News 0 comments on What’s Really Going On?

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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News 0 comments on Ahead and Below

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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News 0 comments on What Lies Beneath

What Lies Beneath

English: American family watching TV (cropped)

While the weekend proved to be packed to the brim with anything but gaming, I did get a chance last thing on Sunday (while watching an episode of ‘Selfridge’) to get to work on a One-Page Adventure. I’m not 100% certain whether watching the TV at the same time as writing necessarily assisted in my progress, but I don’t think it did any major harm!

I hope to have ‘Below Market Pryce‘, a system-free adventure in realtor support ready for this evening to go up on RPGNow and DriveThruRPG.

A local estate major has experienced problems clearing the property of a deceased merchant and investor. A property with great potential, the problem lies in the basement where more than firewood and dry goods seem to lurk in wait for the unwary…

Fingers crossed I have time to get the job finished this evening.

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Releases, RPG Design 1 comment on Twenty Years On

Twenty Years On


I ran a lot of play-by-mail games in the 1980s and 90s. I also wrote a fair amount about them in a column for Role Player Independent, one of the UKs many transistory role playing magazines.

My first PBM, Darklands, ran for more than ten years. It probably doesn’t warrant the term epic to describe it, but the fantasy story telling game must have resulted in 100,000+ words of stuff. One player managed to clock in almost 60 turns in that period – if nothing else, that seems indicative of the games often glacial pace. I hand-wrote most of the original stuff, something with carbon paper to maintain my own copies. Later, I employed the services of an Amstrad computer and a dot matrix printer.

Another series, the NXS games, focussed on science fiction. I think NXS 3 or 4 turned out to be a wargame with a modular rule set, which allowed me to port it across to different skins or themes. I ran games based on Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek and Star Wars (the Empire! game in the picture). Players submitted a range of movement commands for their armed forces, investigation angles for research and development, and some role playing to cover diplomacy. I charted the whole deal out in simplistic spreadsheets, copious notes, and push pins stabbed into a piece of cardboard overlayered with a map.

In the last few months I have sorted through a lot of the material I still have stored in boxes, folders, box files and bags. Many of those original game turns remain, both the incoming and the outgoing stuff. I also have tons of maps, notes, rulebooks and various supporting materials. I have found, in the latter, the potential for recycling, as much of the support material amounts to carefully crafted random tables or notes on possible encounters. I have taken a Travel Effects table from one of the NXS games and given it a thorough update with generic role playing encounters in mind. In many ways, I find a lot of this early material free from baggage – I had watched a lot less telly and read far fewer books back in the 80s and 90s. I can update the material now with an eye to expanding what I have in front of me, but not stuffing it with too many derivative ideas. I can polish what I have and come out with something very usable and handy for the rushed and struggling GM. As just such a GM, always preparing games up to the last moment, I can appreciate the occasional helping hand.

Yesterday, I released Consult Appendix Z – No 1: Interstellar Travel Events based on my Travel Events table. I look at the table now and I remember laboriously typing this thing out on a big old electric typewriter, which always seemed to use up tremendous amounts of ink. I recall that I borrowed it from a friend, but ended up inheriting it when he got something new. I do remember it filling a space the size of a small suitcase. I have taken four pages of close-typed tabular randomness and produced this 18-page PDF – available right now on RPG Now and DriveThruRPG for $2.50. I hope you find it as useful as I did the original Travel Event table!

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Adventures, Releases 1 comment on The Blessing of St Agnes

The Blessing of St Agnes

Saint Agnes of Rome

Martyred somewhere around the end of the 3rd century, St. Agnes of Rome was only a young girl – around 12 or 13 years old – when she died for her belief that her heart belonged to just one suitor, and he was not a common mortal. Alas, Procop, the Governor’s son, did not take kindly to her stance and the Governor attempted to coax, sully and torture her, before finally putting her to death.

Today is St. Agnes’ Day.

Her story, in some measure, inspired the poet Keats to write The Eve of St. Agnes, a beautiful and romantic poem published in 1820. A brilliant narrative poem, completed in 42 stanzas in the Spenserian style, it tells of  a young man seeking to revive his love from an enchanted sleep, only for her waking expectations not to meet her dreaming desires… but it all works out in the end in a raging storm and a couple of incidental deaths.

Keats has gone on to inspire me to write a short system-free fantasy/historical role playing adventure, The Blessing of St. Agnes, available now on RPGNow. The young daughter of a wealthy merchant has vanished, leaving him distraught and pleading for assistance. In the depths of the dark woods beyond the bounds of the town, the ruinous remains of a chapel to St Agnes hide more than a few secrets of a forgotten sisterhood and hope for the helpless.

An inspiring life inspires…

The Blessing of St. Agnes on RPGNow:

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RPG Design 0 comments on Project First-Quarter

Project First-Quarter

English: The "Darnley Portrait" of E...

In an attempt to generate some output, I’m trying to define a plan. I work better with deadlines. If I say that I’ll do something, but lack a drop dead date, I have a tendency to keep at it endlessly. Given a chance, I will edit and re-edit my work until it falls apart, like picking at the loose strings on a well worn jumper.

I have two immediate projects for the first quarter, both for Arion Games. We have the Maelstrom Sci-Fi Toolkit, that provides additional generic rules for Maelstrom to allow a group to run science fiction adventures. Then, I have plans to write a short piece about spying and espionage in Elizabethan England.

I have a strong suspicion aiming to get the second project done in the next three months presents an impossibility – so, my fallback will be to complete the Maelstrom Quarterly volume I have planned for the last year dealing with the Labourer living. Despite writing some two-thirds of the supplement, I have failed to budge beyond that threshold to a point where it might see the light of day. In a way, I have this problem quite a lot. I have this tendency to tinker and expand on something when I should just stop, publish, then move on to the next thing. If I want to expand a Maelstrom character living option – great. I need to get it done and out. I shouldn’t tag on any additional content like maps, adventure hooks or what have you.

So – the Sci-Fi Toolkit and one other supplement for Maelstrom – minimum – by the end of March 2013. I have made the commitment.

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Events 0 comments on Dragonmeet 2012

Dragonmeet 2012

Basic Role-Playing

Spent Saturday at the town hall in Kensington, London, attending Dragonmeet 2012. Under the Arion Games banner, ran a demo game of Maelstrom Classic Fantasy Tool-Kit with three players – which was unfortunately three short of what I’d hoped. With a full squad of adventurers, the game would have been shorter and less traumatic. I didn’t want to mess with the creature-character balance of the encounters at such short notice, but I can assure you that three characters can only just get through the adventure as written, with a little GM fiat in their favour.

After that, I attended a seminar on the upcoming 7th Edition of Call of Cthulhu. As I own 2nd, 3rd and 5th Edition already, I really wanted to get a view on whether 7th Edition warranted my consideration and cash. Paul Fricker and Mike Mason’s seminar failed to answer that question for me. Partially it came down to the presentation feeling a little light and unorganised. We got about 15 minutes of broken overview, touching on the key changes, followed by 3/4 hour of questions from the gathered audience. I came away feeling like I could get a better Cthulhu game from either (a) gold book Basic Role Playing options pasted into existing Cthulhu, or (b) using an alternative like Trail or Dark.

For the rest of the afternoon, I hung around the Arion stand or circled the floor working out what to spend some pennies on. I ended up opting for The Laundry and the associated Agent’s Handbook. While on the stand, I met Graham Walmsley on his round of the floor – the first time we’d met in person – and also someone, whose name I didn’t catch, who knew me from my days running and reviewing play-by-mail games (some 20 years ago now). He purchased a hard copy of ‘Stench of the Sea‘ – and I also managed to sell several bookmarks – or Weighted Reading Companions – my wife makes in her spare time (see for more stuff my wife makes).

The day was bookended by uneventful train journeys where I finished reading ‘Catching Fire‘ (down to London) and started reading the Agent’s Handbook (up from London), while chatting with my wife. A good day, less busy than last year and equally satisfying overall.

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Extras 1 comment on The Wheezing Winze

The Wheezing Winze

While the release of Stench of the Sea contains several maps, I’m always up for creating more – and they might find their way into a future update of the supplement – who knows. Here we have a floorplan for the Brinwan’s inn, The Wheezing Winze.

Run by Colm Wain, with his wife and twin sons, it serves as the main meeting place and drinking hole for local farmers and fishermen, as well as travellers.

Colm and family normally sleep in the rooms marked as boxrooms. However, Colm will adapt to demand. The left boxroom holds most of the family possessions, normally sleeping Colm and his wife; the twins can sleep elsewhere if high demands require use of the right boxroom for travellers. When in heavy use, Colm secures the door between the right boxroom and double bedroom. The double can also have additional pallets brought in to provide a communal sleeping arrangement for large groups.

The cellar holds many barrels of various local and imported beers, with a small stock of mead and bottles of wine.

I drew the store slightly too tight to the main building. You can push between the cellar and the store to retrieve food supplies – held in boxes, sacks or hung in the cold store.

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Modventure, Releases 0 comments on Stench of the Sea RELEASED!

Stench of the Sea RELEASED!

The adventurers probably come to Brinwan not expecting a great deal, and a first encounter with a mildly insane goat herder doesn’t change that expectation. However, just as the characters secure rooms and dinner for the night, something monstrous crawls from the sea and the matter of unexpected deaths in the local mine come to light – potentially leading them down the road to adventure (although based on playtesting, you never can trust the players to do anything close to what you expected or hoped for…)

Featuring numerous maps, a quick mine/sewer/cave generation system, numerous pretty pictures (mostly by me), detailed information on key personalities, quick reference cards and much more besides – positively crammed into 72 pages.

Available right now on RPG Now.

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RPG Design 0 comments on Voltari’s Respite

Voltari’s Respite

Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobb...

Yesterday, after spending most of the day scribbling, scrawling, drawing and fretting, I published a one-page encounter. Voltari’s Retreat isn’t a replacement for Stench of the Sea by any means, just something to tide people over while I finish my work.

Aaron McLin made a couple of very relevant points over at Google+ about Voltari’s Retreat. Firstly, the text should say garderobe, without the ‘U’. I will correct that in the next draft along with the errant spelling of Voltari (which becomes Viltori in several spots). While I hand-wrote all the text in the left panel of the one-pager, it shouldn’t pose much of a problem to make amends. A trifle of PhotoShop magic should suffice.

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One-Pager 1 comment on Voltari’s Retreat

Voltari’s Retreat

Map square on a stickie noteWhile I continue to work on Stench of the Sea, I have tinkered with ways to create quick and simple maps. Right now, I find I get maximum creativity and quickest results using a Sharpie and a packet of sticky notes. I have some stickies bigger than the ‘standard’ size and some smaller – and, combined, they let me outline an area on the big ones, then zoom in on the small ones.

I originally tried posting an encounter and maps drafted out on the page of an old 2010 diary – and posted it over on Google+. Not content, I scanned the page and annotated the copy with a tool called Quick Markup, because I realised I missed out some details. Then, as if I really didn’t have other fish to fry (like finishing Stench), I drafted the whole thing using my previously outlined combination of stickies.

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Playtest 0 comments on Sense of Purpose

Sense of Purpose

One Of My Favourite Pictures Of Graham

While I didn’t manage to run a playtest session last night, I did participate in a Cthulhu Dark (Graham Walmsley’s excellent one-page system for running uncompromising Mythos sessions) adventure. While the Keeper (probably) had a plan and a map, I don’t think the adventure had much more preparation. No, I tell a lie – a sensed a hint of a Esoterrorist adventure in there with one very specific and memorable scene.

Basically the adventure had a very vague premise and characters with an awareness of each other and no common purpose. We had a reverend, a funeral director, a lady ex-drug addict, a hostillier, and an ice cream vendor – in a run-down, has-been village. The mayor announced a plan to bring fresh blood to the area with a coach load of immigrants or students (a little confused on the details from the beginning). When they arrived, the village held a fair, but the students (definitely students) seemed to be more interested in visiting a local lighthouse. The reverend (Reverend Ginger) witnessed their visit to the lighthouse and sensed something thoroughly disquieting about the whole affair. Anyway… I digress from the point.

Purpose. That’s my point.

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Modventure 0 comments on Stench of the Sea

Stench of the Sea

A breakfast bowl full of polyhedral diceOur first adventure module presents an adventure site for you to introduce into your own world, a jumping in point for a whole new campaign, or simply a one-off adventure to fill a few sessions.

Set against a generic fantasy backdrop, the small settlement of Brinwan seems, at face value, to offer little more than a vacation in the woods, off the beaten track. The locals fish and mine in the hills to the north, but to a passing adventurer seems like just another one night stand. The people in and around Brinwan might, however, prove an unexpected challenge.

The generic system module adventure details, in writing, maps and illustrations, the tiny settlement of Brinwan and surroundings. The PDF includes details of key local personalities (along with their goals and behaviours), nearby locations, encounters, potential hooks, quick adventure seeds, and a core of GM advice on running adventures in and around the area. As this represents writing in progress, Just Crunch will include updates on the ‘modventure’, with tidbits, preview, lost ideas, maps, pictures and more. You can get updates here, on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ – very much as a work in progress, and an interactive opportunity to get involved.

The final product will be available as a PDF through RPG Now and Drive Thru.

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RPG Design 0 comments on In Place, Typeface, White Space

In Place, Typeface, White Space

English: Waterstones

At the weekend, I spent some time wandering around Waterstones and a branch of W H Smith fingering my way through various books, manuals, magazines and newspapers. While I have a draft of my adventure module that stills demands attention, I admit to have become side-tracked with the business of layout.

I have been working on The Stench of the Sea as a boring old Word document. I’m looking to reformat into something slightly more appealing.

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News 0 comments on Playtesting the Stench 2

Playtesting the Stench 2

Dice for various games, especially for rolepla...

The playtest of my adventure module took a slide out into left field last night, as we lost two players and gained three to the vagaries of the real world. I think, under the circumstances, I managed to get it back on track under the pretext that one of the players not in attendance owed money, favours or anything else besides to the three newcomers. One, a Priest of Norn, had a warrant on Paraxis the Humble, our resident charlatan, which came just after an arrest warrant delivered by a messenger from the city. The upshot, Paraxis had an attempt made on his life, then ended up in jail with a serious bolt wound to the chest.

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News 0 comments on Another Dimension

Another Dimension

Photo credit: Jacob Whittaker

Non-player character motivation came into focus during the playtest session I ran last Monday, short as that session was. In the two hours played, the characters not only had the opportunity to meet the village smith and the tavern keeper, but also Archer, the settlement owner and administrator.

I originally intended Archer as a simple landowner looking out for the well-being of his workers. A harsh, but fair, man, he had a history from time in the capital only briefly mentioned in the background. He would hire the characters to investigate problems because he didn’t want to risk his own assets, his miners. To him, losing a 100 silver pieces in fees seemed like small potatoes to losing a miner or three who would otherwise work out hundreds or thousands of silver pieces in valuable ore.

However, Archer’s trajectory took a bit of a turn…

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