Monday, November 4, 2019

First Thoughts on Songbirds v2

Songbirds by John Battle is a newly released game in the DREAM tradition. I had some thoughts.

TL:DR it's a great system that oozes a very specific aesthetic, but some of the straightforwardness of the original may have been lost in all the pink paint.

I'll be breaking down my likes, dislikes, and notes section by section, but I want to make some more general observations from the top. Many of my dislikes are very nitpicky though so your mileage may vary on experiences for the content.

First and foremost, the layout and colors. The author made a clear choice in aesthetics over usability, as the contrast of white text on bubblegum pink is rough on the eyes and pretty distracting. The horizontal spread style of the pdf makes the book look incredibly pretty and pleasing to the eye from a distance, but gives up readability as I find myself constantly having to zoom around the giant panel in order to read the actual text.

Second, there is no Index or Play Examples for the rules. In a shorter, condensed ruleset this wouldn't be a problem, but the resolution system and character abilities are, to me, different enough that even someone familiar with RPG's might not be able to fully understand how all the rules interlock, and having a topic index and more examples might go a long way to ease that burden.

Inside the Cage 

The book starts with the dessert first, explaining the base lore of the game and some core locations. It is all excellent.

How to Play the Game

A fairly common section in similar books, essentially explaining how RPG's work with an emphasis on back and forth conversation between the GM (called the Mediator) and the other players at the table.

Continuing, the next subsection has an explanation of the resolution system. I will say that some parts feel more out of place than others. This is where the game explains what stress is, when you get it, and how much you get. It's elegant and straightforward- pretty much everything is a dice roll, higher side wins and the loser takes stress equal to the difference of the roll. Circumstances and stats can be added and change the size and number of die rolled. The notes about Saves and the Deus Ex Machina mechanic both strike me as out of place though.

"Saves" simply notes: "If a task doesn't fall into a category of a contest, roll your Stat die and a 1 means failure". This doesn't really seem to line up with all the other notes talking about how the basic Contest resolution is meant to work for everything from environments to skill challenges to actual fighting, and without any examples I find myself unable to think of a situation as a Mediator where I would use the Save mechanic in place of the regular Contest.

The Deus Ex Machina is interesting and flavorful, but feels out of place as it's the first mention of a mechanic called Faith which apparently has a very different set of rules from the other base Stats.

Character Creation

There's 4 stats that are roughly compatible to the 6 classed D&D ones, and Wealth. Each one gets a different dice type assigned rather than an actual number. It's cool but the Wealth blurb isn't very descriptive, stating only that "Wealth is a currency measured by the die assigned to it". I'm pretty sure this just means that giving it the d4 means that I have exactly 4 wealth and spend that to buy things, no other rolling involved. Which is really cool, but being more specific there for such a revolutionary system would be helpful. Overall though I really like these.

There's also the "Daring" dice which is a d20 that can be rolled in place of a stat "to aid a friend", and the Faith stat. Faith is explained fully here for the first time, but is still very, very broad.

Beyond the stats, characters have "Heart, Genre, Talent, Anomaly, Schooling, and Equipment". To me that's quite the abundance of things.

Heart: Everyone starts with one, and giving it to someone else creates a relationship. It's also implied that if you trade with someone, you...still get their heart maybe? Which you can maybe give to someone else? Honestly it's a little bit confusing, especially because there's an entirely different reference to "Heart" in the violence section. It also doesn't say anything about how getting more Hearts work here, only that the more you put into a relationship, the deeper it is.

Genre: There's only a short blurb about choosing a music genre for a characters aesthetic and a movie genre for their outlook. There's no mechanical weight here and note that these things are used for "Synth Fusions" later in the book. I'm a bit torn, because while I really like this part of the character creation process as art, without any mechanical weight or explanation it just seems like something that would get skipped over most of the time. I was honestly expecting something along the PbtA lines of "mark extra XP (or its equivalent) every session the group agrees that you embody your genre combination as a character".

Talents: A mix of background and skills. Every character gets a random one by rolling a d20. The mix of options is inspired and g-o-o-d but also all over the place, which may be purposeful. There's everything from "+1 to weapon" to "Royalty" and while I like the breadth of options here, I could imagine players being confused or frustrated that some of these things have much more powerful mechanical implications than others, but that's one of the nice things about having the dice decide.
I do want to note here that there's a mention of something called "Temporary Wealth" here for the Talent "Inheritance", but I can't find any notes in the book about what the difference between "Wealth" and "Temporary Wealth" is in terms of mechanical consequences.

Another note is that the "Circus Family" talent states "you have an unusual talent which draws attention and is more useful than it probably should be" with no further explanation. We're in the Talent subsection so my take is: Either, you can pick one of the other Talents on the page and it gets a boost somehow, or you can work with the Mediator to figure out something else like sword-swallowing or acrobatics. It's another case where such a general statement is artful, but could possibly be helped by having some sort of example since the intent isn't quite clear.

Anomalies: "Your One Special Thing". Basically the class equivalent for the system. No randomness here, the choice is a deliberate one for the players. Each comes with a special ability of some sort. I really, really like most of them.

Schooling: This is a section I feel I don't quite "get". It's supposed to be an area of training you received which is different from both the talents and anomalies from before. You actually get three of them, a Major School (which also grants it's minor feature) and two Minor Schools. It's all very lore heavy and honestly a little overwhelming. To clarify, I like the abilities presented here (The ability to shout I OBJECT in order tell when someone is lying being a personal favorite) but I do wonder what the extra character options actually add that couldn't have been covered by the Talents or Anomalies.

I will note that the options are all over the place again. In this case I as a player would have a hard time making an informed decision picking between them, which I dislike. There's many things here that aren't referenced anywhere else in the entire document, such as something called the Judge's Corner. It sounds cool but the frustration of "Well, what the heck is it?!" keeps me from enjoying it and means I probably wouldn't use it.  Maybe that just means it isn't for me.

 Equipment: Rather than a standardized list of equipment like Songbirds v1 had, instead this section explains that any item is determined by its number of "Features" and priced appropriately, with each additional descriptive word costing an extra Wealth. The example given is that a Flashlight could cost 1 Wealth and would have either word "Shining" or "Bright", with a more powerful flashlight having both words and costing 2 Wealth.

I actually like the concept a good deal, but the list of words contains some confusing options like "Justice","Gifted" and "Romantic". Which is fun, but doesn't strike me as useable. I've racked my brain trying to come up with what an item with any of these things would actually do and come up short.

The next page has the list of random equipment you roll on to see what your character starts with. I like it but many of the entries are vague and artful, which I don't particularly look for in my equipment lists ("ring worth twice as much as you think" and "dying mp3 player with favorite song" are good for A E S T H E T I C but dont strike me as good for gameplay, but maybe that's just me being unimaginative). There's also lots of results that are actually contacts, which is cool.

"Bonds": The final subsection here is called "Do we know each other?" which has some really flavorful responses to that question, but the actual mechanic involves everyone rolling a d20 and depends on two people getting the same number. This strikes me as a bit strange since there's like an 80% chance or something with 4 players that the section doesn't even get used.

Character Evolution

Here the game explains the various progression systems.

Basement: From what I can tell, the character sheets are actually referred to as "Basements" (which is confusing as later in the text there are references to both actual basements and sortof metaphorical basements).

There's quite a bit of information packed into this first two-page spread. There are things called "Milestones" which are unlocked by having Followers (social media followers, not hirelings) which are given by rolling a dice at the end of every session. 

I was honestly really frustrated by this first two-page spread because the language is poetic and cool and has a certain vibe, but after reading it and re-reading it, I still can't fully explain how Basements and advancement is supposed to work.

Here's an example from the spread, called "How do you Expand?"

"If you want to expand the basement and grow, you have to spend one of the Milestones from gaining followers. And since these are shared between the Table, it must be unanimous. After spending it, just divide one of the rooms in half"

The language here is tonally consistent and artful, but does not strike me as very helpful in the context of useable RPG design. Reading it does evoke certain emotions, but in terms of practicality it seems to entirely dance around the question at hand, which is "How does the XP equivalent work?" and is not answered by the text (in my reading), which says things like "(The Rooms) Make Memories Precious". I still don't really know what "divide one of the rooms in half" means.

Character Development: The next two page spread does explain the Milestone thing a little more, saying that you can spend one to get a d20 in a stat. Without more explanation though, I can't say with confidence how this is supposed to play out. I might assume that you can't automatically bump up your d4 stat to a d20 by spending a milestone, but it doesn't actually say that.

The same spread includes details on how each session earns players a point to put into one of the core Stats, with the option to spend points on specific rolls or spend enough at once to permanently increase the dice size. I like this mechanic, it both makes sense and is easy to understand.

There's also what I'll refer to as the "Acts" mechanic, where after a certain number of sessions, characters somehow enhance their Anomaly. It's yet another section that I like conceptually but find difficulty in applying: there's a list of words paired to various statements about how characters have used their anomalies, and whenever players participate in enough sessions to complete an Act, they get to tag these words onto their anomaly to enhance it somehow. It's another piece of rules that seems cool in theory but that I would have a hard time explaining to a player how it was actually supposed to work.  The text explains that these tag words "can do anything from improve upon your Anomaly, add things to that Anomaly, change the way your Anomaly interacts with the world, or mutate the Anomaly." This is another spot where even just one example might be good to help those of us less gifted with imagination.

Skills: The next subsection explains "Skills" which is yet another advancement method. After the 1st and every 3rd session, characters get a "Skill" which is a three word idea that gives you +1 in situations that relate to that skill. Examples include "Hunter of Fae" and "Talks Like Royalty". It's cool, but I dislike having to track incremental situational bonuses, and it feels like they would stack up.

Synths: Two characters can fuse into one in order to become someone with the best of all their combined stats. The music/movie aesthetic from earlier is mentioned but has no mechanical weight. I think it's neat. I also think it's a reference to something?

Bringing it all Together

These first thoughts have already gone on for awhile so I won't cover the Stress or "How to GM" sections. I might throw up a part 2 at some point, but it feels unnecessary.

The latter half of the book follows many of the same trends as the first. A constant thought that kept coming up as I was reading through the book was "This is cool but how do I use it in the game?". There are several references to values that don't appear again anywhere in the document (Animal How do I get one?!? I think they have the same rules as equipment, but then there are three kinds??)

Honestly, maybe I'm not the target audience for this book. I've never watched Steven Universe or FLCL, which seems to be two of the major points of inspiration for the author. Talking to dragons about their emotional issues instead of slaying them is a cool tag-line that intrigues me, but I still don't feel like I could support that kind of encounter mechanically with the rules given even after reading it a few times.

Maybe I'm just being incredibly dense. It's possible that most of the issues above could be fixed with a quick FAQ or a Let's Play video/podcast where I could experience it through a different medium. I still think a topic index and more application examples could be helpful.

At the end of the day, is the game worth the $15 the author is asking?
Yes. Totally, 100%. God knows I've paid more for less just because it was by a bigger publisher. The content generation tables are worth the price of entry alone, and I really look forward to more works by the author.

I will temper that recommendation with this: I can't say that I could run it "out of the box", and there are several issues of the sort you would expect from a one-man team with no editor. Typos abound but might be fixed over time. Language is sometimes artful but confusing from an application perspective, particularly when the same word can mean several different unique things depending on context. Some parts of game-play seem complicated upon reading, but I can't attest to how they flow at the Table.

Otherwise, this is a very unique game and I hope to see more risks from other authors in the same vein.

And who knows, maybe I'll get a chance to play it one day with a Mediator more familiar with the source material and everything will click for me.

Side Note: I hope the Author considers keeping up the Into the Odd hack of version 1, as it was also a very cool ruleset even if it didn't have quite as many unique mechanical elements as this revised version does. I freaking love the art from the old version. I also liked the Warnames and Bonds mechanic from that edition quite a bit as well.

EDIT: This review is in reference to the first released version. The author has released a new version of the game with layout and content changes aimed at playability. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Runeforest Incursion (Into the Wyrd & Wild + Stygian Library): Session Report/ Review 1

Runeforest Explanation

Quick notes on System/Generation in total:

- Stats are generated using Knave as a base.
- Advancement based on DIE TRYING - Things get an "X" on them when conditions are met, 3 X's on anything (stats/items/abilities/spells/mutations/disease) advances it or makes it better somehow.

  • 3d6kl1 In Order. (So 5+6+2 for Strength would have a bonus of 2, for example)
  • Swap 2 stats or re-roll one (but you have to keep the re-roll, even if it's lower)
  • Roll an additional two 3d6, representing your Background and Starting Equipment OR Roll on a Race Table
  • If you chose the Background Path, choose starting kit: Legate (bardish) , Condottiere (fighter), Knack (illegal wizard), Scholar, Oracle (clericish), Archivist (ranger/survivalist)
  • Roll d8 for HP (don't add Con)

Our Intrepid Adventurers

  • Hosea, Knack, member of a wealthy family with a bad reputation
  • Jafa the Gourmand, Anthropological Scholar and Cook
  • Orri, Human Philosopher from the Bountiful Lands of Shell and Stone

As with all Runeforest Session starts, players were given three hooks with varying rewards to act upon (but are of course not limited to these if they have other plans). These are all available before session start for the players consideration
(Quick note- A Supply=1ish Gold=100 Prestige, but it costs 2 prestige to turn into 100 supply):



The City Guard lost a foot patrol recently, and the Lieutenant blames a beast of the Runeforest. One soldier is missing, and the remaining soldiers were found bereft of valuable gear and coin. The armor of the deceased had strange circular dents, rather than the scratches and bite marks one would expect from a beast of the forest. The Captain of the Guard believes the culprit to be some mace-wielding bandits or Ravagers and will not sponsor a large reward.

Due to this disagreement, the Lieutenant can only offer 50 Supply for the Hunt, but bumps the offer to 75 Supply if you can find the remaining body (or whats left of it). Should there actually be a strange magic beast responsible, slaying it would provide additional Unknown Prestige and the chance for making magic items from its corpse.


Whichever Adventuring Company maps the route to and from the Trading Post first would certainly have more than bragging rights, as the Trading Companies are eager to begin making money.

The first map of the first Runeforest Cycle will award you 5 Prestige and 100 Supply. The journey is likely to be highly dangerous and competitive though, and random encounters will have an unusually high amount of hostile, opposed Adventurers.


As there are no maps to the Trading Post, no records of the current dangers present, and you would have the difficulty of navigating in addition to regular guard duties, there are no wealthy merchants willing to risk the trip and looking for guards just yet.
The Quartermaster tells you of a single job request that came through though: A strange, cloaked tea merchant offering a mere 1 Prestige for safe passage to the Trading Post. This is a shockingly low amount for a guard mission, but the mysterious figure promises "Gratitude more valuable than Wealth" in addition to the meager payment.

I mean, there are lots of fairy tales about the benefits of helping mysterious strangers, right?


I originally had a longer explanation of how the session went but lost the draft.
They took the Tea Merchant who was weird and slept through a big fight with some not-wolf-things but rewarded em with a weird invitation to a Fae Court.

I'll summarize my experience running it though:
  • Character Generation method feels solid, new characters definitely met the "quick and easy" standard since everything is determined by 7-8 rolls and maybe a single kit choice
  • Timed point crawl seemed fine as a navigation method, but I drastically underestimated the amount of time each point of interest would take in game time.
  • I enjoyed the content generation method I had and each location felt evocative to me (can't speak for the players but perhaps they'll give feedback)
  • I personally liked the beforehand knowledge of three jobs, knowing and preparing for each while the players still had freedom of choice in what they wanted to pursue. The randomization of the content took much of the prep work off my plate as well.
  • As well as the overall system combination worked, there were shortcomings. I don't love the Supply = Gold method I have and will likely continue tweaking how it's used. The butchery roll from Wyrd and Wild was interesting, but while it references weight as the method for determining the number of rolls a monster gives (every 100 lbs), none of the monster entries include weight, so I had to guess. This wasn't really ideal, particularly when I had to make a ruling in the middle of the game.

Other Random Rulings:

- A supply = A good torch = A campfire. See other laments about the resource management of supply in Skerples review. For Runeforest it...kinda makes sense actually? The setting is much less "otherwise capable peasants who at least know how to catch dinner in the woods" and more "bumbling city-slickers who bought several cliff bars just in case they can't rough it after all" in regards to eating supply. I'll probably make my own take on the camping rules though but I like the food/water/shelter/campfire parts I have right now.

- I modified some original cooking stuff off of this from Throne of Salt, essentially giving double rations + a recipe for 3 successful cooking checks on the same creature type.

Ongoing Tweaks/Improvements

- Escape the Forest Table: I need to redo a quick session-end roll just in case a mission isn't completed. Something like the Alexandrian rules here. Current draft is: Hunts can retire back to base an retain half the marks they had, Guard or Map can just speed up encounter rolls and can end as a "success" but may suffer from exhaustion. 

- Tweaking the Supply Scale: As already said, supply as a currency that's also torches and food and water was functional enough but I certainly see room for improvement.

- A full list of prices: Right now most basic gear just costs 10 supply with additional markups depending on in game availability. The irony of running a mercantile focused game is my

- Coffee/Alcohol Flasks as Potions: Some inspiration taken from Wyrd and Wild for this part.

- Finishing out the Trading Post services: Right now the only special offer players are aware of is that if you buy something with the insane 150% markup, it has a chance to be special in this way (wilderness link)

There's more but that's a start. TL:DR Fun, but very much a work in progress

Monday, October 7, 2019

Runeforest Incursion (Into the Wyrd & Wild + Stygian Library): Class Kits and Generation!

Here's what I settled on. I like the general advancement of DIE TRYING but wanted a generation system with a teensy bit more choice as far as the types of things players wanted their characters to be able to do. Enter "Kits".

After generating Stats (I use Knave as a base), choose your Kit, then roll an additional two sets of 3d6 to determine Character Background and Equipment.

Starting Kits

Legate: Socialite of some skill. Get +1 on Verbal Duel results and can use any mental stat instead of just Charisma. Get an "X" whenever you win a verbal duel. Verbal duels can be traditional debates, negotiating for price or payment, legal defenses, etc. Start with a Contact (Roll a d100)
(Verbal Duels are a variation of this.)

Condottiere"Fighter" Types. Roll for an Extra Attack Circumstance (d8). Start with Paperwork that lets you carry weapons within the city limits of Polis. You might have acquired it illegally. Openly presenting weapons will have a variety of social consequences, with the default reaction being "intimidated".

Knack: Illegal "Not-Wizards". Start with an Illegal Spell tattooed on one of your hands (your choice). Roll for what it is (2d6). Start with Gloves and a Makeup Kit with 3 uses. While these spells are certainly illegal, most guards have better things to do then to hunt you down proactively (as long as you keep any casting very discrete in the city limits). However, if you are caught for a separate offense, you risk losing the spell (and the hand with it).

Scholar: You are very knowledgeable in one subject. Roll for your Area of Expertise (d10). You have working knowledge of that subject. Each subject also comes with an additional way to earn "X"s and a way to make money. Start with one Reference Manual on your subject (with the possibility of more depending on equipment roll). (let me know if you want to add more subjects)

Oracle: You have an unorthodox way to acquire information. Roll for your Divination Method (d6). You are missing a body part, roll for it (d6). Start with an implement tied to your mancy.

Archivist: You have spent time in the Runeforest before and began to learn the strange ways of things there. This gives the following benefits:
  • You have learned to read the strange runes that appear on the trees and some wildlife that reside there.
  • You always know exactly how many Marks a given Hunt will take.
  • You can precisely track Research Progress in the Runeforest Libraries and can switch tracks or subjects midway through without losing Progress.
  • You have learned Fangspek, spoken by Ravagers and Carvergirls.
At some point, you were twisted by something (You probably read a weird rune or ate a weird fruit). Roll for a Mutation (d100). Start with a monocle/reading spectacles and a carving knife.

Polis, The Shining Bastion of Civility

Alternate Starting Methods

The default generation process above assumes a Human or adapted non-human local to Polis with no outstanding obligations to a particular Temple. You can forgo the default generation of Kit + Background in order to take one of the options below.

Clerics are the most likely option if you are a local and don't take the kit+background route. Start with the ability to cast powerful divine spells in addition to other abilities and resources dependent on the deity. You'll be expected to Tithe a hefty sum of your profits and also serve with your abilities for the occasional mission for the Temple.

Not From Around Here:

Dwarves: From the Deserts and Caves of the Southern Outlands. Can't have names. Immunity against targeted magics (fireball no, sleep/scrying yes). If a moniker sticks to you enough that it becomes a name, a psychic-vampire-like creature that lives in mirrors who ate your first name will hunt you down. You have a really long natural lifespan though.

A culturally adapted Local dwarf is assumed to either have failed the trial of mirrors or ritualistically undone it and so has a name and none of the abilities mentioned, but may use the normal kit+background creation. 

Elves: From the remnants of the Verdant Forests, Dragonlands, Vaults, or other unusually sequestered location that protected them from the Purge. Roll an additional 3d6 for a Luck stat. Everyone from Polis *really* hates Elves for causing the last apocalypse and also for generally being known as sadistic, cannibalistic heathens. Also have a really long natural lifespan.

A culturally adapted Local elf is assumed to have spent all of their luck in the process of living in Polis and not being run out of town by an angry mob, but may use the normal kit+background creation.

Fresh Off the Boat:
Polis being a Port city means that travelers from far away lands are always showing up. Roll on the table for species (with more to be potentially added as the game continues)

  1. -
  2. Chitinite
  3. Stonefolk
  4. Hunttuk
  5. Talking Cat
  6. New Horned One
  7. Bugbear
  8. Elf
  9. Human
  10. Dwarf
  11. Hobgoblin
  12. Gilblin
  13. Imp
  14. Mimic
  15. Siryn
  16. Votive

Design Notes: I've talked about my like of Kits before. In this case, the combination of players communicating their preferred play-style with a character and getting some slight but not constraining abilities hits my needs for the game so far. I really like that all the classes have at least one random aspect to differentiate same-kit characters, and Background adds an additional cool depth as well.

The abilities are hopefully slight enough to encourage and enable players to have their characters advance in odd or unexpected directions. You certainly don't have to play a Knack if you want to end up as a capital-"W"-Wizard. You can also just collect all the starting kit abilities willy-nilly if you want through play.

I'm probably least happy with the Legate and Archivist abilities and might tweak or workshop them a bit further. "Bardish" and "Rangerish" were somewhat difficult archetypes to keep interesting but also confined to the same general power level as everything else. I'm actually still working on the mutation table following Arnold K's Method.

The Additional Options are somewhat lore-heavy but do provide a fun way to expand character options as the game progresses. I'm also happy to use some material from Stone and Shell. I've never been a huge fan of "race-as-class" material but seeing as how these options aren't particularly limiting, are tied to cultures separate from the default list, and really just provide a different starting point rather than a specific advancement track like a normal class I'm more than ok with it.

So far the starting players have rolled up a Knack from a Wealthy Merchant family, a Scholar with a specialty in anthropology who works as a street-cook, and a Human from the Bountiful Lands of Stone and Shell who philosophizes often, can speak Feline, and rides a two-headed horse. Ironically, the player who rolled on the stone-and-shell species table only did so because they wanted to be a non-human and was aiming for the more exotic options. That's RNG for ya.

As always, I love and appreciate any feedback you might have!

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Runeforest Incursion (Into the Wyrd & Wild + Stygian Library): Money and Downtime

Subject to change but here's the first draft at least.

There are two currency types for Runeforest:

Supply is equivalent to about 1 gold in other systems and used as a universal survival and bartering unit for everyday expenses and items

Prestige is more nebulous, comprising general goodwill, positive reputation, available favors, and lots of cash to grease the right palms. 
100 Supply can be converted into 1 Prestige
2 Prestige can be converted into 100 supply, as it's difficult to liquidate non-cash assets 
It would take approximately 3 Supply/day to survive in an absolutely hostile environment (with no food/water/shelter available other than what you bring yourself)

1 Prestige could be spent for a night out at the most exclusive bar in Polis, buying expensive liquor and making friends with important people
10 prestige could be spent on a simple magic weapon or armor
15 prestige could fund/arrange for the creation of a small business
(above numbers subject to change)

Your Company's mysterious patron has supplied a simple barracks on the outskirts of Polis, where you may live in humble conditions for free.

If you wish to spend a downtime in the Trading Post, you will have to rent a room or make other arrangements.

Downtime Actions (if used) take one week. Possibilities include but are not limited to:

Clean Your Kill: Automatically succeed on a corpse butchery roll for up to 200 pounds of flesh
Carousing: Get drunk and blow an unknown amount of money and dignity, get an 'X' on a random stat. Odd, detrimental, or beneficial events may occur.
Check the Rumour-weave: Get answers to questions about oddities encountered OR learn of specific threats for the current/upcoming Runecycle
Go Hunting: Decide on a Quarry. As long as it has 5 marks or less you should be able to hunt it successfully, but may incur a level of Exhaustion. 
Wizard Business: Practice with spells or magic items. Spell research, breeding, and other eldritch activities go here.
Find New Blood: Find some new recruits for the Company. Potential recruits will accompany you as a Retainer for one mission before deciding whether or not to join officially
R&R: Clear an extra level of exhaustion and get new saves against disease or other temporary conditions.
Negotiate: Spend some amount of Prestige to get access to exclusive Trading Company Officials or Wytch-Guard Captains. Gives options for prestigious Guard or Hunt jobs for future sessions.

Design Notes: I struggle alot with how economics should work in the games I run, but I like the concept of differentiating the "everyday" fund with the "wheelbarrows of money and favor" fund. It's heavily inspired by the Blades in the Dark system of Coin/Stash, where players and gangs only have access to so much liquid cash at a time and instead have to put additional funds into a combination retirement/rainy day fund that's more expensive to cash out than it is to cash in.

I'm not really sure if I have the right idea on how to spend Prestige- the lowest spending option is meant to be the equivalent of blowing several thousand dollars on a night at a bar by buying shots for everyone and the like. Should 10 of those nights really equal a shiny magic weapon though? I have no idea.

Right now the plan is to reward anywhere from .5-4 Prestige for completed jobs depending on a number of factors, split between the participants. More dangerous jobs can of course earn more Prestige.

The downtime rules are heavily inspired by Lungfungus' Rules Here. If the players do decide to take downtime actions though, the nature of Runeforest cycles means they risk losing the advantage of any maps or information about the current cycle iteration they might have.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Runeforest Incursion (Into the Wyrd and Wild + Stygian Library): OSR Blog Post NPCs! Part 1

There's alot of sweet blog posts out there in the OSR-Blogosphere. I turned some of them into characters.

The Trading Post

Many of the permanent dwellers of the Post are larger-than-life, eccentric characters. The services they offer though are as unique as their personalities. They have names, but do not share them and instead go by various titles.

The Surgeon (Mad scientist, Ksenia Galushkina)

The Surgeon

Inspired by: Lexi's Reconstructed

"You know, I'm a rather brilliant surgeon. Perhaps I can help you with that hump."

The Surgeon can help you with the variety of unfortunate ailments that might befall you when traveling through the Runeforest. They will not bring back the dead, citing "an unfortunate prior experience", but can help even the most grievously injured as long as they are only mostly dead.

Player mechanics: You can pay the Surgeon to operate on someone to cure them of any ailment or curse that could be banished by replacing blood/skin/brains/vital organs. They suffer from the drawbacks but don't gain any of the benefits of the replacement parts until they advance the mutation with 3 X's .

GM Mechanics: The Surgeon will operate on the promise of payment, typically requesting some combination of jars full of rare bugs, lightning rods, barrels of ink, and raw flesh, with the amount varying based on the complications of the surgery. Roll for a random Reconstructed material, though Glass and Metal are replaced with Paper and Electricity. If a replacement Part makes sense (brains for brain injuries or memory curses, for example) use that, otherwise roll randomly.

The Fableist

The Fableist

"I won these stories, fair and square..."

The Fableist can be found in their rocking chair, banjo in hand. They are pleasant to talk to and, if bribed with tobacco, alcohol, or a hot meal, will share their "Stories". 

Player mechanics: The Fableist is a fantastic source of information, but tends to share their knowledge through Parables, Tales and Song rather than straightforward speech. They will also spread Rumours in the form of Fables, for a price. They will not besmirch the names of individuals, but can shape the Posts opinion about other groups and Merchant companies. How believable the Fable is depends on how well they are paid. If you have a specific desire, showering The Fableist with gifts is a good place to start, as he can point you in the right direction.

Oddly, he can also teach you the language of Spiders.

GM mechanics: The Fableist offers the services almost exactly as the post describes. They offer discounts on information for similar information and secrets. 

The Speaker

The Speaker

"I drowned my books long ago. Best decision I ever made. Kept the staff, though."

Inspired by: Tiny Elementals and Skerples' Elementalist

The speaker is a young-looking but powerful mage, named for their ability to speak with the elements of creation. This most commonly allows them to serve as a smith of sorts (there are no Forges in the Post) as they shape metal into exotic and useful shapes by convincing the spirits inside to do so. Armor and weapons made by The Speaker are always of extremely high quality (at least +1). In addition, Adventurers seek him out for his ability to broker pacts with elemental spirits.

Player Mechanics: The Speaker is who you go to if you want to trade wheelbarrows full of money and goods for rare weapons and armor. You may also need to provide the raw materials as well, depending on the service (he doesn't have any adamantine laying around, for example). In addition to being a one-man magic arms and armor shop, the Speaker can also summon Elemental Motes for you to barter with. Different Elementals will request different favors for their services. It is well known that making a habit of aiding Elemental creatures can earn The Speaker's favor in the form of discounts, so it's quite popular to see Adventuring groups travel with at least one Elemental Mote.

GM Mechanics: The Speaker can make almost anything from raw materials, but their prices are exorbitantly high- at least 50% above market value for mundane items. They refuse to actually enchant things, but can still shape exotic magical items as long as the proper rune-logic is imbued into it first. 
When the characters approach The Speaker and ask him to broker an elemental contract, roll on the Tiny Elementals table to randomly generate an elemental mote. Use the attached Goal chart or one of these to come up with a goal for the creature. Ignore the Lifespan portion of the generation, as the creature will stay manifested until its goal is met. The Speaker will only offer a single contract per Runeforest cycle regardless if it is accepted or not. The Elemental motes will simply leave after a season if their goal has not been completed (a single month in Centras). Spiteful elemental motes will immediately offer to join and assist the parties' enemies and rivals when this occurs.


Friday, September 27, 2019

20 Questions for Runeforest Incursion

I've done the 20 Q's before for my version of Shell and Stone. I'll be running the upcoming game though with my old home-setting, Centras, though my intention with the Runeforest is that as an event, it's drop-able into most settings with an appropriate creepy forest.

Note: I'm still referring to the Urban location as "The City" for now, though that likely won't be the final name. Other names have changed as well.
  1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
    - In the "civilized" parts, most folk tend to venerate the God-claw, the pantheon of five gods who recovered the lands from it's ever-burning state by defeating the Evil Prince of Wildfires
  2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
    -Actually a more complicated question than you'd think. Normal supplies can be bought in the "civilized parts", but most things come at a premium if you're buying things for yourself at the Post. There's enough Merchants around though that most stuff is pretty easy to find, and if you sign an exclusive charter for a coalition or even just run repeated jobs for the same Merchant they may give you a hefty discount.
  3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
    - At the Trading Post, there's a Speaker who crafts such things by convincing the metal to take and hold a shape. Expensive as hell though. If the monster is at least somewhat standard* in shape you might be able to get a custom job done from one of the Guildsman in the City, though they tend to want favors done for custom jobs on top of any payment for materials and labor. Custom jobs take time after all.

    *Note, Centras has Glow-Crabs instead of horses so "standard shape" for creatures is a bit different. A centipede or arachnid wouldn't need much modifying, whereas a wolf or deemight.
  4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
    - Rumor and fables go that the Leader of the Librarians, those wild-folk druids who "keep" the dark parts of the Runeforest, is an ancient Lich who's spellcraft and insanity are unparalleled. Otherwise, whoever's been appointed the Court Wizard of the Monarch. It changes often, there tend to be many challengers for the position and Wizard Duels are fairly explosive (it's not uncommon for draws to end with both parties dead)
  5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
    - Like, warrior as in "that one's covered in armor and can single handed mow down a peasant rebellion" or "That one throat-punched an Iron Bear and is wearing it's pelt"? Knight-Commander's the first, War-Chief is the second.
  6. Who is the richest person in the land?
    - The Monarch. Duh. Also maybe one of the Midas representatives, if I think about it.
  7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?
    - There are some pretty nifty Herbs around that will be your best bet. The Trading Post has a rather curious fellow called the Surgeon who will volunteer to heal you but his patients wind up a
  8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
    - See the Herbs above, also the Surgeon if you're close to the Trading Post. The, ah, "price" he charges gets greater with the more exotic ailments.
  9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
    - Well, the Runeforest isn't called that for nothing- there sure are lots of spells kept by trees and animals in there if you know where to look for them. As for magic guilds not so much. There are several unique magical mercenary companies you may be interested in though. These will rarely reward spells or magic items as part of a job completion.
  10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
    - The Trading Post will certainly have someone with the services you seek, though their costs may be high or strange. You can try the City as well, though most experienced Travelers will tell you that the Trading Posts information and methods are more reliable.
  11. Where can I hire mercenaries?
    - Depends on the job precisely, Sellswords and regular guards aren't cheap but can be found in the City. You might want to hire a scout or guide for various journey's, these tend to hang around the Gates of both the City and the Trading Post.
  12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
    -You'll need a permit for anything bigger than a knife in the City. Most Bastard Spells are outlawed there as well. The Trading Post has no such laws for either.
  13. Which way to the nearest tavern?
    - The City has plenty, the Trading Post has only one.
  14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
    - Every single Runeforest cycle has some sort of Mark that's worthwhile and a Threat that's dangerous. Killing either would be a great boost to your reputation and pocket money.
  15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
    - Just the Trade kind at the moment. Sign up with the Verderer's if you want to be fighting on behalf of the Crown though.
  16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
    - There's a fighting pit in the post where you can fight against mystery opponents, including wyld beasts. I wouldn't recommend it if you value your life, though the Surgeon will stitch up anyone only mostly dead.
  17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
    - There are several competing Merchant Consortiums and Companies, and some of their cutthroat practices could certainly be classified as "Sinister".
  18. What is there to eat around here?
    - Whatever you can catch. Jerky is the iron-ration of choice, just don't ask what part it came from.
  19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
    - Each Runeforest Cycle will reveal new locations with the potential for treasure, but for specific legendary targets you may want to ask the Fableist at the Trading post for any rumours he may have heard.
  20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
    - Probably just off the trail in the Runeforest, just be aware you may not find it again.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Runeforest Incursion (Into the Wyrd & Wild + Stygian Library): GM Procedures First Draft

So I'm looking to codify the actual generation procedures for Runeforest content. I've already got most of the books I'll be using but this is a draft on how I intend to generate the actual cycles.

1. Time-Tracking

I have a calendar I'll be using to keep strict time records. The in-game calendar I'm using has 5 months with 4, 7-week days each. I like the logic used in Songbirds where having shorter in game time between seasons adds a sense of time passing faster than when a traditional longer calendar is used. Songbirds has 4 months, one per season, but for in game Lore reasons I have 5 months, one for each god-claw member and each corresponding to a different season with one "Flux" month with totally random weather between the Spring and Summer months.

So the first thing to do before each session will just be "advance time". Depending on player decisions each session should have actions+downtime that last about a week, give or take. 

On top of this, I've arbitrarily decided to decide that each Runeforest Cycle lasts 2 weeks.

So in short, when prepping~ 

Step 1: Advance Time

Step 2: Check Calendar for Season and Weather

Step 3: Check Calendar for Cycle shift.

Copyright WoTC

2: Generate Runeforest Content for New Cycles

Into the Wyrd and Wild has a great system for die-drop locations and trails between them that I'll use. The locations themselves will be drawn from a pretty big list combining Stygian Libraries' and Wyrd and Wilds location/details as well as a few custom ones. 

To keep things manageable, I'll always assume "difficult" trails take twice as long as "normal" or "hidden" trails. 

Important Runeforest Note: The fastest way through (so all normal/hidden trails) will take 3 full days to move from the starting point to the destination. So heading out on the equivalent of a Monday morning will get you there by Wednesday Night, assuming no disruptions (yeah, right).

Once the locations and trails are determined and filled, I can generate Encounter Table content.

I'll save the full encounter table for another time, but for now the important part is that two results have the potential to change each cycle.

The first is that each cycle has a Known Threat. The other result I'll change per cycle is a Valuable Mark. I'll save a longer spiel about both of those for a later post. But for now just note that these are a bit more curated per cycle than the other results, which will draw from a pretty big list consisting of Stygian Library, Wyrd & Wild, and my own encounters.

 Step 3a: If New Cycle-

  • Generate Locations and Trails
  • Determine Trail Difficulty, Note shortest route(s)
  • Fill locations
  • Record current Known Threat and Valuable Mark on Encounter Table

So to recap~


  1. Advance Time
  2. Note Season and Weather
  3. Note Current Cycle

On New Cycles:

  1. Generate Locations and Trails
  2. Determine Trail Difficulty, Note shortest route(s)
  3. Fill locations
  4. Record current Known Threat and Valuable Mark on Encounter Table

      Sneak Peek: Player Procedures

      Upon beginning a session, the players are given the following info:

      - The Date and Weather
      - The current Known Threat
      - The results of any previous Downtime Actions

      Players are then given the following options:

      - Hunt?
      - Map?
      - Guard?
      - Or do Something else?

      Next- the Runeforest Calendar, Encounter Table, and Play Procedures!