Category Archives: Fluff/Inspiration

Recommendation: Kestrel Investigates

I guess Monday is a good day for off-topic posts. But what I am about to share with you, is just too awesome. I recently stumbled upon a web series called “Kestrel Investigates” about a British paranormal investigator called Agravain Kestrel and his elusive cameraman Mike. At first glance it might look like just another shaky paranormal investigation video blog on YouTube, but instead it’s a very British satire of the genre. In my opinion it’s brilliant!

Two series have been released at this point, and series three is currently being worked on. I have enjoyed every single episode tremendously and I can’t wait to see how the story of Agravain and Mike continues after the cliffhanger ending of the second series!

And to give this post some RPG-related spin, you can watch it as inspiration for the “The Unexplained” tabletop RPG. You can check out my review of said game here.

Strongholds, Towers, and Hideouts

imageI am currently reading through the D&D Rules Cyclopedia from 1991 and I’m constantly discovering game aspects that the later editions lack or which have been severely limited in scope. One of these things is the idea of a travelling vs. a land-owning character.

In Basic D&D there was a concept known as “Name level”. When your character reaches level 9 you get a fancy title and you have to make a choice: do you want to own land and construct your own stronghold, tower or hideout, do you join a noble’s court or do you continue as a travelling character? Some classes have more options than others, but that’s basically the gist of it.

Personally I love that a lot. Strongholds, towers, and hideouts are not just a physical sign of a character’s achievements, it’s also a great plot device. A personal stronghold can be attacked, there might be conflicts with neighbors, or there are disputes for the lord of stronghold to settle. Players have to make important decisions which not only affect themselves, but also their staff, their subjects, the lands around their stronghold. It’s not just dungeon delving and monster killing anymore, but starting with level 9 politics get into the picture.

When the player characters want to go on a quest away from their personal holds, new questions arise which may be hooks for exciting adventures. Who will manage the daily affairs when the player characters’ are away? Will something happen while they are gone off on a quest? Perhaps one character is in the service of a noble who asks a favor from the party before they give permission for the character to leave. The adventures basically write themselves.

Even if you decide against being a land-owning character, the so-called BECMI edition of Basic D&D offers a couple of interesting options. Fighters can become Paladins or Avengers and swear fealty to a clerical order. Or they can become knights and pledge their allegiance to a noble. Magic-users may work at a noble’s court as adviser. A cleric may decide to become a Druid. Regardless of what option you choose it will tremendously affect how the campaign develops from this point on. Reaching “Name level” and settling down may also be the perfect end goal for a shorter campaign.

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I don’t remember building one’s own stronghold being part of AD&D 2nd Edition (but I might be mistaken since I haven’t played it in a long time) and when Wizards of the Coast took over, it didn’t make a comeback either. Was it that unpopular with the majority of fans? Or are there other reasons why this feature of the game was faded out? If one of my honored readers knows more about this, please share in the comments below.

By the way, in 1993 Stormfront Studios developed a D&D computer game called Stronghold (not to be confused with the game series by Firefly Studios which started in 2001) which was basically a D&D-themed city builder. It might have out-dated graphics and a worse user interface, but it’s still quite enjoyable to play and it has a certain old-school charm. It’s available on GOG for about 5€ and thanks to DOSBOX it runs great on modern PCs.

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What are your thoughts on strongholds, towers, and hideouts? Is this something you miss in newer editions of D&D or are you glad this aspect of the game had been thrown out? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Looking at FUDGE again

So this week I read the rules for Hack-n-Slash and they are pretty close to what I have been looking for. The deficiency is in the skills system primarily and the setting.

The latter is not an issue in any shape or form. Creating settings is a very personal experience and games seem to come in one of two varieties. The first is the setting is amazing and is the overriding driving force for playing the game. The second more generic rules and here is a vanilla setting you can tell any story in. D&D 5e plus The Forgotten Realms is an example of the latter and I would have said that Mutant Year Zero is a great example of the former.

The world of Hack-n-Slash is definitely the bland and generic variety than any GM can put their stamp on.

There are a few bits of Hack-n-Slash that I wasn’t keen on. The first was the preference for the adjective scales, mediocre, fair, good etc.. I am much more comfortable with target numbers. With Fudge both can be used interchangeably so that is not an issue.

The second change I would make is the skill system. I think it is my Rolemaster background but I want a little bit more granularity in the skill system. Fudge will allow me to do this as well so there is no barrier there.

Finally, and this relates back to the setting, I find the magic system is trying to be too much like the D&D spells chapter. I think fantasy RPG magic is an extension of the setting and cannot be separated from it.

I will offer up the 7th Sea magic system as probably the best magic system I have read in the past 10 years. It is far from perfect I am sure but it is just so perfect for the game setting. Each magical tradition, I am sure, is balanced against each other but each is treated as a complete individual and whatever rules and mechanics it needs to make it work are just applied to it.  Vision first implementation second. That is why Hack-n-Slash’s magic system feels flat, it wasn’t the designers vision.

SenileLarry and I have been emailing recently and he pointed something out to me. No Fudge fantasy games have been particularly successful. Those that exist are typically a single core book and then little or no support. Hack-n-Slash was the exception to his rule but he is basically right.

Even Digital Alchemy, the publishers of Hack-n-Slash are defunct, their website hasn’t been updated since 2012.

I think to some extent the problem is self fulfilling. The games do not sell well so there is no impetus to create more books for a game that doesn’t have a following. In a game designers group I am a member of it is generally accepted that most games on OneBookShelf will sell less than 100 copies. If you had pinned your hopes on building a platinum selling blockbuster game and then making your fortune writing and selling supplements and adventure modules then there is a very good chance that you will get the wind knocked out of your sails pretty quickly. The Fudge system itself is over 20 years old so if you use FUDGE as a badge of honour then it lacks a sense of being innovative. Ghost Ops didn’t mention its Fudge heritage at all. For me right now Ghost Ops is my gold standard of Fudge implementations.

I think right now the single most important selling point for a game has to be its setting. There is no market for a generic ‘fantasy’ game as we all have shelves full of those already. On the other hand Tales from the Loop is a platinum best seller and I think rode to success on the coat tales of Stranger Things. It is all about the setting.

So for me, I think I know where I need to go for my perfect Fudge fantasy game. It is to start at H&S and rework the magic and skills and fiddle with the character sheet. Nothing major there. The magic needs a setting and that is something that can only come from me.

While I am tinkering I think I would build in the Princess Bride wounds recording as I think that had the edge over the default H&S version but that really is tinkering.

Almost everything I create I release under a free license. In the past it has always been OGL. If I build this then I think I will release it. That would then mean to prove my point I would really need a great setting that captured the mass imagination. Now that has to be the challenge!

P.S. I mentioned Stranger Things in this post. Have any readers watched Dark on Netflix? Is it any good? What are your thoughts?