why did I write an rpg: some navel-gazing

At some point over the weekend — said weekend was cold, raining, and generally gross, which made work a grind and my brain search for distraction but fail to have energy to do much constructively — I had a somewhat incoherent train of thought that went basically like this over a day and a half or so:

“There are other setting ideas kind of rattling around aside from the plane-hopping one, and hell I’m practically admitting that the plane-shopping supplement is also basically a setting; should I post up somewhere a ‘generic’ version of the rules I use for my pocketrpg?”

->

“If I posted up a generic version of the rules somewhere, wouldn’t it make sense to add a ‘feel free to use these to make stuff’ note or something along those lines in case someone would like it?”

->

“An ‘SRD’ or a make-stuff note is kind of extraneous isn’t it, there’s piles of games that people would rather use/would get more out of/already tinker with and oh gawd the brainweasels are closing in”

->

“But doing a Whole Thing every time I might want to post another minisetting or whatever also kind of feels presumptuous? Or ridiculous? Or something?”

->

“Oh gawd I need this weekend to be over, I can tell I’m doing terrible things to myself here”

… and from there (by this point I was trundling around on Sunday evening), I wisely chose to divert myself away by indulging in the recording of the Pharaohs’ Golden Parade and hauling several comforting textbooks on dynastic Egypt to work, which did help. It also had me ruminating on a different-but-related topic by the time last night rolled around:

Why did I write an rpg/these rpgs/these rules?

I mean, the first answer is also the simplest: because I wanted to. All of the various iterations have boiled down to “because I wanted to”; so will the ideas I’m still nibbling away at, because this is a hobby for me and I like to create, and rpg things are one of the things I like to create.

The actual path for this pocketrpg thing went basically like this:

-Two summers ago(ish) I was at work and had a moment of “I wonder if I can fit a tiny system+enough flavour for an implied setting into a pocketmod?”, and proceeded to peck at the notion for a bit. Nine Black Jewel Moons was the result, which I then promptly also reskinned into a cyberpunk-with-psionics version (Neon Burning Skies) because why not. A few folks liked this, which was reassuring.

-Not leaving well enough alone, I made a companion pocketmod for NBJM with some magic items and more setting snips and a few ideas for rules additions. (originally I was also going to do a companion for NBS and I still have the scribbles, but to this day it’s never actually materialized …)

-About the first time it looked like Fantasy Flight was about to kill off L5R *bitter laughter* I tried my first take on “here is a different type of setting, please see NBJM for the rules” and wrote Steel Blossom Dreams, my little pocketmod take on what I got after shaking my fist at a lot of L5R’s … L5R-ness and hauling textbooks to work. (said books are probably why SBD owes as much or more to Heian as to later eras.) At the same time, I was experimenting with a setting-with-map-in-a-pocketmod, and in the end tried to sort of thread the needle to make Six Swords Rising usable with or without SBD, though the two were (tenuously) connected.

(I am tempted to give SSR an overhaul and expansion, and maybe a different map, and probably lean even harder into being a fantasy setting not meant to emulate any specific thing, I freely admit. it would also make borrowing over the one thing I kept-ish from L5R, descriptive clan/family/whatever-you-like-in-your-setting names, both much easier and far less fraught.)

(… I also just really like pocketmods >.>;;)

-Hilariously, expanding past pocketmod-size was entirely prompted by my being thoroughly annoyed by several years’ development in a completely different arena — the Fire Emblem srpg franchise — and throwing up my hands and yelling fine I’ll make my own, then! … And then I did, if by “made my own” I mean “emulated the tropes common to FE characters with traits and equipment and then wrote another small setting from scratch while including a few nods to FE plot tropes here and there”. I’d use my mini rules (+ the companion bits) as a base and expand a tiny wee bit, and add a wee gazetteer, etc. And so, Lost Emblem Saga. Which also had a few folks like it, which was also reassuring.

Equally hilariously is this is where I actually started calling these things my “pocketrpg” because — this is 100% true — since what I wanted to do would never fit on one sheet, I would make something that once printed out, would be the size of the quarter-page handmade notebooks I make. Which conveniently fit snugly in the back pocket of my work pants.

Yes these are literally pocketrpgs and I am not even sorry.

*ahem*

-Some time shortly after LES, I started thinking I’d like to use its expanded rules (I’d elaborated on magic a little, among other bits), originally from NBJM/Jewel Moons, to actually expand out Jewel Moons itself into a similar pocketrpg. This was not so much prompted as a sort of “I think I’d like to do that …” and then I started tinkering. Oops?

What eventually because Wandering Jewel Moons took a lot longer to pull together, but there were more hurdles (even more pandemic brain; other ideas, like what became Wilusa, City Of Chains, itself spinning from my first ideas of the “mini-not!Planescape”; etc) to get past to do it. But I did. And a few folks like that also.

This is a lot of rambling to basically still say, at the end, I did it because I wanted to …

There are and were other games I’ve done. The Blue Lotus Hack (which is out there on the interwebs) is a flavour tweaking of The Black Hack 1e with a setting/bestiary/magic items selection attached, and I also used TBH 1e for a conversion of Final Fantasy (yes, the original; no, this one’s not out there on the interwebs) including the whole bestiary. Some day I might finish the “space hack”; sometimes I muse on seeing if I can switch it over to pocketrpg or pull what system it has out altogether.

But, it was nice to make a little game framework of my own? Even if, in my personal opinion, there are plenty of folks who do much better — and yes I can name quite a few without batting an eyelash — I wanted to make it, and it made me happy, and I can use it to be that framework for other things I write. I just need to keep taking a newspaper to the brainweasels over it.

I still want to make more things for the pocketrpg (which if I ever do pull up my britches and post a generic version, for folks to use or otherwise, probably needs some kind of name). I need to also keep on telling myself that that’s fine. This is a hobby, after all. I like to make things, and I like to make little notes about little worlds.

This has been a lot of babbling and if you’ve made it this far, congrats *lol* There’s no grand conclusion, alas, not to the babbling and not to the questions that kicked it all off. But sometimes, it’s like that –?

projects in the hopper currently

It seems to me that a(nother) brief ramble on the things I’m actively working on/planning/contending with wouldn’t hurt anything so here we go, in no particular order:

  • Nine Black Jewel Moons 2.0, or the expanded version, or however you want to look at it *lol* — this will be much like Lost Emblem Saga (which evolved from Jewel Moons 1.0!) and will be easily smooshed with it. It’s probably getting a mostly-different title since in the creating of an actual place/defining some things, I accidentally(?) another mini-setting. There’s also going to be wee note to the effect that yes, using the setting without the “new stuff bubbling out of primordial chaos” is actually doable and by all means feel free to just use the “stable” part of the setting as-is.
  • A brief zine with a system for dimension/planewalking, and some planes and worlds to go with it (with a gribbly hook or two each, I hope). This will ostensibly be running off the tinyrpg skeleton but since that’s ability tests at its core it’s basically compatible with a sea of OSR/NSR/sworddream/etc stuff out there. I just want my own tiny not!Planescape and I ain’t even sorry
  • Another brief zine-y thing that makes up a fantasy/fantastical city, which will probably be some establishing paragraphs and then a pile of random tables because I have some ideas there. If I can get more than ideas and actually do something, it might get submitted to Arr Roo’s City Jam, but *stares dead-eyed into the calendar* It may also link into the planar thing above; see Planescape and also who doesn’t like weird city-existences?
  • I kind of want to make a little collection of tables for quirks/appearance/location ideas/something-something? I liked the idea of the stuff in Knave and Maze Rats but I dooooon’t really want to use those atm, and also the themes didn’t really gel with what I do in places. Since I like making little tables when I can, why not boil them down some and then put them together?
  • At some point I need to collect up and dust off and format together all the little bits I wrote for RPGaDay like I said I would >.>;;

pondering on the Two Lands and rpgs and projects

I keep wandering back — even while I’m still moving at a snail’s pace on Jewel Moons 2.0 and the “planar” idea for a wee supplement-type and am now debating some swords as well as some random tables of setting-dressing-ness again — to the idea of an rpg (setting?) based properly (“properly”) on pharonic Egypt. Or I should say, wandering back again …

By “properly”, I mean something that while not strictly historical (because you don’t get magic and actually traveling to the underworld etc in a strictly historical setting version), bears a hell of a lot more resemblance to how things actually were/were perceived in Egypt than killer mummies and stupid curses and camels roaming around in 1500 BCE and etc etc.

It’s an idea I keep going back to again and again and not actually doing anything with. Which is annoying. (and when I say I keep going back, I mean my first effort was a never-submitted article to Dragon Magazine that I was working on, that was for character kits. yes, this was for 2e AD&D. I’ve been beating this dead horse in my head for a loooooong time.)

Earlier this year I mostly battened on a lens for PCs that might, well, actually make a reason for adventure; this both kicked up my thoughts on the notion more actively for the first time in ages and also brought a whole heaping helping of frustration to roost because, frankly, fuck 2020 with a rusty chainsaw.

Still, the idea knocks around in my head and wakes up and goes “hi :3” every time I pull a textbook off the shelf.

Another source of dithering all over the map is the subject of just what to use/what I could use/etc etc as a skeleton. TBH? I’ve considered Troika, although while I could do a nice pile of backgrounds I swing back and forth on whether the background pile will help illuminate the setting, or constrict player options. I occasionally consider the tinyrpg skeleton I put together, and then I run backing into the night at the idea (as is my way). Troika is currently in the lead by a smidge?

So this is basically a lot of rambling saying not much of any real use but. Oops?

(Jewel Moons, etc, is still happening. just slowly. there are many things that are making a bad year continue to be a bad year and I am Slow on my best days anyway)

(also, let me end by noting that I still absolutely bloody loathe WordPress’ new setup and this was as “easy” to post how I wanted as nailing jelly to a tree)

*flips table*

Fuck WordPress and this ~new editor~ right in the ear.

Fucking blocks and forcing them on everything and forcing maddening double-spacing everywhere and taking my goddamn option to post just using basic html away.

This just might be enough to make me ditch a blog again. We’ll see.

potential plans and other such nonsense

A post with no actual useful content. I feel like I should hide under the floorboards >.>;; But at least it’s about what I’d like to do re: content, so there’s that — or things I’m contemplating, and things that could stand to be shuffled off the back burner at some point if only I could stop being tired.

No particular order …

* Get back to the spacehack, because it mostly just needs some new equipment/toys and maybe a handful of example treasures/trinkets/whatevers and then I could try to flog it into working shape? Maybe attach a sample mini-setting or starter area? It’s written to go with BLH/TBH 1e but is probably system-agnostic enough to bolt onto other things by dint of that alone?

* Try that “write a campaign start in five weeks” workbook and see what I get. Not necessarily the spacehack (though see above), I might have a vague inkling of something else already.

* Maybe think a bit more on an admittedly flip notion of making a pocketmod of critters/spells/treasures/prodigies etc for each colour of the rainbow, and then reassembling them in the end into a single larger (quarter-page? I like quarter-pages I think) zine afterwards.

* I could probably stand to start writing random notions and ideas in a notebook again …

* Make the bloody pocketmod companion for Neon Burning Skies, already, damnit.

* Slay the goddamn brainweasels that keep trying to gnaw my face off for tinkerings not being unique enough or brutal enough or insightful enough or whatever-else enough. *sighs*

There’s probably other things — and I’ve really wanted to just write some more trinkets and enchantments and spells etc (maybe themed critter groups?) but omfg the entire world right now I swear —

(╯°□°)╯[THE UNIVERSE]

The Blue Lotus Hack

Well, here we are.

In 2018, I (after several years of tinkering and talking myself into it) released the Blue Lotus Hack on Drivethrurpg under the name Vai Earthflame, a level of separation that I needed to turn the thing loose at all.

Once I started nosing around the scene again (on Twitter), I alluded to the thing, and then eventually named it, but still did nothing else with it. But I still have some things I’d like to do — some more critters, some more bits and snips and shiny objects — and I can’t readily do that here on the blog without the thing, while adding the things to the Fanged Moon blog would be even more awkward than it initially felt at the time.

So here’s the Blue Lotus Hack, another iteration on the first edition of The Black Hack, with a pile of critters and some treasures and a mini-gazetteer of the setting of Varas. It’s Pay What You Want, because my layout skills are just as non-existent now as they were then; it’s not fancy, it doesn’t have nice art, but it’s (I hope!) readable and does that job well enough.

But it does feel nice to have this actually on my name.

The Blue Lotus Hack — itch.io

The Blue Lotus Hack — Drivethrurpg

[spacehack] The Void and the Shard Sea

The Aetherous Void

This is “space” as commonly conceived of; mostly empty, but has planets and moons and comets and asteroids (and odder things), and a sun or something very much like a sun. What it isn’t is expansive — the Void consists of a single system, or, rarely, two or three or so such systems sharing a common “void” (the source of the term) nestled inside the vast Shard Sea. Most systems have their sun at their centre, but not all.

The void of space is chilly (dress appropriately!) but is not a vacuum; however, the aether is thin and slightly toxic and a mask is required for long exposure and safety’s sake by most sapients.

* After a day of exposure, CON test or all rolls are at Disadvantage until victim has breathed pure air for a day without interruption

Rare systems possess completely breathable aether and these are highly valued for settling if there are no prior claims; in the past, more than one war has broken out over the “true peoples” of such systems.

The Shard Sea

Outside of the pockets created by systems, the aetherous void is filled with a biting cold and completely filled with a field of glittering, waxy, solidified aether shards and stranger things still. From the vantage point of a system’s interior, the brightest shards of the Sea’s inner edge are the stars. From inside the Sea, all is darkness packed with the sudden shining rubble of the shards themselves, stretching out in all directions. Ships destined to sail the Shard Sea are best equipped with some form of light.

Some parts of the Sea are less filled with shards and remnants, as if some immense creature burrowed its way through and left tunnels behind. Some of these twisting lanes intersect, or open into pockets inside the Sea that may hold derelict ships, eldritch lairs or sealed fortresses; the most stable of these passages link systems one to another, so long as a ship has the mettle — and the supplies — to make the trip.

Once the safety of a system has been left behind and a ship is threading its way along the twisting lanes of the Sea — or, braver still, forging a new path — conditions worsen.

* A mask must be worn at all times, unless in the pure-air bowels of a ship or similar structure; and the cold becomes a potential danger, forcing a CON test each day or 1d4 hit points of damage are taken, healed only by warmth and rest.

Plotting travel through the Shard Sea is treacherous and many prefer to stay within a system, or stick to the known shardlanes, already mapped and relatively stable.

* How Do I Map The Shard Sea?

The GM should theoretically have an abundance of ready-made “maps” of Shard Sea lanes, whether known to the PCs via charts or being charted out by the PCs and their intrepid crews — dungeon maps make ideal facscimiles of the Sea’s twisting lanes and unexpected hollows. Change the elevations here and there, scale the size up, and fill with Sea encounters and stranger things, and turn the party loose!

* So, gravity …

Gravity works by the rule of “the larger object attracts the smaller object” and otherwise essentially by the rule of cool and the needs of the game being played. Planets and even wee planetoids pull towards their centres, gravity keeps a PC’s feet squarely on the deck of the ship, and so on. Get tossed into the emptiness of the Void or the Sea, though, and all bets are off.

Travel Times

Travel via aethership is measured in “standard” days of 24 hours; similarly, the length of time a given ship can travel without refueling or replenishing water or stores is measured in days.

Typical transit times:

* 1d4+2 days between two adjacent planetary objects

* 2d8 days from the innermost planetary object to the centre point of a system

* 1d12+2 days from the outermost planetary object to the inner edge of the Shard Sea

* Shard Sea travel is unpredictable at best, and logged on individual shardcharts; relatively straight travel from system to system, with no complications, may still take 6d6+10 days or even longer

Warp Nebulae (Nebular Gates)

These rare manifestations, eerily resembling ghostly stained glass windows or peaked doorways, can send a ship — or anything else that passes through their maw — to another system without needing to find a route through the Shard Sea. A knowledgeable observer can identify the sort of nebula they’re looking at from the colours mixing in its whorls.

Some nebulae are one-way trips, others will work from either “side”. Some are permanent, and others are technically temporary but have such a lifespan as makes no difference. Others have vanishingly swift lives.

Building A System

Sometimes getting together the details of a system is inconvenient or you aren’t feeling the inspiration right this moment.  Sometimes, you might just want –or need! — to pull together a system to explore quickly.  For those kinds of times, here are some steps and tables to spur the creative process along — but don’t feel constrained by their results.  Pick and choose, alter the numbers of rolls, whatever you like.

The first step is to determine whether the system has an object at its centre. Roll a d20; a result of 1-15 indicates a central object, 16-20 that the centre is lacking or destroyed. If a central focus is indicated, choose or roll for the centre of the system using the following table:

System Centre

01. sun (of near any colour …)

11. city-fortress

02. diamond sun

12. frozen flame

03. dead sun

13. fire ring

04. abyss (black hole)

14. prismatic ring

05. cluster of sunlets

15. eclipsing sun

06. planet (sun is elsewhere)

16. luminous water orb

07. planet (no sun)

17. petrified elder starvine

08. nebular gate

18. neon aurora

09. frozen god

19. binary system (roll or choose two)

10. misplaced Shard field

20. trinary system (roll or choose three)

Then, roll for the number of planets depending on how heavily “filled” you wish the system to be:

* Sparse: 1d4-1 planetary objects

* Average: 2d8 planetary objects

* Populous: 1d10+1d12 planetary objects

And the type and shapes of those planets:

Planet Type

01. temperate

06. molten

11. artificial

16. hollow

02. forest

07. desert

12. labyrinth world

17. cluster of worldlets

03. aquatic

08. dead

13. garden world

18. split (roll again twice)

04. tundra

09. metropolis

14. gaseous

19. cratered

05. ice

10. living

15. crystalline

20. Earthlike

Planet Shape

01. spherical

05. spiral

09. half-moon

02. ovoid

06. rubble belt

10. dodecahedron

03. Mobius

07. godcorpse

11. honeycomb

04. ribbon (like a ring around the sun)

08. on turtle or other beast’s back

12. knotwork

If looking for some moons or or exotica for your planet, try this table, rolling 1d4 times or as many as you like:

Planetary Extras

01. One moon

05. 1d4+1 moons

02. Ring (of ice, fire, crystal, rubble, greenery …)

06. Extensive ring system

03. Two moons

07. Asteroids at Trojan points

04. Twin planets

08. Exotica (voidblossom field, massive orbiting dock-city, fire cometoids …)

The distance between each planet in sequence — as well as the centre to the first planet, and the last planet to the Shard Sea — can be rolled now to have a set number, or left to chance as time rolls by and celestial objects move about.

On hacks past and future(?)

I like The Black Hack.  I like how I can tinker with it and so much is left to table interpretation I can do a little better at squashing my inevitable “but I wrote that wrong D8″ reaction, especially these days.  1e is still my go-to for it.

Last year (after several years of scrabbling at the idea), I finished what I called the “Blue Lotus Hack” and — after more months of panic at the idea — released it, first as a PoD on Amazon via CreateSpace and then the pdf on DriveThru.  I also did this under a different nick, because it was the only way to talk myself into it, and linked a blog inside the book; a blog I then managed maybe two useful posts on, because I was sure that the more I posted the more obvious I’d be.

After that I started tinkering with a much smaller idea of a bolt-on “not Spelljammer” / “fantasy space” setup, and got as far as the basics + a class + some critters (I do love me some critters) but stalled at what I thought was the writing up a few paragraphs of a sample system but was/is more likely to be the brainweasels attacking full force again.  Now I’m debating maybe putting the “spacehack” — which needs a name I suppose, oops — up here in parts and pieces, and maybe I’ll collect it all up in a pdf and toss it on here if I go through with it completely …

These were/are my theme paragraphs; they would be most of an intro, with a bit more explanation stapled on either before or afterward: Continue reading “On hacks past and future(?)”