Friday, 24 May 2019

Into the Unknown is now available in print & pdf

Into the Unknown is an Old School game that seeks to blend the Basic & Expert rules and style of play of the '80s with the current 5th edition ruleset of the world's most popular roleplaying game.

What does the Game have?
The game is divided into five digest-sized booklets, optimized for use at the gametable:
  • Book 1: Characters holds all you need to quickly create a new character (52 pages)
  • Book 2: Playing the Game has all the essential rules for players to get going (28 pages)
  • Book 3: Magic is strictly for those players whose characters are spellcasters (54 pages)
  • Book 4: Running the Game has everything a Game Master needs for running old-school games (85 pages)
  • Book 5: Monsters holds a selection of ready-to-use critters, complete with morale scores and treasure types (65 pages)
These are all laid out and edited to be as quick to scan and find what you are looking for at the table as possible- no more getting bogged down by looking things up in play!

Read a quick Introduction from Book 1 summarising the rules and its differences to 5e. (pdf)

How is this different from 5e or B/X?
Into the Unknown is based on 5th edition of the world's most popular roleplaying game and is fully compatible with it to the extent that you can easily create a 5th edition character and use him in a game of Into the Unknown and vice versa.

What sets it apart from 5th edition is that this is a "non-advanced" version that hearkens back to the "B/X" version of the game. It has been simplified in many places to speed up things such as character creation; "race-as-class" is back; so are old-school mechanisms such as morale, reaction rolls, 'random encounters', 'gold for XP' and henchmen.

For players used to 5e, Into the Unknown is easier and runs faster, and is an excellent game for exploring the old school style of play or introducing new players to the game.

For players used to running B/X, Into the Unknown is an opportunity to explore the latest edition of The Game without losing that Old School style of play you have been used to.

Additionally, the game offers a clear and structured approach for Game Masters to quickly and easily build a sandbox and run open-ended hexcrawl wilderness adventures, with simple and seamless mechanisms for time tracking and resource management to add a sense of pacing, tension and urgency to your old school dungeon-crawling games.

It also comes with plenty of advice on how to play the game in the Old School style, and a toolbox for how to houserule your game into something that fits your game table.

If you like the modern rules but would like to run more Old School games, this is the game for you!

A note on pricing:
There are bundle deals for those who want the whole game and the savings are notable.
Likewise, I encourage people to buy this in print - The revenue from print sales is less for me than with pdf (and even moreso on print bundles) but the hope is that they will be used at the game table.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Homage to the Keep on the Borderlands (4k wallpapers rear cover)

I took the rear cover art from Keep on the Borderlands and cleaned it up for a 3200x1800 resolution.
Clicking the link below each image takes you to google drive where the full 4k image is stored.
Click here for 4k resolution
Then I ran some filters and played around with those to create four variations on it. Enjoy!

Click here for 4k resolution

Click here for 4k resolution

Click here for 4k resolution

Click here for 4k resolution

I think I like no 3 and 5 the best.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Alignment Languages: Take 2

Writing a bit again for the Mythlands of Erce, I am contemplating alignment languages again. I wrote on this topic a while back and I am still a fan of them. 
For one because I like the idea of alignment having tangible impact on the game world in a world of "alignment as [cosmic] faction".
Secondly, because having a multitude languages are mostly just a sucky obstacle to problem solving in D&D - Having a few pervasive languages that chart well to the broadest possible enemy/ally lines in the setting is a big positive.
Thirdly because it's D&D and I am somewhat committed to making sense of the various D&Disms in my game world.

I find myself wanting to re-work it from "granted by divine inspiration" model I previously went with due to it failing a critical litmus test: Anyone walking up to the [secretly chaotic] cleric in the Keep on the Borderlands and speaking Lawful to him would instantly know he is a fake.

SO... Something a bit more nuanced is needed that maintains a lot of characteristics of the first take. Here is take 2, written for a world of 3-fold alignment:


Alignment languages are: Celestial/Lawful, Fey/Neutral, Black Speech/Chaotic. They are primordial languages, the antediluvian vibrations of the cosmos itself.

A character can learn alignment languages like any other with the following qualifications:

Common is a crude derivative of Lawful/Celestial. Everybody in lawful communities learn Lawful, because:

  • A/ It is relatively easy to learn if you speak common (or any other human language. all which are also ultimately derived from the lawful tongue).
  • B/ The language has magical properties. Learning Lawful is widely believed to shape one's character in a lawful direction (DM's call how true that is).

The second is also one reason why alignment language is rarely spoken. It unfailingly resonates much stronger when spoken than common language and speaking it casually or carelessly is considered crass at best and at worst blasphemous. 
Not to mention that speaking, or hearing, it for more than a minute or two will give most speakers a searing headache due to the forceful magical timbre of it. 
Besides this many believe that its magical resonance may create unintended consequences. As a result, most people learn only a limited standard vocabulary of phrases that is known to be relatively safe to speak. 

Lawful sounds to a Chaotic as vile as Gandalf's black speech recitation did to the elves who covered their ears. And vice versa. It is defiling oneself to a certain extent to do so (imagine Gollum having to speak Elven). And the world itself will respond to such blasphemies in one form or another. The clouds do not grow dark when orcs chant "one ring to rule them all" in black speech. But when Gandalf blasphemes all Rivendell with it, it has a different impact.

Chaotic/The Black Speech is the language of demons and monsters and is obviously forbidden in any lawful realm due to the widespread belief that the magical properties of the language means that learning Chaotic has an inherently corrupting influence (DM's call how true that is). 
Not to mention that it would be a torturous experience for a lawful creature or character to actually learn the language due to its unpleasant and forceful timbre to lawful people. 
and that's not even considering the unintended consequences that keep lawful people from speaking Lawful more than rarely. How much more so for Chaotic? Why would any lawful person go through that? Demonstrating knowledge of Chaotic is in itself incriminating. 
Derivates like Orcish and Goblin, while distasteful languages, may be useful to learn and have none of the same corrupting influence.
Orcs and goblins etc all learn Chaotic for similar reasons that Lawfuls learn Lawful.

Learning Fey/Neutral is not easy as it is never written down and only taught to elf-friends, rangers and druids. All fey creatures, including elves, speak it. Both elven and the secret language of druids are closely derived from it. Whilst not seen as quite as corrupting a language to learn as Chaotic, speaking Fey/Neutral nevertheless raises disconcerting questions concerning the trustworthiness of such a person.

A few other tidbits:

  • Clerics learn lawful thoroughly and do not get headaches from speaking or hearing it. To most people, their mastery of Lawful also speaks highly of their character in general.
  • All spells are cast using alignment language.
  • Wizards know all three alignment languages because the arcane tongue is an amalgam of all three alignment languages. BAM.
  • Due to the metaphysical nature of alignment languages, characters who dive into the deep end of an alignment without having learned the language (ie. a highly chaotic human raised in human lands) may find themselves spontaneously becoming autodidact in the language of their dedicated alignment, manifesting in spontaneous utterances, poetic inspiration, curses and battle cries and such until they realise they understand the speech of others using that language.
  • Thieves Cant is an odd mixture of low-key Chaotic and Lawful.
  • Alignment language is also used for mundane basic purposes such as identification (calling out Lawbearers on the road, ), prayers ("godspeed"), customs (sacred hospitality of the host), rituals (marriage) and proverbs. This is because even such  'normal' invocations do have some power and are, effectively, very mild spells/prayers that anyone can cast. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

In Praise of "Black Box" D&D

when it comes to non-Advanced D&D, The internet, and in particular the OSR blogosphere, has deserved praise galore for the B/X sets for D&D.
And whilst not quite as enthusiastic, the Mentzer editions for those Basic and Expert sets also get plenty of praise for its art and way of introducing the game.
The Holmes set also has its fair of passionate fans. And of course the original brown booklets themselves.
Of newer releases, the Rules Cyclopedia also has a large following of fans.

One release that hardly ever gets a mention is the 1991 'black box', by Timothy B. Brown and Troy Denning. Actually, the Rules Cyclopedia was published as a sort of companion to this set. Together  they represents the fifth and final edition of non-advanced D&D.
"The New Easy to Master Dungeons & Dragons Game" also labelled "Classic Dungeons & Dragons"
It's short, 64 page booklet, so much the same as its predecessors, comes with a simple dungeon map (the print quality of which is shockingly high and durable), some dice, some paper miniatures for the map, and DM screen inside which is are 48 color coded "dragon cards".

Rules-wise, the main difference is that it goes to 5th level instead of 3rd, something I always felt made good sense (or perhaps 4th level). It saves some space by not having the same kind of introduction as the previous Basic sets in the booklet. That is reserved for a separate item in the set, the "Dragon cards".

The dragon cards is what sets this box apart as an introductory set. Each card explains an aspect of the game and then the rules. Each card covers everything from 'what is an rpg'. 'what is a DM' to 'what is a reaction roll', 'what is armor class' and 'what is a saving throw'.

Then you turn the card over to the other side where there is an unfolding play sequence (the "escape from Zanzer's dungeon") from card to card that shows you how it is actually used in the game. It starts out as a solo sequence with the map, then as you get the hang of it tells you to get some friends together and play the escape as a group.

It's a brilliant way of introducing the game. I'd have faith in any kid being able to learn the game on his or her own with these, thoroughly enjoying the ride of reading through the cards while doing it and being pumped for the first session when it comes. It is probably the best introduction to the D&D rules ever made.

I cut my teeth on Mentzer's box and the aesthetics of that box are the ones that mean 'D&D' for me.
I thoroughly enjoyed going through the black box's "escape from zanzer's dungeon" learning sequence a few years later though. And I did actually learn more about the game as there were items I had glossed over previously that the dragon cards emphasized and demonstrated.

I do know that if a kid I really like ever wants to learn D&D, it won't be the 5e starter set or Mentzer's Basic I will recommend. I will hand him the 'black box' set to learn it from.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

"You are all refugees in a tavern"...

"You all meet in a tavern" is classic stale D&D fare that no one minds and no one loves.

Reading Martin Kallies' gripe with tavern meetups over on Spriggan's Den not long after reading Blackrazor's musing on Luln, the original B/X home base got me thinking. Let me first re-quote the passage about Luln before we get into what that says about the assumptions of the starting setting:
"Composed primarily of persons who have fled Black Eagle Barony, merchants who have come to trade with the Baron, and some non-humans who have left the wilderness, Luln is a base town for adventurers exploring the Haunted Keep, also called Koriszegy Keep and the surrounding land. Somewhat lawless and open, the town can provide most of the basic needs to any group of adventurers. The town is poorly defended, relying on the goodwill and capabilities of both the Baron and the Duke for its defense. Approximately 500 people live in the town."(from Cook/Marsh, page X60)
The idea of the starting place of D&D-land being a place composed of refugees makes a lot of sense to me. The conceit that the region has seen upheaval lately - perhaps the boundaries of "borderlands" has been forcibly moved by the forces of Chaos, and subsequently people are on the move to try and find safer lands, settling and moving through a mildly safer but already precarious borderland.

In such a land, the frequent assumption of some established protection for communities, some higher law and order holding communities together, is null. Villages might well be very young, most of everyone is a bit rootless and those who have roots in the area are dealing with the massive changes and struggle for resources the waves of fugitives has brought to the land.

Russ Nicholson
It is a place ripe for plunder by orcs and other opportunistic raiders. A place, in the absence of well established community protections, is in dire need of someone to stand up to the dangers plaguing the region. A few good men passing through the area (being themselves also of rootless origin) able swing a sword and cast some spells might well find common ground for banding together to make use of their talents.

This also reinforces some of the assumptions of OD&D-Land as a land where there might actually be more people roaming as Reavers of the Wastelands than there are huddled up in permanent settlements. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there and every village is crying out for champions, lest it perishes before someone comes along. The vibe I am getting is Allansia (the primary region of the Fighting Fantasy setting), five years after the city of Salamonis has fallen (probably at the hands of Balthus Dire).

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Into the Unknown is complete! (pending proofs for release)

Today, I finished the last bit of writing, editing and proofreading on the last book, uploaded the files to onebookshelf and am now awaiting approval (which will go through no problem I expect) before I can order proofs. When they come in, and assuming they look as I expect them to look, I press the button for release and they are released! I expect this will be no more than two weeks away.
In between there is a few hours work with fitting the pdf products with cover and back cover, writing product descriptions and setting up bundle deals. But the files I have on my computer are basically the ones I expect to go on sale in two weeks or so.

I can't quite believe I am finished. This started out as a small scale project I thought I wrap up in a few months, grew into a complete game with ambitions for proper layout, plenty of artwork and all that jazz that people would enjoy having at their game table. The last year of sickness I've battled with didn't exactly speed things up.

The biggest challenge has without a doubt been book four, the gamemaster's guide. Where the other books were in large part about creative adaptation, much of the gm guide was written from scratch - Add to that, it took a very long time for my vision of it to condense into its current form and structure. The finished guide is my attempt at a definitive old school GM guide, most of which appplies to any ruleset - It straddles between brevity and focus vs completeness, fluff/advice vs. usable toolsets. Unlike the DMGs of D&D, it does not attempt to be a catchall versatile guide to all things D&D.

It's pretty focused on how to build a dungeon, build a wilderness sandbox, and build a settlement; and how to run adventures in these. Sprinkled with some advice on how to do all this in the Old School way. It's been thoughtprovoking to me that since Basic and Expert D&D, it's only really non-d&D products that have offered a tight focus on this aspect of gaming, in a way that doesn't either gloss over lots of stuff that old schoolers would consider integral to old school play (Pathfinder, 5e) or leaves a lot unsaid for newbies to figure out themselves or online (retroclones).

In that sense, Into the Unknown exists in a similar space to Torchbearer, The Perilous Wilds and Freeboters of the Frontier - As a modern and comprehensive light ruleset to emulate old school style of play. The difference to these is that ItU is basically teaching 5e how to play like B/X. "Un-advanced" 5e so to speak, with a focus on OSR style gaming.

I am glad that I did the heavy lifting early on while my enthusiasm was high. There is a lot of number-crunching on damage-per-round, design analysis etc., under the hood to make it fully 5e compatible that most players will probably never notice that I wouldn't want to ever do again. But it's done, and I am quite happy to be able to say that you can take your 5e dragonborn paladin or tiefling warlock and use at an Into the Unknown gametable without any conversion necessary.

There is a character sheet in the making, that I am excited to see myself. But I won't wait for it to finish. I am too excited to share all this with you guys!