Fantastic Reality created a splash with their 5E compatible campaign setting and adventures, World of Asatania, and Darkness Surges. They recently launched a new product Kickstarter, In Darkness Delve vol 1, a series of adventures that can be used in any campaign setting. Fair disclosure, I wrote one of those adventures, Dealing with Your Demons for this product. Michael Cerny is the main behind the curtain of these really well developed products. I can tell you, he was a great editing resource, really pushing me to make the adventure I wrote reach its full potential. The adventures in this volume are going to be awesome, and I really think you should take a look. Before you do though, I wrote up some of the experiences I had writing this adventure, with advice you can take home when you are writing your own in the future.
Writing this adventure was a positive challenge for several reasons, I’ll list those below.
1) Here’s A Great Idea
When I pitched the core idea of Dealing with Your Demons, I was riffing off the ‘pitch-a-concept’ post that Michael had made. To be honest, demons aren’t really something I’ve ever used much in my fantasy RPGs so I wanted to take that pitch, and twist it toward something I do love. I pitched the concept of a two-act adventure, with the first act having the potential to be used as a flashback instead of running it first. This type of storytelling is something I’ve used with a lot of success in White Wolf games, so I thought it would be interesting to try and pitch something like that with a fantasy game. I was right: it was a great pitch and Fantastic Reality agreed.
Advice: Pitch what you know, because writing a pitch that sounds great but you can’t really grok will drive you insane.
2) Um, Great Idea, How Do I Write It?
One of the problems I ran into is I wasn’t sure where I wanted to even start. The first act was clear in my mind. It was going to be a classic dungeon crawl, but the second act was nebulous. I wanted there to be a red herring. The first act was going to set-up the idea that the party destroyed a fairly powerful demon for 1st – 4th level characters. However, that isn’t quite the case. Instead, the party destroys a being much more precious to a specific group of beings. In this case, Kobolds! By doing so, they put themselves in spiritual and physical jeopardy. That said, I couldn’t quite get the concept out on paper. I ended up running a version of the 1st act at BlerDCon as a way to figure out how the Act would unfold. Usually my Game Mastering is a mix of moderate planning and massive improvisation, so this worked well for helping me construct the sequence I wanted to use.
Advice: Find a way to play out the story if you are stuck during the writing process.
3) Here’s What I Wrote!
My first draft was not terrible, but it really wasn’t quite what I would have been proud to publish. Thankfully the editing on Dealing With Your Demons was full throttle. My sentence structure and grammar weren’t the only things critiqued and adjusted. The themes, specific elements, and outcomes were all noted where they were not clear, or where they weren’t the strongest they could be. This process was fantastic, it really allowed me to look at what I’d created and find a way to make the adventure work. Editing is essential to creating a great adventure.
Advice: Accept all editing help. You don’t have to agree with it all, or even follow all the advice, but you do need to have an editor look through your piece. You’ll thank yourself later.
4) Four More Adventures!
My adventure is awesome, and the other adventures in this compilation are the same high-quality. There is a dark humor adventure, set in a dwarven mine, by Brian Saliba. John Teehan has two adventures in the compilation that utilize the theme of Demons to tell some self-reflective and nuanced stories about power, betrayal, and family. Beyond the adventures, we’ve created new monsters to use, and a collection of compelling items.
Advice: Read other adventures. It will help you know what to avoid and what to use to make yours compelling. Also, create something eye catching that others will appreciate.
I can tell you this, Dealing with your Demons has a twist, one that your players won’t see coming. If you love Kobolds, you should back this product. If you love surprising your players, pushing them to really question their actions, and leave them with a story they will tell tales about for years after, then you should back this project just for that. All of the stories in this product are awesome, and you’ll really get your money’s worth.
Josh is the intrepid Chief Operations Officer of High Level Games. With 19 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s preparing a Changing Breeds game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C. You can also find Josh’s other published adventures here and here.
Image Owned by Fantastic Reality and Used as Promotional Material
My love for the Fate system is well known, and indeed, widely documented. Somewhere in the British Museum, there’s a Babylonian clay tablet in cuneiform that I’m sure says, ‘Rui is really into Fate. It’s a thing.’ Why? I like strangeness. I like strange characters. I like strange situations, and mostly, I like a system that ALLOWS me to do both. I have a couple of favourite RPGs, but I keep coming back to Fate. I’m not going to go massively into the mechanics of the system (although I’m giving a quick run-through), I’m merely going to present the six ways you can use Fate for the genre you love.
1) Naming those Skills
This is the easiest and more straightforward way to tune Fate for use in your game. Change the name of the skill. Or, indeed, what it covers. So if you’re running a fantasy game, Archery sounds like a good thing to have. But will archery cover bows AND crossbows, or do you need Archery (Crossbows)? Also, will this cover ALL small-and-maybe-sharp/pointy-objects-propelled-at-speed, or would throwing a well-aimed stone fall under, say, Throwing? The system suggests not going insane on the number of skills, but with a big, well-balanced party, I don’t see a reason why you couldn’t go deep into the rabbit hole.
2) Freestyling it
A simple idea, that sounds positively barking insane. ‘Allow the players to come up with their own skills’. What usually happens is that you’ll find that most players describe skills that make sense (melee, ranged, lore, streetwise), but one needs to be careful that everyone is on the same page, otherwise, some people might be describing skills, some professions, etc. Also, be careful no one gets as a skill like ‘Omnipotence’. All joking aside, the same skill might sound different on every sheet, but the players will know their own character and they will better fit the narrative.
3) Weaving the Character Aspects
No part of Fate is more characteristic of the system than Aspects. Simple small sentences that describe your character, and if invoked (using both a pool of points and an elaborate narrative accepted by the GM), will give you a bonus to your dice rolls. This is where you can weave your characters into the meta-narrative. Use them to describe places, NPC’s, you name it. ‘Can hold her ale’ is fine, but ‘Once drunk all the ale at the Orc and Dagger’ will not only say she can hold her ale, but also that there’s an inn called the Orc and Dagger. Is the landlord an orc? Is the landlord a sentient magical dagger? I don’t know, but the players might!
4) No skills. Wait, what?
This is possibly one of the most powerful suggested hacks I’ve come across. No skills, just aspects. So this is how it works, you get a name and a role, what you’re actually there to do. Then you get a number of motivations (goals, desires), abilities (skills, talents) and gifts (contacts, gear, magic). ANY of these that you can persuade the GM are relevant at that moment in the narrative gives you a +1 bonus. Boom. Done.
5) Using Thing-based aspects
And here is where a lot of more traditional RPG players will go ‘Whaa?’. Everything in Fate can have Aspects. Every. Little. Thing. And all of these can be invoked (see above) during the narrative, by anyone. Say you’re running a Fate Ravencroft game. I’d say a pretty good Environmental Aspect would be ‘Gothic, Dark, and Misty As All Heck.’ So a character might invoke it to hide in a gloomy forest that just happened to be right over there, and the GM might invoke it to give a penalty to ranged attacks (cos it’s dark and misty, you see where I’m going). This becomes a consistent back and forth storytelling exercise, which builds, deepens, and intensifies immersion.
6) Cool Stunts
Stunts help tell your character apart from others. If you had 10 characters, all with the same skills, they would play totally differently, because of stunts. Stunts allow for bonuses if certain conditions are achieved. Say, you’re an elf, and your Stunt is ‘What do your Elven eyes show you?’ which will give +1 to perception, if you’re perching on a high, unobstructed place. Once again, with little effort, these can be fine-tuned to your particular setting. (And allow you to steal a much abused Tolkien reference)
I came across Fate when it was suggested to me, when I wanted to play the most ridiculous character ever devised. Gell (Gell A’Tinn) is a sentient Gelatinous Cube, that consumed too many wizards and became self-aware. I couldn’t find a system that allowed me to play it, so I looked around, and lo, Fate popped up. I ran him No-Skills, and it worked beautifully. One of its abilities was ‘Made of Jelly’. So that was where my shape-shifting bonuses came from!
Have you used Fate (or another agnostic rule system) to fine tune a background? Let us know!
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after ten years doing strange things in labs, decided to become a teacher. Then, two years ago, like he was bit by a radioactive D20, RPG’s came into his life, and he’s now juggling teaching, playing and GMing quite happily. He lives in the UK with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants, 4 to 5 RPG’s at various stages of completion (and across as many rule systems), and maps, cursed idols, evil necklaces, and any other props he can get his hands on. He’s been writing for HLG for a few months, and is one of the resident vloggers. He can be reached at @Atomic_RPG.
After a certain amount of time involved in our wondrous hobby, many players and GMs will consider the prospect of creating their own game. It’s an enticing notion, to have a game with your name on it and born of your creativity. The best place to start is with a small game of limited scope, dubbed Micro RPGs by the community at large. What follows are four essential aspects of a Micro RPG to help you create your very own.
1) A Unique Take
While it’s not necessary that you reinvent the wheel with your small project, you must present your game in an original way. The game might be traditional fantasy, but perhaps all player characters are pixies. Maybe you’ve got a revised or simplified set of mechanics for an existing idea. Perhaps even you’re attempting to parody a well-known game series. Whatever your variant, fill it with your personality. Since you don’t have to create a perfectly balanced system that will appeal to everyone, feel free to make it wholly yours.
2) A Simple Mechanic
No Micro RPG should be too complex that it couldn’t be learned in a single sitting. Since most players will only turn to a Micro RPG once every so often (like so many board games), your game mechanics should be easy to grasp even by hobby novices. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t address holes in your system, only that not every aspect of life has to be given a stat and a dice roll. Keep your system focused on the reasons why you’re playing. Is it a game about space pirates? Give players a “plunder” skill that covers everything from raiding, to stealing, to leading a boarding party. Is combat a non-issue for your game? Eschew hit points entirely. So long as you keep everything simple, your game will be ready to be played at the drop of a hat (such as when your friends are sitting around thinking of something to do).
3) A Smattering Of Randomness
To keep things fresh, I recommend allowing the dice to dictate some of the lesser aspects of the game. You can create a table of outcomes people can roll, or a deck of wacky items that everyone contributes to prior to the game’s start. Part of the enjoyment of any roleplaying game is the drama of the dice roll. Will a player’s attempts to flee from a demon succeed or fail? Will that treasure horde hold something awesome or something hilarious? Whatever path you choose, you should certainly include an element of uncertainty in your game.
4) A Spark Of Life
Here follows the most important of the aspects listed. The energy that you bring to the game’s creation will be represented in its display. If you create it using your own creative methods and ideas, it will show at the table and your players will love it all the more. This spark can be anything from a wacky set of props that vary from game to game, the requirement of players to have shifting characteristics as the game progresses, or the spirit of competition (such as in the game Everyone Is John). Let that flicker of ingenuity guide your game and run with it. Sell it with your own enthusiasm, and your players will certainly jump on board.
I wholeheartedly believe that every gamer has a game inside them waiting to spill out onto the table. If you’ve had an idea that you’ve been busting to share, this is the best place for it. Let us know what you’re working on or what you want to create!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. He’s currently creating a Micro RPG (tentatively) called Fame, wherein players take control of actors and their own characters in an under-budget film. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact
Picture reference: http://www.ebay.com/cln/xiagen/mini-dice/135436579016
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.