The Maze Knights Potion and Spell Generator

The current plan is for magic in Maze Knights to focus around potions. Drink a potion, get a spell. Like in Knave, this makes spells very concrete and forces players to think about their inventory slots, as each potion takes up a slot. There probably will be recipes you can collect as the game goes on, but if you want to get crazy you can always whip up a random potion and hope you get something good.

Like in Maze Rats, I’ve created a magic generator that generates weird spell names. Unlike Maze Rats, it’s 24 tables long instead of 6, and includes tables for generating things like the potion’s consistency, smell, taste, bottle shape, etc. 20,342,016 possible spells! 2,176,782,336 bottles!

It’s probably going to get revised and tightened up as Maze Knights continues to develop, but it’s definitely solid enough to use right now in any fantasy RPG, especially Maze Rats. Click “Generate” to take it for a test drive! Sometimes tweaking a word (like making it plural) helps the spell make more sense.

The generator is free to download below. To randomly generate a potion, roll on the following table to find the name format. If you are using this with Maze Rats, "Effects" are now called "Qualities."

  1. [Quality] [Element]
  2. [Quality] [Form]
  3. [Element] [Form]
  4. [Quality] [Element] [Form]
  5. [Form] of [Element]
  6. [Form] of [Quality] [Element]

Each bolded word has 6 tables associated with it. Roll a die to find the correct table, and then roll on the corresponding 6x6 table to get the final word. (For example, to find a Quality you roll 3d6, getting 4, 3, 6. This means look at the 4th Quality table, 3rd group within that table, and the 6th item within that group.) The referee has final say over the potion’s effects.

If you want the rest of the Maze Knights magic rules and the latest draft of the game, click here to help support Questing Beast on Patreon.

Plot Claustrophobia in Managed Campaigns

12006613_101486239980677575_o - Copy
Russ Nicholson

When I’m playing in an RPG and I can tell that the world is basically revolving around the party, I get claustrophobic. That’s the only word I can think of that really matches the sensation. The boundaries of the world shrink. What creatures lurk in this forest? The ones that drive the story forward! What do the major faction in this city want? To hire or kill the party, of course!

Along with this comes the implicit expectation that the DM has put a lot of work into this experience and it would be rude to just drop everything and establish a hog-wrestling arena, even if that would be more entertaining. In a “managed” campaign like this, it feels like the game world is always watching. Long lost relatives and villains from your backstory are always popping into existence at thematically appropriate times. Carefully laid plans are overturned or validated based on whether they “added to the narrative” rather than whether they made sense. Intangible themes and character development arcs hedge you in at every turn, even if only by social pressure.

Maybe what it comes down to is that I like exploring, understanding, and manipulating systems (like the rules of a fictional world), while in managed campaigns you’re really trying to understand and anticipate a person, the DM. I find that deeply off-putting, for reasons that probably reveal more about me than anything else. I like my game worlds as open, adventure-dense, and utterly uncaring as possible.

But I can’t be the only one who actively avoids the main quests in Elder Scrolls Games, right?

The Maze Knights Aesthetic

Maze Knights continues to evolve as a system, but today we’ll be looking at the look and feel of the game. It doesn’t have any art right now, but it does have a pinterest board if you want to see what it looks like in my head. Building this board has been very important to the game’s development, as I find it hard to work on a projects before I lock down the aesthetics. It gives me a more complete sense of the world, and ends up guiding a lot of my other decisions. As Skerples pointed out, making a good game is not so much making all the right decisions as it is making consistent decisions in the same direction. Aesthetics is the first decision I make. It also helps me narrow down artists I might be contacting in the future to do illustration work.

As I’ve been collecting images for Maze Knights, I’ve started seeing a pattern in the images I like.

Architecture and environments

  • Verticality: Whether it’s a city, a building, a dungeon, or a wilderness scene, adding that extra dimension adds visual interest as well as tactical options and held energy. Balconies, staircases, trees houses, catwalks, elevators, ziplines, whatever. The Y axis is often exaggerated: roofs are too steep, buildings stack up and up impossibly, etc.
  • Worn but Functional: Everything has a makeshift, ramshackle feel without feeling grim or apocalyptic. Architecture has a humanity and warmth to it. This is sometimes represented by things being slightly droopy or rounded, as if slowly succumbing to gravity. Lots of fine detail brings out the personality of the structures and adds interactivity.
  • Isometric: Art where you can see most of the structure at a glance is great, especially when you can see paths and connections that let you visualize how you would move in, on and, around and between structures. Looking at the picture should inspire plans for escapes, break-ins, sieges, and ambushes. An isometric view also conveys way more information per square inch than a 2d map.
  • Color: Maze Knights doesn’t have the survival horror or grimdark palette common in OSR games. It has more in common with Break!! in that regard. It’s going for excitement, engagement, brightness, and clarity.

characters

  • Strong silhouettes: Strong, distinctive silhouettes give it a videogamey feel. I like characters in Maze Knights to feel very tool-like, and clear, vivid design communicates their functions quickly.
  • Variety: In most OSR games I play humans, and I wanted to break away from that here. The world of Maze Knights is a melting pot of thousands of stranded species from across the planes, so the gonzo is turned up to 11. I want to avoid typical demihumans like elves and dwarves, though. Your species should open up concrete gameable abilties; “lives a long time” or “sees in the dark” are too weak.
  • Equipment: In true JRPG fashion, I like my characters laden down with potions, weapons, spellbooks, piecemeal armor, monster parts, and random junk. Not only does it reflect the item slot system, it communicates how important gear is in the game when it comes to problem solving.

The biggest single influence was probably Final Fantasy IX. It’s a game I’ve only started playing recently, but I had a copy of the Art of Final Fantasy IX as a young teen and the look of it stuck with me every since.

If you want to follow along with the development of Maze Knights and get regular rules packets, consider supporting Questing Beast on Patreon.

Last Day to Vote in the Ennie Awards!

If you haven’t voted yet, today is the last day! There are more OSR products nominated this year than ever before! Questing Beast is nominated for “Best Online Content” so make sure to head to that category and give me a “1” if you like my stuff. http://www.ennie-awards.com/vote/2019/

I also just did a huge hangout/interview with most of the OSR creators who are nominated. Watch it below and give them a vote too!

Vote for Questing Beast at the Ennies!

Questing Beast has been nominated for Best Online Content and Fan Favorite Publisher at the 2019 Ennie Awards! If you’ve been following my work and enjoy the videos and games I produce, click here and give Questing Beast a “1” on those two categories. There’s a ton of excellent OSR products nominated this year as well, so make sure to look through all of the categories.

If you want to get a Questing Beast T-shirt, you can head over to the recently revamped merch store here.

Maze Rats is Deal of the Day!

Maze Rats is Deal of the Day on DrivethruRPG! Get my best-selling OSR intro game for just $1.49! Today only!

From the product description:

The referee advice is gold. I know of few better sources for concisely explaining what to prioritize when running this sort of game.” – Brendan S, Necropraxis, Wonder and Wickedness

“I often quibble with RPG magic systems either being too complex or too restrictive, but this hit a great balance between flexibility and ease-of-use, while adding a special dash of creativity and Lady Luck.” – Ars Magisterii

Maze Rats is a light, brutal roleplaying game of fantasy adventure which is supported by random inspiration aplenty, which lends itself to a lighter, slightly whimsical tone. It is quick to learn, quick to teach, and easy to play,relying on player ingenuity and cleverness rather than a reliance upon the mechanics.” – Reviews from R’lyeh

Maze Rats is an RPG and sandbox toolkit for old-school-style adventuring. It contains a single, compact page of rules, a one-page character creation guide, a hand-drawn character sheet, and eight pages of 36-item random tables, rollable with two six-sided dice. Each page contains 9-12 tables, covering spell generation, monster generation, NPCs, treasures, cities, wildernesses, and dungeons. If you run (or have always wanted to run) open sandbox adventures, Maze Rats offers everything you need in a compact, easily-referenced format. Also included is two pages of advice for preparing and running open-world games in the OSR style.

The game system itself is 2d6 based. Character are extremely quick to generate, making it great for convention games, one-shots, or introducing new players. The game is highly lethal, and assumes a style of play where caution is essential to long-term survival. It is technically classless, but the leveling options allow players to specialize in fighting, thievery or wizardry or some mixture of the three. Magic is simple and chaotic, with new randomly-generated spells filling the magic-user’s head each night. Everything about the game is designed to be as clean, fast, and intuitive as possible, while driving players towards creative solutions rather than brute force (though brute force is always an option).

Buy it here!

How I plan to keep up with the OSR post G+

23245f5a35bdc2ed34d977cfa0404e27I’m unlikely to be using MeWe much. It’s not terrible, but it’s basically G+ without that platform’s best features. Also, I’m very much enjoying the shift to the blogs.

I’ve started using Inoreader to keep up with the OSR blogosphere. I plugged Ram’s OSR OPML into it and was set to go. I sorted the blogs into best and the rest, check in on the best every day, and skim the rest when I feel like it. It’s been incredibly freeing. The stuff I’m reading is as good as it ever was, it’s longer, more thoughtful, and by commenting on the post itself rather than on a separate platform the conversation stays focused and gets archived more permanently. It’s also motivated me to start writing posts in response to stuff I like, which is something I’ve never done before. To be honest, I’m enjoying this mode of discussion more than G+ in some ways. Also, the regular “OSR News” posts on Dreams of Mythic Fantasy keep you updated on everything you need to know.

If I want to just chat casually about the OSR I use Discord, usually either the OSR server or the DIYRPG one (which features an incredible 24/7 Gygaxian Democracy mill). That one is still semi-private, so I won’t be posting a link. I enjoy having long-form discussion and informal chat on two separate platforms.

The /r/rpg subreddit is good for getting the word out about new products but not so great for discussions. The range of assumptions and play-styles is vast, so you inevitably have to restart from ground zero explaining your approach every time you get into a discussion. The OSR subreddit is more focused but it’s never really felt like home. The brand new artpunk subreddit (not sure if it’s open to the public yet) looks to be the place to talk to the NeOSR/Adventure Game/Hipster DnD crowd, so I check in there periodically, but at the moment it looks like its biggest use will be to post the best new blog posts.

I’ve been posting more on Twitter recently, but that’s mostly to keep my Questing Beast followers updated on what’s going on with me and to reshare other OSR posts. There isn’t a lot of OSR conversion on Twitter and overall I think that’s fine. It’s a really anxious, high-strung platform.

Conclusion: BACK TO THE BLOGS! Get Inoreader or Feedly up and running, find a post you enjoy, write a response, and tell the original poster about it. 

If you want to contact me directly, my email is questingmaps at gmail.

Milton Dice: A transparent dice pool system

Here’s a fun dice pool system. I’ve tested it and it works fine. There was a discussion about it at one point on Michael Prescott’s G+ feed, I think, but now that that’s going away I want to preserve it somewhere. Someone else (maybe Michael) started calling it Milton dice so now that’s what it’s called.

  1. Your attributes and your skills give you a number of d6s to roll.
  2. The GM sets a target number to hit.
  3. Roll those dice.
  4. Add up the results on all the dice, but 4s, 5s, and 6s count as 0s. (So for example, you roll 4 dice and get 1, 1, 3, 4. Your total is 5 because the 4 counts as 0, and you just add up the 1, 1, and 3.)
  5. If your total is equal or greater than the target number, then you succeed.

What’s cool about this system?

  1. By only counting 1s, 2s, and 3s, each die has an average result of 1. This is because 1+2+3=6 and there are six sides on a die. It makes things really easy to calculate. If I’m rolling 5 dice, then my average result is going to be 5. Likewise, setting target numbers is easy. A TN of 5 will probably be hit by a character rolling that many dice. It has a pleasing transparency that a lot of dice pool systems lack, as Luka pointed out. The odds are a little funky in the 1 or 2 dice range, but it evens out nicely after that.
  2. You only have to add up 1s, 2s, and 3s, which makes the addition really fast.
  3. You can distribute 6 points around a d6 in other ways, like make 1 and 2 be worth 0, 3 and 4 be worth 1, and 5 and 6 be worth 2, but that gets confusing without custom dice. This uses the pips the dice already have.

Adventure Game vs OSR

Image by Ma-Ko
Image by Ma-Ko

Here’s a bit of an epiphany I had today. If I had to sum up the kinds of games I like to play in a single term, the term I’d like best wouldn’t be Old-School Renaissance, or Dungeons & Dragons, or DIY RPG, or even roleplaying game, but “Adventure Game.”

OSR Game: The term OSR often implies that the game is compatible with early DnD, which is often not the case for what I play and something I don’t really care about. Of course, to many people OSR means a style of play, but the term itself doesn’t really give you any indication of what that is. There’s too many steps from saying the term to getting someone to understand exactly what I mean by it.

D&D: Too imprecise and doesn’t exactly capture the kind of game I want, especially given the variety of ways the people play it now.

DIY Game: While I’m a big believer in DIY, it again doesn’t cover the style of play, only how people interact with it. There’s lots of people hacking games apart and reassembling them, but that’s no guarantee that I’ll like it.

Adventure Game: The term “Adventure” does a lot of heavy lifting for a single word, and covers the vast majority of what I enjoy.

  1. It implies authentic peril and the possibility of loss.
  2. It implies strangeness, travel, the unexpected, and the confusing.
  3. It implies variety and an episodic structure, a picaresque rather than a novel.
  4. It implies cleverness, ingenuity, and cunning rather than a bloody slog.
  5. It implies characters like Conan, Luke Skywalker, Elric, Hellboy or Fafrd.
  6. It’s short, simple, and isn’t obscure. Episodic-high-stakes-open-ended-lateral-problem-solving-fantasy-game might be more accurate, but good luck with that catching on.
  7. It evokes (in my head) a game that’s simple, unpretentious, and focused on fun at the table.

The argument over what to call the experimental, non-traditional side of the OSR is a bit silly, but good name goes a long way, and a clearer label than “OSR” for what we do here could make a big difference as we move into the post G+ phase of the movement, especially since books from this scene are finally starting to capture the public eye in a big way.