Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Giant's Forge

A small, three page module describing the fortress-home of a giantish master smith, his children, and their slaves. All ready to run. 

"Bromsag. Beard like billowing steel wool, beady red rimmed eyes, a bald pate. He plunges his massive, calloused hands directly into the flames and delicately folds metal like paper. A perfectionist. He boasts of learning from the hekatoncheires themselves and can weave enchantments into his metalwork. When not working he drinks heavily and curses his lazy children or dotes upon his four pet salamanders."
It can be found here

Friday, January 12, 2024

Fog Giant - My Edition

Fog Giant

Loom out of the mist. Twice as tall as any man. Milky white skin, silvery white hair, black penetrating eyes. The jangle of baroque armaments.
  • Solitary, 1-6 might be encountered at time.
  • Keen sense of smell, rarely surprised (only on a 1 in 6). Can weave the mists about them and usually surprise their opponents.
  • Love massive ornate swords and make armour from white dragon hides studded with silver. 
  • Fight with their favorite swords or with fists. Hurl boulders. 
  • Speak a strange, isolate language; unintelligible even to their close kin.
  • Live under barrow mounds and in moorlands, marshes, swamps, dense forests, and cold sea coasts.
  • Shepherd the mists. After shearing they weave the fog into prized lightweight garments which carry brumes with the wearer.

RIP Jannell Jacquays

May your family find closure and comfort.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The Grumpalous

Vague cousin to megatherium but fur a-shimmer with arcane hues and a mouth with teeth made for crushing and grinding bone. A single, sickle-like claw lazily picks its dentition. The beast waits for a wizard.
  • Stats as a bear or appropriate bear-like creature. 
  • Preys upon wizards. Breaking bones and slurping out the magic. Smashing skulls open to gulp down the brains. The beast will learn a random spell from that which the magic-user knew. Loses it once cast.
  • Each skull cracked open and brain gulped down adds to their intelligence, they speak with cultivated airs and love to reference literature their victims once read.
  • Immune to magical weapons, which slide off their hide. This property lasts even through tanning though it dwindles over time.
  • Are good climbers.
  • Lair in ruined wizard towers (often the killers of the former occupants), and among hoards of magic items, the sort that will attract fresh prey. Some have been known to pay or intimidate wayward shepherds into spreading rumours to that end. 

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Free Kriegsspiel & The Flat Circle Of Time

FKR (Free Kriegsspiel Roleplay) is a new appellation for an old playstyle, one with a diversity of roots, a limb of which lies in the 19th century among the wargames of the Prussian officers. Indeed it is this limb which donated the first two letters of the acronym FKR. 
Free Kriegsspiel, as practiced by the Prussians, did away with much of the humdrum of "Dice, and Tables of Losses, and Rules." in favor of relying on Referee (Umpire) jurisprudence and adjudication. One of the primary documents we have from the period which describes this style is "Beitrag Zum Kriegsspiel" or "The Tactical Wargame," of which an English translation made in the same period can be found here

While the whole of the text is interesting from a historical perspective, what I chiefly want to share in particular is several segments of the two prefaces which have proven themselves to be rather timeless.

To quote my friend Weird Writer (of the blog Roll To Doubt):
"The Elusive Shift presents the flat circle as starting after the publication of OD&D, but it seems we're one century late on repeating stuff"

Without further ado, a series of excerpts from "The Tactical Wargame."


"The General, it will be seen, holds the view that the elaborate rules for deciding certain results by the throwing of dice are needless and that the Umpire may well be left to settle all doubtful questions arbitrarily. Whether he is or is not correct in this is not, for the student, of great importance. The principles of the Game are the same whether the Umpire is left entirely free to decide all the issues, or has in certain cases to to resort to the dice. There is no difficulty in applying the recognized "tables of losses," &c., to a Game played on the lines laid in the present treatise." (page 6, italics mine)  

The fiction takes precedence over the method of adjudication used.

"The utility of the War Game is universally acknowledged at the present day. Nevertheless, cases are often met with in which attempts to practice is have been very speedily abandoned... Now, when I have inquired into the reason, I have, in most cases, received the answer, "We have no one here who knows how to conduct the game properly." (page 9).

A classic problem which no doubt resonates with many nowadays.

"For what the Game especially requires is a knowledge of the capabilities and fighting power of all arms, as well as of their principal accepted formations. Now, the elementary training of an officer ought to have laid the foundations of these acquirements; and even what it has not sufficed to do so, the very playing of the Game would develop more fully such knowledge as might be already possessed." (page 9, italics mine).
Playing the game is the best way to learn it.
"It is, indeed, only by severe toil and a great expenditure of time that any one who has not learned the Game by actual practice can, through unassisted study of the books of instruction, so thoroughly master the subject as to be competent to undertake the conduct of an exercise of this kind. So it comes about that there are assuredly in the smaller garrisons many officers who should be especially fitted, from their position, to take the matter in hand who utterly shrink from doing so." (page 10, italics mine).

As above, the game exists as a social game which is best learned via actually playing rather than merely reading, and the style of Free Kriegsspiel is a method which allows for a greater ease of entrance into play.
"I in no way underrate the service which the received books of Instruction, with their Rules, Dice, and Tables of Losses have rendered, and will render in the future. It consists chiefly in this, that the Umpire finds in the Rules, fixed principles by which the limits of the capacity and fighting power of the troops are defined, that the effective use of weapons gains full credit by means of the Tables of Losses, and that the dice, which give to chance its due influence, provide an apparent security and partiality in the decisions." (page 11, italics mine).
Rules and procedures still have their places as tools for the Referee.

"In the exercises on the ground itself, when it becomes necessary, for example, to say to an officer, "Imagine that you see a column of infantry debouching from that village on to the high-road," it is often found that very good officers who, when they see the enemy immediately know what they ought to do, find it very difficult or even impossible to think of him in a given position. The reason of this is, that they want the needful imagination, and this defect is generally overcome by the placing of the pieces." (page 13).

Theatre of the mind not working for your players? Use some minis!
"The following pages are only intended to assist those who may not happen to have learned the Game in the third form." (page 14).
Rulebooks, play examples, and the like are means for introducing players who lack a group to learn from via play.

"I write especially for those of my brother officers who, it may be, have been hitherto frightened away by the Dice, and Tables of Losses, and Rules." (page 15).

Once again, a statement which resonates with many who, in the current era, will cite similar reasons for having been drawn to FKR as a playstyle.

As you can see, many of General v. Verdy's thoughts and comments have a kinship with those of the present day. Throughout the history of the hobby FKR as a playstyle (or rather its many antecedents upon whom the appellation is backwardly applied in this case) has proved itself a well-used option to those issues that arise in games which drift away from the world and into the mechanics of play, which under a Free Kriegsspiel derived playstyle remain but tools. 

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Morrow Project - Damocles, Review #2

Damocles, The Morrow Project.jpg

Onto module two! The first post of this series can be found here.


This module takes place once again in Michigan, this time eschewing the warmer southern portion of the state for the pine forests and rugged hills of the Upper Peninsula. Again players take charge of a Recon Team, the most basic Morrow Project player unit, this time with a slightly different cold-weather adapted load-out.

As is typical, players awaken in their bolthole (slavishly described with technical detail as to its functioning, despite this being unlikely to factor into play of the module) with little information to guide them beside outdated maps. Presumably motivated by exploration, or seeking some of the project caches listed on the map, they will leave and wander out into the harsh winter of the new world.

The module bills itself as a sandbox, and as such loosely describes the region of the Upper Peninsula the players will find themselves within. Features of note are the harshness of the terrain, massive wolf packs, gangs of brigands descended from "cons" escaped from a penitentiary during the War, a nearby outpost of lake-going shipmen, a distant off-map university town with steam engine level technology, and of course the Damocles compound.

The compound and its titular inhabitant, a military AI named Damocles, take up about half the module's description after the broad strokes of the region and the loosely keyed town of Wittsend (plus inhabitants). It is, in all respects, the intended locus of play.


Very basic, very homemade, 1980s chic. Two columns black and white. Minimum illustrations or maps. Some odd placement of sections, but for overall coherent and functional.

The supply caches are a good start to the sandbox, giving players immediate goals, and potential additional resources. Although, fascinatingly, the actual contents of the supply caches is left entirely up to the Referee. They are labelled on the player's outdated maps.

The module, in usually Morrow Project fashion, slavishly describes each and every component of the players kit, armament, and vehicles down to how many ounces of sunscreen the players have. While being a tad irksome to my usual tastes, this extreme detail isn't entirely without merit. The core premise of the game is that players are some of the last vestiges of the modern (at the time of writing) day now stranded in an alien world. What is in their kits is quite literally all they have of the old world (ignoring supply caches and such). As such it makes the play experience more visceral, particularly since the modules hold an unspoken but obvious expectation that players will leverage their detailed gear list in trade with the locals. And to this end the Recon Team’s detailed kit is actually quite useful.

The module opens up in the depths of winter, January to be precise, and this specific choice of season does well to lend the environment a distinct character of its own. The sketch of local terrain and clime makes sure to describe plenty of hazards and challenges for players to confront.

The real good stuff comes in the sketch of the region, which unlike the previous module Riverton with its isolated impoverished farmers, has far more ties to a wider world as well as a unique aesthetic to the region.

Notable details include a university city-state in Marquette to the northwest which is said to have steam engines and has attempted to introduce coinage to the region (with limited success). Details about schooling are given, including the note that local villages and woodsmen send their most promising youths on pilgrimage to the Northern Michigan University in Marquette to study (with notes on the particular subjects most valued and how the University has would-be scholars help maintain its fields, all very fun lil ways-of-life details). There is a widespread usage of flintlock rifles and muskets for hunting and a cottage industry maintaining them. A sketch of local governmental structures (or rather the lack of) is made with an emphasis on informal laws and appointed mediator-judges. Books are said to be valued, but rare, and apparently Shakespeare, Nietzsche and other classics are very popularly known and discussed. Delightfully it seems Ojibwa has made a comeback, intermingling with English and Finnish as the local dialect of choice.
One faction (though I hesitate to call them such, as they are not fleshed out enough to be a real faction, but they are certainly an implied faction) is the “cons” who are roving bandit bands formed from exiles and descendants of convicts who broke out of the state penitentiary. They are described as having "no society to speak of" and "initiation rituals" which, yeah, pretty typical 1980s attitudes towards imprisoned populations. Interestingly however, and in contradiction to the previous, it is briefly noted that the “cons” keep families in their camps and that books and horses are said to be the items most commonly traded for by these brigand bands, which has some delightfully implications. Another good detail is that there's a common belief in the brigand-gangs having a big conspiratorial alliance, which is said to be untrue. A good touch.
The social effects of prolonged raiding and low level warfare between the brigand gangs and settlements is also a good addition, as it further characterizes the settlement pattern of the region and its people. A lack of isolated farmsteads, walled towns, people going out to farm in groups and returning at dusk. These are all useful details for a Referee attempting to portray this post-apocalyptic society. And offer up some potential hooks.
There are also the Lakers, a group of nomadic ship-people who get a little mini-section. They’re wintering on a nearby island (connected by lake ice to the mainland), are suspicious and armed, but potentially hold large amounts of information concerning the broader world as well as connections to it for players.

The village of Wittsend (the only described settlement sadly) is presented well, in terms of what the players from the past will notice: lack of power lines and such (being stripped for metal), more barns. And has a complement of colorful npcs organized into lil factions with their own wants.

And lastly, there is the titular Damocles. An ancient military AI busy squatting in its old compound fulfilling ancient directives while sending out strange robotic scouts to plunder metal for repairs from the surrounding area. Damocles's compound forms an open ended mini-dungeon for players to deal with. It is heavily (and I mean heavily) armed and there are extensive notes about the history of the compound, its fancy tech, and features and some neat (if clumsy) storytelling via the various corpses of the long dead base personnel and the commander’s journal.

Damocles bills itself as a sandbox, a space for Referee to build a campaign off of. And it almost, almost gets there. Yet I find it to have fallen short, lacking a robust framework of factions or points of interest or intersecting motivations or anything to really sustain long term play. It alludes to these things, yes, and sketches out a potential sandbox. But the actual work of filling it is left, in a very early roleplaying game fashion, to the Referee.

In truth there is just Wittsend, Damocles, and some threads leading off the edge of the map which is otherwise empty.

I would probably need to be more familiar with the cultural milieu of the 80s in order to understand some of the stuff going on with the module's treatment of Amerindians and such. I've mostly glossed over that, and the bits with the Finns as well, but the way the Morrow Project approaches ethnicity will come up again in later modules and while not egregiously bad it's certainly... interesting. Depictions are very stereotypical even if intended as friendly.


The Morrow Project is different from most other post-apocalyptic media, particularly in the RPG-o-sphere, where most works tend to run either gonzo (Gamma World, Mad Max) or at least cinematic (Powered by the Apocalypse, Walking Dead). Morrow Project meanwhile engages with realism on an interesting level, being concerned with such details as farming and clothing and infrastructure. This often generates tension however, with the other half of the game, which is very much about heavily armed players blowing and shooting shit up. Nominally however, the game is about “rebuilding civilization” and as such is concerned with infrastructure, hygiene, farming, and other such features of the apocalypse.

It’s what has made me so fixated on the game and its modules and often what frustrates me with it, because I don’t want another several pages of statted up guns I want more ethnographic sketches about these post-apocalyptic societies!

Overall, despite its flaws, the Damocles module sparked my imagination. With a bit of work it can be expanded into an actual sandbox worth running and most of the ideas it does present are interesting and fun, there simply is a need for more of them in order to flesh out the environs. Having read it, I am enticed to find out how players would interact with the contents, and in that regard it is a success.


I really like how the Lakers exist in this module, and particularly how they tie in with the local glassblower, it's an actual proper seed for sandbox intrigue and offers a way to draw players into the wider setting. And it does this through a criminally underused historical industry, that being the production and trade of glassware.


The map for this module places it firmly in the region east of Marquette, just below grand island and just south of Munising, Mi (the rough location of which is marked as 'ruins' on the map). Continuing the Morrow Project tradition of loosely copying real world locations. The module even recommends purchasing a copy of USGS MAP NL 16-5 for Marquette, which is a charming little detail.


It's nice to see Michigan’s wolf population has returned after the nuclear war. Personally I would have gone with some mixture of feral dogs interbred with coyotes and wolves.


For some reason the module uses “upanite” which is an odd exonym, given that “yooper” is the commonly accepted term for the Upper Peninsula's inhabitants since the 70’s at least and sounds much better to the ear.


Damocles is, for its flaws, much better tied into a region than Riverton which mostly just nebulously existed all on its lonesome. With Wittsend there is a sense of being placed in a broader world, and I’d love to expand the Upper Peninsula as a setting using this module as a base.


It's strange to read about harsh, all consuming winters and omnipresent cold when the Upper Peninsula of my lifetime has gotten warmer and wetter even in deep winter due to climate change.This cold will actually come up in future modules, as it ties into a bit of a cross-module theme of an oncoming ice-age triggered by the nuclear war.


While mostly a sandbox, the module has some odd bits of railroading, or rather not so much a railroad as an expected unfolding of events it presents to the Referee.


The encounter with the local boy, in buckskins, busy cursing, shooting, reloading, and shooting his flintlock at the tank with robotic arms currently dissembling his snowmobile is a fantastic introduction to the new world for the players and makes me want to run the module for just that bit alone.


I enjoy  the sense of growth and rebuilding in the module. People are hoping for things, have dreams, the townsfolk want a school, the glassblowers are hoping to make a trade deal that will get their glassware traded all across the lakes. It fits well with the player's presumed mission goals of helping rebuild civilization.