Return to the Sea

adventurerSeawater froths and bubbles, the surface bucking and splashing. Suddenly, a bright red disk of mottled and knotted carapace emerges, scuttling legs carrying the giant creature at incredible speed. Two Giant Crabs, streaming salt water and seaweed, great pincers snipping and snapping aggressively, loom over a gathering of fishermen busy securing their boats. As the fishermen back off, seeking to fend off harm with poles and oars, it becomes clear that each Giant Crab carries a rider – an orange skinned, gill-throated Merman.

The Stench of the Sea adventure is genuinely more of a module than a simple adventure. It might sound like an oxymoron, but it provides a confined sandbox environment for adventurers to interact with. The settlement of Brinwan lies on the coast, along a well-worn secondary route through the wilderness. Lessen Archer, the new money in the area, has high hopes to apply commonsense and business acumen to revive and accelerate Brinwan’s road to prosperity. Alas, there are forces at work that might make that impossible.

The book provides possible hooks for getting the player characters to come to Brinwan, including some brief scripted text for you to use or riff off.

A map of Brinwan shows the various key locations in the town – and the supplement includes a version for both the players and the GM, with key markers missing off the former. A general section outlines the environment around the location, the construction materials, sights, smells, etc.

Close to the sea, the smell of salt fills the air. When the wind blows down from the mountains, the smell of pine cones and fresh, clean timber competes with the tang of the brine, but never quite wins over. On the inward path along the western road, a building of darker, seasoned wood with a stone outhouse exudes aromas likely to attract travellers from miles downwind. The smokehouse takes much of the fresh produce from the settlement and slowly smokes it into morsels sought by men, rich and poor, from across the province. Between the smokehouse, the wild woods and the crashing sea, Brinwan can oftentimes overpower the senses leaving an unwary traveller quite breathless.

Overviews explain the presence of purpose of people and buildings, with greater detail provide for half-dozen key locations – like the Smoke House, Forge and Administrator’s Office.

The format of much of the reference material in the book makes them perfect for printing out as cards or quick reference notes. So, the locations – for example – include a description, who owns the place, who they employ, how they treat visitors, and key flavour like best selling items, potential for crime, services, prejudices, rumours and story hooks.

As well as Brinwan, a section covers the mine north of the settlement with an overview of mine features and possible hazards – suitable as a random incident table. Each hazard includes a short scripted description and then an explanation of where it might happen in the mine and how the hazard might impact those in the tunnels. The back of the book includes an innovative method of generating random mines using a piece of plain paper and a handful of paperclips.

Separate sections then deal with local caves, a lost tomb and the watery outpost of a local mer-tribe – allowing you to expand the adventuring potential of the supplement, with maps, motivations and key non-player characters.

Personalities of Brinwan serves as an overview of all residents, picking out key personalities, but also providing guidance to the common population, including suggested names, occupations, and the key influences and relationships. Like the earlier overview of the geography, Personalities provides six reference cards of key individuals, with a portrait, list of demeanor and quirks, background and notable possessions.

That all covered in the first half of the book, the suggested plotline for the adventure follows – with freedom to weave the detail, people and places around it.

Trinkets and Troubles provides more cards, outlining treasures, supplies, herbs, key NPCs and combative obstacles. The whole supplement uses an open and generic system to describe the abilities, powers and possessions of friendlies and adversaries alike. From this you can pull in suitable equivalents from your favourite system or use the detail as a means to improvise a story without recourse to heavy crunch or mechanics – whatever suits you best!

Adversaries include notes on Troglodytes and Merfolk, local wildlife – like Wild Cats and Cairn Trolls, creatures of the sea and dwellers from beneath the earth.

Finally, the book rounds off with maps – offering player versions as appropriate, a simple (very basic) system for running the games with the generic details provided, and some pre-generated characters with backgrounds, to get you going in a pinch.

The Stench of the Sea runs to 72-pages of A4 gaming, available as part of the Adventure Pack, with miniatures, or as a standalone Adventure, from RPGNow.

The Stench of the Sea Adventure Pack includes three sets of paper miniatures, along with the site supplement and adventure itself.

You get a full set of Dwarves, Troglodytes and Mermen paper miniatures, from Arion Games, all at a reduced price – and each of them plays a part in the events outlined in the adventure. Of course, you can also use them separately with your own games – and the paper miniature makes for an ideal throwaway accessory to your gaming.

Indeed, I generally got to events with a set or two cuts out and ready to use, just in case the battle mat hits the table or I just need a convenient way to quickly sketch out player locations. Each set comes with an array of different characters and classes in varying poses – and because they’re just strips of paper, they’re light and easy to keep to hand.

The Sanction of St Agnes

The Blessing Of St Agnes on Amazon UK

As I’m currently in the (long term) process of putting together a game system – called 214 – it seems very likely I’ll use some of my own material to put the crunch through it’s paces.

My adventure The Blessing of St Agnes puts the player characters in the situation of seeking out the fate of a kidnapped girl. Faced with a pleading, tearful (and wealthy) patron, the characters investigate about the potential fate of the girl and track clues across the village and local countryside attempting to track her down.

While the adventure has a dungeon aspect to it, various alternate plots and antagonists mean that no two versions of St Agnes will be the same. The ploys and questionable intentions of those responsible for the girls disappearance will alter the way the PCs have to deal with the situation and (hopefully) return her safely.

In addition to details of the Chapel of St Agnes and various individuals of significance, the adventure features an appendix with additional content to include, generic monster details, and – in this physical form – several handouts scattered around the book.

Given the suspicion and distrust surrounding the situation, from the PCs towards the locals and vice versa, the adventure will run well with 214. I may add further new material to the adventure – available to all – to support this use. With some thought, focus and a little pruning, I dare-say I can use this as a convention game next year (or perhaps for Hangout sessions, when I get around to running some!).

You can pick up physical copies of The Blessing of St Agnes on Amazon UK or in PDF format from RPGNow.

NOT EQUAL to Stuff You Don’t Know

I have been busy doing other things. All Rolled Up has consumed 105% of my existence over the last several weeks. I probably didn’t realise how much time publicity and social media can require if you want to get something “out there”. I’m sure it’s something I can get better at over time. I may add another skill-string to my expertise-bow, so to speak.

In the meantime, Just Crunch has taken a hiatus that I had not intended. I look up at the calendar and see August – and recall that the last time I wrote much of anything must have been March. That’s almost half a year without writing more than a few paragraphs of copy. I may have been creative during that time period, but it isn’t that sort of creative.

However, I have to step slightly outside my comfort zone and attempt to do things I have done before. On the other hand, I also need to jump back into my comfort zone occasionally to do the things I’m good at already. If I want to get back into writing again over the next few days or weeks, I need to settle back into that comfort zone – and write about stuff I know.

In this respect, I’ve set myself the challenge of finding something to write a game about. Or, at minimum, a setting based on stuff that I know about using something Open Source.

Open Source – the grail for my ailing mind to get a grasp on. I love the Old School movement going on in the gaming market, but I feel a little left behind because I have never been a big player of the D&D system, whatever the iteration. I have the same problem with the New School of gaming that has taken the D&D system and streamlined it – the 13th Age thing, for example. I like the look of it and I can feel a whole of enthusiasm radiating off the back of it, but I have a hurdle to leap in not having any real love for the source material. I can sort of grasp the basics of old style D&D, but the new world of Feats and stuff… that has the tendency to leave me cold. I read that 13th Age has done it different or done it better, but if you hate celery then someone offering celery done better doesn’t necessarily give a more palatable prospect.

I understand that using a game system that exists already, with an Open Source agreement that gives certain amounts of freedom to use and re-use, means that I can concentrate on a setting and the good stuff that comes with it. However, if I can find a system that I grok to the point where it becomes second nature to write about it, to shape and flex it, then that doesn’t actually help much at all. Yes, using something Open Source opens up a ready market with people who already use the system and might take the material I write to use with their own campaigns; but if it comes across in the writing that I don’t really grasp the system at all, then I’m quickly going to lose that interest…

I have written generic content – like The Blessing of St Agnes and Stench of the Sea – precisely because I want to appeal to the widest possible audience. However, that very presence of generic content seems to make for a less accessible supplement for those wanting to run something with minimal effort. This seems to me another solid argument for embracing the Open Source. By taking a system that people already love and forming my material around that core, I present something immediately useful.

In the end, I have to make some sort of decision on this before pushing ahead with the writing, because the shape of the system might inform the writing that I need to do. Not point painting a portrait if I haven’t decided the shape of the canvas before I get started.

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Pay What You Want – by the Sea

Stench of the Sea coverI enjoy writing stuff. I wouldn’t spend time creating the games and supplements that I do if I didn’t get a kick out of doing it. Therefore – you can now get Stench of the Sea on Pay What You Want. If you want to know why, read on – or go grab a copy and then come back.

At the same time, I buy stuff to play with care and attention to my pocket. I read reviews, consider the options, balance the possibilities, and I only pay what I can afford for the stuff if I have the option. That often means that I will hang around eBay for a few weeks, or months, waiting for a second-hand copy to come up rather than buying something brand new. Equally, I will consider Amazon Marketplace or picking up a PDF instead of a hard copy. I have no qualms about reading of the computer or even a smartphone.

In the end, I have a trimmed down library of games that I have purchased because reckon they fit me or suit my immediate needs. I can understand the principle there that many people hold back from purchases because they’re not sure. When you see a product for even a few pounds (dollars, euros, etc.) you might opt for the Wish List rather than the Shopping Cart because you don’t have any reviews to go on. You need someone else to take the plunge before you, and then you need them to write a review.

I don’t know what stats around review writing are, but I’m guessing you don’t get a 1:1 ratio on sales and reviews. I guess you probably get a 10:1 or 20:1 ratio on sales to reviews at best. I have found that wringing out reviews can take a lot of patience indeed, and much personal plugging to get attention. I have actually taken part in the Iron Reviewer Challenge on RPG Geek this year precisely because I want people to have reviews to read. If a bunch of mad people (myself included) pumping out solid reviews every week can make a difference and offer a greater wealth of review material to reference – all the better. I’m willing to make that sacrifice for the needs of the many.

Anyway, where was I going with this, you might ask… Or you may simply have drifted away already. I write because I enjoy it, but people often don’t buy because they don’t know what they’re paying for.

The solution – allow the potential customer to pay what they want for your product, or at least some of your product.

I write Stench of the Sea for the joy of it, and I put a fair amount of thought and time into creating something with a lot of extra facility and support for the gamemaster. Not only does the supplement contain an adventure, it also contains a mini-dungeon (with a map by Tony Dowler), notes on a coastal village where the characters can base themselves for a while, details of the key personalities, their relationships and goals, maps of local monster lairs, reference cards for key personalities, creatures, and treasures, and a system for generating mines and caverns that involves paper clips, a Sharpie and a bit of minor creativity. All crammed into 72-pages.

I thought it worth writing, and I also think it’s worth buying and playing. I ran it for my local group and they thoroughly enjoyed it (mainly because they mercilessly made fun of me for my vanity in publishing this adventure, but also because they’re cruel that way). In the end they didn’t feel it had enough Steam Dwarves and Cloud Elves in it (actually it has none of either, but they demanded them so I added them into the adventure when I ran it).

Enjoy – Stench of the Sea Pay What You Want on Drive Thru RPG

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Celebratory Flash Sale

Bonanza

I’m casting a Minor Bonanza of Birthday Celebration for my 41st, and discounting all Just Crunch product by 25% for today (until today finishes in a little over a day, if you know what I mean).

You can get copies of Consult Appendix Z No 1 & 2, Stench of the Sea, Below Market Pryce’s, and The Blessing of St Agnes.

Head over to RPGNow to pick up the discounted PDFs: Just Crunch Games

In more general news, it’s now less than 2 weeks until UK Games Expo 2013, in Birmingham. I’ll be there for all three days, running games on Friday and Saturday, and helping out around the Arion stall (Palace Suite, P51) on the Sunday. I’ll have physical editions of Consult Appendix Z No 1 & 2 and The Blessing of St Agnes. Indeed, the Expo copy of The Blessing of St Agnes features extra hand-outs that it simply isn’t possible to include in the PDF edition (as they’re sticky note-like additions that you obviously can’t adhere to a piece of virtual documentation!).

I’ll also be promoting the brand new All Rolled Up game roll and dice bag, which you can find out more about over on Google+ or at the website – AllRolledUp.co.uk. The All Rolled Up (or ARU) offers a one stop accessory for holding all your dice, pens, pencils, beads, tokens, cards, and more besides. Check out the YouTube videos to see me walk through the details.

Hope to see you there.

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Cover Story

Interstellar Travel Events PlusWith thoughts pressing ahead to the end of May and the whole business of UK Games Expo, I have been busy preparing the papery versions of my three main supplements at the moment. Consult Appendix Z, both CAZ No 1 and CAZ No 2, and The Blessing of St Agnes will all be available in physical saddle-stapled format, with glossy covers.

In the case of St Agnes, the book has a weathered green leather cover-look. I admit that this comes as one of the standards for a basic bit of Lulu self-publishing, but to my mind it fits the adventure setting for some reason.

The second Consult Appendix Z volume, Another Bug Hunt, already has a great cover image from Nicholas Cloister’s Monsters By Email. Nicholas does some truly incredible work and you can subscribe to his Monsters scheme that makes some of the images you receive available for personal usage and others available for wider distribution, like this one.

The first Consult Appendix Z volume, Interstellar Travel Events, felt a little bit like a poor cousin. I used a public domain image from a classic science fiction magazine, black and white, but just what I wanted. I can’t claim to have corrected the balance significantly, but I have engaged in some basic colour retouching to make the picture less monochrome.  I have gone for a bit of a nebula thing and add hints of colour to the shadows and drive streams. Like I say, nothing exactly awe-inspiring, but the end result comes across as slightly less intense than the original.

I now have a box of these print goodies ready to roll – and I hope to drum up some custom at the event and retain the rest for customers keen to acquire physical copies later. Indeed, if you want any of these now – get in touch with me and we can sort something out in terms of cost, postage and so forth.

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Morphs and Blessings

Blessing of St Agnes adventure with extra bitsI have been tinkering with the idea of creating geomorph dungeon cards to a design that would allow you to use them when running a game of The Blessing of St Agnes. Once you’ve finished using them for the game, you can carry on using them as a random method of creating other dungeons and structures, but the core of the set would support laying out a map for the players as a point of reference to the adventure.

I like the whole (mildly therapeutic) process of creating the geomorph cards. I used a blank playing card stock for the geomorphs and draw on them directly with a Rotring Tikki Graphic 0.4 and a medium Staedtler whiteboard marker. The therapy comes from adding all the hashing that surrounds each element of the map. You add several of them in one direction, then turn the angle of the card and apply more, then turn and again. Eventually, you just start to fill in the gaps inbetween.

I have also been working on some additional content for the UK Games Expo edition of the Blessing adventure. You can get the Lulu-printed edition via Amazon at the moment, fulfilled by myself. It might seem odd doing it that way, but it means that I can include the special edition elements in the product that you get sent out to you, while Amazon processes the payments and such. What you get is a one-of-a-kind edition of the adventure, as all the extra bits get cut out and applied by hand. If I can sort out a way of printing the hand-drawn geomorphs on-masse, I will look to offering them as an extra – though I have no clue on the prices of availability. Something for me to consider and work on.

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UK Games Expo – T Minus 34 days

Games Expo 2009

While I have more than a month to get myself ready for my three day attendance at UK Games Expo in Birmingham, it doesn’t feel like long at all. On top of running 5 games, I also have various bits of Just Crunch Games material to prepare – including physical copies of The Blessing of St Agnes, Interstellar Travel Events, and Another Bug Hunt.

You might have noticed there that I said ‘running 5 games’ like that might be something easy. In some measure, I hope it will be, as I don’t plan to do anything too taxing. Taxing isn’t going to be fun for anyone! I will be running games of Maelstrom and Outlive Outdead on the Friday, Hollowpoint and Advanced Fighting Fantasy on the Saturday, and Maelstrom again on the Sunday morning. Given the need to keep these sorts of games short and punchy, with a lot of fun thrown in for good measure, I plan to have some stripped back adventures and pre-generated characters, so we can all hit the ground running and enjoy the games.

In between all of these various games, I plan to spend some time working behind the stall of Arion Games, pushing a few of the games I’ve been running, offering up the copies of my own stuff, and also assisting my wife in the launch of All Rolled Up, which you will get more information about as time, and development, progresses.

This evening, I have been gathering various extras for inclusion in the Special Edition physical copy of The Blessing of St Agnes. The UK Games Expo event will get the updated edition (with even fewer spelling mistakes) with the addition of pictures and maps not included in the previous electronic edition (although, some of that material will be incorporated into the PDF after the event).

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What’s Really Going On?

The Blessing of St Agnes front coverIn a fit of tinkering, I have added additional content to the existing text of ‘The Blessing of St Agnes’. Consigned to the appendix, the extra content covers a couple of additional angles you might take with the adventure. Almost as if I can’t stop myself, I offer up a little extra history about the site and the bloody past of the inner chapel…

You can get a copy of The Blessing of St Agnes from RPG Now or Drive Thru RPG.

The Sisterhood didn’t build the Chapel of St Agnes, nor did the location start out associated with the blessed martyr. While the benefactors of the Sisterhood did construct the outer chapel, the inner sanctum – beyond the Dusky Passage, existed in this place long before.

Hundreds of years ago, a warrior race called the Kem, built a fortress in the woods overlooking the sea to the south and a significant trade route to the north. The fortress extended below ground and included storage rooms, barracks, open sleeping quarters and other necessities, locations that either needed to be kept cool or out of harms way. Unfortunately, the Yloe, sworn enemies of the Kem, defeated the warriors in a great siege that lasted for more than a year. The Yloe razed the upper fortress to the ground and then beat the Kem back into the rooms below. Thirsty for victory the Yloe showed no mercy and slaughtered every last inhabitant, killing the sleeping, the wounded, and the defenceless. The warrior sacked the location for treasures, supplies, and weaponry, then left it open to bandits and travellers. Long afterwards, the Sisterhood discovered the place during a pilgrimage to the Holy Stone of Het Mora, chancing across the location when one of their horses escaped. The place seemed to call to the Sisters, a site of potential filled with a sense of the lost.

At night, a visitor might hear a forlorn cry for help or a moan. The truly unlucky may chance upon an actual Spectre in the sleeping quarters of the Sisters, a spirit that manifests impaled by three swords and with eyes gouged out. The tortured entity attacks blindly, seeking revenge on those who tortured and killed it, unaware of the passage of time and the passing of the Yloe. If the characters head into the southerly passage alongside the Sister’s dorm in the lower left of the map, they can hear a sound like bubbling water, perhaps from a stream beyond the wall. The gurgling sound grows stronger until the Spectre emerges from the dead end, taking anyone present by surprise on a d6 roll of 3 or higher.

The tortured spirit attacks with clawed fingers, swiping wildly. The Kem warrior wears a padded jerkin, breeches and long boots. He wears shoulder length hair scraped back into a ponytail. Three swords skewered his torso and he shows signs of other wounds, with tears and rips in the fabric of his armour and clothes. Glittering streams of ethereal gore ooze from open wounds, including the empty sockets of his eyes. Characters may need to make a check to avoid sickening at the sight.

A character investigating the wall at the end of the southern passage might, with a suitably difficult check or a slightly easier one if spending a great deal of time, find an area, about a foot above the ground, that sounds hollow. Hacking away the plaster and earth, the character will find, not too deeply buried, the skull of one of the Kem warriors. Close scrutiny reveals scouring around the edge of the eye holes, small groves and notches in the bone that suggest this could be the remains of the Spectre. Burial or a blessing on the bones will release the tortured spirit – and might bestow some good luck to the character who suggested it or completed the blessing.

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Ahead and Below

Front of Pope's Palace in Avignon. Deutsch: Vo...

Current projects in progress:

An almost modern day investigative/mystery adventure called ‘The Mobius Clause‘ sees the players taking on the roles of characters attending a key political event and attempting to avert the premature and sudden collapse of the world state into the Cold War.

A setting and adventure for historical (or fantasy) games set during the time of the Avignon Papacy – or, in a fantasy setting, an enclave of a fragmentary sect of a major religion. Paranoia and fear stalk the rich and splendid halls of the great castle of the pope, and the players assume the roles of lowly monks and laity embroiled in events that find their world under siege on all sides.

And, in the Arion Games line, I continue to poke away at the Maelstrom Sci-Fi Toolkit, a set of modifications, customisations and alterations to allow any Maelstrom referee to take the classic 80s ruleset of Tudor adventure out into the interstellar realms of the future.

And yesterday, as planned, I released the One-Page ‘dungeon’ adventure Below Market Pryce’s, where a local realtor seeks the characters assistance in ridding an empty property of a troublesome nuisance.

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