In the Wake of the Sorcerer-Kings

In the Wake of the Sorcerer-Kings

Sean and I decided to play World of Dungeons (Part 1, Part 2 if you want to watch the process on youtube). We’ll be playing it tonight on the Actual Play twitch channel.

World of Dungeons with Sean and Judd / twitch.com/actualplay / Friday 11/19 / 6:30pm PST/9:30pm EST Design/Houserule as we go / What excites you about fantasy and dungeons? Smash Old School & PBTA together and we pick through the rubblel. Can you find Emmett and Pupper Cat?

In the Wake of the Sorcerer-Kings has been in my head without much detail for a while. I can find notes about the setting from years ago, notebooks from my NYC commuter days. The Sorcerer-Kings strip mined something from the earth and left, leaving their labs, weapons and experiments all over the city. Municipal delvers, who have their own labor union, go into these otherworldly portals and vaults, making them safe for the people who live in the area.

The delves have maps, either from the archives of the Sorcerer-Kings or mapping constructs sent into the delve site. I wanted an in-game excuse to hand Sean the pretty Dyson Logos maps.

We’re taking dungeons and sticking them directly into people’s homes, making a community of supportive workers around the delving trade, and looking into the ruins of an inhuman colonial menace that has picked up and left its mess behind. I can’t wait, haven’t been, this excited to game in a long time.

World of Dungeons leaves lots of room for the people playing it to make their own moves. I’m trying not to get ahead of myself, want to see how the game plays before writing up too many moves. The main things I’ve written down are details about delve sites, thoughts on various Sorcerer-Kings and those who served them, so as he discovers more about them, there is a feeling of alien depth.

Made a few things to show to Sean, something to get the first delve started with some flavor and another so we can make the setting together.

Pre-Delve Checklist
City Details

Making the city details, I couldn’t use the Apocalypse World playbooks as a guidepost (like I did in Moons of Leviathan’s Ithaca Station). This isn’t a game about a lack of resources or trying to rule over chaos. I wanted a city that felt lived in, so I made some details, hoping that they were enough for Sean to grab onto and run with. I think we’re going to be okay.

Sean’s character is a lycanthrope who lost an arm during a past delve. Had to make a lycanthropy move. I knew I wanted a situation where the character might lose control to The Beast and black out but I wanted the player to have control over when that occurred.

Rather than thinking about, How can these 2d6+something emulate what I want out of a game about delving into dangerous places that are causing problems for the community I want to think more about How can we frame this conversation to get what we want out of this game?

The move I love most in Apocalypse World is the Workspace on the old Savvyhead sheet (in the latest iteration of AW, Burned Over 2021, it is called Tinkering and is listed among the Standard Moves that go with a Workspace).

Choose which of the following your workspace includes. Choose 3: a garage, a darkroom,
a controlled growing environment, skilled labor (Carna, uy, Pamming, eg), a junkyard
of raw materials, a truck or van, weird-ass electronica, machining tools, transmitters &
receivers, a proving range, a relic of the golden age past, booby traps.
When you go into your workspace and dedicate yourself to making a thing, or to getting
to the bottom of some shit, decide what and tell the MC. e MC will tell you “sure, no
problem, but…” and then 1 to 4 of the following:
• It’s going to take hours/days/weeks/months of work.
• First you’ll have to get/build/�x/�gure out —— .
• You’re going to need —— to help you with it.
• It’s going to cost you a fuckton of jingle.
• e best you’ll be able to do is a crap version, weak and unreliable.
• It’s going to mean exposing yourself (plus colleagues) to serious danger.
• You’re going to have to add —— to your workplace �rst.
• It’s going to take several/dozens/hundreds of tries.
• You’re going to have to take —— apart to do it.
e MC might connect them all with “and,” or might throw in a merciful “or.”
Once you’ve accomplished the necessaries, you can go ahead and accomplish the thing
itself. e MC will stat it up, or spill, or whatever it calls for.

It gives the conversation structure. I ripped it off here, using it as a way to make magic items in D&D and blend it in to Traveller’s Little Black Box to reframe training here.

World of Dungeons gives us the following:

ROLLING THE DICE
When you attempt something risky, sum 2d6
and add one of your attribute scores, based on
the action you’re taking. (The GM will tell you
some of the possible consequences before
you roll, so you can decide if it’s worth the risk
or if you want to revise your action.)
A total of 6 or less is a miss; things don’t go
well and the risk turns out badly. A total of
7-9 is a partial success; you do it, but there’s
some cost, compromise, retribution, harm, etc.
A total of 10 or more is a full success; you do
it without complications. And a total of 12 or
more is a critical success; you do it perfectly
to some extra benefit or advantage.
Skills: If you have an applicable skill, you
can’t miss. A roll of 6 or less counts as a
partial success, but with a bigger compromise
or complication than a 7-9 result.
THE DIE OF FATE
Sometimes the GM will roll the die of fate
to see how the situation is established. Low
numbers are ill-fortune, high numbers are
good fortune (or at least not misery). The die of
fate might be rolled to establish the weather,
indicate a random NPC’s general attitude, or
to determine if a wandering monster appears.
The GM may also roll the die of fate if the PCs
take some action for which sheer chance is
the only factor in the outcome.
These rules are yours to bend to your will!
You may find it natural to expand, redact,
and modify them as you your game goes on.
We advise keeping an open mind and lively
discussion of possibilities at the table.

There isn’t much there but it is given with a wink and a nod and lots of old school D&D inspiration. The text above is the most flavorless text in the whole document. There rest is classes, equipment, names and places. Powered by the Apocalypse games (all role-playing games, really) demand rich context.

That is why I started with the Union Checklist at the start of the blog post and then moved into a list of fantasy city stuff. I wanted that feeling of a fantasy firefighter about to walk into a hot mess, participating in a labor union full of plucky adventurers trying to do right by the community in a city that was left strip-mined by inhuman monsters but life goes on. There’s work to be done.

I can’t imagine where I’m getting inspiration from that.

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Pitching Games

Sean and I got together on the Actual Play Twitch Channel (part 1 and part 2 embedded below) and it seemed like a good time to blog about this gaming tradition – agreeing on a game.

True Sword Science Fantasy Subject Divider

For some groups this process is easy but once you get a table full of opiniated game designers it can get difficult. And here’s the thing, if you paly these games long enough, you’ll likely become an opiniated game designer – like staring into the abyss too long and the abyss staring back.

If the game has a situation baked in, no need to make one. For Band of Blades, I don’t get creative, I just say, “Want to play Band of Blades? It is a fantasy military RPG inspired by Black Company.”

If the game doesn’t have a pitch, I’ll bake something in. I’m not going to just say, “Want to play a D&D game in the Forgotten Realms.” I’d rather say, “How about a game about searching for the Ring of Winter up and down the Sword Coast?” or “How about a game about hunting down Zhentarim spies in the Dalelands?”

Honestly, one my favorite kinds of game pitches is, “Hey, I’m running X game on Y time. If you can make it, please do. If not – that is totally cool; we’ll let you know when we’re playing a different game or at a different time. My other favorite kind of game is a group of friends in a house together on a rainy day, just making up characters based on a loose idea and going. In these pandemic days, friends all together on a rainy dayfeels like even more like a fantasy.

One last pitch thought – be loose with it. The initial pitch might change from what you thought it would be through the process of creating characters. As long as everyone remains excited and their characters are still relevant that is great.

What did we decide on?

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A quick and embedded Starless Elf

A quick and embedded Starless Elf

You know that feeling when you’ve been sitting on an Underdeeps for years and a friend calls and says they’re hungry for gaming so you grab World of Dungeons and…

Dagger Subject Divider

Starless elves, deep underground, demonic spider-queen, glittering cities, stalactite and stalagmite towers, daggers, feuding Houses, under-panthers…you get the idea.

Hair

NOTE: Why did I start with hair as a way to show social status? I have no idea. NONE.

Bald, as befits a thrall whose House was cast into the pits when you were young

What have you done recently to gain the Matron’s attention?

What do you remember of your dead House?

Equipment: All you have are you clothes and one secret belonging that you have somehow hid since you were a child, something from your doomed House.

  • Statue of a shoulder-spider or under-panther that will turn into a pet for a time
  • A dagger made of volcanic glass with a white-gold hilt
  • A signet ring with your family’s sigil
  • A cloak that allows you to walk from one mirror to another as if they are all connected.

NOTE: Wait, is the mirror cloak just WAY cooler than anything else by a longshot?

Affiliations: When you choose a city, choose which Affiliation still owes your dead House a favor, another that despises you as appropriate and a third that has a family spy hidden within it who still holds your family in esteem.

Dagger Subject Divider

Braided rows or short in the front, long in the back, as befits one of the Matron’s trained knives

The Matron has entrusted you with a dangerous errand. What scares you about it?

Who within your House hopes that you fail?

Equipment: You have the finest weapons and spider-silk armor made in the Underdeeps. Describe what you carry with you and what you have in your spartan quarters.

You have something you stole from someone you assassinated, something you never reported to your superiors. What is it?

Affiliation: When you choose a city, choose which Affiliation helped train you, another that you fear and a third that despises you for what you have done in the name of your Matron.

Dagger Subject Divider

Veiled with one long braid, as befits a Matron of a minor house to show her bond with the Demonweb Pits

What have you done to prepare for the Mournstar Fête?

What failure within your House do you need to address before it grows like a fungus?

Equipment: You have all of the bodyguards, counselors and body doubles appropriate for a House Minor Matron – also the finest courtly fashion for your social engagements and an heirloom left to you from your Mother. Is it a bound demon, an indentured Githyanki Psion or a captured vampire assassin?

Note: The GM might make a cool checklist to decide details, strengths and weaknesses of your House. If so, cool If not you’ll figure it out in play (possible follow-up post in the spirit of Ithaca Station).

Affiliation: When you choose a city, choose which Affiliation where a trusted sibling holds power, another where a rival holds power and a third whose relationship with your House balances on the edge of a knife.

Dagger Subject Divider

Unbound, as befits a traveler, delver and guide

Will you look for work as a caravan leader for a scrappy House Minor, find some civic adventurer’s guild to delve with or take a job as one of the rangers in a House Major’s entourage?

What secret did you leave in the tunnels during your last journey?

Equipment: A steed that is either a Spider or a Dinosaur. Choose one – name and describe it.

A well worn crossbow, a pair of named axes (name them!) and a dagger for your boot.

Affiliation: When you choose a city, choose which Affiliation knows of your fine work and respects it, which one is the vocation of an estranged but still loved sibling and a third who want revenge for your actions.

Dagger Subject Divider
Under Ground Cities / Spider Goddess Shrines, gnomish illusionsists, feuding nigh-immortal matrons / Starless elves, cave bears, & mushroom beasts

City

What city do you come from? Choose one and we will begin the game there after you choose your affiliations:

Kitji-Naal: Two cities divided by an underground river and ruled by twin matriarchs who rarely meet, but communicate via magical mirrors. The city is the largest and most populated city in the underdark; its politics are a convoluted mess of ancient feuds, assassin’s knives and inter-House warfare.

Exports: Poisons, Assassins-for-hire, spider-silk, books

Affiliations

  • Congress of Knives and Poison
  • Demonweb Nuns
  • Spider-Shepherd’s Guild
Dagger Subject Divider

Eämbar: A newly founded city that is a port, connected to the ocean by a series of complicated crystal locks that link Eämbar to the ocean’s crushing depths. All manner of undersea sentients can been seen on the city streets, sometimes in specially made tanks of water pushed by servants.

The matriarch is the youngest to ever hold the title and the most renowned sword in the underdeeps.

Exports: Fish, undersea crafts, spider-silk crystal

Affiliations

  • Diplomatic League
  • Sea Cult
  • Matriarch’s Council
Dagger Subject Divider

Endë-Osto: The deepest city of the Starless Elves and is considered by many to be the capital, is ruled by the eldest matriarch whose throne is said to float weightless in the center of the earth. Her queensguard is made of the most cunning of the Starless Elf sword-maidens, who ride dinosaur steeds bred for battle. The city is in a hollow-earth with a bruise-purple sun, said to have been created at the height of the Illithid Empire.

Exports: vegetables, dinosaur steeds and ranger-guides

Affiliations

  • Queensguard
  • Psionic Temple
  • Rangers’ Sibhood
Dagger Subject Divider

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Welcome to Dis, letters to get started.

A Story Games Thread:

Ill-Met in Waterdeep

Dear Prime Newb Whose Home is still Digesting in Dis’ Guts,

Welcome to Dis.

You have what you could carry from your home and need to find some scratch so that you don’t have to sleep out under the alien stars.

Sure, this isn’t your first rodeo and you had plenty of adventures back at home but now you are in Dis. The trappings are familiar but the context is entirely new. Now you are all small fish in an ever-expanding pond that is constantly devouring other ponds.

Someone among you took the lead in getting you to Dis alive. Have that one roll +Int.

On a 10+, you either got out with a really amazing artifact or know someone in Dis who can help you settle in a bit.

On a 7-9, you have some remnant of your old world that isn’t immediately useful but you could sell it for 3d6 silver if you don’t mind it becoming a curio in a local parish’s shop window.

On a miss, trouble from the old world has followed you here.

There is a place for rent here in the Vecna Parish that has something that reminds you of the City of Splendors. Sure, all of the architecture seems to be littered with eyes and hands but something about this joint feels like home, dammit. Explain to the GM why you want to rent that place so badly. The owner, a one-eyed recovering wizard (recovering?), likes the idea of renting to new refugees, as it reminds him of when he first got here, fresh from Greyhawk City.

Chunks of your world are still floating on the top of the stew that is Dis. When your GM rolls on the job table, he will insert an element of the Forgotten Realms as either the Patron, Target or Job Type. The GM could describe a job and ask you what about that job is actually a piece of the Realms and how your character recognizes it.

The one-eyed former death cult wizard will hold the space for you for a few days while you do some honest or dishonest freebooting.

Hugs & Kisses,

Your GM

Please come to the thread and play along.

Planarch Codex Job List Table Results

After spending the past two years looking for a job (I start the new gig on Monday!) it is no surprise that the Planarch Codex job table spoke to me. It is fun and like any good random table gives you just enough detail to give your imagination an inspiring kick to the nethers.

Below are some results I rolled up on a lonely night when I still lived upstate with some GM’s notes below.

 

From the Job Table in the Planarch Codex:

Bloody business for those with the stomach for such things. Need highly skilled operators to get into an arcane library tower that is never in the same place two nights in a row and destroy an infernal item. Begin negotiations for employment at the Malsheemi Merchants’ Guild, where an array of eclectic arcane and mundane payment options are offered.

DM’s Notes: Malsheemi is a city in hell. These merchants are devils.

Holy work being offered, a delivery to a demi-god’s distant holy shrine on a distant plane so that my tithe might be delivered. Time sensitive. Pay can be in gold, gems, secrets, maps and more.

DM’s Notes:  Players in a play-by-post game took this gig, it turned out to be a gang leader wanting to send his tithe to a shrine to Prometheus, god of stealing from the high and mighty. Turned out  his home was being torn apart by a war betweeh Ghoul King and the Demon-Prince of the Gnolls

Professional adventuring party needed for bodyguard work for guild wizard. Please apply in person to the Wizard’s Guild Tower with list of appropriate references.

DM’s Notes: I’d ask questions about the players’ thoughts on wizards and riff off of that.

Guards needed for pilgrims walking the Kas Road. Food and pack animals provided. Payment in full upon reaching the City of a Thousand Swords.

DM’s Notes: Kas was the greastest swordsman who ever lived and is looked on as a saint to dedicated butchers who favor a sword. His pilgrimage is taken by swordsman on the verge of becoming legends but in order to take up this holy walk, they must put down all weapons and wear no armor. Here’s hoping their enemies don’t show up looking for vengeance.

Who squats in our harbor within those alien ships? Why are they here? I will pay you to find out! Inquire in the Manticore Tower and be prepared to discuss pay and begin immediately. How long can we afford to wait?

DM’s Notes: The players will be hired by a xenophobic shit-heel of a wizard very much inspired by Dying Earth books. The ships are woven, floating nests of giant spider refugees because I love giant spiders. I’d want to ask the players questions about how they feel about newcomers to Dis and/or how they felt when they first arrived.

According to the Laws of Dis we must inform any adventurers or freebooters who might consider the following job that it will put you in the midst of a holy war. When and if you inquire in person we will, by Dis Law, have to inform you one more time and then our lawful obligation will be met. The Holy Executioner, servant of Blind Justice is seeking the Trickster with 13 Faces for crimes perpetrated on several planes. Inquire about this work at the Gallows Temple.

DM’s Notes: Pretty self explanatory, a trickster deity known for disguise is hiding from a goddess of justice. I have no idea how I’d run this one.

Adventurers needed to aid a man possessed by an alien god. From what many of the best alienist summoners can tell us, the deity from another reality is seeking a pilgrim who ventured from this deep plane and is now in Dis. Inquire among the Nurse Warden’s Guildhouse.

DM’s Notes: I’d ask questions about the players’ past interactions with the nurse wardens and their brushes with alien gods.

Do a solid for the Captain of the Silver Axes and you will be paid well. Need freebooter scum who know the streets of Dis to find an obscure Temple.

DM’s Notes: I’d ask the players about their past tussles with the Captain before he asks them to find a roving temple that stiffed his merc company on a past bill. 

Silver Swords in Dis

No matter where or whom you come from, in someone’s eyes, you and your family are monsters.

The Planarch Codex: Dark Heart of the Dreamer, Walton and Friends

The Silver Swords are named for the arcane weapons they carry into battle, forged from the astral chains that kept them in slavery for centuries. Since rebelling and gaining freedom from the psionic monsters who dared call themselves their masters the Silver Swords have founded a city in the Deep Astral built from the wreckage of a thousand cathedrals, the psychic detritus of dead faiths.

The Silver Swords put their faith in no deities but in the corpse of the young lady who liberated them. When she died, their warlock eunuchs set the body on their Dragon Throne and continued to rule in her name. If one of their own people should complete a great work, they are ritually sacrificed before her throne and their soul fuels the Corpse Queen, allowing her body and will to animate and rule. When she is in repose, the Silver Empire is run by the cruel warlock eunuchs.

When the queen is awake, the Silver Empire is ferocious, just and embraces change.

When the queen is dead the warlock eunuchs are in charge of the empire and the Silver Empire is then ferocious, myopic and fearful of anything or anyone who could upset the status quo.

The Silver Swords are not quite human. Maybe it was from the psychic torments under slavery’s cruel tentacles or from breeding with all manner of dragons and mythical creatures from a hundred different worlds along the astral deeps. They are humanoid in shape and most often bipedal but vary greatly in all other ways with only a single silver eye to unite them.

A Silver Sword is a monster with these moves:

  • Claim land for the Silver Empire’s Corpse Queen
  • Make a pact with a greater mythical beast (dragon, liche, etc.)
  • Free slaves from their bondage

P.S. There is a heretic off-shoot of Silver Empire, those who threw down their blades, refused to worship the queen after she died. They lead lives of contemplation in floating monasteries amidst the primordial chaos from which the ur-gods created everything.

The Chaos Monks are monsters with the following moves:

  • Release land from feudal bonds.
  • Give an enemy’s inner turmoil a physical incarnation.
  • Let others know how to destroy the economic realities that make slavery profitable.

DW Stats

Silver Sword

HP: 7

AC: +2

Damage: d8 (roll two, take the higher)

Tags: Planar

Chaos Monk

HP: 7

AC: +1

Damage: Fists, 1d6, Psychic Blast 1d8+1

Tags: Planar

Other things to stat out: The Corpse Queen, Eunuch Warlock, Silver Sword Dragonrider

Maps: Silver Empire Colonial Outpost, Silver Navy Astral Corvette, Silver Captital in the Deep Astral, Monastery in the Chaos Waste, The Deep Astral, The Chaos Wastes

Inspired by:

Githyanki

Russ Nicholson’s Githyanki

The Planarch Codex

Dungeon World

World of Dungeons

Link to Conversation over on G+

Planarch Codex, old school book cover ignition

World of Dungeons and the Planarch Codex have a firm grip on my inner freebooter scum.

I want to start a game by throwing some books on the table and asking:

How did you freebooter scum get into debt with this Efreet gangster from Blood River?

Are any of you sleeping with this guy?

Does one of you hold a grudge against him from back in the day for that gig with the thing and the other thing?

[Roll on Job Table, page 14 ]

Who is  up on the statue and who is standing guard?

Are you worried about the superstitions surrounding this idol?

Do any of you worship this deity?

Are you really going to fence the gems to your patron with the key necklace or do you plan a double-cross?

How did you meet this guy again?

Are any of you sleeping with this guy?

In which Judd fantasizes about how he’d end his game-fast.

Game-fast: in which a gamer stops playing games in order to focus on other pursuits and goals.

In N.Y.C.:

  • Solo Houses of the Blooded game with Janaki where she can ride dragons, get into duels, adventure in Puzzle Houses, debate ven policy in the Senate and have sexy romances.
  • Sit down with Rob, Jason, Witt, Melissa and Janaki and play Misspent Youth.
  • Get together with Bret and run a Ghost Rider Marvel Heroic game where folks who can make it show up and guest star as their favorite Marvel characters.
  • In a Wicked Age with Bret, Janaki, and Carly with sangria and mojitos.

In Ithaca:

  • I’d show up to Barry’s house in the middle of the night, plop down World of Dungeons and a 1 Page Dungeon in my clipboard and play until the sun comes up or City of Fire and Coin, depending on who is around.
  • Sit down with Paula, B.C., Cole and Evan and play Monsterhearts on summer evenings.
  • Get my roommates, Anthony, Andrew and Sarah, to the table and make characters around Anthony’s idea of playing an Imperial Engineer in the Warhammer world using Burning Wheel.
  • Grab my old Tiefling Rogue/Sorcerer and jump into Jim, Charlotte and Aaron’s 4e game.
Visitors and Such
  • City of Fire and Coin with Drew and whoever is in arm’s reach.
  • Dust Devils with Samurai with my dad.
  • Marvel Heroic’s Civil War with Storn, Pete, Anthony, Andrew and Sarah.

But I won’t. I’m staying on target and keeping those flying monkeys in the sky. And ya know, as much as I want to game it feels good to put it aside and concentrate on what is important. It will make gaming that much more satisfying once it hits the table again.

The job search grind is grinding on me.