I was on a lot of podcasts this week. All different. Our discussion with Eric F on “martial arts in old-school games” was a different type of discussion than the “get deep into the mechanical weeds” with Chris S. Matt and David were both very interested in specifics on shields, while the second part of my discussion with Derek was about getting into, and staying into, the game design space.

A friend of mine told me that he was impressed I managed to cover substantially the same general territory with enough differences to make each podcast worth listening to without being repetitive.

Of course, that has a lot to do with my hosts . . .

Podcast Palooza

Each of these is pretty worth listening to, even if I say so myself.

First, I was on The Established Facts with Derek Knutsen-Frey, whom I’ve gotten to know through the IGDN. We had a long chat divided in two parts: a bunch on Dragon Heresy, and then 45 minutes on game publishing as a business.

The always-awesome James Introcaso hosted me for a while on Table Top Babble, and we mostly talked about Dragon Heresy

Chris Sniezak and I got deep into the depths of the game mechanics

Jason Hobbs had me and Eric Farmer on at the same time, and our take was more broad. Can you do “martial arts” in Old-School systems? What does that even mean?

Matt Finch and I had a great chat, and he was absolutely enthusiastic about the materials, construction, and use of period weaponry, and egged me on effectively.

Finally, I was on with Nerdarchy Dave for a live discussion and chat, and I had a great time talking with him and taking questions

Murder-hobos. Heavily armed vagrants, wandering from town to town. Tempers flare, and corpses lie still on the barroom floor. Like a samurai granted kiri sute gomen, the permission to cut and depart, only the presumed wailing of friends and relatives is left in their wake. Weeks later, they return, bloodied themselves, with heaping mounds of gold and treasure. They may glow visibly with newly-acquired power. And still they provoke the inhabitants of the town, who probably treat with them anyway, and take their gold, give them lodging. And as the Chitauri master (?) said: “The humans? What can they do . . . but burn.”

Hrmph.

A really active facebook thread about what do to about murder-hobos got me thinking about the why and the what of the phenomenon. I’m not going to try and solve it her, per se, but I do have a few thoughts.

Free Action is not Consequence-Free Action

The biggest solution to what happens when things in town (or on the trail, or . . . ) go horribly awry is always the same: have the perpetrators treated like there are consequences for their actions. People remember when they draw axes during an intense political conversation at Ye Olde Pubbe and kill some folks. They won’t be served, at least. The town may just bar the doors to them. No service for you. No corselet, no sollerets, no service, so to speak.

Writing Dragon Heresy got me thinking about this more, though, because if you kill some random chap in Viking culture, if the cause wasn’t just – and the culture seemed to have a pretty good idea of ‘just’ and ‘unjust,’ or at least ‘he brought it on himself’ or ‘that was uncalled for,’ then the family of the deceased had not just the right, but the obligation to pay you back in turn.

And that wasn’t relegated to “oh, a 1st-level schlub gets to try and revenge himself on a 17th-level guy named Sir Cuisinart.” No . . . it extends a few relations over. They might kill your brother. Or your third cousin twice removed, or something. I believe there was a limit to the distance of the relations, but things would happen. They would, if I understand it right (and I’m still learning), happen at the Thing, (pronounced ting, I think). During this moot of the karls and jarls, a claim of grievance would be lodged, and folks would basically say whether the claimant was in the right for wanting vengeance.

Here’s the kicker: if it was deemed so, that just meant the wronged party got a nod that whatever they did was within the bounds of justifiable homicide. It was up to them to recruit friends, neighbors, and relatives to try and do the deed.

I might have that wrong; I’d love reference to validate.

But in any case: the culture supported quite a bit of give-and-take on violent retribution, and the expectation that not just you (hey, I’m high level), but your brother Bernie (Berndred? Bernr?) might get offed in vengeance. If you had a house, it might be attacked and burned, and if you were in it, so much the better. If not, that’s good too.

Consequences.

That’s easy, though. The key bit is not having it happen to begin with.

Restrained Dispute Resolution

Sometimes I wonder if the reason a lethal escalation to violence was so very common (is very common) is the lack of alternatives that are, for lack of a better word, fun.

It can be fun to roleplay a loud, boisterous, beserker shieldmaiden that will insult the town gentry, finish off three chickens and a cask of wine, and challenge the local tough guy to an arm-wrestling contest. But if some local hotshot goes for an inappropriate pinch . . .

. . . no question he’s gonna deserve a smackdown. But brawling is frequently slow, or geared to be not that much less lethal than weapons. Grappling makes folks flip the table over in rage in many cases, as I noted when writing Dungeon Grappling.

And yet, and yet.

Having Gudrun backhand said offender across the face, then wrestle him into a pretzel until he squeals for mercy is not just satisfying narratively, it should be fun to play out. Dragon Heresy does this with the addition of better rules for grappling that allow everything from conditions to applying pain. You can, with solid mechanical support, make poor Robert the Pincher squeal for mercy. And then have your part skald sing songs about it, renaming him Robert the Squealer. Telling the tales of His Yelpiness far and wide.

That’s a combat-oriented but non-lethal avenue that provides satisfying and decisive mechanical support for a narrative outcome that doesn’t involve entrails.

A Flyting Victory

Again with the Vikings! The stories and sagas, eddas of prose and poetry, show a particular kind of “combat” that was basically a contest of insults. Called Flyting.

Now there’s something neat. Engaging in a contest of insults would be pretty spiffy. It would give mechanical support to non-spellcasting combat that focuses on CHA and INT instead of STR, DEX, and CON.

love this idea, it’s culturally apt for the Dragon Heresy world, and I can completely see how to do this within my ruleset. So much so that I’m actively looking for a place to put it.

But again: defeat your foe in a formal contest of insults, have skalds on hand to sing the song of said stinging victory with cutting words. Your fame grows (Egil was renowned as both a lout, a brawler, and a poet) and your star rises . . . all without having to figure out where to dispose of the spare liver.

And maybe skalds could actually turn that into actual injury. Fairly sure they can do that anyway, through magic, but having this level of support for it would be pretty spiffy.

Parting Shot

So two things, really. I think that in many cases “murder-hoboism” is played out because there’s mechanical support for it (combat rules are usually the most detailed), it’s the most fun (it’s a fantasy game based from a wargame in many cases), and there is little consequence for it (social, physical, or otherwise).

With Dragon Heresy, you’ll be able to engage in robust grappling to provide full-on combat experience with no fatality unless you mean it. The new flyting rules (gotta write those Right Now) will allow for an entirely different axis of combat.

And I definitely need to put in some reputation based rules for such, because your fame and honor need to come into play. Including a rep that turns you into “very dangerous, kill on sight.” And with enough arrows, you’re going down. Your’e certainly not getting into town to sell your loot and buy your supplies. And if the Thing votes you Outcast and Thrall . . . you’re not even a person. You can be killed and rolled off a cliff like so much trash, provided your assailant(s) has the might, or lots of people where quantity has a quality all its own.

But the more non-impaling axes one has to resolve disputes, and the more clear the consequences for murder-hoboing, the more easily players will engage with both story and rules to avoid it. Just make it fun.

It goes both ways, too. If the players can avail themselves of such avenues if a powerful NPC gets all in their face, that’s just juicy fun.

 

Today two different podcasts dropped where I talk about Dragon Heresy and martial arts in RPGs in general.

Down with DnD

I was on Down with DnD with Christopher Sniezak, and the podcast just dropped. We spoke about the mechanics tweaks made to Fifth Edition to support a more-gritty, more option-filled viking play style that still keeps it light and fast.
Down with DnD sits down with Douglas Cole from Gaming Ballistic to chat about the mechanical changes to Fifth Edition for the Dragon Heresy RPG, now in Kickstarter.

DwD&D#142 – Dragon Heresy with Doug Cole

We had a pretty far-ranging conversation, and as always, Chris did his homework, looking over the preview copy of the game I provided.

Give a listen.

Hobbs and Friends of the OSR

Here I joined Jason Hobbs and Eric Farmer to talk about a more general topic – Martial Arts in RPGs, and in the OSR specifically. Is there room for “martial arts” in such a highly abstracted rules set?

Douglas Cole of Gaming Ballistic sat down with host Jason Hobbs and co-guest and podcaster Eric Farmer to talk about martial arts in the OSRMaybe, maybe . . .

 

The Dragon Heresy RPG

Dragon Heresy has been in development for a long time, and the Kickstarter is going very well – we’re sneaking up on 200% funding, and the big stuff happens around $16-22K.

Check it out, and if you can, pledge! If you can’t pledge, please re-share and link to it, so that word gets out.

I thought it was worth explaining in more detail what’s actually in the Dragon Heresy Introductory Set.

Other Updates from the Dragon Heresy Kickstarter

  1. Welcome to Dragon Heresy! (blog/KS link)
  2. A Great Beginning: the first 24 hours (blog/KS link)
  3. Hail to the Shield-Guard! The Skjald-hirð carries the day! (FUNDED!) (blog/KS link)
  4. Designer’s Notes, and Shields with at least 12% more Viking (blog/KS link)
  5. The Established Facts Podcast (blog/KS link)
  6. Progress Report: Things moving along well (blog/KS link)
  7. Page Count, Cosmology, and first review (KS link)

I’m targeting a 3-5% wordcount reduction in the overall text during the editing stage to try and keep the book at 256 pages once the front matter, maps, Index, and ToC go in, so pages might shift a bit. But this will be a good guideline.

Not Exactly a Table of Contents

  • Introduction (1 page)
  • Core Mechanics (9 pages)
  • Generating Characters (1 page)
  • Character Races (11 pages)
  • Character Classes (11 pages)
  • Character Backgrounds (7 pages)
  • Beyond 1st Level (1 page)
  • Equipment (12 pages)
  • Campaigns/Adventuring (14 pages)
  • Rewards and Treasure (3 pages)
  • Magic Items (5 pages)
  • Combat (18 pages)
  • Damage, Rest, and Injury (6 pages)
  • Conditions (2 pages)
  • Magic (8 pages)
  • Spells by Class (25 pages)
  • The World of Etera (14 pages)
  • OGL (1 page)
  • Foes (100+ pages)

So that’s what’s in the book.

Cosmology Preview

There are a few things I’ve yet to do with this that will change a tetch by final entry, but here’s a brief glimpse into Etera and the Nine Realms.

The World Tree and pathway between worlds, Yggdrasil maps the ever-shifting flows of magic through the nine realms. One can move through the realms by tapping into and following the flows of magic, by being transported by Heimdallr’s Bifrost, or by stepping through a dimensional rift. The nine realms touched by Yggdrasil, the World Tree, are described below.

The branches of yggdrail run with the sap of magic, and touch all Nine RealmsRealms of the Gods

The highest branches of Yggdrasil reach into the heavens, and touch on the realms in which the most powerful beings in the universe dwell.

Asgard. The home of the Aesir, and the seat of power of Woden Allfather. Not all of the Aesir are on the level of Ziu, Donnar, Valfreya, and Skadi (to name but a few), and travelers can meet Aesir of varying power (See the Aesir section of the Bestiary). Transit between Asgard and the Realms of the Field is achieved via the Bifrost—a powerful teleportation circle over which Heimdallr of Asgard stands eternal watch.

Alfheim. This plane or dimension is the realm of the Archfae, and the home of at least the Winter Court. The Summer Court, if it exists at all, might be here as well. This plane is not the realm of the pocket dimensions of the lesser fae (svartalfheim), though access to that realm is much easier from Alfheim than other places.

Jotenheim. The “giant’s home” is the demesne of the elder dragons, where they undertake their journeys of mind and spirit as they slumber on their hoards. Even in their sleep, they are active—and very dangerous—in Jotenheim. Encounters with ancient and elder dragons can be expected, and their power is as great as their motives and desires are mysterious. It is called Jotenheim because that’s what the Aesir call it . . . and they were greatly disturbed when the Elder Dragons drove the giants from their Realm.

Realms of the Field

The middle branches of Yggdrasil contains the realms in which the powerful lords of creation play their games—the playing fields of the gods. This includes the world on which Etera sits, and possibly many others.

Midgard. The home of Etera and the physical world. The sun, moon, and the world are considered part of Midgard. The Astral plane, the realm of pure thought, interconnects the Realms of the Field like vines weaving through the branches of a tree. It is formally part of Midgard, as it cannot exist without the thoughts, perceptions, and guidance of the living minds of the world to create it.

Vanaheim. There is some mystery and argument over Vanaheim. The association of some of the Aesir, such as Yngvi Lifegiver and Valfreya with magic, nature, and the cycles of winter and summer are cause for debate over whether Vanaheim is the realm of magic itself, or if it is related to the spirts and natural phenomena of the world. The animating spirits of places and things that can be called forth that are not souls and elementals. Others—a distinct minority—feel Vanaheim consists of parallel worlds, similar to Midgard but different in some ways. The ethereal plane, the realm of alternates and interconnectivity between the physical and other, is part of Vanaheim.

Muspelheim. The plane of fire, and home to fiends. The Gods are much more powerful than even the lords of the tyrann and kvoldomur that rule over Muspelheim—at least on an individual basis. The fiends of Muspelheim are far more numerous than the Aesir, Elder Dragons, and Archfae, and pose a real threat to Midgard.

Realms of the Spirit

Here are the ephemeral planes and universes that stand in for archetypes and non-physical journeys.

Hel. The realm of death, over which Halja has dominion (but she commutes to work, and most often resides and can be found in Asgard). Here you may find the souls of the departed not selected to dwell in Asgard awaiting Woden and Valfreya’s need. This is also the realm necromancers contact and touch to create undead.

Niflheim. The realm of “ice,” so named after the first journeys to this plane found a cold and inhospitable space, filled with creatures of ice and frozen stasis. The name held, even when it was discovered that other elemental essences also were found here. This is where the fire, earth, water, ice, air and other elemental forces and archetypes originate.

Svartalfheim. The “home of the dark elves,” this is where the base fae create their pocket dimensions and personal realms. It is also an ethereal plane, and from here, a traveller may reach most other realms and worlds.

First Review

Follow Me and Die! posts reviews, discussion about gaming, and more

Larry Hamilton over at Follow Me and Die! likes reviewing my stuff. I like it when he reviews my stuff. It’s a good match. This is the first review published, but more are pending. So check out FMaD!’s review below

DRAGON HERESY – A QUICK REVIEW

 

The keys to the lost hall have been found . . .

Deep in the glacial peaks northwest of Isfjall, past the northwest border of the realm, a band of adventurers is deceived and nearly destroyed by a powerful Alfar sorceress as they pursue raiding hobgoblins. Through bravery and sacrifice, they deny her possession of a lost holy relic. The Tiwstakn: key to finding the legendary Lost Hall of Judgment.

Hall of Judgment is an adventure scenario designed for the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game. Inside this PDF, you will find:
  • A brief introduction to the town of Isfjall in the barbarian north, and its surrounding territory
  • Advice on modifying the scenario for other settings
  • Rules for wilderness survival
  • Dungeon Fantasy Grappling™ Quick-Start
  • A bestiary containing every creature encountered in the adventure
Survive the journey. Vanquish your foes. Rediscover the lost hall. Claim your reward.
The Hall of Judgment opens August 2018.

— Douglas Cole

 

 

A nifty question on the GURPS Forums about fighting with a one-handed spear.

GURPS

On the one-second time scale of GURPS, the grip change needs to be handled with higher resolution.

When I fight with a one-handed spear in my viking martial arts class, shield in the other hand, I use a sliding technique to reach out. I thrust with the spear, and let it slide in my hand until it reaches the bottom of the haft. I then have to yank and recover it back (Ready maneuver). This is with an underhand grip, which is my current preference because I haven’t trained up overhand yet. I hear good things about it. The sliding technique works there too, though.

Basically, you thrust with the spear and “throw” it, sliding in the hand to the limit of the spear range, typically about 6 feet. When it hits or gets as far as you like, you re-grip. Typically the spear is then over-balanced and way the hell out there. When that’s been done to me, I’ve occasionally knocked down (parried) the cast spear and then stepped on it, to take it out of play. Defender is forced to drop it and draw their seax, if they have one.

The “anyone can play” resolution that does the least violence to the rules would be to just allow anyone with training in spear to do it, but the attack causes the weapon to become Unready. A technique at Spear-1 might do it (I think it’s easier than Armed Grapple, which is at -2) and still be able to be bought off with a 1-point perk, which feels right.

This gives you Reach 2 at the cost of having to re-ready. If that one-point perk allowed you to fast-draw (spear) or Spear-4 to recover as a free action on the next turn, that would not bother me at all.

Another way to go would be to model it as a Committed Attack that is Determined and uses the “attack and fly out” option, but with a 1-point perk that lets you basically attack at full skill to Reach 2, *without* moving your feet and actually attacking and flying out in time-of-the-body.

The penalties to defense (can’t parry with the spear) make complete sense in this case, and the fact that you actually are back to Reach 1 at the end of your turn without a ready is a bit cinematic, but it’s awesome. In my experience, the sliding attack takes a turn, and then you recover the weapon on the next.

Dungeons and Dragons

Eh. With the six-second turn of D&D, you can do all of the above multiple times in a turn. The simplest way to do it would be to allow an attack to higher reach, and then recovery to low-reach as a bonus action. Or just assume all of that sliding is below the resolution of the rules, give even a one-handed spear Reach, and have done with it.

I’ll have to check to see what I did with Martial Spear Fighting in the Dragon Heresy manuscript. Make sure that the Reach change is both allowed and as simple as possible.

This is a shout-out to all 1,600 or so folks that backed and received the Dungeon Fantasy RPG.

Why am I shouting? I want your war stories.

As far as I can tell, Sean and SJG did a great job condensing the GURPS rules into “just what’s needed for dungeon delving.” The fact that various folks each have a slightly different “but I’d have included X” comment speaks to hitting the bulk of the answer.

There are a lot of hidden gems in there. Extra explanatory detail on (for example) how All-Out or Move-and-Attack interact with other combat options.

That’s all well and good, but the quality of a game is how it plays on the table, not how it reads.

So I want your stories. Write up session reports. Note cool things that happened. Tell the adoring public what fun was had, and where you’re going with the game next time.

If you have a blog, throw it there and contact me at gurpsday@gmail.com and get on the script list to have your stuff summarized. If you don’t, contact me or someone whose blog you read and have them host it for you.

But pony up your actual plays. Let’s see what’s going on in that beautiful black box.

DM Guild Logo links to DM Guild on OBS/DriveThru

Rob Conley over at Bat in the Attic just put up an important post for those considering using the DM’s Guild as a vector for publishing.

Here it is, complete with provocative title!

OBS Content Program is terrible and it is now not just an opinion

Basically, the net/net of it is that if you publish in the DM’s Guild, you’re basically doing a bit of retroactive Work for Hire. You can reuse your own stuff, but only on the DM’s Guild. Others can re-use your stuff, but only on the DM’s Guild. If you want to incorporate pre-written or pre-published content into your DM’s Guild work . . . don’t, because the content on DM’s Guild is exclusive to the DM’s Guild.

I had considered using DM’s Guild as a vector for my Dragon Heresy work, but even without Rob’s recent clarifications, the “no Kickstarters” rule scared me away, as I wanted to develop my own look and feel and layout and fill my stuff with cool art. Can’t do that on DM’s Guild.

Not saying DM’s Guild is all bad all the time. If you want to create content and have it released once and for all into the WotC ecosystem and only in that ecosystem, it might still be a great thing for you. But do so with your eyes open: content created in this program is theirs, not yours, after you put it on that platform.

One might say, and be correct, that this is the price one pays for having all of the Product Identity, from Beholders to Tiamat to the Forgotten Realms and others, at your disposal. And that’s true. If that’s your thing (and fine works spring from it), than that’s great. It’s a reasonable vector for things as long as you realize that once on DM’s Guild, your stuff is not yours anymore. It’s part of a shared IP gestalt that’s available in and through the DM’s Guild infrastructure and that’s all.

For me, it was never an option, because Kickstarter. But if you ever think “Hey, my setting would do well in [Some Other System],” then the  DM’s Guild is not for you. If you want your own brand to be important, then DM’s Guild utility is much lower (you can’t put your logo or brand identity on the outside of the work, only on the inside).

It’s a good set of Q&A, and Rob’s right: his musings aren’t opinions anymore. They’re policy. Read it, ask your own questions, and if you want to go into the DM’s Guild (and there are many fine products available through it), do so with your eyes fully open.