Tuesday, August 22, 2023

On "Shadow of the Weird Wizard," now on Kickstarter

 This week, I did something quite out of character: pledged for a gaming Kickstarter, and not at the "here's a dollar" level... This is unusual, and marks only the third time in the past decade of gaming that I've jumped in to fund one of these things. But which product has sucked me in, and why?

Well, it's very-veteran-game-designer Rob Schwalb's Shadow of the Weird Wizard, an "evolution" and seriously tone-shifted successor to the Shadow of the Demon Lord RPG (SotDL). When SotDL released years ago, and since then, I liked much of what I heard about its design and experience in play: a d20 system, but streamlined and lighter than 5e, while still offering a fairly tactical experience in combat (some have said a more tactical experience than 5e). It is often described as filling that middle ground between games like 5e/Pathfinder and OSR games or Dungeon World

However ... SotDL also released, judging by things I've read, with an almost puerile insistence on being ludicrously grimdark, in which grimdark isn't grimdark without enough potty humor, so that the whole thing might seem a bit like a parody of a black metal album as recorded in a junior-high bathroom. Hmm. Well, I wasn't really interested in inhabiting that space at the table, or in sifting through everything to weed that tone out.  

But Schwalb eventually announced that he was working on a more 'family friendly' edition that would apply some lessons-learned while making the game feel a bit more like a 'normal' fantasy RPG. That sounded better - and after several multi-year delays, the thing is finally coming together!

There is a "quick play" document available for free on DTRPG that offers a taste of things. Note, however, that a few things here don't seem too clearly explained (I'm hoping that the final edits in the actual game book make this much simpler). Veterans of the 1st game consistently describe the game's ease of use and play, however. And the sample scenario already shows that when Schwalb says "family friendly," he does NOT mean "sucking all the maturity and gritty violence out of fantasy." Oh, no. Nope. Nay. Just ... no need for genitalia falling off mid-spell, and so forth. 

Why am I excited about this new game, and about the Kickstarter options? 

+ that middle ground between OSR and 5e-level games, as noted, is an important one; I've never really landed solidly with the available options, even though it sounds great for my normal gaming group. 

+ SotDL - and now SotWW - offer wild character customization. Not via PF2e's myriad of feat choices as you level up, but through a more streamlined system of choosing Novice, Expert, and eventually Master 'paths' that are a bit like sub-classes. This lets you deeply specialize or go broad with various character styles to suit your tastes and the story that develops across campaigns. I can imagine telling those players who've enjoyed Pathfinder 2e that "this game can create literally millions of possible character configurations." 

+ I am optimistic enough about this game's potential that the Kickstarter offerings really proved tempting. SotDL (in)famously was supported with a plethora of little .pdf supplements - to the extent that many people felt it was costly and scattered to keep up with over time for those who didn't fund the original KS. The Weird Wizard Kickstarter is going very well - it's currently at about 1,000% funded - and they just yesterday unlocked a key stretch goal that will include print-on-demand AT COST codes to make most of the initially planned supplements available in print, "for the cost of glue and paper" - plus shipping (tho you have to back at least at the $99 USD level to benefit from those). There are so many cool supplements already unlocked, from a major bestiary expansion to 30 pre-written mini-adventures as well as campaigns, class options, etc., etc. 

Anyway - I still love me some gnarly OSR gaming, still love the dynamism of PbtA gaming, and still feel that Pathfinder 2e offers the best tactical combat RPG system I've ever run - but ... dang, I'm tired of feeling like prepping the world around the next set-piece PF2e fight is an engineering schematic problem! I am hopeful for exciting things with SotWW. 

Passing these thoughts along for any not already aware of this option. Happy gaming! 

Friday, August 4, 2023

Game ideas inspired by the Yukon's forest of signs

 While driving north to Alaska, we passed through Watson Lake in the Yukon. That hamlet hosts a great "forest of signs" - somewhere now between 90-100,000 signs nailed, screwed, strapped, etc. to trees and posts in a massive collection that has been growing since the mid-20th-century. I expected a rather small affair, and was blown away by wandering the aisles and lanes (!) of this small 'forest.' 

It got me thinking about why a similar collection might grace a fantasy gaming universe. Here are some ideas. 

+ Like Borges' infinite library, the forest of signs is a legendary mystical archive recording the location of every discrete place that exists in the world -- even places utterly lost and forgotten. Not sure whether the tomb of the Fourteenth Emperor was ever constructed, or how to find it? You'll know if you find it's placard in the Forest of Signs, though the three billion other signs might slow you down a bit...good luck with the random encounter rolls while you search.

+ By official decree, all communities that yield to the Glorious Benevolence of Empire mark their submission by sending delegates to post, and later maintain, their community signpost in the Forest of Signs just outside the great capital. Of course, the Empire's rival districts measure their dignity by the lavishness of their respective signs, and harried imperial administrators have been known (or so it's said) to base regional appropriations not on the mountains of paper notes sent to the capital but simply upon the size and appearance of various signs. This makes having a better sign than rival cities of great importance. The place is well-guarded during visiting hours, but after dark, the Forest of Signs becomes a hotbed of gold-leaf-thieves, vandals, would-be-repair workers, and other adventurers paid well to boost one or another city's status. 

+ Or no, perhaps we're taking all this too literally. The Forest of Signs isn't about signposts to places; it's about Semiotics. In fact, the "Forest" lies at the world's edge, and the 'signs' posted here are guides to the mystic resonances between things, ideas, and the word-not-word signs/signifiers/etc. used to (try to) communicate with reality through the Language of Magic. As all wizards and magic-users know, graduation to the next degree of mystic mastery ('leveling up' cough cough) always requires a fresh venture into the Forest, to learn and master a new set of potentially meaningful correspondences. But the Forest can be deadly, so maybe bring some friends? 


Faction-centered, location-decentered play: some murky musings from the road

 We've been on the road for some time, having driven faaaaar to visit friends and family in Alaska. The regular RPG-ing and wargaming have ground to a halt during the trip, of course, but the scenery is certainly conducive to musings about potential fantasy stories and adventures...

Here's a campaign concept I've been mulling (and not too revolutionary of an idea, though I am unsure whether I've really seen something like this fleshed out for play): a kind of weird cross between the faction play typical of Blades in the Dark or Urban Shadows and the normie fantasy D&D sandbox so celebrated in OSR and NSR niche circles. Oh, and I'd probably run using a version of Into the Odd or Cairn (including Detachments and Establishments) and for magic, I'd use Wonders & Wickedness or the various spin-offs inspired by that title. 

Other points: 

+ play centers around factions and their goals

+ characters are not just free agents among the factions, but the party is its own faction with its own stakes and interests in the setting

+ I envision a moderate-prep campaign with most of the prep up front. Prepping the campaign would require fully fleshing out, in advance, the major factions - their key NPCs, at least an outline of their assets and order-of-battle, their known goals and needs, and at least a thumbnail description of their hangouts, lairs, HQs, and clubhouses. And maybe the map for the campaign would be a pointcrawl that is almost entirely known to the players. 

+ Executing play would involve finding out what the party wants to do, and then -- if a location map is needed -- grabbing a suitable Dyson map or the 'generic' locations in the Monster Overhaul bestiary, etc. - and kind of winging it. 

A lot of OSR-style campaigns I've pondered or even started have bogged down in the cycle of prepping dungeons and the quests that point parties into those dungeons. I guess I'm wondering whether just having a few (published) dungeons in the entire setting could work, if I assumed that most of the action would happen in alleys, country lanes, ruined wilderland watchtowers, etc. - driven not by clearing rooms but by navigating factional politics until tensions break? 

Again, this is hardly revolutionary, but I'm mulling it over and wanted to get some juices flowing here despite being on the road. Cheers and happy gaming!