Vote for Labyrinth at the ENnies!

Voting for the ENnie awards is open now, and my RPG Labyrinth: The Adventure Game is nominated for two categories – Best Family Game and Best Cartography! To vote, just go to those categories here and give Labyrinth a “1”. You can also vote for Questing Beast in the Fan Favorite Publisher category. Remember to leave blank any entries that you don’t like, as assigning a number always improves an entry’s ranking.

Lots of other OSR products have been nominated this year, including:

BEST ADVENTURE: A Pound of Flesh, Trilemma Adventures, The Halls of Arden Vul Complete
BEST ART, COVER: The Ultraviolet Grasslands
BEST ART, INTERIOR: The Ultraviolet Grasslands
BEST CARTOGRAPHY: Trilemma Adventures
BEST FREE GAME: Tunnel Goons
BEST GAME: MÖRK BORG
BEST LAYOUT AND DESIGN: A Pound of Flesh, Trilemma Adventures, MÖRK BORG
BEST MONSTER: Worm Witch
BEST ONLINE CONTENT: Essentials Generators
BEST PODCAST: Appendix N Book Club
BEST SETTING: Rakehell
BEST WRITING: Electric Bastionland, MÖRK BORG
PRODUCT OF THE YEAR: Trilemma Adventures, MÖRK BORG

Sea of Thieves: The Best OSR Combat Game?

I’m now playing Sea of Thieves for about 4 hours a day. Playing solo is awful, but with a crew of close friends/family members, it’s transcendent. A huge part of that is the ship battles, which can be approached with an intensely OSR sense of creative mayhem. There’s so many many strategies you can employ to take out someone’s ship, but even when you do it expertly (which I am very bad at) you’re on these large, fast vessels with a lot of Patrick Stuart’s held kinetic energy so there’s so many variables and ways for things to go wrong.

When you shoot cannons at enemy ships you want to hit them below the waterline, but that’s tricky because both ships are moving up and down on the waves as you move. You can also shoot down their masts to slow them, blast enemy PCs off the deck or shoot firebombs to light their ship on fire (which spreads). There are also magical cannonballs that can drop their anchor, seal all their supply barrels, make them all drunk, dance, sleep, or lame, or break their cannons. Each ship has harpoon guns on the front that you can use to latch on to enemy ships to pull them in, or reel in treasure, allies, or enemies in range. When you get hit below the waterline, water starts pouring in the hole which you have to patch by hand and then bail by scooping water into a bucket and throwing it over the side. BUT you might want a little bit of a leak because you can use it to put out fire on deck, or bail the water ONTO THE OTHER BOAT. There are barrels of gunpowder you can drop over the side and hope that enemy ships hit them, or you can swim one over to their boat, climb on board, and then blow it up. You can load yourself into your own cannons and have a friend FIRE YOU ONTO ENEMY SHIPS from 100 yards away.

The game’s an amazing story generator. Instead of giving you game mechanics to manipulate and attack numbers that go up, the game just gives you tons of tools that you can use creatively and then waits to see who is going to be the cleverest. All the canons in the game do the same damage, all ships of the same class go the same speed. You don’t level up your character, you level up your real-world strategic skills.

There’s basically no HUD in the game. Everything has to be done physically. To know wind direction you look up at the sky, to know what direction you’re facing you have to pull out a compass, to navigate you have to look at a map on a table.

It’s also an extremely cooperative game and pretty easy to learn, so it’s ideal for hanging out with people in isolation who maybe don’t play many video games. You have to work together to even sail the ship effectively (steering, charting a course, adjusting the sails, scanning the horizon for enemies or floating barrels etc.) so you’re always talking to each other and doing something. You can play it super cheap for a month by paying $1 for an XBOX game pass (which works for PC as well) and then cancelling before the end of the first month. I might end up just buying it though.

The Questing Beast Kickstarter is now LIVE!

Back it on Kickstarter by clicking here or on the picture above.

From the Kickstarter description:

The manor of Willowby Hall is under siege by a giant, enraged at the theft of his magical goose. A band of thieves has taken shelter within the manor’s crumbling walls, cowering with their ill-gotten poultry as the building shakes itself apart. But something else is stirring. The giant’s rampage has woken a group of revenant knights from their black slumber in the manor’s crypt, and they have called the bones of the manor’s old residents to their side in an effort to drive out the intruders.Will the party manage to loot the manor of its ancient relics, or succumb to the blades of its skeletal guardians? Who will make off with the goose and its golden eggs? Will anyone survive the giant’s onslaught? The only way to find out…is to play.

The Waking of Willowby Hall is a self-contained, 32-page adventure, presented in zine format. It’s designed to work as a one-shot, or to be dropped directly into a pre-existing campaign setting. Its focus is on ease of use, high interactivity, and a dangerous environment that rewards clever play. It will use minimalistic statblocks that are broadly compatible with Old-School D&D systems like Old-School Essentials or Knave, and are easily converted to D&D 5e or other fantasy RPGs.

All Fandoms are Toxic

Inspired by some recent discussion on what a dumpster fire Twitter RPG discourse is, I present the Questing Beast Theory of Fandom Toxicity.

Virtually all fandoms are toxic once they reach a certain size. The reason is pretty simple: fandoms are groups of thousands of people that only have a single interest in common. This means that wherever they hang out, members of that fandom will be constantly engaging with people who share their enthusiasm for the fandom’s topic, but whose worldviews are opposed to their own.

This wouldn’t normally be a problem (we run into people with incompatible worldviews all the time) except that modern fandoms are often very intent on uniting the fanbase under a single “community.” This creates several problems:

  1. You’re part of the community whether you want to be or not.
  2. You get the cognitive dissonance of being in a community full of people who don’t share your beliefs.
  3. People within the community are upset at you when they see you in conflict with other members over basic issues.
  4. You get the embarrassment of outsiders lumping you together with people you dislike.
  5. If the fandom topic is a big part of your identity, you can feel that it (or you) is tainted by the presence of bad actors.

This situation causes the constant sniping, gatekeeping, and toxicity you find in fandom spaces. There are a couple ways to solve this.

  1. Make a real community, but be very selective who you let in (preventing disparities in worldview).
  2. Stop pretending that a shared interest group is a community and be very specific in what you allow people to talk about (preventing discussion of worldview disparities).
  3. Ignore the communities question, and just keep the group very small (200 people at most). This is basically why G+ worked. Most people knew each other on a personal level (often playing in each other’s games), so they were able to overlook worldview conflicts.

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

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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.