Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The world is my sandbox!

It's been a while since my last post, but that's mostly because I was away on vacation in Europe for two weeks, followed closely by a visit from my mom.  All of that was great, but quite exhausting, and not particularly conducive for writing about my great love for role-playing games.

That doesn't mean that I've been completely idle in the world of elfgames.  Far from it, my friends!  Let's I didn't really do much related to gaming in Europe, although I did plow through Charles Stross' Laundry Files (well, at least the five main books).  I've enjoyed a couple of Stross' other novels (Accelerando and Glasshouse both managed to impress), and even when they have suffered from prioritizing "big ideas" over characters (something I've encountered more in British sci-fi, for some reason), they have been rife with gameable ideas.  

My favorite of the covers

The Laundry Files also has plenty of game-ready ideas (in fact, it's been covered (DriveThru)), and also manages to have some appealing characters and well-paced plotting.  It's certainly not meant to be taken as seriously as some of his other works, but not everything has to be high-art.  And we were talking about elfgames, right?

But that's not all.

More substantially, I was reading Bryce Lynch's tenfootpole blog and noticed that he's now offering a freelance RPG adventure editing service.  He's been half-joking about doing this for some time...well, I just assumed it was half-joking.  Apparently not.

So I said, what the hell, let's see how much he charges, and I shot him a mail.  Bryce replied pretty quickly, and after explaining what I was hoping to get and the amount of content I would like him to review, he was able to quote me a very reasonable price.

I've long been a fan of Bryce's reviews.  He doesn't just help you making good buying decisions, or entertain.  He's the kind of reviewer who articulates his criteria in such a way that it makes you think differently about the medium.  Since adventures aren't just something you passively consume, this has actually helped me to get more out of what I buy, and bring that to the table.

tl;dr I asked Bryce to add The Cursed Blade to his queue, and so he did.  He just got the first round of notes back to me this morning.  I've only had a chance to read through them once, and quickly, but I'm quite happy with what I've seen so far.  I've mentioned this homebrew adventure of mine in a few previous posts, and if I can get it into a state where other people can get some value out of it, I'd love to put it out there.


Anyway, I now have a lot of edits to make, which I want to run by Bryce for another round or two.  He's already given me some wonderful ideas.  Once I'm able to incorporate his feedback to make this a more coherent, fun and table-ready product, I'll put it out there in some form, and probably gratis.  

What else...well, I just bought and read Robert Conley's Scourge of the Demon Wolf, self-published via his Bat In The Attic imprint.  And it's one of the best adventures I've read in a long time.  

So Judge's Guild

I'm not going to write a whole review for this adventure - at least, not in this post.  However, I'm going to briefly tell you what this is about, and why you should get it.  Scourge is a compatible with most OSR, and written specifically for Rob Conly's Majestic Wilderlands rules, which seems to be an offshoot of Swords and Wizardry with a little setting-specific sauce.  But the precise lineage is unimportant; OSR is intended to be highly interchangeable.

The cover of Conley's MJ products hint at the underlying sensibility, which is sandbox OSR, if not a hexcrawl approach.  That's entirely consistent with the whole Majestic Wilderlands concept, and Scourge embraces this beautifully.  Rather than the action taking place in a singular dungeon environment, it occurs spread over an assortment of more realistic locations.  

Correspondingly, individual encounters are with members of different groups, few of which are particularly inclined to be hostile to the party.  These different factions all have their own agendas and relationships with each other.  Since this is very much intended for sandbox play, there are few constraints to the ordering of these encounters, or even assurance that the players will see things through to a recognizable resolution.

The intended setting may be the Wilderlands, but it could easily be transposed to almost any fantasy location with magic, gods and demons.  Gonzo, low magic, grimdark or straight-up Forgotten Realms...seriously, I think this adventure could take place in any of them. That might lead you to expect something bland and generic, but fortunately, it is anything but.

What did I tell you?

A few other cool things I want to point out:

  • The interior art is incredible!  And apparently it's been drawn by Jason Sholtis, to whose Operation Unfathomable Kickstarter I had already pledged.
  • Rob's designer notes are full of useful suggestions on how to use this adventure at the table.  These are peppered through the text in short text boxes, and they're incredibly helpful.
  • More than half the text - the latter portion - is devoted to describing this tiny corner of the greater Wilderland setting.  This setting is full of cool stuff at fine levels of detail, but it's also entirely unnecessary for running the adventure.  Which is why it was such a great idea to make both portions capable of standing on their own.
All this is particularly relevant to me right now, since The Cursed Blade is also designed primarily to be used in a sandbox campaign.  The hook is so simple: the party hears about a rich guy who collects magic swords.  The party can ignore the hook if they choose, charge in through the front door, sneak in during a dinner party, case the joint, etc.  It's up to them if any how they try to get the prize: a collection of magic swords!

That's pretty much all for now.  I'll be posting updates on the state of The Cursed Blade, as well as my two different gaming groups.  For me, for you...for all of us.  Until then...

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