N1. Reptile god. Session 5


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fumbleAfter the battle in the first level of the implausible dungeon beneath the swamp, the elvish boys had a good long rest in a barricaded room. When they re-emerged they completed the sweep and headed down, encountering and defeating troglodytes, crocodiles, giant rats, killer frogs, ghouls, and a particularly effective (though unlikely) harpy.

The standout events from this session were not the achievements of victory, but in the way they happened. There were a lot of ‘1’s’ rolled.

As more of a story-game guy rather than a rules guy I could not let this pass, and these critical failures became interesting and sometime funny events. Storm the sorcerer seemed to suffer quite a few of these. When they were fighting in a boat he rolled one on his attack, then failed a Dex check, and fell into the water. Later, when trying to shoot at a ghoul, another critical had the crossbow break – no doubt because of the moisture.

Octavius the paladin was actually charmed by the harpy, and was actually hit and took damage from a ghoul.

My favourite was when Arius the monk was attacked by a ghoul, was hit, and failed his save to become paralysed. Another critical failure later and we declared that he had lost something – his choice – but it would only be noticed later. This is straight from dungeon world and is an excellent way of inserting some story into the game. He fell, dropping his staff into the mud. It only makes sense that it could become lost or forgotten in the bid to get away.

This is something that is going to pay off later.


Project 1701 c01 & d01; Traveller Tomorrow’s War


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Every time I write 1701 I have a little chuckle, and now 1701c is just too auspicious… at least it is for any dyed in the wool Trekkie.

Anyway, planet Guerzim is part of the Crucis Union, a political body that sounds a bit Federal, that has at least four different political factions. I’ve decided (since I like to base both fantasy and science fiction on historical models), that the Union is roughly analogous to NATO. This means that their equipment will be Western European and American inspired. The Mandanin Co-Dominion, the Union’s most obvious foe, is therefore going to be based on Soviet equipment.

With that in mind I have decided the figures that need to be painted. This is a 15mm exercise, with the resulting squads being mounted on FoW bases. The figures shown are a mix of FoW guys I picked up on sale – I’m pretty sure they were designed for the Arab-Israeli conflicts: but importantly some of them have AK’s and some have the typical M16/SLR look. To fill the specialist roles of SAW and SLAM I’m using some of the excellent Eureka Miniatures Soviet and Australian troops. They really are superior to the FoW guys: not that the FoW guys are bad, far from it, but there is a surprising amount of detail on Eureka for 15mm. Here they are divided into the squads.

I’ve also built some N scale buildings from Metcalfe Models. There was some interesting chatter on the interweb about scales for 15mm. There seemed to be a strong body of opinion that going down a scale (from 15mm 1:100 to N Scale 1:150) was a good thing to do. There were also many contrary opinions. So the experiment has to be conducted and we can see how it all looks when it comes together. The buildings themselves were a delight to put together. Honestly, I could just make them all day.

When it comes to buildings in a science fiction setting we really at at the mercy of other people’s imaginations as there is no reference work. We’re not talking about hasty Mars-Habs here, this is Traveller: people have been living full and productive lives on planets for many hundreds of years. And with that in mind I decided that technically there is no reason why something could not be made of locally made bricks and morter. There was no reason why it couldn’t look like and ordinary house. It also fits my theme of basing the future on the past.

Project 1701


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nick_g_02When I got back into miniatures after a long break of working and making a family, I started with 15mm. Way back when I thought 15mm was where the action was and I bought a complete painted army of the Sudan (1890’s). Pretty soon I found that a group of 12, 24 or even 36 figures shoulder to shoulder does not look like a battalion, even though that’s what they were supposed to represent. I tried to rectify this by going to 10mm and making the groups bigger. This still did not work and the abstractions of ‘battlefield intelligence’ (I’m the general on a hill but I can see absolutely every man in this battle and I can command groups individually to change formation) took a lot of the fun out of it. I turned to 28mm and skirmish and have generally never looked back.

However the 15mm urge has always been there and I was momentarily tempted by Flames of War until it became painfully obvious that it was just a set of rules for Ancients, and the cavalry were models of tanks. My painted Falshirmjagers and support never saw action.

And in another corner of my mind was science fiction. Over the ears I have been on the search for a set of rules that would allow me to play ‘reinforced platoon’ level games (like Crossfire and Poor Bloody Infantry did for WWII). Most rulesets I have read do not really cover the kinds of advancements and therefore changes in tactical doctrines that I want to see. No one knows what the future will hold and new technologies will make old tactics futile and present new ones unimagined today. However you can be pretty sure that enhanced battlefield surveillance (drones, possibly robotic, with live feeds to command posts), guided and precise range detonated munitions, and improved communications are going to play a part.

At present Tomorrow’s War by Ambush Alley Games seems to have all the elements I need. The models shown in the book, and most of the games I see in other people’s blogs are 28mm. However, no model moves in isolation: they are all part of a fireteam. And as it says on page 55, ‘Many Tomorrow’s War players may already have figures based on multi-figure stands for use with other games. This basing method works perfectly well with Tomorrow’s War, so there’s no need to rebase your existing armies or replace them with new figures. Simply treat each stand as a fireteam and keep track of how many casualties it has taken.

This is the green light to proceed with Flames of War basing techniques in a sci fi setting. And so we get to the first project of 2017:

Project 1701 – Lost & Found

Overview: I don’t know if 15mm figures based in fireteams is actually fun to play. I don’t know if Tomorrow’s War is fun to play. This project is about testing those two unknowns.

Goal: to play out the scenario in the book from page 96, with as much as possible following the example, in solo mode.

Project elements:

  • 1701a – develop enough of big picture backstory to allow a more specific story to be built
  • 1701b – develop the scenario story to breathe life into the game
  • 1701c – identify, paint and base figures to populate the sides in the scenario
  • 1701d – build terrain for the game arena
  • 1701e – play the game
  • 1701f – after action report

N1. Reptile God. Session 4



dqccvcwChristmas seemed to have taken longer this year with us all having a busy time, consequently stretching out the space between sessions. We were over half way through N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God and were determined to fish the whole adventure. To bring us back into the swing of things I recapped the world, referring to the Parsantium map and refreshed everyone’s memory with brief descriptions of the prevalent cultures and major tensions that they would be aware of. With that out of the way we went to the specifics of the scenario.

At the end of the last session the party had cleared out the temple and returned to town. Rather than pick up directly from there I simply told the story of what happened over the next few weeks. They regrouped, recovered and learnt what they could. They met and exchanged info with the hermit magician, and as the mood of the still-charmed population started to turn ugly again, they headed off.

The path to the supposed centre of all the trouble lay to the West along the northern banks of the Istra. On their four day trek they found sign of a large hobgoblin raiding party, but luckily avoided contacting them. The land gave way to a diseased forest, that in turn dissolved into swamp land. Following the path through the swamp they were assaulted by the usual range of annoyances such as mosquitoes and leaches, and suffered from the damp atmosphere. Finally they reached a low circular embankment that kept the waters a little back, and in the centre lay a hole in the ground… and then the adventure started.

Why would you build a dungeon in a swamp?

Questions like this came up many times, and we talked about the old-school dungeon design that didn’t really think about ecology or basic engineering.

In any case, as they stood discussing what to do about the swamp dungeon: break the dike and flood it, or get smouldering logs and smoke it out, a snapping turtle lurched out of the swamp behind them and attacked. Storm deftly froze it with a ray of frost and this galvanised the elfish boys to enter the dungeon without further delay.

The first level of the N1 module dungeon is sparsely populated and serves more as a way of introducing the environmental problems. These include constant cloying wetness, mud that sticks to boots that slows down movement and reduces stealth bonuses, and the effects the wetness has such as swelling doors and squeaking hinges.

Very soon they found, successfully silently approached, and cold bloodedly murdered several guard/cult members. With the way open they then systematically explored the ground floor, squelching through mud. Several large and suspicious rooms were identified and then left for later more detailed investigation and it was not until it appeared that floor had been totally mapped they came across some higher level and more dedicated opposition. These three assassins were obviously the lieutenants in charge of the guards. Their quarters were more luxurious, but only marginally.

Arrius the Monk kicked in their door, knocking one of the assassins back off balance.  Casius the thief cleanly and spectacularly nailed the second assassin in the throat with his hand crossbow, Storm the Sorcerer fried the third with an electrical bolt, and Octavius the Paladin calmly beheaded the fourth. The combat was quick and brutal: effective and cinematic… which was lucky for the elfish boys because these particular four, had they taken initiative, might have exacted a fearful toll.

In that small group of rooms that could be barred and defended and they searched everything, finding an above average sword and shield. The final action of the night before we packed up involved opening a chest that was guarded by a glyph of warding. Reluctantly, Arrius admitted he did not think of such a thing when he flipped open the lid. A paralysing blast threw him back, and the rest of the party barred the doors and decided to take a rest while they waited for him to recover.

So ends the next part of N1.

In general book-keeping we decided to do away with tallying XP in any form, simply agreeing that after a completed ‘adventure’ they would all go up a level. This is a recognition that modules are usually designed to do exactly this, with the XP awards adding up to the right amount. 

15mm Grav-tanks for the Nar faction


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Tomorrow’s War in 15mm is one of the projects for this year. The key setting information is that it will be in a classic Traveller framework, with the action taking place in the old Judges Guild product Crucis Margin.

All eyes are on Guerzim (1626), where the Nar faction of the Union Crucis has a major base and is on high alert for attacks from the Mandanin Confederation. And perhaps they should be, as it was the Nar that attacked first some 200 years ago and then were beaten back.

More work on the political story as I develop it. This is, typically, a project that will span story-telling games, and wargames so there is some painting and modelling to be done using parts from a variety of sources.

Here are the first two heavy vehicles in 15mm. They are grav-tanks and represent the pinnacle of what the Nar can field. Let’s say they are Tech 11 in Traveller speak. Not sure of their name yet, but they are equivalent (in TW game terms) to the Leopardo II, or the Dear Leader 2 Heavy Tank (pp. 216).

The parts for these beasts came from eBay. Since I do not read Chinese characters I do not know the company name (link). Several of these models were cut up and reassembled to make the tanks, doing away with the tracks, of course.

The paint job is a simple tan with hull red lower portions and corners, and then heavily dusted with earth colours – my planets are dusty. I few details have been picked out such as metal dings on corners and metallic blue for sensors.

The final image shows some 15mm troops for size comparison. It’s a big battle machine, but I feel this fits with the way things go. Everything gets bigger in each new generation of technology and so a grav-tank ought to be a monster.

N1. Reptile Cult. Session 3


zomblinWe picked up from where we left off with the party on the first floor of the defiled temple, after having smashed the skeleton sentries.

All of the indecision of the previous session seemed to have dissipated and now, with concrete evidence of the temple being a place of evil, the elvish boys showed admirable determination and action.

In quick order they discovered a library where the original scrolls were still stored, along with a few more significant scrolls relating to the original goddess of the temple. These were stained with blood. In a small interview room they found a secret door but it had been locked form the other side. They busted through and found goblins at the ready, but their strength pushed the monsters back. The monsters fled, leaving more than half their numbers dead.

The party pursued the creatures and easily slaughtered them, but not before one of the goblins became reanimated as a zombie and the Paladin was overcome by fear. Someone was casting spells at them. A previously unseen door hid the evil cleric, but neither a crossbow bolt or a ray of frost harmed him.

The thief charged forward and kicked in the door and a brisk battle ensued. In this tussle the cleric retreated and got off another spell, blinding the monk, but it did him no good. Soon after he was cut down as he tried to flee. Through this Ghath interspersed words of inspiration, fine sword work, and a one stage a fine trumpet solo.

In the final exploration the boys found scrolls covered with black speech, and a vile room dedicated to some kind of Naga goddess, or possibly a demon. Also in the room was a woman in a cage who had been brutally mistreated by the now dead evil cleric. She told the party a harrowing tale of kidnappings and abduction to a place in the swamps where a monstrous half-snake half-woman called Explicitus Defilus charmed the captives. The girl herself proved to be immune and was returned to the village rather than fed to crocodiles.

And so, with the remaining acolytes bound and gagged, and with the girl dragging the head of her tormenter behind her, the party retreated to the cottage of their recent allies, the elvish investigators. Their intention was to hand over the charmed acolytes to the Mayor.


Threads for future investigation and potential development from this session:

  • The jade statue of the Naga is large and valuable, something like 7,500gp (roughly $150,000 in today money) and heavy. It would be a worth a lot to get to back to Parsantium – not just for the money, but for study as well. If left there they boys concluded that a liberated townsfolk would probably smash it
  • What is a Naga? Who is Explicitus Defilus? Into what demonic pantheon does she fit? Is this related to the Daeva case?
  • The demented scribblings of the mad cleric would be valuable for research purposes also, to those groups and institutions that specialise in translating such works
  • The defiled founding scrolls of the original temple could be returned to some authority for restoration/purification
  • What exactly did Octavian the paladin see that scared the piss out of him?
  • Where did the charmed goblins come from that were being used as guards? Remembering: goblins and hobgoblins are essentially refugee species. They were displaced by the mutated orcs, swept out and sacked Parsantium, but were defeated and driven into the inhospitable wilds.


Thoughts on N1:

  • Again it becomes obvious that the D&D of our youth was written by kids. Where does anyone attend to the call of nature? No lavatories. No chamber pots. No windows though which you could hang your arse, and definitely no reeking piles of excrement about the place. Where do they wash? Where does water come from? Where does the smoke from the cooking fires go? What are they even eating?
  • And there is the perennially laughable question of how the monsters get in the rooms and how come they are all deaf to the sounds of battle outside the door. For this adventure I am correcting this by having creatures in the next room becoming alerted and signalling the alarm. But in the normal run of things it’s almost as if each monster filled room is in a state of waiting for the surprise party. No matter how much adventurers smash and clatter in getting there, all the monsters are saying, “Sshhhh,” and reminding each other to look surprised when the door gets kicked in.

Judges Guild and now


I have a soft spot for Judges Guild (JG).

Not because they were great, or even good. In fact they were frequently shit-house.

But way back in the late 70’s early 80’s when I was a teenager, when already the taint of business needing to sustain itself was starting to show through in the impressive (or at least bigger and more colourful TSR) offerings, Judges Guild products were printed on newsprint illustrated (if at all) by artists that were obviously at the very start of their journey.

There was very little that was professional about JG products. They were amateurish, half-baked and full of lame jokes. They were childish and sometimes try-hard. There were gaps in logic and failures to account for elementary logic – how did the giant get in the tiny room and what does he eat and where does the crap go?

But then, so was I.

I look back on them now and feel a strange and powerful nostalgia: a feeling of loss somehow that I managed to live in rich fantasy worlds constructed in no more than 32 pages of dry description when today 360 pages of full colour leaves me snorting in contempt at their lack of detail.

Judges Guild represented sandbox before the term was invented.

I look now at the Traveller sector guide Crucis Margin, a ‘decanonised’ description of space that bordered the Third Imperium and the Two Thousand Worlds of the K’Kree (easily the cleverest alien species ever conceived), and scan a single page that contains the complete description for a dozen worlds and my imagination runs away. And all that is on this page is a list of numbers and an abstracted chart.

On the shelf I still proudly display a boxed copy of City State of the Invincible Overlord, an appalling rendition of urban planing if it ever existed. It’s more like a bureaucrat’s plan for a western theme park than it is a description of a medieval shit-hole. But I open it, and look at the map, and read the ‘rumours’ surprisingly often.

On file I have an awful lot of JG product. Electronic; sterile; clean. I miss the feel of newsprint – the feeling of newness, openness. I miss the feeling of a future in the making where all the detail has not been fleshed out, where the rails of story have not been laid out for me, where I am more than just a product consumer.

N1. Reptile Cult. Session two


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Eight skeletons, with the door opening inwards would allow only one at a time to step through…

We managed to meet again after a long pause to continue the D&D5e play of the classic module N1, The Cult of the Reptile God.

We picked up the action exactly where it left off, with the elfish boys out on the paths in the middle of the night on the way to investigate the suspicious temple. Suspicion was the order of the day as Casius (thief) detected that they were being followed. No one else did and he slid away from the party to investigate. This aroused absolutely no surprise from anyone as he commonly sneaked off for no adequately explained reasons at the best of times.

This time his suspicions turned out to be true and they learned that they were being followed by two very skilled operators. The boys went to ground and waited, but so did their opponents. Two hours went past and Arius (monk) was furious that their watchers were behaving irrationally by not moving… unless they had superior vision and could see better. Casius circled back around and surprised of the watchers. After issuing a short warning he shot the startled figure who had leapt in fright and drawn his sword. At the same time a web spell enclosed the rest of the party from the other direction.

I described that in two short paragraphs, but it took an awful lot longer than that in realtime as the party played cat and mouse on the moonlit hillside below the temple. And so, in the interests of brevity…

The shadowy figures were also elves – and that was pretty ominous as elves are rare in this world. They had been in the village for a month taking notes. An uneasy truce was established and the party  continued to the temple. There they found a secret door, entered, explored the ground floor, found a sleeping priest and then ran away again. Back at Llewellan and Dorian’s place they learnt some more about the strange goings on about the village. L & D gave them a sleep potion that could be used as a knock out gas.

Back to the temple they went, arguing for a long time about the tactics they would use once they got there. Once inside they again found the sleeping priest, knocked her out and then revived her for interrogation. She seemed reluctant or unable to coherently reply, something that only added to Arius’ (whose anger tempts him to the dark side… mmmm) frustration after a long long series of infuriating frustrations. They bundled her back to Llewellyn and Dorian’s where those two reckoned they knew someone who could remove such a powerful charm.

And for the third time the elfish boys returned to the temple, full of clever tactical ideas, made it to the first floor, found some skeleton guards and then, after a developing a complex plan to defeat them, smashed them easily in an anticlimactic combat. Image attached.

What conclusion could be reached from these lengthy deliberations?

  • The temple is clearly something close to the heart of the mystery surrounding the village
  • According to Llewellyn and Dorian people are being charmed, not converted, mutated or replaced
  • Llewellyn and Dorian are part of some organisation, the nature of which they would not reveal, but that has something to do with the destiny of the pure-blood elves
  • This party really likes to chew the moral and tactical issues before taking action
  • The ancient coin that Ghath (bard) possessed was of particular interest to the two foreign investigators, as was the elfish boys’ encounter and defeat of a genuine demon
  • Storm was of particular interest to the mysterious pure-blood elf agents. He was a sea elf and a sorcerer – a very rare combination – but he maintained his usual reticence and they got nothing from him
  • Cassius managed to steal nothing at all
  • Octavius (paladin) agonised about the process for manufacturing evidence to justify the start of slaughter
  • 1st edition skeletons (I converted the originals rather than use the new stats) are a walk over. But that’s OK

Uncharted Worlds for Typhoon Maiden?




Aboard the Typhoon Maiden – no ordinary ship: a living city inside a gigantic cocoon

Having discovered Dungeon World (DW) I dug a little deeper to find what else had been created based on the Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) engine. There are several, of course, and a real bloat of playbooks for characters. This is to be expected for anything that is any good: people get excited.

Uncharted Worlds (UW) is the science fiction implementation that caught my eye. Similarly funded through Kickstarter, it seems to me to be complete, rational, and entirely usable. The play style encourages sandbox style development and a story-oriented event resolution system. Both DW and UW are story games, not tactical wargames, and so will not appeal to everyone. But they appeal to me.

The Typhoon Maiden (TyMa) story is one I’ve been developing for years and concerns the travels of a city in space. A trading ship of enormous size, with a population in the thousands. This ship travels a long path between worlds, probably on a regular route that may well take decades or even a century to complete. On these journeys the inhabitants of the city go about their normal business of cooking and building and falling in love and having run-ins with the law. When around a host planet they descend, trade, explore and cause mischief. By UW classification the ship is a Type 5 in terms of size, but my technology level is clearly different. My ship, though several kilometres long, has a listed population of around 18,000 and is steered/run/guided by an integrated AI, or Mind. People aboard the Typhoon Maiden occupy a place somewhere between passengers, parasites, and pets. They are not ‘in control’ of the ship. It just so happens the Mind has chosen this migratory life and invited an ecosystem of short-lived humans and other animals to come for the journey.

The inspiration for Typhoon Maiden comes from Metamorphosis Alpha and all the great lost world ship stories of the 50’s and 60’s, and also from Rogue Trader in a more general sense, and Iain Banks Culture novels in a very specific sense. With the tools available in UW, and the growing enthusiasm for the PbtA engine around me, I hope to get a video-conference game going set on the Maiden.

A great and clever tool in UW is the Factions. In the rules these are presented as large galactic structures and here I suspect the typical interpretation will be the ‘Federation,’ or ‘Empire,’ or ‘Blue Sun Corporation.’ Which is all fair and good, however when I read the section I was put more in mind of the Secret Societies of Paranoia, and how these factions could place pulls on a character leading him or her into difficult moral territory. What follows now are the factions aboard the Typhoon Maiden. These are not formal organisations with badges and oaths as much as they are political power blocks that can act openly, but more often in the shadows. They provide some of the dynamic tension aboard the ship.

tyma-imageThere are five main factions that exist in a dynamic tension aboard the Typhoon Maiden. They are the Merchants, the Conventionals, Command, the Landlords and the Adaptives.

The Merchants are concerned solely with trade and act to increase their access to markets, protection of their goods and profits, and to influence ship policy towards those goals. Their base of power are the vast numbers of transport ships that service the TyMa and ferry goods to and from planetary surfaces. They provide the prosperity that is at the core of why the TyMa is in space at all (as far as people are concerned – who knows what motivates the Mind that is at the core of the ship?). Merchants employ private guards to protect their persons, vessels and property. The Merchants as a faction are not ideologically opposed to any other faction, but strongly oppose any action that might impact their ability to make deals both aboard ship and dirtside.

Might: Paid security

Reach: Primarily the docks and warehouse districts. Merchants are strongly associated with the Seneschal department

Structure: A formal Merchant’s Council meets, but anyone that engages in trade is by default affected

Ideology: Profit

The Conventionals place their concern in ‘public health’ and stability. They represent the efforts to prevent destabilising foreign or radical trends. The Conventionals have the most ‘soft’ power and the least ‘hard’. They appeal to the shared culture and destiny of the city and seek to keep things as they are. Their influence is most keenly felt and most obvious in their control of public events in the city: festivals, ceremonies, sporting events, speaking events, fairs and exhibitions. Their specific enemies are the Adaptives.

Might: Social shaming hand in hand with gossip. Strong interaction with the Religious Police (RePo), who are concerned with criminal insanities

Reach: Public events and any other social activity

Structure: Loose structure of concerned citizens groups, clubs and associations

Ideology: Social stability

Command is typically associated with the Voidboss department but this is not necessarily so. Command is concerned with the technical and mechanical fitness of the city. It includes in its membership command staff but also technicians and support personnel such as plumbers and electricians. The Command faction finds itself in sometime alliance with any or all of the other factions, as long as those groups don’t threaten to break anything in the city. They violently oppose actions that do affect the city’s functioning.

Might: Control of the official city security force, the Excubitors, and the Security Police (SePo)

Reach: Utilities and infrastructure, engineering

Structure: At its core there is a formal command and rank structure

Ideology: Don’t break the city!

The Landlords are property owners, renting out living space, commercial and manufacturing facilities, storage and transportation services. Landlords typically belong to established family structures with long lineages of accumulation of money and hence power. They are concerned only with maintaining their positions of stability and privilege, seeing themselves as aristocratic cornerstones of the City’s civilisation. The natural allies of the Landlords are the Conventionals.

Might: Land ownership and therefore power through rent. Criminal Police (KriPo), concerned with investigating and punishing everyday crime

Reach: Landlords’ powers reach to every part of the Typhoon Maiden. These ‘districts’ are guided, exploited and competed for amongst the landlord families

Structure: Family hierarchies

Ideology: The natural social order is a pyramid, with the landlords at the top

Adaptives embrace the new and exciting possibilities opened up by exposure to foreign cultures. As the city pulls into contact with the a new world, Adaptives go to work exploring, cataloguing and investigating with the intention of finding all that is good that could be imported and applied at home. They are usually in violent opposition to the Conventionals who hold all such importations as destructive and undesirable. Officially, Adaptives are just radicals and trouble makers. To the members of this faction they are the true patriots attempting to improve life for everyone and stave off stagnation and extinction.

Might: The corrosive power of memes and incremental change among the common people

Reach: Strongest in casual meeting situations where people can share ideas: bars, restaurants, public events

Structure: The few formal mouthpieces of change and adaptation are merely a front for the real work which is unstructured and largely word of mouth

Ideology: Change is good

Dungeon World for Parsantium?


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dungeon world smallOur group got together, minus one (or two if you count Alan who can only very rarely join), and this usually means that the  Parsantium  campaign usually takes a back seat for boardgames.

This time we asked Simon to take up the role of DM to play a single episode RPG using the Dungeon World rules.

Dungeon World (DW) claims to provide original D&D feel with next to none of the D&D mechanics. At first this seemed a ridiculous claim until I compared my experiences with what I remember from playing 1st ed AD&D so long ago in my teenage years. Back then, I seem to recall, the rules were more like pointers or aides memoire rather than a concrete set of instructions. We just talked shit and if we needed to roll a few dice every now and then we did. Today I look at D&D5e and despite its massive simplifications it’s still a mechanistic process laden with detail.

So what was the special element that DW brought to the table? Thinking about what your character was doing rather than simply manipulating a set of attributes in a mix-n-match boardgame, basically.

Now you could do this naturally, of course, and if you have been moving towards story-gaming this is the way you do it. But it does seem to me that we, as the game buying public, have been spoilt into accepting finished, completed, wrapped up products. It’s an exercise of selecting just-the-right shaped game tool and applying it. Complete with art and seamless mechanics and all the other shit that we used to dream about as kids. And the effect is that it dumbs you down to expect and be only able to respond in a limited, approved fashion. DW kills that.

I could wax lyrical on this topic – and have been until I deleted it. But you either understand what I mean or you don’t. Back in the 80’s we used to talk about the difference between Role players and Roll players. Either this means something to you and you happily fit in one camp or the other, or it means nothing, in which case I’m not sure how to reach you.

In any case, what are the key mechanics of DW that facilitates talking about doing stuff in your imagination as opposed to running a fantasy skirmish wargame? (Both are OK, I hasten to add: they are just very different.)

Dungeon World changes the task resolution roll from a simple Yes/No result to a Yes/Yes But/No (and sometime No And).

In D&D (and any other mainstream RPG) you roll a die (or dice), add or subtract factors, and if you roll better than a target you succeed, if worse you fail. ‘His armor class is 16. You need to roll 16 or better to hit him.’ and so on. Hit or miss. No story to speak of.

In DW you roll and if your results indicate you succeed as advertised (do damage, pick the lock, climb the wall, whatever), or you succeed BUT something else happens that you can choose (sword stuck, dislodge a stone and make a noise, etc), or you fail and the DM may inflict something on you. This simple change creates results that propel a story and do not just produce an exercise of rolling dice.

When you think back on a combat or an action in ordinary D&D you make up the story, ‘remembering’ to enliven the dull rolls with action. DW makes that happen as it happens. You don’t need to make up the story about what your roll might have meant. Your roll tells you.

Dungeon World is not the first game to try to do this. Mythic was a magnificent introduction to the world of telling stories rather than beating dice rolls. But DW bridges the gap between traditional pen and paper RPGs and genuine Story Games by constraining the elements into known parameters. Bards do Bard things and are typically bardish people. In this way it is reminiscent of Risus where that character class is just a set of cliches rather than a set of rules. This restriction may seem constricting if you think the purpose of the set of rules is to provide you with mechanical factors to min/max. But a short and broad set of guidelines is a lot more free than a very long list of concrete rules.

So what, you might ask? As a long time DM and only seldom player I can tell you that the pressure of being the entertainer for a group of people can be quite daunting. In traditional RPGs the DM has to know everything, be everywhere, have it all sorted out and know the answers. You can abrogate this responsibility by using prepared material, but the result is the same. Some people get to live in the world and your job is to make it happen for them. That’s a lot of work and responsibility. With this set you get to explore and discover the world with the players.

Anyway, what did I discover about Parsantium using Dungeon World?

  • Elves pretty much believe that only they have souls. Everyone else, the short lived creatures, are more or less biological robots
  • There are few than 20,000 elves left in the world
  • A civil war amongst the elves long ago was precipitated by a pact with a demon. The losers of this civil war were exiled, entombed, imprisoned magically
  • The surviving victors of the civil war, those who opposed the demon and its perverted elves, are weak, few and are more or less becoming extinct
  • The barriers holding the perverted imprisoned are becoming weaker. They call out to be free