Wednesday 22 May 2019

Stuff In Print and Other News

Just a quick one, I've finally got test prints back for The Stygian Library and The Dolorous Stroke back that don't have those weird transparency issues, which is nice!
(The solution turned out to be taking a really high-res screenshot of each page, and making a new pdf where each page is just that screenshot as a .png. It's not the most elegant method but it works; there's a slight affect on the crispness of the text but it's basically fine).
So now you can buy them! Here is The Stygian Library and here's The Dolorous Stroke.

There are probably typos, but fuck it they're done now.

Wolfpacks Deluxe will get sorted out and - hopefully - likewise be up for sale soon as well. It's a big chunky 300-page hardback, but I have hope. Likewise Esoteric Enterprises. 

I've revived my 'ship sailing into the west' module idea, and been hashing stuff out for it. That's probably my next project to come out. That or finally finishing the ref stuff for Esoteric Enterprises, but that's gonna be a long slog before it's done.

(There's also still a fundraiser going Mandy's stuff. Any help you can throw at her means a lot.)

Tuesday 14 May 2019

Go Buy DMT!

"Hello? Mission control? This is Agent McCormack reporting in. Location... deep dreamscape, second layer, reflection of East-London dockyards. Requesting urgent support. Entire team pinned in combat with unknown assailants." 
"At least [fragment missing] on our position. Seemingly human, emerging from the harbour, most with fish-like alterations, many armed. ...I don't know, give me a [speech inaudible, sounds of gunfire]. Good God, it's huge! Coming out of the water, slithering this way." 
"It's [fragment missing]." 
"Oh! I hear police sirens in- [wet ripping sounds] Jesus, it got Granger, his skin came right off... Mucus everywhere, guns don't do... oh Jesus Christ, it sees me! [inaudible, heavy breathing and footsteps] Get me out of here! I can't-" 
[Transmission ends in static]

So. Deep Morphean Transmissions is done. You can buy the referee book here, and the player-handouts here.

So now I'm gonna ramble about the project a bit. 
Structurally, the game comes in two parts that you need both of. First up, the player materials contain all the rules of the game. This is, I think, a big thing. All the rules you need in order to play are on your character sheet, fitting on two sides of A4. I stripped down the game mechanics a lot so that you only got the bare essentials left. These are:
  • Attributes (Charisma, Intelligence and Will), which you roll under to do most things.
  • Saving throws, which work like you'd expect in OSR.
  • Rolls to hit, and defence (the equivalent of AC). If you attack, roll greater than your to-hit value to do so successfully. However, if your roll is greater than your victim's defence value, the shot hits but is deflected. IE, if you have a to-hit of 11+ and your victim has defence of 18+, then a roll of 1-10 misses, 11-17 hits and does damage, and 18+ hits but is deflected harmlessly.
  • HP, which are reduced as you take damage, and on 0HP you leave the dreamscape.
  • Heart rate, to which you add all your dice rolls, representing the increasing stress you're under. If it gets high enough, you're in the zone and can be badass (rolling again if you fail), but if it gets too high, you have a heart attack, taking you out of action just like if you run out of HP.
  • Reckless rolls roll twice and take the higher result. Careful rolls roll twice and take the lower result.
  • A special Technique or two for each department:
    >Security Agents can intercept attacks, and attack again if they drop an enemy.
    >Surveillence Agents get thief-skill style abilities that always work but increase heartrate when used; one such ability per level.
    >Tech Support Agents get a limited number of support and recovery abilities, much like a cleric's limited pool of spells.
    >Logistics Agents get an unreliable ability to call Mission Control for help.
  • You get XP for learning secrets and completing mission objectives. Every 10XP levels you up, improving your saves, to-hit and an attribute of your choice by 1. Maybe it affects your department technique, too.
And that's fucking everything. Congratulations, you now know enough to play the game.
So yes. The player stuff is pretty minimalistic. But that's fine, complicated mechanics don't make the game good, they just slow stuff down. The bulk of the gameplay is in how these mechanics interact with the setting and the monsters, and the properties that emerge from that.
In this case, playtesting has been pretty encouraging. My players have thrown themselves face-first into experimenting and exploring, trying weird stuff I didn't think of (there's a section in the referee book called 'things the agents can do' which is, more accurately 'weird things my playtesters tried').
And this is where the referee book comes in. It's also small - 77 pages, of which 7 are bumf rather than content and another 15 or so are full-page illustrations by Scrap Princess -

interjection: I fucking love Scrap's art in this book. Like so much. She's knocked it out of the park imho. Look at this brilliant madness!
interjection over.
so. Ignoring 15ish pages of art and seven of indexes and stuff, that leaves about 55 pages of content.
That's tight. It's the most concise I've ever released a full project. Which, to be honest, was tricky. I've been pretty ruthless in editing out things that seemed superfluous. Everything's been tightly trimmed. This is the bare minimum to run the game.
Incidentally, just like the Ref book not repeating the player-facing rules, it also doesn't include any of that 'how to be a good OSR referee' stuff. I can write for pages and pages about that, but here I didn't bother. If you're running it, you probably already know how to referee. So I cut it.


Inspiration-wise, it's both a weirdly mixed bag and very tightly-themed. The game's a dreamlike blend of espionage and noir and lovecraft and surrealism and body horror. It being written by me, there's plenty or parasites and transformations, ways to go mad and have your PC fucked with, and also an entire monster entry that's assembled from a big pile of random tables. 
Tonally, it's drawing on stuff like Paprika and Jacob's Ladder and Lacuna and Lovecraft's Dreamlands stories. Games in this setting will be excursions into paranoia and weirdness. The breaking down of reality is a big theme, unsurprisingly.

I even managed to get it to include the old standard of Law vs Chaos alignment, which is a first for me. Really though, Law vs Chaos just maps onto Reality vs Madness in this case.

Anyway, it's been a few months of furious work, and here it is. I hope you like it.
Thanks go to Scrap, my playtesters, and Chris (who ran the campaign back when I was a student that inspired this).

~ ~ ~

Also, while you've got your wallets out buying my stuff, there's a fundraiser going for Mandy Morbid's legal fees here. Mandy's a massive nerd and a real sweetie irl, and this has been a very shitty year for her for the sorts of reasons you can probably guess, so any help you can throw her way will be appreciated.

Friday 10 May 2019

Visual Design Stuff for Deep Morphean Transmissions

So the dreamscape based game is nearing completion. It's acquired a title - Deep Morphean Transmissions (the acronym is DMT) - and most of the text is done, and the layout's largely there, too. So Imma talk about it a bit.

I've been working with Scrap Princess on the illustrations, it's been really interesting; I've never collaborated on visual stuff before. There's been some back-and-forth about the illustrations and the look of the thing. She had the idea of using analogue photocopy textures, which have become quite a prominent thing. Like a sketch would be drawn, photocopied, more drawing on the photocopy, and so on. You get layers of noise and grime building up there, it's super cool, I really like the direction she took.

You can see that in this image, the grimy textures in the drawing. The same photocopier texture from one of these images is what was used for the page header/footer.

I've been giving scrap's art a full A5 page per illustration, with the header/footer extending to the full page around it to tie things in. It's simple but I think it looks quite striking.

The book's divided into rough sections, with the header on each page saying which section it is and what the rough topic of the page is. I've tried to limit each topic to a two-page spread, although that's not always possible. Some topics get 2 or 3 two-page spreads if the subject matter is bigger, but that's still gonna be divided into 'chunks' of a two-page spread each. Where a topic is smaller, it gets a single page, and the facing page gets one of the full illustrations on it. Likewise, if a topic covers three pages, the fourth in the little four-page section gets an illustration.

By now, you'll have seen that the text all has a watermark behind it, these are all public-domain images, often heavily processed. Each section gets a repeating watermark on each page, in washed-out blue & violet colours that tie in with scraps art. The idea here is that these images do the work of giving a page some visual interest, while fading into the background in a way that a foregrounded picture wouldn't. Plus, by repeating across multiple pages, each topic is tied together by the watermark, giving the sections more visual cohesion. Here's an example:

Other than that, in terms of design I've tried to keep things pretty clean and modernistic. Ariel's not a font I usually like, but it's got a sleekness to it that works well with the look I'm going for here. Likewise the tables being simple square black lines works alright here, I think. For the headings, meanwhile, I've gone with a typewriter font that I've found vaguely reminiscent of a nice 'mid 20th century' aesthetic that works for the subject matter.

So yeah, it's coming together. I'm pretty pleased with how it's looking.
Oh, as a final thing, the core mechanics of the game all go on the PC's character sheets, including how character gen works. So while the rulebook has commentary and advice on the rules, you need to read the handouts to know the basics. There's also gonna be a set of printouts to give players with plot-hooks and hints, that work as in-character documents that the PCs are given during their mission briefing. They're gonna have the scrap-princess art (because it would be a shame to waste it, she's turned out some really good stuff), as well as carefully edited public domain stuff, and bits of text.

Anyway, that's where things are. I'm probably got a few days before I release this thing - it needs indexing still - but it's well on its way. And I'm pretty pleased with it.


Oh, also, there's a fundraiser for Mandy Morbid's legal fees, because that whole situation continues to be dreadful. Here it is, maybe throw her a few bucks.

Saturday 4 May 2019

Something Rots Pt 1: The Fate of DeMontfort

So, I'm running a short Dolorous Stroke campaign at my local gaming club, for five players (each with one character and perhaps a sidekick) on one side, joining together on a Noble Quest.
Short pitch for the campaign is that there's an isolated valley, in which a huge battle was fought a few decades ago, and which now contains the mass grave of those who fell. The PCs are various nobles sent to make sure nothing bad is going down.

Since this session needed to function as an intro to the game (only one of the players had tried TDS before, and most were new to skirmish gaming) I set things up to form a neat intro to the game.

On the player's side, we had:
Sir Reynauld, a knight hospitalier with axe, shield and crossbow, and some faith powers. A generally competent all-rounder of a knight.
Sir Ector of Badenworth, an elderly knight, coming back from retirement for one last job. On horseback, with various melee weapons for different foes, a longbow, and all of the sensible adventuring gear.
Sir Ector's grandson, on foot with a bow and other gear. 
Sir Aedyn, a reclusive nobleman who doesn't deign to go outdoors much. Equipped for necromancy, with the ability to feed on other people's Virtue cards when he pulls their souls out. Lightly equipped, not really a front-line combatant.
A ghost Sir Aedyn can summon to fight on his behalf, a spooky skellington spearman.
Sir Barnebus the Shield, a foot knight with defensive focus, a big hammer, not much brain, and a fairy paramour who's placed him under an enchantment. Another solid melee beatstick like Reynauld.
Bill the Peasant, Sir Barnebus's hired man-at-arms, with shitty stats and a spear.
Lady Eleanor Blackwood, a minor noblewoman with various support spells and theurgical spells.
Nefta, an angel summoned by Lady Blackwood, a big looming thing that's very fast but not that good in a fight.
That's nine models on the player side, with a mixture of marksmen, spellcasters, summoned minions, support and front-line fighters.

The board was a rough blob, divided in two by a rusted fence diagonally. On one side, we set up the PCs, among marshes and stunted trees. On the other, a denser forest with a small chapel at the back. Here I set up the main opposition the PCs would encounter: Sir DeMontfort, an absolute beast of a knight with high stats and some weird corrupt biology, and his four retainers (two with spears and shields, two with bows). These five were all pretty simple, save for DeMontfort himself who had a couple of interesting tricks - a minion he could summon (by vomiting out his own skeleton to fight next to him) and some healing - alongside his fucking nasty high stats. A single knight, some supporters with spears, and some archers would give us a good overview of the basic dynamics of a fight, without anything too weird happening.
I also set up a little mandrake in the woods; it initially looked like just a cute lil' plant, but would prove important later in the fight, hopefully teaching the players to pay attention to their surroundings. Likewise, I lined up some scary looking models - skeletons, ghosts, tree-monsters and so on - next to the board to keep my players guessing what might go wrong.

The game started with Sir DeMontfort hailing the PCs, and telling them to leave this cursed place (they were about to enter the horrible vale itself, through a gate in the fence), lest he be forced to drive them away. 
As Sir Ector and DeMontfort negotiated, (both moving out of position to talk like gentlemen), some of the PCs tried to sneak towards the gate leading into the woods, not doing a particularly good job of escaping notice. Meanwhile, DeMontfort's men-at-arms took up defensive positions and took aim in case things kicked off.
After a little back-and-forth roleplayed between myself and the PCs, they got an idea of who DeMontfort was and what sort of curse he might be labouring under. It was at this point that they noticed the mass of leeches squirming under his skin and, concluding that something was badly wrong, decided to kick off a fight.
In the initial skirmish, DeMontfort belched forth his skeleton to hold the PCs at bay while he galloped back to the gate to set up a defensive position with his men. His skeleton was rapidly cut down, as was the ghost Sir Aedyn summoned to tie up the archers. After a brief flurry of exchanged shots, in which Aedyn got clipped by an arrow, losing blood but soldiering on, things devolved into a melee in the centre of the board.
As those on foot attempted to push into the woods, it devolved into a massive brawl with DeMontfort and his spearmen holding off Bill, Barnabus and Reynauld. This fight went as I'd hoped: it quickly became apparent to the PCs that they needed to control the tempo so fights would be resolved in their favour before DeMontfort could get involved and swing things with his frankly obscene 7 Prowess. Bill fought heroically (especially considering his shite stats) but had one leg sliced off by an attacker.
Finally, Sir Ector charged into the fray, catching DeMontfort from behind and smashing his head with a single sword-swipe. The leech-infested knight, gravely wounded, accepted the PCs offer of surrender. 

This seems good, right? Well, no. The little mandrake from earlier had been quietly ambling towards the fight, and - seeing blood spilled - gave a horrified scream that tore at the very souls of those present. Worse still, a group of huorns shuddered free of the trees hosting them and lurched angrily towards the fray!
This prompted a frantic re-negotiation as DeMontfort's men and the PCs took up defensive stances (and DeMontfort himself began crawling back to his skeleton to reclaim it). The huorns hit these lines in a horrible orgy of violence, smashing men-at-arms to the ground and ripping them apart. 
As the PCs fought a desperate defensive battle against the tree-monsters, Sir Barnabus sprinted up to the mandrake in question and promptly stomped all over it, taking it out of the fight. The huorns were driven off, and the fight itself ended. The fallen were patched up, and the PCs stuffed the dazed and unhappy mandrake into a sack for later use.

The whole fight was intended to teach a few lessons; in the first half giving the PCs an understanding of the importance of positioning and timing, which sunk in eventually after I made a point of screwing their plans over with cleverly-timed charges and fights. In the second half, the mandrake's shriek and emerging tree-monsters were intended to demonstrate the more narrative aspect of things, that your objectives would shift and the fight would often involve unforeseen complications. Dealing with the mandrake required the PCs to be clever and think in terms of the fictional world, which they got pretty quickly.

The whole thing had taken around two-and-a-half hours to resolve. We concluded with a thorough debriefing of DeMontfort, who informed the PCs that the water was tainted, and drinking it was what had infected him with the horrible parasites that drove the two sides to fight. He warned them that things would only get worse further into the valley, and drew them a little map with various points of interest on it. From this, the PCs decided that they would attempt to find the valley's main river and follow it upstream to it's source, to see what had corrupted the water.

Essentially, the map lets the PCs give a suggestion for what they want to do next: next weeks game will feature a fight on a river-bank against giant leeches and the cursed vampire-knight whose been training them.

Anyway, here's a picture one of the players took of the board. Having custom minis for everything and a lot of neat terrain seems to have really hooked my players, so I'm definitely glad I went all-in on the modelling for the game. None of it was super-exciting, but it all worked together nicely.