Sunday, March 7, 2021

Invoker (GLOG Class)

this is not all there is

The world of the supernatural has layers & scales, just as the world of the natural. There are bacteria, and animals, and people, but none of these things are these things. Clerics, reaching up to the divine, brush their fingers against the largest beings of the supernatural.

But there are many things further down - nature spirits, long-dead tyrants, minor demons. The Invoker has, through time and ritual, become able to hold on to these Entities. They bring them from the spirit world into themselves, becoming almost possessed by the thing they've summoned. The stronger they become, the further from reality they can reach.


A: Invocation, +1 MD

B: Ritualism, +1 MD

C: Participation, +1 MD

D: Separation, +1 MD


Invocation

You are able to summon Entities and bind them into your own body. Any Invocation lasts until the next dawn or dusk, and you are able to access any of the Entity's abilities for free while they are Invoked. You cannot Invoke two Entities simultaneously.

When you perform an Invocation, roll your MD and [sum] the result on the Entity table.

Ritualism

With every hour up to [templates] spent on a single Invocation, you can move [sum] by one.

Participation

When you perform an Invocation, you can place the Entity in a willing participant. You cannot place two Entities into the same person.

Separation

You can place two Invoked Entities into a single person, including yourself.


Entity Table

The first 12 of these entries are spirits known to humanity. They are cooperative, though perhaps not friendly, and their will is easily crushed by an Invoker. Past where the spirits reside are the 6 Elemental Planes, which can be dangerous to open as their power is barely contained in the body. 

The last 6 are residents of the Outer Planes, great things beyond the understanding of mortals. The first time you contact them, you can hold them back, barely. The second time, they are prepared, and burst through their bonds, permanently possessing the Invoker even if the Entity was supposed to rest within another participant. They don't care about anyone else. They need you.

1. Young Crow - only just born, but already wandering. While Young Crow is Invoked, you are able to fly at your walking speed.

2. The Stars - always watching, like a man standing over a pond. You can see perfectly in the dark.

3. Leviathan - the size of a continent, buried somewhere under the sea. You can breathe water.

4. Beria, the Martyr - incinerated by dragonsfire. You've heard that the Church keeps a bone of his in some cathedral you've never seen. You cannot be damaged by fire.

5. Imperious Lord Alsebeth - once conquered the world, now lies in an unmarked grave. Your Strength is set to 20 or doubled, whichever is greater.  

6. The First Ghoul - killed thousands of years ago, perhaps. Still hungers. Your hands extend into claws, dealing 1d4 damage and requiring a Save against paralysis.

7. Last Queen of the Elves - she will reign someday, far in the future. You can talk to all animals.

8. Astarii - a minor demon of paranoia. Allows you to read the surface thoughts of anyone within 60' of you.

9. Five-sided Square - don't look at it don't look at it don't look at it. You can teleport within 60' to anywhere you could walk to - you don't have to see your destination, there just has to be an unblocked path.

10. Echo - trapped and afraid, whispering to no one. Whenever you speak to someone, you may choose to make them Save against fear.

11. Black Glass Demon - hates all this noise, all this movement. Within 90' of you, all magic has the highest-rolling MD used in its casting discarded. 

12. An Angel - perfect, holy, silent. Your touch allows people to make new Saves against disease and possession, and deals 2d6 damage to spirits and demons.

13. Opens a hole into the Plane of Fire. The character affected takes 1d8 damage an hour unless immersed in water, but can breathe a 2d6 damage 30' cone of fire [dice] times.

14. Opens a hole into the Plane of Water. You can walk on water, but need twice as much water per day.

15. Opens a hole into the Plane of Earth. The character affected gains +4 AC, but has halved movement speed and sinks in water.

16. Opens a hole into the Plane of Air. You weigh only 10 pounds. This is both a benefit and a drawback.

17. Opens a hole into the Plane of Light. The character affected emits light in a 240' radius, but can barely see, gaining disadvantage on attack rolls and Wisdom checks for perception.

18. Opens a hole into the Plane of Darkness. The character affected can hide perfectly in darkness, but takes 1 damage per minute spent in light brighter than a torch.

19. The Eternal Fates - they pull the strings of the world . You can reroll any die that does not involve you - another PC attacking a monster is fine, but you attacking is not.

20. Seventh Hand - placed all the stars in their places in a single moment. You gain 5 ethereal arms. In a single turn you can make 3 actions, along with any other benefits from having a load of arms. 

21. Sun-in-Splendor - the envious life-giver. You glow like the sun. Your touch melts stone and deals 6d4 damage.

22. He Who Is Bound in Red - he lays deep in your blood. No matter how much damage you take during this period, you cannot die. You can still be hacked apart, burned to ash, etc., but you won't die from any of it, until he leaves your body.

23. The Worm Behind the World - it's so cold out there. You can shapeshift into any humanoid perfectly.

24. The Jade Throne - who wrote the first laws: gravity, conservation of energy, the speed of light. Everything you say is followed unquestioningly.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Response Engine (Sunless Horizon Intro Dungeon)

Since I released the Sunless Horizon beta last September, I've run it through another short playtest and have been working on the next beta. That's been going much more slowly than I had hoped, however.

To take a bit of a break from it, I've polished up the dungeon I used for the playtest into a fully usable adventure. It's heavily inspired by Lair of the Lamb, taking its core concept (you start in the dungeon with no equipment and have to break out) and the earliest section (being chased around by some horrible thing you can't kill).

It also borrows part of the Activation Chamber test from Dan's Minimodule 2: FIRST CONTACT PROTOCOL.

I expect that the most divisive thing about will be the lack of random encounters - instead, the dungeon is almost entirely full, and time pressure comes from the Response Engine moving towards a Black Zone, with the PCs (hopefully) managing to escape before it reaches it.

Click for the PDF

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Zine Quest Interview 4 - Ava

My interview series continues with renewed fervor now that Zine Quest has begun. If you have an active or upcoming ZQ project and would like to schedule an interview, feel free to contact me through email or Discord, both linked on the sidebar.

Archon: Would you like to introduce yourself and your project?

Ava: Yeah, sure. I'm Ava, I am barely a person, but I have spent the past 5 years noodling on a little game called Errant and it has now been unleashed upon the world. It's a pretty classic fantasy RPG, but where it differentiates itself I think is in the wide range of procedures it gives you for dealing with game situations like chases, duels, lockpicking, domain management and downtime in ways that are fast, simple, meaningful, and fun.


Archon: Do you have an example of one of these procedures that you think exemplifies the system?

Ava: I think lockpicking is a fairly good one. Instead of just rolling a skill check, players open locks by selecting one of three options (Tap, Turn, Twist). A lock requires 3 correct actions to pick; no two actions are ever used in a row. If you pick a wrong action, the lock gets Stiff, and your next wrong action will make it Jam, rendering it unopenable.

Archon: How modular are these procedures? Like for lockpicking, does Errant have advice or options on how to make more complex locks?

Ava: Yeah, it does give ways to make more complex locks. I think most of the procedures are pretty modular; the book explicitly call out adjusting or removing things based on the needs of your game. The Downtime Turn procedures though give the game a lot of its specific flavour, in my opinion, so I reckon those are worth giving a shot out of the box as is. Some things that I describe as procedures, like tracking different types of turns and rolling an Event Dice each turn to see what happens (e.g. if there's a random encounter, if you need to rest, if you use up some supplies) are pretty core to the game and changing them would have knock-on effects throughout the whole system. I go into this pretty in-depth in my last blog post, the second in my series of deep dives into the design of Errant.

Archon: It's interesting to see someone discussing the reasons and goals they have when designing a game, like you do in those blog posts. Do you think that made it easier to work on Errant?

Ava: The blog posts are largely retrospective, I don't think they've shaped the design of Errant much at all. Just describing my thought processes and specific decisions I made.

Archon: Ah, alright.

Some old RPGs that could be described as "procedure-heavy" are now often seen as overly-complex and disconnected from themselves - like a dozen minigames with no connective tissue. Does Errant do anything to address this, or was it not a worry during development?

Ava: I've tried to take some measures to unify things. There is a core mechanic in Errant which is a d20 roll equal to or under a given attribute and above a Difficulty Value. Then there are the 4 turn types: Travel Turns, Exploration Turns, Initiative Turns, and Downtime Turns. On all of these Turns except Initiative Turns you roll 1 or more Event Dice to determine what happens. So most of the procedures in Errant refer back to one or both of these foundational aspects of the game: something either takes a turn to do and/or requires a check of some kind.

Archon: That really does seem like it solves the problem to me.

Looking at your pitch, you seem to have a very large team (12 in all) for a Zine Quest project. How did you manage to get together so many people for what I think is your first Kickstarter?

Ava: I am lucky to be part of a fairly tight knit community of creators and friends who have graciously offered to help me along with the project for next to no compensation. As Nick, my layout designer put it, "small art only survives because small artists help one another."

Archon: That's wonderful. I'm happy you're getting the help your project needs to be how you want it.

And speaking of help, Exalted Funeral is running distribution for Errant. Do you have any advice for people who want to work with a publisher or distributor?

Ava: Truth be told getting to work with Exalted Funeral is entirely the results of the efforts of my publishing partner, Chris Mennell. But from what I've seen: just email people, it never hurts to try.

Archon: There's still more than a week left in your campaign, and it does look very well-run, but do you think you've learned anything important from it yet?

Ava: One thing that seems completely obvious in retrospect but I didn't realise was possible was to partner with multiple distributors to better serve international customers. Going forward that's definitely going to be my M.O.; it hurts seeing how high non-U.S. shipping prices are.

Archon: Errant has already gone far past your goal - will this motivate you to aim higher with your next project?

Ava: I have very lofty ambitions for Errant volumes 3 and 4, which will likely have to be brought down to reality at some point, but yes. I'm aiming to take whatever money from this that doesn't go into the hands of artists, editors, designers, and consultants on this project and put it towards making future Errant products as crassly and absurdly gorgeous as they can be.

Archon: That's all the questions I have - is there anything else you'd like to talk about?

Ava: There may or may not be a bonus Errant adventure involving a Goose dragon in the works...

If you want to hear more, come down and chat in our community discord!

Archon: Thanks for your time, have a good evening.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Zine Quest Interview 3 - kahva

My interview series continues with renewed fervor now that Zine Quest has begun. If you have an active or upcoming ZQ project and would like to schedule an interview, feel free to contact me through email or Discord, both linked on the sidebar.

A: Good afternoon! Would you like to introduce yourself and your project?

K: Sure! I'm kahva. I've been playing OSR games since about 2018, particularly GLOG and Into the Odd - or something in between the two. My project is Boots Full of Mud, an overland travel procedure accompanied by two topographic maps.


A: What are the basics of that travel procedure, and what do you think it gives a game that a standard crawl doesn't?

K: The foundation of the procedure is the watch - a unit of time roughly equal to four hours. Each watch has three phases: weather, planning, and resolution. The party can accomplish one activity per watch - think things like trekking, resting, or delving into a dungeon. My focus has been on creating rules that are simple, easy to remember, and easy to reference when that's necessary; while still taking advantage of all the information afforded by topographic maps.

Compared to other travel procedures the most obvious difference is the ability to take advantage of all that information. I've always been fascinated by maps, to the point of approaching them like art pieces - displaying them on my walls like you would a painting. Hexcrawls and pointcrawls have never scratched the same itch that examining a detailed map of a region and plotting your course does.

A: Speaking of those maps - if you aren't using hexes or points, how does your system track distance?

K: All the maps include a scale - 1 centimeter is equal to 5 kilometers, for example. When using physical maps I like to get a piece of string and mark it in appropriate increments. If playing online, the best solution is to use a VTT that has a measuring tool (roll20 does, as do many others). 

I don't sweat the details much, though. Especially when playing online winding paths can be a difficult to measure accurately, so I'll usually just get a quick estimate and call it good.

A: Your KS has a tier with example maps, but is there anything in the zine itself to help people make their own?

K: No. There are some tools to aid in creating dynamic weather and encounter generation, but nothing for map creation.

It is worth mentioning, though, that the rules can be used with basically any map you pick up - be it a real world US Geological Survey map of your area, an atlas-style map of a region, or even a quick sketch you threw together 10 minutes before the game. 

You can even use this procedure with a standard hex- or pointcrawl with just a few tweaks.

Interior mockup not final and subject to change

A: That seems like it may be more helpful anyway.

About these maps - they're more of an endeavor than a lot of ZQ projects (where you're just mailing the zine and you're done). What made you decide you needed to release physical maps?

K: The maps are really the core of the project for me - I created the rules to support the maps, not the other way around. I love the experience of rolling out a big map of an unfamiliar place and making sense of it, plotting your course, making decisions. I wanted to bring that to my RPGs, so the maps came first. Then I needed to create rules to support them. The big challenge there was making the rules smooth enough they wouldn't bog down play, while still making use of all the detail a topographic map provides.

A: In that case, let's keep talking about the maps.

Unless you reach your stretch goal, you're making 2 to release with the Kickstarter - what are they?

K: The first is a sparsely-populated subarctic island. I imagine it could exist somewhere between the Faroe Islands and Iceland in our world.  It's got a spine of tall mountains, lots of rivers, and a few mostly disconnected settlements. It's pretty close to final - I'll rename things, tweak some topography here and there, maybe adjust some colors - but nothing too major.

The second is a humid equatorial island. I imagine it could exist somewhere in the Indian Ocean or off the coast of Central America. It's got broad river valleys carved into the mountains, dense cloud forests, and a smattering of settlements. This one is still being drafted - the topography is there but will be changed up a bit, as will the rivers, and the color scheme might be revamped.

Map not final and subject to change

A: These both also come with brochures, but your Kickstarter pitch says the maps are unkeyed. In that case, what's actually inside the brochures?

K: The contents of the brochures fall into 3 categories:
1. Weather and encounter generation tools tuned to the environment and ecosystem of the map.
2. Descriptions of a selection of landscapes found on the map.
3. Descriptions of the towns and villages found on the map. These are meant as a jumping-off point for referees, they're not fully detailed adventure locations. Slotting in locations from your favorite modules would be a great way to flesh them out a bit more.

A: And those brochures are being partially written by Jojiro - did you always intend to work with him, or was this a recent change?

K: The weather and encounter tools will be done by me, but yeah, all the descriptions will be written by Jojiro. It is a pretty recent development, and one I'm happy about. I enjoy writing mechanics and procedures, but the closer something gets to prose, the more difficulty I have. I'm happy to focus on the maps and mechanics and let Jojiro handle the text in the brochures.

A: I think it'll be great.

Before we wrap up, is there anything else you'd like to talk about?

K: Nothing comes to mind! If anyone wants to chat with me about the project - or anything else - they can find me on the OSR discord.

A: Alright! Thanks for your time.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Zine Quest Interviews 2 - Philippe Ricard

My interview series continues with renewed fervor now that Zine Quest has begun. If you have an active or upcoming ZQ project and would like to schedule an interview, feel free to contact me through email or Discord, both linked on the sidebar.

A: So, would you like to introduce yourself and your project?

P: Yeah, for sure! I'm Philippe Ricard, I'm an illustrator/comics artist/tabletop RPG designer (whew!) from Santa Barbara, California. My Zine Quest project, Lethal Fauna Bric-a-Brac, is a zine with 16+ new monsters for OSR games. Each monster gets a lovely full-page ink illustration by me, as well as the usual stats and description. So, it's a monster book. Pretty simple pitch! But I think it's gonna be pretty dang cool!

A: 16+ monsters - so some of them are stretch goals, I assume? How did you decide which ones had to be in the book, and which could be optional?

P: Good question! So, the main goal of the campaign is to do a 24-page zine. Most monsters get a full-page spread and then there are a couple that get crammed in 3 to a page. I did the math, and the total number of monsters for the 24-page zine would be 16. I guess this is a spoiler, but yes, if we reach certain stretch goals, there will be more pages and thus more monsters in the book. The first two stretch goals aren't for additional pages though, because I recognize that promising extra content sometimes bites people in the ass. As for which ones I included in the book, it was pretty much whichever ones excited me the most?

As I said, I call myself an illustrator, I'm illustrating this entire zine myself, so most of the monsters started as drawings in my sketchbook. That's how I think a lot of the time. So picking the monsters for the book was mainly going through my sketchbook, picking previous doodles to riff on, and then some of them just seemed more conducive to an interesting monster/story than others.

Iterative thinking!

A: Which part do you prefer - the art, or the writing?

P: I really like both. The processes are super different but I love doing both. I guess I would say art, because if I had to choose between this being a no-text or a no-art zine, I would choose no-text.

There's that adventure that Evelyn Moreau did a while back? Gourmand's Larder, I think was what it was called. Not sure how well it worked in practice, but the idea was to be an adventure with all art no text. I think a similar approach could work for a monster book.

A: I think it would, especially with how simple OSR stats tend to be. Speaking of stats, do these monsters tend to have quicker, more basic statblocks, or more involved ability-heavy setups?

P: They're on the quick and basic side. There's a couple examples on the project page of what a full-page spread with stats looks like for the monsters. They follow the B/X format: Hit Dice, attacks, armor class (except i use "as leather" or whatever instead of the number, for increased compatibility), morale, movement. No treasure types because I don't play with treasure types and I don't know anyone who does lol. There aren't a ton of abilities just cuz I would forget them in play, to be honest. The interesting part is mostly the stuff that happens with the monsters BEFORE initiative is rolled!

A: What sorts of thing do you mean by that, and how do your monsters support that idea?

P: So in general, the kind of games I run are ones where one hit from a monster is likely enough to kill you. So, having fat mechanics seems a little silly when combat could be over in one round anyways.
I was talking with someone about my process for writing monsters a couple months ago, and they said "huh that's basically world-building"; as in, each monster has a lot of description with it such that you could go, oh, I could build a whole adventure around that guy. They imply a setting and most are faction-like in that they have things they need and want.

For example, the False Grandfathers. They're sentient grandfather clocks. It would be boring if all I said was, "here's a big clock." So, I thought about what sort of thing they might be doing that's interesting. Oh, they're clocks, they must really like time. So they really like cyclical, repeating processes. They're quiet observers.

And then that raises the question, well, how do other people interact with them? Well, they probably have a funny utilitarian purpose. So, wizards keep them on hand for finding leaks in their castle (since leaks will go drip-drip repeatedly). And then why would you encounter these clocks in the first place? Because a clock salesman was robbed and killed, and now all the sentient clocks from his caravan are just hanging out in the woods.

It's sort of preemptively asking questions and answering them. And then that implies a whole adventure around them, most of which is not gonna be combat.

A: That's a great way to go about monster design, in my opinion. Let's talk about the operation of your Kickstarter itself: the physical copy tier for your zine is only $6 - how did you manage to sell it so cheaply?

P: I'm doing all of the art, layout and writing by myself. So the only actual cost I have to pay is printing and shipping. That's also why my project goal is pretty low compared to other ZQ projects.

Printing zines from Mixam only costs a little over a dollar a book (including the cost of getting them shipped to my house). And that's on the heaviest paper stock they have. So the material cost is very, very low.

With ZQ this year I've seen that the average price is $10-$15. I totally get why people charge that much. RPG stuff is a LOT of work. But personally, I was involved in zine scenes before I was really involved in RPG stuff. And the going price at zine fests for a 24 page black and white zine is more like $3-7 bucks.

Basically, I'm fine with only profiting a couple dollars on each zine I sell. I like that my stuff is accessible. Other people would rather be paid more for their time. It's all fair! I'm not sure if I'm doing it right!

A: I'm not sure if there is a right way to do it, honestly.

This is your second Zine Quest project - what was your first, and what did you learn from it?

P: Yeah! So my first ZQ project was last year. It's called The Beloved Underbelly, and it's a faction-based, low-level OSR adventure. It's a little undercity full of weird factions: beekeepers, feral hogs, sorcerers that really like platonic solids, taxidermists. And it's all illustrated by me, in collage.

What did I learn from it... so, I know I just talked about how I still want my zines to be cheap, but last year I learned that I was selling things maybe a bit too cheap. I did $5 for the physical and $3 for the PDF. I still made a profit, but yeah, I guess I wanted a bigger profit from it just cuz of how much time making the zine took, and because of the labor involved in shipping things. I think the difference between people who will pay $3 for a PDF and people who will pay $5 is not much. So I was making less money while also not making things much more accessible. Lesson learned. Get some self respect.
That book was also my first time laying out an entire text-based zine in inDesign. It took much longer than expected. But hey, I did the Underbelly, and then i took a typography class, and now I'm pretty proficient with inDesign. Cool.

I also learned that people like my stuff?? My online sales outside of the Kickstarter are not very good. But selling through Kickstarter, and then through some RPG distros like Exalted Funeral and Spear Witch, showed me that hey, there's an audience for my weird RPG stuff. It resonates with people! Woah! It's just a question of connecting with the right audience.

A: Now that Lethal Fauna Bric-a-Brac is funded, do you have any plans for your next project?

P: Well I've got to finish this one first! I already know  all the monsters in the book, but I still need to do 12 more final illustrations, and i need to turn my notes into something that people other than me can understand.

I'd like to do the troika sphere jam that's happening this month, but we'll see. I've been working on this project about  knights with melons for heads, originally for a jam, but i missed the deadline. Which is fair enough. I'm not sure if it's an adventure or setting or what. But I've done some art for it already, so it will turn into something eventually!

A: I'll make sure to keep an eye out for any of that. I'm out of questions - is there anything else you'd like to say before we stop?

P: Uhhh I can get gross with self promotion if you want!

A: That's the whole point, isn't it?

P: Yeah! I'm @philippericardart on insta and @thatphilippekid on twitter. Hit me up anytime to talk about RPGS or monsters or art or whatever. Oh also, I'm tryna get together a little google forms or spreadsheet for people making zines who want to trade zines by mail. So ask me about that if you want the link when I get it organized, cuz I think trading zines is really fun!

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Geeleg (GLOG Class)

A while ago, a word appeared in my dreams: Geeleg (n.) - thief's slang for a lookout using trained owls.

I assume this is a sign of some kind, so here's what happens when I deign to follow signs. This is based on Lexi's thief guilds, and takes two abilities (Tricky Fingers and Opportunist) from them, to give more thief-ness to the owl-ness.

A: Lookout, Gain 2 abilities at Rank 1

B: Rank up an ability, then gain a new ability at Rank 1.

C: Rank up 2 abilities

D: Rank 2 abilities, then gain all abilities you don't have yet at Rank 1.

Shantanu Kuveskar

Lookout
You have a pet owl you've trained to keep an eye out for trouble. It can see in the dark and has incredible hearing. When placed somewhere, it will wait until it notices something amiss, then fly back to you.

When an owl is killed, you can either spend 1 week training a wild owl, or spend 25 gp on a trained owl.

Abilities

1. Connection
✧: The instant an owl sees something amiss, you hear it screeching in your head.
✧ ✧: You can look through the eyes of your owls like security cameras. While doing this you cannot see anything or move.
✧ ✧ ✧: While looking through your owls, you can control them.

2. Influence
✧: You manage to find and train another owl.
✧ ✧: You collect a total of 4 owls.
✧ ✧ ✧: You can interact with any wild owl as if you had trained it. Assume no owls in any location during the day, and 1d6 at night. They cannot be collected, and will fly off as soon as you leave.

3. Conflict
✧: When an owl detects a target, they attack once (1d4 damage) before coming to meet you.
✧ ✧: Your owl has been trained to attack more efficiently - targets attacked by it must Save or be blinded for 1d4 hours.
✧ ✧ ✧: The owl attacks until every target has been blinded, screeching constantly.

4. Chimerism
✧: The owl's features start to blend with yours. You can see for 15' feet in complete darkness.
✧✧: Feathers start to grow in place of hair. You can choose to fall at 10' per round and take no damage.
✧✧✧: Your arms become winglike. Your darkvision extends to 30', and you can fly at walking speed.

5. Tricky Fingers
✧: Whenever you try to perform sleight of hand (lockpicking, pickpocketing, etc), failure won't alert anyone who isn't already paying attention to you.
✧✧: You leave no trace of tampering, or specific traces of your choice, when you perform sleight of hand (whether you succeed or fail).
✧✧✧: Whenever someone tries to retrieve or draw an item, you can (on a 2-in-6, with 1 guaranteed success per day) reveal that you actually burgled it from them at some point in the recent past (if you had access).

6. Opportunist
✧: Whenever you would gain advantage to hit, you may also roll damage with advantage.
✧✧: Whenever you would gain advantage on a roll, you may reroll 1s.
✧✧✧: Whenever you would gain advantage on a roll, you may roll 3 results instead of 2 and take the best.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Zine Quest Interviews 1: Sam Sorensen

 My interview series continues with renewed fervor now that Zine Quest has begun. If you have an active or upcoming ZQ project and would like to schedule an interview, feel free to contact me through email or Discord, both linked on the sidebar.


A: So, to get started, would you like to introduce yourself and your project?

S: Sure. I'm Sam Sorensen, sometimes known as SquigBoss. My current project—or at least one of them—is an old-school-ish toolbox/supplement called Lowlife. It's about caves, mines, trenches, and other nasty places underground.


A: It looks very interesting, and seems like it would slot neatly into a lot of OSR games. It's also random-table focused with cave generators and that sort of thing, isn't it? How did you make sure those generators give cohesive results?

S: It is in part, yeah. The random cave/trenchwork generation tool is still somewhat in the works, but the basic gist is that it's always 2d6, and thus the results skew towards averages; so long as you can draw your data from those 2d6 (or other averaged rolls), you can predict what the "average dungeon" will look like with more accuracy.

The trickier thing, honestly, was—is—the process of retroactively adding in tunnels and passages to an already-existing dungeon. Maps-from-scratch tools are pretty straightforward, and there's a fair number of good ones that are easy to reference, but a process that needs to account for an extant dungeon is tougher.

A: That retroactive addition system one of the parts I find most interesting - it's always good to make supplements easier to add to a game. What are the basics of its process, at least in its current state?

S: It's a derivative, ish, of the ship-building process from Dead Planet, the Mothership adventure: you roll 1d6 for each room (or area, significant hallway, whatever), and any set of two dice that add to 7 have a tunnel connecting them. You use the angle of the lowest die to determine how big the tunnel is; optionally, you can use the dice as a d36 table to get some kind of variation or hazard in the room: collapsing ceilings, dangerous gases, skittering beasties, that sort of thing.

The main goal was that you roll 1d6 for every room on a floor, and can transform an otherwise-normal dungeon into a rat's nest of nastiness.

A: Does the zine include any advice on how to map these more spatially complex dungeons?

S: It does!

The basic method—which might get updated—is a lot shorthand annotation: a filled-in circle is a large passage, two concentric circles is a medium passage, a hatched circle is a narrow passage, that kind of thing. On top of that, my recommendation is that you draw a simple side-view sketch of the dungeon, maybe even two, so you can track which tunnel goes where vertically.

Mapping 3D is difficult on graph paper, and while stuff like isometric paper can make it easier, there's no substitute for good note-taking and careful diagrams.

Of course, even pretty simple dungeons can get players lost—especially in the dark—so adding even a modicum more complexity will leave them confused and afraid with just a few twists and turns.

A: 3D mapping is one of the most difficult problems to solve with more unusual movement - anything from tunnels to 0g seems to lead a lot of people to throw up their hands and give up. That system seems nice, though - certainly a lot easier to deal with than the mapping in Veins, for instance.

You referenced that the room modification tables could add monsters; are these going to be specifically monsters from Lowlife, or will it also have more standard cave-based creatures?

S: A mix, probably. I feel a little weird, as a designer not present at the table, just straight-up saying "this room now has a monster" so, it'll lean more towards "a monster has tunneled in here" or "there are gross-but-probably-not-dangerous insects crawling around in this room".

Things that influence the tone and mood and vibes of the dungeon, but are less directly influential on whatever difficulty curve it has.

A: That's helpful for the kind of GM who wants their dungeon to have a certain pacing, then.

But those generators aren't the only parts of the zine; there's also player content like items. Dungeoncrawlers tend to have a plethora of equipment already, so how did you find new things to add?

S: In terms of equipment, it's a mix of classic dungeoneering equipment in slightly higher detail and granularity (a shovel, a pickaxe, and a hammer and chisel all have very different uses, for example); riffs and variations on basic equipment, like a shovel-mechanism that can dig on its own but needs to be fed lamp oil, or dynamite that can be spread around like a sticky liquid; and straight-up oddball magic items, like a big worm kept in a bag of holding that will eat anything you hold the opening to, including earth, stone, and metal.

A: That's definitely a lot to fit into 30 pages.

Now, let's talk about some nuts and bolts: Lowlife isn't your first Kickstarter, or even your first Zine Quest project, but it is the first time you've worked on fulfillment without the help of DTRPG. Was this a choice on your part, or were you forced into it?

S: A smidgen of both?
DriveThru's great for some things, like if you're really new and don't quite know what to do and don't know how many copies you'll be selling. But this time, for Lowlife, I was both getting tired of dealing with DriveThru's nonsense (slow turnaround, odd menus, annoying formatting requirements) and am interested in selling wholesale to online retailers (your Exalted Funerals and such), which DriveThru makes significantly more difficult.

Also, LightningSource, DriveThru's printer thing, is killing zines in a month, so there's that.

A: You've decided to use Mixam instead, if I remember correctly. That's what I used for my ZQ project last year, and I found them really easy to work with.

Lowlife has hit almost all of its stretch goals at time of writing, and your earlier Kickstarters have also tended to be quite successful. Do you think you'll aim higher with your next project in terms of size and complexity?

S: Hahaha, that's nice of you to say.

My last project—a guide about running a West Marches game—was significantly larger and more complicated than Lowlife, so it's been nice to ease off a little bit and just chill with a simple zine. But yeah, the next project probably will be something more complicated. Or at least, you know, something with a bigger pagecount and a hardcover.

A: In terms of future projects, how do you decide what to Kickstart when? For example, what made you choose to expand your caving rules instead of Big Wet or Seas of Sand for ZQ?

S: Oof, that's a big question. A lot of comes down to momentum.

I get started on some project, I noodle some drafts, I run a couple of playtests, I see what sticks. If each of those is successful—i.e. the rules drafts aren't terrible and the playtest is useful and the players seem interested—then it might get to go further. But if I hit snags in any one of those, which happens all the time, it probably dies.

For the two you mentioned specifically, Seas of Sand is too big (it's probably the next big project) and the Big Wet has seen exactly zero playtesting. Not that those won't ever appear in the future, but they would've taken significantly more legwork to get ready for this year's ZQ.

A: What I find interesting is that you've moved backwards in the generic order of OSR progress (blog, zines, books) - you had already completed multiple Kickstarters before starting your blog. Do you think that's helped or hurt your ability to work on larger projects like zines?

S: Running Kickstarters and making zines definitely has made me better at running Kickstarter and making zines, if that's what you're asking.

A: I was asking if having the blog has made it easier or harder.

S: Oh, oh, oh, I'm a dingus.

But yeah, the blog. It means I can put stuff out into the open and gauge the waters a little bit ahead of time, which is very handy.

But it also adds another step to the make-game process: you come up with an idea, you draft it up, you put in your blog, then you start thinking about making it into something more real. A lot of the stuff on my blog ends up being things that I was working on anyway; making stuff "for the blog" hasn't really worked for me—other than just kicking around GLOG classes, which is basically a micro-hobby unto itself.

I also kind of doubt that the blog is helpful for marketing other than in the sense of having an extant portfolio of drafts; like, my posts average something like 50-100 viewers, which isn't going to pull any kind of engagement for a Kickstarter. Hanging out on a popular server for months and engaging with the community and running playtests, though, that does drive engagement. Chilling on the ex-McDowall OSR discord is, I think, in no small part responsible for the success of Lowlife.

A: That kind of community entanglement is really the most important thing in something as niche as the OSR.

I'm out of questions - is there anything else you'd like to talk about before we wrap up?

S: Uhhh, I didn't bring any talking points, really. Buy my games? Make cool shit? Don't be afraid to publish? I dunno.

A: All great points.

Thanks for your time, I hope you have a good night.

Sunless Horizon

Sunless Horizon is the most self-indulgent setting I'll ever make, taking inspiration from Veins of the Earth , Axis Mundi , HMS Apolly...