Category Archives: Development

How I Write Adventures

by Solomoriah

Probably close to two months ago (in real time) I was needing a game-time-filling side quest for some of my player’s characters.  So an NPC told them a story about Thaumerion Daelant, a wizard dead for almost two hundred years; his tower, they were told, had been raided repeatedly by adventurers over the years, but no one ever found the wizard’s personal treasures.  Besides his spell books, a thing always worth having, the stories told that Thaumerion had been the owner of a Staff of Power.

That was enough of a hook to get them moving.  I didn’t have the tower detailed yet; indeed, all I knew about it was what I just wrote above.  They spent a session traveling overland to the locale, and still I didn’t have the dungeon done, but no problem… I just put J.D. Neal’s Insect Valhalla from our AA1 Adventure Anthology 1 multimodule between them and the tower.  I’d wanted to run that adventure for a while anyway, so it seemed like a perfect time.

They finished it (as in, got from one side to the other) in a session, and due to scheduling issues I had a month to get the tower done.

A week ago, I still hadn’t done anything, and I knew I was down to the wire… they were literally at the outer door of the tower.  I had to get it finished.

Tuesday I was driving down the road on the way back from visiting a customer, thinking about the tower, when I suddenly saw it all in a kind of a flash… how to build the dungeon so it could be repeatedly looted and still have significant challenges, and present an enemy who is not what it appears to be at all (subverting one of the oldest RPG tropes in the process).

Tuesday night I sat down and drew the maps, then converted them to MapMatic +2 format.  Wednesday I laid out the basic document format, wrote up a first draft of the GM’s introduction, the main encounter and roughly a third of the other dungeon rooms.  Thursday I filled in all the remaining rooms, and had James Lemon start taking a look at the adventure.  I’ve redone some of the maps and touched up the text a bit since then, and as far as I’m concerned it’s almost ready to publish.

Seriously, I don’t normally write adventures that way.  Most of the time, filling in the last 50% or so of the dungeon is a slog, and I rarely am able to fill in the mundane contents of the dungeon, or the flavor text, so easily as I did this time.  Writing the adventures I publish, or revising those submitted to us, is almost always a slow process.  Sometimes, though, inspiration hits… just in time, in this case, as I will be running the adventure in an hour and a half.

Thaumerion’s Tower will appear on the forum soon (after my players have been through it and I fix up whatever issues they expose) and I have plans for it to appear in AA3 Adventure Anthology 3 when we begin work on that document.

Why not add X to the game?

by Solomoriah

This is an answer to a question I get a lot, and I’ve answered a lot… and saying the same thing over and over is inefficient.  So from now on, when I get the question, I’ll point the questioner here.

One of the secrets of the success of Basic Fantasy RPG is the fact that I had a clear vision of what the game needed to be.  Four classes, four races, brief equipment list, manageable spell list, enough monsters to keep you busy without getting too weird, and so on.  I had what I called a “coverage target,” that is, a list of things that the game had to have.  I made a point of adding very little that was not on that list.

The rule I used was simple.  Many people would send me email messages that said “Your game is really good, but it would be great if it had X in it” where X might be sorcerers or half-dragons or whatever.  Very few people repeated the same request; when I saw a request being repeated, that was an indication to me of something I should consider adding.  Consider carefully, mind you… very few things got added that way.  It’s why we have (brief) wrestling rules, for example, rather than none at all as was common in the 1981 era that BFRPG seeks to emulate.

Any X that was requested by just one guy?  No, not getting in, sorry.  Even when several people asked, I was really careful.

One thing in particular I am always careful of… new classes.  It is so hard to create a new class that is not objectively better or worse overall than the core class it is closest to.  Balance is hard, people, especially in a game that embraces the “linear fighter, quadratic wizard” situation (look it up, it’s interesting reading).

The Basic Fantasy RPG Core Rules will probably never include more than the four classes and four races you find in the current edition.  Keeping the game compact, and providing those “cool” bits as supplements, helps to keep the feel and style of the game consistent and familiar.

S&W Appreciation Day!

by SmootRK

S&W is a great game in itself.  I love how all the various retro-clone games can utilize their materials rather interchangeably. Rather than blather on about my experience with S&W, I would rather just share a couple original races that can be utilized in S&W games.  There might be minor mechanical differences to iron out between the game versions, but usable nonetheless. Both are original creations, though one is inspired by a great author.

Copyright – R. Kevin Smoot 2009, originally within “New Races Supplement” for Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game.  Images are copyright of Cory “Shonuff” Gelnett and should not be utilized outside of Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game endeavors without direct permission from him.

The first is a race inspired by my beloved dog whom passed away some time ago.

Caneins

Canein Mage

Description: A legend exists that there was a wizard who loved his dogs. This mage kept dogs as pets, trained them to guard his estate, and even used them in magical experiments to enhance their ability to serve. They were gifted with greater intelligence and a more humanoid stature. It is unknown whether the legend is entirely true or not, but it is generally assumed to be the genesis of the Caneins.

Caneins are a race of dog-like humanoids, known for their extreme sense of loyalty whether to liege, friend, or family. There is a great deal of physical variance among the individual Caneins, with some short and stocky, others leanly muscled, and variations in the colorations of their coats. However, all Caneins share a similar facial structure similar to the various bulldog or boxer type dog breeds, having jowls and squat features. Caneins vary in their height, but are rarely larger than the average human. Caneins often form almost knight-like codes and attitudes, often serving a patron in exactly that capacity.

Restrictions: Caneins can be any class, although they seldom become Thieves. Even when a Canein Thief is found, he typically uses the skills of that profession in more honorable ways than the typical rogue. A Canein must have a minimum Constitution of 9, and are limited to a maximum Intelligence of 17.

Special Abilities: Caneins have a keen sense of smell, able to identify individuals by their scent alone. This power olfactory sense allows the Canein to determine the presence of concealed or invisible creatures, and any penalties associated with combating such foes is halved for the Caneins. For instance, a Canein suffers only a -2 penalty when attacking an invisible pixie. All Caneins can track as Ranger of equivalent level, and an actual Canein Ranger (if the class is allowed by the GM) gets a bonus of +20% on Tracking rolls.

Caneins have +2 on any reaction rolls involving other canine creatures. However, Caneins do not like vile beasts such as werewolves, hellhounds, and the like, despite any similarities.

Saving Throws: Caneins save at +2 vs. Death Ray or Poison as well as vs. Paralysis and Petrification effects

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The next race owes its origins to C.S.Lewis’s Narnia.  Frankly, I am continually surprised that more  material from him does not appear in RPG form.  Certainly he brings a great vision of fantasy at least a good (if different) than Tolkein derived material.

Faun and Ibex

Description: Fauns are a fey related race that resemble a sort of strange cross of goat with that of a small human or elf-like being. Standing only about 4 to 5 feet tall, they have human-like torso and head, but the legs and feet of a goat. One can find Fauns with other small features reminisce of goats such as small horns or large ears. Fauns share the Halfling love of simple agrarian life, especially with respect to vineyards, as they prize wine (among other brews) above most things in life. Fauns love frivolity and are often quite adept at musical pursuits.

Restrictions: Fauns may become any class. A Faun will typically follow the tenets of nature deities, and Clerics and Druids can be found equally in their societies (when allowed by GM). A Faun must have a minimum Constitution of 9, and are limited to a maximum Charisma of 15 generally accounted to overly gregarious personalities and lack of inhibitions. Fauns may not wear typical human style footwear.

Special Abilities: Fauns have Darkvision out to 30 feet. Fauns are resistant to charm-like effects from fey beings, getting an additional +4 on relevant saves. This includes charms of dryads, nixies, and similar beings (GM decision when necessary).

Saving Throws: Like Dwarves, Fauns save at +4 vs. Death Ray or Poison, Magic Wands, Paralysis or Petrify, and Spells, and at +3 vs. Dragon Breath.

Ibix: The Ibix are a sort of cousin to the Fauns. Ibix appear like Fauns except that their heads are much more goat-like. Unlike Fauns, Ibex are ill tempered and generally considered evil, sometimes even allying with humanoids such as goblins. They have identical statistics to those listed above, except that they do not speak Halfling, instead learning the languages of Goblins more commonly.

Metarules

by Solomoriah

One of the things about the Old School that’s not obvious to everyone is that what you don’t write down is as important as what you do. Sometimes I refer to this as the “metarules” of the game.

For example, the “1-n on 1d6, sometimes adjusted by ability bonus” mechanic, or some variation of it, is used in several places in the rules. But never do I explain it in any general fashion, and I’m not going to. Novice GMs will apply the rule only as written, but as they become more experienced, they find that the mechanic is more generally useful than it appears. If I chose to explain it, to make it an abstract mechanic, it would change its nature.

The “unified mechanic” of modern games is like that. It becomes a hammer… as in, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If I codified the d6 mechanic above, it would become a single hammer, rather than a set of similar hammers useful in different circumstances. Some GMs would be less willing to change the rule, while others would try to apply the rule in places where it was not really appropriate.

But instead, I provide similar, but not identical, rules in several places.  As the GM gains experience (GMXP?), he or she notices the similarity, and the differences as well.  When a player wants to try something for which there’s no rule written, the GM may remember the d6 rule, and see that some variation of it is appropriate to the situation.

I’ve learned from long experience that the things I figure out for myself I know far better than the things that are prescribed to me.  For the purposes of the game, I choose to keep the rules simple and brief, but provide interesting, varied game mechanics to stimulate the imagination of the GM, rather than to try to figure out every possible thing that might happen and write a rule for it.  Or, to write a “unified mechanic” that supposedly covers every situation, but isn’t necessarily appropriate to all of them.

Fans of the “unified mechanic” are howling as they read this.  Bah, I say to you.  Before Basic Fantasy RPG, I had a game called Project 74, and the earliest versions of that game were built around a unified mechanic.  It sounded good on paper… ability rolls on 1d20, with a given target number, and the ability score bonus applied (along with other bonuses, like the Attack Bonus, called a Combat Rating in the earliest versions of Project 74).  But in the first player character group we had a human, a gnome, an elf, and a half-ogre.  The odds of the gnome forcing a door (he was a magic-user) were around 50% (11+ on 1d20, no STR bonus) while the half-ogre had a 60% chance (same target number, 16 STR).  Say what?  The number of times we saw the “pickle jar” conundrum, where the weakling succeeded at a strength task that the hulking brute failed at, were just silly.  Oh, I could adjust the target number, but I couldn’t get a range of results I liked with a “standardized” target number rule.  Raising the target to 16+, for instance, lowers the gnome to 25%, but the half-ogre is now down to 35%; the proportion is better that way, but it’s now too hard for the half-ogre to open the door.

On the 1d6 mechanic, the gnome needs a 1 (16.7%) while the half-ogre needs 1-3 (50%).  MUCH more reasonable, in my opinion, and in the last versions of Project 74 I wrote it that way.

Sometimes, what is needed isn’t an overall rule. Sometimes it’s the LAST thing we need.

3rd Edition Development Begins

by Solomoriah

The following is a recap of my post on the forum here: Basic Fantasy RPG Core Rules 3rd Edition:

That’s right, I’m going ahead with it. Sometime in the next week or two, I plan to post R76 of the Core Rules.

Here’s my plan:

1) Collect the whole rule system into one file, then hammer out the known formatting issues. R75 was created in July 2008; since then, changes to OpenOffice.org, and then to LibreOffice, have screwed up my carefully-planned layout.

2) Correct the known errata, from the errata thread here and from the Dragonsfoot.org Core Rules thread, plus anything else anyone points out.

3) Add some stuff that I think would benefit the game. A handful of new monsters and one or two magic items are what I have in mind right now.

What I WON’T Change:

1) Player-facing rules. Except with respect to the errata, I won’t change anything players need to know to create and play characters. No new combat rules, no additional classes or races. I’m considering adding the Magic-User/Thief combo class, but that would be the biggest planned change.

2) Organization. Don’t whine about it, okay? The rules stay in the same order they are in now. Consistency was the reason when I wrote 1st edition (consistency with the coverage target, that is), and with the 2nd edition I made just one change (swapping races and classes). For the 3rd edition, everything stays in the order it was in the 2nd.

I will NOT invalidate anything substantial from the 2nd edition, whether by changing rules, omitting rules, or adding sufficiently to the rules to change their nature. My games are run with two copies of 1st edition and two of 2nd edition on the table; I don’t want to have to throw any of them out, nor do I want anyone else to do so.

To the Italian Translation team: Take heart, guys. All the above means is that your efforts will not have been wasted. I’d like to ask you to finish translating R75 as is, and turn it over to me finished. I’ll deal with getting it into a single file and fixing the formatting, and we’ll probably publish it that way. It may take a few iterations back and forth between myself and you guys to get everything right (for instance, I won’t know if a piece of art is inappropriately placed after reformatting without one of you reading it) but we’ll get it done. Then, at your convenience, you can read through this thread to find the changes, translate and apply them, and with any luck we can keep the Italian version in sync with the English version so that 3rd Edition can go to print in both languages at the same time, or at least, within a few days.

Regarding Artwork:

I do not see the cover art changing substantially; I will maybe add a corner-banner identifying it as 3rd Edition, so you can tell at a glance what you’re holding.

However, interior art is welcome. I’d love to see monsters not illustrated in 2nd Edition get their mugshots into 3rd. I’m expecting newly minted Art Director Shonuff to be busy wrangling artists and drawing some himself for the new release.

The Tagline

When I released 1st Edition, I used the tagline “make mine Basic” a lot. The 2nd Edition tagline is “Adventure Lurks Within.” Both are worthy, but if someone should think of something cool to say about 3rd Edition, this would be the thread to air it in.

If you have something to say, please feel free to post in the comments below… but if you want to participate, please join us in the forum thread.  It will be the primary communication hub for the project.