Tag Archives: rpg

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.

2
Nov

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month November 2023: Violet Hill

Saddle up, Browncoats, and take a gander at the goods in this November’s Campaign of the Month — Violet Hill, by Jonathonathon. It’s a veritable ‘Verse of slick design, custom rule-mechanics, and unique Firefly/Serenity storylines developed over many iterations by a husband-and-wife team and it’s just plumb pretty. Fire it up and let’s get this bird in the air!

Salutations, Jonathonathon and congratulations to you and your gaming group on winning Campaign of the Month! Please tell us a little about yourself, how you found your way into roleplaying games, and how your group found each other?

Thank you! I’m really excited you guys took notice of the campaign and selected me! Sorry the site isn’t mobile friendly, my most recent ones will be through!

A little about me: I’m Jonathon and when I’m not scribbling game notes I work my day job as an eCommerce manager. I’m an omnichannel digital marketer but mostly specialize in analytics. I found my way into tabletop games in college when I worked at a grocery store. While I was working a register for my shift, my coworker pulled out a Players Handbook for D&D 3.0 and I started asking questions. Eventually she invited me to a game and that was my first experience with a ttrpg.

My current (and only) PC is my wife, and we actually met because of gaming. I ran into her then-boyfriend on our college campus one day when I was late to class and we chatted for a few minutes. He briefly mentioned a game he was running and asked if I was interested, so I showed up and joined his group where we met. It was a BESM game set in the Outlaw Star universe.

I used to have a pretty regular group for a while but we all grew apart, so mostly I just run games for my wife now. We try to get in a session on weekends when we can scrape together a few hours. Unfortunately it’s tough to bring in more people with an inconsistent schedule and heavily homebrewed mechanics.

Your campaign, “Violet Hill” is set in the universe of the Firefly TV series, using the Serenity RPG mechanics. Could you give us a few, brief highlights for those unfamiliar with the setting and game system?

Sure. We use the old Cortex system, not the most recent and probably more widely known Cortex Prime. The system uses a die rating of d2 through d12 and every trait in the game can be measured on that scale (with the exception of Assets until an alternate version of the system was released in a later publication called Big Damn Heroes). What we love about Cortex is the plot point system. It rewards players for cool descriptions and ideas, and in turn they can use those plot points for things like minor story edits. I like the system because it actively encourages players to be more involved in the game. After you get to know the system, it’s also crazy easy to write and stat for.

What’s the story of “Violet Hill,” so far?

We’ve run this campaign around half a dozen times now, so there’s quite a bit. We first played a pretty traditional Serenity game but I really like running high powered fantasy games. So I started working on a rule set to bring a high fantasy vibe into the world. Thus the “Red” game was born. It was the idea that the Alliance had released a compound which caused people to develop unique powers. The “Red” game ran through a few iterations of mostly super-hero-esque Serenity fun but my wife and I continued developing the story and iterating on the concept.

Eventually every color of the rainbow became its own mutation with unique attributes and the story of “Red” continued to evolve. My wife and I used to trade off running games and we would build on the cannon that we wrote with each successive game. Where we wound up with it is that Red is a fraction of the genetic material of an advanced alien race that the Alliance is trying to understand and control. The alien race that are the progenitors of the mutation have incredibly advanced abilities and technology but their motives have changed from campaign to campaign. At first they were just explorers that happened to accidentally get captured and experimented on.

In our most recent campaign, they’re a pacifist race being attacked by another conquering alien race but have embraced pacifism so completely and for so long they’ve long since lost the ability to defend themselves. Most of the race believe that if they can’t escape the alien invaders they should resign themselves to their fate, but a splinter faction searched the universe for an answer and found humanity. As we all know, humans have a long history of gruesome experience in war and were ideal candidates to fight back. So this small sprinter faction began implanting a small part of their genetic material to mutate humans in the hopes that they could rally an army just powerful enough to save their species. The campaign tells the story of the humans that have been drafted, their quest to overthrow the Alliance to unite humanity, and return to the home galaxy of their alien benefactors using their advanced technology to fight back the invaders.

The alien mutations mechanics described in “Violet Hill’s” wiki are very intriguing. Where did this idea come from and how has it played out, in-game?

Just the desire to bring a superhero/gritty fantasy element into the Serenity universe, although we began exploring the powers further with each campaign iteration. Early on the mutants were identifiable by their eye color which changed when they were exposed. It was a quick and easy photoshop effect we could apply to customize character pictures a little and give PCs bonus XP for. We took to just calling them by their color after that. Reds were superhero lights at first, then we developed different stages of mutations with more powers. After the Red campaigns we moved on to the color Violet. These mutants had higher highs than the Reds but more complications. A big part of their abilities were naturally forming hive-like structures which lent itself well to the crew-style game Serenity was based on. We also wrote custom assets to support this mechanic, further building on the system we’d already established.

The rules have lent themselves to some truly epic moments in game: saving a colony on the Rim that’s out of water by drawing it from nothing, growing biomechanical ships with technological capabilities far beyond what humanity has achieved, growing an additional organ off the brainstem to control an entire army of mutants directly, boarding ships by “jumping” onto them in the middle of intense space battles, and much more. It’s definitely a different tone and feel than the show but there’s still plenty of six shooters and swearing in mandarin to go around.

Your Obsidian Portal profile shows that you have been on the platform for quite a while and have experience with a wide variety of games. If you had to narrow it down, what would be some of your favorites and why?

Yeah I’ve been on OP for over 13 years now. OP was exactly what I was looking for since my games were moving from paper to the digital space unavoidably. At first I was a little resistant because I loved the pen and paper aspect of the hobby but practicality finally won out. OP is just such a convenient way to communicate with players and compile everything all in one place.

I love to try a little of everything, but I have a few stand-out campaigns that I really enjoyed and was inspired to run. I ran a Changeling: the Lost game about a girl who inherited a Goblin Market Stall from her grandmother and began acquiring supernatural powers through deals but was otherwise completely human. One of my wife’s favorite games was “Corporate Woman” which was run in Chronicles of Darkness, where she was a human that could wear supernatural templates like suits and used them to infiltrate different supernatural societies at the behest of a mysterious corporation run by an impossibly powerful administration. I’ve run a BESM game based on one of my favorite anime series, Soul Eater, which focused on a DWMA Meister and her journey through the academy. Adjacent to the Serenity system, I’ve run a Supernatural game where the players were supernatural creatures hunting other creatures that plays pretty similarly to Violet Hill. There’s quite a few, I like to bounce around a lot.

As for what’s next, I’m usually working on a few campaign ideas at any given time, but right now I’m writing a Pokemon Noir-style game inspired by the webcomic “Viridian City” (borrowing that name for the campaign) using the PTU system.

Do you or your players have any memorable moments, crazy twists, or favorite, Firefly-style quotes that were highlights during the campaign?

One of our campaigns involved a mercenary Captain with “Cold as the Black” but my wife, playing an Alliance-hating Rim folk girl, was set on bringing him out of his shell. They grew close over a dozen or so games until at one point they were planet side and her character was approached by a perfect duplicate of the Captain. The two of them merged back together (one of his abilities was that he could duplicate himself and never told her) because the original him was an Alliance Operative running interference for his clone and its crew. He had technically never met her before, but merging with his duplicate transferred all his memories and the Operative was pretty stunned by their relationship. She was pretty mad and it took a few sessions for her to forgive him, but they worked through it.

“Violet Hill” as well as some of your other campaigns, feature an innovative navigation interface with graphics that really help sell the themes and moods, as well as drawing attention to the information on which you want your players to focus. How did you create that layout and has it helped engage your players when they use the campaign site?

Wow thank you, that’s nice of you to say. I’ve got a pretty regular block of code I use to adjust the layout of the campaign then go into color schemas and particulars from there. I’m not all that great at coding and particularly terrible at anything art related, but I’ve been working a lot with MidJourney lately to create assets for my campaigns. It’s an amazing tool for GMs, I can’t tell you guys how much time I’ve saved from not having to comb through pictures for my games trying to find just the right one. It’s really streamlining how long it takes me to prepare. Viridian City is the first time I’ve incorporated layouts from MJ as well as assets to build a campaign, but it’s still very much a work in progress. Historically everyone that is in my campaigns is on desktop so that’s all I wrote code for but this time around I’m trying to make things more mobile friendly.

The setting lends itself well to just about anything — exploration, politics, ground combat, space combat, intrigue, heists, stealth missions, and good old-fashioned misbehavin’. What’s your favorite and what do your players like best?

My wife is all about relationships in games and lives for a great romance and getting to know the NPCs. I’m all about tactical encounters and creative problem solving. Our campaigns usually meet somewhere in the middle. Quippy dialogue and outrageous plans are also frequent additions, as the complication “Overconfident” is often responsible for a ton of plot points changing hands.

Obsidian Portal loves to hear the wisdom of winning GM’s. Do you have any tips or advice for writing stories, running games, building worlds, tweaking mechanics, or keeping the fun going that you’d like to share?

Find a way to make every game special. Most GMs I’ve met do that through story but I advocate for doing it in mechanics as well. When I run D&D games, I borrow a tradition from a friend of mine where he gives every player a wish to really customize their characters. It ensures each character is truly unique and something that no one has ever played before which we all loved. We evolved that into an “Ultra Point” system which allows players to buy up additional class features to really play a truly unique character by exponentially compounding character options. It’s also a great tool to round out a party for smaller groups as players started to drop off.

As you can probably tell from Violet Hill, I love to write custom mechanics to ramp up the campaign and then challenge myself to balance the game around them. I’ve known a lot of GMs that were staunchly against giving their players power and never understood why. I’d encourage GMs to let things get crazy from time to time. The more creative power you give your players, the more interesting solutions they’ll devise. The mechanics all come down to equations and probability, so it’s easy to let your players feel really powerful and still present a balanced (or challenging, or easy, or whatever you want) campaign to the table because everything else is under your control.

Lastly, and I know it’s probably been said to death but, one of my rules to live by is to play your way. It’s really discouraging to go to places like Reddit and other forums where “purists” believe games have to be played a certain way. If you have a great idea for a game you should go for it, and surround yourself with influences and people that inspire instead of criticize. Even if that’s not your cup of tea, when you read something from someone reaching out for inspiration to go a different direction than you would, be supportive instead of dismissive. What matters more than anything else is nurturing our passion for this hobby we all love.

Thank you for choosing Violet Hill as CotM for November!

Wellsir, it’s a mite late and the ol’ brainpan’s full of new know-how. So let’s call it a night with thanks to Jonathonathon on a bang-up job. Obsidian Portal is always looking for new nominations for Campaign of the Month, and you can submit your favorites here.

Also, keep an eye out for news on our Campaign of the Year competition, which is happening soon!

2
Sep

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month September 2023: Arcanearth

Do you enjoy Dark Fantasy? You will love this month’s CotM- Arcanearth! Great evil and selfless good, Magic, Angels and Fallen Angels. Religions play a big part of the world as well! This D&D 5E game has seen epic battles against ancient Dragons, Overlords, and giant frogs! The world itself has seen Ages of Angels, Dragons, Magic, Ice, and Rebirth! Come explore this rich world created by Omegabase and crew!

1. Tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? Where can we stalk you on the internet? What do you do aside from gaming?

Not much of a social media presence beyond OP. Live and work out of Austin texas. Father of 2 earning a living from IT consulting.

2. You made your home page your main artery to get information on your campaign- Why did you pick that approach? It is quite unique.

Didn’t see the need for another menu, convenient to have most info one click away.

3. You run D&D 5E- What do you like about it? Are there any things you dislike about it?

In most ways it’s the best edition of d&d. I did tone down the ‘easy mode’ aspect by eliminating hit dice for healing on short rests, limited healing on long rests, and allowing only one death save. This certainly contributed to the only 2 pc fatalities. Probably would use a different system next time around, like PF2, or integrate rules from other systems, like PF2. Also might consider an OSR system like the forthcoming Shadowdark.

4. You added Rogue Modrons as a race- what do you like about them, and how important are they to your campaign?

This came about from a short mini campaign where the players took a break from their main characters and assumed the personas of favorite henchman. These sessions don’t appear as separate logs but are mentioned in session 74 when one of the henchmen, who subsequently became a PC for a new player, revisited a key location from the mini campaign.
The player of Hoxton chose a modron he liberated from the plane of mechanus in session 63. Rogue modron seemed the obvious choice as this player has a thing for bots…played the robot Strelok in the last half of the gamma world campaign.

5. You have a very detailed world origin story, as well as a focus on angels and religion, for your game. How important are these to your characters?

Settings as such generally don’t have much utility to players and that holds true here as well. However the setting is indispensable to integrating the pc’s into the world events and related adventures when running an epic scale world-shaking superhero campaign such as this one. Ultimately the players will appreciate being part of a living world and adventures thereof.

6. How regularly do you play?

On hiatus currently, 2-3 sessions monthly when playing. Sessions average 3-4 hours in length.

7. How long has your group played together? How long have you been running Arcanearth?

Most of this group has played together since the 80’s. Most also played the last 50 or so sessions of gamma world 2754. Arcanearth started dec 2017. One player has the distinction of appearing in almost the entirety of both gw2754 and arcanearth (Grek/Strelok/Finch/Hoxton).


8. You won CotM all the way back in 2016 for Gamma World 2754- what keeps you coming back to Obsidian Portal?

Familiarity and lack of any worthwhile alternative. It’s a great place to organize and document your rpg campaign. A friend is starting a shadowrun 4e game soon, maybe we’ll throw that up on OP as well.

9. If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most? Do your players get involved on the wiki too?

PCs use OP for character sheets and backstories. The searchable database helps a lot for finding old npcs and events from past sessions. The character pages are the single most useful feature for both players and GMs.

10. Where do you draw inspiration from when preparing your game?

This setting is from fall from heaven 2, a total conversion mod for civilization 4. The epic scope of the macro game is inspired by the FFH2 setting and the fantasy works of Michael Moorcock. On the micro scale, you may discern the influence of Jack Vance. See the sessions about a certain ‘Green Pearl’.

11. How much time do you usually take to prepare for a session?

On average across all sessions, not counting the original world wiki creation, probably as much time to prepare as to play (3.5 hours). The wiki and world building, hundreds of hours over the course of years.

12. What would you say has been the best moment your table has had thus far in your game?

For me, the green pearl sequence. For the pcs, possibly the waking of the sleeping god Danalin and defeat of the Overlords, or more recently, the close battle with the ancient red dragon Acheron.

13. Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GMing pearls of wisdom.

Don’t be afraid to feature a few challenges where it is uncertain or even unlikely the pcs can win outright. Have an out if/when they lose, that leads to more interesting possibilities rather than simply a TPK. Epic foes filled with hubris typically want more from pcs than merely their deaths. Such as their services, use as bargaining chips, information, entertainment, conversion to the cause, experimentation, torture, or simply groveling submission. All of which provide ample scope for a dramatic comeback. Players (and GMs!) enjoy nothing more than hard-won triumph snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Victor
“Age just a number, one and one and one. We stronger than number. Next year I’ll be younger”
Li Na

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

11
Aug

Creator Spotlight | An Interview with Brenda Cass of Skirmisher Publishing

In a world where gamers are always on the go, TSRPG (Travel-Sized RPG) is the perfect game for those who want to enjoy a roleplaying experience without having to lug around a heavy rulebook or dice. Created by Brenda Cass of Skirmisher Publishing, TSRPG is a lightweight game that can be played anywhere, with just a few simple rules.

In this blog post, we interview Brenda Cass to learn more about TSRPG and her inspiration for creating it.

TSRPG by Brenda Cass and the Skirmisher Game Development Group

What inspired you to create TSRPG?
The very first draft of TSRPG was written, I think fittingly, on a hotel notepad while I was on vacation with some gamer friends. We ended up with plenty of downtime between activities that we’d normally occupy with gaming but, not having brought any of our usual tabletop stuff (dice, rules, characters, etc), that seemed unavailable to us. At the time I was participating in somewhat regular game-design challenges on d-Infinity.net, so I told my friends I’d design a game that could be played without any of that stuff. It began as a thought experiment and a fun little challenge but ended up working super well in play.


What are the key features of TSRPG that make it a travel-sized RPG?
The game’s original design constraints were that all the rules had to easily fit in your head, there couldn’t be any book keeping, and it couldn’t require any physical randomizers like dice, etc. As a consequence of those constraints TSRPG has simple mechanics that are solely concerned with creating and moving along a shared narrative. Character sheets, such that even they need to exist at all in TSRPG, fit onto a cocktail napkin, hotel notepad, or whatever small piece of paper is at hand. Randomizing outcomes involves guessing numbers, and most importantly the Storyteller has no stat blocks, hit points, ability points, or what have you to keep track of; their only job is facilitating the narrative and helping make sure everyone’s having a good time.


How does TSRPG differ from other tabletop RPGs?
TSRPG differs from other tabletop RPGs in a few ways. It is a high-trust, rules-light system, which makes it feel very different from a lot of the crunchy RPGs out there. It’s diceless, which is definitely a less common feature (don’t worry dice fans, there are optional rules for using them). TSRPG puts a lot of emphasis on crafting a shared narrative with other players in the pursuit of overcoming the story’s challenges as a party, which is a bit different from the mode many folks are used to that involves selecting one of their character’s abilities when their turn comes around in the initiative order.


What are some of the challenges of designing a game that can be played anywhere?
I have to assume that people playing TSRPG are going to be just as resource constrained as I was when I wrote the draft and played it for the first time. For a lot of designers the reflex with RPG design is to have a kind of “more is more” sort of mindset, but for a game like this any mechanic we add potentially puts it over the edge into something that can’t be played on the go. I’ve encouraged folks in the Skirmisher Game Development Group to go play TSRPG with family, friends, or strangers while they’re out traveling. This informed a lot of design decisions that we never had to consider before, PDFs of scenarios are probably being viewed on a cell phone rather than a laptop, new rules need to be highly modular so that they can be selectively added or ignored depending on how many rules folks are up for keeping in their heads, scenarios are more likely to be interrupted so encounters need to be easy to pick up and put down. We find ourselves having to adjust and adapt a lot of what we’ve been doing because TSRPG is so different from anything we’ve done before.


How have you seen TSRPG be used in different settings?
The nice thing about TSRPG being a rules-light system is that you don’t run into any mechanical conflicts with different settings. I’ve seen it used for post-apocalyptic, fantasy, sci-fi, modern day, fairytale, horror, you name it, and there’s already scenarios published for most of those genres.


What are your plans for the future of TSRPG?
The big plan right now is a self-standing game, with its own unique setting, that uses an adapted version of TSRPG that we’re calling “Aesopia”. Aesopia will feature animal people and lean toward humor, quirkiness, and absurdism; it’s the sort of game we wouldn’t want to pair with a more mechanics heavy system. It will have everything folks need to run their own scenarios in that setting and also several supporting scenarios written by us. Skirmisher also recently published a kind of “conversion kit” for playing old school adventure modules using TSRPG called “OS-TSRPG”. It makes it so you can bring your favorite module along with you in a suitcase or backpack and play it on the go with little to no prep. I’m excited to see similar tools for scenarios designed for other systems.


What advice would you give to someone who is interested in trying TSRPG?
Watch one of the samples of play on Youtube, then pick out one of the pre-written scenarios that sounds the most fun to you and give it a try. They’re cheap, they all have a copy of the core rules in them, and any scenario specific mechanics are called out inline. The core rules all fit on one page so learning them isn’t a big time commitment. I’d also say that because TSRPG is a high-trust game, don’t play with jerks because they can really ruin the experience, but I’d also give that advice for playing any other game.


What are some of the challenges of running TSRPG for a group of players who are not familiar with tabletop RPGs?
Fortunately TSRPG is very accessible to folks that are new to tabletop RPGs, and I’ve run many sessions where you’d never know the people at the table had never played an RPG before. The advice I give to new players is to think of their favorite media, books, tv, movies, set in that genre for inspiration on what characters like theirs might do to overcome challenges in the story.


How do you balance the need for simplicity with the need for depth in TSRPG?
TSRPG offers a modular set of optional rules that can be used to add mechanical depth to the game. Optional rules don’t rely on each other, so that leaves players free to cherry pick specifically the ones that are relevant or fun for their scenario without having to worry about breaking the game. A lot of folks will miss the tactical depth of a more rules heavy game, and that’s okay, TSRPG wasn’t designed to scratch that itch. I think that for a lot of people, while TSRPG wouldn’t be their primary system (though I do know several folks in Germany that play TSRPG exclusively now), it could be the second system they learn and turn to because of the flexibility it offers.


What are some of your favorite scenarios for TSRPG?
“A Midsummer Night’s Scheme” because playing a Shakespearean fairy is a hysterically fun time, “Temple of the Banished Suns” because we got to finally do a crossover with fantasy artist and friend Amanda Kahl’s “Age of Night” comic series (and now she can’t claim she isn’t a game designer anymore).


What are some of the things you have learned from the feedback that you have received from players of TSRPG?
TSRPG almost wasn’t published, I didn’t think folks would be very interested in the quirky little game I wrote on a trip many years ago, but was I ever wrong. Folks have hacked TSRPG to run it GM-less, sent in translations of the game and its scenarios for three different languages, used it in classrooms to help teach English, and so many more things that I never expected. Players have definitely shown me how vast and creative the tabletop RPG community is.


What’s the most creative thing you’ve seen a player or GM do with TSRPG?
This expands a bit on one of my answers to the last question. The most amazing thing I’ve seen done with TSRPG is using it to teach English to kids affected by the war in Ukraine. The same group of volunteers has also translated it into Ukrainian, and Skirmisher has partnered with them to distribute copies of the rules for free to Ukrainian people that are interested in them.

You can find Brenda on Twitter. Skirmisher Publishing is a small press publisher of tabletop role-playing games. They are known for their innovative and creative games, such as the award-winning TSRPG. Skirmisher Publishing is committed to providing high-quality games that are both affordable and accessible to gamers of all levels. They also offer a variety of free resources for gamers, such as character generators, rulebook errata, and adventure modules.

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'


Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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