GRIMOIRE Ashcan Edition is Now Available

The past month has been a busy one for me as I have been required to tend to other aspects of my life, but this week I found some time to draft up the next version of GRIMOIRE. The development of GRIMOIRE this week involved some basic layout, a touch of graphic design, and scouring the internet for some pretty pictures. Though I have many more ideas for GRIMOIRE, I believe that I need to step back from it and expose it to a wider audience before I begin implementing more changes – this way the experiences of more people can help shape my ideas and the development of GRIMOIRE.

GRIMOIRE - a solo roleplaying game of wizardry.

In the hopes to reach a wider audience, this version of GRIMOIRE will be released as a PWYW. I believe there is a good amount of content already within the game, but I hope to add more study locations in the next edition of the game. I left the list of study locations that I am intending to create in this version so as to give people a better idea of the tone of the game. Maybe I will see people suggest some changes or additions to this list.

Speaking of changes and additions, I already have a few ideas about how to expand GRIMOIRE for the next edition. First, I want to see how others play and enjoy (hopefully) the game before I begin designing, though one system I will be tinkering with on the blog sooner rather than later is the spell generation. From the beginning, I have not been totally pleased with it as I find the tables can be cumbersome and limiting. I enjoy the cards and the referencing aspect of it because it feels a little like mystical research, I think an interesting alternative would be to somehow assign physical books that people own to card suits or numbers or whatever. This is something that I will be exploring in upcoming blog posts and will likely find its way into GRIMOIRE.

On layout and editing: Will I do it again? Yes. Will I enjoy it? Maybe. I do enjoy the design aspect of layout, but it can become very monotonous for me after a while, and it was difficult to come up with a cohesive design because I was only able to work on the development of GRIMOIRE intermittently. I like the final design I went with and I have learned a lot about using Affinity Publisher, particularly the quirks it has with tables *Shakes fist*.

If you are interested in playing GRIMOIRE, you can find it here on my itch.io page. If you have any feedback, criticisms, or ideas then I would love to hear about them. You can either post a comment here on the itch.io page, or on my twitter. Happy Wizarding!

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Grimoire Development Post #2

Grimoire is making steady progress. I have just finished creating version 0.3 of Grimoire and I am opening it up for wider public testing. The first round of feedback was very helpful in the development of Grimoire and I am hoping that I can receive even more feedback to ensure that I can develop something that people will enjoy. This post will explore the series of changes that I have made to the game and describe some of the current issues I have or features to be included in future version.

Cover page for the final version of Grimoire.
Figure 1. This is the current cover page I am intending to use for the final document.

Changes to Grimoire

I have a leaned further into my inspirations for this project and have now included multiple journal prompts for the Quest entries. To better utilise these entries, I have also introduced a new resource that will have players interact it: friends and foes. These are the two major inclusions of this version along with the beginning of a more in depth wizard creation and some random tables that can be used as inspiration for journal prompts.

In the first round of playtesting, I found that the game could become somewhat repetitive and with minimal player interactivity. To mitigate this, I included multiple journal prompts for each entry that is involved with the Quest procedure. Players will likely be spending most of their time with this action, as such, I wanted to include prompts that explored certain themes or told a small narrative. This current model worked well in Thousand Year Old Vampire by Tim Hutchings and it seems to work well here.

To work alongside the multiple journal prompts, I introduced a new resource that interacts with Quests. Friends and foes activate when certain conditions are met in the drawing of cards for a Quest. They simply work to make things more challenging or easier and provide another twist in the narrative for a player to include in their prompt. I have yet to fully implement it as it requires reviewing many of the journal prompts that already exist which will likely come in the next version. For now, players can simply create a single friend and single foe at the start of the game.

Finally, I wanted to provide players early in the game with a touch more structure to support them in responding to journal prompts. It often takes me a little while to fully immerse myself into a new narrative and by having a player do some initial development, I hope to make this process faster. This includes some simple additions such as creating a name, drive, flaw, and a way to commune with the ley lines. I intend to expand this with some details about the study, however this is a significant feature that will be included in a later version.

Features to be Included

As mentioned, I have several ideas in the works for Grimoire. Firstly, I need to fully implement the friend and foe resource which will require reworking journal prompts. This is something that I was intending to do regardless as they are still quite rough, in particular the prompts for Researching in the City as they mostly lack consequences.

Secondly, I am going to be including multiple options for research locations. Some of these can be seen in the current version, though they are struck out and do not have their respective prompts included. This is a large part of the study aspect of creating as wizard and I am hoping to finish a few of these before I expand on that further.

Finally, I am currently not happy with the manner of spell generation. I think it works well but the aspect that I am least happy with is the Offerings section. I feel like it should be vaguer and more open to interpretation. As it currently stands, it is far too prescriptive for my liking and feels somewhat jarring compared to the rest of the game. I also believe that providing some examples of spell generation within the document itself may support players in tackling that system.

Playtest

If you are interested in trying out the current draft of Grimoire you can find a DropBox download link below. This is quite a rough draft, but I have included a table of contents to help players navigate the document. I am now one step closer to doing some nicer layout work in Affinity Publisher but for now my drafts can remain drafted up in a word processer. I am still implementing features!

Considering this is a rough draft please keep in mind:

  • There is inconsistent phrasing.
  • Likely numerous grammatical and spelling mistakes.
  • No art.
  • Useable but ugly layout that is inconsistent (tables in word processers hurt me).

If you would like to provide constructive feedback, you can leave a comment here or @BardicInquiry on twitter. I hope, at the very least, you find some joy in playing the game in its current form.

Download GRIMOIRE v0.3

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Kaiju Generator

This generator will help you to create a Kaiju that you can use in your roleplaying game adventures. I have since expanded on this generator which I will talk about later.

Kaiju is a fixation of a student of mine. Every time this student is given the opportunity to create something, it is always about a Kaiju and he will talk to me non-stop about them. I love it! A new project was started this week which means more discussion of Kaiju for me, so I thought I would throw together this Kaiju Generator in hopes to pass on the passion of this student to you all.

Image by author of cover image for itch.io product page.

What is a Kaiju?

To put it simply, Kaiju refers to a genre of film that originated in Japan that featured giant monsters, but it can also refer to the giant monsters themselves. The actions of these giant monsters are typically devastating to the planet and pose a global threat. This can range from the intentional destruction of infrastructure or, my student’s favourite, the combat between two giant monsters.

From these discussions with my student and some brief reading on my part, I have discovered that, like most film genres, Kaiju is inherently political (Kaiju Cinema Narratives, Twiggyabsinthe) or representative of society in nature (The Theory and Appeal of Giant Monsters, Red Wedge Magazine). Typically, from the perspective of hubris or the fallout of another people’s actions (King of the Monsters and History of Kaiju Movies, James Hanton). I will not discuss the theories behind the origin of Kaiju as a genre of film as I do not believe I can add much to that discussion, but I will use what I have read to help you create a devastating Kaiju that you can use in your campaigns.

Laying the foundations for an adventure

I am not typically the kind of game master to create a plot and I have yet to fully immerse myself into the idea of a front or similar mechanic as described in Dungeon World. Instead, I like to create situations instead of plots as described by Justin Alexander (Don’t Prep Plots, Justin Alexander). In essence, Justin suggests that a game master lays the foundations for a situation and create the entities involved instead of writing a series of events and contingencies for player actions. The idea behind this is that you set the game up to be reactive to the players, providing them an opportunity to steer the narrative through their character’s actions.

With this in mind, I believe this Kaiju generator will work best if you create the Kaiju and generate an initial plot hook. From this point, the non-player characters and locations that require fleshing out will become clear. The solution for the Kaiju is not for you to know but for your players to create. Most Kaiju films typically begin with scientists observing a strange phenomenon which leads to the witnessing of the Kaiju itself. This works beautifully as a plot hook for your players. The table below suggests six different plot hooks in this theme.

Plot Hook (Roll 1d6)
1. A town or part of the city has sunken beneath the ground after violent tremors.
2. Several lakes and rivers have been seen boiling or evaporating rapidly, and the ground around them is very hot.
3. The ocean has risen, and towns are flooding.
4. A mountain exploded, and large tracks of an unknown beast were sighted nearby
5. People are complaining of a strange voice speaking in an unknown language in their heads
6. An isolated people have begun a strange ritual that seems to impact the weather
A table to spark ideas for an initial plot hook themed to a Kaiju adventure.

Generate a Kaiju

To generate a Kaiju to be used in your campaigns or adventures, roll 1d20 for each of the following four tables (1d10 for the last) or simply choose the results that sound cool. This will create a Kaiju for you in the form of: A gigantic [form] that [has this ability]. It was [something else], now, it is [accomplishing a goal].

A gigantic…

Roll 1d20
1. Lizard11. Hawk
2. Ape12. Earthworm
3. Moth13. Mole
4. Centipede14. Snake
5. Crab15. Squid
6. Toad16. Shark
7. Spider17. Slug
8. Wasp18. Tortoise
9. Scorpion19. Rhinoceros
10. Bat20. Platypus
Roll 1d20 on this table to determine the form of the Kaiju.

That…

Roll 1d20
1. Spews acid11. Has hundreds of eyes
2. Has multiple heads12. Has dozens of limbs
3. Radiates disease13. Absorbs the life force of everything around it
4. Has a sonic scream14. Fires lasers
5. That teleports short distances15. Emits psychic bursts
6. Has metal skin16. Is made of hard crystal
7. Is made of waste and pollution17. Oozes slime
8. Creates illusions18. Can change state (solid, liquid, gas, plasma)
9. Breathes fire19. Disrupts and creates electrical and magnetic fields
10. Glows20. Create clones of itself
Roll 1d20 on this table to determine the ability of the Kaiju.

It was…

Roll 1d20
1. From the far reaches of space11. Frozen in a glacier for many years
2. Created by extra-terrestrial beings12. An orbiting moon
3. Normal until exposed to radiation13. Originally the denizens of a city
4. Normal until exposed to pollution14. Created by the nightmares of those asleep
5. A laboratory experiment15. Once the lost souls of a battlefield
6. From another dimension16. Once from the future
7. A god of an ancient civilisation17. Hatched from an egg
8. From beneath the ocean18. The result of a summoning gone wrong
9. Created in the core of the planet19. The manifestation of collective magic
10. Once an island20. A war machine, now turned sentient
Roll 1d20 on this table to determine the origin of the Kaiju.

Now, it is…

Roll 1d10
1. Seeking revenge on those who disturbed it6. Acquiring devout worshipers
2. A tool for a secret faction7. Mistaking an artificial structure for a mate
3. Protecting its territory8. Hiding from a greater threat
4. Guarding a powerful resource9. Rampaging across the land
5. Protecting the denizens of this world10. Controlled by a hidden figure
Roll 1d10 on this table to determine the goal of the Kaiju.

Putting it together

To ensure clarity I am including my use of this generator and thoughts of how I would approach using this information.

  • For my plot hook I rolled: A mountain exploded, and large tracks of an unknown beast were sighted nearby.
  • The Kaiju generated was: A giant wasp that creates illusions. It was normal until exposed to pollution and now it is a tool for a secret faction.

Now that I have both the plot hook and kaiju, I already have some ideas floating around in my head. My initial thought was to do with how those tracks were placed as I rolled a wasp. The tracks are going to be slight depressions in an array like that of the six face on a six-sided die to represent each leg of the wasp.

I also want to integrate the ability of this Kaiju in the initial investigation, so the nearby settlements of this mountain were heavily damaged and there is some relief support. Given the disruption, some of these depressions are filled with water and are now being used as an emergency water source. However, shortly after this, the people of these settlements are explaining wild stories of a giant insect erupting from the mountain or only hearing a constant buzzing. Maybe this will make the players think that these people are just hallucinating from drinking the stagnant water.

Because the Kaiju is a tool for a secret faction and was created from pollution, I think it makes sense that a mining corporation is involved. Their day-to-day operations produce a large amount of waste in some form and this has had an adverse effect on a nearby wasp hive. Maybe they discovered some strange, unknown material instead of pollution through their operations too. Whatever it may be, this led to the eventual discovery of the giant wasp of which they trained to support their mining operations. Instead of mining a mountain out, they just had their wasp destroy it and now they are the faction providing relief support by cleaning up the mountain. Why do to the trouble? Maybe it was a licensing issue, maybe it was a rival corporations mountain, maybe it was something else entirely.

From here I know that I must create the destroyed settlements and its people and a mining corporation to set this adventure up. I think it is sounding like the beginning of a wild adventure of corporate espionage. In any case, I hope you found this helpful.

If you have found this blog post useful, you may find the expanded version I wrote interesting. You can purchase the expanded version at itch.io here or by clicking the button below.

OR

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Grimoire Development Post #1

Grimoire is steadily making some progress. As with all projects in the early stages of development, I have multiple directions that I could go in. In any case, it will be an authoring solo roleplaying games because I believe that will bolster the artefact created – the grimoire, bolstered by including journal entries from the wizard that created it. Currently, the game is set in a fairly standard fantasy city setting and its surrounding region. I am not sure if I will change this in future, though the inkling is there.

Currently the game works with two modes of play, both of which involve differing amounts of writing journal entries by the player. The reason they are different is simply to keep things feeling fresh and to ensure that spell generation is quick without needing to spend most of the time undertaking creative writing – that is not the sole point of the game. Spell creation is.

Grimoire: A Solo Roleplaying Game.
Figure 1. Grimoire: A Solo Roleplaying Game

Modes of Play

My initial draft required many journal entries to be written, so much so that I spent two hours playing the game and I had only created 3 spells! Since then, I streamlined the journal prompt generation through the two modes of play: Research and Quest, and I made the game a touch more deadly. The game is much faster now and can be completed within 1-2 hours of play with more spells created and fewer journal entries.

Research is the first mode of play. It involves the player spending Coin to conduct their research in the safety of their office within the city. Currently, this mode works like the spell generation except at the end of it the cards that are used are shuffled and one is drawn to generate a journal prompt. After which, all cards are discarded to reflect the energy given by the wizard to interact with magic.

Quest is the second mode of play. It involves the player spending time away from their study or the city entirely in search of something – often Coin to conduct research with and sometimes other items like magical artefacts that allow cards from the discard pile to be returned to the deck. This is a far more deadly portion of the game as the journal prompts here tend towards the dangerous and instead of one journal prompt, a player will respond to a minimum of three to complete a quest. In this section, each entry for a card has three prompts much like Thousand Year Old Vampire portrays journal prompts. The reason I chose to implement this is to provide a more satisfying story arc across quests and because these cards are not discarded, therefore repeats may occur. It would be boring to have to respond to the same prompt time and time again.

So far, these two game structures work well, and it helps bring more flavour into the world while providing the player an opportunity to explore the wizard character. However, I am not entirely sold on this approach and I am considering changing it to focus even more on the creation of a spell and the drawing a glyph. Possibly extending the time of creating a spell by incorporating more of that into the Quest game structure. I am also undecided on whether or not to keep the original method for generating spells with cards or to adapt it more to Grimoire. It works fine as is, but I wonder if it could be better or, at least, different.

The Setting

I was not sure about a setting and I am still not sure of the setting that I have chosen for Grimoire just yet. The game is set in a fairly typical fantasy world that does not try to be too different so as to not have the wizards and grimoires created feel out of place when transferred to your worlds. It is centred around the City of Athanasia which is a pearlescent city of white created by a mysterious figure: The Great Wizard. None know them and none speak with them but from time to time, people do see them. Several journal prompts refer to The Great Wizard so as to provide a moment for the wizard to reflect on magic and their progress.

The surrounding land is again fairly standard, though quite humanised. Wizards will meet a variety of characters from wizard hunters to dream merchants to simple mercenaries. It is designed to flexible and easily ported to your own world. In saying this, a part of is considering removing the surrounding area and focusing solely on the city or maybe changing the city into a university or library of some kind where wizards conduct research. Another option is to include both. After all, the journal entry prompts for the city are the smallest because they only have 1 prompt each instead of the 3 that exists for Quests.

Overall, the game is developing nicely, and my head is swimming with ideas. Soon I want to start having others playtest it and maybe then I will begin to have some answers to my questions above.

For now, you too should listen to the humming of the ley lines to keep up with news about Grimoire by following this blog below. I would also appreciate hearing your thoughts, questions, or ideas over at twitter.

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Using Tanglegrams for Dungeon Crawling

EDIT: I honed in on that tree. I saw nothing but it and I heard nothing but the clacking of my keyboard as I typed up this post. Upon stepping back… Alas! I saw point crawls.

Dungeon crawling has been the standard game structure for many roleplaying games for a long time. During this time people have presented all manners of preparing them from a series of randomly generated encounter tables for every room or corridor to entire algorithms that generate the dungeons and its mundane contents. Some game masters run them with the notes written near each room, others have a separate sheet of paper and a key to match descriptions to rooms, and some game masters are mad and ad hoc the whole thing. I have tried each of these methods with varying degrees of success, but I was never entirely satisfied with how they played out. I recently learned of tanglegrams which are like mindmaps that emphasise the relationship between people and things – you can read more about them in my original post here – and I believe they would work very well for helping your dungeons feel more interesting.

Figure 1. A randomly generated dungeon from donjon.

I believe the greatest impact on my dissatisfaction was my misunderstanding of how a dungeon crawl runs and using a system that did not actually supply rules to facilitate them, so I defaulted to the absolute basics of the dungeon crawl structure outlined in the article Game Structures – Part 3: Dungeoncrawl by Justin Alexander. This structure works well, and a session run this way can prove to be enjoyable – after all, a narrative can still be spun, but it is lacking in defining how these rooms are connected in the dungeon. In more traditional games, rules are supplied for exploring a dungeon and it can often involve turns with random encounters or resource management that is influenced by corridor length. Corridors being the connectors of the rooms in a dungeon. Without those rules, the dungeon can fall flat and lose that sense of exploration unless a game master particularly accounts for the corridors. Tanglegrams can provide an easy way to prepare these corridors between rooms because the corridor between rooms, in a way, is how these rooms relate to each other.

How does this work?

Take the dungeon above that was generated using the donjon random dungeon generator. It features four rooms, three dead ends, an entryway, and stairs leading down. The first step is to convert this into a tanglegram that has each room and a line connecting them to represent the corridor – the relationship. You can see my interpretation of this below.

Figure 2. The first step in converting or creating a dungeon with a tanglegram.

Currently this tanglegram form of the dungeon is less interesting as it has less twists and turns, however this leads to a cleaner interface for the game master to work with. The advantage of this cleaner interface is now more detail can be added to those corridors as there is more space to work with. In Figure 2 I have included the dead ends as dotted lines and attempted to maintain the relative positions and size of the four rooms which are all connected with curved lines. The lines with arrows signify entrances and exits respective of the arrow direction. I suppose you could go into as much detail as necessary for this step but then you may as well map the dungeon in a more traditional way. The next step involves populating the dungeon. I am going to gloss over the actual rooms and begin to add in details for how they are connected, however when this is done the rooms should be considered as this allows the game master to foreshadow things from the rooms that are connected. You can see this below.

Figure 3. The next stage of the tanglegram dungeon with relationships mapped.

The tanglegram dungeon now looks a little more interesting with the included substance and more importantly: the relationships that connect the rooms and intersections. I suppose one could include more detail and even highlight encounters and the like in these relationships, but I elected to maintain the purity of the relationships between rooms. That first corridor connecting room two and three allows a game master to describe the feel of that connection and add a little bit of information for the players to consider – the splashing. This is further used in the connection between three and one and then one and four where the growing sound of voices becomes clearer. At a glance, it is easy to see where the party is heading and what hints you can provide them which should support them in their agency and decision-making. However, the greatest strength of mapping a dungeon in this manner is that flexibility to provides in what these connections can look like, for example I made the connection between one and four a shaft leading upwards instead of a corridor. Because this method does not care for geographical accuracy, the flexibility for connections increases. All a game master has to do when the party enters a room is check the connections it has and describe it as such alongside whatever else they had planned to occur in that room.

This method is not without limitations. Dead ends can still behave strangely with this approach as they are not necessarily rooms but still exist as an entity that is not just a connection. To get around this one might elect to treat them as such or use them as flavouring along the connection to break it up such as the raised platform in Figure 3. Lastly, this approach does not elicit the same feeling of exploration as the more traditional dungeon crawling, instead it provides flavour and more pseudo-choice for the players.

Overall, I think this is an approach that is worth exploring if you lack the rules for traditional dungeon crawling, you find that style of play not to your taste, or you want to adapt it to bolster the way you run corridors. Though this approach is limited with certain aspects of dungeons like dead ends and only working for theatre-of-the-mind games, it does provide an excellent strength in the form of flexible mapping in which a game master can include all sorts of strange and different types of corridors that connect rooms such as the ladder shaft above.

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Introducing Grimoire: A Solo Roleplaying Game

This is an old post that introduced the original idea for GRIMOIRE. You can find the released version of GRIMOIRE at itch here.

As discussed, I have been developing a solo roleplaying game that has the player take the role of a wizard. By the end of the game, the player will have several randomly generated spells in the form of a grimoire and a brief journal detailing the life of the wizard that created it. It is my hope that this will be an enjoyable way for game masters to create new spells or entire grimoires for their campaigns. I have tentatively settled on the name: Grimoire.

Figure 1. Thousand Year Old Vampire by Tim Hutchings and The Wretched by Chris Bissette: Two of my favourite solo RPGs.

During the development of Grimoire, I have been scouring the internet to find similar titles, adjacent subsystems, and more solo roleplaying games with the hopes to expand my palette. Today I found a gem, Sigils in the Dark by Kurt Potts, that does something similar to my fantasy spell generator I released a few days ago. There are several key differences, namely the manner in which the graphics representing the spell are created where mine has a penchant for more detail and variety. In spite of this, I have had a great deal of fun using Sigils and I recommend checking it out – though the journaling aspect of it is quite minimal.

This week I have also been exploring Thousand Year Old Vampire by Tim Hutchings and The Wretched by Chris Bissette. Wretched was a quick dip in to explore some more solo RPGs, however I have found that its clarity of the rules to be helpful and it is making me consider whether or not I should reduce the thematic of the layout and design of Grimoire, as seen in the spell generator, in place of something more minimal that allows for greater reader comprehension. Vampire is whole other beast. It is a phenomenal game with a great deal of replay-ability and it is a huge inspiration for Grimoire. The system of multi-level journal prompts leads to interesting side plots throughout the course of your vampire’s life. In Grimoire I am now working on 166 different journal prompts. This is not as much as in Vampire but is a significant number that should allow for suitable replay-ability of this game.

The first draft of the rules for Grimoire is almost complete. Once I have created most of these journal prompts then I can begin playtesting and tinkering. As it stands, the game functions like other journalling RPGs with a management of resources such as Coinage, Wounds, and Corruption – what is magic without a healthy dose of twisting manifestations of magic? As cards are drawn, they provide journal prompts while allowing the player to generate spells but the game will also drive players to undertake a variety of quests to change how spell generation works and to support the management of the aforementioned resources.

I hope to begin playtesting next week which means that I will hopefully be able to release a public playtesting draft for people to have a tinker with. After that, I will likely release it onto itch.io.

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One-Page RPG: Collaborative Taskforces

Collaborative Taskforces is such a tacky and cumbersome title but that is the exact reason it is so fitting for my first attempt at a GMless one-page RPG. My day job has been throwing around some buzzwords of late and in spite of my shown cynicism in this one-page RPG, I believe it is leading to something good. However, I still found that I needed to vent some of my frustrations with “office talk” so I made an untested one-page RPG that makes a mockery of it!

Figure 1. I think I had a nightmare like this

In this game players will be “luckily” chosen to participate in a new initiative at their corporate office job. It has them involved in working with people from other departments while tackling tough problems on top of their regular duties and to top it off, the employees that do not perform will be fired at the end of the day.

I am sure this kind of work may be suited to some people but I do not find any joy in it. I believe you will find this reflected in the primary resolution mechanic which has players on a downward spiral unless they can risk the whole project or ensure that they are seen when they do something positive. Is it bleak? Yes. Am I cynical? Sometimes.

I also thought this might be a good opportunity to practice using some graphics and laying out the page. I think it worked out okay though it was something slapped together. I had one issue with a particular image becoming jagged around the edges after export. I tried everything except changing the image but no amount of messing with DPI or rasterising settings seemed to fix it. I think it may have been caused by me inadvertently changing the size of the image when it was grouped with some other layer. Whoops.

Anyway, I hope you find joy in this whether that is snickering as you read the wonderful job title generator or if you play it with your pals and laugh about being fired at the end of the day. Let me know what you think!

This link will take you to itch.io where you can preview the game and download it for free: Collaborative Taskforces Download

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Fantasy Spell Generation

Spells that are esoteric, wizards that are deranged and corrupted by magic, and mysterious magical symbolism are all features of some of my most enjoyed fantasy in roleplaying games. For this reason, I have been working on a solo RPG that, by the end, will have the player in possession of a grimoire of spells and a brief history of the wizard that created them. I think this could have great results when porting the grimoires into other fantasy games, however I have yet to finish designing the game. In the meantime, I wanted to show off the spell creation process as it currently stands. WARNING: Some of the spell offerings here depict violent or aggressive acts.

Figure 1. A spell randomly generated using the process I developed for a solo RPG I am also working on.

The above image demonstrates the type of spells that can be created using my process. The spells are referred to as Opus Phenomena Vicissitude because I thought it sounded neat and mystical. Each Opus Phenomena Vicissitude includes a spell name to provide just enough information as to what it might do, a requirement of the spell that must be offered to cast the spell, and finally the glyph which is mostly just for show in the grimoire. Imagine handing a scroll or a whole tome of these to a player! I know I would be excited to delve into it.

To create spells like the one depicted in figure 1 you can use the process described in the download at the bottom of this post. It should be noted that I have taken aspects of the design out that related to the solo RPG for your convenience of generating spells without becoming bogged down in other details. For this, you will need a set of playing cards with both Jokers removed, some paper, a pencil, and a mind for the dark arts.

I know elements of this process can be a tad vague but that is by design to allow flexibility in the interpretation of spell names and glyph-making. Hopefully, I can find the sweet spot before releasing the solo RPG. In the name of the RPG community, I hope you find this helpful and I would be happy to receive some feedback as I do know that these things can be difficult to describe to someone else who has not been working on it and some of those tables are large which can make them difficult to read.

This link will take you to Dropbox so you can download the document: Opus Phenomena Vicissitude

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Using Tanglegrams for Planning RPG Sessions

As I facilitate more roleplaying games, I find myself leaning more towards sandbox experiences with a large cast of NPCs. I establish a starting scenario to introduce these characters over the first few sessions without much of an idea of what the narrative is going to be. This is not to say that I do not plan any story – I often like to have something happening at the forefront in a session but it is determined by player and NPC actions instead of pulled from a plan. To do this I maintain session notes to remind myself of who interacted with who and how it went but this becomes painful when I need to trawl through notes from multiple sessions. Here is where I believe a tanglegram could benefit my and your campaigns.

A tanglegram is like a mindmap except it focuses on the interconnections between people and things. It was originally proposed by Ian Hodder in his 2012 book, Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things, where he argues that humans live to sustain a material world. I believe this could be used to track the many NPCs, objects, factions, and PCs in a roleplaying game between sessions to aid with identifying story seeds and generating initial session situations.

Though untested, here is how I may approach this in future campaigns that I facilitate.

  1. Create a cast of characters (including PCs)
  2. Map the connections between the NPCs and PCs by using colour-coding or labelling to identifying the type of relationship and whether or not it is one-sided or not
  3. Add in various objects, locations, and factions of significance as independent entities
  4. Review the map and make necessary changes after each session and then use this in the planning process before the next session

Create a Cast of Characters

We all develop and create NPCs in a variety of manners and with varying degrees of depth. For the purposes of illustrating the use of Tanglegrams I am leaving each NPC at a single, brief sentence and only including a few.

  • Newt, an ancient witch preparing a blood ritual to revive her long dead sister and using Dr. Patella to gather bodies
  • Eye, Newt’s long dead sister who leaves the streets of Amberbrooke bloody
  • Residents of Amberbrooke who are working hard to establish a new life here
  • Meretah, a self-proclaimed detective who is often found nose-deep in a book or other people’s business
  • Chaypin Patella, a world-renowned doctor in the recent employ of Lord Amber
  • Rose, a local herbalist that tries to watch over Amberbrooke and its residents

Initial Mapping

To make use of these more easily then identifying the type of relationship between two entities is crucial but it is best to keep these brief. As you can see the relationships between each character is known and those who do not have knowledge of others is easily visible.

Figure 1. The initial map of the tanglegram demonstrating the relationships between various characters.

Adding in the Rest

In this step the locations, objects, and factions should be added in as separate entities with attached relationships. As you can see below, I colour-coded my blocks to distinguish between characters, objects, and locations. It may look something like this:

Figure 2. A tanglegram demonstrating the relationships between characters (yellow), locations (blue), and objects (purple).

Review and Planning

Over time these tanglegrams could become monstrously large but by displaying the relationship between all entities within a sandbox campaign it may be easier to identify story seeds or situations that players find themselves in. For example, the players may be out strolling at night and may see Chaypin Patella at the ruins or Meretah at the tavern. One evening the players may visit the doctor to find that Rose is banging angrily on his door and asking him to leave the healing to her. This could be left as a brief scene to introduce characters or it could blossom into something more.

An obvious limitation of this visualising method is that it represents a tangled web of relationships – I suppose that is the point. With the understanding that we do not require to understand or see every relationship at once, just those relevant, it becomes less of a problem. Some software could also reduce this problem by allowing a use to click on an entity and have the relationships to it highlighted or to select multiple and have the pathways between them highlighted. I do not know this exists, but it could support the use of tanglegrams well. In the end, this is nothing more than a tool to facilitate the generation of ideas and note-taking that I thought might be interesting to try out the next time I facilitate a game.

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Impressions of Hypertellurians

A system for playing science fantasy adventures in the future of old is the tag line for Hypertellurians. It is an RPG that conveys its sword and planet themes well through its use of flavourful character powers that, alongside the advancement system, encourage heroic play. However, the cohesion of the subsystems does not achieve a smooth-running engine for producing the types of stories it aims to help tell.

Hypertellurians (M)anvil Edition featured with custom dice from Ravensridge Emporium

Hypertellurians provides a method for ‘quick and dirty’ character generation that involves selecting:

  • An Archetype which is akin to a class and provides starting cosm powers that a player can call upon in the narrative like having acid blood or ignoring gravity to allow you to walk on walls.
  • A concept which is a basis for a character from pop. culture and it provides ability scores, affinity, a drive and weakness, and equipment with suggested advances.

The second method has the player determine all of the features of the concept manually instead. It is a direct and easy procedure of which the only interesting aspect to me is the drive and weakness. These work well to facilitate the conversation between a player and a GM because both know what two primary factors affect decision-making for the character. In my opinion, this supports a better narrative generation by both parties, and it will likely support the GM in the creation of locations, artefacts, and other such objects that drive advancement through ‘Wonder’.

Hypertellurians does not allow characters to advance through combat encounters, instead it has characters advance by discovering awe inspiring places, creatures, and vistas. This generates Wonder which is a party resource that can be used to activate Wondrous powers which range from bonuses in combat to flashback type memories to provide narrative advantages in the present. The more Wonder spent, the more the characters advance at the end of the session which include things like increasing ability scores or gaining new cosm powers. I quite like this mechanic of ‘double-dipping’ on experience points as it works like massive carrot for the players to pursue those awe-inspiring things by allowing them to use these powers and advance their characters.

To support the GMs through this Hypertellurians provides an adventure seed table, a sample adventure, magic items, NPCs and monsters, magic spells, and weapons. I find that this helps to elicit the themes and tone of the game, however it is lacking in one key area: locations and vistas. You know, the majority of what generates advances for players. Given that the system has lethal combat and encourages players to avoid combat it seems like a missed opportunity to have a subsystem for combat instead of including random tables or more sample awe-inspiring things.

Hypertellurians operates on the standard D20+Ability Score Modifier >= Target Number to resolve actions. It is nothing ground-breaking just like the round-based combat subsystem that has players taking turns to either do two actions or one action dependent on when the player would like to go in the initiative order. The change to initiative here at least adds an interesting choice for players and the system also provides a ‘cleave damage’ mechanic so that any leftover damage carries over to the next closest enemy which I think adds to the themes of heroic characters wading their way through mooks. Furthermore, the system has armour and shields operate differently to each other and spells and equipment have an exhaustive tag system that describe how they are mechanically different in combat too.

… A game about exploring the endless worlds of the Ultracosm.

Hypertellurians (M)anvil Edition, p.20

The more I read Hypertellurians the more I thought that this would be a great system for a science fantasy adventure filled with combat encounters. It is a fast subsystem with lots of character customisation and opportunity for shenanigans. This is not at all what the system describes itself as which is “… a game about exploring the endless worlds of the Ultracosm”. This is where I believe Hypertellurians falls short. It encourages players to explore and discover awe-inspiring things by providing advancements and access to powers for the characters but instead of providing tools for the GM to create these things it focuses heavily on a combat subsystem whilst discouraging players for engaging in it.

Hypertellurians appears to be a functional OSR-adjacent system, however the focus on combat feels like a missed opportunity to instead include different subsystems or tables to further the self-proclaimed goal of science fantasy adventure.

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