Wednesday, January 26, 2022

2022 Squarecrawl: B05 - New Dezoris

Here's the starting town for the "squarecrawl" I showed in a previous post. This is the information that would be available to the players; other details would be uncovered in play, although there are some hints in here for sharp-eyed detectives. None of which is massively important; this should be a home base for adventures in the wilderness, rather than a source of adventure itself.

B05: When minions of the plague god razed Dezoris (A05), the survivors fled to the east and camped within the protective walls of an ancient ruin. Over decades, this camp became the town of New Dezoris. Closer to the river and with the protection of the walls, this turns out to be a much better location for the settlement, although some elderly residents still miss their old homes.
  • The wall is constructed of an unknown white material. It is smooth and unblemished and runs in a perfect ring around the town, apart from one wide opening in the south.
  • The population of about 400 runs the town via a council of 11, chosen by lottery each year. Living in New Dezoris for 90 days earns you a place in the council lottery. Important matters are often decided by a vote of the entire official population. Old Dezoris was run a by a noble class; the current population, in general, prefers the new system.
  • There is a mill, a small dock just outside the ringwall, two trading posts, a forester, and a market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
  • The most popular inn is The Roaring Mug, which is of average quality. It is known for the many decorative pelts and skins hanging from its walls, and the innkeeper offers a free drink and meal for anyone that can bring in a -- hunted -- pelt that he hasn't seen before. The speciality is deep-fried crow.
  • The town's other main inn is The Jar & Raven, which is of fair quality.
  • Both inns field teams for the local tavern brawl league. As expected, both teams consider the other a rival, but there is also rivalry with the teams of Drogan's Pass (D02).
  • There are no temples in New Dezoris, but there is a small shrine to Tyrest, the god of justice and patron deity of Old Dezoris; the young priest wants to consecrate this shrine with a religious festival but has not yet received permission from the council.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Let Me Be Your Phantasy

I finished Phantasy Star!

It only took about 30 years.

I'm pretty sure Phantasy Star was the first computer role-playing game I encountered. The genre wasn't common in the UK in the 80s, I think because tape was the medium of choice for home computers and most of the big name rpgs were released on disk, and because console rpg releases were spotty in Europe until Final Fantasy VII crashed in and changed everything. I got my copy of PS at some point around 1992, second hand and without a manual, five years after the Japanese release, from a fellow called Graham, who operated a "computer club" from a converted stable, and yes, in hindsight the whole thing seems a bit dodgy.

I have no idea why I picked Phantasy Star up. I hadn't heard of it, and I wasn't into rpgs in general at that point, beyond the Fighting Fantasy phase every 80s kid went through. Whatever the reason, I fell in love with the game, and despite having no manual, and with no coverage in the magazines of the day -- because, remember, it was five years old and it was all about Sonic by then -- I somehow muddled through. I remember getting about halfway through the game when the save erased itself; it wasn't the battery because I started again and the saves were fine. A mystery for the ages.

(I also played it for hours in a bedroom that my father was painting, so I always associate the game with the smell of paint, and vice versa.)

I didn't finish that second play either, because I became distracted by other things. The PlayStation came out. I discovered actual tabletop rpgs. I mutated into a hormonal teenager. Beer. Girls. And so on.

In 2009, Phantasy Star came out on the Wii's Virtual Console, and I gave it another try, this time as a sort-of-professional. I didn't finish it that time, either, which is probably a breach of journalistic ethics.

Later, I got it as part of a collection of old Sega games for the PlayStation 3 and decided that this time I would complete it. Reader, I did not.

This chunky fellow is standing right on top of a hidden trap door. Does he set it off?
He does not. Unfair, I say!
And then in January 2022 something in me -- possible because we recently had our kitchen painted; that smell! -- made me try again, this time via emulation, and in four lengthy sessions, I did it. I finished Phantasy Star. I didn't get every character to level 30, but there's no difference to the game if you do so, so I'm happy to let that go. I did defeat the "impossible" Saccubus, which I had done only once before in my many, many playthroughs, so I'll consider that an achievement.

But finishing the game at all, after a literal lifetime, is what's important. Well, not in fact important, obviously, but you get my meaning. Important to me. Phantasy Star has been part of my life for so long, always there, from when I was a child, discovering the world of console gaming, to when I was -- briefly! -- a computer game journalist, and now as I turn grey and withered, as an actual games designer, albeit in a different medium.

Will I go back and play it again? I'm not sure I will, in part because I've seen everything it has to offer over my many attempts, but in part because I always put off playing the three sequels until I finished the first one.

The road, as they say, goes ever on.

Monday, January 17, 2022

"Hex" Is Latin for "Four"

I spent a couple of hours in the evenings last week putting together an old-school "hex" crawl setting. Here's the player map:

The starting town -- New Dezoris -- is at B05 and there's a six by six area in which to roam around in the first few sessions. After that, the players will have to explore and fill in the map for themselves. Old-school!

I won't post the complete map, just in case I get it to the table some time, but you can always email me -- look to the top-right -- if you want the whole thing.

Why is it not a proper hex map? I've never liked hexes. Don't know why!

Monday, January 10, 2022


This is all based on me misreading (Sir) Ian Livingstone's handwriting on this map.

RUST MINOTAURS, also known as "IRON BRUTES" by northern folk, are aggressive and terrifying hybrids of -- wait for it -- minotaurs and rust monsters, although they seem to take more of their characteristics from the homicidal bovine side. Those ever-clueless sages speculate that the iron brutes were first created by a mad wizard, but that's their excuse for anything they can't explain, and is probably a result of professional jealousy.

RUST MINOTAUR: Armour 15, Move 120’, 6* Hit Dice, 27hp, rusty horns or weapon +2, Morale 12.

Rust minotaurs can attack with either their horns or a weapon, not both, in a single Round. The iron brute's horns destroy metal at a touch. Magical armour and weapons get 10% resistance per "plus" of enchantment.

The rust minotaur can metabolise enchanted metal and convert it into temporary armour plating, taking the form of hexagonal metallic scales. Every "plus" destroyed by the creature's touch, is converted to a point of armour, which erupts from the monster's hide a Round after it is absorbed. This bonus armour flakes away after a day.

If you are playing Troika! or a similar game of fantasy fighting, then you can use the following statistics:

Initiative 3
Armour 0 (but see below)
Damage as Weapon or Rusty Horns

If a Rust Minotaur hits with its Rusty Horns attack, the target takes no damage but instead loses 1 point of armour, to a minimum of 0. If the armour was magical, the iron brute gains this point of absorbed armour at the End of the Round. These bonus points of protection have no maximum, but on the plus side, they disappear after a day. Good luck!

Monday, January 03, 2022

No Way, Jose

Spider-Man: No Way Home is great fun, surprisingly touching in places, and even a bit sad, but in a good way. It makes less and less sense the more you think about it, but gets by on momentum and a big heap of charm. It's probably the best of the MCU-Holland series, and overall is the fourth best Spider-Man film, but Into the Spider-Verse remains king of the arachnids.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Near, Far, Wherever You Are

I've been thinking about something to make rpg combat easier to handle, both for the GM that doesn't want to have to prepare a full battlemat for every fight, and the player that has difficulty with pure, abstract "theatre of the mind" play. This is my attempt to resolve that tension. I remember The One Ring had something like this, so I may be just reinventing the wheel, but oh well it kept me occupied for an afternoon.

The basic idea is that a combat is split into three bands: Engaged, Near, and Far.

(You can click to see the image at a slightly larger size.)
Anyone in the Engaged band is, um, engaged. Anyone can hit anyone else, and it's a proper mêlée. That frog person is in trouble. Although it's a brawl, you may decide that "small" ranged weapons such as pistols and thrown weapons are effective in this section.

Anyone in the Near band can hit characters in Engaged and Near with ranged attacks. Engaged characters can attack those in Near with ranged attacks, but may face penalties or free attacks or similar from others in Engaged. Characters in Near can hit each other with ranged attacks, but for anything more up close and personal see NEE. Most ranged weapons, like bows or SMGs, fit in here.

Characters in Far are probably out of the fight but may have extra long range weapons that can affect the battle and hit anyone in any band. This is where your long distance spells, high-tech sniper rifles, or siege weapons come in.

You'll note that the guard (Near) and the zombie (Engaged) are adjacent on the "map", but remember this is abstract positioning and they are in different bands. In "reality" they could be 100 metres apart.

Characters can move between bands by using their basic combat move, as defined in your game of choice. Leaving Engaged will require some sort of dodge or fighting withdrawal action to escape the mêlée without harm. It takes one action/turn/whatever to move between sections; if your game allows double moves or sprinting, then you can move two bands.

Get the Archers!
My thinking is that if you want to go and stab the archers, you use your move action as normal, and that instead "pulls" the archer from Near to Engaged. It's a bit fuzzy because they haven't moved, rather the fight has sprawled and they've been sucked into its periphery. Don't think too hard about it; this is supposed to make combat simpler!

Backstabs work as normal, I think. The stabber makes a stealth test -- which probably makes them ineligible for being attacked, even if Engaged -- then tries their sneak attack. It should all be compatible with this approach.

Flanking and similar sort of tactical positioning is abstract and simple: if your side outnumbers the opponents in the Engaged band, you can gain a flanking bonus if your game has one.

You can handle running away as normal for your game. Or... If someone wants to flee combat, then they need to move from Engaged to Near to Far, and then once more to get "out" of the Far band, for a total of three movement actions.

None of this should make any difference to your game's imitative rules, but I would consider applying some sort of penalty to those in the Far band. Perhaps they go last, or get a -10, or something like that, to represent their distance from the action.

If one Near character decides to engage another, then I suggest putting them in a temporary Near-Engaged Enclave (NEE). They are still at a distance from the main mêlée but are Engaged with each other. They can still attack those in the Engaged band, but would face the same penalties as someone attacking from Engaged to Near would. As soon as their personal duel ends, the survivors return to their Near status.

I don't think anything here should affect surprise, unless your game has some weird surprise mechanics.

That's it! I haven't tested it yet, but I'll try to use it as soon as I can. It will be interesting to see what effects if any it will have on gameplay. I imagine one thing it could encourage is a greater emphasis on marching order, with the elf ranger -- for example -- hanging back so she can take up a Near position if combat starts.

If you have a chance to try it out, let me know how you get on!

Thursday, December 16, 2021

A Compulsive Liar Who Has Betrayed Every Single Person He Has Ever Had Any Dealings With

This is old(ish), but it seemed appropriate to post it now.


Philosophers claim that Prevaricators arise when someone lies again and again and is never found out, so that reality shapes itself to fit the falsehoods and the liar becomes a twisted monster. As examples, they point to how a jury can define someone as a criminal even if they did nothing, or how what was a planet yesterday is a dwarf planet today. Philosophers are dangerous idiots and this origin story is nonsense, but what is true is that whatever a Prevaricator says is believed by anyone that hears it.

Prevaricators are weak, and look and smell horrible, but even so are often found at the heart of communities or organisations, bleeding them of resources until the whole socio-political structure collapses and then the nasty thing at the centre of the whole mess slinks off to start afresh somewhere else. Even if discovered the wretches are difficult to root out because they almost always convince their persecutors that there’s nothing to see here, nope, but there is something over in the next village that needs urgent investigation.

PREVARICATOR: Armour 12, Move 120’, 8 Hit Dice, 36hp, Ragged Claw 1d4, Morale 7

The baby-faced monstrosity has a smooth voice, like honey, with a hint of the upper classes to it. The things it says are often not true but listeners believe them to be so, which is good enough. Be creative with the lies. Have fun. That’s what the Prevaricator does! The cherubic abomination understands and speaks all languages, even those of animals, fungi, and plants.

Characters can save versus Magic to disbelieve the Prevaricator’s words, but only if there is good reason to do so. If the creature tells them that quite a lot of treasure is in a cart that left not two minutes ago and if they go now they can catch it, then they probably won’t get a saving throw. If the statement is demonstrably false -- “You can’t see me” for example -- then a saving throw is appropriate.

Of course, a save versus Magic is of no use if the thing has already told fifty armed villagers that the characters are here to take all their children and sell them to a Duvan’Ku cult. You can’t disbelieve your way out of a stabbing.

Spells and abilities that interfere with the creature’s capability to speak or an audience’s capability to listen, such as Confusion or Silence, will be effective against the thing. Spells like Heal and Remove Curse can make a victim unbelieve what the Prevaricator has told them.

Prevaricator brains are in high demand by alchemists and wizards for use in magical research into speech and language. Mash a brain up with some rosewater and paprika, for example, give it a shake, and you’ve got a potion of Comprehend Languages.

Why the bastarding thing has the face of a child, no one knows. Maybe the philosophers have an idea.

  1. Food! It’s hungry or greedy or both, and wants to be fed.
  2. Worship! It speaks like a god, so why should it not be treated like one?
  3. Sex! If it was human once then it maybe still has sex organs. I don’t want to think about it, to be honest.
  4. Money! Money buys anything and opens every door. It is also shiny and makes a pleasant clinky noise.
  5. Power! Being able to tell people what to do and how to feel is thrilling, like a drug!
  6. Drugs! Also like a drug. Obviously.
  7. Chaos! It’s quite fun seeing everything fall apart and the little people panicking.
  8. Friends. Horrible monsters can be lonely too.

I created this monster for LotFP's GenCon catalogue in 2019 -- which now feels a lot longer ago than it was -- so if you weren't there, you're getting a bit of an exclusive. At the time there was a bit of a fuss because some people got the idea in their heads that the Prevaricator was some sort of defence of Zak S. In fact it's a parody of Boris Johnson, which I would have thought was obvious; I even tried drawing the thing with his hair. Oh well.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Mince Pie Fest 2021: The Results!

Well, I say "results", but I will continue to eat mince pies well into 2022, and I will provide scores for anything new I devour over the next few festive weeks, so there may yet be a surprise.


The best (generic high street) mince pies of 2021 are, in reverse order for the artificial generation of tension:

#3: Iceland Luxury and M&S Classic. Nothing can separate these two heavyweights, just like the final shot of Rocky III.

#2: Sainsbos Taste the Difference. A hefty, boozy, flavourful pie, for the semi-posh.

#1: The big winner, the champion of champions, the PRINCE OF MINCE is...

COOP Irresistible! What a glorious pie. Bold, confident, and full of beautiful festive flavour. A chunky champion.

The day after I posted my review, people across the country reported that the pies had all sold out at their local COOPs. I'd like to believe that is my influence.

Although the COOP ones are -- officially, scientifically -- the best, any of those top three/four will see you right this Chrimble. Enjoy!

Here's the rest of the top 9. It's a top 9 because the next six are all 3.5 and I don't want to bore you with mediocrity.

("Mediocrity" is a bit harsh, as I'm a fan of all mince pies and am happy with any variety. Except the McDonald's or Tesco rum ones. I'm not sure I could face those again.)

And for those of you interested in a bit of light statistical analysis...

COOP has upped its game (or my tastes changed). The clear winner in 2021 only scored 3.5 in 2018 and 2020.

Good Housekeeping did a taste test and its top three were: Morrisons Best (I scored them 3.5), Iceland Luxury (4) and M&S Collection (3.5) as joint second, and Tesco Finest (3.5) and Lidl Deluxe (3) in joint third.

The Grauniad's top three were: Sainsbos Taste the Difference (4.5) in first place, Waitrose Brown Butter (3) in second, and M&S Collection (3.5) in third.

Huffpost UK's top three mince pies were: M&S Collection (3.5) at the top, Waitrose Brown Butter (3) in second, and COOP Bourbon and Orange (N/A) in third, which is just mental.

All of which tells us little except that the M&S Collection are consistent.
If you've enjoyed my mincey odyssey, please consider bunging me a couple of quid so I can do this again next year:

(Obviously I will do it again next year whether you bribe me or not, who am I kidding?)

As mentioned above, I'm going to continue to munch on mince pies for the next few weeks, so it's not quite over yet...

#mincetagram #MincePieADay #MincePieFest2021

Monday, December 13, 2021

Mince Pie Fest 2021: Iceland Luxury

Straight outta Reykjavík!

The 24th (!) mince pie of the season is a strong late entry. The pastry is a tiny bit on the crunchy side for my liking, but is otherwise sweet and tasty, so I'll let it off. The real star is the generous filling, which is a delightful mix of juicy fruitiness, zesty zing, and a boozy swagger.

I'm quite impressed by these, to be honest. Well done, Iceland. 4 out of 5.

#MincePieADay #MincePieFest2021 #mincetagram

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Mince Pie Fest 2021: Heston Large Spiced Mince Pies With a Lemon Twist

What's posher than Waitrose? HESTON from Waitrose, that's what.

At least these don't have ocelot spleens or something in them.
There is much more spice than lemon in these, to the extent that you'd be forgiven for missing the lemon entirely. Not a bad taste but the festive spice hit is so heavy, like falling face first into your grandmother's pot pourri (not a euphemism), it needs something else for balance, and the lemon isn't quite there.

The pies are hefty and chunky, which takes the edge off the usurious mortgage you'll need to buy them. They have a pleasant bite, but they are also a bit claggy; you'll want a cup of tea or mulled wine to go with these.

The crumbly topping means I must decry these as #NotAMincePie but they are also not, as the box claims in a bizarre aside, Sussex Pond Puddings. That Heston is such a scoundrel! 3 out of 5.

#MincePieADay #MincePieFest2021 #mincetagram