September 23, 2015

Wizard-Spawned Insanities

Wizard-Spawned Insanities is a monster manual for the Dungeon World role-playing game. The thirteen monster entries it contains are illustrated in full colour, along with a host of variations, random tables, adventures, dangers and their grim portents, custom moves, items, locations, plot hooks, secrets, and more.

This is NOT just a reprint of the Monthly Monsters material! Each monster has been revised, expanded, and given new illustrations. Every page contains full-colour background art.

WHERE TO GET IT: From DriveThruRPG, click this link

The pdf comes in two versions: one full-colour, the other printer-friendly (with B&W text pages and full-colour monster illustrations). Both are digest-sized, 110 pages, for US$15.
The print is US trade-sized, full colour, 110 pages, for US$30 and comes with the pdfs for free if you want them.

You can also buy the print version by itself (no pdf!) from Lulu at this link. The quality is almost identical, but some countries get much better shipping rates from Lulu.

June 1, 2015

Battle Between the Worlds

bbtw_lowres1Battle Between the Worlds is a set of rules for running one-shot Dungeon Planet adventures. You get new characters with truncated, personalized rules and a bunch of adventure situations to choose from. The GM still has to know how to run Dungeon World, but you can play using only this document.

The character sheets include illustrations by George Metzger, Juan Ochoa, Mike Jackson, and Nate Marcel.

Because I wrote these quick start rules primarily for the upcoming Space Wurm vs. Moonicorn (still not done!), I am releasing it as Pay What You Want.

Here is a link to the pdf on DriveThruRPG.

The print version is available from Lulu.

February 15, 2015

Druid Specialties for Class Warfare

I didn’t break down the Druid into specialties for Class Warfare because when I wrote that book I didn’t really see how to do it well. I had already figured out the first step, which was realizing that there are only two archetypes to the Druid: a shapechanger and a nature person. The Mechanic class from Inverse World gave me the idea to allow character classes made of 2 specialties, with an advanced move from one of them as an additional starting move. But even then, the Druid has a whole bunch of powers clustered around shapechanging. Spirit Tongue is underpowered compared to the Ranger’s Wild Empathy, while Born of the Soil and Shapeshifter seem inseparable. But if we consider most of these to be half-strength moves, we can bump each of them up a bit and build a specialty based on Shapechanging with the other aspects of it as advanced moves.

Like so:

Druid Specialty #1: Shapeshifter

Starting move is the Druid’s Shapeshifter, but use this rule instead of Born of the Soil:
Choose 3 monster moves and distribute them between 1-3 other forms that you can assume through shapechanging. You can only assume these 1-3 other forms, and you can only spend your hold on the move or moves you have assigned to that specific form.

Example: Dracula can turn into a bat and use the move Fly Away, or he can turn into a wolf and use the moves Track Prey by Scent and Bite the Shit Out of a Foe. Dracula’s other starting moves are probably blood drain and hypnotize.

Advanced Moves levels 2-5:

Born of the Soil, but with this caveat:
Choose a category of creature, and you can assume any form in that category, but the GM assigns that form’s moves. You could also select a category other than “land type,” the same as taking Thing-Talker or World-Talker. And maybe you can take this move more than once, as with The Druid Sleep. The actual categories can be anything, and should probably be based on the campaign setting.

Studied Essence
Add the form of any spirit you contemplate (not just animals). If you can observe a creature or spirit or a spirit teaches you its form, you can transform into that type of creature or spirit.

Red of Tooth and Claw

Advanced Moves levels 6-10:
Blood and Thunder
Doppelaganger’s Dance
The Druid Sleep
Embracing No Form

As you can see, this is one big-ass specialty, with tons of moves. But I think it balances against the other specialties in Class Warfare okay.

The specialty left over after shapechanging is removed from the Druid is not quite as coherent though:

Druid Specialty #2: Nature Hippy

Either one of these as your starting move
1. By Nature Sustained, the Druid starting move.

2. Wild Empathy (the Ranger move).
(This is basically halved for Druid starting moves, since you can only speak to animals you can change into).

Advanced Moves levels 2-5:
Communion of Whispers
Elemental Mastery
Eyes of the Tiger

Advanced Moves levels 6-10:
Weather Weaver

This one either needs more moves to fill it out, or we should just redistribute these moves to other specialties. Which is basically what I did. These moves are all in Class Warfare, though I think Barkskin only appears as a Dwarven racial move.

So anyway, this breakdown of the Druid also proposes an interesting way to make classes. Take more than three moves, but reduce the effectiveness of each of them and group them around a theme. It won’t feel like a disparate collection of different abilities if they are arranged around a theme, and by putting greater limits on them, the class won’t be overpowered compared to others or steal spotlight time away from them.

January 9, 2015

Class Warfare Errata

There’s always a few pesky typos somewhere. Class Warfare, being such a large book, and having gone through some major structural changes during construction, has a few more than my average release, unfortunately.

I try to correct these in the pdf when I find them, so if you have any typos in your pdf, download a new version from DriveThruRPG and hopefully it will have been corrected. If not, let me know, so I can fix it. Print versions are a lot slower to update because they are more of a hassle to work with (especially DriveThruRPG, because every change requires ordering a new proof). If any of the typos listed below are present in your print copy, I apologize, and I hope you will make a note of the change for yourself so it won’t trip you up in the future.

Here’s the mistakes that have been corrected so far:

Page 29, Questing Nature: “stat what you set out to do” should read “state what you set out to do.”

Page 33, Spirits of Knowledge: This move should not require Prayers to the Dead (because that move was tweaked and renamed for the Dust Eater class starting moves).

Page 39, Advanced Moves: In the first bullet point, it should not read “one of the other rogue specialties,” because this is the adventurer archetype. It should read “on of the other adventurer specialties.”

Page 106, Starting Moves: Under the first bullet point, it should read “reduce both your base damage by one die size (from d6 to d4)” because the disciple damage die is a d6 (not a d8).

Pages 130-131: The Elementalist specialty reads like it is a magician specialty, with “magician alignment” and “magician race option,” both of which should read “disciple” instead of “magician.”

Page 237, Control: the damage ignores armour (because it is psychic), but doesn’t explicitly say so.
Page 238, Jaws Around Your Spine: same thing, damage ignores armour.

Page 260, Stats: It should say objectivist specialty, not object reader specialty.

Page 316, The Hand That Calls: “life one-handed” should read “lift one-handed.”

Page 370, Psychic Blade: the ranges for the psychic blade should be hand and close, not hand and near. You get the near tag from the Flying Daggers of the Mind advanced move.

Page 426, Symphony of Battle: the last option should read “You throw off the effects of being stunned, confused, or enchanted.”

Page 461, Berserker should read the same as the Berserker move on page 447.

Thanks to everyone who brought these to my attention! I do appreciate it and I wish I had spotted them earlier.

January 3, 2015

Terrors of the Ancient World at Lulu

mm1I managed to get a Lulu version of the Terrors of the Ancient World book together. It looks great! There’s barely any difference between Lulu’s colour quality and DriveThruRPG’s premium colour. So if ordering print from DriveThruRPG means exorbitant postal rates because of where you live, hopefully this option will make it easier for you to get the book. Because it looks pretty good.

Not as good as the next ones will (or, if you are reading this far in the future, not as good as the later books look), but still pretty good.


January 2, 2015

Adventures Don’t Sell for Shit

Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration.

Done well, adventure scenarios are an incredibly valuable tool for people playing rpgs. And yet they are never as popular as core rulebooks or player-oriented expansions. If I break down time spent writing adventures versus the profits they have made so far (over the course of a year and a half in a few cases), the best-case scenario is about minimum wage (which is CAN$10/hour where I live… I think). Obviously, if you have a large customer base, they way Pathfinder and D&D do, adventures can actually make enough money to pay for the people involved. But even in those cases, the rulebooks are still where the real money is.

So, what are adventures good for? Advertising.

1. They help sell other books, especially core rules.
If someone runs Island of Fire Mountain for their friends, and their friends love it, what happens? Do they all rush out and buy Island of Fire Mountain? No, they rush out and buy Dungeon World. Now, I’m all for helping out friends of mine but getting paid minimum wage to advertise someone else’s game (or do anything, really) is still a crap job, any way you cut it.

Take a look at two successful adventure-based business models: Goodman Games and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Both of them have gone from just adventures to also producing their own core rules, which I’m pretty sure sell better than adventures do. Not only are people more likely to buy adventures if they have a proper set of rules to go with it, but people also like to buy core rules. If you’re adventures don’t sell well enough to make a profit on their own, but they keep pointing people toward your other products that do, they’re worth the investment of time and effort (and by “worth it” I of course mean monetarily).

Just like rules expansions and supplements, adventures are a form of support for a game. Lots of people find well-supported games (and game lines) more attractive. Firstly, it (usually) means they will be able to do more things with one game simply by spending money and doing a little reading, instead of having to make everything up themselves (which can be especially time-consuming when it comes to designing rules). But also, if someone is already interested in a core game, good supplements and adventures work to grow and reinforce that interest. Bad supplements don’t tend to have the opposite effect because people can ignore them and concentrate on the ones they do like, or if they reinforce someone’s poor opinion of the game, that person is probably not going to be a customer (or repeat customer) anyway. A bad supplement flops on its own, a good supplement builds the brand.

All that said, making adventures pay off from a business standpoint requires you to use them as advertising for your other work. Using them to push your own core rulebook is a pretty well-established model.

2. They form a body of work.
Another thing that adventures can do is make bundled sales more attractive. A collection of many adventures, or rulebooks that come with a collection of adventures, adds value at the point of sale, as opposed to when people play the game (which is what point 1 was about). Sales are attractive; people like getting a deal. If you have one product out, all you can do is lower the price. If you have a whole bunch of products out, you can also sell a bunch of them for the regular price of just one of them, and not only does it feel like a deal money-wise, but time-wise as well, because they only have to make one purchase to get everything.

In point 1, I’m saying that people who see or play the adventure and think it’s cool get pointed to the core rules. With this point, I’m saying people who are interested in the core rules see that there are adventures for it, and it strengthens their resolve to buy it.

3. They disseminate a style of play.
Aside from the business aspects of points 1 and 2, there is also the community-building aspect to consider. Adventures help teach and promote a specific style of play, which can help lay the groundwork for other games of that style. If you run Apocalypse World and Dungeon World in a specific way, both games really sing. If you run them the same way you run Pathfinder, though? You’re going to have a terrible game. Even the people who hate Pathfinder won’t like it. But not everyone is able to learn how to play AW or DW really effectively from just the core rulebooks (because people learn in different ways). The more examples there are of that style of play out in the world, the easier it is for the people who like it to discuss it and find other people who want to play games in that style. It means subsequent games built in the AW style have an easier time gaining exposure. And this is just a recent example, which I use because right now I mostly write stuff for Dungeon World. Other examples of people promoting a specific style of play in opposition to more dominant styles include the OSR, the Fate community, and the various Gumshoe games.

4. Another reason why people write adventures.
Adventure-writing is also a natural by-product of play, since most rpgs require at least some form of prep. If you’re writing that stuff anyway, you’ve got a head start on a saleable product, although there’s still some work involved (most people I know don’t make professional-looking books just in order to play an adventure once with a few friends). Still, there’s something to be said for turning your hobby into something you can release in public with a little extra effort, and many more reasons than just making money why someone would do that.


Of course, I don’t follow the whole rpg industry, just parts of it. People with more experience selling games than me might have different perspectives. I published a bunch of adventures mainly because I wanted to, but overall, that time might have been better spent (business-wise) on something else. Adventures on Dungeon Planet has consistently outperformed all of those adventures since the very beginning, and Class Warfare is already more profitable after only a couple of months. So, even though I have notes for plenty more adventures, they’re not exactly racing to the top of the priorities list.

December 22, 2014

Debtrunner (second draft)

DR_cover_19_SMALLSo here’s another unfinished game I’ve been working on. This is the second playtest draft of Debtrunner, a science fiction rpg about a small group of operators driving their starship around in the slowly-recovering ruins of an interstellar, post-capitalist command economy empire. They work in the nascent private sector, made possible by a lack of FTL communications, the precarious nature of space-based civilization, and rampant political factionism. So, it’s basically a mash-up of Apocalypse World and Traveller, set in the Dune universe, kind of.

What sets Debtrunner apart from other space opera Apocalypse World hacks is pretty simple: it’s inspired by the random sector generation rules and the speculative trading rules in the three original Traveller booklets. You can still use these rules for covert missions and spaceship battles, but trading is the default activity. Oppressive political entities are more important than transhumanist ideas, and there are no aliens or robots whatsoever. Adventuring takes a back seat to class struggle.

The first version got some playtesting, so I revised it based on that, and this is the result. It’s not done by any means, and it wouldn’t be too hard to play except you have to generate a sector map first, which can be rather time-consuming. Anyway, it’s here if you want it.


Note: The basic rules are pretty similar to Evil of the Stars, and intentionally so. I still have to update the rules in Black Seas of Infinity so they match, but I haven’t done that yet. I should probably just stick to one game at a time, but it’s hard, y’know…

Edit: I made a character sheet for the ship, because the hit location aspect of it is actually pretty important. It’s more functional than pretty, though, don’t get too excited.

December 19, 2014

This is What Failure Looks Like

Sometimes it takes a lot of work and experimentation to get to a good cover. I’m not sure I’ve actually got a good one yet for Debtrunner, but these are some of the ones I tried and rejected:


These are getting closer to something good, but I’m still not completely sold:

I had better luck with the cover of Black Seas of Infinity, even if I don’t have a new rough draft of the game, but these are some of the ones I rejected while also working on the Debtrunner cover:

December 18, 2014

An Overview of Social Mechanics in Apocalypse World Games

Part 1: Basic Moves
My aim in writing this is two-fold: One, to share some ideas, because a lot of great conversations about the AW format have gotten buried in various places all over the interwebs and aren’t easily to look up for people new to it. Two, maybe to start some conversation up again, because I’m not finished writing rules in this vein and new ideas are always good to see.

So anyway, back at the dawn of time, Apocalypse World had the move “when you seduce or manipulate someone, roll+hot” in it. And that was your move for doing the social stuff and then rolling dice for it.

Asymmetrical Effects
Right, so the move works differently on PCs and NPCs. Your influence over NPCs depends on your hot stat and your rolls, not so much on the individual NPC (barring custom moves). Your influence over PCs isn’t absolute, though. You can’t make another PC do something, you can only put pressure on the player through rules-based incentives that model the character’s experience of being socially pressured. This is good if you want to really highlight the fact that PCs and NPCs use different rules, but isn’t particularly elegant. It looks more like two moves than only one.

However, the versions of this move in Dungeon World and Monsterhearts only work on NPCs, because Monsterhearts has other ways to pressure PCs (strings and conditions), and Dungeon World simply isn’t about using the rules to persuade the other PCs.

Monsterhearts actually paves the way for unifying both PC and NPC versions into one move, with advantage and disadvantage. If the move works the same, but you can offer advantage or impose disadvantage, PCs are free to make their choices and the rules for NPC might allow them to refuse in a few, limited circumstances, but overall mandates they behave as expected. The problem here is to work out how the concrete assurances of the 7-9 result play out when PCs ask for them. How much can a PC ask for, anyway?

Wording and Leverage
The versions in both AW and DW both require an explanation of leverage, which (in my opinion) fights with the actual trigger wording, and perhaps makes it redundant and unnecessary except for purposes of a style and consistency (in that every move should have a similarly-worded trigger). Certainly “manipulate someone” is terribly vague and even though “use your leverage over someone to make them do what you want” is long and cumbersome, it does a much better job at explaining what is really happening. It leaves out seduce, however, and that’s an important part of AW, so you can sort of see why it’s that way.

A problem I’ve seen here is that people write special moves referencing leverage, like “you can always use the threat of being beaten up by you as leverage.” This means either that even NPCs who cannot feel fear and ghosts that the character cannot even touch are always afraid of being beaten up by him (unless perhaps the player rolls a 6 or less), or that it’s just a suggestion to the GM to include NPCs that are afraid of being beaten up by this character. If it’s just a suggestion, it should be worded that way, and not as an absolute rule; and as an absolute rule, it has the potential to make absolutely no sense. Not that it’s exactly easy to write a good, snappy alternative (aside from just limiting those affected), and I haven’t seen one yet.

It’s possible for vagueness like that to work in your favour, though. In some cases, it’s quite alright to simply let the people playing the game interpret the trigger wording. Monsterhearts, for example, doesn’t define what manipulating an NPC actually is, it just says you have to actually want something from them. In Throne of Dooms, I went with the trigger “when you try to talk someone into something.” Although there’s some explanation, the move assumes the conversation has already started and the PC’s desired outcome might actually happen, there’s just no certainty. But that game’s a work in progress—the move has changed before and it might change again. In both cases, a sense of the game’s genre is pretty crucial to understanding the move’s trigger. This is true of most Monsterhearts moves—run away works as a basic move, but would seem both oddly specific and opposed to the genre in a game like Dungeon World.

Information-Gathering Social Moves
In the Seclusium of Orphone and Apocalypse World: Dark Ages, there are social moves that let you collect information by asking questions, the same as when you read a sitch or discern realities. John Harper distilled these down to a question-less move in a recent g+ post:

When you manipulate someone to get what you want, roll+[stat] and they’ll name the price. On a 10+, they name the absolute minimum price they’d possibly accept. On a 7-9, they name a price they could live with. On a 6-, they name any price they want.

Essentially, where the AW manipulate moves and those like it allow you to make demands of the fiction, these moves allow you to interrogate it in order to find out what you need to do in the fiction to make something happen. One advantage is that this works equally well on both PCs and NPCs, but it can feel strange right next to more typical perception moves, if players perceive social influence as an active force more than a matter of reading people. I used a hybrid version in Evil of the Stars, stealing the move trigger from AW:DA to finally finish he interview move that’s been kicking around the development of my sci-fi games for several years now:

When you draw someone out in conversation, roll+hot. On a 12+, both. On a 10-11, choose 1:
· Ask 2 questions from the list below.
· Say how you make them feel.
On a 7-9, ask 1:
· How could I get your character to _____?
· Is your character being truthful?
· What does your character intend to do?
· What does your character want or expect from me?
· What is your character really feeling?
On a miss, ask 1 anyway, but they can also ask 2 of you.

Wording Again
It’s good to mess around with the wording of move triggers so they fit the game, the genre, and also your own play style. “Manipulate” isn’t quite the same as “talk someone into something,” and “draw someone out in conversation” is something else again. You want to push the players towards behaviours that support the genre and the style of play the game is supposed to be about, so put that in the move triggers. Here’s a different version of John’s questionless information-gathering move from above:

When you do someone a favour, then make a request of them, roll+stat. On a 10+, they must tell you the easiest way to get them to fulfill the request, or the lowest price they will accept in exchange. On a 7-9, they must name a price they are willing to live with. On a 6 or less, they can name any price they desire, or none, and the GM tells you the consequences.

So instead of manipulating people to get what you want, getting people to do things in this game is about reaching out to them first, building connections, and finding out what it would take to convince them. You bring the king some tribute first, and then you ask about redrawing the borders between your estates and the evil duke’s estates. Or you give the guards cigarettes, and then ask them to let you see the prisoner. You buy someone a drink, then see if they are willing to go home with you.

One of the social moves in Night Witches takes a cue from DW’s Defy Danger, and allows you to modify the dice using different stats based on how you Act Up:

When you try to get your way…
…by acting like a hooligan, roll+luck.
…by acting like a lady, roll+guts.
…by acting like a natural-born Soviet airwoman, roll+medals.

In most other AW hacks, using a different stat has been a matter of having a special stat-substitution move.

Scene Resolution
But the real innovation I saw in this Night Witches move was when the wording in an earlier draft including the words “cause a scene.” In a game with heavy, and especially regimented, scene-framing rules, this can encourage players to frame a scene already in the process of making this move. Because the results of Act Up are broader than simply influencing a single person, the way moves derived from seduce or manipulate are, it can function as either resolution for a single action in a larger scene, or for a whole scene itself.

On a 10+, choose two. On a 7-9, choose one:
· Make someone do what you want.
· Ensure that there are no consequences for Acting Up.
· Add one to the Mission Pool.

Imagine a Monsterhearts style game with a similar move, where Marcia the scheming vampire throws a birthday party for Clarice (“when you do something nice for someone, roll+hot”), rolls well for the move, and chooses two options. Marcia seduces Keith (Clarice’s boyfriend) as one, and puts the condition “Owes Marcia” on Clarice as the other. As you can see, she didn’t even use the move against Keith, but since he was there in the scene, fair is fair. Not every genre can use this, but for a lot that can, it’s basically half-way there already.

And Now For Something Completely Different
Or if you like the idea of a game that runs entirely on the workspace rules, instead of rolling 2d6 all the time, you can have information-gathering moves without the dice:

When you try to manipulate someone in order to get your way, the GM will tell you what it will take (1 to 4 of the following):
· First you must __________.
· It’ll take (hours/days/weeks) to convince them.
· They want to get paid.
· They’ll only do part of what you want, if someone else does the rest.
· You must keep __________ out of it.
· You’ll need help to convince them, from __________.

So that’s a bunch of stuff, but it doesn’t cover things like Hx, bonds, aid and interfere, and currencies like hold, strings, and debts. Maybe I’ll cover that in Part 2 and maybe I’ll just slack off and not.


Additional Commentary:

Rob Brennan pointed out the interplay between social influence and the perception moves. In AW, you don’t usually go looking to seduce or manipulate without knowing you have leverage—either you know they want something, because it’s clear in the fiction, or you use the read a person move to find out.

In cases where you ask questions, the general idea is that this occurs between players, and that the information is conveyed to the PC through any and all means available, which can include the characters talking exactly like the players, or can be (in the fiction) entirely non-verbal. This can be expressed in phrasing the questions to the player (“What is your character really feeling”), but could also maybe be explained in a paragraph somewhere if the game you are writing is marketed towards people who aren’t AW vets.

I thought about playing around with triggers to achieve a completely different effect and came up with this one:

When you pretend you’re something you’re not, in order to deceive an enemy, roll+[stat]. On a 10+, they take you at your word. On a 7-9, they require concrete proof before they believe your lies.

Here’s a test for you: Why is there a second clause (“in order to deceive an enemy”) in that trigger?

December 11, 2014

My Books in the Bundle of Holding

Currently, the Bundle of Holding has a great deal on a whole bunch of Dungeon World books, including my own Class Warfare, Adventures on Dungeon Planet, Truncheon World, Terrors of the Ancient World, and all three of my DW series modules: Lair of the Unknown, Island of Fire Mountain, and Ghostwood Haunts.

It also includes two great adventures from Jason Lutes! Funnel World is basically the DCC funnel adapted to Dungeon World. You play much-maligned peasants trying to survive the onslaught of terrible monsters long enough to become bonafide adventurers. The other one is Servants of the Cinder Queen, in which an evil fire goddess and her minions have invaded an ancient mountain monastery hoping to wreak havoc on the world. Or something like that. I haven’t read either of these yet, but I have played both of them, and my current Dungeon World group is still playing Cinder Queen. They have both been a lot of fun.

I have also marked down all the print versions of my books in the Bundle by 15%, from now until sometime after Christmas. So check out the Bundle and give the pdfs a read, and if you like them a lot, pick up one or two of them in print. If you shop at Lulu, the code FJE5 gets you (an additional) 25% off, today only (December 11). There might be a better deal later this month, though, as there was last year (although the deal last year seemed pretty crazy, so who knows).


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