Campaign INSPO Part 1 – What it is.

I took last week off, but now I’m back and ready for MORE! This week I’m going to write a short two-part series on campaign/game inspiration and why you should consider establishing this for your own games.

One of my favorite things, in fact one of the things I’m most likely do upon immediately opening a brand new RPG book is to hunt down their Inspirations section and see what media and other games influenced the making this new game in my hands.

Appendix N from AD&D is the Ur-version of this concept, but for me I really started loving this small section of RPG books because of the New World of Darkness series of books where they explained what exactly they meant by “you’re a VAMPIRE!” or “you’re a WEREWOLF!” or “you’re a SIN-EATER!” (that last one really benefited from an Inspirations section, let me tell you).

Like I would imagine most RPG bloggers and probably most DMs/GMs/MCs whatever out there, I’ve worked on many games of my own, and I’ve found that establishing my own Inspirations section is a healthy place to start from. It helps me keep in mind what flavor and type of story my rules should reflect.

For example, I’ve been simmering on an idea for an OSR adaptation called Street Punks & Crowbars for a while. Rather than try to explain what I want exactly out of the setting/rules, let me share my list of Inspo for the game:

2000 AD (Comics), Akira, The Warriors (1979), Escape from New York/LA, Dredd (2012), The Robocop Films, Roadhouse, The Running Man, Predator 2, Soylent Green, Streets of Rage (Sega Genesis), Streets of Fire (1984), Attack the Gas Station (1999), Rumble Fish (1983), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (The original comics and movie), Big Trouble in Little China, Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), and many more.

From looking at that list, I’m hoping you’d get a very strong vibe of what I’m going for with Street Punks & Crowbars.

Of course there’s other ways to establish the feel for everyone in the game, and that’s through directly sharing media that boils everything down to exactly what you want out of a game.

The video that inspired (har har) this post was the following excellent opening cinematic from the original Resident Evil video game (NSFW cause blood and stuff):

Oh God, I want to run that game right now. The music, the graphics, the makeup/costumes/HAIR! It’s just screaming to me to run it.

Another popular video on the OSR subreddit to show off what old school D&D could/maybe SHOULD be is this amazing short animated film (again, lots of violence and crazy shit, so probably NSFW):

Again, I NEED to run something someday that lives up to that video. The music doesn’t hurt anything here. The art style is almost uncomfortable to watch – its simplicity matching its brutality. There’s desperation and literally faceless, unbeatable enemies. Then the mushrooms. Oh the mushrooms. I mean magical flowers. Of course.

So now we’ve established what campaign INSPO can be, next time we’ll take a look at why it’s so important!

Class Armor and Armor Die for Black Hack.

I just finished the first real dungeon I’ve ever run – OSR or otherwise – and it’s given me some thoughts. I ran A Hole in the Oak from Necrotic Games (of Old School Essentials fame) using the Black Hack 2nd Edition rules. TBH certainly has taken and held my attention as my OSR rule system of choice.

I may write about my experience with Hole in the Oak in the future, but that’s not what this post is about. It was fun, if a little unfocused (intentionally so), and felt like it was a pretty good tasting of OSR dungeon crawls in general. I certainly would recommend it as a first exposure for both GM and players to the genre of play.

But like I said, that’s not what this is about. While I love TBH, the one thing I don’t love about it is the way armor works. I found myself having to explain it every session again to my players (not their fault, IMO), and it relied on a lot of bookkeeping (well, a lot for our online game).

ARMOR

Every class has an Armor Die listed in its entry. This Armor Die functions as a usage die does but is used exclusively to negate physical damage in a fight.

When a player character would take physical damage during combat, they may choose to roll their Armor Die instead. The damage is negated entirely, and the player rolls their Armor Die.

On a roll of 1 or 2, the Armor Die drops down one size just as when a Usage Die is rolled. If an Armor Die of d4 rolls a 1 or 2, the player character can no longer rely on that armor until repaired.

After a long rest where the character spent some time repairing the armor, the Armor Die is returned to its default value.

Shields provide one free reroll of the Armor Die before breaking.

CLASS ARMOR DICE, ABILITIES, AND SPELLS

Warrior: d8 Armor Die

Replace SelfReliant with: You may repair/increase a damaged Armor Die one step after one short rest once per day.

Thief: d6 Armor Die

Cleric: d6 Armor Die

Wizard: d4 Armor Die

Replace Shield with: Gives the caster Arcane Mail (Armor Die d6) – when you roll a 1 or 2 on Arcane Mail’s Armor Die d4, it’s gone for good.

Replace Protect with: Gives Nearby Characters Aura (Armor Die d6) – when you roll a 1 or 2 on Aura’s Armor Die d4, it’s gone for good.

So instead I took direction from the game itself and went with a rule that seems like a natural evolution of the mechanics already present. So these rules completely replace the rules for armor as they exist in TBH 2nd edition. It shouldn’t be difficult by that same standard to extract how to mod other rules from here.

It’s also trivially easy for me to give a notable monster/NPC an Armor Die.

Overall I think my players definitely preferred my houseruled armor. I kept little cards on my end and tracked with little beads where their armor was at any given point. This was much easier, but it did have an interesting effect in that a d8 Armor Die seems to be a source of over confidence whereas a d4 really made them hold back using it, which I think might feel right, actually.

I actually very much want to run with the Usage Die and take it even further, but this was a good test run. I mean, if it works for armor, why not hit points all together? What about armor dice against sources of damage like magic or psionics? Against fire or other elements? Very easy to implement. Sky is the limit here on this one.

Snakeskin Chain Skin

What color it is, I cannot say, yet hiss, and kiss your tears away…

DESCRIPTION

Deep in the caverns of a lost cave system of underground circular tunnels carved out impossibly smooth, the very rock worn down through some unknown process or method, if you’re lucky enough to survive the encounters by the lizard-like folk who dwell there, you may find a metal bracelet sculpted on the outer side in scales of a snake, shimmering with alternating green, blue, and purple iridescent hues.

If you were to put on the bracelet, you would find that the scales seem to expand to cover the entire wrist, and on the underside of the band, scales would grip the arm, not piercing the skin, but creating a flexible seal over the skin.

If you were to continue to wear the bracelet for an extended period of time, you would notice, eventually, the scales slowly expanding. You might be alarmed by this, but you will likely feel conflicted as the metal scales provide quite the protective armor against harm from anything that slashes and cuts (but not form those things that pierce and bash).

If you were to ignore the early signs of the skin growing, you might find yourself changing in other ways as the scales continue to cover the surface of your body. Your eyes could change – the pupils narrowing to long vertical slits. Your ears and nose could recede (or perhaps be enveloped by your swelling head – flesh taking on the same strange hues of the scales of metal).

If you were not attuned to the magics and creatures of the Bridge of Stone before, you are now, and interacting with items and peoples attuned to the other Bridges can cause great harm and distress.

If you allow the bracelet to take yourself, you might find that you and the lizard-like folk share more in common than not. You may question why they were so fiercely defending and keeping others away from their treasure horde. You may find yourself being drawn back to that same system of tunnels from which you first found the bracelet…

RULES

If one were to put on the Snakeskin Chain Skin bracelet, the GM begins tracking how long it will take for it to cover your body. The effect starts at a Ud10 that is rolled at the end of each long rest. As long as the usage die is a d8 or d10, it is possible to take off the bracelet. Once the usage die is at a d6, the arm must be removed to separate the bracelet from the body. At a d4 it is covering so much of the body that it is impossible to remove and just a matter of time before the character is taken over entirely.

Whenever the bracelet is removed, the effect resets at Ud10 when it is put on once more.

The bracelet has the following effects based on the current usage die of the effect:

UD10Merely a large bracelet: It confers the capacity to speak with snakes, lizards, and other creatures and folk associated with the Bridge of Stones. Of course these types of animals are still simple and low INT, however they can now converse with intelligent folk from this bridge in their own language.

UD8 Covers the hand up to the elbow: As above and provides a free use of armor against one source of cutting, slashing, or hacking damage each day.

UD6 Covers the entire arm up to the shoulder socket: As above and provides one use of Conjure Snake once per day:

CONJURE SNAKE: Arcane Spell – Summons a metallic snake familiar with 2d4 HD.

UD4 Covers most of the body below the neck: As above and replaces the characters background with the following: I once was one of the folk of lizardkind from the tunnels beneath the earth and will do anything to return to serve my duty and protect the nest.

DESIGN NOTES

This is a long one, but I think pretty fun! I like the idea of this kind of progressive item, it’s almost like a parasite that slowly takes over and replaces the wearer over time, but until it does, it confers some pretty fun abilities. Who wouldn’t want a metal lizard familiar to command?

I also love the idea of the GM concealing the progression of the spread of the scales. I once read a house rule for Call of Cthulhu that recommended the GM track every player’s sanity score in secret and describing how their characters react when a sanity-altering encounter is presented. I love it because it gives the GM some crunch to guide the presentation of fluff. That’s what we’re here to do anyway, right?

Once again I’ve found a new utilization for the usage die, that thing is just beyond versatile! I’ll be surprised if I run out of new ways to manipulate it in the future, in fact I feel like it’s kind of an ever-expanding presence in my own ways I want to run and design games. It creeps, must like scales from a bracelet slowly taking over my mind…

The Oscura Part 2 – Lots of Build Progress!

I have to apologize that this isn’t strictly RPG or OSR related, but this is definitely another aspect of tabletop gaming that I just love, and it’s been taking most of my creative time and energy this week, so here we go again into my Chaos Marines rhino/landspeeder abomination!

I tried taking lots of pictures as I went with the build as it’s gone so far. I’m pretty much as far as I can hope to get right now since I’m waiting on delivery of magnets, milliput, and a Chaos Rhino kit that I’ll be taking lots of bibblies and bobblies from for this project. Still, I’m so excited with how far I’ve gotten on this Chaos Impulsor project.

I’ve started to think of my Night Lords warband on a whole as “The Oscura” – it was initially meant to be the name of this battle barge alone, but now it’s the name of the group. I’m going to be embracing these guys as real pirates/renegade space marines who don’t worship Chaos but aren’t afraid to embrace it for power. These guys (and gals!) hate everyone equally.

Enough fluff, get ready for the image dump!

First as a reminder, this is what Games Workshop thinks a Primaris Impulsor should look like:

I’m never not going to love that little marine head poking out of the top of it. God Emperor speed gunner, God Emperor speed.
After building the initial hull, I had to carve off a pesky Imperial Aquila right on the front of the thing. Some sanding actually helped I think as I intend to do a complex dry brushing/stippling paint job, and all that sweet rough texture should make for some interesting effects…. hopefully.
I thought I had made such good progress! 😀 This is my first vehicle larger than a heavy warjack from Warmachine, which is really not much bigger than a Gravis armor marine.
An initial test for fit and look. As ridiculous as it looks, that flatbed was made for a huge rocket!
As much as I love the big rocket, that might be… a little much.
Starting to test out the tea candles that I’m going to hide beneath this thing in plumes of black smoggy poly-fil. It’s a bit too tall here, so I began experimenting with tearing the candles apart. The smaller engine nozzles should work very well around the outer edge. My goal is to give the illusion of there being more of those things directly beneath it burning hard to keep the heavy vehicle afloat.
First I figured out how to cut off the plastic “flame” sculpted on, but it was a bit too tall still.
Success! With just my sprue cutter and elbow grease I was able to get the plastic casing to pop off, keeping the LED, battery, and switch all perfectly intact. Now we’re cooking.
I thought a picture with a Primaris Marine for scale might help…
I decided to move forward with getting it mostly constructed and ready to go. I know the weapons aren’t going to match an actual Chaos rhino or land raider, but I don’t particularly care as I won’t ever being playing in a format or with people who care either. On a sidenote, just look at all those little nubs! Maybe I need to make a spider/centipede inspired Impulsor for my next project with little legs carrying the whole thing…
One of my more Chaos-y bashes to begin with. I flipped the “bumper” upside down and added some marine arms to it, finally wrapping some chain around the arms as if they were chained to the front of the thing. Night Lords love chained body parts. My thought is that Space Marine armor is so good, why wouldn’t they use some of it to keep the bumper in good shape? 😀 I added those two “X” bits from a sprue and plan to sculpt some flesh to “stretch” over it – Night Lords also love their flayed flesh!
More testing with the lights. I’m going to leave the top of it with the missile launcher as removable and then magnetize the tealight/rocket nozzle to the inside, so ultimately I’ll be able to pop that portion of the roof off, pull out the tea light, and turn it on and off. I don’t think it’ll be too hard to pull off!
I absolute adore how the light from the candles is reflected on that arm and the underbelly of this thing – even in bare gray plastic! I also will be magnetizing it so I can pop it off and turn those candles on and off.
One finally view of the engine nozzle test on the bed of the barge. I’m confident this thing will look great painted up. It’s ridiculous, but I love it. It’s what 40k is all about to me.

One final note, I’m planning on putting a cultist in that hole on top, sticking out like a maniac. I bought a box of Cultists of the Abyss and am hoping one of them will serve me well in this regard. The rest will just fill in as general Chaos cultists. I have a bunch of Age of Sigmar chaos dudes that I may have to make work as Chaos 40k cultists down the road…

I hope you enjoyed the pictures and my commentary! I would love to get advice/feedback on both kitbashing and writing about kitbashing! This has been a very fun, addictive project. Definitely makes me want to keep working these creativity muscles out with more projects.

Raised by Wolves, Bears, Whatever – Economy of Storytelling.

I finally caught the first two episodes of the HBO Max exclusive series Raised by Wolves. You can watch the first episode legit for free on Youtube here. I recommend you do, because it hooked me very hard. If you’re a fan of Warhammer 40,000 or crazy Sci-Fi with robots and uncomfortable religious cults, I think you’re going to like it.

Anyway, without going into spoilers/plot specific details, a scene in the second episode caught me off guard with how good it was at introducing five new characters in just a handful of lines and nonverbal acting.

Five characters are brought into an unfamiliar setting, and in we get their names, which I’m awful at remembering, but we also get little reactions from each of them about how they’re going to survive this new, incredibly perilous situation they find themselves in.

It caught me off guard because I know now these characters by their beliefs rather than their names, and all it took was a single line or reaction to a line from another character. For example one character immediately gives up her symbol of religious faith recognizing that their captor/liberator frowns upon it. Another character, the youngest, cries helplessly, and one of her fellow captives moves immediately to pacify and calm her. Yet another character scoffs at the situation, and finally a fifth character tells them all to stop arguing, stressing that arguments will get them killed.

These five characters are all children by the way, instantly raising the stakes by this nature alone.

What does this have to do with OSR and RPGs in general? Well not only does the group of children mirror the size of your average party of D&D adventurers, but we don’t have much time for character development, and the writer/director/editor all know we need to grow some attachment or at least meaning to these characters or we’re not going to care about what happens to them – we have to know what’s at risk of being lost so we care more about the threat.

DO THIS IN YOUR GAME. We all lament the lameness/boring aspect of “You all meet in a tavern” and often with good reason, but there’s no reason you can’t emulate the type of scene from Raised by Wolves in your own game, in a tavern, in session 1.

For example, take the “meet in a tavern” thing and inject some fear/danger into it immediately. There’s a couple of easy ways to do this. My first idea that comes to mind is to have the person calling them together – normally someone who needs a job done, right? – have this quest giver poison their food and have a partner of the poisoner somewhere else be the only person with the antidote.

Let each character react in turn to this news. You’ll probably only pull this off once as they will likely suspect someone in the future of trying the same trick, but it’s worth a shot as a way to inject some time and pressure on the players immediately. Character is what happens when obstacles are put in front of someone, and this is a great way for your players to show off their characters and questions them immediately on how their character reacts to personal threats.

There’s lots of other ways to do this – you could have a necromancer curse them at the start of the first session. You could run one-on-one sessions for each character getting poisoned individually and then told to go to the tavern and meet the rest of the team. Although this does take away some of the fun of seeing your player characters interact with each other, it does present an opportunity for your players to get a feel for their characters as they exist “in the wild” or when they have the spotlight on them.

I know in practicality this isn’t new advice – start your campaign with a bang! Right? But focus in on those character reactions. It doesn’t really matter what the threat is as long as it hits them where they live.