Visit the Bauner Coast

This is book two of the D6xD6 Dungeons Kickstarter, a setting that proved the D6xD6 experience system is campaign-able. (You can purchase the Bauner Coast setting on DriveThruRPG.)

I had sort of assumed the D6xD6 RPG was best for one-shots or mini-campaigns of a few sessions. But 6 months of play with a group of fans on Facebook demonstrated that the game holds up well for longer term with recurring characters. In terms of character growth, playing long-term felt a lot like the one- and two-year TFT campaigns we played back in the early ‘80s.

With this FB Bauner Coast campaign, we spent most of the time in Mautram, “City of Wonder!” a Machiavellian trading capital that’s home to the Scholarly Institute of Conjuring and Sorcery, the School of Mystic Illusions, and the secretive Black House of necromancers. It’s a truly beautiful city, with wide, clean streets, ornately decorated buildings, and well-dressed citizens—the very embodiment of the truism that appearances can be deceiving. It’s no accident that Mautram hosts the School of Mystic Illusions.

But Mautram is only one locale on the Coast. One player’s character was a second son of a minor noble house in knightly Byasse, to the south, and had trained as an elementalist in rough-and-tumble Hov’s Bend, far to the north. Another player invented a tribal hunter from jungle south of the map’s edge. The mission was to investigate abduction of a pair of half elves from the wilds of ‘Tweenland; half elves being a rare sight, wandering loners.

A third book in the series, a random dungeon crawl system, may well see the light of day this year. Everything’s written except for fleshing out what wealth gains you. It’s a tricky issue in a game with no shopping list. You know the type: Don’t go into a dungeon without a hooded lantern (7 s.p.), a 10’ pole (3 c.p.), a 50’ rope (4 s.p.), a week’s worth of standard rations (3 g.p.), and on and on.

Conan spent his earnings on binges in taverns. I have the bones of a system for renown, social climbing, or charity, but it needs some work.

Originally all three zine editions were intended as one 8 ½” x 11” volume, something that I’d been writing for a couple of years, but you know the story about clawing my way out of a three-month depression via a January “PC a day” challenge, and the happy February discovery of a Kickstarter “Zinequest” promotion. Splitting the big project into three sections untangled the pieces, making them manageable. And honestly, I’m happier with the more convenient zine format.

P.S. I’d also assumed the Bookmark HP RPG was uncampaignable, but having discovered my D6xD6 assumption was wrong, I decided to give its bookmark sibling a chance, and our two-player cyberpunk campaign is now 8 months old, with no sign of stopping.

New: Game Host’s Guidebookmark!

New for the Bookmark HP RPG, the Game Host’s Guidebookmark! print-and-play PDF on DriveThruRPG!

Let’s talk titles for a moment, because you may have noticed a pattern.

If I had a Marketing Department, they’d be yelling at me about the name, Bookmark HP RPG. (I’m sure of that, because when I worked places that did have a Marketing Department, they yelled at me about other things.)

“How are you supposed to pronounce it? Why’s it have an HP in the title at all if you’re going to cross it out? Shouldn’t we name it something more exciting, like maybe Infinite Adventures, or Porta-Play, or Dragon’s Egg, or anything but Bookmark ‘No HP’ RPG?”

Why? Because it makes me laugh!

Which is why Dracula’s Get and Supers! are called “Sourcebookmarks.” And when people started asking for more player guidelines, I published a Player’s “Handbookmark,” and now a Game Host’s “Guidebookmark.” The words are so ridiculous that they make me laugh! And they’re an affectionate poke at the game that originated this hobby.

I only wish there were a word for “manual” that ends in “book,” so I could poke fun at Monster Manual. Looks like I’ll have to settle for Bookmark Bestiary. Fortunately concept itself is ridiculous enough to laugh at! Expect a slew of those, for different settings.

Oh, and about this Game Host’s Guidebookmark. It provides a rules twist for “mooks,” so your protagonists can handle attacks by mobs of your villain’s minions, plus guidelines for running scenes and awarding Boons, and the most concise “how to” I’ve ever seen for crafting adventures. This bookmark went through the same play-test and critique as the previous ones, so I think it’s safe to call it meaty.

By the way, my hypothetical Marketing Department would also have yelled at me about launching the line with Dracula’s Get, instead of fantasy, or sci-fi, or the Supers! Sourcebookmark. But I wanted to solo play Petit Louis, bastard son of Louis XIV, hanger-on at courts, part of Donald Trump’s retinue during the Presidency. And with the “mook” rule, he managed to survive an attack by ten human hunters, though just barely. He stumbled away, almost destroyed, and had to spend two weeks recovering in the tender care of the rock band he manages.

My Favorite Solo Role-Play Pairing

If you’ve never role-played with a GM oracle, you’re missing out on something. Nothing is quite like a good GM, of course, but neither is a human GM quite like a “solo oracle,” especially when you turn solo into group play.

The trick to oracle play is to ask questions you would of a GM, but mainly in yes/no form.

“Is there a back door to this basement?” Turn a card, “Yes,” or another card might say, “No, but.” Let’s go with the second. “Okay does ‘but’ mean there’s a window?” Turn a card, “Yes, AND.” I’m going to assume “AND” means the window is something I could use as a door, so it must be within reach, and it isn’t locked.

Here’s where the RPG rules kick in. I’ll use my favorite RPG’s Climbing skill to see if I can get up and through that window. Roll the dice, succeed, and now I’m out of the burning building.

But few oracles are just “yes/no.” Most have prompts to answer other questions you might ask a GM. “What do I hear through the door?” Guess I’d better use my rogue’s Listening skill. He succeeds! I turn a couple of cards, pair a couple of random words on them, and decide “faded” and “joyfully” mean some goblin guards are walking away, laughing.

When you’re playing like this in a group of friends, somebody else might have an even more exciting suggestion for what those words mean. The end result is something that feels very much like gaming with an extemporaneous GM. It isn’t open-ended chaos, though, because oracles tend to have mechanisms for generating scenes that follow an unfolding plot to a crescendo just like GM-led play.

Things have come a long way from that AD&D 2e appendix of dungeon mapping I used to use out of desperation when my friends were out of town and I was jonesing to give my wizard PC some play. Check FB for solo role-play groups and you’ll find a wide variety. Or check out professional voice actor Trevor Devall’s YouTube series “Me, Myself, and Die.”

Having played many, many oracles over the past couple of years, the one that edges out the rest for me is GameMaster’s Apprentice. There are simply so many prompts available to choose: from the usual yes/no, to verb/adjective/noun pairings, random character names and virtues/vices, item suggestions, a scatter diagram, sensory snippets like the scent of “hot, melted butter,” and much, much more.
I ain’t gonna lie, other oracles, especially Mythic and Cut Up Solo, have their own uniquenesses that make the choice difficult, but what tipped the scales for me was GMA cards’ random Difficulty number and their “dice wheel” of random dice results.

Pretty much all my solo role-play nowadays, and most of my group play, is with my own Bookmark No HP RPG. And that difficulty number and dice wheel mean I can play in a space too small to roll dice, with just a piece of note paper, or even a text app on my phone (while waiting in the car, or at the doctor’s office).

I like that pairing so much, in fact, that I asked Larcenous Designs, the GMA publisher, if we could offer the two as a bundle on DriveThruRPG. And one of the more awesome things about that it means the Bookmark No HP RPG can be more than just a PDF, it can be a physical playing card. DriveThru can’t print and ship less than a dozen cards at a time, which kept Bookmark from being a physical item. But ordered together as a card with GMA, it works.

To say I’m thrilled is an understatement. ? More news to come.

Confessions of a TFT Addict

The Fantasy Trip Legacy Edition

(Plans change. This post was originally slated as the introduction to a book of The Fantasy Trip essays, now found in issues of Hexagram. Watch for my TFT fencing article in Hexagram #6!)

My game design career started with selling a four-paragraph review to Steve Jackson Games’ Space Gamer magazine. Why Space Gamer instead of TSR’s Dragon? Because I was a Steve Jackson junkie.

In 1981, my game group had dumped AD&D in favor of The Fantasy Trip, at my own instigation. I wanted characters who, no matter how experienced, had good reason to fear wolves in a pack and goblins in a gang, and TFT supplied that. Along with skills instead of classes, and tactics instead of abstract one-minute combat turns. TFT provided a reason to use miniatures for more than just pretty. All that in literally 150 pages instead of literally 472.

I GMed The Fantasy Trip for years to the exclusion of all other RPGs. Our group played TFT long after Metagaming (its publisher) went out of business and TFT went out of print. I scoured hobby stores for supplementary material, photocopied and ringbound every magazine article I could find, bought Gamelords’ The Forest Lords of Dyhad and Warrior-Lords of Darok, and prayed for the two remaining books of that setting to be published. Prayed for anything new to be released.

No exaggeration, I still wake from the occasional nightmare that I’m traveling, stumble across some hobby store in Texas, find an unknown TFT-related title in a bargain bin, and don’t have the cash on me to pay for it.

So when I landed a full-time game design job in my hometown, at Game Designers Workshop (publishers of Traveller), I asked for a special dispensation to launch a non-GDW fanzine, The Fantasy Forum, in my free time.

As I recall, GDW let me run a little ad in their house organ, Challenge magazine, and even let me print out the ’zine on the office copier. And of course I submitted an ad to Space Gamer. Other addicted fans subscribed to this little quarterly. Content submissions soon exceeded the bulk-rate page count. To fit Howard Trump’s solo adventures, I had to print them in 6-point type with 1/8th-inch margins. (In retrospect, I could have published those separately and printed monthly.)

Gen Con 20 in 1987 was my first big convention, and as a brand-new industry pro, I approached Steve Jackson to shake his hand and goob over The Fantasy Trip. When I asked about the prospects of a new printing now that Metagaming was defunct, and Steve told me how much cash Howard Thompson wanted for the title, I gasped, and something inside me died a little bit.

So you can easily imagine my delight when Steve regained the rights in 2017 and launched a Kickstarter shortly thereafter to print a new, deluxe edition. That boxed set now stands in a place of honor on the very top shelf of my RPG collection, right next to the big ringbinder (“liberated” from The Armory) that holds my cherished collection of original TFT material.

And you can imagine my pleasure to be writing this introduction to a collection of essaygs honoring The Fantasy Trip.

Thank you, Steve, for the years of wonderful memories, playing The Fantasy Trip with my friends.

https://thefantasytrip.game