Why “Gnolgi”?

Firstly: I’m a 30-something white dude living in the middle of leafy Surrey, UK. I’ve lived round here all my life. Go a few miles north and you’re in London, where you’ll find more cultures and creeds living together than practically anywhere else in the world. A few miles south, and you’re more likely to see a hedgehog than a black person. I say this to clarify I’m no expert on the delicate matter of diversity in modern tabletop games.

Since some of my earliest PDFs, there’s been an indigenous race of gnomes. Refugee survivors from the northern mountains, fleeing some catastrophe of their own design. Technical savants, obstructive bureaucrats, and inventive little buggers. I know I’ve gotten a lot of good play out of including them, and I’m not the only one.

Mono-race cultures lie fondly (?) at the heart of the kind of old-school tabletop fantasy games Dungeon World seeks to emulate. At the same time, Dungeon World’s minimal setting, PbTA ruleset and story game sensibilities all encourage player improvisation in a way other games don’t. This can be a bit of a paradox!

So as I’ve been planning the print release of the Mirkasa Chronicles, I’ve been thinking about what it means to include ‘gnomes’ in my games, in all their tinkering, stolen-from-warcraft glory.

We have the native Mirkasans. There’s nothing stopping a PC from rolling a new character and saying they’re from Mirkasa – in fact, I’d encourage it. So we can infer Mirkasans can be human, elf, dwarf, halfling, or any ‘race’ option from the Dungeon World character classes. Mirkasa isn’t a race, it’s a culture – the result of multiple races and creeds living together and reaching consensus over decades of diplomacy, etc. By comparison, the gnomes seem rather two-dimensional.

So for future adventures I’ve redefined the gnomes as ‘the gnolgi’ – an underground culture of peoples who lived below Gnolgorroth mountain. It’s a subtle change, but an important one. The factors I’ve defined previously can still apply – skilled with technology, potent wordsmiths, refugees from their home. Physical factors, too – they tend towards shorter stature, wider eyes and paler skin. (Maybe a stretch, but justifiable as a result of centuries underground.) An individual gnolgi might display some of these traits, or none of them. As a people, they might all be human, or a mix of races living together. (You could have a gnolgi elf, or a gnolgi dwarf.) Perhaps the word ‘gnome’ is still relevant, but an insult; an insensitive shorthand that oversimplifies centuries of cultural development.

Maybe this is relevant to your games, maybe not. When I run a game, I want a space where all my players can feel welcome and have fun. That means not being too political, but also providing an opportunity for situations outside of my humble experience. Where I live, that means working extra-hard when it comes to race and culture.

If you’re reading one of my adventures, I’m willing to bet you’ll get what an average gnolgi is all about as easily as you would a gnome. But a definition of a race can be a limiting factor (“all gnomes are technical savants, because Warcraft said so.”) For better or worse, that’s what we’re used to in popular culture. I hope that won’t be the same when you introduce the gnolgi.

INTO THE ODD: My Easy Reference PDF

Since it was released, I’ve run and played a fair few games of Chris McDowall’s Into the Odd. It’s fast, simple, and the rules for character creation are probably my favourite out of any RPG. In fact, I’ve played enough games to warrant making an easy reference document merging the basic rules with some of my own ideas – namely what I use to quickly run games in my own setting.

Since Chris McDowall asked for it, here’s the PDF. Bear in mind it’s a little rough around the edges, as it was originally only meant for me. If you like the idea of a more developed version, let me know and I’ll work on it.

Into the Odd – Easy Reference

Useful resources for RPG design and layout

So this is off the back of last night’s Indiemeet, which was a very fun and productive meeting indeed. I talked a bit about several things related to design and layout, so I thought in the cold light of day I’d elaborate on those quickly.

Fonts: Google Fonts has a great selection of free fonts to use, BUT as Graham said don’t try to be clever. If in doubt stick to Garamond for most of your text, with a simple sans-serif font (maybe Arial or Century Gothic, for starters) for your page headings.

Digital Layout tools: You can download Scribus for free, but honestly, it’s not the best solution for DTP (desktop publishing). If you’re starting out, I’d stick with word (I know some of my favourite writers use word) or grab a free trial of Indesign and see how you go. At the end of the day, life’s too short, and you’ve got games to write.

Stock photos: I forgot to mention this Medium article yesterday, which pretty much gets to the point. There’s also thestocks.im which collects a lot of the aforementioned stock photography together in one site. Finally, the British Library Flickr collection is public domain, and frequently fantastic. (Bookmark this link, then in the URL bar change the search parameter from ‘town’ to whatever you need.)

Me! So I’m always available if you want to chat. You can email me (there’s a quick link at the bottom of the page) or message me on Google Plus. If you’d like to support my stuff (and get a cheeky insight into how I do things!) You can support me creating adventure PDFs on Patreon. I’d certainly be happy to run a workshop or similar in the future, times and everything else permitting – if you’re interested in organising that or collaborating, let me know.

Hope this all helps!

Joe

Brave New World!

 

And here’s the last PDF of 2014 – and a map!

I’ve had this under construction for a while – it’s a ‘culture guide’ designed to add a little flavour to your characters. I’ve also included ideas for a few people and places from each location, to help spark some new adventures when you need it!

(I’ve done some playtesting, but as always feedback is useful and will go into any future re-releases.)

So there you go – a great combination to use with the map last release, and a fun way to end the year. And what a year it’s been! Thank you again for all your support, hope you enjoy, and see you in 2015!

Brave New World

20141230-alandinconflict-map

About Custom Moves

Custom moves are really important. Often, the moves you choose to include say more about the situation than half a dozen paragraphs of fluff.

Consider the example below:

When you force your way through a crowd of piston-heads, roll+STR. On a 10+, you force a space through the mob for yourself (and anyone behind) for a moment or two. On a 7-9, you’re through if you can unhook whatever it is of yours that’s just gotten snagged on a wayward gear. On a miss, the piston-heads close ranks – and the pistons start firing…

I was pleased with how this move came out, for a few reasons.

Without knowing anything more about the adventure, you can already make a few assumptions.

  • “Piston-heads” suggests a steampunk setting.
  • There’s a mob, which implies they’re ganging up or protesting something.
  • They aren’t threatening the players directly, but are in their way. Will the players resort to force to clear a path, or diplomacy, or magic, or something else? (Play to find out what happens…!)
  • When the “pistons start firing”, it’s implied to be bad news for the players. It might signify the piston-heads are now a threat – a soft move – or the party might get bashed by the pistons – a hard move. (This decision is left to the GM because it depends on what condition the PCs are in when the move is made.)

What’s a “love letter”?

If you frequent the DW communities online but haven’t played or read Apocalypse World yet, you may have heard the term “love letter” before but not be sure what it means.

In brief, it’s a few paragraphs written specifically for a player or players to bring them up to speed on their situation, usually after a break or big change of scene.

Here’s an example

(Taken from a recent conversation with a friend and fellow GM – names and monsters witheld to avoid spoilers!)

The last session, the players killed an ogre and reclaimed a cache of magic items in the name of the paladin’s god. However, the GM was keen to keep the story moving along – it would be more interesting to fast-forward to six months later and deal with the repercussions of the players’ new-found power.

We decided the best way to get the players up to speed was with a love letter. We didn’t decide the specifics, but in general the letter would tell the players:

  • It’s six months since they killed the ogre
  • They’ve been on the trail of someone who fled the scene last game (it’s all about people, remember)
  • We’re going to do a custom move now to determine whether you found him and where you’re living now.

We decided the letter would read something like this:

Congratulations on the loot, guys! The ogre is dead and you’re starting to get known as people who Solve Problems. Good for you! Since you picked up those magic items, six months have passed. You’ve (probably) found yourself a place to live and you’ve been hot on the trail of that cultist who fled the scene. Everybody roll+whatever you’ve been using to bring this guy to justice (STR if you’ve defeated him in combat, INT if you’ve outsmarted him, WIS if you’ve tracked him for weeks, etc.) We’ll take your results as a group average – 10+ results cancel out 6- ones.

On a 10+, he’s dead and everyone knows it. You’ve gotten a good place in the city, but someone’s dropped a familiar corpse on your doorstep.

On a 7-9, he’s dead, but it cost one of you something – the GM will say what. You’re living in a local town well enough, but don’t have the scratch to turn down a job if it comes your way – even if it is something boring, like defending the caravans from goblin attacks.

On a 6-, you either got the guy at great cost or he got away, your choice. You’re holed up in some backwater village on the road to the city. You’ve still got the magic items of course, and the shirts on your backs – but precious little else. You need food in your belly, whetstones for your swords and a place to rest your feet – but first you’ll need money to get all that!

No matter the roll, what do you do?

Writing your own adventures

By now, I hope you’ve all read Johnstone Metzgers’ tips for making your own Dungeon World adventures. From what I’ve seen from him recently, he’s definitely someone worth listening to when it comes to adventure-writing advice. That said, I feel like after over a year of adventure-writing myself, I’ve picked up a few things worth saying myself. So, here’s my two cents.

How are your people skills?

I’ve been re-reading what Johnstone’s written, as well as some of my personal favourites and the stunning things that John Harper has been putting out in his Patreon, and it’s reminded me that at their heart adventures are about conflicts, and conflicts are about people.

It’s easy to forget this. “The fight between the ostrasized frogmen, lost civilisation and ambitious industrialists” is a terrible name for a product, but probably more accurately describes the content than “The Green Scar”.

But when making an adventure, start with the people. In Dungeon World, this is easy – it’s the heart of a monster’s instincts and your fronts and dangers, so start with those. Describe what they’re looking for, how it’ll get in the way of the players’ wants and what will happen if the players do nothing to stop them. If you’ve got the people down and feeling right, you’ve already got the minimum for a DW game.

“You all meet in [the Dungeon World] tavern…”

So start an adventure with the people, right? Not necessarily. Don’t forget it’s the GM who’s reading your adventure – they’re likely looking for a quick hook to convince them this is a game worth running.

When it comes to actually laying out the adventure, it’s better to start with an exciting opening crawl, Star wars-style, or describe the environment in what the characters can see, hear and smell. Marshall Miller does this very well – one of my favourite adventures is the Shallow Sea. With a combination of an arresting title, descriptive impressions and leading questions for the PCs, Marshall sets everything up for a GM to quickly throw their players into the action.

As a writer, Michael Prescott reminded me recently you shouldn’t be afraid to be prescriptive – this isn’t the time to worry too much about ‘leaving blanks’. If you’ve set the scene and characters in an arresting way, you can be confident the GM reading will find their own ways to tweak and find their own blanks.

What the players don’t know

If this were a guide to writing adventures for Pathfinder, or any other traditional RPG, this would be the part where I say “this is the meat of the adventure.” But the truth is – and for traditional GMs, this can be tricky to grasp at first – in Dungeon World, there’s a lot of things the GMs don’t know, and that’s a good thing.

Take maps, for example. People always ask me to include more maps in my adventures, especially ones who’ve come from D&D et al. I’ll be honest with you here – I don’t really like including maps in my adventures. Compared to Dyson, Michael and others my map-making skills are rubbish; but more importantly, I never have a map prepared for a game of Dungeon World in advance. Don’t need it. It’ll be prep that goes to waste.

What tends to work a lot better are locations. Johnstone does this excellently, as does Michael. When describing a location within a dungeon, think of it as a mini-love letter to the players – set the scene, tell them why they’re in trouble, and get them rolling dice so you can start making moves against them.

A lot of people have commented on how useful it is to have pointers for when the players Spout Lore. In theory, this is something you might come up with on the fly based on what the players have already told you. But in practice, when the players put you on the spot it can be tricky to make up something just like that. Being the GM means always thinking two steps ahead of the players – this is why it’s important to have an idea of fronts and dangers as soon as possible, so you can know in broad strokes the consequences of the player’s failure.

And the rest

As far as monsters and treasure are concerned, it comes back to the Dungeon World end-of-session move. You always ask “did we loot a memorable treasure?” and “did we overcome a memorable enemy?” What isn’t obvious at first is this move refers to the players, not the party. Depending on the context, a battle against a couple of humble cave bears might become the most memorable battle of a parties’ career.*

Like with the spout lore examples above, it’s useful to have the stats for a few enemies and items prepped in advance. Most likely, you’ll think of some appropriate creatures when deciding on the people in step one, so this tends to follow naturally. If not, there’s plenty of examples to get you thinking in the DW rulebook, or on codex.dungeon-world.com.

Finally, if you can think of something appropriate, one last ‘epilogue’ custom move is a great way to sign off – almost a ‘reverse love letter’, something to set up next week’s game. If you do this, make sure there are no comfortable results. No matter what the players roll, it must lead to more trouble!

To be continued…!

Well, that’s my 2 cents on the topic. I hope you’ve found it useful – what sort of things would you like to see more of in adventures? Let me know in the comments, or on Google+.

* In one of my games, a barbarian, cleric and templar of around level 7 nearly died to two absolutely normal cave bears after they kept rolling misses! They eventually succeeded, but the next time they need to enter a darkened cave you bet they’ll be a lot more cautious…