Category Archives: World Building

Sword & Sorcery: It’s more than “No Elves”

Let’s face it. The “World’s Most Popular Fantasy Roleplaying Game” was more influenced by Tolkien than Robert E. Howard. So, the first step many folks take when trying to do a Sword & Sorcery game is just “D&D with just humans.” For me, Sword & Sorcery is about attitude and atmosphere.

It needs to be sex, drugs and rock & rock. It’s heavy metal and punk rock all rolled up into one big crazy world. It’s twisted magic and monsters. It’s lost temples, forgotten gods and scoring that one big pile of loot before you die. Sword & Sorcery stories are about mean streets, wastelands and corruption. In a way, S&S has a lot in common with cyberpunk. I’ll let that one inspire you for a moment.

But here’s some elements that are bouncing around in my little head for some house rules for Crypts & Things. Yep, there’s going to be follow up posts as soon some more of these ideas start come together.
Humans Only. Sticking with that but doesn’t mean that it has to be bland. Humans from different cultures and lands will have slightly different skills. So just because everyone is human doesn’t mean that they are all the same.
Classes. The heroes of S&S stories have checkered pasts and a wide variety of skills. Classes can have their niche but characters need to flexible to survive. The two little keys here are no weapon and armor proficiencies and let the characters try anything. Plus throw on a level cap. I’m considering doing something along the lines of E6 for Crypts and Things. Just make an additional chart similar to the background chart. When a character “levels up” past sixth level, they roll and gain a new bonus.

Magic is dangerous and corrupting. The first thing, Vanceian magic is right out the window. Magic isn’t flash and bang. It’s creepy. It’s about how big a price someone is willing to pay for power. This is a major tweak and well worth it’s own post.
Monsters should be unique, twisted and frightening. It’s not a horror game (although there elements there) but players shouldn’t be yawning and saying, “It’s another shambling mound.”

Combat is freaking dangerous. Hit points are cool and easy but with Hit Dice, the numbers can just end up too big to keep things gritty and dangerous. So here’s my little idea. Hit Points equal Constitution+ (1/2 Strength). That’s it. It doesn’t matter how many levels a character has. Getting a sword in the gut in a back alley brawl could it end it just as quickly as facing an other worldly horror. Now is the time I bore you with some math. Let’s say we’ve got a character with average stats of 11. That means 16 HP. At low levels, that’s a good chunk of HP but once you get around 4-6 not so much.  Also, there really shouldn’t be “heavy armor”.   I don’t see S&S characters running around in clunky plate mail.  Probably, chainmail at the best. And I know somebody is going to make a chainmail bikini comment.  Correct, it really isn’t armor. Neither is a fur lion cloth.

I usually don’t load a post with so much artwork but like I said at the beginning it’s about atmosphere and attitude. And a picture is worth a thousand sword cuts.

I Love World Building

Really, I do. For me it’s a neat little creative exercise. Creating a setting that’s just rife with adventure seeds. That has its own feel and all sorts of ways the players can go out and adventure.
Hell, it’s almost like playing the game. As each little bit is created, it’s just like when the characters learn something new. There’s that odd bit excitement and the feeling of anticipation to go and see what the next city, dungeon or whatever is like. As I’m creating this I’m discovering. Damn, it’s fun.
You know what else is fun? Twisting the tropes and putting the completely unexpected out there. Let’s be honest. We’re at point that if you don’t start putting a little spin on all those tropes things are going to get pretty boring. And nobody likes boring.

How Many Gods?

I’m continuing on painting my yet-to-be-named world with broad strokes. Don’t worry, the detailed stuff will follow. This time I want to talk about gods.
So how many? I know that may seem like kind of a crazy question but let’s face it too many gods just get too damned confusing. For this little Frankengame, one of the first thoughts when it comes to gods and making a manageable number is to drop the racial gods. One world, one pantheon. But what this doesn’t mean that there’s just one church and one way of worshiping the gods. The idea is a few gods but they are worshiped many different ways across the world and like I said in the last post. I don’t want to divide the gods between “good” and “evil”. The gods are worshiped and/or feared depending on the situation and the location. For this world, I’m thinking five major gods but allow a whole host of minor or household gods. So the big five:

Life, Healing, Nature, Elements, Storms, Farming
Death, War, Disease, Corruption,
Knowledge, Wisdom, Mysteries, Secrets
Love, Lust, Emotions, Bravery
Fate, Luck, Destiny

This little break down is based on my first gut reactions. Thoughts?

Painting With Broad Strokes: Gods & Magic

Whenever I start thinking about a fantasy world, I start with the big picture. Mainly, the gods and also how magic works.
This just makes sense to me. How the gods are portrayed and their relation to the world set up so many things. How clerics work. The role of various Outsiders (like angels, demons and devils). And you can’t have gods without having religions and we all know what kind of effect they can have on government, society, culture and day to day life. It’ll also bring up that infamous, what does Alignment mean debate.
For this little world (Damn, I still need to come up with a name for it.), the gods are pretty much hands off. Yeah, in the old days all the cool kids killed at least one god during a campaign. But I like the idea of the gods as being off stage and pretty just letting the chips fall where they may. As far as angels, demons and devils go. Well, they’re just alien beings from another plane with strong moral views. And evil gods. They kind of need to be there. But they still need to have a place that is more than just a bunch of evil cultists for the player characters to kill.
So here’s premise number one: There is one pantheon of gods. They are known by many different names by different cultures but they are still the same gods. The so called “evil” gods get just as reverence (out of fear) than the “good” gods. A village will do a ceremony to appease the evil god of disease to protect itself from a plague. You get the idea. I can see temples erected in a particular god’s name tended by faithful priests or supplicants. People will pray to whatever god they need to in order to get the results they wish.
But what about insane Lovecraftian gods from beyond the universe? OH yeah. They need to be there but list the description says insane and from beyond this universe. Many of these entities are on par with the power of the gods but they aren’t the gods of this world. There will be the occasional cult. But the goal of reaching beyond this world (and universe) for more power is more the purview of Wizards than Clerics. So more about them when I arcane magic in a later post.
So how do classes fit into this big picture?
I’ve played many clerics in my time. There’s one thing that’s kind of bugged me. The Cleric of X mechanic. In this little game, I want clerics to be servitors of the entire pantheon. Clerics are a special type of spell caster. They can channel the power of the gods. Any of them. And another thing. I never liked the wake up in the morning, pray for a specific set of spells and then go about the day. It’s just not how I imagine it. I see the cleric loudly proclaiming a prayer to a particular god for a particular purpose when he needs it. So yeah. Clerics need to be spontaneous casters of a sort.
Now Druids are special case and I’ve pretty much brainstormed on the direction they are headed for this little project.
So what does that leave us with? Paladins. That’s right everybody’s favorite douche bag class. Which brings us to our first point. Alignments are just right out the window. I’ve always felt it was kind of a crazy mechanic and had the amazing ability to be both vague and specific at the same time (Don’t worry. This will all be taken up in a later post.) So with no Alignments, where does that the poor Paladin? Well, they really aren’t Clerics. And if Clerics can simultaneously serve all the gods at once then it kind of puts the Paladin in an odd situation. So stepped back and looked at what I thought the Paladin had evolved into. Paladins are zealots. It may not be the power of the gods that drive them but their belief that they are protecting the world. Depending on where they are Paladins can be viewed as heroes or dangerous vigilantes. So there, Paladins get a major work over later on.
So there you are the ideas for gods, clerics, druids and paladins.

Catching Up & Building Worlds

Yes, I have neglected this blog for too long. I have this little weakness. When I’m not playing a game sometimes I just don’t feel like writing about it plus I’ve been busy running my Dresden Files campaign. So the best thing I can do here is use to start building my “perfect” world. Hell, I’ve got the time, it’s not there’s a deadline looming over my head. Plus I figured it would fun to drag along a few readers through what passes for my creative process.
To put it bluntly, I’ve grown a bit weary of thinly veiled Middle Earth (Tolkien) inspired fantasy worlds. I want something a little more warped. More Sword & Sorcery than High Fantasy. I want a world that’s dangerous, exciting and just a bit frightening. I not want to tear a part some of the tropes and tweak a few things that have always bugged me deep down. I want to make a world of my own that isn’t just another cookie cutter fantasy world.
For the crunchy bits, I’ll turn to my holy trinity of OSR games. Castles & Crusades, Swords & Wizardry and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I also plan on throwing in some healthy inspiration from other great games like Arduin, Empire of the Petal Throne and ACKS.
How long will this take? Damned if I know. How far will it go? Don’t know that either. But it should be pretty fun. So stay tuned, kids this is going to get interesting.

Don’t get lazy with fluff

Let’s face it I think too many of us are kind of getting lazy when it comes to fluff. There really isn’t that much deviation from the standard fantasy world formula.
I know that there are certain built in expectations and that as DM the more time you spend on fluff the greater the chance that your players will ignore it. But after this many decades, it’s ok to bend or break the mold. Take a world, ditch elves and dwarves. Make some of the iconic “baddies” into allies and not villains. Mix and match ideas. Make new and interesting monsters. Make races and places that are new. Not Ancient Evil Lost & Forgotten Temple Number 37. Don’t be afraid to add a little spark and gonzo to a game. Different characters and different campaigns can still start to run together after a while.
And that is my bitchy rant for the day.

Vornheim Meet Your Fate

If you haven’t gotten your grubby little hands on a copy of a href=”″Vornheim/a then what are you waiting for? It’s the best city building supplement out there.
But this isn’t just about Vornheim, it’s also about a href=””FATE/a. Yes, I know FATE is not en OSR game. It’s story based game that places a lot of narrative control in the players’ hands. But I’m one of those folks who enjoy tweaking and twisting game rules and concepts. In this case I’m talking about a href=””city creation/a for FATE as seen in the Dresden Files RPG. The basic concept is that players and the GM sit around and build the city in a collaborative brainstorming session. You use the Aspects and Themes Threats from FATE (just short descriptive phrases) to describe sections or districts within a city. You also assign an NPC who is the “Face” of that area. The Face is basically the primary character who represents that area of the city from a narrative standpoint. So when you’re done, you have a nice tidy pile of notes describing your city. These concepts are pretty simple and can easily be used with the tools from Vornheim. You don’t have to populate each and every house in a city. The city map doesn’t need to look like a mega-dungeon. (Unless you’re really into that sort of thing). The GM could quickly scribble a small village on 3 x 5 index card in matter of minutes.
You don’t even have to do it collaboratively. The GM can just sit down create the city on his own. You don’t even need to use the FATE game mechanics. Just use the Aspects as springboards for adventure ideas and descriptions. You don’t even have to limit yourself to a city. Hell, you could design a nice little sandbox type area for the characters to explore.
The thing is that it’s OK to grab up any tool you can get your hands on that’s makes your job as GM easier and the game fun for the players.