Valinard's Tower

“For this my lamp is lit, to the grief of the owls, and often burns till lark-song.”
—Lord Dunsany, The Charwoman's Shadow

I find the term “AI art” offensive because it’s not only a provocation, but also inaccurate in every particular.

Art involves, in the first place, having something to express, and then a creative process where decisions are made about how best to express that thing. Talent and skill are optional – you don’t have to be good to create art, and that may be one of the most inspiring things about it.

Read more...

This week we’ve been working on a gemstone table for Red Hack. We started by looking at Gary’s tables from the AD&D 1E DMG, and aiming for the similar base values and odds of the value increasing or decreasing.

Read more...

First pubished 31 December 2020

The system I'm using for my current game is based on the Black Hack, and perhaps my favourite part of it has been the experience system. In place of XP certain actions count as 'experiences' and are recorded on the character sheet. Players can check off a certain number of them to gain a level (in BH equal to their current level, though I'd suggest going a little higher.)

BH requires PCs to carouse to gain a level, though in my game any downtime action can be used to level – training, research, crafting, building relationships – and will be a little more effective for it.

Read more...

An article from my previous blog, first published in 2021.

Character death is often held up as a positive feature of OSR games, sometimes associated with a degree of machismo and the idea that without the possibility there's no challenge or interest. I don't believe this – video games manage to have challenge with no real possibility of failure, you try again until you get it right. Stories where you know the hero is going to survive can still be tense and interesting. There are other stakes.

In my game it's technically possible to die by the roll of the dice, but there are a couple of safety nets – magical healing, the Black Hack d6 roll for survival, and if all else fails, coming back as a ghost.

Ben Laurence's Shades of Zyan section in Issue 2 of Ultan's Door provides a wonderful model for this, which doesn't feel like a merely mechanical recourse but rather adds to the mythical atmosphere and lore of the setting itself.

The truly dead dwell in Ushanpoor, the City of Brass Sepulchres:

The living will never know the city of the dead’s geography—endless clustered sepulchres, stacked like empty baskets atop incense filled arcades, rich with pungent cherry blossoms, and black mirrored pools.

I love Ushanpoor. Like everything Laurence comes up with it's heady and evocative. The city of the dead is a specific place, neither a heaven nor a hell but something sombre, exotic and beautiful, and utterly unattainable for the living.

Read more...

These two words have dominated the discussion of WotC’s attempts to eliminate #OGL 1.0a and replace it with something far more draconian.

Read more...

In response to the community revolt over changes to the #OGL WotC have released an updated OGL1.2 draft. There are various changes to the terms of the proposed 1.1 but I wish to focus on those that affect the existing body of Open Game Content developed over 20 years.

Read more...

Now it's time for me to tell you about Unweaver, someone who has changed the way I think about FRP forever. She's one of those legendary DMs beloved by their players for regularly reducing them to tears with extended campaigns telling epic stories.

Read more...

I've talked about how games having rules to structure play fell out of fashion, and how a gameplay loop that consists of “referee makes things up – players respond – referee calls for rolls, then makes more up” emerged – often with a map or a timeline to aid the ref in framing scenes, but without clear mechanical procedures to determine what happens next.

And this has always seemed to me an exhausting treadmill. To see it as a treadmill is the other side of the coin to “railroading” – the referee tries to reduce the burden by planning out events in advance or buying a published module, those events are wasted if the players take their preferred path; either way, resentment ensues.

FRP has always been on a path of escalating commercialisation. What began as a collaborative hobby project arising spontaneously from midwestern wargaming clubs in the late 60s and 70s has become more slick and heavily marketed and less DIY and ad hoc with every iteration.

It is perhaps as an exception to this trend that the OSR was most interesting.

Read more...

In my previous post I talked about nested loops giving structure to the game, creating a series of interrelated contexts within which the players' decisions have meaning and consequences.

We can contrast structural mechanics with resolution mechanics. With resolution mechanics you have a specific, immediate question raised by the story and actions of the PCs (“can I pick this lock?”, “can Superman arm-wrestle The Hulk?”, “should the story go the way Jack thinks it should go, or the way Jill wants to see it unfold?”) and you turn to dice and numbers and formal procedures to give you an answer.

Structural mechanics are more pro-active. They tell you what to do next. They establish certain facts about the world. Random encounter checks, downtimes, and reaction rolls are all structural. They raise questions, and mostly resolve only the questions they introduced.

Read more...

Over the past two years I've been running the most successful FRP campaign I've ever been lucky enough to be a part of, and I want to think about why. Why were previous games so unsatisfying? What makes this one so good?

Critiquing FRP design is difficult, because existing as it does at the intersection of formal contest and make-believe, our natural ability to tell stories and have fun imagining things with our friends tends to compensate for deficiencies in the rules. And indeed, much of what makes my campaign work is the players, a mix of enthusiastic D&D neophytes and helpful, responsible old hands.

But I think one of the most useful things has been that the OSR style gives structure to the game in the form of nested gameplay loops. The combat round is a loop; the combat itself is a loop; dungeon turns are loops; each expedition into a dungeon, hexmap or pointcrawl is a loop; repeatedly returning to down to level up and build institutions and relationships is a loop.

The smallest loops tell you whether you've been stabbed by a goblin; their results feed into bigger loops, like whether you survived the fight, how much treasure you bring home, until the biggest loops tell you how you made your mark on the world.

Adventurers emerge from a wood to approach statues looming out of the mist.

Read more...