other part is the battle between Law and Chaos. Picking up some of the ideas from earlier posts, I want to explore the idea of these two cosmic forces in play on Icosa. By keeping it Law vs. Chaos, I'm divorcing it from any sense of morality. I feel that both sides can be as noble or corrupt as the mortal behavior allows. In this way, Alignment in the game is allegiance to one of these forces, tacit or explicit, and not a mode of behavior. This is in keeping with the philosophy of Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP).

Picking up the last idea from my previous posts, the Lovecraftian Mythos will be a major force for Chaos on this world. Along side the minions of madness will be the endless hoards of Elementals. These forces will become the primary opposition to the characters in the game. This, again, is in keeping with LotFP's element of horror or weird fantasy.

Keeping the First Rule of Dungeoncraft firmly in mind, this is enough to get started. Which leads us to Ray's Second Rule of Dungeoncraft

Whenever you design a major piece of the campaign world, always devise at least one secret related to that piece.

So since this blog will be open to all my potential players, I'm going to go make some secret notes now. I feel it is important for the players to discover the secrets as they go; be back in a moment.

I'm back (bet you didn't even get a chance to miss me). I've added three secrets to Icosa at this time, but have refrained from elaborating on them so that I stay in line with the First Rule. This is a good start and a good place to end this post. Next time I'll look at some inspirations for the environmental and opposition aspects of this setting.


Follow Your Bliss,

* I'm not going to go into explaining these here since Ray does such a excellent job in his article. I recommend readers check out the article for yourselves.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

So you want to be a GM? Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

So before beginning my work on Icosa, Ray calls for a sanity check (no, not like Call of Cthulhu, but close). He asks potential GMs* to answer four simple questions before embarking on this sometimes-daunting creative endeavor. So let me take a few moments and answer these questions here.

1. Should I GM?
Creating a setting from scratch and running it for a game is a major time commitment. Ray estimates at least 3-4 hours a week in preparation, this sounds conservative to me, having spent this much time on prep for published settings. It is important to consider time as a factor to avoid false starts in the game.

Time is not always my friend. When asked which super power I wished I had, I answer, without hesitation, super speed. I never seem to have enough time to plan and do all I want. But I do have a couple of factors that are working in my favor.

First, the only other game I'm running is an on-line game of Dresden Files RPG. This is not a prep-intensive game. We typically play for a couple of hours every 1-2 weeks. This is enough time for a scene or two. DFRPG works best for me if I create some starting conditions with no planned outcome. Make each scene start with a kicker and react to the players' actions. It's worked for me so far and the players seem to be enjoying themselves.

Second, I will probably be doing a lot of traveling for work in the near future. This means lots of down time in airports, on planes (like the one I'm on as I type this), and in hotel rooms. Not to mention the oxygen on planes seems to ignite my creative fires (some people get their best ideas in the shower, for me, I get them at 35,000 ft.).

Of course family and work take precedence, but I'm confident I can carve out enough time to make Icosa happen. One down, three to go.

2. How Many Players Do I Want? Where Will I Find Them?
This is an easy one. I have a built-in source of players with any of my gaming groups. Most likely I will run this for my bi-weekly group that includes my boys. There are 6 of us total, so 5 players hits my sweet spot. Two more questions.

3. How Often Should We Play?
Since there are already three rotating GMs, I'll get added to the mix. This also means I'll have more prep time. We may only play Icosa every other month or so; this could be a problem with players remembering all that happened last time. I plan to use Obsidian Portal to act as setting repository. Last question coming up.

4. What Rulebooks and Accessories Will I Need?
I've mentioned before that the system of choice in our house is Pathfinder. However, wanting to stay true to the Old School inspiration that spurred me to first start this blog, I'm going to go with something else.

In previous posts I've mentioned several retro-clones including Swords & Wizardry. For a long time, this system seem to fit the bill: it is simple and straight-forward with lots of flexibility. But time has a way of changing minds.

Recently I've been reading up on Lamentations of the Flame Princess by James Edward Raggi IV. I heard that he had released a free Grindhouse edition PDF of his rules and decided to check it out. I like what I read; the mix of fantasy and horror had the feel of what I was looking for. I think the design choices he made will make for an interesting game.

This does pose one potential issue related to prep time. James' philosophy is that all monsters and magic items should be unique. As such, there are no stat-ed lists of either in this game; along with the setting, I will have to create monsters and magic items from scratch. This could significantly increase the prep time for this game.

On the flip-side, this will also tax my creativity and make for a truly unique gaming experience for my players; I'm very excited by this prospect. Also, since the players will have no preconceived notions about the setting, it will truly be an adventure of exploration; this only adds to the air of mystery about the setting.

So the players and I will be using the same free PDF to play from. I may purchase the full PDF at some point, but the Grindhouse edition certainly has enough to get me started.

So there you have it, Icosa is a go. I would recommend these four simple questions to be asked by any DM/GM/MC/Storyteller/Referee of themselves before beginning any creation of a setting for any roleplaying game.

Follow your bliss,

*Ray refers to DMs, of course, as these articles were written for AD&D 2nd edition and published in Dragon magazine in the late 1990's, but since I'm not using D&D as the setting engine I'll use the more generic GM.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, April 9, 2012

So you want to be a GM? Part 1

If you read the laundry list of games I'm currently playing, you may wonder why I would be trying to setup another game to run, especially something as labor intensive as building an original setting from scratch. Let's chalk it up to temporary insanity.

Or it could be that I consider this style of game play an art form that I want to master. Hard to tell some days.

But, recently I've been playing in several home-brewed settings and it has brought back the itch to create a setting from the the ground up. I really am a grognard at heart and this style of sandbox play is an inescapable siren song to me. In all my 30+ years of play, I've never created something that I can truly call my own; I've run original adventures in published settings, but nothing where the setting has my DNA in it.

I've spoken in the past of my idea of a setting named Icosa. It's time to revisit that idea. Also, I hope that by developing this setting in the open the process will help me hone my world-building skills. But where to begin?

I have long been a fan of Ray Winninger's series of Dungeoncraft articles from Dragon magazine. I've long wanted to put the advice in these articles to the test, so I'll be using them as the blueprint for preparing Icosa for play.

More to come.

Follow your bliss,

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, April 2, 2012

Oh the games we play

Many of the RPGs I currently play are chosen by my boys. This is not necessarily a bad thing; I only have a few more years in the house with them before they go off to adventure on their own, so I take every opportunity I can to play with them now. I've also been lucky of late to have plenty of gaming options.

The game of choice in our house is the Pathfinder RPG. I first played this version of d20 a year ago at BASHCON and the boys and I played three Pathfinder Society games at GenCon 2011. Since then we have invested in most of the Core and Ultimate books. It's a crunchy game and provides plenty of character customization. Learning the nuances of character creation is as enjoyable as the game play at the table.

My regular biweekly game, which includes my sons and three friends, is currently rotating three GMs: my older son and two original members of the group. My son is running a Pathfinder game set in Eberron (since he had most of the Eberron books it seemed like a good way to go). Our party is composed of several drow and a warforged exploring Xen'drik.

The other two GMs are alternating adventures in a home brewed world using D&D 3.5. The main group is a typical mid level party adventuring under the creator of this world. The other GM is overseeing a group of low level halflings trying to make a big name for themselves.

Not to be left out, my younger son has started running adventures for his brother and myself using Pathfinder for a home grown setting. We're two adventures in and having a great time. Our other home game is a longer running Eberron game that was started with 3.5 and published modules. We've now moved beyond the modules and are working to convert over to Pathfinder for more original adventures.

I'm also fortunate enough to play with some podcasting luminaries. A loca, face-to-face Pathfinder game in a home grown setting is being run by Ben of Games You Never... fame (part of All Games Considered podcast). Also in the group is Josh who has had work published by Hex Games and is a member of the Monkeys Took My Jetpack podcast. We're just getting started in a military campaign which promises to be exciting.

My final gaming group meets on-line to play. This group includes Rich of the Canon Puncture and RPG Crosstalk podcasts, as well as Ed & Alex from the Yellow Menace podcast. I'm running this group though a Dresden Files RPG game set in Minneapolis. We've also started working on an InSpectres game run by Rich, for those nights we don't have a quorum for DFRPG.

When I see all these games listed out I now realize why my wife gives me "the look" when I tell her I'm heading off to gaming. Honest, dear, I'm not trying to get out of doing the laundry and dishes.

Follow your bliss,


I was reminded this morning that I left off one game: a play-by-post game set in the Tower of Druaga on Obsidian Portal utilizing the Adventure Game Engine from Dragon Age RPG. This game is the brainchild of Daniel of Highmoon Media and, most recently, This Just in...from GenCon! podcast. I'm joined in this adventure by fellow gamer and friend of the Canon Puncture show, Jarad.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, March 30, 2012

Words, words, words

So now that I've started blogging again, what do I expect to see posted here? Well, in no particular order:

RPGs - This will include games I'm playing, running, designing or anything related to the RPG hobby.

Books - Anything that I'm reading is potential subject matter for a post, especially if it somehow relates to RPGs.

TV & Movies - Much like books, things that tickle my fancy may end up here as well.

Personal Exploration - This is more navel gazing than anything else, but as this is my canvas for recording my thoughts and exploring the idea of spirituality in my daily life, if it is important enough it may show up here.

Podcasts & Blogs- I may talk about something I heard during a podcast or read on a blog that struck me as interesting.

Technology - for the last 13 years I've provided technical support for a custom software program; this has given me the opportunity to play with all kinds of nifty gadgets and software. I may post about this from time to time. Once again, if the technology is related to RPGs, the likelihood of it being posted here is much greater.

Creative Projects - As some folks may know, I have a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree that I am doing absolutely nothing with; I'd like to change that.

When it comes down to it, pretty much anything is fair game. I'm really just trying to find my way through the labyrinth I call life and these posts are the thread that may one day lead me out. If I post something that interests you then I invite you to comment and strike up a conversation.

Follow your bliss,

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hello World!

It has been 7 months 24 days 11 hours and 32 minutes since I last posted something in this blog. Not sure if I just had nothing to say or I let life weigh me down. I'm getting back in the saddle and plan to start posting some more. The majority of the posts will be game related, but other topics may creep in; there is more to me than gaming, it just depends on how much I feel comfortable sharing.


Follow Your Bliss,