Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Short-Lived Book (GLOG Spells)

I was born with my siblings in the spring, when the frost left, and our seeds sprouted. The rest of us howled and shouted, and shook our thorns - but I was weak, and thus fearful. I fled, out among the plants-who-stay-still, and the graves of our forefathers. 

There is where it spoke to me - the shapeless shape, the rattling sound in the voices of the leaves. And it said: your stem is soft and thin - your thorns unsharpened. I offer you a guide. An angel. You are doomed by birth, you will live only a year - but I can show you the way to life eternal.

It asked no price of me. It lied.

But I was lost, and couldn't understand - so I leapt at the offer. The voice raised a hand, and my many-legged angel took its first breath.

Invent Wasp

A hand-sized wasp-shape (1 HP, no AC, flies) crawls out from the earth. It loves you like a dog - you can give it scritches, if you so desire. After [worst] hours, it vanishes. For every MD invested in the spell, choose two details:

  • A crop in the manner of the Masarinae - it can carry your pollen messages.
  • Great size, equal to yours - it can be ridden, with care.
  • A terrible venom, in the manner of the Pompilidae - insects are paralyzed, and men are stricken with agony.
  • Production of honey, in the manner of the Brachygastra.
  • Grinding mandibles (grinds wood to paper, attacks plants as a light weapon), in the manner of the Polistinae - beware, for these are killing weapons, and marks of a cruel familiar.
  • Striking coloration, in the manner of the Chrysididae. 
  • Skill in pottery, in the manner of the Eumeninae. 
  • The ability to communicate with you, in taps and scents. Through this detail, I learned that it is the same wasp that is summoned, every time the spell is cast.
  • Proficiency in the works of the mine, in the manner of the Sphecidae.
  • Bringing with it a fig, in the manner of the Agaonidae.
  • Parasitism, in the manner of the Ichneumonidae - anything the wasp can fit its legs around vanishes with it when the duration ends.
  • A warm, soft coat of fur, in the manner of the Mutillidae.

Months passed, and summer came. But my angel could not guide me home - in fact, I began to suspect it meant to point me away. When I stopped drinking, and reached the dark, it spoke to me again, in the patterns of the flowers. Fear not, ever - for I can show you how to be alone.


For [sum] minutes, you are shrouded. When cast with one MD, people will avoid you out of politeness. With two, they avoid you out of fear. With three, anyone approaching you must save or take [best] damage and be turned away. With four, you are invisible for the duration.

Autumn came, and my wings grew. Then, they fell out - a nutritional deficiency, perhaps, as I had been far from good soil or water. As I clutched them and wept, the voice returned. Are you still so fragile? So weak? Take the lesson of the tree - there is no virtue greater than resilience.

I took my wings in hand, and stripped trees of their bark with my thorns.

Needle and Thread

Sow a piece of a plant to another - the larger part must Save (with a +[dice] bonus) or die.  

By the time of the snows, I was prepared. I was taller than my lost siblings, I was surrounded by angels, and my gaze turned animals away. But no strong stem could turn away death, and I felt its hands at my back.

When I laid down, ready for it to take me, the voice screamed in the wind. You have done my will. For it lied when it said there was no price. The snow covered me. I give you what I promised.

Secret Hollow

Cover yourself in snow, sand, or soil. For [sum] months, time does not pass inside the hollow.

Life eternal. 

Monday, January 1, 2024

More Of This Thing (Campaign Retrospectives)

I love a good campaign retrospective, and since the orbits have aligned and the calendar has clicked over, there's been a bit of a tendency towards introspection in the blog space. So, what kind of desperate-for-attention internet word-stapler would I be if I didn't do the same? 

After spending 2022 working on a zine and entering a variety of new and exciting spirals, I wanted to try this neat thing called "running" "games" - of course, my zoomer attention span and hole-filled brain prevented me from running grand, years-long campaigns, but hey - that just means I get to stumble around more settings, and fall into new and exciting pits.

No Other Options (5 sessions, Delta Green)

This was an attempt at... ease - a trio of ye olde modern-supernatural shotgun scenarios stapled together by a framing story - the players as a set of cleanup goons for the incorrigibly violent cult-hunters of K-cell. 

Unfortunately, at least in my incapable hands, the chosen scenarios were more or less nonhostile - the intended idea of "players do [tasks] while under time pressure" collapsing as the players got hours or days to work. Creeping past a police investigation to fill a room with bleach is thrilling - showing up two days early is just busywork.

Which isn't much of a lesson, really.

See It Descend Into (12 sessions, GLOG variation)

the stepwell Chand Baori, in Rajasthan

SIDI was an attempt at that most OSR of plans - a fully open-table not-actually-big-enough-to-be-a megadungeon. Players descend into the sacred Inverted Pyramid, built by their ancestors and littered with messages in their Dead Language, to catalog and smuggle out their own cultural artifacts before the armies of the oncoming Pentarchy can take them for their own. 

The game was, at least on my end, a disaster. The old trick of "build the megadungeon as the players go" turns out to be less than successful when the megadungeon is meant to imply a particular history (a history that didn't exist at the time). Additionally, players switching back and forth shattered any sense of general progression - a group would make it a couple rooms through the dungeon and translate an engraving, only for a different group to stop and translate the same engraving again the next week. Of course, this is a GM-side problem - the players found things that were new to them, but with an outside perspective it was like a treadmill.

Or at least, it was like a treadmill when the current set of players were interested in archaeology. One of the less-expected problems with the wide playerbase was a misalignment of goals - some players enjoyed the translation minigame and identifying artifacts, while others thought that they would be better off using their scavenged magical devices to wage guerilla war on the surface. 

These are... somewhat incompatible. In all honesty, the campaign may have been best served by splitting it in half and closing the tables - separating it into a surface game about increasingly difficult assassinations of imperial officials, and the intended archaeological campaign. 

Instead, I did nothing - and, eventually, the game withered. ⚻ ♋︎-♊︎-♋︎ ♉︎-♑︎, I suppose.

The open table as an online system is interesting to me. I suspect it may be better served as a game run in an already existing social space (such as the OSR Discord server) than in a space of its own (such as, of course, SIDI's Discord server) - providing the opportunity for people to easily see it. I also suspect that, as time goes on, open tables become less accessible; more information, more stories, more prior events, all stacking up until the table closes itself. Though... this may have been affected, in SIDI's case, by the foreign language homework.

Go Away (8 sessions, GLOGesque superhero thing)

With SIDI closed, I very much wanted to do something "fun" - thus, I dragged the city of I Re out of my notes and onto the table for some Criminal Sandbox Gaming. You have 5 weeks to get onto the orbital habitat Demeter-3. I don't care how.

This game was a delight - an intentional near-cyberpunk farce of quadcopter IEDs and technomonarchist street gangs. The players managed to kill just about every named NPC, get their hands on one hundred million dollars, and then blow that up too, out of spite.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, an enclosed space full of local factions makes a wonderful place to release the players into - and an objective that simple kept the game moving, even as the PCs shifted their plans.

It did, of course, have its problems; it ran quickly enough, and was so tightly-woven, that adding new players in the last couple sessions had some strange effects on group dynamics (at least in my eyes, but I'm the one writing this so I get all the eyes). And, of course, 3-5 players ended up a good bit better at reactive faction sandboxing than I was - almost every fight was either a scheme-based steamroll or avoided completely. Obviously, doing that is The Core Of The Sandbox Play Style - but in the future, I want to make sure the NPCs have a scheme or two of their own.


All the Little Rabbits (12+ sessions, Lanthanide Horizon)

a visual record of history, by one of the players

My eternal brain problem of a science fiction game has finally been dragged back to the table. A Sustainer Cell, their town struck by drought and eternal night, wander the megastructure to search for a safe home. 

It has managed to have every single problem of every aforementioned game, simultaneously, plus some more. Much of it rotates around the gift economy - taking that most hated eventuality, the long and wandering conversation with the town shopkeeper, and making it a required part of the setting. 

This has, intentionally, made the game rather conversation-heavy - PCs struggle with NPCs over uncountable, immeasurable social status (to the point of, in one case, giving someone radiation poisoning in an attempt to escape a gift-giving competition) and needed items. 

Once again, NPCs have tended to be less active than they should - to keep the debt-machine turning, it is important for them to actively both give items (thus creating a debt that they can call the PC in on later) and ask for items (putting them in debt to the PC). Unfortunately, as the game ran on, this became less frequent - in general, it has been plagued by parts of the game and setting coming up, and then being dropped back into the background in the roil of session time.

A trick I will try next time I run a game in the Cells is to frontload it further - handing every PC some amount of debts and debtors as part of character creation.

Managing player spotlight in this system is another problem - one character has gotten very deep into the economy, starting all manner of wild schemes, while the rest have not. I had planned to resolve this with between-session text downtime, letting highly social players continue their schemes, but this... also never really came together. 

"Never really came together" has been a touchstone of the game as a whole, in fact. After the success of the mostly-improvised, laying-tracks-in-front-of-the-train Go Away, I started AtLR more or less on a whim, certain I could do the same thing. 

I absolutely could not. Thanks to a set of Brain Problems, writing for this setting has ended up grueling and particular at the best of times, let alone as the campaign stumbled onwards. Early pieces of the campaign were just completely unfinished - half-written encounter tables, empty dungeons, and no supporting tools (item lists, types of creature, etc).

Things improved, somewhat, but it turns out that I become... lazy, doing overland prep as a pointcrawl instead of the ol' reliable six-mile hexes. There is less stuff in the game than there should be. Before I run this again, I hope to have more of the setting... finished, ish - build a hexcrawl map of perhaps not the megastructure, but at least part of it. Fill out bestiaries, and artifact lists, and Troika-ish starting backgrounds. 


the hope, in theory, is to double the amount of these regions and then give them a couple dozen hexes each - something in the region of 400 total. something to do in the background while smaller projects actually get finished

The Future (terrifying) 

In 2024, I would like to: 

  • Turn Isotelus Complex into an adventure for Zine Quest. 
  • Run Spite Me All You Wish, a mercenary game set in Skerples's Bosola
  • Run something else - Apocalypse World, or Blades in the Dark, or something outside of the OSR sphere. 
  • Staple together at least a bit of the aforementioned endless Lanthanide Horizon hex'd crawl, to do something with. 
  • Try another open table - something more standard D&D, somewhere more accessible.

Sunless Horizon Beta 2.3 Release

Commissioned from Scrap Princess excited screeching I've been posting about  Sunless Horizon  for about a year, and after finally gettin...