Monday, April 29, 2013

First Impressions From Playing Dungeon World

Art by Kyle Ferrin
I had the opportunity to play Dungeon World this weekend at JonCon '13 in the Twin Cities, MN. Overall, I thought the game was a lot of fun. I was quite surprised at how easy the game was to play - and how fun, especially compared to my experience with d20/3rd Edition. Combat is fairly fast-paced. Agency is almost entirely in the hands of the players. The GM rolls no dice; players even roll their own damage when they suffer an attack by a monster.

A number of people on line have commented about how hard it is to GM Dungeon World. When I brought this up with the GM after the game, he said that this is because it requires a very different mindset, in which the players are the ones setting the pace and determining what happens next. It felt a lot like playing FATE, so the whole experience felt pretty natural to me.

There are a couple of things I am still not quite sure of about the game's defaults:

First, I agree with +Zak Smith's criticism of the design decision to force players to pick from a list of names. I get doing something like that with a specialized setting with unique naming systems, like EverwayMouseguard or Tekumel, but this seems pretty stupid to me for a game with a generic fantasy setting. I had pretty similar feelings about some of the character specification "choices" like "sad eyes, sharp eyes, blubbery eyes", etc. Why are the choices so constrained? Who benefits from that, really?

Second, I am not sure whether this is a "serious" game. That is, I am not sure whether Dungeon World is making fun of first edition. I guess this is a matter of perception and perhaps more exposure will tell.

While I find some of the Dungeon World spell names amusing, like "Metal Hurlant" for the bard, that really militates against immersion, at least for me. It undermines attempts at serious world creation, the kind going on in places like Hereticwerks. When it comes to serious world creation, there's nothing in Dungeon World yet that makes me want to abandon FATE Core or FATE Accelerated Edition, or that makes me feel it is a viable fantasy RPG toolkit like Swords & Wizardry or Legends of Anglerre.

Still and all, I had a great time with a wonderful GM and group of players. The experience left me wanting more, and I'd definitely like to play Dungeon World again a bunch more times.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Gates In The Xeno-Meso Setting

There are many kinds of gates leading into and out of the Sixth World of Xeno-Meso:
  • The Azteca arrived in the Sixth  World through a Smoking Mirror Engine. It is located in a Mirror Gallery deep inside the Temple of the Netted Jaguar in the long-abandoned city of Teotihuacan. This is their Great Secret, and one they guard jealously.
  • The Paddlers arrived through a Water Gate known as the Blue Hole. After their arrival in the Sixth World with three great pyramidal Battle Barges and a hundred great canoes, the contending merchants and princes of the realm known as The Forest of Kings suddenly had the most valuable trade allies they could ever imagine.
  • Every cave is potentially a gate to The Underworld. 
  • Cenotes are common in The Forest of Kings. Many of them connect to The Underworld or to other spheres entirely through Tidal Pools.
  • Many temples and observatories of the Sixth World have gates to other realms and planets. Some gates' thresholds are at the top of temple structures - often the Chac Mool is their very threshold. The priests often also build their temples upon caves or subterranean structures which are gates to The Underworld.
  • Vision serpents are summoned using ritual hallucinogens; these sacred beings are often living gates themselves.
  • The Olmeca's stone heads are gates to the ancestors' worlds. The heads are Memory Houses for the spirits of warriors, nobles, and kings who crossed the Great Sea in generations past to conquer the lands the Olmeca now rule.

The Fortunes Of Xochiquetzatlan

Xochiquetzal by Dragonfly929

The city-realm of Xochiquetzatlan is under the sway of the goddess Xochiquetzal and her consort Xochipilli. Xochiquetzal and her consort are associated with fertility, flowers, butterflies, romance, love, lust and life. Like many deities worshiped in the Sixth World, they are have dualistic aspects; in the case of these two deities, they are those of being the twin sources of life and the twin fonts of excess and filth. The abundant and decadent Living City that names itself after the goddess and her consort very much mirrors their dual aspects.

Xochiquetzatlan's people are experts at terraforming. The Living City has developed the most extensive chinampa system in the Sixth World. As a result of this system, the city produces a great agricultural surplus. Some of this surplus is rendered as tribute to the Olmeca. However, these food-tributes do not usually impose great hardship on the city's peasant producers. The agriculture here is that abundant.

While the Living City has temples to many of the gods worshiped in the Sixth World, the greatest temples in the city are those of Xochiquetzal and Xochipilli. These temples play a central role in guaranteeing both the city's rich harvests, and the fertility and health of its population. The people of the city are the picture of perfect health; people of all social classes are unusually beautiful and lacking in physical imperfections.

The temples' influence on life here also promotes hybridity and mutation, and as well as morphogenetic and phylogenetic proliferation in the animal sphere. Temple naturalists are identifying new species all the time. The temples are responsible for the existence of more than a few ab-humans, summoned creatures, and flower-creatures* in the Living City as well. Many of these are temple-summoned beings and magical creations derived from human and animal stock.

Many are slaves.

The temples derive significant revenue from the trade in ab-humans, summoned creatures, and flower-creatures. But they may become the city's downfall. Every year, the peasants become more and more dependent on their help, as the chinampa network expands ever-further into the great lake at the heart of the Living City. And these abject populations are restless and unhappy. The entire order of the Living City may change if such being rebel against their masters.

*Special beings, often hybrids and chimera, bred and conjured by the sorcerer-priests of the Temples of Xochiquetzal and Xochipilli.

The Fortunes of Xochiquetzatlan
  • VirtueFertility - Growth
  • Fault: The Satyr - Indulgence
  • Fate:  The Cockatrice - Corruption vs. Recovery

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Underworld In The Xeno-Meso Setting

The Lords of Xibalba IDrawing by Milton Sobriero, Color by Felipe Sobriero

The Underworld in the Xeno-Meso setting of the Sixth World is similar to the chaotic, fluid Mayan underworld of Xibalba.  It is a far more disorderly place than the Aztec's more lawful and orderly place of the dead, Mictlan. Nobody comes to the Underworld in Xeno-Meso expecting a fair, predictable, orderly place of judgement. They expect to be tricked, deceived, and mocked. It is a difficult place to get out of, and the world of the living is in a constant state of vigilance against the contamination of the Sixth World by things from the Underworld.

The Underworld in Xeno-Meso is a chaotic, fluid network of spaces. Far from a straightforward place of stillness and death, the place has a life of its own. You can enter the Underworld from almost any cave that continues underground for some time. A sure sign you are on the right path is that the deeper you go, the more mud and water you encounter. Eventually the journeyer will encounter underground pools, lakes, and rivers.

The rivers transform from water into flows of scorpions and centipedes, pus, and blood. Eventually one encounters places where the rivers cross. There will be outposts, temples, fortifications, palaces, places of trial and torture, banquet halls, and ball courts in places like these.

And the Lords of the Underworld themselves.

Once upon a time, the Lords of the Underworld were unified and hierarchical. That was long ago, before the Hero Twins descended into the Underworld and sowed disarray among the Lords there.  Now each place in the Underworld where rivers cross is a node in an ever-shifting network of monsters, demons, and Lords. Each node enters into alliances with others, and these constantly change.

The Lords of the Underworld have no permanent allies or enemies, only permanent interests. Those who would bargain or trade with them should keep this in mind.


The Underworld is unmappable. Or at least the maps change very frequently, so check your guidebooks often. There are spells which facilitate this fluidity, and help to expand the reach of the Underworld, such as the one which follows.


Invocation of the Dark Whirlpool
Spell Level: Cleric, 5th Level
Range: Touch (requires egg, see below)
Duration: Permanent

The caster recites a prayer to the Lords of the Underworld, while holding an Egg from one of the Underworld Lords' minions. Once the Incantation is completed, which takes 3 turns, the Egg is placed in an underground pool of water or an underground stream. A continuous stream of scorpions or centipedes, puss or blood flows out from the Egg, and seeks to connect with the nearest node of Underworld life-energy.

The stream radiates out 1d100' per hour until it connects to another node. Each time the Invocation is cast, another stream of the same kind radiates out from the Egg in search of another node. Once the Egg has connected to three nodes, it will form a pool of the same substance with a width of 3 + 3d12 feet and a depth of 1d6 feet.

With each Invocation thereafter, the caster may either expand the pool by a similar amount (i.e., roll again to increase the pool's width and depth) or the new node sends out another river of the same substance in search of another node.

Dispel Evil may be used to reduce or eliminate the node and/or interrupt the flow of a stream.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Temple Of The Netted Jaguar

Netted Jaguar

When the invaders destroyed the Fifth World, a few hundred priests, jaguar knights, coyote knights, pochteca, and royal by-blows entered the Temple of Tezcatlipoca in Tenochtitlan and never came out. Deep below the temple, the high priest of Tezcatlipoca spoke into the glass of a Smoking Mirror Engine, and opened the gate to a Sixth World. Once all had passed through the mirror, the gate closed, tipped forward and shattered into a thousand obsidian shards.

The refugees stepped forth into a Mirror Gallery deep beneath the Temple of the Netted Jaguar - a temple much like the one they knew in the dead city of Teotihuacan, birthplace of the gods. They cleared ancient rubble and ascended steep stairs onto the temple's platform. They saw the abandoned city, the birthplace of the gods, surrounded on all sides by a huge living megalopolis.

The living city reminded them of the Tenochtitlan they had fled. But unlike that island city, all the lands surrounding the lake had also been built out. And the entire lake was ringed with chinampas, with even more great causeways extending from all sides of the lake toward the Living City at its center.


The city itself was impossibly ancient and decadent. Their people spoke a tongue similar to the refugees, and their gods were similar as well. They wandered the Living City, listening to the people. They learned the name of the city was Xochiquetzatlan, the city that the goddess Xochiquetzal ruled with her male consort Xochipilli. A lush city, whose chinampas fed the lands to the south. A soft city, content to hand over a small portion of its surplus to the Olmeca as a tribute payment for peace.

The new arrivals retreated to the abandoned city of Teotihuacan. The priests and jaguar knights conferred with the royal by-blows. This Sixth World looked ripe for conquest. They began with a plan to take this city of Xochiquetzatlan. Then they would deal with the Olmeca.

But their first step was to build a camp, and soon enough a stronghold in the dead city of Teotihuican. From there, they could begin to exert their power in the Living City, and explore this Sixth World.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Gig In Bamesa Bay

Nate's Map

Saturday, we resumed +Rob Leduc's old-school Empire of the Petal Throne campaign set in the vicinity of Penom, the fabled "armpit of the Empire". Our PCs are a clan of "fresh-off-the-boat" islanders from somewhere in he Deeps of Chanayaga, the great ocean south of Ngeshtu Head. When we arrived in Penom, the signed-up en masse for the local marine contingent based in Penom. The capstone of our military training is to survive two weeks on our own on a special island reserved for the marines in the Bamesa Bay.

Mark Allan's beautiful map of the region
around Pan Chaka and Penom

This session spanned roughly days 4-7 of our stay on the island. This time, we hand four players. In addition to myself, the players were Nate, Evan, and Jasper. Rob GMed, and  +Chirine ba Kal hosted us in the world's greatest Tekumel gameroom.

Nate drew the map at the top of the post. The island we're on is roughly tear-shaped, with the broad end of the tear facing south. There are two mountains to the south, both marked in red. We are on the more southerly of the two mountains, in an area with a lot of trees and streams. From there it is an easy walk to forested areas where we have begun to hunt (marked on the map with the yellow die), and to the lake a bit to the north, where we are fishing (marked by the other die).

These days were eventful.

By the lake, we found two jewels, an badly damaged canoe, and evidence of a fight between the elusive natives and some large creature with birdlike feet. Given the presence of blood everywhere, the abandoned jewels, the punctures in the canoe, and the absence of any animal or human carcasses, we concluded that a large, possibly birdlike predator carried off the natives and made a meal of them.

No harm done.

We fished for a while, and followed the streams back up to our camp, where we went gigging "frogged" (and if you know the correct term for "fishing for amphibians", please let me know). Hunting, fishing, and gigging frogging was the routine for a few days.

This routine was interrupted by a Serudla, a fierce semi-intelligent creature.

One of Howard Fielding's fine castings,
as photographed by the Pewter-Pixel Wars

The PCs did the intelligent thing. They ran. This caused them to survive the encounter. We are all first level.

There was also an encounter with a huge, somewhat segasauroid reptile. Our shaman made contact with the creature and determined that it was a plant eater. We let it go on its way. This led an NPC to declaim: "There goes 6 tons of pot roast." To which my PC replied: "Six tons of salmonella, you mean."

There was much paranoia about the deafening anurid serenades to which our camp was subject each night. We decided that the best course of action was more gigging frogging by day. This didn't do much to reduce the din, but so far we have not discovered any humongous predator-frogs.

Just as I had to head out, some ruins were discovered. I am looking forward to hearing whether the players went in, or whether that is going to happen next session.

All in all, it was a great time. The session really brought home for me the pleasures of old-school gaming.
  • Learn about the world: plan and then act. Repeat many times. 
  • There are problems to solve: go out there and try to solve them with the tools you have.
  •  There are things too big for you: sometimes you have to run to stay alive. 
Looking forward to the next session!

Sunday, April 7, 2013


My contributions to the renaissant Petty Gods project now being spearheaded by Gorgonmilk are very much inspired by the myths and gods of Mesoamerica. I have submitted two gods and a divine minion creature for the project, as well as a number of divine items, some of which are Mesoamerican-inspired.

When I say Mesoamerican-inspired, I mean inspired by references like The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, by Mary Miller and Karl Taube, by relatively historicist and immersive RPGs such as Chad Davidson's Heirs to the Lost World, as well as by more fantastic sources including Eric Von Daniken, Jack Kirby, and M.A.R. Barker.

Of course Ivan Van Sertima needs to be in the mix too.

My next setting extension for Spears of the Dawn and Everway is what I am calling Xeno-Meso.

It is an "other" Mesoamerica (and as in the picture at the top of the post, will probably include an analogue of Mississippian North America as well) that combines analogues for some of the historical Mesoamerican cultures (such as the Aztecs and the Mayans) some of the more speculative ideas about the prehistory of the Americas, such as the "Black Olmecs" hypothesis about the West African colonization of Mesoamerica.

Should be fun.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Original Minneapolis Dungeon

Confrontation With the Giant Weasel
(Not necessarily to scale)

Last Saturday as part of Minicon, Rachel Kronick, Eric Gilbertson, and I had the opportunity to witness a session of the Minneapolis Dungeon. This was a recurrent informal game system that was invented locally and played more or less simultaneously with the release of ODD in 1974. Rachel Kronick has a post on the history of the game (and her experience with the game at this con) at her blog. It's pretty cool that +Jon Peterson, author of  the magisterial Playing at the World, even stopped by and made a comment.

Minneapolis Dungeon had its own rules system. It wasn't ODD. Players used a 2d6 roll for most actions. It was extremely simple and freeform.  I also liked the fact that the GM asked each player to create a special power for their character. This actually reminded me a lot of a classic from the 1990s, Over the Edge (a system now open-sourced as WaRP). Some of these were pretty silly, but just about all of them got some use at the gaming table.

So much for KEWEL POWRZ being this newfangled storygame FATEy thing!

The GM for Saturday's session was Richard Tatge, who was one of the original folks associated with the Minneapolis Dungeon.

Richard Tatge is on the right

Here was the session set-up:

The Gaming Table
People took turns being audience and at the gaming table. I would say a rotation occurred every 15 minutes or so. Rachel, Eric, and I opted to just observe (i.e., be kibitzers), and I admit it, my drawing at the top of the post is pure kibitzerkraft.  But I actually liked the fact that Richard structured things so everyone who wanted to play had a chance to do so at least once during the "panel".

I wonder how else this rotation model could be used in gaming?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Petty Gods

Petty Gods' cover illustration by Thomas Denmark
It has been a little quiet over here, because we have been working on submissions for Petty Gods, an OSR community project which Gorgonmilk is coordinating. So far, the project has resulted in the completion and release of the original Petty Gods sourcebook. 

Once Gorgonmilk made a public offer through his blog to assist with finishing Petty Gods, things happened. Numerous game writers and artists offered to help. The Tekumel Foundation contributed Professor M.A.R. Barker's essay "How to create a religion for fun and profit" to the effort, and Peter Gifford, who did the layout and editing for the original Petty Gods manuscript made the decision to release the original Petty Gods book as a PDF, which you can download here.

I am looking forward to being part of the forthcoming Expanded Petty Gods!  The project has a group of amazing creative people behind it doing the writing and art, as well as some of my favorite fantasy authors such as Michael Moorcock, Charles Saunders, and Gene Wolfe, who will be making contributions to the book.

Although neither FATE SF or The Everwayan are OSR blogs, it has been primarily OSR affiliated bloggers such as Hereticwerks, From the Sorcerer's Skull, Swords & Stitchery, and Porky's Expanse that inspired me a year ago to start blogging in the first place. So it is fun to be contributing alongside some of these luminaries in what is sure to become one of the biggest fan community created gaming publications!

We are living in interesting times!