Agalla

Agalla is the nominal capital of Ungoza.  Despite that, it is the smallest Cirsovan city in the province, not benefiting from the mineral boom of Cratera and only receiving minimal boon from the port in Galbarrow.

Tribute and taxes from Illi, Onna and Galbarrow, such that they are, are collected by the autocrat here before being sent southward to Gatia.  Tarriffs and incomes generated by New Cratera and the Long Road are remitted directly to the imperial magistrates in Davou, thus Agalla sees little of Ungoza’s profits in her own coffers.

Agalla was originally founded so that there would be a Cirsovan city which settlers and bureaucrats could call home after the annexation, as most heartlanders found life in the Eastern Marshes difficult and unpleasant.  Agalla is largely Cirsovan, however there are frequent native Marshfolk visitors, and occasionally even Ortians may be found conducting business. The Cirsovan people here lack the general optimism and imperial pride of their cousins to the southwest; much of the frontier zeal wore off after the road to New Cratera from Davou was completed.

Those wanting to journey eastward into the marshlands, where many native Ungozans remain, may do so from Agalla.

A Stripped down LotFP

Or maybe stripped down isn’t the best terminology.

Since LotFP uses Open Game License, and I really DO love what they’ve done rule-wise in their core system, I’ve been toying with the notion of doing a cleaned up version for a more general audiences release.

Notably, most of the rules and descriptive text would not need much or any changing, but I’d be looking at changing some verbage to lighten the tone and make it clearer for people new to RPGs.  Also, I’d probably be discarding some of the rules for resource management, investments, hirelings, etc.  It’s not because those things are unimportant.  They’re great, and handled really well by LotFP.  But if people want those things, well, this version would still be compatible with any system that tracked the economics of adventuring.  My idea is something that you can hand to a completely green gamer and start gaming with in a few minutes.  Worry about the complicated stuff later.  Also, I’m thinking something along the lines of Adventure Time type art.

All of this is just brainstorming at this point, but if these ideas appeal to anyone, I’d be very happy to have help and support within the gaming community!

  • Simple rules with clear descriptions (LotFP has already done most of this work for me)
  • A “neutral” core system that could be plugged into as wholesome or unwholesome gaming environment as the players want, but without invoking the latter
  • A core book that ANY OSR people would feel comfortable sharing with their kids
  • A product that does not play into pre-conceived notions about sexism and racism in the gaming community

Anyway, at this stage, I’m just thinking on the page.  I’d love to hear some feedback and perspective from other OSR types.

Free NPCs from Shorty Monster!

To celebrate getting over 10,000 hits, Shorty Monster is offering to write up free npc, in the form of brief prose character sketches, for people to use.

Here’s one he made for me:

In a world where people were looking for a magic elixir, Grayson Dashiel was the person to provide it. He grew up as the son of a leather tanner, and worked in various trades to do with the dyeing of cloth and fabric. He became an expert on creating the most wonderful colours to adorn garment, but found that he was never appreciated, or paid any where near what he expected.

But he always watched the so called miracle workers as they made their way into town, with fancy potions and magic cloaks that promised the world. He watched them work, picked up the words needed to part fool from coin, and set out on the road himself. Instead of two-bit back waters, he found large tent cities and gatherings of people all intent on making their fortune in rediscovering lost gold and ancient relics. they were easy pickings as most had left home for the first time to try their luck in a new discovered tomb, and hardly any would get out alive to complain if the healing potions he sold them were no more than coloured water with aniseed flavourings.

Before long he was selling magic items that could be made to glow a little at the right time, and amulets laced with contact narcotics to give a feeling of invincibility. He’s close to having enough to retire on now, is old Grayson, but he’s still looking out for one last job.

If you ask him, he’ll make one up for you too!

Gaming & Game Art Disconnect

So, my girlfriend isn’t really a fan of tabletop RPGs. She’d only specifically pointed out her hatred of all things Dungeons and Dragons, so I hoped it had simply been a branding issue. I’d asked and mentioned I’d found a new free RPG system that looked promising, and she said she’d at least look at it. My mistake was that RPG system was Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Now, the ironic part of this is that I’d first heard of LoFP from one of those gaming-as-a-woman blogs, and that blogger was even trying to get her own module for it published. I’d gone to LoFP’s page and was happy to find that the core rule system was free for download. I read it through and I found a great, simple to play straight-forward engine that was impressively put together and looked really fun. Who cares if the free version didn’t have any pictures in it? This was what I was looking for in a game sytem.

This is what got me in trouble. For one thing, for full disclaimer, I’d somehow put in the back of my mind that this was the same people who’d published Carcossa; after reading the manual, there was nothing really questionable at all about it, but that should’ve sent up a red flag. Still this wasn’t FATAL, there weren’t stats for maximum anal dialation before tearing or other grotesque non-sense built into the system. The only thing remotely questionable in the text was on a % table for monster description, ‘genitals’ was one of the nouns that an adjective from another % table could be describing.

Anyway, my girlfriend asks “Is it anything like Flame Princess from Adventure Time?” “No, but that’d be cool.” “Well, I’ll look at it.” “Okay.”

A little bit later: “Why would you think I would want to play this with you?” “Huh?” My girlfriend has looked it up on her phone, and the first thing she found was something from Something Awful. Apparently it was a thread where someone had posted a handful of pictures from LotFP source materials, all of them women being dismembered in fairly gruesome ways. “I thought you said you looked into this?” “I did! I read the entire core rule book. The free version didn’t have any pictures, though. I had no idea.” I really didn’t. And it occurred to me the vast disconnect between a gaming system/game and its artwork. The game itself wasn’t sexist at all; just a fairly well put together system of numbers and tables. But when the artwork depicts all manner of unspeakable things happening to women, the core mechanics of gameplay aren’t going to convince the average person that it’s okay, no matter how well put together the system is.

So, yeah, this is going to be about the problematic nature of art in RPGs. Now pretend this paragraph is the one that goes on at great length about Frank Frazetta that every other RPG blogger has already done. Finished? Good, let’s continue.

Tabletop RPGs are often hard to explain to people who don’t play them, especially because they are not necessarily ‘visual’ affairs in the same way that most board games or video games are. But when people “see” RPGs, they see them through the art on boxes and the art in core books. They don’t see the different types of stories that can be told in the different kinds of settings. Because of the wide array of RPG players, worlds can range from an ultra-grimdark Berserk to fun-loving Adventure Time or Myth Adventures settings. The set of core rules used is only to provide a frame-work for the people who are playing; most people don’t imagine that their characters, foes and adventures look like things that are taken straight from the books. Unfortunately, the books and their pictures are what non-gamers see first. And it’s going to be hard to convince people (especially women) that there’s nothing wrong with your hobby when they can point to all of the hapless chainmail bikini clad women being torn apart by lizard men (or heck, even if they’re not being torn apart by lizard men!) littering the pages of manuals, and no easy to use “saving-throw-to-level” table will persuade them otherwise.

There are lots of cool, exciting fantasy settings and worlds that are non-sexualized that are in the mainstream, so why is it hard to convince people that RPGs can’t be too? Certainly there are lots of well adjusted tabletop players in cool, fun fantasy settings of their own design. It’s just the creepy creepers do a better job of sticking out like a sore thumb. First let me say, I’m fairly certain that there was nothing overtly creepy or wrong in the old d6 Star Wars system. I saw several groups playing it at different times at an old gaming store I went to (even played it once myself, didn’t particularly care for it), but the only one I remember was the group that seemed to be having a romp of hacking whores at a brothel to bits with light-sabers, BECAUSE IT WAS CREEPY! Thus, it’s easy to write it all off as being creepy, because that’s what you remember most. I doubt that anyone in the world but it’s creator has actually played FATAL (a game that is both aesthetically and functionally disgusting), but its very existance can be used by outsiders to point at and say “Look how gross gaming is!”

I’m a huge fan of Order of the Stick. A (very small) part of why I like it is the art-style allows for readers to project onto the characters their own ideas of what they look like within the framework of information provided. Sure, you know Haley Starshine is a red-headed thief or that Roy Greenhilt is black swordsman with a shaved head, but all the rest of the physical details are up to the reader. In a way, this is a microcosm of gaming: the games serve as the barebones framework for the players to create the story and fill in the details. The more details given, the less freedom players have in game. And depending on what those details are, gamers may have less freedom as a community. “I don’t want to play if I have to be some half-naked woman” is not something that should be an issue, but unfortunately it is.

So, yeah, in a sense, the problem my girlfriend has IS a branding issue. The gaming industry has branded itself in such a way that it has her convinced it’s all severe rudeness and wizard tits. I’ve never been in any games like that, but it’s easy to see where she could get that idea. Admittedly, this isn’t something that will be solved. Ever. As long as there are games of make believe, people who want to make-believe offensive things are going to. And there will also always be people who are so upset that genital characteristics are not fixed stats that they will make their own games and post them on the internet. And even if no one ever plays those games and even if those gamers are few and far between, they’ll exist, and they’ll be pointed to as “what’s wrong with gaming”. It CAN get better, though. Flagship games that are the faces of the community may not see anything wrong with what they’re doing, but with women making up a growing portion of the gaming audience, they’re missing out on a huge opportunity. Leave the gross sexism to the imaginations of the gross sexists who want to play in those settings. Let the systems shine for a change!

Old Cratera

Popular tales declare that Old Cratera was founded under the accursed shadow of Elefloe by explorers and geologists who were charting the Ungoza crater’s northern boundary.  In truth, Old Cratera is a good day or so to the south of Elefloe and was likely never intended to be a permanent settlement, but its proximity to the ruin has led to no shortage of rumors and legends.

For some time, it was used by archaeologists and anthropologists for whom it would serve as a base-camp in their forays into the ice sheets searching for clues to the lost Northern Civilization.  Even today, the occasional commissioned study may utilize its remaining structures, however Old Cratera has not had any permanent inhabitants in recent memory.

Despite the mineral’s abundance, the green crystals of the crater were never mined here to any great extent, as it was deemed too difficult to construct a road across the crater to connect the settlement to the rest of the Empire.  Inclement weather, isolation from the rest of Ungoza, its nearness to the ice sheet and nearness to Elefloe (who is reluctant to yield any more of her mysteries to the academic community) all proved too discouraging for any long-term residence in Old Cratera.

Dungeon Music

Several years back, I went through a prolonged, mind-searing journey into the blackest depths of industrial music. I’m not talking about Skinny Puppy or KMFDM or rivet-head club music. I’m talking about “plunge your mind into a world of eternal darkness where the only comforts are the sounds of scraping metal echoing through the catacombs of the infernal machinery of low-tech iron hell” industrial music.  A lot of what I was listening to, one of my friends referred to as “Dungeon music”.

This label gave me an idea: not all, but many of the albums I’d been listening to made for great ambiance during some of the grueling dungeon crawls I’d cooked up for my gaming group. It’s amazing what a little background music can do to enhance the mood of a gaming session. Distorted, barely audible vocals over gently rumbling electronic noise and feedback, “the sound of orcs echoing in the halls” of a prison had some of my players genuinely scared!

Really, you want to pick and choose something that suits the mood you’re trying to create, and nothing so loud that it would be distracting, but adding dungeon music can make for some great sessions.

A few of my favorites that I used were tracks by Critical Theatre and OLoF NiNe. Critical Theatre may be a bit harder to find, as most of their releases were on hand-made cd-rs, but they’re more than worth hunting down. Last I saw, they had a Bandcamp here: http://criticaltheatre.bandcamp.com/

OLoF NiNe’s entire discography is free to download at http://omnicorn.com/pganza/. For my dungeon crawls, I particularly used the album “Fuck, You’re Dead”. Warning, some of the images may be considered mildly NSFW. I even recorded an album with the guy from OLoF NiNe for a project we called Kathedrikos Maschine (http://astrangerparadise.com/releases/offb026-alex-kimball-&-ian-linter-kathedrikos-maschine). Maybe it’s kinda Ravenlofty?

Lastly, there’s another band, whose entire purpose seems to fit this theme. Sadly, they disappeared years ago, but there was an experimental noise band called “Forgotten Realms” who put out a handful of albums that were all free for download. From what I gathered, they would play live shows in the dark while stuff like Ator played in the background. I’m still owed a physical copy of Warrior Turned to Stone. Anyway, since I don’t know if any of their old free stuff is still hosted, I’ll go ahead and host this for now.  Behold, “Instant Death: Deck of Many Things“! (Forgotten Realms, get in contact with me if you want me to take this down or if you want to finally send me your last album). They had a youtube video of them playing live, once upon a time, but good luck finding it…

If the game hadn’t broken up for other various reasons, I’d planned to use something like Sopor Aeternus for a scenario with an ancient true neutral vampire bard, whose melancholic violin music would echo through the halls of his crypt. I do hope I get a chance to use that character eventually.

Anyway, I’d love to hear from other GMs, DMs and STs about their thoughts on using music in gaming to enhance the mood.