Tag Archives: rpg

1
May

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month May 2024: The World of Elurah

Flickering candlelight illuminated the sage’s page as he worked his quill furiously over the parchment’s surface. He squinted with the effort of finding the right words to put to page and illustrate his thoughts.

“Hope here is not yet extinguished. While civilization is taking its first tentative steps towards recovery, danger lurks around every corner. The monsters of the Dark Tide have not disappeared and even in the reclaimed land nature’s wrath and magical anomalies pose formidable challenges.”

His hand paused as the dinner bell rang, and sighed.

More of his thoughts would have to come later. He signed the page, “LucasValenti”.

And more writings would soon come… join us as we talk to LucasValenti about The World of Elurah and read on further into his scrolls of knowledge!

Q. Congratulations on The World of Elurah’s selection as the Campaign of the Month for May!

We’d like to get to know more about the icon behind the GM Section! Tell us a bit about LucasValenti… Where are you from? What do you do aside from gaming? Alter Egos? Life partners? Family? Where can we interact with you on the internet?

A. Thank you! I wish I had some sort of fascinating story to tell but at the end of the day‒surprise, surprise‒I’m just a huge nerd. I live in the Seattle-area of the US with my girlfriend. She and I have been together for the past 8 years. We spend our days playing TTRPGs, making geeky stuff and annoying our cat, Ashamane. My day job is in construction, where I model out plumbing systems for commercial buildings and hospitals. Exciting, I know. I partake in the SCA (Historical re-enactment, check them out!) and do a bit of cosplay. Outside of that, I just love making anything and everything. We’ve got an array of laser engravers, 3d printers and other funs toys. Drawing, painting, sewing, sculpting, resin casting, leatherworking; we do a bit of everything. She has recently relaunched her business and we’re starting to set up booths at conventions and are working on setting up an online store where she sells dice bags, gaming accessories, hand-made dice and art. Check out Celestial Peryton on various social media to see her stuff!

Here’s a small portion of her dice collection that has gradually taken over our hallway over the years. Many of the sets here are various experiments we’d made over the past few years learning how to mold and cast resin. Not featured are few large cookie jar-sized containers filled the brim with more dice and a few bags scattered around. She’s recently been upgraded from Dice Goblin to Dice Dragon on account of her horde.

We just spent 4 days at a local convention called Norwescon. I don’t tend to meet a lot of players outside of my game group and social media, so it was a great experience. It was a ton of fun to spend a few days chatting with a bunch of other gamers and talking about character creation and world building with everyone that stopped by our table. Everyone was super friendly and really excited to just spend some time geeking out about shared interests. It was also really promising to see so many newer players that are just getting into gaming! I got to feel like some kind of wise old sage dispensing out advice, haha. The event went really well and we’re looking forward to doing more soon!

Q. The World of Elurah is a Dungeons & Dragons 5E campaign. For those in the community who have not yet seen your site, and reveled in its glories, tell us a little bit about the setting you have created for the game, and what sets it apart. How did you create that awesome map? Where did you use Inspiration most during your campaign’s creation? Was it gained through Bardic Inspiration, or did you earn it through your pursuit of an Ideal?

A. Right, so on to the real reason I’m here. Elurah, as a setting, is something of a life’s work. I’ve been playing TTRPGs for the past 20 years or so and started GMing shortly after starting. Even before that, I’ve always been a huge fan of fantasy literature and D&D, in particular. I remember reading Brian Jacque’s incredible Redwall novels in elementary school and later moving on to the Shannara books, Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms. So, when I started actually playing D&D in my early 20s I had plenty of inspiration to draw upon. The first game I ever ran was in a small kingdom I created called Hairen. As I went on to run other campaigns I started sprinkling in NPCs and small nods to the games I had run before, which eventually led to everything naturally interconnecting. Finally I just sat down and officially tied all these disparate stories and locations together and Elurah officially was created. It all happened rather organically. But I can only take proper credit for the structure. So much of the world and its background owes to all of my players over the years that have added to and “lived” in it.

And then there’s the stealing. We’ll call it inspiration. There are entire swathes of the world that reflect what my current interests were back when I was making those parts of the setting for a campaign. Names and locations based on a game or a book series I was into. Character that were tweaked slightly and dropped into the world, etc. I used to try really hard to make everything new and unique and different. Eventually I realized that I didn’t need to try so hard. Tropes aren’t strictly a bad thing. When my players catch on to references to Monster Hunter or Warhammer 40k or other things, they aren’t upset or call me lazy. They see them as fun easter eggs. Heck, a lot of the original lore was just directly ripped from the Forgotten Realms. Kailea is just Netheril with a new coat of paint slapped on it, amongst many others. But all of those things are what me and my friends enjoy, so I want to bring those things in and have fun with them.

The gist of the setting, in the current timeline, is that it’s set after the Dark Tide, a massive magical apocalypse that unleashed hordes of monsters across the world. For the past few centuries, civilization has been relegated to living in massive walled cities (there’s that “borrowing”, again). However, the current period sees the world beginning to reclaim what was lost. Trade routes, while dangerous, have been re-established. New towns are being built and old ones reclaimed. There’s something of a tension to the setting, a precipice where they’re on the edge of either reclaiming what was lost or losing it all again. The through-line of this setting is this delicate thread of hope the world managed to weave, and whether the players are able to preserve and strengthen it. I didn’t want a setting that is full of grim chaos and despair. That period happened in the skip of the old version of the world to the current time and the effects of it can still be seen, but I wanted to provide my players with a setting that can grow alongside their actions.

The current main party is trying to piece together sparse information from the lost period of time and figure out the origin of the Dark Tide. This was the first game I started in the current timeline after the setting jumped ahead a few hundred years. I was stagnating on stories to tell, so I wanted to shake things up and create an opportunity for a bunch of new mysteries and plotlines. The appearance of the monsters that swept over the continent and how the world got to the point it’s found itself in are two of the biggest mysteries.

Meanwhile Hairen, due it its isolation, was spared the brunt of the Dark Tide and is even somewhat prosperous. Currently the party there is working to unravel an ominous prophecy with grave implications. This was my original setting I made years ago. Back then the campaign was called the Sundered Kingdoms. But due to the players in those original campaigns unifying the fractioned nations and re-founding the kingdom, well….it wasn’t very sundered any more, haha. This part of the setting is a little more advanced after the skip, with a strong budding aetherpunk vibe that I’m really into.

Lastly, the disparate shipwrecked crew on Haven have uncovered a secret that could change the course of the world. The mysterious vanishing island is, in fact, one of the lost floating cities of Kailea. With the help of an Archmage they woke from a magical stasis, they’re working to restore the arcane engines that power it. However, the Archmage guiding them may not be quite what he seems. This game has been fantastic. It’s the newest one I’ve started and we’ve only been player for 5 or 6 months. My players are all my GF’s family, from be brother and sister-in-law to a cousin and her nephew. Aside from myself running and Skylar playing, everyone else is basically a brand new player. So it was a lot of fun to create a game and really focus on building an experience tailored for teaching and slowly introducing them to mechanics and concepts of the game. Everyone really seems to be having a great time so far, and the setting itself is a lot of fun. The island is designed to be something of a…limited sandbox. I wanted to give them the ability to explore and hunt around without overwhelming them with too much content. But, as with the other two games, everything here ties into the overarching plot of the setting. In fact, this game will probably have the most immediate impact on the world depending on how it resolves.

As for the map, you can thank Inkarnate. Huge shoutout to them and their tools. I was able to take years of hand-drawn maps and notes and combine them all into the current version on the site! I’m really good with character illustrations and creature design. I have come to realize over the years that I am…not a cartographer, haha. I was able to find a map on Inkarnate that was pretty close in overall design to the world and was then able to import and modify it to reach the version you see now. Though, the way things are going in-game, it may be due for yet another redraw soon. Here’s one of my older maps from when I was first trying to transition over to digital and attempted to update the map of the Sundered Kingdoms. It’s not…the worst, but the new version of Hairen is clearly much, much better, haha.

Q. How did your group meet up? How often do you play? What are your sessions like? I would be very interested in seeing some Adventure Log posts in the future about your group’s trials and triumphs – does anyone in your group plan to take on a role as Chronicler?

A. Currently, I have 3 groups all playing in different parts of Elurah, with a total of around 13 players spread across the different games. Some of my players are friends I’ve known since I was in school, used to be co-workers at previous jobs, or were just friends of friends. We play in-person, weekly, which means I’m currently running 3 nights a week. It’s a ton of work, but I genuinely love DMing so I don’t have any plans on slowing down. Our average session is about 3-4 hours. We’re all quite tight-knit, so our sessions tend to be quite relaxed and most of us have been playing together long enough that we just sort of have a groove we fall into. Lots of jokes, teasing, goofing off and we play some D&D in-between. We skew more towards roleplaying, so there are many nights where we don’t even throw all that many dice and just enjoy interacting with the characters and world.

As for and Adventure Log…I have plans! Before anything else, I have to give the biggest shoutout to one of my players, Seoc. She’s been playing with us for well over a decade now, and she takes the most meticulous notes. We’re talking stacks of binders over the years, hundreds of pages for each game. Check one of these things out!

There have been times where I’ve been struggling to remember the name of some random NPC from a single session 5 or 6 years ago. She snags a binder from the shelf, spends a couple of minutes flipping through some pages and BAM, there it is! I seriously cannot throw enough praise her way for all the work she puts into it. The only downside is, well, they are all handwritten. I’m planning on writing up some synopses for each game in order to have a starting point for visitors to the site to see how the setting is actually being used and the current adventures that are taking place. Look forward to it!

Q. Your site has quite a lot of interesting features that I have noticed you update very frequently. From the navigation banners’ design, to the linked banners on each page, to the way you have set your backgrounds to match the color of the corresponding navigation banner. There are so many interesting tidbits that it is difficult to list them all! Do you have a background in design? How did you piece together all of these ideas to use these features and put them together to create your site?

A. I don’t have any real experience with web design, per se, however I do have a background in art and print design. I also have a fascination with color. That said, if there was one overarching design philosophy it would probably be “readability.” At the end of the day, the Elurah wiki is intended to be a repository of information, and that information being presented is always the focus. Everything is aimed towards helping the reader, I don’t want the site itself to be a distraction. So I use color to break things up and divide information in an unobtrusive way. I’m a simple man, but simple doesn’t have to be boring. The color-coded backgrounds, for example. The wiki currently has sections for Elurah – the primary continent, Hairen – a smaller isolated kingdom, and Haven – a mysterious lost island in the Thirhe Strait. When viewing a page related to information on one of those three, the background changes color to match, as well as the color of the various badges and buttons. Since there’s quite a lot of information available it helps keep the reader from getting too lost, you always have a sense of where you are. It’s all tied into the site Tag system with a bit of CSS I cobbled together from the forums. Using a [class*=”arilon”] or whichever campaign before my line of code, as long as I tag the page with the name of the campaign it belongs to, the backgrounds and set dressing are automatically applied. That said, it’s a bit of a shotgun approach because it’s not *just* looking for the tag, but really anything to do with the page information, haha. So if the page name happens to have the word in it, it’ll apply the effects regardless. Thankfully for me, I don’t really have any pages with the campaign names that aren’t for those campaigns.

The Nav bar is another good example. If you take a closer look, you’ll see that the 3 bars for those sections are primary colors, and are of a higher saturation than the others. It’s just a subtle way to naturally draw the eyes towards them, since those pages are the primary focus. Aside from that, the page layouts have a consistent formatting intended to present information and guide readers towards related pages. I like to break up larger blocks of text with buttons and images to add some visual interest and make them feel a bit less daunting. Walls of text can be scary! The consistent and somewhat understated design is something I’m most proud of. I recently decided to add some fun little deocartive corners to the page…and subsequently had to reformat basically every wiki page, haha. They were cutting off the text in the upper left of every wiki page, so I had to go through and add page titles to every wiki page. I’m actually really happy with the end result. I forgot how helpful something as simple as a page title can be, haha.

All of the various assets around the site like the buttons, icons and mouse cursor are either designs I created or ones that I found and edited to suit my needs. I do all of my editing in ClipStudio, since that’s the program I use for my Illustration work. I like everything to match and co-ordinate, so I reuse and modify a lot of my assets in different ways. For example, the NavBar icon is actually the same as the main decorative title buttons. I just lopped off one side, added a decorative caret and compressed the height into more of a banner shape. Like a nice rug, it really helps “tie the room together”, haha. As for actually coming up with ideas for what to add, really I just shamelessly steal from all over the web. Sometimes I’ll be on a random website and see something neat that catches my attention. Then off to google and down the rabbit hole I go. Not everything works, but it’s fun to just test out new things and see what I like and come up with interesting ways to implement them.

At its core, the site is mostly just the original layout with a handful of tweaks and a shiny coat of paint on it. I added in a few additional Nav bars for each of the current campaigns so they could live on the side. I hid a few elements for a more streamlined look and used my illustration and art experience to build a unified aesthetic. Most of the CSS invested isn’t for any flash or spectacle but, rather, to make using the site easier and more natural. I try to make sure that everything works equally well on both Desktop and Mobile, since often my players are looking up information on their phones or a tablet.

If anyone is interested in the code for any part of the site, I’m more than happy to share! I can’t promise it’s the most efficient, though, haha. I’m available on the OP Discord server or just via a PM.

Q. Your Timeline for The World of Elurah is a fantastic feature! I feel certain that a lot of GMs would be interested in knowing your process for building that page. Tell us a bit more about your thoughts behind its design, and how you went about putting it all together!

A. The Timeline! So this was literally the first major CSS tasks I undertook, because apparently I hate myself. I do not have any background in coding or web design, so naturally I decided to tackle the hardest thing right away. The base code for the timeline was provided by Keryth987 on the forums from his Phoenix Rising campaign, and from there I spent probably a week smashing my head against it to get it to work properly on my site. His version has some really slick animation to it and is really just incredible. It didn’t quite fit what I wanted, however, so I spent a lot of time teaching myself the basics of CSS and HTML in order to understand how it worked. So much trial and error and I constantly kept breaking it. But I finally figured it out enough to make it work, and I’m really very happy with the end result. One thing I do need to figure out is a way to indicate that the timeline entries are actually links! A lot of people viewing it don’t realize you can click on each entry for a full writeup. In the end, I gave up on the animation because I just had too much information I wanted to fit in, so I kept the timeline entries to short descriptions and linked them to full wiki pages, instead. It was honestly such a great learning experience. It’s really uses quite a few different aspects of CSS and so I was able to learn the difference between the different elements.

The anchors to set the dates, in particular, were a major pain. Every time I would try and tweak something they’d just randomly move around, misalign or just disappear entirely. Thankfully with the original code as a reference and a couple online guides, I was able to figure things out and get them working. I think the best thing I came away with was an understanding that it’s fine to just try thing out and test stuff. Sure, I might end up breaking things, but the code can always be removed or edited without any permanent damage. Once I realized that, it’s really helped me moving forward with just testing out random stuff and seeing what works! Also big shout out to Keryth987, Abersade, Nuadaria and the rest on the Discord server, they’ve been awesome and have helped me out with various random bits of code and other ideas since I started working on this.

It was sort of a trial by fire that I unintentionally set for myself. I’ll usually just sit there with a ew different pages open so I can just tweak the CSS, adjust the HTML on the page and then refresh to live page. Just…changing things and seeing what happens. “What happens if I add a span element here?” “Oh, a line break would be good here…annnnd everything exploded all over the page. Let’s take that out.” It’s definitely a bit tedious, but I’m feeling much more confidant now and have been trying a bunch of new things recently. I actually just added a second timeline for Hairen that I’m working on, and it’s a night and day difference in how I understand everything now. I duplicated the code so I could have a color variation on it and just…the speed at which I can parse what originally felt like some kind of alien language is so much better. Changes that would have taken me 10 or more minutes just to figure out how to swap out a color…now only take a moment. It was daunting, initially, but I was able to find so much information and help from the Forums to the Discord server. Honestly, if I can figure this stuff out anyone can. Just maybe start with easier things, first, haha.

Q. As we follow along with The World of Elurah and watch it grow, do you have any particular additions planned that you’d like to tease us with?

A. I think I’ve already teased a few, haha. There’s still a lot left to add in. I have pages and pages of notes and descriptions to still be added. Hairen and Haven were added recently, so their wiki pages are going to need quite a bit of fleshing out. I also want to go through and do a better job of hyperlinking between pages so that if something is mentioned, you can just go straight there instead of having to dig around for it. I feel like the overall design could also use some more touching up. I recently added some nice decorative borders to the content pages. Extra flourishes. Lots and lots of little things. I would say the next big thing to tackle is the Adventure Log. I’ve already got some CSS in place the spruce it up, and I’m figuring out my plans on how to best make use of it so I everyone can keep abreast of our adventures!

Oh, right! The main page. With the current design, the Main Page was quite unused. I’m starting in on repurposing it into shining a spotlight on our current Adventurers and showcasing them…hopefully it’s finished by the time you’re reading this. I’ve got some really fun code using a mixture of scaling, opacity and hover effects to give it a sort of fighting game Character Selection look. I’m so happy with how it’s coming out so far. Also, there are a few more sections of the world to add in addition to the current 3. But I want to finish fleshing the current ones out, first, since they’re being actively played in at the moment. I’ve also found out some really neat examples for CSS to add a bit of visual interest and fun, so I’m still deciding exactly how I want to implement those. You’ll just have to check in periodically to see!

Q. How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?

A. I first joined back in 2014. I really wanted a way to provide my players with access to all of my notes and information. You had various sites around, including tons of fan wikis for all kinds of various properties, so I figured I’d find some sort of free wiki site and just make something like that but for my D&D setting. A bit of poking around later and I what did I stumble across, but a site designed for the exact thing I needed! Seriously, I was really excited. I think for the first year or so I mostly just used it to keep track of NPCs and a handful of pages with basic information. Not exactly what I had planned. It wasn’t until I created the wiki for my Nexus campaign after a few years or using OP sporadically that I really started making full use of the site. Since it was for an entirely new setting and I was getting into it from ground-level, I really invested into building it out. I learned a ton from that and finally committed myself to doing it properly. It only took me nearly a decade.

Where was I? Oh, right. I really love that you can get as much or as little as you want out of the site. Whether that’s just keeping track of some NPCs or an entire world. Everything is easy to use and I got used to the basics in a day or two. I’ve also been really happy to see all the new features and updates that have been added recently. The Character and Item page update that was put out a bit ago was huge for me. There is such a massive roster for Elurah (seriously, there’s currently around 150) that the ability to break things up and organize them was a lifesaver. I’m really looking forward to seeing what else is in store.

Q. If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most?

A. My players. It really helps so much at the table. A lot of the smaller questions that we’d have to take small pauses for “Who was the wizard we met in that one town?” or “Where was that place, again?” have slowly began to lessen. They can just pop onto the wiki and look it up without having to stop game. It also means they have access to all of the information away from the game table. It’s been a huge help. Also, personally, just the act of building the site and creating everything is very…therapeutic, is the word, I suppose. I just get to sort of zone out for a while and create.

Q. What you say has been the biggest highlight of your game so far (and please provide images and links if possible)?

A. While it’s not a single specific event, exactly, it would have to be bringing my players back to Hairen. It was the first game I ran. And, as established, I clearly am a glutton for punishment so I made this entire setting and storyline for it. We played games in Hairen for 3 or 4 years before moving on. A couple of years ago, after about a decade, I found my old Sundered Kingdoms campaign notebook and decided I’d start a new game there, with a significant time skip for the world, revamping the entire setting of that kingdom.

3 of the 5 players were in those original games. It’s truly been so much fun being able to let them explore that world again and see all the changes they brought about and how it shaped everything. Towns named after NPCs they fondly remember, bards singing tales of their previous characters and adventures. Some old foes reappearing…It’s really been a delight.

Q. As a grand finale, we always ask for the GM’s “pearls of wisdom”. What insights on how your GM style impacts play within your group to best facilitate a great time at the table with your gaming group that you’d like to share with the community?

A. Be flexible. An issue I dealt with when I was a newer DM and that I’ve seen others struggle with is learning to adapt and change their ideas. It can be very easy to pour tons of time and effort into creating a world and a story only to inadvertently lock yourself into how something ‘should be’. Nothing is sacred. I’ve been talking a lot about my world and how I built it, but that’s really rather disingenuous. So much of my world was made together with other people. Players, friends, internet strangers. Whenever one of my players makes a character in my games, it’s a co-operative affair. There are tons of locations, organizations and peoples in my world that came about as a direct result of my players want to play something I hadn’t prepared for, or potentially even directly contradicted established lore. Instead of forcing them to fit, I let the world adapt around them. Orc samurai? Sure, why not. Hell, why not an entire NATION of orc samurais? That sounds awesome. Tiefling Viking barbarian? Love it. There’s some icy tundra up north, why don’t we drop some reclusive tribes up there?

“Let your players build you world.” Noble houses to add in, new races to include and flesh out, entire cities and cultures to incorporate. Brainstorm, discuss and weave them into the history and lore. Let them see the effects those things have on the world. Take them there. Show them. I genuinely believe it’s the reason I have players 20 years later that are still excited to come back to a setting that they have been to a dozen times already. We’re all invested in it and have each left our mark. Plus, it’s just a ton of fun. Share what you’ve made and be proud of it, while staying open to new suggestions and ideas.

Thank you to the community for making this campaign of the month possible! That’s all for now, join us on our next adventure June 1st, and don’t forget to nominate your favorite campaigns for our next Campaign of the Month!

14
Apr

Creator Spotlight | An Interview with Hankerin Ferinale of Runehammer about Crown and Skull

Fantasy RPGs are a dime a dozen, but Crown and Skull promises a refreshing experience. In this interview with Hankerin Ferinale, creator of the system from Runehammer, we delve into the unique mechanics, world-building, and design philosophy that sets Crown and Skull apart.

Ferinale sheds light on the inspiration behind the game, how it challenges player interaction with the world, and the exciting future planned for this evolving system. So, grab your dice, and prepare to be enthralled by the evocative world of The North Holds!

Crown and Skull feels like a fresh take on fantasy RPGs. What inspired you to create this unique system?

I played Fantasy Hero (1st Edition) for years in high school. The system didn’t age terribly well, but its foundational thinking was great. After 8 years of RPG publishing, I wanted to both look back to my origins and forward to a few current inspirations like Cairn and Into the Odd. That’s just the mechanics. The WORLD and TONE are where I’m the most excited. I’ve been working as a writer and artist for over three decades now, and I started to feel real, emotional, moody, evocative stirrings in this setting. I hope all the readers feel as deeply connected to THE NORTH HOLDS as I do. That humanist connection is teh core inspiration of the book(s).

The “skill as tool” approach sounds intriguing. Can you elaborate on how this changes player character interaction with the world?

For ages now, we’ve been taught that our stats/attributes can solve any problem with a die roll in role playing. Removing stats from the mechanics and being strict above the use of skills only, forbidding attempts by the unskilled altogether, is the biggest step toward substantive character differentiation I have seen. So different, in fact, I find many players and GMs a bit dazed at first, then very excited. As for interaction with the world, there’s far more think-before-act. The player can’t simply roll a stat to get out of a bind or overcome a challenge.

The phase-based combat seems like a strategic twist. How did you develop this system and what are its advantages for players and GMs?

I didn’t! I reduced Fantasy Hero’s 12-phase system into a 5 phase setup. The advantage is almost entirely offered to the GM. These 5 phases allow room to build truly challenging foes against even large parties of heroes. A single foe might take action(s) on up to 3 phases, while heroes are always limited to one. This lets the monsters expand into vastly larger realms of challenge and variety, compared to traditional initiative systems.

Crown and Skull is known for its emphasis on player skill over character stats. Can you talk about the design philosophy behind this approach?

As mentioned above, stats blend all characters together. By removing them entirely, and forbidding attempts by the unskilled, the differences between heroes becomes extreme. MUSCLE is a skill, not a stat. No muscle skill? You can;t even ATTEMPT to move the boulder. This differentiation enhances one of the key visions of the hobby’s framers: that characters need each other to thrive.

We’ve seen some discussions about the lack of traditional “gold” mechanics. How does Crown and Skull handle character progression and rewards?

In CROWN, you earn hero points. Gold is seen as banal and uninteresting, though present if your table wishes. Hero points replace gold, and adjudicate the finding of usable loot. They come in all kinds of reard packages, from deeds of renown, to the dire and unavoidable choice of THE CROWN, OR THE SKULL?

Crown and Skull is still evolving. What are some exciting things you have planned for the future of the system?

There are 4 more volumes of CROWN and SKULL coming. These volumes introduce new mechanics, world material, and tables. The coolest part of the forthcoming volumes, though, is portraying ongoing epochs of the world, influenced and shaped by the actions of all of CROWN’s players and GMs. It is a 6 year experiment in a truly living world… another core dream of our hobby’s mighty originators. Achieving a truly living world is not easy! It requires a DAILY interaction habit with the player community.

Do you have any advice for GMs and players who are new to Crown and Skull?

Join the Runehammer Discord! This isn’t a sales pitch at all, but a call to engage with a living, breathing community that is building a world brick by brick. It’s also a great resource for those odd questions or sticking points as many 5E players seek new horizons.

Thanks for the interview, Obsidian! FOR THE CROWN!

-Hankerin Ferinale

Crown and Skull is produced and published by Runehammer. Visit them on social media:
Patreon, Youtube, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), Facebook

3
Mar

Creator Spotlight | An Interview with the Creators of Divination RPG

Divination RPG offers a transformative approach to tabletop roleplaying, merging the ancient tradition of tarot with the dynamic mechanics of RPGs. This game invites players to embark on a journey of self-discovery and adventure, navigating a world where the flip of a card determines fate.

In this exciting interview, we delve into the minds of the creators behind this innovative game, Matthew Muñiz and Nyx Tesseract, to uncover the inspiration, mechanics, and future for Divination RPG. Join us as we explore the fascinating world where destiny is woven with each card drawn, and where players become active participants in an unfolding narrative guided by the very tools of divination.

Don’t just consult the cards, adventurers! Support the Divination RPG Kickstarter!

What initially drew you to incorporating tarot into an RPG experience?

I’ve always used tarot as a part of my TTRPG ventures, I think. It’s been an idea generator, a generator for NPC motivations—a set of huge, abstract symbols from which to draw. So as I ran D&D games growing up, and later, World of Darkness games, I liked to use tarot to get ideas about plots, motivations, antagonists, worlds of magic, all kinds of stuff. I got my first Pixie (RWS) deck in my teenage years, and started running games for my friends right around the same time.

Matthew Muñiz

Were there influences other than tarot that served as inspiration for the game’s mechanics?

I loved the World of Darkness games from the 90s, and grew up on Basic and Advanced D&D—a childhood inheritance from my erstwhile-nerd parents. I liked how WoD games let you develop your character without levels (I recall that as revolutionary once upon a time, way back when). Those worlds also aspired to delve into the psychology involved in role-playing and character development. I think of those games as blazing a trail that now lots of other narrative-first games follow.

Some of those, like Bluebeard’s Bride and Kids on Bikes, use shared hero and shared character dynamics that really influenced Divination as well. As roleplaying games explore GM-lessness, elements of shared storytelling are becoming increasingly common, and I think those mechanics work beautifully in Divination because it’s based on tarot. Tarot is so much about introspection and personal growth, and so a game where the parts of the mind negotiate that (and sometimes fight over it) suits our world really well.

Matthew Muñiz

Can you walk us through the core mechanics of Divination RPG?

There are two main mechanics that make up the heart and soul of playing Divination. One is the shared Hero that Matthew mentioned, and the second is the performance of Tests.

You play Divination as one Aspect of a Hero, and your fellow players are also Aspects of that same Hero. Each Aspect embodies one set of drives and desires inside that person, which adds an additional element to roleplay. Sometimes one Aspect is in Control of the Hero and is navigating the world and dealing with NPCs just like any other roleplaying game, but at other times we zoom in to the internal and see the conversations happening between the Aspects—the Hero’s internal thoughts and conflicts and questions playing out live. Each player has an Aspect sheet which tracks the stats and abilities unique to them as an individual, and collectively the players share a Hero sheet which tracks the stats available equally to all of them.

Where all those different stats and abilities come in brings us to the other core mechanic of Divination: the Test. This is essentially your skill check, but it’s resolved by drawing a tarot card instead of rolling a d20. We use one portion of the tarot deck that contains numbered cards only, and draw a card to get a numerical result (after applying modifiers to reflect difficulty, stats, and Powers, of course). The number gives a clear success or failure, but the scene depicted on the card and the meaning of the card is rolled into the how of that success or failure as well.

Tests can be Active when the Hero is proactively acting on the world, or Passive when they need to respond to the forces of the world acting upon them.

Nyx Tesseract

How do you envision the concepts in Divination RPG fitting into the broader world of tabletop RPGs?

One of the things I’m personally most excited about is the way Divination handles the Hero’s experience of being hurt both physically and emotionally. We’ve separated this experience into Injury, which happens to the body, and Harm, which happens to the mind or the psyche. I don’t want to spoil too much of what you can discover playing the game, but I think we offer the opportunity for players to explore a lot of nuance in what it means to be hurt. This is something we’re really excited about offering to the gaming community at large, because I don’t think either of us has seen it handled or delved in quite this way before.

And I mean, it’s so tarot. It’s so tarot to explore every element of our human experience, the good and the bad, through a lens of non-judgmental curiosity.

Nyx Tesseract

How does interpreting the cards impact the gameplay and decision-making process for players?

The beautiful thing about Divination is that it’s both numeric, which means it can do the things that dice can do, and it’s pictorial, which means it speaks in the fuzzy, flexible language of pictures. When a Test is read, it does more than just tell the players whether or not they were successful at whatever they were trying to do—it can also suggest why. This almost always amounts to thoughts and feelings that influence the moment, but a Diviner is invited to weave the meanings they read in the cards into the story in any way that inspires them. This makes for emotional, profound moments where everyone is surprised by what they discover in the cards. I know we keep saying this, but it’s so tarot.

Matthew Muñiz

What challenges did you encounter while designing a system that incorporates both numerical crunch and interpretation of tarot cards?

It’s challenging to offer people permission to interpret tarot cards. People think they have to memorize long lists of meanings, but in my opinion, all you have to do is look at a picture and allow it to make you feel something. In Divination, we divide the tarot deck into smaller decks to make it easy to do this. The mechanical crunch is fairly easy, with +1s and -1s like other games. 

You really just have to trust that you’ll look at a picture and seize the opportunity to be creative with what you see—or give yourself permission to skip that part when you want! You don’t have to interpret any moment that doesn’t make sense to you. A joy of Divination is allowing a symbol to persist and coming to understand what it means later.

Matthew Muñiz

Besides tarot’s role in the mechanics, how does tarot exist in the world and society of the game?

Tarot is baked into every part of our setting, which imagines two worlds: the Apparent and the Esoteric. The Apparent is the mundane world we all inhabit, and the Esoteric is the one populated by Artists—modern wizards who use the tarot and their unique connections to the Art to pursue their agendas.

These Artists each walk a Road that dictates what their connection to the Art is like. There are seven Roads in total, and each is wildly different. In Divination, you’ll make a single Hero on a single Road, so you get incredible replayability from our game as you explore all seven Roads. Each Hero on an Esoteric journey will be a part of a rich world full of competing agendas and surprises, all drawn from tarot.

Matthew Muñiz

What has been the community’s response to Divination RPG so far?

We’ve been just blown away by the way Divination seems to really touch every single person that touches it. I think the shared Hero is a huge part of that, and particularly the way the game builds that Hero. Our character creation process isn’t something you do at home before you show up to play; it’s almost a game in and of itself as the players are led through a series of story prompts (guided by tarot cards, of course) to tell formative stories about their Hero’s life. It acts as kind of an icebreaker, but in practice it becomes so much more than that. We run a lot of games at conventions and events where you regularly have four strangers come together for a game, and we’re always blown away by how naturally the game fosters investment and trust as the players build their Hero together. It’s pretty magical.

Nyx Tesseract

Are there any plans for future expansions or other content related to the game?

The core book—the Divination RPG Guidebook as we’re calling it—is going to be really complete in terms of running and playing the game. But as Matthew mentioned earlier, there are these seven different Esoteric Roads to explore, and I think that’s the most likely place for some expansion. The core book will include setting information for each Road, but eventually we’d like to create a full campaign module for each one as well, complete with NPCs, antagonists and threats, and even an outline of story beats and options. Currently we’ve got a full module like that for one of the seven Roads, but that’s a place we’d love to continue exploring and even bringing in outside writers to create more of those modules.

Nyx Tesseract

What is one of the most creative things you’ve seen players or Diviners do with Divination RPG?

I think you could pose this question to our Discord community and get dozens of stories, so I’ll just share one very recent one that brings me so much joy. One of our Discord members ran across an event called “Capybara Week” where a gaming group was looking for GMs to run any system with a capybara theme. Our community member signed up to run a Divination game with the following pitch: “Four aspects of the mind of someone find themselves awakened one day inside the body of a capybara, by a twist of fate. Together, they will navigate this new life on the shores of the lagoon, deciding whether to adapt or seek a way back to who they once were.”

Nyx Tesseract

Divination RPG is produced and published by Night Goddess Games.

Visit them on social media:
@divinationrpg on Instagram, X/Twitter, Facebook, BlueSky, and Spoutible

1
Mar

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month March 2024: Wrath of the Highborn

You search the lands for treasures and find them within the Obsidian Portal, in a land called Beregond. Like a glittering, magical jewel, one campaign shines brightly — it is “Wrath of the Highborn” by Keryth987! Within its many facets, you behold lands many decades in the making, fantastical stories written by a true entertainer, animated visuals and videos, and some surprises… is that a Klingon Bat’leth? Step forward into the not-quite-forgotten realms of this multi-award-winning GM to find out how he did it and how you can improve your own campaigns…

  1. Congratulations on your third, winning campaign! We know from your previous interviews that you’ve been playing since 1991 and have been using Obsidian Portal for almost a decade and a half, now. What changes in the world of gaming have you seen in that time which have had the greatest impact on you and your group?

First off, thanks. It’s nice to see what is a Labor of Love for me to get acknowledgement. Regarding changes in the world of gaming, I’d have to say the presence of computers and technology, along with the growing popularity of TTRPGs in general. When my group began playing it was 2nd Ed D&d and everything was pen and paper with dice, some miniatures, and a GM screen. Now everyone has a laptop or pad at their seat, with Obsidian Portal and D&D Beyond open as we play 5e for the current game (Other non-D&D Campaigns well, no Beyond being used of course). It’s also been nice to see gaming go from a fringe hobby to the popular activity it is now.

  1. The Chronicle section of “Wrath of the Highborn” details the journey of your players with some very excellent writing, from a simple village meeting to epic battles with dragons and demons. Can you give us a brief synopsis of the campaign, so far?

Well, this campaign actually comes out of my previous D&D Campaign, “A Rising Darkness.” In that campaign, the group of PC’s ended up needing to free a powerful elven sorceress to obtain something they needed to stop the Big Bad. That sorceress helped them in turn by also eliminating one of the lieutenants of the campaigns Big Bad, who just so happened to be the Elven Queen who had exiled her in the first place. She then went on to take over the city her rival once ruled and began building an army and playing conqueror, all while sending those she dubbed Her Chosen (and provided with a means of automatic resurrection should they die) with recovering some powerful magic relics called The Jewels of Aelis. The current party, through discovery, divine messengers, and prophecy, learned of this and have taken up the cause of defeating The Highborne Queen, recovering The Jewels of Aelis before she does, and destroying them.

The campaign began with them escorting the daughter of a prominent merchant from Goldshire, along the Sword Coast, across the Trackless sea, to Maztica, where they journeyed to Fort Flame. It was about the time of their arrival in Maztica, that they learned of the Jewels and The Highborne Queen’s goals. Since then the group has been following what evidence they have gathered as to where the various Jewels are, recovering them, and trying to find a way to destroy them, all while dodging The Highborne Queen’s Chosen, as well as some other enemies they have made along the way. As of the writing of this, they are off in Kara Tur, trying to infiltrate the Monastery of the Black Moon, to recover the last of the Jewels that have not already been recovered by either them or The Highborne Queen.

  1. “Wrath of the Highborn” is set in Beregond — a world adapted and expanded from Forgotten Realms material — and is also part of a shared set of worlds called “Chornalth” which are written and organized by other GM’s. Are there any challenges or advantages when dealing with interconnected planets and stories managed by other game masters?

Not really. We’ve been sharing “Chornalth” now for some time (The other two worlds being Liga – a heavily modified Oerth/Greyhawk Adventures, and Krynn – a highly modified Dragonlance world with some Dark Sun and others thrown in). Everyone in our group is pretty good at separating player knowledge form character knowledge, so when there is crossover, we are usually able to confer well and still not ruin the RP and sense of wonder while ensuring no one steps on another GM’s toes or messes something up in the other GM’s world. It also is a nice thing to have the shared world, as the last campaign on Liga (a Pathfinder Campaign) and actions taken by those PCs were what was utilized by the Big Bad of “A Rising Darkness,” to release his evil Over-Deity from his prison, which the events of, in turn, provided the villain for Wrath of the Highborne. It’s fun being able to play in one’s own sandbox sometimes as well, so, having the crossover ability allows that to happen both character wise as well as lore and interaction.

  1. Decades of work have gone into Beregond and it shows — one of your previous winning campaigns was set in the same world. Is “Wrath” connected in any way to the previous stories of “A Rising Darkness” or are your players treading on entirely new territory?

Well, as mentioned previously, the villain of “Wrath,” The Highborne Queen herself, was a sort of ally of the PCs in Rising, and two of the PC’s in “Wrath” – Shalryssia Peshlakai and Vimesh Damocles, are related to two PC’s from “Rising” – Sylmara Skystriker and Vito Damocles respectively. However, the party has covered far more territory than in past campaigns as they’ve also adventured outside of my modified Faerun, venturing to the continents of Maztica and Kara Tur, and even up into Selune’s Tears via spelljammer.

  1. Your site visuals are always outstanding and you’ve been incorporating video and audio components with your games for some time now. For GM’s who want to emulate those same techniques, what advice would you give or what digital tools and resources would you recommend?

Well, the videos are made using Wondershare Filmora, and the music is usually edited as needed in Audigy. I’m rather proud of the two videos for “Wrath,” both the Teaser on the Main page as well as the Introduction/Opening Credits that is listed as the Prologue for each Book on the site). As for the artwork, lots of Photoshop work, and, I have to admit some AI tools for base images. – Specifically Dream by Wombo. I know many frown on AI art, but were I to rely on my art skills, everything would be stick figures and such. The AI lets me take my ideas and those of my players and turn them into images that can be used, though not a single on has not been manipulated via photoshop, whether it’s to create and entirely new image such as the campaign background (there are, according to the folder on my PC, 20 separate images utilized in that), creating the many Book Covers (angain 8-10 base images to produce the various components and then Photoshop to put the elements all together), to modifying the skin colors and eyes of images so Night Elves and Genasi and Half Drow match the player’s vision of their character. It also lets us let our characters not only be “This character looks like Alessandra Ambrosio as a Maztican Priestess of Qotal” as a text or vocal description, but actually be able to see the character’s physical appearance.

  1. You have extensive experience with lots of different gaming systems — story-driven like Dresden Files, more rules-focused like D&D, and everything in between. In your opinion, is the game system critical to the success of a campaign or is it just a personal preference?

To be honest, the system isn’t as important to a campaign’s success as much as those involved in playing it – both GM and Players. My group’s been blessed for many years to have had plenty of great players and storytellers. Some have since moved on from the gaming table either due to Real Life commitments or moving out of the area, and others have joined the group to take their place, but in a gaming group that meets regularly every week and has done so since the 90s, we’ve only had to ask 2 people to leave the group due to issues. The heart of any successful campaign is not the setting or the system, but the people playing the game.

  1. You don’t shy away from mixing and matching elements from different settings to get the kind of game you want, like bringing in a race from a futuristic TV series or movie into a fantasy game like “Wrath.” Have you ever run into any unexpected problems when introducing something like this? Is there a lot of prep-work involved to make it all fit together or can you just make adjustments after enough years of GM experience?

Well, in “Wrath,” adding in Mass Effect’s Asari was a bit of a challenge…but eventually I found a way to make it work based on the lore I’d created for Beregond and “Chornalth” in general. Others, the idea of how to bring them in just came to me suddenly. And some, like the Draenei and Night Eves of World of Warcraft, well, they were simply a modification of their origins as provided in their original source material. To be honest, the biggest problem caused by this would be a toss up between trying to figure out how to make Klingon weapons work stat-wise, or finding a location to place the Tharks of Barsoom. Seeing as how every race that has been added has been because I wanted said race available, it’s not been too much trouble. And now, with resources like OP and Beyond, it’s even easier as I am able to find resources for these already available to use rules wise.

  1. Without giving too much away to your players, can you give us any hints about the future direction of “Wrath of the Highborn?”

Well, as mentioned they are working on retrieving the final Jewel that they know has not already been recovered. This is forcing them to infiltrate the Monastery of the Order of the Black Moon, a group of Shar worshiping Shadow Monks in Kara Tur (and something that came completely out of the background of one of the PCs, Koumori Shojo). This will bring the group into conflict with the Order’s Master Monk, as well as his followers and probably some Priests of Shar as well, After that, the players have indicated to me that they want to deal with the Red Wizard of Thay that once possessed one of the Jewels and that they have come into conflict with, as well as eliminating the remaining of The Highborne Queen’s Chosen. They also have a side quest for the Sha’ir Warlock in the group, Vimesh , to finish, as well as recovering the remaining Jewels from The Highborne Queen (which might cause them to destroy her). And then, finally, they need to discover the location of The Hall of Bones, to destroy the Jewels.

  1. Any plans for future campaigns that you would like to disclose? Or are you looking forward to a break while someone else runs the next game?

Well, I always am working on new campaign ideas. I have at least three concepts I’m tinkering with on OP now. But, the current plan is to resume our Savage Worlds campaign that was put on hold, then after that it looks like we might be playing a Planescape campaign, and one of the other players is hinting he is ready to start running the sequel to his last Pathfinder campaign. Honestly, the fact that pretty much everyone at the table is capable of and enjoys being a GM, is one of the reasons our group has lasted this long (the other being strong bonds of friendship). So, it looks like it will be a bit of time before I’m behind the screen again after this.

  1. Finally, Obsidian Portal readers are always hunting for helpful hints on how to better run their own games or build their sites. Do you have any particular tips or tricks that you would like to share?

Well, Obsidian Portal has been a godsend for me, enabling me to organize my thoughts and concepts and get them down somewhere solid, as well as to keep track of previous events in campaigns. As for developing sites themselves, Wolfhound’s tutorials over on his “Dresden Files Dallas” site are still a good place to start, as are the Obsidian Portal forums. However, the biggest help for me has been the Obsidian Portal Discord Server, where I have repeatedly gone for help and assistance on how to take an idea and make it work Textile/CSS wise (I’m looking at you Nuadaria and Abersade and others) and i highly recommend anyone interested in using Obsidian Portal go there, socialize, bring up their questions, and share their creations.

Alas, adventurer, our journey into Beregond is brief and too swiftly ended. With thanks to Keryth and his players, we turn our sights to other realms and future jewels of wondrous writing, clever coding, and delightful design. Do you know of a campaign worthy of notice? Perhaps your own, even. If so, send us word on the Community Forums or the Obsidian Portal Discord so that we may share the creativity of our gaming greats with everyone. Until next month, traveler!

Thank you to the community for making this campaign of the month possible! That’s all for now, join us on our next adventure April 1st, and don’t forget to nominate your favorite campaigns for our next Campaign of the Month!

1
Jan

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month January 2024: More Things in Heaven and Earth

Get ready to jump into the mystical techno-magical future of North America after “the Awakening”. The year is 2082. The place is “The Emerald City”, where people are willing to risk it all and walk on the bleeding edge, making deals with anything. The GM is Dropbeartots. The runners are a rag-tag group of humans, an elf, an ork and a troll. They adventure in a Sixth World Shadowrun game called More Things in Heaven and Earth.

First off, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do aside from gaming? Alter Egos? Life partners? Family? Where can we interact with you on the internet?

I’m just an Immortal elf hanging around waiting to see the Awakening happen still! My alter-ego is a dropbear, of course. My folks were military, so I really didn’t settle down anywhere for very long until my Dad retired. Since then, Ive been in Texas. Aside from gaming, I work a lot and try to make enough money to keep up with Shadowrun’s new releases and increase my collection of older edition books. Two of the gamers in my group are related to me: Ringpop is my wife, and Nomad is my youngest son. My internet activity has decreased quite a bit in the past few years, but I have a neglected site on WordPress called When Dropbears Attack! I really should get back into it…

You are running a Shadowrun Sixth World Game. Are you familiar with the previous editions and if so, can you mention any differences, or talk about the evolution of the Game? What are the things you most enjoy about the Shadowrun world in general?

Shadowrun has been the single game that’s really carried my interest across all editions. I’ve been the forever GM with it since first edition came out! The most captivating thing for me about it has been the evolution of the story of the Sixth World across the decades, and the back cover blurb of the first edition core rulebook just grabbed me more than any other game ever has. It has always been a game about three worlds – Man, Magic & Machine – that kept me engrossed the most as a reader, player, and game master. I keep coming back to it time and again even when I get distracted with my interests in a wide variety of other games. When most people can point to D&D as their definitive TTRPG starting point, I can honestly say that yeah I started with it but I never really loved gaming as much as when Shadowrun was first plopped down in front of me.

Sixth World, for me, has a plethora of good points. In the first five editions, the skill lists were pretty extensive. As a skill-based game, on the surface this always seemed appropriate. But this often seemed to me to cause characters to have a lot of spread-out skills distributed at a low level just to cover all of their bases. With Sixth World, the skill list has been very condensed, and I have found that a lot of my long-time players are happier with building characters.

Another good point to me is the Edge system. As a sort of advantage mini-game, it has encouraged a lot of thought by the players into roleplaying seeking out various environmental and situational advantages

in their exchanges, both in combat and social encounters. I will admit to it being a lot of work to keeping up, but I think if used and taken advantage of, the system offers a lot to players.

Mechanically at its heart, SR has always been a d6 based dice pool system. Since 4th edition, the target of rolling has changed from a sliding scale Target Number that varied wildly to 5 or 6 being a “hit” and the more hits you collect the better off you are at whatever you want to be doing. I think that’s great, as it puts less mathematical work into the rolling part of the game. Although I personally never had a problem with doing the math (and never had any issues with THACO, either!), more people seem to be into less math with their math rocks, so it meets that desire well.

I‘m well aware of a lot of the editorial and mechanical issues with Sixth World. I think the recently released corrected Seattle and Berlin city editions of the core rulebook have done a fantastic job of correcting a lot of errata and injected pieces that were missing with the original core rulebook. Also, the Sixth World Companion offers up a lot of optional rules to flavor your game to taste. Overall, I find Sixth World to be superior in every way to the previous 5th edition of Shadowrun.

As I’m sure most fans of Shadowrun will agree, the biggest draw to the game for me is the game world itself. From the 2050s to the 2080s, the game‘s writers have built up a backdrop of shadowy intrigue, corporate espionage and betrayal, magical wonders, ancient mysteries working their way into a postmodern cyberpunk world, and moved that world through some strange, weird, off-the-wall and sometimes downright head-scratching moments. In the end, it’s largely what you make of it at the table as a group though. And I personally have the most fun with it over all other games.

As far as my thoughts on the most complete, most well-written, and well-tested edition of Shadowrun? I would have to say I’m mixed on that. I find both 3rd and 4th edition to be the ones that grabbed me the hardest of all. I’d put Mike Mulvihill, Rob Boyle, and Adam Jury on my list of those who produced my overall favorite stuff for Shadowrun. Why don’t I stick with those editions instead, you might ask? Hrm, have you seen the prices people are asking for some of those out-of-print books? Can you say “collector gouging”? 😉

How did your group meet up? How often do you play? What are your sessions like?

I have known Bowynn, Krysa’s player and Kwaba, Robot Jones’ player, for an exceedingly long time, I think it’s going on thirty years now. We’ve played SR since Third Edition. It seems like I have known Nomad’s player all of his life 😉 It’s sorta my fault he got into gaming, after all. Twitch and Little Doll’s players, I met through my wife. She met them on the Amtguard field, and introduced them to me and we tried out gaming with D&D for a while, then i finally had to start them playing Shadowrun. I seduced my wife into the dark side of Shadowrun shortly after we met, and I think that she fell in love with the game just as much as she did with me, lol.

We have been playing weekly together for a while now, with game night settling on Tuesdays. My wife and I have been travelling a lot for her job as an RN, so there’s been a lot of play through voice calls on Messenger for a while. Since I recently settled into a new job a few months ago, I’ve been more localized to our house and our in-person gaming has resumed.

Our sessions can usually be boiled down to one word, lol. Chaotic! If you know, you know…

You have a very innovative Navigation System on your site. What inspired you? How did you go about setting it up? What advice can you give for new GMs on Obsidian Portal who want to do the same?

Really, I have to give a lot of props to the site’s design here. It gives the opportunity for Ascendent

members to edit, add, remove, and modify the navbar to their heart’s content if they wish. And I speak only for myself here, but it is a GREAT feature that I was super enthusiastic about when it came up.

I was particularly intrigued by the way you extended your Experience Point Awards to cover three different sections – Heat, Reputation and Karma. I know you also had this on your previous award-winning site, “Wildside”, but what inspired this, and in what way does it help you and your players?

Karma is the real “experience point” value among the three here, although all three are earned by characters in Shadowrun through play. Reputation is how well-known a character becomes among other groups of the world by their actions in-game – its not always positive, either! And Heat measures how much characters have screwed up and both how well-known among and how wanted by the authorities a Shadowrunner has become. The lower the better there 😉

Your “Critters” section is very cool. Which ones have been the most memorable in your game so far? And DO tell us more about the “Drop Bear”…

A lot of the threats a character will run into are human in Shadowrun, but there are other… things out there as well. In Shadowrun, these critters are normal animals that have changed somewhat due to the influx of magical energy into the Sixth World over the seventy-some-odd years of the alternate history. I wanted to build a section for my players to be able to see some of these things and reference rumor of their various capabilities. Most of the time, I add to the critter section before one is potentially encountered.

Well, the Drop Bear is kind of exactly what is described in the Critters section. An awakened koala with very sharp teeth and claws that fall off of trees to drop on their unsuspecting prey – which often tend to be humans! The group has managed to find one of these critters well outside of its native habitat that was subjected to a variety of experimentation in a corporate lab. Ringpop, the resident animal lover, has ended up sort of adopting it and is trying hard to tame it and teach it tricks. She named it Tater Tot. She gets a lot of static from the rest of group because of that…

How involved are your players in the site? Who tends to do what? Do your players add their own Adventure Logs?

The player of Little Doll, the group’s social butterfly and face, tends to post the bigger updates on the Adventure Logs from her character’s perspective about all of the goings-on. When other players are able, they have added to the Adventure Logs as well.

I tend to use the site as a whole as a reference and tracker for our game, and the Adventure Logs to post contacts reaching out to various members of the group to set up jobs, or to frame events that occur in the world that are outside of the characters’ spheres of influence but might affect them in some way.

How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?

I have been using OP since 2009. I had been looking for a campaign journal site, and I really enjoyed the features OP offered a lot. What keeps me there is the fact that they are so devoted to continually improving the experience of use and site utility, and the community built up around the site that is so supportive among the users.

If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most?

I would say that Obsidian Portal is awesome for giving me the means to keep my campaigns’ details

organized, cataloged, and documented. And it allows me to customize so much of the way I would like to do that.

What would you say is the biggest highlight of your game so far (please also provide images and links if possible)?

Little Doll and Nomad say that Tater Tot (https://morethingsinheavenandearth.obsidianportal.com/characters/drop-bear) is the highlight of the game 😀

Ringpop says it was the time her character got stuck in Dante’s Inferno and was singled out by Dion (https://morethingsinheavenandearth.obsidianportal.com/characters/dion), the lead singer of Thursus (https://morethingsinheavenandearth.obsidianportal.com/characters/thursos), for romantic overtures only to find out that he is actually a dragon! She ran so fast… Ringpop does not like dragons at all, they make her very nervous and she already has a difficult time in social environments.

Okay, as a last question, we always ask for the GM’s “pearls of wisdom”. What GM insights can you offer the community this month?

In Shadowrun especially, if you can set up paranoia, do it! Use what the players tell you about their perceptions of what’s going on to feed the flames. Don’t always confirm what they say, but do confirm enough to make them feel what they are thinking is right before you introduce a twist and pull their rugs out from under them.

Always keep pressure on the characters, keep them hungry, use external organizations to push them and show them the sharks swimming alongside them, and give them enough rope to hang themselves.

Be sure to reward them well when they pull off something ingenious, give their characters’ actions, relationships, and personal motivations weight, and make them matter in the world at large.

And last, but, not least, if they decide to take on an MCT Zero-Zone, go hard. Make them work.

 Thank you to the community for making this campaign of the month possible! That’s all for now, join us on our next adventure February 1st, and don’t forget to nominate your favorite campaigns for our next Campaign of the Month!

17
Nov

Creator Spotlight | An Interview with The Furtive Goblin and The Lawful Neutral (Bridgetown)

Bridgetown

In the realm of tabletop roleplaying games, few settings capture the unique blend of pastoral charm and liminal unease as effectively as Bridgetown from Technical Grimoire. This never-ending, ever-crumbling bridge straddling the boundaries between realms has become a popular destination for adventurers seeking a taste of the extraordinary.

Behind the imaginative tapestry of Bridgetown lies a team of creative minds who have poured their passion and expertise into crafting this enchanting world. We had the privilege of interviewing the Lead Writers of Bridgetown – The Furtive Goblin and The Lawful Neutral (John Gregory) – to delve into their inspirations, design philosophies, and hopes for the future of Bridgetown.

In this interview, we’ll explore the genesis of Bridgetown, the unique challenges of designing a setting that defies conventional boundaries, and the team’s vision for the game’s future. Prepare to embark on a journey through the ever-shifting landscapes of Bridgetown, where the ordinary meets the extraordinary, and the boundaries between worlds are as fluid as the river that flows beneath the ever-present bridge.

What makes Bridgetown different from other TTRPGs?

Bridgetown is a campaign setting for Troika! which seeks to exchange its default gonzo science-fantasy flavor for something different. It’s a game set in an impossible location–a never-ending Bridge–that is caught somewhere in between rustic folklore, Boschian fever dream, and dystopian punk, with a little sprinkle of hobo culture for good measure.

The Furtive Goblin

Bridgetown is a setting and resource book that goes along with the very inspiring Troika! system, which itself was inspired by old school Fighting Fantasy. Troika! overall has done an amazing job at inspiring weird and psychedelic settings that range from science-fantasy to cottagecore to genres I’ve not even got a name for. Bridgetown itself is what we’re calling a Liminal Pastoral setting–somewhere between wandering across Ghibli landscapes, living on Old London Bridge, and being stuck in The Backrooms. It is a weird world caught between infinities on every side, yet it is homey.

The Lawful Neutral

What are some of the challenges you faced while designing Bridgetown?

We (TLN and I) had a lot of ideas to start off. We spent almost an entire week just doing an idea jam while looking up images of old medieval bridges. Way too many ideas to fit into a single product and still get away with calling it a zine. We had to hone our focus to be more narrow and bridge-like. Fortunately, our team was way better at making us do that than we were at first.

The Furtive Goblin

Really, once Furtive Goblin and I got onto the Bridgetown writing train, the main challenge was knowing when to stop. We came to David/Technical Grimoire with pages and pages of ideas for what was originally going to be a little twenty page zine. With the help of David giving us reasonable restrictions and Hannah, our editor, taming our writing, we were able to go from a complete mess of materials to an actual functional Bridge(town.) That all said, another part that we considered a design challenge was “How do we make a setting interesting that is literally only 50 people wide East/West and infinite North/South?” We thought that it could feel constricting or railroad-y, but our playtesters really felt like the space restrictions actually made for interesting challenges and gave them a good impetus for continuing to journey onward.

The Lawful Neutral

How did you playtest Bridgetown?

TLN and I took a hands-off approach to playtesting, and let David run several games with playtesters that he organized. This ensured there was little to no influence from us as the writers on how the players interpreted the text. It also led David to make some really fun and interesting calls as a referee that helped shape how the rest of Bridgetown was written, alongside all the player feedback we received.

The Furtive Goblin

Our playtesting was done by a combination of several very fun sessions run by David as well as a pair of live plays on Twitch! Instead of personally running or playing in it ourselves, Furtive Goblin and I listened in on the sessions and paid attention to what did and didn’t work, what folks were excited about, and where we could tweak parts to be more clear. One of the major changes to come out of it was the original fundamental premise. We had planned for folks to be playing a character that is ultimately looking for a place to settle down and make their Home, allowing the character to retire and someone new from the location to adventure from there. However our playtesters had so much fun with their initial characters that they simply wished to keep on journeying! 

The Lawful Neutral

What are some of your favorite features of Bridgetown?

The “Weather” table including flocks of awful birds dropping feces like a hailstorm is definitely a crowning achievement of Bridgetown, and gaming in general. In seriousness though, I love that we managed to build a sort of natural ecology into the Bridge, with all the critters and weirdos that entails. The book has some of my favorite backgrounds in all of Troika! Ghost hivemind golems (Stone Keenings) and Brummie-accented sewer trolls are pretty high up there.

The Furtive Goblin

The certainly colorful locations and NPCs, many of whom are inspired by our own personal game experiences. Each span and district of the Bridge has its own unique flavor which we hope is inspiring to anyone who decides to walk it. You could take pretty much any setting or genre, mix it with a little weird, and set it down onto the Bridge. And if you ever get tired of it, all you have to do is jump off the side and see what strange new world you land in!

The Lawful Neutral

What are your hopes for the future of Bridgetown?

I can realistically see us working on Bridgetown for a few more years, whether it’s in the form of adventures or fun new ideas for backgrounds and locations. One early idea we put on hold was designing a Bridge generator that you can use to create randomized districts filled with events, landmarks, etc. on the fly. We went with individually crafted locations instead, and I think that was vital to nailing the themes and atmosphere of Bridgetown. But I still think that generator would be the perfect capstone for the IP, as a way of giving it over to the players once we’ve said our piece. As endless as the Bridge is, I don’t think we’ll be churning out endless amounts of content. It needs to be allowed to breathe.

The Furtive Goblin

Furtive Goblin and I are still writing more and more for it and we think it would be great fun to have expansion zines come out for it over time. I’d personally love to hear from folks about any sessions they run and how they put their own unique spins on it. One of the ideas we were not able to fit fully into the book but we encourage people to consider– each of the infinitely tall Piles/Pillars that the Bridge sits on could be hollowed out to throw any dungeon you might want in there. We might get out something in the near future giving some fun examples for this.

The Lawful Neutral

Can you talk about the pastoral and liminal aspects of Bridgetown?

“Pastoral” as a concept is a huge beast that encompasses thousands of years of literature, poetry, and music, but for Bridgetown we used it in the sense of the idealization of the rustic and the rural; the shepherd wandering with their flock. It kind of takes a sarcastic or ironic bent here, because the Bridge is anything but cozy and rural. It is literally liminal, in that a bridge is a thing meant to connect two locations that don’t exist in this scenario. But it’s also liminal in the sense of a lack of belonging. It’s a game of punks and wanderers looking for something that their tiny sliver of infinity didn’t provide them.

The Furtive Goblin

Take the story of the Billy Goats Gruff. On one side there are the barren hills from which our three Goats come from and on the other are the heavenly Fat Pastures that they wish to reach. In between there is a bridge and a troll. This is an idealized pastoral landscape that the Billy Goats live in, but the story takes place on a bridge–a liminal place that is neither here nor there, it is the place in between here and there. In Bridgetown, the Bridge is all there is. The Bridge and the promise of the Fat Pastures. It is where the hope of a rural but uncomplicate life is shadowed by this strange, unforgiving landscape where people of all walks survive the best they can. There is probably some sort of allegory for Purgatory in there if someone wanted to run with that.

The Lawful Neutral

How does the provisions-based economy work in Bridgetown?

Food-as-money is one of many ways business can be conducted on the Bridge. Commerce inside a neighborhood is as simple as hashing out agreements and giving gifts between people you’ve known your whole life, but anywhere else on the Bridge you’re a stranger whose word is only as good as the goods and skills you possess. And no matter where you go, everybody needs to eat (except maybe Stone Keenings). So provisions are an obvious and practical medium for trade, with the added bonus of not having to deal with turnpike guilds.

The Furtive Goblin

When your world has a 50-man wide boundary, you have to make due as much as possible with the space and resources you have for there is scarcity everywhere. The Tower Aristocrats and the Turnpike Guild try to impose local currencies–but these are more or less like the script that mining companies imposed, useless outside of their immediately controlled areas. And so the name of inter-district trade is all about bartering. Iron from the Cable Mines traded for produce from The Squeeze, artifacts pulled up from The Great Excavation traded for clean water sourced from the Wyld Bridge. Among the motley folks who call the Bridge home, needs often outweigh wants so a loaf of good gitless bread can get you a long way.

The Lawful Neutral

What are some examples of Keystone Spells and Troll-Croak magic?

The magic wielded by Stonewrights–basically stonemason wizards–pulls latent energy out of the Bridge and the stone that constitutes it. Thus they require magical keystones to power their spells. Do this too recklessly, and the Bridge begins to erode and fall apart around you. A perfect example of this is Stone to Soil, which turns rock into dirt- ideally for gardening, but nefarious uses exist too. Troll magic comes from the gut, so to speak. Their spells cost Stamina like in classic Troika!, and reflect the ancient shamanic traditions of the sewer trolls. An example is Inoculate, which renders someone immune to a single disease- handy to have when you spend so much time in sewer water.

The Furtive Goblin

So the biggest differences between the two types of magic here is who uses it. Stonewrights are, by and large, humans who use the energy of the Bridge itself to cast their magics–they bend and manipulate the natural forces of the bridge to their whims. This is why some are Bolsterers, who work to maintain a balance and preserve the Bridge, and some are Eroders, who siphon magic from the Bridge without thought of consequence. When a human dies, their soul is often interred into Keystones to preserve the magical energy of the Bridge itself. A very basic Stonewright spell is Word on the Street, where they essentially commune with the Bridge itself for the local gossip. Trolls, on the other hand, are connected body and soul to the Bridge without the need of Keystones–when they pass away they turn back to the stone from which they were born. Thus, their magic comes from within, allowing their croaking songs channel the Bridge through them directly. A very direct example is Yaulp, which takes the echoing nature of the Bridge’s sewers and amplifies it into a concussive shout that can be heard a mile away. 

The Lawful Neutral

What are some of the weirdest birds and weather events in Bridgetown?

Scrapper Herons are four-eyed nightmares with serrated beaks that can rip through metal. You don’t want to be well-armed when one of those starts building a nest. You can’t get much weirder than Under-Things on the Bridge. The Under is a soup of cloudy, rarified reality that the Bridge sits on top of, and once in a while it belches forth Things made out of roiling matter and concept. They’re childlike and curious about the Bridge, which is bad news when their mere presence can kill you or drive you batty. My favorite is the Slavering Under-Thing that understands through taste, and leaves a lot of scandalized Bridgers in its wake.

The Furtive Goblin

My favorite bird is Bosch’s Echo-Babbler, a massive bird hiding in its thick shell and using it to crush unwary targets then slurp them up with an elephantine hummingbird tongue–but that’s the beauty of the Awful Birds. Look at some Bosch or some Zdzisław Beksiński then combine it with a bird and you’ve got yourself an Awful Bird for any scenario. The Weather on the Bridge is more like “Whether” whether we’re going to have rain or a few hundred mouse-sized Coblins paragliding down to stab and steal. While the table of Spells run amok is really absolutely fun, my personal favorite Weather is this: “Scent of Home: A wind blows, carrying with it a smell somehow both unfamiliar and nostalgic, a sweet promise of new beginnings and old dreams fulfilled. A wind like this blew the day you left home.”

The Lawful Neutral

Can you tell us more about the Stone Soup Campaign?

Despite being an introductory quest, Stone Soup was one of the last things we added during development. It’s more TLN’s baby than mine, which makes sense since he’s already worked on at least one other food RPG, Gourmet Street. Stone Soup is essentially a road trip where your map is a list of esoteric recipes and abstract ingredients for the bizarre stuff you can cook up using this totally-not-horribly-cursed cauldron with a magical keystone embedded in it.

The Furtive Goblin

Stone soup arose out of a need to tie everything together and give folks a sort of impetus for travel if they didn’t already have one. There is nothing like giving folks a powerful, strange, non-completely-understood magical item from day one and telling them to run with it. It also encourages folks to look around at everything they encounter in Bridgetown, consider what might be an ingredient, what might hold deeper metaphysical meaning/power. A major inspiration for what counted as ingredients in Stone Soup came from Gleipnir, the rope that binds Fenrir. The Breath of Fish, the sound of a Cat’s footfall, the roots of mountains etc.So those mushrooms that the Troll Sewer Working is carrying is an ingredient, but so too could be the secret name of the Undercrone or the passed along memory of the taste of the Candy-Cobbled Streets.

The Lawful Neutral

What do you think makes Bridgetown a good TTRPG for one-shots?

The Bridge is divided up into locations and gatehouses that each offer a unique feel and plenty of fuel for referees. You could blow through a whole town or a dungeon in a single session this way, if you want them to be bit-sized. You can also build the Bridge “tall” and put way more emphasis on a single place for multiple sessions. Or you could get so absorbed in a single event or NPC that that spirals out into an unexpected emergent story that then dominates the entire session, as our playtesters managed to do a few times!

The Furtive Goblin

Bridgetown is not only great for one shots because our awesome publisher literally made a free One Shot generating resource on his website, but the very distinctive flavor of each district makes it very easy to move from set piece to set piece without significant travel times or lead up normally involved in a large campaign. In the playtests we were generally able to get through three to four districts in a single session–but at the same time there is enough happening in each district that one could spend multiple sessions in a single one if the referee and the players feel so inclined.

The Lawful Neutral

What advice would you give to someone who is new to Bridgetown?

Embrace that feeling of being a drifter who rolls into town and shakes everything up a little. Give yourself over to whimsy, and see where your feet wind up taking you. It’s an endless world out there, and one place is just as good as the next.

The Furtive Goblin

Have fun with it and go with the flow. Bridgetown isn’t necessarily about a specific victory condition, it isn’t necessarily about defeating monsters or gaining treasure. Bridgetown is about enjoying the journey and living the world, it is about trolls who want fair working conditions and nomadic goatfolk for whom life is an eternal pilgrimage. It is about tiny boschian goblin-things who alternately want to stab big folks and live comfortably inside their walls. It is about being a ten foot tall rock monster who wants, more than anything else, to find a place to truly rest. In short, it is the same advice I’d give to any player–play the world.

The Lawful Neutral

What’s the most creative thing you’ve seen a player or GM do with Bridgetown?

Early on in the playtest, our Stone Keening character effectively no-selled a potentially very hairy encounter by absorbing an angry, out-of-control magical experiment into itself, giving the spirits the experiment was made out of a chance to cool down in a safe space. It also had the side benefit of righteously pissing off the mad doctor who was behind it.

The Furtive Goblin

In one of my favorite playtests a group of Coblins and a Stone Keening worked together to bind, rejuvenate and give a sort of metaphysical birth to long lost souls using their combined connections with the Bridge and interactions with a particular strange stone you’ll find in Craterton. But that is only one of a dozen such stories I could tell about how we’ve seen players take our basic prompts and turn them into so so much more.

The Lawful Neutral

What might fans look forward to in the future from you?

More Bridgetown! It might take a while to get a sequel/extension book squared away, but the team plans to have another Bridgetown book out sometime next year. We left way too many neat ideas on the cutting room floor not to. As for me personally, I am mostly focusing on my blog and the occasional book contribution or playtest.

The Furtive Goblin

I am right now between books so I’m largely self producing mini generator zines for folks to have fun with. Magical Miscreants, a Witch/Wizard generator, and Gobs Galore, a goblin generator, are my latest ones on Itch. However, Furtive Goblin and I hope to produce more Bridgetown content with Technical Grimore in 2024 as well as getting our greedy writing fingers into some more projects. Keep an eye out!

The Lawful Neutral

You can find more about Technical Grimoire on their website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Discord. The Furtive Goblin and The Lawful Neutral can both be found on Twitter.

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'


Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
Petrified Articles
Categories
© Copyright 2010-2024 Words In The Dark. All rights reserved. Created by Dream-Theme — premium wordpress themes. Proudly powered by WordPress.